Friday, October 24, 2014

Numbers: Chapter 20

Speak to stone

And beg for water

Call out
"I mean no harm"

Wait for answer

Can you force it

from the rock?

[For full chapter, click here
A time of closings. In the aftermath of the spies, the entire generation was condemned to die in the desert in the course of 40 years. Now, at this first month of an unspecified year,  the full implications become clear. Miriam and Aaron die, and Moses' death is announced. He too shall die in the desert. Indeed only Joshua and Caleb will enter the Land from the previous generation. 
Again, we seem caught in a re-run of Exodus, but with more deadly implications. As happened before, there is no water; as before, God commands Moses to "take his staff" and bring water from the stone. This time, the command is to "Speak  to the stone." Moses instead "smites" it twice, in language that hearkens back to his role as redeemer in Egypt, when he "smote" the Nile to bring the plagues.
But the use of the staff is a fatal mistake. "Because you didn't believe in Me, to sanctify Me before the eyes of Israel, you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I am giving them" God declares. The water was to have come through asking, not through force. The role of the staff has changed--a indicated by the sudden flowering of Aaron's staff after the battle with Korach. Moses' return to his old role indicates that he can no longer lead the nation.
The limitation on force is highlighted in the next section, where Moses send to the King of Edom to ask for permission to pass through his lands of Edom. There are two attempts at persuasion, reiterating the narratives of Genesis ("Your brother") and Exodus. Yet  speech does not work here, Edom threatens violence, and the Israelites must "turn". What does it mean to ask for something from implacable stone?
We seem to have come to the non-negotiable. Solid stone, death and endings.]

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