Day 41--I am a Gershonite!--"Beyond Failure" Numbers 26:1 - 31:54
February 10, 2021, 7:13 AM

Day 41—Numbers 26:1 – 31:54

First for those of you who know about the delicatessen on Union Street in Schenectady, I am a Gershonite!! Of course, I’m not literally an ancestor, but I find it fascinating to see names for places and people that we hear about today which occur as far back as 1400 BCE, and Gershon is one of those names. I am a Gershonite because Gershon’s Deli has the best macaroni salad I have ever had in my life, in addition to the knishes, the sandwiches the size of your head, the crumb cake brought in from NYC… I have thought about going there just to ask them if they know about their illustrious ancestry, and then I realize “Laurie, you are taking this WAY too far.” Imagine that crazy lady on line when you are waiting for your pastrami sandwich to go, and she keeps insisting that she’s going to tell the people who work there the entire story of the Israelites: “But you are from a priestly class, the tribe of Levi!!!” with a special focus on the Gershonites. Yeah. I think I’ll hold myself back.

But this brings up an important overarching point about our readings. Land matters. Having a homeland that you own is considered a blessing from God, and while that is true today as well, we now purchase land, purchase titles. During the time of Moses, occupying the land, fighting for the land and being commissioned by God to take the land is the process of ownership.

The Israelites are wandering and learning and studying in order to take possession of their homeland, the land that the LORD has preserved for them. But the obstacles are fierce, and the memory of the Israelites, well, let’s just say they are distractable.

That’s why we are reading about the number of people/men in the tribes of Israel again. This new generation will be the people who take possession of the Promised Land, and the men are being ‘enrolled’ or basically registered for the draft. There will be fighting ahead, as we will see even in these final chapters of the book of Numbers. (Note: I find it interesting that even today, every Israeli citizen, man or woman, must serve in the army, although this only dates to the formation of the country of Israel in 1948. The Israeli Military Force is considered one of the best battle-ready armies in the world.)

The importance of establishing a homeland is also the reason that God goes over all the rituals associated with festivals again. We might sigh and wonder why we are reading about this again but these festivals are the ways in which the people are to continue to worship and acknowledge the One God vs. the worship of many capricious gods of the people groups that Israel fights against. The festivals are gifts from God to remind the people who he is, and what he has given them, to remind them of their own flaws and failings, and yet to reinforce the great graces that God has shown them, and will continue to show them.

When they finally arrive in the new homeland, it may be tempting to push God aside in order to set up homes, cities and places of business. As I said, the Israelites are distractable, but it is a human tendency to put oneself, to put ME, at the center of my life rather than God, especially when life is going well. We think we need God less at those times, when it is God’s providence that provides all good things for us. God tells Moses all the sacrificial festival requirements again, and Moses then repeats them to the people of Israel. This reminds them: do not forget the story of your escape from the Egyptians. Do not forget that you are not holy, but that God is holy. Do not forget to offer from your abundance to the God who provides the abundance. Do not forget to tell your story to your children and your children’s children.

I find this poignant to write because telling the story of our families and our ancestors is profoundly important to many of us. Some of us do not have many stories, and some, like me, wish we had asked more questions when our parents were alive because the pictures and the stories are fading. So many of those stories revolve around where people were born, where they lived, the place they called home.

The story of God and his people has been entrusted to the generations. Imagine that this is a 4,000 year (plus!) story that we are still telling/reading today. The story sounds familiar—the land of Israel is always in conflict. Even today, there is nearly constant military action and fighting. And many of our wars around the globe continue to be waged with religious practice and God as the underlying foundation, but Alistair, who grew up in the Troubles in Northern Ireland will tell you this: “It’s always about land.” In other words, we are seeing in these early bible books the beginning of a human conflict ideology (goes right back to Cain and Abel, doesn’t it?) that continues not only in Israel today, but in N. Ireland (non-military, but continues under the surface), in Sudan, and in various countries in the Middle East. Land, ownership, and power. Every one of them has caused the loss of human life and continues to do so. Every battle is waged in order to take possession, or to retain possession, of land, of power and of resources, and is fought to support an ideology, whether religious or political, but usually both.

Our story about the Israelites from Numbers is not really unfamiliar to us, is it?

Be blessed, and be a blessing to others,

ML

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Note 1: If you are interested in finding out about contemporary Christian understanding of war, or the morality of war, research the Just War Theory.

Note 2: I loved the whole contemplation about failure, and I wish that’s what I had been led to write about, but it wasn’t. Pay attention to that theme because it is a pervasive theme in our own culture. The gift of failure…have you EVER thought of failure as a gift?

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