Saturday, February 19, 2011

New Year: Nm 34-36 for Feb 19

Numbers 34-36 continues a style of narrative that does not "skip" lists or details in favor of "action" sequences. Earlier, there were sacrifices, listed by tribe, identical for each tribe (Nm 7). Just as we thought we were past the descriptions of offerings, came Nm 18-19 and 28-29.

Each stage of the journey was written, like a list, in Nm 33. Nm 34 has details about all the borders, Chapter 35 has details about the cities of refuge for manslaughterers. At the end of Numbers, some details about inheritance are worked out.

The text does not allow us to say that these things were merely codified by various scribes for addition to a written Mosaic document, for later. On the contrary, it's all God, speaking: "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying..." (34:16; 35:9). "These are the commandments" ... "and the ordinances which the Lord commanded to the sons of Israel" (last verse of Numbers!).

Should we presuppose that Numbers was written while unaware of the detail and repetition? No! That it was written with reams of paper handy and bottles of ink as well, using repetition as a mere style of writing? No!

Putting the question positively, is there a didactic reason that the narrative is interwoven with the details of the offerings? Yes! There is a concurrency being expressed in Numbers that had not been made so explicit previously. Things happen every day, yes ... and so must the sacrifices (28:4-10): "a continual burnt offering." This is a deliberately constructed set of activities that are purposely described to accompany anything else that goes on in their lives.

Let's not be in such a rush to mention the oldness of the Old Covenant sacrifices that we miss what they were supposed to be. Think of the "soothing aroma" phrase, used more in Numbers than even Leviticus or anywhere else; that is to God. Also think of the trumpet, blasting to God in 10:10: a "reminder" to God of themselves.

These things are just part of what both the generation whose corpses fell in the wilderness, and what the generation that followed, had, to go with them every day. Are you sure that they should be skipped in your readings? Doesn't modern religion also suffer from the interest in cataloging everything that people do, possibly adding God's "presence" for explanation of parts of that, and ignore that which reminds us that God acts, and must, for anything to even continue on?

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