Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Chiasm for Numbers 11:1-6 - Revealing the Power of Prayer

While in the desert, it must have seemed to the Lord that the Israelites specialized in complaining. They:

  • complained about their lack of food (Ex 16:1-4)
  • complained about their hardships (Num 11:1)
  • wailed in complaint about the manna (Num 11:4)
  • questioned Moses' authority (Num 12:1-2)
  • grumbled against Moses and Aaron (Num 14:1-4)
  • opposed Moses and Aaron in rebellion (Num 16:1-3)

Each time that the Israelites complained, they thought they had a better solution. Their criticism was aimed at Moses, yet it was really the Lord's plans that they were condemning.

The following analysis looks at the chiastic structure to understand the power of prayer that can be used against a critical spirit. A chiasm (ky'-az-um) is a writing style that is frequently found in the Bible – it organizes themes much like a sandwich: A) a piece of bread on top, B) mustard, C) a piece of meat, C') another piece of meat, B') more mustard, and finally A') another piece of bread on the bottom. Chiasms generally focus on the meat, but the bread and mustard are necessary for a complete sandwich. Some chiasms do not have a mustard layer, other chiasms have lettuce on both sides of the meat, and some have just one piece of meat. For more information on chiasms, see What is a chiasm?

The power of prayer can be seen in Numbers 11:1-6:

1 Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. 2 When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the LORD and the fire died down. 3 So that place was called Taberah, because fire from the LORD had burned among them.

4 The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, "If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost -- also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. 6 But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!" (NIV).

These verses can be analyzed as a chiasm. Continuing the sandwich analogy in the chart below, the two pieces of bread are listed first, the mustard level is then listed, and then the meat is shown on the bottom level. In this way, the verses under First presentation are to be read from top to bottom, while the verses under Inversion are to be read from bottom to top:

Chiasm for Numbers 11:1-6
Level First presentation Inversion Theme
A - A′ Israelites complained about their hardships (Num 11:1a) The Israelites complained about the manna (Num 11:4-6) Israelites complained
B - B′ Fire from the Lord burned among them (Num 11:1b) Fire from the Lord had burned among them (Num 11:3) Fire from the Lord burned among them
C - C′ Moses prayed to the Lord (Num 11:2a) The Lord responded by causing the fire to die down (Num 11:2b) Moses prayed and the fire dies down

As stated above, chiasms generally focus on the meat. Think about this: which had greater authority, the complaints from the Israelites or the fire from the Lord? Hopefully you said fire from the Lord.

Now think about this: which had greater authority, the fire from the Lord or the prayers of Moses? Again, the prayer should be the answer. Therefore, this chiasm emphasizes the authority that is available in prayer.

Thomas B. Clarke is the author of Joshua's Spiritual Warfare: Understanding the Chiasms of Joshua (Bible Discernments, 2008), available at Amazon.Com for $14.99 plus shipping and handling.