The Shuvah Project #38 — Murmurs, Mourning, and Meat(?)

New to The Shuvah Project? Find out what it is and why it’s necessary. 

Her spirit returned, and she arose straightway: and he commanded to give her meat.

-Luke 8:55 

Section One (Parsha Debrief):

This week’s Parsha (Numbers 8:1-12:16) contained: details for lighting the menorah, consecration of the Levites, a make-up Passover opportunity, God’s very visual guidance in the wilderness, further details about when to go and how to proceed, some complaints, the Spirit inhabiting 70 elders, a downpour of quail, and some gossiping about Moses.

In the Midweek Reading Guide, we asked a question about the laws of Tumah. Specifically, is God more concerned with the technical aspects or value expressions of the law? We asked because in Numbers 9:6-12 God grants some unclean people a second opportunity to celebrate the Passover (Footnote #1). And, in the Luke Text, Jesus also finds Himself “unclean because of a human corpse (Numbers 9:6).”

That’s what M.D. Goulder hones in on, but I think there’s more.

In fact, I think several stories/themes across our Torah portion are hinted at in the Luke Text. Let’s dive in.

Ask yourself this… have we heard the Numbers 11 murmurings before?

Indeed we have. Coincidentally (or not), God’s people voiced similar concern when they first walked in the wilderness approaching Sinai. Now, we see almost a repeat as they depart Sinai on what should be an 11-day journey into the promised land.

Murmuring
On both sides of Sinai, in the wilderness, the Israelites murmured.

These stories have so many similarities it’s hard to overlook their connection. But, what’s different between them? Rabbis Immanuel Shalev and David Block look at these differences in Can We Be Vulnerable with God? 

Notice in Exodus God immediately responds providing food for the Israelites (without being frustrated). The Rabbis at AlephBeta unpack the Exodus Text further in Are We an Ungrateful Nation? Essentially, God understood the people’s deeper concern after the whole miraculous exodus from Egypt — do you actually care about us God, or were we just an incidental byproduct of your agenda, your beef with Pharaoh?

So, God provides for them to show them the depth of their relationship.

In Numbers, we find the Israelites a little over a year into daily provisions of bread from Heaven.

See the difference?

Here’s how Rabbis Shalev and Block put it, in Exodus, they really did have nothing… they rushed out of Egypt with unrisen bread that wouldn’t last them long. But, in Numbers, they just act like they’ve got nothing,

there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.

-Numbers 11:6b

Maybe this time the murmuring is different too. Whereas they questioned who this God is to them in Exodus, now there’s really no excuse to not know how much God is for them — they get bread from Heaven delivered to their doorsteps daily.

What then are they murmuring about? Well, Rabbi David Fohrman looks to the root of the Hebrew for murmur. It turns out, the Numbers Text is less a complaint and better understood as mourning.

Mourning? Yes.

Mourning Egypt? Not exactly.

What would you be mourning if God provided for you every single day?

Maybe, control?

That’s the difference as Rabbi Fohrman sees it. In Numbers, God’s people mourn control. The Text even suggests as much. Right after we hear about their issue with manna, we’re told, 

The people walked around and gathered it. They ground it on a pair of grinding stones or crushed it in a mortar, then boiled it in a cooking pot and shaped it into cakes.

-Numbers 11:8

They had to take control and process what was gifted from Heaven.

But, maybe there’s more to the notion of control.

It’s not just that Israel mourns control — they mourn desire! They desire to desire. In fact, that’s exactly how the Text describes it…

And the mixt multitude that was among them ‘avah ta’avah

-Numbers 11:4a

The multitude desire desire.

But, it’s unlikely their desires were met while enslaved. So, how does their time in Egypt connect to their current state-of-being? What was so good for them in Egypt?

They can’t possibly believe their time in Egypt was better than now.

What if the Nation is not desiring what Egypt offered physically? Instead, what if they are desiring what their time in Egypt offered Spiritually?

Almost as if…

They wanted to be back in that state of need.

