Summary Doctoraalscriptie

The Function of Moses' Prayer in Numbers 11:4-35
Doctoral thesis Ilonka Terlouw, May 2007

This thesis poses the question after the function of the prayer of Moses in pericope of Numbers 11:4-35. In the prayer of Numbers 11:11-15 Moses is strong, emotional and personal in his accusations of YHWH. Several exegetes have even dared to say that the prayer pictures Moses as anti-prophet: he does not want to lead the people anymore and does not intercede for them. What is its function within the structure of Numbers 11:4-35?

This thesis thus tries to find out what the reason of this prayer is, what the main point of this prayer is and what its results are. To determine the function of this prayer within the structure of Numbers 11:4-35, a synchronic approach has been chosen. The goal of this synchronic approach is to analyze and describe the main narrative program of Numbers 11:4-35. This main narrative program is the abstract structure that reveals the coherence of the textual composition of Numbers 11:4-35. This structure is made up of interconnected concepts that stand behind the textual composition of the pericope. The conceptual approach adopted in this thesis is a combination of the method of W. W. Lee and M. Bal. W. W. Lee focuses on texts as conceptual entities, M. Bal focuses much more on the way the events that form the basis of the textual composition are connected.

The first chapter gives a textual analysis in which both lingual and narrative aspects of the text (according to Talstra's method of close reading, supplemented by Bal's narrative method) are analyzed. The second chapter approaches the text of Numbers 11:4-35 by an analysis of its context. In this second chapter the wilderness' journey, the book of Numbers and several comparable murmuring stories are compared to Numbers 11:4-35. In the third chapter a conceptual structure of Numbers 11:4-35 is given.

The textual structure of Numbers 11:4-35 (Ch. 1) gives a clear view of the main story line of the periscope. In this storyline the Israelites are confronted with YHWHs anger; Moses plays a neglectable role. Moses instead plays an important role in the embedded text (his prayer v.11ff and YHWHs reaction v.16ff). This prayer of Moses (vv. 11-15) is though clearly connected to and depended on the anger that Moses expresses in the primary story text of verse 10c, which is in turn depended on YHWHs anger in 10b. Moses' prayer is thus a reaction to YHWHs anger. In his prayer he summons YHWH to pay attention to his own people, instead of to leave it all to Moses' care.

In addition to the textual analyses the comparative analyses of the second chapter pointed towards the importance of the theme of YHWHs presence in the midst of the Israelites. After breaking up from Sinai, the people form a congregation whose identity is determined by the presence of YHWH. The book of Numbers focuses on this same theme by extensively describing the people with the tabernacle in their midst in the chapters 1-10. All of the chapters are a prelude to the migration to the promised land that the people is going to undertake. The presence of YHWH will lead them there.

It is especially this desire of YHWH to lead the people to the promised land that forms the main intention of YHWH. This is the main program of Numbers 11:4-35. In Numbers 11 the people are YHWHs opponents. By sitting down and crying they are not paying attention to the presence of YHWH but instead towards this rabble, this collected people in the midst of them (v. 4a-c). This rejection of YHWH is the generative concept of the pericope around which the other events revolve. Because of this rejection, YHWH rejects the people: His anger burns and he does not want to lead them anymore (cf. Ex. 33).

Moses in his prayer stands up against this anger of YHWH. As the anger of YHWH is turned against the people, his prayer against the anger of YHWH will be beneficial for the people. Moses accuses God that he has left him alone to bear the burden of the people. To be abandoned by God, just after the immense impressive revelation on the mountain, the theophany of Exodus 33 and the erection of the tabernacle is too much too bear. It brings Moses to one of his most desperate prayers. As a reaction to this prayer YHWH reveals his presence in the midst of his beloved people, both by means of the division of the spirit who is on Moses as by giving his spirit to Eldad and Medad in the camp. By this last embedded story concerning Eldad and Medad, Moses (and the reader) himself sees the real situation of the people: they are not in need of meat, but of the spirit. This spirit, the presence of YHWH (also by means of the 70 elders), will lead the people to the promised land. Thus, by the prayer of Moses both Moses and the reader has gained insight. 

The prayer of Moses is also functional for the primary story line, as it forms the opponent of the anger of YHWH who does not want to bear the people any longer. Because of the prayer, the anger of YHWH is turned around. Instead of being a treat to the people (by abandoning them), it becomes the instrument by which YHWH wins his position back in the midst of the people. YHWHs opponents are killed and instead another group of leaders on whom the spirit of YHWH himself rests is formed to lead the people. The people can resume the journey to the promised land.   

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