God Completely Hears & Heals Us

God Completely Hears & Heals Us

Homily for Fourth Sunday in Lent

March 10, 2024

God Completely Hears & Heals Us

Homily for Sunday, March 10, 2024
The Fourth Sunday in Lent
Numbers 21:4-9
Preached at Bethany Convent, Arlington


“The people became impatient on the way, [and they] spoke against God and against Moses [saying], ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.’”


Any parent who has been on a car trip will recognize the people’s complaint…

The people’s complaint in this morning’s lesson is their seventh and final “rebellion” in the so-called “Rebellion Narratives” of the Book of Numbers (chapters 11-21).  Each of the seven rebellions follows a formula (which, again, parents will recognize): the people complain bitterly about their misery; God’s wrath flares; God begins to punish; Moses intercedes; God relents.  

The rebellion narratives in Numbers are a good “read.”  There are enough variations to keep things interesting – now it’s the people who rebel;now it’s Moses’ siblings, Miriam and Aaron. The punishments are surprisingly creative – now God threatens to give the people so much food that it will come out their nostrils (11:20); now the earth opens and swallows Korah, Dathan and Abiram (ch 16).  And there are some wonderful exchanges between Moses and God – God threatens to wipe out the people entirely; but Moses points out how bad a “look” it would be to the surrounding nations if God were to wipe out the same people God had miraculously saved (14:13ff).  

The editors of the Torah were nothing if not intentional in their choices.  I wonder if the editors of the final form of the Book of Numbers chose to include not four, not six, not eight but seven rebellion narratives, the number seven signifying “perfect” or “complete.”  I wonder if the editors chose to include seven rebellion narratives to emphasize the perfectly and completely rebellious nature of the people, which – by the time of the Babylonian exile in the sixth century BCE (when the Book of Numbers is thought to have achieved its present form) – would have made for a ready explanation as to why God allowed Jerusalem to fall and its inhabitants to be taken into exile.  Rebelling seven times, the people were “perfectly” and “completely” rebellious, and so God allowed them to be carried into exile.

But if the people were perfectly and completely rebellious, so, too, was Moses able to intercede seven times, and so did God hear Moses seven times, suggesting that we may pray as often and as thoroughly as we wish, and that God always and completely hears our prayers.  And if the people were perfectly and completely rebellious, so, too, was God’s mercy complete and perfect.  Seven times God relented and did not fully carry out the intended punishment.  The parent-child image for the rebellion narratives may be fitting, as God like a loving parent always hears what we have to say, always responds, and always is working on our behalf and for our good.

Even though it is perfectly human to forget God and to want to rebel, I hope as we are mid-way through the Lenten season that we can hear how completely and perfectly God loves us.  As John said, “God so loved the world that God gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”   And I hope we can hear that we can always pray and that God always hears and that – as God was with the people in the wilderness – so will God never abandon us, but will always be with us,accompanying us on the way, and working always on our behalf and for our good.




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