Thursday, February 28, 2013

Thoughts on 1 Chronicles, Day 14 of Lent 2013

Today's big chunk of scripture reading for Lent is 1 Chronicles 10 to 2 Chronicles 2. Whereas the historian of the Kings focused on the court intrigues, the Chronicler focuses on the little people, everyone gets named, and the priestly things, and not the scandals. We learn about King David and his son Solomon, but not the scandal of Solomon's mother, Bathsheba, or the court intrigues in David's house.

I'm the kind of guy who tells stories the way I want to hear them; as if Hemingway were writing it. Every detail contributes to the impact of the story. I think Hemingway and the Kings historian and I would have pleasant terse conversations. But I am friends with people who like to enlarge on every detail in their stories, sometimes getting so distracted by those details of details that their story tends to get lost. The Chronicler is that person. There must be hundreds of unique names in this history that never appear again in the Bible. On the other hand, those names are never forgotten either. Perhaps not read very often, or read with glazed eyes, but to the Chronicler, everyone is important, as well as their parents and grandparents.

In the Apostle John's Revelation, the Book of Life is mentioned several times. It contains all the names of those who will live with Jesus for eternity. The Apostle Paul talks about his fellow workers whose names are in the Book of Life, in Philippians 4:3. David writes in Psalm 69 about the Book of Life. It's a Messianic Psalm to boot. 1 Chronicles is, in my opinion, a hint at what that heavenly Book of Life is like. It mentions everyone, and talks about the good things they did and glosses over the bad parts.
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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Thoughts on 2 Kings, Day 13 of Lent 2013

Today, in my blitz Lenten Bible reading, I finished 2 Kings, and listened to the beginning of 1 Chronicles. The first 5 chapters of Chronicles is mostly genealogies  with an anecdote here or there. If you are committed to hearing every word of the Bible, then I highly recommend The Bible Experience from Inspired By...Media Group. The readers and the background sound effects keep my eyes from glazing over. My reading started withe the beginning of Solomon's reign and ended with most Israelites deported out of the country. It's not uplifting reading.

The historian blames the decline on idolatry. The northern kings went for it and never looked back. The southern kings turned a blind eye to Solomon's shrines, or supplemented them. Only one king knocked down all the idols, Hezekiah, 2 Kings 18. Lots of sons were punished for the sins of their fathers, who escaped punishment from God. The length of reign and amount of depravity had no correlation. Let me state this loud and clear.

The length of reign had no correlation to the level of depravity.

King Manasseh, in 2 Kings 21, Hezekiah's son, reigned 55 years, and was as wicked as any northern king, such as Ahab, mentioned yesterday.

When I reflect on this, I think;

  • That's why these Christian cults of personalities keep going, without divine intervention, no matter how bad the person is violoating his followers. 
  • God's patience is unfathomable, see 2 Peter 3:9
  • I don't need to fear God swatting me like a fly.
  • Justice comes slow, mercy comes quick.
  • Why am I the opposite when it comes to justice and mercy?

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Thoughts on 1 Kings, Day 12 Lent 2013

Today's massive reading plan covers all of 1 Kings and the beginning of 2nd Kings. The main characters that stick out in my mind are the monarchs Solomon and Ahab and the prophets Elijah and Elisha.

The historian connects violation of the Mosaic covenant with all sorts of national problems. Idolatry, greed, lust, and pride are all downfalls of each king. Solomon was guilty of all these things. Even though he built a temple for the God of Israel, he was inclusive of his wive's beliefs and built shrines for them as well. When one acquires 700 wives, this generosity can dilute the worship to the true God, to his anger. But Solomon does not bear the judgmental aspects of his sin, rather his son does. The nation divides under his son. There is one tid-bit I found very interesting. As I mentioned yesterday, David's kingdom seemed to be multi-ethnic and inclusive. Solomon decides to enslave all the non-Israelites in the kingdom.
1 Kings 9:20 There were still people left from the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites (these peoples were not Israelites). 21 Solomon conscripted the descendants of all these peoples remaining in the land—whom the Israelites could not exterminate—to serve as slave labor, as it is to this day.
Slavery is the norm for humanity, it's too bad God's people weren't better instructed by God on human rights. Solomon is supposed to be the wisest human in all history, but he treats fellow humans this way? Then again, he did marry 700 times. That's a foolish blind spot right there.

According to 1 Kings 11:41, there is another record, since lost to history with more information on Solomon's reign, which lasted 40 years, like his father. His son comes up, the nation rejects him because of taxes and his deaf ear. A new guy anointed by a prophet of God is anointed for the northern tribes. But he doesn't want the people to go to the temple every year for Passover, so he builds some new local shrines, casts some idols, and tells the people, you can meet God up here now and we know what he looks like too! So God rejects this guy as well. The Northern kingdom is ruled by one usurper after another.

Sometimes the Northern and Southern kingdoms get along and sometimes they don't. King Ahab gets plenty of ink, partly because of wickedness, partly because he serves as a foil to Elijah, and partly because he repents to the pleasure of God. He's married to a real treat named Jezebel. Her style is full-on narcissistic. When Ahab is upset because a neighbor won't sell him his field, Jezebel takes things into her own hands and has the neighbor killed; problem solved. 1 Kings 21. On top of this, Ahab supports a priestly guild to Baal. Elijah challenges Ahab, Jez, the priests to a face-off, to settle who the real God is. Which god can light the fire on his own for his sacrifice? 1 Kings 18. God wins, Baal loses, and Baal's priests get massacred. This does not convince Jez, who tries to kill Elijah. He goes into hiding and God feeds him and meets him in a quiet way, instead lightning and thunder.

