Letter 55

DAY 55

Herbert Robinson Marbury

Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near East
Vanderbilt University Divinity School
March 15, 2021

Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,

On the journey from bondage to freedom, the Israelites camp at Paran where they look across the horizon and survey Canaan for the first time. The land flows with the possibilities of “milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27). In Canaan a new life awaits them—if they have the vision and wherewithal to grasp it. Sadly, they do not. The Israelites see what appears to them to be giants in the land—obstacles so large that they feel small and ineffectual in comparison. They respond to the scene with sad resignation: “We seemed as grasshoppers to ourselves and so we seemed to them” (Numbers 13:33). Because their vision is too small to meet the challenge of their day, they end up wandering for the next forty years, a lost generation of possibility.

“…we can either see a land of new possibilities or we can cower and lose a generation to wandering.”

Our challenges today also appear to be giants. Our public education system has been gutted by the previous administration. Its policies sacrificed both the well-being of our teachers—who are some of our most intrepid public servants—and the life chances of the poorest children of our nation. The repressive violence of our policing structures has proliferated so that it can no longer be corrected simply by retraining individual “good” officers. White nationalism has become our dominant terrorist threat. Health care, a basic right of every child of God, remains the property of the privileged. A full day’s work does not afford countless people a living wage, and the margin of wage disparity for women—and especially women of color—is simply unconscionable. And finally, God’s earth, of which we are all stewards, groans on the brink of irreparable damage.

These are the giants we face. They are mighty, and they dominate the landscape of our nation’s political, economic, and social horizons. Enact policies that are large enough to meet the challenges that our giants present. Recall examples such as FDR’s New Deal, LBJ’s Medicare, and Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Perhaps this means that your vision must be larger than you expected.

We stand at the precipice of decision: we can either see a land of new possibilities or we can cower and lose a generation to wandering. The choice is yours. Look across the horizon to the land that lies beyond the River Jordan and boldly lead this nation to face our giants.


Herbert Robinson Marbury

Rev. Herbert Robinson Marbury, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible
Vanderbilt University Divinity School

the author

Herbert Robinson Marbury is Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near East at Vanderbilt University. He is the former pastor of Old National United Methodist Church in Atlanta and University Chaplain at Clark Atlanta University. Dr. Marbury is author of Imperial Dominion and Priestly Genius (Sopher Press, 2012) and Pillars of Cloud and Fire: The Politics of Exodus in African American Biblical Interpretation (NYU Press, 2015). He studies how communities interpret meaning from Scripture, both how the writers of the Hebrew Bible developed interpretations that enabled their communities to withstand imperial oppression, and also how the same phenomenon occurred in African American communities from the Antebellum period through the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements.