Lectionary Reflection for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Numbers (BTCB) by David L. Stubbs, commenting on Numbers 11:4-6,10-16,24-29:

This passage does not comment on what precisely Israel’s sin was, what was wrong with their craving and weeping. However, Deut. 8:3 is explicit: “He [YHWH] humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

The phrase “one does not live by bread alone” means that humanity—and specifically Israel—is called to something higher than simply meeting their basic needs. The phrase “every word” refers to “this entire commandment that I command you today” (8:1)—it is the covenantal way that leads to life.

The sin of Israel is that they worry too much about their daily bread. Their worry and lack of trust in God’s providence causes them to think fondly of Egypt, and eventually they begin making plans to abandon God’s plan and elect a leader who will take them back (Num. 14:4).

They allow a legitimate need and desire, the desire for good and tasty food, to become a craving that gets in the way of their calling as a people. Their faithfulness to God’s purposes is choked by their desire for material and bodily comfort, a desire that becomes a roadblock in their journey to the fullness of the life God intends for them.

Using the terminology of virtue theory, the people of Israel lack temperance, which is the virtue of being able to say no to the desires of one’s body—whether good or bad—insofar as they get in the way of the pursuit of higher goods (the classic Christian exposition is Aquinas Summa theologica I-II Q61.2-3).


©2009 by David L. Stubbs. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.