Meanwhile, God helps the Northern kingdom defeat it's enemies in the battlefield, not because of their goodness but because of His. God threatens Ahab for his wicked behavior and Ahab repents, so God has mercy on him, and transfers the curse to his son. 1 Kings 21:25-29 (Again, I don't get that.)

In 2 Kings, Elijah's successor, Elisha, takes the stage. While Elijah is great, he doesn't die, he gets a chariot ride to heaven (2 Kings 2), it's Elisha who does some miraculous stuff. He heals a towns well of poisonous water. He tells a debtor widow that her oil jar won't run out until she runs out of containers to pour it into to sell and pay off her debts. He brings a boy back to life. He prevents some poisonous gourds from killing off  his guild of prophets. He feeds a multitude from one guy's supply. He heals a gentile general of leprosy. Wait a minute, this sounds familiar, like the miracles of Jesus.

In Matthew 11:14 Jesus declares that John the Baptist is the Elijah who was to come. The last prophet, Malachi, 400 years previously, foretold that Elijah the prophet would come before the great and awesome day when the Lord comes. Malachi 4:4. Whoa. This is getting fun. Just as the prophet Elisha who followed Elijah in Kings did all sorts of great miracles, so did Jesus do greater things than his cousin John. John's father, Zechariah is informed, as an old man, that his wife will conceive and have a great ministry, quoting from the last verse of Malachi, Luke 1:16-17, He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Jewish custom, even today, is to leave an open chair for Elijah at Passover, waiting for his return. Even John doubted Jesus, so he sent his guys to ask Jesus if he was Messiah ro not, in Matthew 11. Jesus answers with the evidence, stuff that sounds like Elisha's stuff, but more.
2-10 John, meanwhile, had been locked up in prison. When he got wind of what Jesus was doing, he sent his own disciples to ask, “Are you the One we’ve been expecting, or are we still waiting?”  Jesus told them, “Go back and tell John what’s going on: The blind see, The lame walk, Lepers are cleansed, The deaf hear, The dead are raised, The wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side. “Is this what you were expecting? Then count yourselves most blessed!”  When John’s disciples left to report, Jesus started talking to the crowd about John. “What did you expect when you went out to see him in the wild? A weekend camper? Hardly. What then? A sheik in silk pajamas? Not in the wilderness, not by a long shot. What then? A prophet? That’s right, a prophet! Probably the best prophet you’ll ever hear. He is the prophet that Malachi announced when he wrote, ‘I’m sending my prophet ahead of you, to make the road smooth for you.’
I get excited when I see Jesus very clearly in the First Covenant.
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Monday, February 25, 2013

Life of David, Day 11 Lent 2013

In the mega Bible reading plan for Lent 2013, I started the life of David Saturday and finished it today, 2nd Samuel through the beginning of 1st Kings. In 1st Samuel, when Samuel tells Saul he's getting fired, he says God is looking for "a man after his own heart." That's a puzzling idiomatic expression to me, 1 Sam. 13:14. Fortunately, the NET Bible has a note explaining it, Heb “according to his heart.” The idiomatic expression means to be like-minded with another, as its use in 1 Sam 14:7 indicates. They translate it as, "The Lord has sought out for himself a man who is loyal to him." Most of the Psalms are a testament to David's devotion to God. He was so talented at music he could calm Saul when he got into real bad funks. He was also a brave warrior. He took down the giant Samson with a rock and sling. He led bandits on raids throughout the Negev. He took on big and small armies. He successfully conquered Jerusalem and made it his own city. Like Saul, he made his own sacrifices (2 Samuel 2:16), but did not receive the heavenly rebuke Saul did for the same priestly boundary crossing (1 Samuel 13).

After so much success, he has an affair with a soldier's wife, Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11. The guy wasn't an Israeli. Uriah was an Hittite. [It seems that Israel in David's reign was multi-ethnic. Uriah was honored at the end of David's list of might men, 2 Samuel 23:39. Most of these warriors were not Israelites. Surely, they were mostly original riff-raff who gathered around him in his wilderness exile, 1 Samuel 22:2, in hiding from Saul.] Bathy gets pregnant, David tries to get her husband back from the battlefield to have some R&R with her, but this guy is dedicated to his brothers and arms, and won't lay with her. David sends him back to the front with a private message to his general to leave him exposed in a bad battle. Uriah dies, as planned, Bathy moves in, joining David's half dozen other wives, and the baby is born. The baby is born with God's curse and dies. Their next child is Solomon, the future king.

The death of the baby is not the only consequence God gives him. He promises David rebellion in his own household and the sword of violence, 2 Samuel 12:7-14. One son, Amnon, rapes his half-sister, Tamar. Her full brother, Absalom, kills Amnon, since David did nothing about the rape. Absalom flees, and David let's him stay in exile. David let's Absalom come back after a few years. Absalom plans a coup d'etat. David's army defeats Absalom's and kills him, causing David's despair. In his old age, another son, Adonijah declares himself the new king, to the surprise of Bathsheba, who claims to David that he promised the throne to Solomon, 1 Kings 1:17. Eventually, with the support of  David's staff, Adonijah's uprising is put down, he is killed, and Solomon is crowned.

