I am reading a new book called “The Blue Parakeet” by Scot McKnight (same author of the Jesus Creed which I wrote about previously). Its a book about how to read the Bible. One of the points he had made thus far is that much of what we have in the Hebrew Scriptures is a story about the forming of a “covenant community” – a community of people governed by the promises that God made to Abraham way back in the book of Genesis. There are some wonderful examples of the community being built together but there are others where you can see the fragmenting of community taking place. Today’s readings from Numbers capture this – from the individual brokenness between people and the fracturing of the community as a whole. Numbers 12 begins with Miriam (Moses’ sister) and Aaron (Moses’ brother) speaking against him because of Moses’ wife, a Cushite. Without getting into the background of his wife, it is striking to see that all of a sudden (it seems), Moses’ siblings are going after him because of his marriage. Brokenness between a few people. Reading a few verses on, the community begins to fracture as scouts return to the Hebrews after scoping out the land. They come back with a report that terrifies the people as a whole – the people there are too big, we can’t do this!, etc – The people then begin complaining bitterly once again about wishing they could go back to Egypt. They even go so far as to start calling for a new leader to lead them back to slavery in Egypt.
God’s anger burns against the people, is ready to wipe them out and Moses (the one who was the subject of attacks from his siblings just recently) intercedes before the Lord on behalf of the people. The destruction is avoided, but a punishment still comes – none of the adults of the people will see the promised land, but only their descendants.
The community feels broken and shattered – much like this small lego brick I saw in a parking lot yesterday. Lego blocks are supposed to be for building up, creativity, and fun. Yet this one that maybe fell out of a child’s pocket or thrown out a window, is ruined and will never be able to build again. Its possibilities for being built up are gone.
The good news in the midst of a troubling story here in Numbers though is that the community does have an opportunity to be restored and renewed. Is there brokenness? Yes. Are their consequences of their bitterness and disobedience? Yes. But there is promise that God will continue to be faithful to the covenant made in the first place.
That’s a message that continues to resonate even to today in the brokenness in the relationships we each may struggle with.