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

Step V: Distillation

A. Summary of Salient Features

(JFC) The "theological 'center of gravity' in this text" must be the God against whom the people spoke their dissatisfaction in the wilderness, whom they acknowledged did bring them out of Egyptian bondage, to whom they asked Moses to pray for relief from the fiery serpents' fatal bites and who instructed Moses to make the serpent on the pole and promised it would heal those bitten and looking upon the symbol on the pole resulting in life. These details leave as lesser important matters in this pericope to be the route of the journey around Edom, the lack of food and water, the peoples' impatience and their calling the food (manna) and the water "worthless", the fiery serpents, their fatal bites, possibly even Moses himself and the serpent on a stick itself.

B. Smoother Translation

(JFC) 4 And they set out from the mountain Hor a way to the sea of Reeds/Red, to go around the land of Edom and they became impatient/vexed along the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses saying, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to die in the wilderness? Because (there is) not any/enough food and not enough water and we are very dissatisfied with the food. It is worthless/contemptible." 6 And so Yahweh sent onto/to the people fiery snakes, serpents which bit the people and some of them, the Israelites, died. 7 Then they came to Moses and said, "We have sinned for we spoke against Yahweh and against you. Pray to Yahweh that He will remove the serpents from upon us." So Moses intervened on behalf of the people. 8 And Yahweh said unto Moses, "Make/fabricate yourself a serpent and put it on a signal pole and it will show that everyone who is bitten and will look at it will live. 9 And Moses made a serpent of copper/bronze and put it on a signal pole and it was happening that if bit the serpent a man/anyone, and he looked at the serpent of copper/bronze, he did/would live.

C. Hermeneutical Bridge

(JFC) Being "snake bit" colloquially describes a run of bad luck. As the old TV show "Hee-Haw" sang in one of its themes, "If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all". The wilderness wanderers might have thought the same sort of things, re: their journey.

| Return to Gospel text listings | Return to Epistle text listings |
| Return to Old Testament listings | Return to Psalm listings |
| User response form |