David's life does not end well. Like Saul, he reigns 40 years. He was wildly successful, but the historian of 2nd Samuel, focuses on his sins, and the consequences therefrom. One would think Solomon would learn from the example of his father, that multiple wives and large broods of sons, cause extreme heartache, but he doesn't. That's tomorrow's story. It's also Israel's story. Bad example follows bad example. Yet God keeps sustaining. He keeps granting long reigns. Sinners gonna sin. God doesn't stop being their God. That part is impressive.
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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bible Reading Thoughts on the 2nd Sunday of Lent 2013

The book of First Samuel has three main characters, Samuel, King Saul, and David. Samuel becomes the last prophet to judge Israel, Saul becomes the first king of Israel, and David's path to his throne is cleared. Samuel's replacment of Eli the priest because of God's rejection of Eli's family parallels David's replacement of Saul and God's rejection of him.

In the previous book of Judges, the blame for the nation's frequent oppressions, and it's subsequent need for deliverers raised up by God, was laid at the lack of a king which left everyone to do what was right in their own eyes. Those ways usually turned to the sinful activities of the inhabitants of the land they invaded. The people ask Samuel to anoint them a king, just like all the other nations had, 1 Sam. 8. Partly, this request stems from the history Israel had with the sons of it's deliverers. They weren't like their dads. Eli's sons were stereotypical religious leaders who exploited their position as intermediaries to heaven who demanded physical rewards. While they were pointing other's eyes to the sky with one hand, they were removing wallets with the other (or collecting phone numbers of the young ladies). When Samuel replaced Eli, after the sudden deaths of father and sons due to God's judgment, he had boys as well, who weren't exemplary either. Samuel's argument with the people regarding a king ran along the lines of, "If you think this is bad, it will be much worse when you replace God as your king. A human king will conscript your sons and tax you for his pleasures. You will be enslaved all over again." They weren't dissuaded. God pointed out Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin to Samuel. Benjamin's tribe was nearly wiped out because of a civil war. It was gracious on God's part to exalt someone from the smallest tribe. The spirit of God came on Saul, like it did on the prophets, end enabled Saul to become a courageous warrior.

Saul is presented as a humble, but handsome guy, who was looking for his dad's donkeys, and came home with the anointing instead. He wasn't a very strong people leader though and he tried to compensate for that with some rash, tough-guy pronouncements. Although he was king for 42 years, one rash decision early on guaranteed he would not have a dynasty, 1 Sam. 13. He offered a pre-battle sacrifice before Samuel showed up, because his soldiers were itching to get to it, and Samuel's cell phone was dead. ;-) I don't get it. God let Aaron's sons continue in their job even though their father had made an idol for the nation to worship. I get that we can't presume on God's grace, but, in my reading, he's presented as fickle. Sometimes God is graceful and sometimes he's harsh. One guy gets away with murder, literally, another guy can't catch a break. After a big battle in ch. 15, Saul let's his army plunder the city and gets in trouble for that too. It was supposed to be a scorched earth battle.

Just as God raised up Samuel, from humble means, to serve under Eli, he raises up David to serve in Saul's house. Saul did not know that David was secretly anointed by Samuel to be the next king, but David is known as a good musician, who can quell Saul in his fits of rage. Then David kills Samson the giant with a stone and a sling. His praises make Saul insecure and prone to attempts to kill David. David is friends with Saul's son Jonathan, and married to Saul's daughter, so he gets the heads up to flee. When he does flee to the wilderness, he ends up like Robin Hood, surrounded with a band of riff raff. The future king and his riff-raff end up leading the nation into greatness.

David's band of riff-raff echoes the riff-raff that joined Israel in the exodus out of Egypt, and foreshadows the riff-raff that surround Jesus Christ, when he comes to establish his kingdom. Jesus surrounded himself with terrorists and government agents, lepers and prostitutes. Like David, Jesus colors outside the lines of Jew and Gentile relations. Both upstarts threaten the establishment. Both of their lives were at risk. David was recognized as king by only his own tribe for 7 years until the other tribes came around. Even other nations recognized his kingship. Unlike Jesus, David eventually cashes in on his power and accumulates wives and concubines, even killing a faithful soldier to get his wife. All that comes in 2nd Samuel, which I'll get to tomorrow.
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Saturday, February 23, 2013

book response: American Colossus by Brands (2010)

While I was watching the entertaining and informative History channel series The Men Who Built America, I wanted to hear more from one of the regularly consulted historians on the show, H. W. Brands. I found this book of his at my local library and spent the past few weeks enjoying it. My first mistake was expecting it to be just like the television show. Brands' focus is not just on the big name capitalists of the American Gilded Age, but also on the little people, the workers, some by name, who made the capitalists rich, who opposed the capitalists, and who exposed the capitalists. He also wove in and out the on and off again relationship of the government and the capitalists. The sub-title, The Triumph of Capitalism, is not very indicative of the theme of the book. While he does mention the different economic models attempted in America in the late 1800's, share-cropping (serfdom), socialism, and communism, he doesn't spend enough time in this massive book showing how capitalism prevailed. Some of his chapters have very little to do with the triumph of capitalism. For example, his discussion of ethnic neighborhoods in cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Chicago was very interesting, as well as his short discussion on the homosexual neighborhood in NYC, but I didn't make any connection to the proposed theme of the sub title. Another diversion is the architectural developments in the post-fire Chicago. Again, I found it extremely interesting, but not informative on the topic of American capitalism. The concluding chapter of the book is all too brief as it mentions all the indicators of the improved quality of life Americans saw over 50 years, but leaves so many more stones unturned. I think he did not give enough time to the impact of government on those improved qualities either. He spent more time on the failure of the government to protect the masses to serve the few than the many ways it did succeed. As with any book, it is just one book. It points to many directions for the history student to explore, which I certainly will.
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Friday, February 22, 2013

