Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Perils of Unbelief

Today's readings, in both Old and New Testament, describe two cases where God said, but the hearer didn't listen. In each case, the hearer was from the tribe of Levi; in each case, the hearer arguably should have known better. From the Old Testament, in the book of Numbers, the Israelites ran out of water and complained to Moses and Aaron. Then...
6Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. 7The Lord said to Moses, 8"Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink."
Numbers 20:6-8
They have their instructions. Not entirely clear exactly what they were supposed to say to the rock, but "Speak" sounds pretty clear. What did they do?
9So Moses took the staff from the Lord's presence, just as he commanded him. 10He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, "Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?" 11Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.
Numbers 20:9-11
Given the instructions, why did Moses hit the rock instead? Hearing problem perhaps? Well, they had hit a rock before, back in Exodus 17, and it worked. H'm. God wasn't too happy with them, though, because they did what they thought would work; they didn't believe and obey what he said:
12But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them."
Numbers 20:12
Pretty harsh. This gives me the impression that God considers faith and obedience a lot more important than expedience.

Our New Testament hearer is Zechariah. He was a priest, and his division was on duty at the temple. He was chosen by lot to offer incense, and while he was inside, an angel appeared!
12When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.
Luke 1:12-13
The angel gives him some more info about what the son will be like, and during this time I guess Zechariah became less afraid and more incredulous, because
18Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years."

19The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time."
Luke 1:18-20
That didn't work so well for Zechariah, either. Why didn't he believe the angel?

Here's what I think. I think old Zechariah and his wife had prayed for many years for a child, and the lack of children was a matter of shame to them, a sign of being out of favor with the Lord. I suppose that maybe, just maybe, old Zechariah was tired of being disappointed and decided that he didn't want to be disappointed again. I can relate to that.

Both Moses and Zechariah felt, I think, that their lives were out of control. Both men had asked God and been refused. Like me, they were not always happy with what God had given them. Like me, they were each given an opportunity to surrender part of their lives to the Lord one more time. And like me, they sometimes blew it.

Both men faced some consequences, but they also received blessings after their failure to believe.

May gratitude overcome disappointment in our lives. May we focus on God's blessings and not obsess about the disappointments. And when the Lord comes to us with another opportunity to trust him, to take a step of faith, to risk disappointment yet again... may we have courage to be open to what he has for us.
For we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved
(from somewhere in the Bible)

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