How To Pray

Pamela Tamarkin Reis (“Seeing Moses Plain,” VT 55 [2005] 207-31) thinks that Moses’ response to Yahweh in Numbers 11 is a model prayer.

First, Moses refers to Israel as “this people,” which is “a disdainful, arms-length usage employed frequently in the Bible to distance oneself from and to denigrate the subject of the demonstrative pronoun.” It’s not a gesture of contempt for the people but a way of taking Yahweh’s side against their grumbling: “God is angry at the people, and Moses exhibits his disgust too. Moses shows himself to be on God’s side” (214).

Then Moses asks a series of rhetorical questions using anoki (4x; used only 7x in Numbers). “Did I conceive, did I give birth, that you should expect me to carry them through the wilderness?” The answer is, obviously, No. Yahweh conceived and bore Israel; Yahweh is their nursing father, carrying them on eagle’s wings to the land. Moses’ questions remind Yahweh of His responsibility for His child Israel (214-5).

It’s a typical prophetic argument: “Would God destroy the fruit of his ‘womb,’ and renege on his often repeated promise to make this people as numerous as the stars in the sky and to give them the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession? God knows where sole custody lies, and so does the reader” (216).

He admits that he isn’t capable of bearing the people alone, and “again he uses the emphatic ‘I’ to intimate that there is one who is able to bear all the people, one for whom this burden is not too heavy, one who has borne all the people in the past” (216).

In verse 15, he is bold enough to use the feminine “you” in addressing Yahweh: “the feminine ‘you,’ like the conception, the birthing, the carrying in the bosom, and the nursing-father images, is calculated to appeal to God’s gentlest, and most motherly, parental affections” (217). Moses frames his prayer to arouse Yahweh’s compassion, his “wombliness.”

The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. And Moses is a righteous man. Yahweh answers by spreading His Spirit to 70 (count ’em!) elders, firstfruits of the Spirit poured out on 7o nations.

Want to learn to pray? Memorize Moses’ argument with Yahweh, and mimic his passion and shrewdness.

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