Archive for the ‘Numbers 21’ Tag

Devotion for the Eleventh and Twelfth Days of Lent, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments


Above:  Stained-Glass Window:  Moses and the Snake, St. Mark’s Church, Gillingham, Kent, England

Image in the Public Domain

Grace and Obligations

MARCH 6 AND 7, 2023


The Collect:

O God, our leader and guide, in the waters of baptism

you bring us to new birth to live as your children.

Strengthen our faith in your promises, that by your

Spirit we may lift your life to all the world through

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 27


The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 21:4-9 (11th Day)

Isaiah 65:17-25 (12th Day)

Psalm 128 (Both Days)

Hebrews 3:1-6 (11th Day)

Romans 4:6-13 (12th Day)


Happy are they all who fear the LORD,

and who follow in the ways of the LORD!

–Psalm 128:1, Book of Common Worship (1993)


The story in Numbers 21:4-9 is a good place to start this post.  It sent me scurrying to commentaries.  The notes in The Jewish Study Bible (2004) tell me of the Rabbinic discomfort with the sympathetic magic in the account.  Professor Richard Elliott Friedman, in his Commentary on the Torah (2011), makes the connection between the bronze serpent and the incident concerning the snake in the court of the Pharaoh (Exodus 7:8-10).  Friedman also refers to 2 Kings 18:4, in which King Hezekiah orders the destruction of the bronze serpent, to which some people had been burning incense.  Volume 2 (1953) of The Interpreter’s Bible says that the bronze serpent was an example of spiritual homeopathy or at least an example thereof, one which

rests on a sound basis in human experience


wounds heal wounds.

–page 243

The best, most helpful analysis, however, comes from Walther Eichrodt, as translated by J. A. Baker:

The terrifying power of God, who will turn his weapons of leprosy, serpent and plague (cf. Ex. 4.1-7, Num. 21:6ff; 11:33) even against his own people leaves men in no doubt that the covenant he has created is no safe bulwark, behind which they can make cunning use of the divine power to prosecute their own interests.  The covenant lays claim to the whole man and calls him to a surrender with no reservations.

Theology of the New Testament, Volume One (Philadelphia, PA:  Westminster Press, 1961), pages 44-45

Thus this post continues a line of thought present in its immediate predecessor in order of composition.  God calls the blessed people to function as blessings to others.  The faithful, redeemed people of God have a mandate to cooperate with God in reforming society for the common good and divine glory.  In the Bible righteousness and justice are the same thing.  Hence we read prophets’ condemnations of economic exploitation and judicial corruption as opposites of righteousness.  To live in the household of God is to have both privileges and duties.

One task for those with a slave mentality is to abandon it and to embrace freedom in God.  I know that eating the same thing repeatedly gets old rapidly, but at least the Israelites were not starving.  God does provide; gratitude is in order, even if manna is crystallized insect feces.  Often our mentalities stand between us and God, whose manna does come with the condition of servitude to the source.  What we receive from God might not be what we want or expect, but it is what we need.  May we accept it gratefully and accept the obligation to serve God and leave our world better than we found it.








Devotion for the Fiftieth Day of Easter: Day of Pentecost (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   6 comments

Above:  The Conquest of the Amorites, by James Tissot

Numbers and Luke, Part IX:  Fairness and Grace

MAY 28, 2023


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 21:10-35

Psalm 93 (Morning)

Psalms 136 and 117 (Evening)

Luke 21:20-38



The sequence to which this post belongs continues at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS, beginning with the following URL:


Israelite victories and conquests prior to the arrival in Canaan fill Numbers 21:10-35.  The narrative tells us that so long as they obeyed God, they won.  I wish that life were always as simple as obedience to God leading to success and prosperity.  Yet, as we read in Luke 21:12-19, sometimes it leads to persecution and betrayal.  Indeed, the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot opens the next chapter.

I have no easy answers as to why bad things happen to good people.  Observation and the study of history have taught me some lessons.  Jealousies arise.  We see those who are better than ourselves and we seek to tear them down rather than to improve ourselves.  Or we misunderstand others, and we learn to hate those we do not understand.  Sometimes people are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Yet some people seem to have all the luck while others seem to have none.  The fact that I know all this does mean than I understand it very well.

I do know that the world is an unfair place.  I have railed against this to God.  The world is still horribly unfair, however.  But perhaps fairness is not the proper standard.  Grace is not fair either, but I try not to complain about that reality.  No, the standard I really seek is grace–to everybody.  And, when I perceive the absence of it, I become disturbed.  And I rail about it to God.  But to what extent are we–you, O reader, and I–supposed to function as agents of that grace more than we do?

