Lesson: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
4 The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
10 Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the LORD became very angry, and Moses was displeased. 11 So Moses said to the LORD, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12 Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child,’ to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors? 13 Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. 15 If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.”
16 So the LORD said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting and have them take their place there with you.
24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD; and he gathered seventy elders of the people and placed them all around the tent. 25 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.
26 Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” 29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!”
Numbers is the fourth book of the Torah (Hebrew meaning “teaching” or “Law”), also known by Christians as the Pentateuch (Greek meaning “Five Books”). Numbers (like the last half of Exodus, and all of Leviticus and Deuteronomy) was set in the time the Israelites were in the Wilderness before entering the Promised Land. If the time in the Wilderness is historical (no archeological evidence has ever been found to support it), this would have been around 1250 BCE.
Most of the book of Numbers was written by the “Priestly Source” during the Babylonian Exile (587-539 BCE) and in the 100 years after the Exile. Today’s reading is one of four stories in the Torah in which the Israelites complained about their food or water or both. (The other three are in Exodus 16, and Numbers 20 and 21.)
In today’s reading, the Israelites complained about the lack of water, vegetables, and meat. YHWH became very angry with the people, and Moses lamented to YHWH that his burden in dealing with the Israelites was too great. After Moses’ lament to YHWH, YHWH directed Moses to gather 70 elders. YHWH took some of Moses’ “spirit” so this group of 70 could “prophesy” (speak for God). The reading concluded with two other men having prophetic powers – a story reflecting some ambivalence in the Bible about who can speak for God.
In the verses that follow today’s reading, YHWH caused large numbers of quail to fall on the camp of the Israelites to a depth of three feet. The Israelites gorged themselves on the meat and suffered a great plague that killed many of them. (Lesson: Be careful what you ask for; you just might get it!)
Epistle: James 5:13-20
13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.
19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Although the authorship of this epistle is not known, it has traditionally been attributed to James, the brother of Jesus, who is presented in Acts of the Apostles as the leader of the Jesus Follower community in Jerusalem.
This James (sometimes called “James the Just”) is distinguished from “James the Great” (the apostle, brother of John, and son of Zebedee) and “James the Less” (apostle and son of Alphaeus).
The letter is seen by some scholars as the expansion of a sermon likely delivered by James prior to his martyrdom in 62 CE. The sermon was edited and expanded by someone skilled in Hellenistic rhetoric. It was addressed to Jewish Jesus Followers and emphasized the importance of good works. It mentions Jesus of Nazareth only twice in the letter.
This emphasis on works has been understood by some (including Luther) as being opposed to Paul’s position (particularly in Romans) that one is saved by Faith.
These positions are not opposed and can be reconciled by recognizing that salvation/wholeness (however defined and understood) is the byproduct of the combination of Faith/Trust that leads to good works and Faithfulness in doing good works.
Today’s reading continued these themes and observed that good works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. This passage spoke of “wisdom from above” as the source of mercy and good fruits (deeds). Today’s reading concluded by urging submission to God and resistance to the devil.
Gospel: Mark 9:38-50
38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40
Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.”
The Gospel According to Mark was the first Gospel that was written and is usually dated to the time around the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest gospel and forms the core for the Gospels According to Matthew and Luke (both of which were written around 85 CE). Over 50% of the material in those two Gospels is based on Mark. Because these three Gospels follow similar chronologies of Jesus’ life and death, they are called “Synoptic Gospels” for the Greek words meaning “Same Look/View.”
The first part of today’s reading ties back to the reading from Numbers 11 – that many persons can speak for God (“prophesy”) and do good works for others in Jesus’ name.
The reference in verse 43 to “hell” is “Gehenna” in the Greek. In the First Century, Gehenna was a garbage dump outside the walls of Jerusalem where trash was burned. In Kings 23:10 and Jeremiah 7:31, the place is referred to as “valley of the son on Hinnom” and a place where child sacrifice to the pagan god Molech occurred. As such, Gehenna came to be understood as a symbol of a place of punishment.
The use of “cut off” your hand, foot, or eye (vv.45-47) is regarded by some scholars as a preacher’s hyperbole used to make a point emphatically.
There are no verses 44 or 46. In some ancient manuscripts, the words of verse 48 (“where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched”) are added at the end of verses 43 and 45.