Irene Nowell admits that the book of Numbers "rarely makes the top ten list of favorite biblical books." But through her insightful interpretations and practical reflections, readers will gain a new and positive appreciation of the text. With Nowell, readers will relish the harassment and humor of the prophet Balaam and his talking donkey in chapters 22 '24. We too are blessed by this delightful and ingenious God who communicates through a loquacious animal. This same God lives and moves with us, meets our needs as we wander through our personal and communal wilderness, defends us against the enemies of our sinfulness better than we can ever do in our weakness and fickleness, and eventually brings us to our promised place of glory. And God wants all of us to "be in that number."
Irene Nowell, OSB, of the Benedictine community of Mount Saint Scholastica in Atchison, Kansas, is a member of the translation team of the revised Old Testament of the New American Bible. She teaches Scripture courses at Saint John’s School of Theology, Seminary, Collegeville, Minnesota. Nowell is a member of the Committee on Illuminations and Texts for The Saint John’s Bible and a past president of the Catholic Biblical Association. She is author of Jonah, Tobit, Judith in the Collegeville Bible Commentary; Sing a New Song: The Psalms in the Sunday Lectionary; and Women in the Old Testament, all published by Liturgical Press.
Sr. Irene brings a refined liturgical sensibility along with well-honed pedagogical skills to her careful explication of how the sanctuary shapes the identity and experience of the Israelites on their journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land.
Dale Launderville, OSB, Professor of Theology at Saint John's University School of Theology, Seminary, Collegeville, Minnesota
Sr. Irene accomplishes a compelling biblical invitation. Her clear focus and lucid exposition will allow you to follow the shaping of a people. . . . Her commentary on the trials of Moses and the people, failures and successes, their trying to follow (or not) what is perceived as God's will helps us to appreciate the idea of desert, where God lures us and speaks to our hearts. Perhaps think about The Book of Numbers as the `book for Lent' that Benedict suggests.
The book of Numbers represents an important component of ancient Israel's self-definition. Still, it is a difficult book for both Jews and Christians to read and appreciate today. Sister Irene Nowell helps readers understand the book's principal motifs: the presence of God in the midst of Israel, the achievements and failures of Moses and Israel, the significance of worship, and Israel's attitude toward the nations. Her commentary opens her readers' eyes to Israel's fascination with its God.
Leslie J. Hoppe, OFM, Assumption Province, Provincial Minister
In this commentary, Irene Nowell offers an accessible and straightforward exposition on the book of Numbers. Well aware of the book's textual intricacies, Nowell guides readers through Numbers from Mount Sinai, through the wilderness, and to Transjordan. Nowell captures the central vision of Numbers of how God is to be in the midst of Israel on a difficult journey through the wilderness to the land of promise, assisted by God-given leaders and experiencing enemies whom God alone conquers. The expression of this vision, while mostly seriously, also includes several humorous stories, a reminder, as Nowell tells us, of `God's gentle humor in our own lives.' This is a lovely invitation to learn from biblical challenges of life in community and God.
Mark S. Smith, Professor of Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies, New York University