-Rabbi David Fohrman, Where It All Went Wrong

Section Two (Connection to NT + haftarah):

Isn’t true that there are two sides to the desire coin? Desiring security and desiring liberty. And, at some level, both are really needs.

The Numbers Text seems to suggest that in the midst of no longer needing security, the Nation turns to liberty. The Luke Text seems to offer commentary on trust, which underlies both security and liberty.

Let’s look at how both sections of Text share a similar chronological order.

Jairus Daughter

That’s more than enough connections to suggest purpose.

If there’s one paramount thing we, humans, don’t have complete control over, it’s life. So, maybe God in the flesh helps remind us who does have complete control. Maybe then, the author of Luke is helping us recognize that when we lose control and we’re completely, utterly vulnerable… our security is still secure. Right? No one could control Jairus’ daughter’s life (except God).

And, the biggest difference between the two Texts — what they arose to.

In Numbers, the Israelites arose to gather meat all day and all night — the least gathered ~2,200 liters worth. They don’t just gather it, they eat it… a lot of it. In fact, their liberty to consume might even have led to death — death by overconsumption (Numbers 11:32).

In contrast, Jairus’ daughter arises famished and Jesus immediately commands that she be fed meat.

This might just be the most important distinction between the competing narratives of Empire and Shalom.

Maybe God’s provisions are designed to meet our needs. And, maybe God even knows when securing life involves eating meat (Footnote #2).

Gluttony, on the other hand, is overexpression of liberty framed as an act of security.

Gluttony is desire gone awry. It is an absence of trust.

Section Three (missing the mark):

On some level, we’ll give pastors a pass this week. But, if you’d like to dig into the applicable material you should really dig into pride and humility.

While Moses’ brother and sister gossip behind his back, the Text decides it’s an opportune time to tell us…

Moses was a very humble man, more so than any man on the face of the earth.

-Numbers 12:3

Then, after the astonishing act of lifting Jairus’ daughter back to life, the Luke Text tells us…

[Jesus] instructed them to tell no one what had happened.

-Luke 8:56b

I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Especially given that last week Jesus charged the healed man to “Go back to your home, and tell all that God has done for you (Luke 8:39).”

So, it seems worth wrestling with and asking… what does it mean to be humble, to have humility? 

Section Four (real-world applications):

All this talk in section one and two begs the question — can we be vulnerable with God and ask for freedom?

Are we allowed to desire anything? How do we discern needs, wants, control, desire, and what is enough?

I think these questions are especially relevant in a world where daily bread is no longer tangible.

This line of inquiry reminds me of the discussion points raised in Brian McLaren’s book, Naked Spirituality. What happens when that new car smell of faith and relationship with God wears off?

I think the perspective God’s people have on manna highlights the struggle. Their perspective changes over time.

manna tastes like cake fried in honey.

-Exodus 16:31

[manna] tastes like dough kneaded with oil.

-Numbers 11:9

insubstantial [or tasteless] food

-Numbers 21:5

Sweet… to savory… to tasteless as they journey with God in the wilderness.

The sweetness of our relationship with God — or as McLaren puts it, the hot passion of summer — often wanes.

When it does, when we weep, when we mourn, when we desire to control, and when we laugh at the possibility of life… is our security still secure?


Next Week’s Readings: Numbers 13:1-15:41; Luke 9:1-9

Footnotes:

  1. Remember, experiencing Tumah isn’t really uncleanliness or impurity. Refer back to our discussions in Defiled and Spiritual Leprosy.
  2. Furthermore, if you’ve spent any time wrestling with the notion of how humanity’s diet changes pre/post-flood, you’ll recognize the killing of animals (eating of meat) is now acceptable post-flood. Likewise, kosher laws show up that have a whole lot to do with recognizing the soul/life of the animal, lest we forget it is part of God’s Creation. There’s a lot to unpack within this, AlephBeta has great material on it. But, to the point, eating meat creates a sense of control/dominance over nature; therefore, kosher laws are designed to make sure humanity doesn’t forget where their food security comes from… God. Ultimately, kosher laws are physical actions that create the mental check — you’re not Creator


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