Thoughts on Judges and Ruth, Day 9 Lent 2013

The crazy amount of Bible reading continues, half of Judges and half of 1st Samuel. Like yesterday, I read the first half and listened to the 2nd half on my mp3 player. I'll write about Samuel tomorrow and focus on Judges and Ruth today. My feelings on Judges shifts to a better place than it has been in the Pentateuch. Previously, God was portrayed differently than I see Jesus portrayed in the gospels. Rightly or wrongly, I've pushed back pretty hard on the Pentateuch. I've wrestled with God, and like Jacob, the best I can hope for is a limp. The stories in Judges are very human, and God shows up as a savior, over and over again. The book seems to be organized by a pro-monarchy editor, because of a repeated phrase, which also concludes the book. Judges 21:25 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. The funny thing is the woe and dread Samuel chastises the people with when he anoints them a king.

When I say the book is very human, I mean it in the way comic books are. The characters are larger than life, legendary, but their foibles are so normal. They are in agreement with the apostle John's summary of all life's sins, For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions--is not from the Father but is from the world. 1 Jn 2:16. These flawed heroes, who help rescue God's people from the consequences of their idolatry, fall just as easily to their own lusts. They are almost all anti-heroes. But even among the judges whose flaws are not exposed, like Deborah, the real hero is ultimately God. He is the one, despite the flaws of those in his service, who builds his nation. It's not unlike Jesus' declaration in Matt. 16:18 where he says, "...I will build my church."

As much as I'm horrified by the things church leaders get away with, until they are caught, Judges reassures me that it's nothing new to him. People wander from God. God raises up a leader. People return to God and show gratitude to leader. Leader turns from God and collects for himself wealth, wives, and hubris. This is when I so much appreciate the end of the Lord's Prayer, Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. Matt. 6:13. (The links are to a series I wrote on the Lord's Prayer in 2007). The pronouns are plural. We pray for each other, even the ones we don't like.

The story of Ruth is a great picture of Jesus in her husband Boaz. She is in need, but faithful and diligent. He has not found his bride, and is late to the game. She is damaged goods; not a virgin but a widower. not an Israelite, but a Moabite, a sometime enemy of Israel, not wealthy but desperately poor. There is nothing in her that is attractive. Reminds me of the Song of Solomon. Nevertheless, he redeems her. The successful insider marries the downtrodden outsider. Maybe on this couple Solomon bases the Song of Songs. From their union comes a royal dynasty. This is a romance story even this guy can enjoy. This is a picture of God I really cling to, because I know what a mess I am and how desperate I am.

From these two books in the Old Testament, I learn faithful leaders of God are the exception, and God still employs wicked humans in his plan for redemption, even the ugly outsiders. Snark on > I get a kick out of how many judges have 30 sons or 30 grandsons or 70 kids. It's like a literary (not literal) default for success.< snark off. I'm Tony Snark. Two points to whoever gets that pun.
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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Thoughts on Joshua, Day 8 Lent 2013

The blitz Lenten reading plan was all of Joshua and 10 chapters of Judges. I listened to most of the reading plan today. I've wrestled with this book multiple times on this blog.
Joshua, God's ordained killer. 2006
Achan's family's punishment. 2007
Did God command genocide? 2010
The best understanding of Joshua's conquests. 2011
Been reading and thinking. 2012
No commentator I have seen talks about the contradiction between Do not kill, and don't leave anyone alive. That's a direction I'd like to see more exploration.
The great insight for me is in Earl's The Joshua Delusion? pointing out that Rahab and her family and the city or Ai were great examples of grace and compassion. Their survival was in violation of the rules given the Israelite army, yet, unlike other times, they weren't judged by God. Maybe Moses' influence permitted this.
One other thing that stood out to me is that most of the battles were defensive. The sack of Jericho was bad, in my eyes no matter how many or how few women and children were killed, but most of the other battles were against armies that assembled to push them out of the land.
I'll talk about Judges tomorrow when I finish it. Lots of nastiness in that book as well.

Is it possible for a culture to be childlike and in need of time to mature? It seems like God is dealing with a nation of toddlers in the wilderness, with accompanying black and white conversations. These post-Pentateuchal books leave more room for gray, they are 1st graders now. Are the harsh rules and angry outbursts from the Pentateuch less about God and more about the immaturity of the culture and their leader, Moses?

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Thoughts on Deuteronomy Day 7 Lent 2013

I was not able to read all of Deuteronomy before I left for work this morning. I had to finish it by audio later in the day. Yes, this reading plan, all of the Bible in six and half weeks, is over the top. This last book in the Pentateuch is over the top as well.

