The last week hasn’t been so great for me. I stayed out late last Friday night, which was loads of fun, but it screwed up my sleep schedule for quite some time. Then the Supreme Court made a lot of genuinely upsetting case decisions, and while the repeal of DOMA was some relief from that, the fact that it was yet another 5-4 decision was infuriating.
Somehow, I just sort of slipped out of the habit, and I need to get back into it. Even if this isn’t going to be my best post, I need to just write it. I am finding that the pause I take for prayer helps me write a lot.
The center of this chapter is Moses yet again talking God out of smiting the people. They’ve decided for a second time that they want to go back to Egypt, this time due to the exaggerated report of the spies. God’s had enough and threatens to kill them all and give Moses a new people. Moses persuades him to show mercy, and instead God only kills the lying spies and then bars the people who rebelled (everyone over 20) from seeing the promised land by making them wander in the desert for 40 years. That makes sense in the real life context where 60 would have been a maximum lifespan; it makes less sense in the Bible where the average life expectancy seems to be a hundred.What’s interesting is how Moses talks God out of it: He argues that it will ruin God’s reputation. If God doesn’t deliver the Israelites to Canaan, then everyone will consider God a weakling who failed.But there’s another prong to Moses’ argument that caught my eye. After saying that everyone will doubt God’s strength if he doesn’t fulfill his promise, Moses then says (v 17-19, emphasis mind):
And now, therefore, let the power of the Lord be great in the way that you promised when you spoke, saying,
“The Lord is slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love,
forgiving iniquity and transgression,
Forgive the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have pardoned this people, from Egypt even until now.’
After framing the question of God’s greatness in the context of God’s “signs” when freeing them from Egypt (v 11, 13), his power to defeat enemies (v 8-9), and his ability to lead them through the desert (v 16), Moses turns that upside down and says that God’s true strength is in his love, his mercy, his willingness to forgive sin.
How merciful God’s decision to make them wander in the desert for 40 years really was is a matter of interpretation, though it fits with a pattern of “natural consequences.”
But I think Moses’ idea is a powerful one: God’s true greatness is God’s steadfast love.
The Japanese: yodooshi “throughout the night” (v 1), kanau “to be suited to, to be a match for” (v 8), somuku “to go against, to disobey,” eshiki “prey, victim” (v 9), ikkyoni “in one burst, all at once,” meisei “fame, reputation, honor” (v 15), nintaitsuyoi “patient” (v 18), totabi “ten times,” kokoromiru “to try, to attempt” (v 22), heiya “plain” (v 25, koseki “family register” (v 29), teiko suru “to resist, to protest against” (v 34), dangen suru “to affirm, to assert” (v 35).