Now the man Moshe is exceedingly humble,
more than any (other) human who is on the face of the earth.
And YHWH said suddenly to Moshe, to Aharon and to Miryam:
Go out, the three of you, to the Tent of Appointment!
The three of them went out.
And YHWH descended in a column of cloud
and stood at the entrance to the Tent;
and he called out: Aharon and Miryam!
and the two of them went out.
He said:
Pray hear my words …
Numbers 3:3-6 (Everett Fox translation)

*   *   *

Like poetry, Bible reading requires a close reading of a text. Yet when we scrape away all of the barnacles that have been attached to the original – traditional readings, glosses, cultural projections from later periods to earlier ones – it can be as revealing as when the varnish was first removed from masterwork paintings or of later historically accurate restorations of the paint: after decades or even centuries of assuming that old paintings were intended to look smoky, controversy erupted over what often struck even contemporary eyes as gaudy, raucous, and unexpected. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I treasure the range of translations of these ancient texts that are now available to us.

In fact, one of the advantages of the Everett Fox translation of the first five books of the Bible is his decision to keep its rough edges and direct simplicity. Using alternative spellings of the individuals, too, removes much of the seemingly familiarity. Now it is all new and active.

Here, three prophetic siblings – Moses, Aaron, and Miriam – are being held accountable to God. And for two of them, the verdict will be harsh.

So where do we stand, in our own faithfulness?

*   *   *

Wherefore hear ye, and give ear, be not proud, for the Lord hath spoken; give Glory to the Lord, before he cause Darkness, and before your Feet stumble upon the dark Mountains; and while ye look for Light, he turn it into the Shadow of Death, and make it gross Darkness, according to the Advice of the Prophet Jeremiah. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

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