The first verse gives us no indication when this book was assembled, Deut 1:1a 1 These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan in the wilderness... and there are enough clues for the experts to suspect it was put together in the reign of Josiah and edited afterwards during the Babylonian exile. Even my conservative ESV Study Bible acknowledges this as a possibility. The wikipedia link at the Deuteronomy highlight above has a little more info on that topic.

Moses reviews their history with the Israelites while they gather to cross the Jordan River. Most of their history is about their failures and Moses blames them for his sin and subsequent judgment which resulted in his prevention to enter the Promised Land himself. Then he reviews the entire law, with amendments, hence the books name "Second Law" in Latin, for the rest of the book. The important lesson is "if even Moses (a prophet unlike any other) can get severe consequences from God, you (God's chosen people) can too."
Avoid idols, since there is only one God, and if you do go the idolatry route, there will be hell to pay.
He reviews of the 10 commandments. One interesting difference between Exodus and Deut. is the reason for the Sabbath. In Exodus 20, it's given because God rested after creating for six days. In Deut. 5, it's given because they were slaves in Egypt.
Next he gives them the ultimate commandment. Deut. 6:4-9
4 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
God also requests fidelity. He doesn't want to part of a pantheon.
Then it gets really awkward for me. God tells them to completely destroy the people groups they are displacing (7:2). I hate genocide. I hate that he is presented as forbidding murder in the 10 commandments, but ordering them to murder non-combatants when they invade. It's not only revolting to me, but contradictory. It feels man-made to me and not God-inspired. (I've read some good books on this topic.) These directives have been used by christian invaders to justify war crimes. In my reading, I'm familiar with the eradication of native americans non-combatants with some "biblical" justification.
God promises he'll send hornets (7:20) to drive the people out ahead of them, but we never read about the success of the hornets ever again. The ESV suggests hornets may not be literal, but representative of the panic people have when they know the Israelites are coming. Who wouldn't be scared of a vicious army that leaves no one alive.
God tells them not to forget him after they succeed. He also tells them they get this land, not because of how great they are but because of how awful the current inhabitants are and because he keeps his promises to their forefathers, Abe, Isaac, and Jacob. Then he reviews all the awful things the Israelites have done since the exodus to prove his point. The writing is on the wall though. If they can't keep it straight while he is guiding them with a pillar of fire and a cloud, lashing out at them periodically when they screw up, how can it ever be expected to get better for them?
Then the rules come: where to worship, what not to worship (anything but him), what to (not) eat, how much to give, when to have vacation feasts, what to do during them, what to sacrifice during them, various legal provisions, warfare rules, when do you get to kill a rebellious son, neighborly behavior, who can't you have sex with, ugly rape laws (Deut. 22:25-29), who is forbidden from community worship, interest rules (they can charge interest to foreigners, just not fellow Israelites), on and on with miscellaneous laws (there is no rhyme or reason to their order), worship taxes.

Now the call and response of the nation of blessings and curses begins in ch. 27. The curses are terrifying. I listened to this instead of reading it. The details of the curses in ch. 28 are not something I would imagine caused anyone to love God more. Promises of rape and enslavement and cannibalism. It's really extreme. Maybe this was no big deal in pre-modern times, but no wonder anyone who reads this has a problem imagining God has a bad temper and is anything but loving. In this case, his love is very conditional. The only part that is unconditional is the promise that he will always receive them back whenever they repent of their sins. The issue is not that there are consequences for their sins, but that those consequences are not natural ones with God's passive input, but God actively punishes them with these gross things.

Moses follows up with a song that portrays God violently. It feels like a projection of Moses onto God. The book ends with Moses' blessings for each tribe and his death. Joshua, his assistant takes over the leadership of the nation.

Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy several times in the gospels. And the stuff he quotes is not offensive. Overall though, there isn't much progressive, great society ideas in this book. Deut. is a hinge book. It belongs to the end of the pentateuch but also the beginning of the history books. I'm not looking forward to reading Joshua tomorrow. I don't like his genocidal campaign at all. No one should.
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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Thoughts on the book of Numbers Day 6 Lent 2013

I finished the book of Numbers today in my Lenten blitz reading of the Bible. I have to say, this is probably the most dangerous reading plan of the Bible I've ever tried.

I'm still mulling over the people bored with manna, which angers God, and results in alot of them dying after eating a huge flock of quail, Num. 11. The thing that confuses me is the Israelites seem to be traveling with livestock. They have all these sacrifices to bring, and only perfect animals are accepted. So there must be lots of other animals left over to supplement their manna. I'm just sayin'. When I think about it this way, I really empathize with God instead of thinking he's a short tempered deity. If the manna that he freely gives supplements lambs, goats, and cattle, or provides the necessities for the poor without meat, and they still complain, it seems the issue is their laziness, not His anger issues.

