Lectionary Year B
March 30, 2003
Numbers 21:4-9

Step II: Disposition

A. Genre

(JFC) These verses read like an ancient travelogue, long before the ubiquitous, "Are we there yet?" heard all along road trips of today's Interstate travels. We do get some monologues followed by reported actions resulting from the complaints. The rather matter-of-fact account records words, actions and more words followed by final actions. The people complain about discomforts in the wilderness and when God replies with sending real discomforts to complain about, they get the idea that it is their sinfulness that precipitates their problems. So, they plead with Moses to plead with God for relief. God exceeds their wishes and they receive life as well as a way to avoid death by snake bites. Some of the sentences are right long and can get almost complex, while others are brief and to the point (e.g., 7e).

B. Personal Interaction

(JFC) Why go around Edom? What made the people impatient, the long round about itinerary or the monotonous diet/menu? Do the people believe that God make their complaints more worth complaining about by sending the snakes as punishment or merely for some reality check or just what is/are the reason(s)? Is the copper/bronze serpent significant in and of itself?

C. Organization

(JFC) The going around Edom is in the middle of the lection's first (4th) verse. The peoples' impatience comes at the end of the same verse. The serpents appear first in the 6th verse. The last verse (9) describes the copper/bronze serpent to be put on a pole.


(WCL) The making of the idol is a violation of the 2nd Commandment. It is obvious violation. As far as I am aware, it is unique. And according to the plain language of the text, it was done on the direct instruction of God. Is this a declaration that "God's rules" do not limit God? Is this an explanation of why and how an idol from the wilderness period existed and was maintained up to the time of 8th century? Issues of dating and authorship come into play. Obviously, from II Kings 18, the idol has become a problem even if at one point it symbolized the grace of God. How often do God's gifts in one period of life become hindrances to the effective life of individuals and communities in another era?

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