Monday, July 25, 2011
Monday, July 04, 2011
In Kadesh Miriam died and was buried. There was no account whether they mourned for her in contrast with her brother Aaron, explicitly stated “And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, all the house of Israel wept for Aaron thirty days”. However, Miriam’s death was paralleled with Aaron’s death in the end of the chapter and one of the few women whose death was accounted in Torah. This leads us to the significance of Miriam. Miriam is the sister of Aaron and Moses. She is the one who looked over Moses when he was a baby in the river Nile. She also challenged Moses leadership earlier in the book of numbers when Moses married a Cushite woman. Her rebellion caused her to be Leprous. However, her death outside the Promised Land was not due to punishment but of natural occurrence. Her death was immediately followed by the text “Now there was no water for the congregation”. The death of Miriam was quickly followed by the lost of water. Is Miriam’s death associated or closely linked to the lost of water? If yes, what is the significance of water – the symbolism of water with her and her leadership? Some commentators would say that when Miriam died, the Jewish people did not properly grieve for her and therefore the Lord caused the "Well of Miriam" to dry up. However, we could not assume that people did not grieve. It is more appropriate that the death of Miriam per se caused the well to dry up and not the people’s failure to grieve over her death. Miriam represents the water of Israel. Water has many purposes. First, it is use to cleanse. Before Miriam’s death was an introduction of a ritual of cleansing this must have anticipated the death of Miriam or vice versa Miriam’s death was use to justify the ritual. The Latter I support, Torah was actually a Babylonian exile literature, so text from numbers must have been a justification of a certain tradition. Therefore Miriam is actually “a water of cleansing” for the Jews – a person able to heal their diseases. For she herself have been under a disease and was able to survive it. Second water is nourishment for the people this is without contention. During a desert journey we imagine a woman who provides water to quench the thirst of the people. Therefore, Miriam is a symbol for spiritual nourishment.
People began to complain to Moses and Aaron. Without water people would not be able to survive. Here people’s trust in Moses began to shake off. The Lord then commanded Moses "Take the rod, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water; so you shall bring water out of the rock for them… And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his rod twice; and water came forth abundantly”. The rod becomes a symbol of authority, Moriarty would suggest that it was the staff of Aaron, and the rock as some commentaries would suggest the rock of Miriam. It is stated that Aaron and Moses should “tell” the rock to produce water, but there was no statement that it should not hit the rock, and not to hit the rock twice. There was no explanation to why Moses hit the rock twice, so it must be symbolical, and why he hit it rather than simply commanding it? Although we could also say that “tell” might connote “hit” or both words mean “to command”.
“And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not believe in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them." These are the waters of Mer'ibah, where the people of Israel contended with the Lord, and he showed himself holy among them.” This one is very confusing; suddenly the Lord became angry with Moses and Aaron and punished them.
There are suggestions to why the Lord punished both Moses and Aaron. First, commentators would suggest that the story is incomplete and has omitted the offense made by Moses out of respect. Second other commentators would suggest that Moses instead of just commanding the rock to produce water Moses strike the rock. While others would contend that God intended Moses to hit the rock but not twice. This case was actually similar to that of Exodus 17: 5-6. While others would say that it was due to Moses lost of temper, the manner in which he lead, the people. Instead of making God known and showing God’s mercy Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, "Hear now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?" Instead of making the occasion a joyful manifestation of God’s effortless control over nature, they had turned it into a scene of bitter denunciation. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not believe in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them." Why such punishment? God could have just chosen a lighter punishment – like making Moses sick. But why die outside of the promise land? It is like a prisoner promised of freedom right upon his death. This may leave us a message but first we have to look that Aaron, Miriam and Moses died outside of the Promised Land. Miriam died first out of natural occurrence, in the last part of the chapter Aaron died at Mount Hor and his priesthood was carried on by his Son. Moses died just outside of the Promise Land. So why all of them have to die outside? They’re probably old that time. Many of those who entered the Promised might have been Sons and Daughters or the third generation after their escape from Egypt. See, many have died upon the journey. But God did not forget the promise, he does not. In the end the people of God dwelt upon the land although 40 years after their exit in Egypt. See as mentioned earlier this story is about the memory of the Jews – it has a deep message for all of us.
Why God did punished Moses and Aaron? Moses and Aaron are like parents; they should let go of the people they’re old enough. Moses and Aaron should be with God by the time they have done their part in leading the Israelites in the Journey. The message of this punishment was to all the people who tried to think that what they have done, they have alone. This happen occasionally to priests or teachers, or even missionaries. We often say the “I did this or that”, or “I am the one” failing to see that without God we can never do all the things we accomplish; this is what happen to Aaron and Moses. They of course are in a state of grief. Miriam died and that I have the right to be angry. But Moses and Aaron did not see God is still showing love to them; even without Miriam, God is still in their midst to provide water – living water. God will still give them the spirit of Joy. But Moses and Aaron did the opposite of what God wants them. Grief is not an excuse to forget God’s wonder in our lives. Often if a family member dies we can grieve over a death but it is not an excuse to blame God or forget God’s love. Our success is a manifestation of God’s love, and if we try to emphasize our own work rather than God’s providence we will end up being frustrated. Because only in God can we find meaning in our lives. See, the meaning of their Journey was the promise land a sign of God’s love but Moses and Aaron in their grief failed to see that God is still showing his compassion and had mislead the people that the wonder they are about to show is their own. They ended up not reaching the promise land – not reaching the meaning of their journey.
However, the death of the three leaders (Moses will die at the end of Deuteronomy) does not mean that their journey is in vain. A message for the Jews during the Babylonian capture and for all of us fighting for a cause: We may die but the fight will not be over. See Moses believed that someday the Israelites will reach the promise land and there they can dwell peacefully. So they went on a journey, but the journey seems in vain - they sojourned for years. But God never forgets his people he provided all their needs and soon they will reach the land God promised for them. See if you are fighting not for your own but for your people, for the good of humanity, your journey will not be vain because you are not travelling alone. Israelites during the capture might die but they’re hope in God will not, if they die they believe the next generation will carry on with that faith, that is why they keep on remembering what God has done for their people – that God forget that promise to be with them always. It’s like fighting for a cause. We may lose this battle now, but tomorrow God has not forgotten his promise and that he will be with us and make us win that battle. A journey Moses has not finished but his fellows have. Moses’ death was not that of the punishment but of hope. And that hope was not in vain.