My reading resumed with ch. 14, after the negative report from 10 of the 12 scouts, who only saw obstacles instead of opportunities, with doubt instead of faith. The negative reports discouraged the camp, who despaired and asked why God would trick them like this. God tells Moses He's will strike everyone down and start a new nation from Moses. Moses intercedes. It's a good cop/bad cop routine. I just don't get why God is the bad cop. I do get that Moses is an interceding good cop, a foreshadowing of Jesus, the one and only mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5). The bargaining gets weirder. Are the indigenous people too strong for God's people after all, v.25? Because of that and the sin of grumbling, God condemns them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. The people repented and tried to obey God after all, and mount an invasion, but they got whooped.
Num. 15 - An out of place review on sacrifices and a clothing command, tassels, sandwich a public execution for a guy who collected sticks on Saturday. It's weird how God has to command people to rest, and enforce it with the death penalty.
Num. 16 - Rival Levites challenge Moses. They are mad at Moses' leading them to the promised land then away from it. Moses is furious and let's God know about it, then challenges the rivals to a face off. During the face off, all the rivals, their families and their tents, are swallowed up by a sinkhole and killed. The next day, all the people were upset that Moses had those guys, their neighbors and friends and playmates, killed, so God backs up Moses again and starts killing the people. Aaron has to run around with incense to stop the slaughter at nearly 15,000 people.
Num. 17 - In order to reinforce God's selection of Aaron and the Levites, Moses collects staffs that represent each tribe. He lays the staffs before Holy place overnight, and in the morning, Aaron's staff has grown leaves and almonds, proving that he is God's selection, and not just Mosaic nepotism.
Num. 18 - More priestly stuff, sort of the perquisites and obligations. It's mostly review from Leviticus.
Num. 19 - Levitical purification laws.
Num. 20 - Moses's sister Miriam, the one who was temporarily cursed with white skin earlier in the book, dies. Then the people complain to him about not having enough water. He's stressed. God tells him to speak to a rock while holding his staff, but he takes a swing at the rock instead. It still results in water coming out, but God tells Moses, this disobedience means Moses can't go into the Promised Land himself.
Apparently 40 years have occurred over the last 5 chapters because Moses and the gang are knocking on the door of the Edomites, as they try to go South of the Dead Sea to swing around over the Jordan River from the East. However, the Edomite king says "No way." Then Aaron dies.
Num. 21 - Some Canaanites raided the Israelite camp, and the Israelites fought back and killed them all. Then Moses led them below Edom, all the way to the northwestern tip of the Red Sea. The people are bored with manna and thirsty, so they start grumping. God doesn't like the grumbling and sends fiery serpents to attack the camp. The people acknowledge their sin and God provides a simple solution. He has Moses raise a bronze serpent on a pole, that whoever looks on it will be cured. The Apostle John says this is a foreshadowing of Jesus.
Jn. 3:14 In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up - 15 and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.
It's a simple solution. Just look and believe.
If this were forty years later, why do the people long for an Egypt they no longer know? Most of the people left would either be newborns or have distant memories.
In Num. 21:14, a book is referenced, The book of the Wars of the Lord, which records a song that makes no sense. It makes sense to me, that when Exodus and Numbers read like independent anthologies, unaware of each other, both explaining what manna is for example, a reference to another document adds legitimacy to this idea.
They win another skirmish against the Amorites, and took over their settlements. They win another battle east of the Sea of Galilee.
Num. 22 - A Moabite king named Balak hires a prophet, Balaam, to curse the Israelites. Balaam apparently knows the true God, (how is this story even known by the author, how is it not made up out of whole cloth, doesn't the talking donkey tip us off?) and his donkey, who is scared of an angel that Balaam can't see, tells Balaam that he's being obstinate for a reason. The angel reveals himself to Balaam and warns Balaam to only say what he hears from God.
Num. 23 - Balak brings Balaam to a high place over the Israelites, and Balaam proceeds to bless them, which is not what Balak hired him for. I don't get what difference blessing and curses make, but it's a big deal to B&B. B&B try again with the same result.
Num. 24 - B&B try again with the same result two more times.
Num. 25 - Balak wins after all, by having pretty ladies fellowship with the Israelites, and enjoin them to worship their idols. This sends God through the roof. According to the Apostle John, this was actually Balaam's idea (Rev. 2:14)  One of Aaron's grandsons takes a spear and impales an Israelite man and Moabite woman in their heat of passion. God approves of that. Uggh.
Num. 26 - Census time again. Verse 11 tells us that all of the rebel's sons did not get swallowed up in the sinkhole after all.
Num. 27 - Here's something progressive, women get inheritance rights. Joshua anointed as Moses' successor.
Num. 28, 29 - The calendar of holy festivals, and mandatory vacations, the types of sacrifices again.
Num. 30 - Women allowed to make vows unless their dads or husbands overrule them.
Num. 31 - A vicious battle where Moses gets mad because the warriors let women and children live. Moses is not into mercy. That's so not like Jesus.
Num. 32 - Two tribes want to stay on the eastern side of the Jordan to accommodate their large herds (some from the peoples they just conquered). Moses consents on the condition that they have to help the other tribes conquer the western territory.
Num. 33 - A travelogue since they left Egypt. I can't see how a couple dozen places can be spread out over 40 years. I have my suspicions about the number's symbolic appeal to begin with. But if half a million people park in one spot for a year, they will be building structures at each spot. Tents don't last for 40 years in the desert. How can half a million pastoralists find pasture to support their livestock, in the desert? Where is there enough water for all of them? Is there evidence of a 40 year rainy cycle? Wouldn't there be any traces left of their passage? Honestly, I think the quantity of people and the length of their trip are legendary, enhanced over time, especially by the time Numbers was written.
Num. 34 - The borders of the Promised Land, which are never realized.
Num. 35 - The cities that Levites get since they don't get land allotments.
Num. 36 - Remember those progressive rights for female inheritance in 27? Well, now there's one condition. They can only marry within their tribe, so the land returns to the tribe every Jubilee, which never happens.

