This chapter of Numbers continues with the census of the different families in the tribe of Levi. Each one is given a specific task in the setup, take down, and travel with the tabernacle. This is all very specific and detailed because the whole camp would be broken down and marching as quick as possible, and with that many people it would be chaotic unless everyone knew their role and immediately got to it.
Job begins a monologue here that is lamenting his own birth and venting his anguish and pain. Written in verse, similar to David’s psalms, Job vents and wishes he’d never been conceived, but since he had he wished he died at birth, or in early childhood. That way he’d be down in Sheol and not dealing with the pains of his current situation.
Usually we can see the whole story, that the characters can’t, and so sometimes when they bemoan their situation we can see the hope on the other side and want to tell them to snap out of it or to toughen up, but I really can’t blame Job here. Losing all your possessions would be hard, but people go through that all the time. Losing your home would be terrible, but even today people are homeless. But losing everything you own, your home, and the cherry on top; losing all 10 children? I think that is too much for any man.
So, like his three friends, I wouldn’t have words for Job. I’d just sit there and cry with him in the ashes.
This opening monologue of Job is setting the stage for the coming dialogue between him and his three friends where they hash out philosophical and theological ideas about pain and suffering, about sin and punishment, and the problem of evil. That’s when we really get into the meat and meaning of this book.
Jesus leaves Caparnum, where he was in the previous chapter and was his base of operations, and heads down to Judea. This is the region where Jerusalem is located and where the final destination of his entire ministry will be.
Jesus goes beyond the Jordan, to the same place where John the Baptist was ministering. Remember that John the Baptist was decapitated by Herod for speaking out against an unlawful marriage, and so Mark says they laid a trap for him. When they ask about the possibility of divorce, Jesus responds with a short teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. They then bring up the fact that Moses allowed for divorce in Deuteronomy, and He responds with the fact that Moses allowed divorce but that was an imperfect compromise.
When the disciples ask him about it in private, he confirms that marriage is indissoluble. He gives and example that is meant to bring Herod and Herodias to mind, because both had abandoned their spouses and married each other.
In the next scene, we see children coming to Jesus but the disciples try to tell them to go away and not bother him. Jesus was “indignant” at this and told them not to hinder the children. While not a proof text for the practice of the church since the apostolic age to baptize children, it has been pointed to as a way to show our Lord’s desire to bring all the children to him with no barriers erected in their way.
Next we see Jesus talking to someone identified as the rich young man or rich young ruler. He asks what must he do to inherit eternal life. Jesus replies to keep the commandments, and the man asks which ones. The Jews of that day followed hundreds of commandments in three different categories; the juridical law, the ceremonial law, the moral law. So he was asking for clarification on what was eternally most important.
Jesus responds by listing off the Ten Commandments, showing the young man and us too, that the moral law never passes away. What is intrinsically evil and against natural law remains out of bounds even in the New Covenant. The man says that he’s done all these, so Jesus tells him to sell all that he has and give it to the poor.
This doesn’t mean that everyone is called to vows of poverty like a monk, but that Jesus saw the attachment this man had to wealth and was telling him that to follow Jesus is to place Him above all. This detachment from material goods becomes more difficult if a person has great wealth, and Jesus gives an impossible comparison between a rich person entering heaven as a camel passing thru a needle. The disciples marvel at this and ask who can possibly be saved, and Jesus! reply is essentially that nobody can be saved without the direct intervention of God.
This idea is debated by a theologian named Pelagius and Saint Augustine in the early 5th century. The church ends up siding with Augustine at the council of Carthage and condemns pelagianism, who’s main thesis is that men have the ability to save themselves without the direct grace of God intervening on their behalf. That essentially by choosing good we can be saved.
It’s funny that many in the Protestant communities accuse the Catholic Church of teaching works based salvation, when it was the Catholic Church that condemned that very idea in pelagianism.
This young man was trying to work his way into the kingdom, so Jesus gives him an impossible task. Just as it’s impossible for us to do anything worthy of our salvation, we can’t pass through the eye of a needle, and we can’t save ourselves. But with God, all things are possible.
The chapter closes out with the healing of blind Bartimaeus. That his name, and his father’s name is mentioned, means he may have been well known, at least in the Jericho area. Most other healings are recorded with generic descriptors and not proper names.
He cries out to Jesus with a messianic title of “Son of David” and when the crowd tries to silence him he cries out even more. The crowd would be people that knew this man, and knew how badly he needed to be healed. They also were there because they had heard of this miracle working rabbi who was passing through, but still they said for him to be quiet.
Sometimes we cry out to God and well meaning friends might discourage us from praying, going to church, going to confession, or many other examples, but we have to ignore them and follow our conscience that is telling us to cry out to the Lord.