Now that is a hard lesson.







Devotion for the Forty-Eighth and Forty-Ninth Days of Easter (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   9 comments

Above:  Moses Striking the Rock, by Pieter de Grebber

Numbers and Luke, Part VIII:   The Sin of Pride

MAY 26 and 27, 2023


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 20:1-21 (48th Day of Easter)

Numbers 20:22-21:9 (49th Day of Easter)

Psalm 96 (Morning–48th Day of Easter)

Psalm 92 (Morning–49th Day of Easter)

Psalms 50 and 138 (Evening–48th Day of Easter)

Psalms 23 and 114 (Evening–49th Day of Easter)

Luke 20:19-44 (48th Day of Easter)

Luke 20:45-21:9 (49th Day of Easter)


The readings for today occur against the backdrop of death.  Miriam and Aaron die.  Jesus will die soon.  And, in the midst of all this, the main sin common to the readings from Numbers and Luke is pride, being spectacular.  That was the sin of Moses, whose disobedience detracted from the glory of God.  And the scribes in Luke 20:45-47 reveled in public acclaim while devouring the property of widows.  Furthermore, those who wasted our Lord’s time with a political trap and with sophistry earlier in Luke 20 probably thought their rhetorical powers and mind games clever.  They were mistaken.

To have a balanced self-image, or ego, is crucial.  We are neither worms nor demigods.  We are, however, bearers of the image of God.  And, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote in poetic terms, we are slightly lower than the angels.  So we ought to acknowledge our potential, its source, and our limitations.  To miss the mark–to aim too high or too low–is to arrive at an inaccurate estimate of our true worth.

May we therefore think neither too highly nor too lowly of ourselves.  And may we let God appear as spectacular as possible.  Not to do so is to commit the sin of pride.







Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B   23 comments

Above:  Stained-Glass Window:  Moses and the Snake, St. Mark’s Church, Gillingham, Kent, England

Image in the Public Domain

Sins and Suffering

MARCH 14, 2021


Numbers 21:4-9 (New Revised Standard Version):

From Mount Hor the Israelites set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses,

Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.

Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said,

We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.

So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses,

Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.

So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,

and his mercy endures for ever.

2  Let all those whom the LORD has redeemed proclaim

that he redeemed them from the hand of the foe.

3  He gathered them out of the lands;

from the east and from the west,

from the north and from the south.

17  Some were fools and took to rebellious ways;

they were afflicted because of their sins.

18  They abhorred all manner of food

and drew near to death’s door.

19  Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,

and he delivered them from their distress.

20  He sent forth his word and healed them

and saved them from the grave.

21  Let them give thanks to the LORD for his mercy

and the wonders he does for his children.

22  Let them offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving

and tell of his acts with shouts of joy.

Ephesians 2:1-10 (New Revised Standard Version):

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

John 3:14-21 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus said to Nicodemus,

Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.

The Collect:

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Some Related Posts:

Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A:

Numbers 21:

John 3:


Sometimes there is a link between one’s sin and one’s suffering. Actions do have consequences, after all.  But, as we read in Job and the Gospels, one’s sufferings, diseases, and disabilities do not always result from one’s sins.  Reason and experience confirm this conclusion.

Some suffering results from the sins of others.  Suppose, for example, that somebody steals my car, causing me inconvenience at least and perhaps suffering.  I was just minding my business, but the other person’s greed has hurt me.  Likewise, one can come down with lung cancer because of the cigarette smoke of others.  Living well is no guarantee against all bad ends.

Then there are the cases where suffering has no apparent cause.  Why are some people born blind, for example?  Jesus faced this question.  Nobody needed to have sinned for the blindness to have resulted.  So let us refrain from assuming that a person’s suffering has resulted from something he or she has done, for we run the risk of judging others unjustly.  Our knowledge is limited, but God’s is not.  And God is also prone to forgiving generously.



Thirtieth Day of Lent   20 comments

Stained-Glass Window:  Moses and the Snake, St. Mark’s Church, Gillingham, Kent, England

Image in the Public Domain

The Brass Serpent

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Collect and lections from the Episcopal Lesser Feasts and Fasts Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints


Follow the assigned readings with me this Lent….

Kenneth Randolph Taylor


Numbers 21:4-9 (Revised English Bible):

From Mount Hor they [the Israelites] left by way of the Red Sea to march round the flank of Edom.  But on the way the people grew impatient and spoke against God and Moses.

Why have you brought us up from Egypt,

they said

to die in the desert where there is neither food nor water? We are heartily sick of this miserable fare.

Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them, and they bit the Israelites so that many of them died.  The people came to Moses and said,

We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and you.  Plead with the LORD to rid us of these snakes.

Moses interceded for the people, and the LORD told him to make a serpent and erect it as a standard, so that anyone bitten by a snake could look at the bronze serpent and recover.

Psalm 102:15-22 (Revised English Bible):

The nations will revere your name, LORD,

and all earthly kings your glory,

when the LORD builds Zion again

and shows himself in his glory,

when he turns to hear the prayer of the destitute

and does not spurn their prayer.

This will be written down for future generations,

that people yet unborn may praise the LORD:

The LORD looks down from his sanctuary on high;

from heaven he surveys the earth

to hear the groaning of the prisoners

and set free those under sentence of death.

So shall the LORD’s name be declared in Zion

and his praise told in Jerusalem,

when peoples are assembled together,

and kingdoms, to serve the LORD.

John 8:21-30 (Revised English Bible):

Again he [Jesus] said to them [the people],

I am going away.  You will look for me, but you will die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come.

At this [some of] the Jews said,

Perhaps he will kill himself: is that what he means when he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?

Jesus continued,

You belong to this world below, I to the world above.  Your home is in this world, mine is not.  That is why I told you that you would die in your sins; and you will die in your sins unless you believe I am what I am.

They asked him,

And who are you?

Jesus answered,

What I have told you all along.  I have much to say about you–and in judgement.  But he who sent me speaks the truth, and what I heard from him I report to the world.

They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father.  So Jesus said to them,

When you have lifted up the Son of Man you will know that I am what I am.  I do nothing on my own authority, but in all I say, I have been taught by my Father.  He who sent me is present with me, and has not left me on my own; for I always do what is pleasing to him.

As he said this, many put their faith in him.

The Collect:

Almighty God, through the incarnate Word you have caused us to be born anew of an imperishable and eternal seed: Look with compassion upon those who are being prepared for Holy Baptism, and grant that they may be built as living stones into a spiritual temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


These readings prompted spiritual digestion for a few days.  After some reading, listening, and pondering, however, some coherent thoughts have occurred to me.

1.  The Jewish Scriptures arose from oral tradition, which interpreted certain natural events as the wrath of God.  Snakes bite people sometimes.  Yet God did not send venomous serpents to bite human beings, no matter how irritating they became.  One might think that liberated people would know better than to wax nostalgic about Egyptian leftovers, but one would be mistaken.

2.  “Sacred violence” is a terrible notion.  God does not commit or condone violence, for God is love.  The idea of sacred violence underpins the interpretation in the reading from Numbers, as well as the mindset which led to the crucifixion of Jesus.  Did not the story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham make this point clear?  It did not, to the satisfaction of many people, apparently.

3.  Gazing upon the bronze snake was an example of sympathetic magic.  The cure was related to the affliction.  In 1 Corinthians 10:13 Paul wrote, “…with the testing he [God] will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”  The way out of affliction is related to the nature of the affliction itself.

4.  The Christus Victor interpretation of the Atonement proves helpful in the context of these readings.  Given the trajectory of Jesus’ life, one outcome was likely.  He would collide with religious authorities and the Roman Empire, and therefore die in a painful and humiliating manner.  Such was the consequence to himself.  (Now to Christus Victor).  The death and resurrection (Let us never forget to move on to the Resurrection.) of Jesus constituted the vanquishing of evil schemes and the liberation of people from the bondage of sin.  (They need to trust in him, of course.)  The Resurrection constitutes a great display of divine power.  Imagine if God were from South Philly:  “What else you got?  Bring it on!”

Just as sin and evil led to the crucifixion, and the crucifixion had to precede the Resurrection, the Resurrection contains the antidote to the power of sin and evil.  Hence we see the connection between a bronze snake on a pole and the cross of Jesus.

5.  Lent is a time for many people to prepare for Baptism, which is Christian initiation, not proverbial fire insurance.  Through the sacramental waters of baptism Christians enter into the faith community.  Other sacraments mark further steps in the journey.  I, for example, have gone through confirmation once and reaffirmation twice.  But I have had only one baptism, and only one is necessary.  And every time I have witnessed a baptism, confirmation, or reaffirmation I have reaffirmed my baptismal vows in the congregational context.  Just as Jesus demonstrated the relative impotence of evil and sin with his bloodshed and glorious resurrection, we of church today, by the power of the Holy Spirit, bury sins sacramentally with water.

6.  My Presbyterian brethren emphasize the sovereignty of God.  They are correct in this.  God will win–perhaps not via Divine Plan A–but God will win.  Deo Gratia!


Written on March 8, 2010