I call this reading plan dangerous, because the inconsistencies really stand out. However, I'm reading as a modernist, but it wasn't written by modernists, and they don't care about the things I care about. However, those modernist fundamentalists today who tell me I should care about these things, and find elaborate excuses to explain away the things I'm reading need to give it a rest. Let it be the genre that it is, not what we or our critics impose on it.
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Monday, February 18, 2013

Thoughts on Leviticus and Numbers - Day 5 Lent 2013

The 2013 Lenten Bible speed reading resumes after yesterday's feast day. Today's reading goes from Leviticus 16 to Numbers 13. It is a big chunk. My tactics include getting up when the alarm goes off and not hitting the snooze bar, waking up by showering, making my tea and sitting under the light with a paraphrased Bible. I use the Message. Then I read and skim when it's redundant or superfluous material, like some of the chapters today. It takes me about an hour every morning so far. This is today's good, bad and ugly chapter by chapter.

16 - Rules for the annual Day of Atonement, when Aaron gets to enter the Holy Place and make sacrifices. Among the multitude of sacrifices on this day is the weird one of killing one goat for God and releasing the other goat, the scapegoat, to Azazel, v. 10. The IVP Bible Background commentary distinguishes between God getting a sacrifice and Azazel getting a freed one. I don't know how this prefigures what Jesus did. On the other hand, the writer of the New Testament letter to the Hebrews points out that Jesus, unlike Aaron does not have to offer sacrifices for himself and the people over and over again. For Jesus, it's one and done. Hebrews 7:27.
17 - All sacrifices are supposed to happen in the tent of meeting, no longer in the fields, or to goat demons. Whoever Azazel is, he gets live ones, not dead ones, whatever that distinguishes. To me, the person giving the sacrificial goat is still out a goat, whether it's dead or alive.
Don't eat blood. Interestingly, Jesus says no one lives unless they eat his flesh and drink his blood, John 6:51-58.
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" 53 So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.
Jesus likes to shock his audience. Despite the cannibalism, designed to shock the crowd, he was also contrasting the new covenant with this previous one.
18 - Sex rules. I guess if he doesn't say it, then they'll feel free to do it. In violation of these rules though, Abraham married his half sister, and Moses' parents were aunt and nephew, Exodus 6:20. Good thing they did this before the law, because violators could only count on ex-communication or the death penalty, Lev. 18:29 For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people. 30 So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs that were practiced before you, and never to make yourselves unclean by them: I am the LORD your God.
19 - Ways to be holy, mostly great society ideas. Honor your parents. Take Saturdays off. Enjoy the peace offering barbecue. Leave food in your fields for the poor. Don't cheat others, especially your workers, or the disabled. Help those in need. Don't seek revenge. Don't kill the man slave paramores. (It's a more generous chapter.) Let your fruit trees grow for 5 years before you gather the first harvest. No tattoos. Don't prostitute your daughter. Be nice to old people and foreigners. This is all good stuff.
20 - All the ways you can earn a death penalty: sacrifice your children to idols, curse your parents, adulterate, breaking the sex rules of 18. A couple can be kicked out of the community if they have intercourse during her period. Earlier in the same book, Lev. 15:24, we were told he'd be unclean for a week like her, so that seems out of left field. According to the IVP Bible Background Commentary, this blood and emission thing was a common cultural milieu in the Ancient Near East.
21 - Special rules for priests. Disabled Levites are disqualified.
22 - More rules on priests and sacrifices. No disabled sacrifices either.
23 - Mandatory vacation time in the Jewish year.
24 - Keep the lights on in the worship center and make bread every week. A half Jewish kid cursed God while in the hat of the moment and has to be stoned to death. Yikes! A reiteration of the eye for eye thing without a counterexample as I mentioned before in Exodus 21.
25 - More mandatory vacation, one year off every 50 years.
26 - Impossible promises easily made. If the people don't screw up, their climate will only stay in the cycle that's good for food and crops. That was easy, since how can this possibly go wrong? They were making an idol right below the mountain God and Moses were chatting at. So the flip side of breaking faith with God is laid out, but he'll listen to them if they confess after they screw up.
27 - Pricing schemes for people and things dedicated to God, which his priests benefit from.
Numbers is quicker, because it's mostly counting, hence the name. This all happens a year after they left Egypt. How far have they gone? How much good land is there for a pastoral people between Egypt and Gaza?
1 - Numbers of fighting men in each tribe. Dont count the Levites. It sounds off to me by a factor of ten.
2 -  The order of the camps.
3 - Count the Levites.
4 - Levite jobs by clan.
5 - A goofy ritual to keep a jealous husband calm. Bring his wife to the priest, make her drink water mixed with dust and vow she's faithful.
6 - The Nazirite vows that Samson and John the Baptist kept.
The blessing the priests are supposed to use, which is very nice.
24 The LORD bless you and keep you; 25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
7 - Each tribe sends a representative to bring the same offering to get the worship complex going.
8 - Blood and oil for purification of the priests and light for the altar.
9 - Passover rules. God as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
10 - Bugles for camp communication. The cloud moves so the people move.
11- People got sick of camping so God burned some of them. People got sick of manna. [This is where the Pentateuch seems like the gospels, one story but different authors. Why is manna explained again? We learned all about it in Exodus. It's as if the scroll of Exodus is not available to the Numbers audience, so the Numbers author has to provide background.] God seems mad again, that everyone is sick of his miraculous cooking, so he's gonna give them so much poultry they'll get sick of that too. Apparently, he sent them a huge flock of birds, which made the people sick with a plague. This is awkward. This is God's fault? Maybe the birds were already sick, and that's why they landed in a camp of thousands of people.
12 - More awkwardness. Moses' bro and sis think he's a little too full of himself, we're told Moses was the humblest man who ever lived in verse 4 which should have settled it right there, so God backs up Moses and gives his sister, Miriam, white skin. Perhaps God prefers order to chaos. And it was Aaron who had forged the golden calf a year or so earlier. But Miriam gets the consequences, she's turned into a white woman, which terrified everyone.
13 - A scouting party is sent to the promised land. Two guys come back talking about the opportunities, saying how awesome it is, and ten other guys talk about the obstacles to moving into the land, noting the giants and walled cities.

