Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Challenge Continues, Day 53: Numbers 12-14; Psalm 44; Luke 2

Of stiff necks and steadfast hearts....
Miriam is struck with leprosy after she and Aaron contend with Moses before God
One of the gifts of the Bible Challenge is that as we read, we open up again the narrative of our walk with God, from the beginning. So far, along the way, we have stumbled across a couple of portions of the story wherein I remembered that something had happened, but had forgotten exactly how it came to pass. Reading Numbers today, I had completely forgotten the controversies of the "inner circle" around Moses, when Miriam and Aaron themselves grumbled and murmured against Moses' favor before the Lord. When the Lord commands that they come with Moses and present themselves before the Presence, my heart leaped up into my throat. These are the ones who should be modeling faith, humility and solidarity in offering their service as leaders to the people on behalf of God, and God is forced to "sort them out." And, this turns out to be just a foretaste of the difficulties that are about to come to pass for Israel.

After a "long time" in the desert, they have finally arrived at the threshold of the Promised Land. God commands that scouts be sent throughout the land, to assess it and the people living in it and to report back what they find to the people of God. What do they find? They explore a land rich with resources, and the people living in it have benefited from that wealth. The cities are fortified, but the people are content. Conquering them will be no easy task, but it will be possible...particularly if the Lord goes before them. The official report back conforms to that experience...but the unofficial rumors spread by the scouts in the camp offers another story. They tell stories about their travels that populate the land with the children of giants. The fortifications are strong enough to shatter any army that attempts to assail them. The task of conquering the land? It is beyond daunting!

Israel balks...and God is incensed with anger. The judgment for their stiff-necked resistance is that this entire generation that came up out of Egypt will fall in the desert. Their children will be the ones to enter the land. Of course, that judgement comes after Moses talks God out of destroying Israel out of hand. You would think Israel would have learned its lesson? No, they try to go up before the Lord and enter anyway. That doesn't go very well, either.

What a mess. And the reward is another "long time" in the desert. You think we would learn from this debacle? Not so much...salvation history will be riddled with these moments when humanity stiffens its collective neck and resists God, even to the point of apostasy. Every once in a while, occasionally, a generation might get it right...but we just can't seem to hold on to that God-focused, faithful adherence..."Not my will, God; but yours be done..."

Simeon and Anna greet the Christ child, Jesus
Just when I despair of our lousy lot, along come Simeon and Anna. These two seniors have spent a balance of their adult lives in the Temple precinct, waiting obediently on God and for the revelation of Messiah. Simeon himself was told by God that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah. He was an old man. He had waited a long time, and his heart had remained steadfast. When Jesus' parents bring him to the temple for redemption, Simeon's moment is at hand. Seeing Jesus and recognizing his deliverance, he takes the babe in his arms and offers to God a prayer of thanksgiving that will echo down through the millenia. "Lord, now let your servant depart in peace...for these eyes of mine have seen the Savior." It is thanks, supplication, a final benediction from a man who is ready to his life's waiting to conclude...and a note of hope for future generations. Anna's praise to God does not fall short of that, for she proclaims Jesus as Messiah to any who will listen. This little baby, one among so many others, is seen by these two steadfast servants of God as the one to be delivered!

The takeaway for the day for us, I believe, is an invitation to hold each day a little more tenderly than we are wont to do. Take some time to remember that a stiff neck too easily distracts a steadfast heart...and may we, like Simeon and Anna, find a little more strength to wait patiently on God.

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