I admit, I'm an obstacle guy more often than an opportunity guy. I empathize with the wrong guys in this story.

I'm supposed to finish Numbers tomorrow.

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Bible reading thoughts on First Sunday in Lent 2013

I feel bad that most of my thoughts on my big gulp Bible reading this Lent have been more on the negative side. I've let the irritation exceed the gratefulness. Last night, as I lay in bed reading American Colossus, I appreciated the usury laws in Exodus. Farmers in the late 1800's were eased into bankruptcy by a thousand cuts. The fees and the high interest rates were only survivable when the harvest was good and the market demand was high. If the weather did not enable the conditions for a good harvest, or if the harvest was good for all farmers which increased the supply and dropped the prices, the farmer did not have enough to pay off their debt and have enough to start the next year's crop. The book also discusses the exploitation of labor, and their attempts at organizing and the strike breaking by the trusts in response. It's a huge contrast for the way God wanted things among the Israelites.
Exodus 22: 21 "Don't abuse or take advantage of strangers; you, remember, were once strangers in Egypt. 22 "Don't mistreat widows or orphans. 23 If you do and they cry out to me, you can be sure I'll take them most seriously; 24 I'll show my anger and come raging among you with the sword, and your wives will end up widows and your children orphans. 25 "If you lend money to my people, to any of the down-and-out among you, don't come down hard on them and gouge them with interest. 26 "If you take your neighbor's coat as security, give it back before nightfall; 27 it may be your neighbor's only covering - what else does the person have to sleep in? And if I hear the neighbor crying out from the cold, I'll step in - I'm compassionate. 28 "Don't curse God; and don't damn your leaders. 29 "Don't be stingy as your wine vats fill up.
In the the census of the late 1800's, it was discovered that most Americans were immigrants. However, Jim Crow laws severely restricted the human rights of former slaves and their descendants, Chinese immigrants were forced into ghettos, and Mexicans in Texas were discriminated against. Our country would benefit from living out v. 21. In the meantime, our churches need to love the strangers and foreigners.
Is the tough "love" shown single mothers in our society stopped the rise in single parent households, or improved the well being of those children who live in poverty because of choices they did not make? Our country would benefit from living out v. 22. In the meantime, our churches need to love these women and children. Are God's threatened consequences in v. 24 to be ignored?
What if we didn't allow interest to be charged when money was borrowed? There are banks that do this today, but they are mostly Islamic banks, that have shown success, but have made the definition of interest fuzzy on their path to success. Mortgages are more like leases. The homes built by the christian organization, Habitat for Humanity, have mortgages without interest. What if those farmers in the late 1800's in America did not have to worry about losing their farms, the metaphorical coat off their backs, because of circumstances beyond their control? What if our country protected the borrowers before the lenders? How would the mortgage bubble collapse in 2008 have looked different? Would there have even been one?
What if our executives were not stingy? What if all companies tried what Ben and Jerry's did, limiting the difference between the entry level pay and the top executive pay? While Ben and Jerry ran the company, they did not allow anyone's wage to exceed seven times the lowest wage. Rising executive pay is a big issue in our country. I think it's a big issue in our churches. Some pastors of big churches are making a million bucks a year or more. Unless they are paying their janitors a 100 grand a year, that just seems wrong to me. If the wine vats are full, we should be inviting others in to enjoy with us. At least that is what I think God is saying in v. 29.
What if the our TV networks, and the Christians who share their articles on facebook, practiced v. 28 and did not damn our leaders? Comparing our leaders to Hitler, in my opinion, is damning them. I fully support calling out the wrong actions, without calling the leader names. For example, I'm pro-life. I think it is wrong to kill babies in the womb, I think it is wrong to execute criminals. I think assassinations are wrong, especially with bombs from drones that seem to kill more women and children than targets. But I won't damn Obama, or Bush, or Clinton. How different our national discourse would sound if bombasticity was not highly valued in our culture. What a different world it would be if it could live out those nine verses.

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Thoughts on Leviticus, Day 4 Lent 2013

In my Bible reading plan this Lent, reading through the entire Bible in 40 days, I consumed Leviticus up to chapter 15, a little over half way. I studied this book a few years ago with some co-workers and was confused then. It misses context. It starts off listing the ingredients for different sacrifices. But what are the occasions for each type of sacrifice?
Ch. 1 - Burnt offering
Ch. 2 - Grain offering
Ch. 3 - Fellowship offering
Ch. 4 - Sin offering (this one is self-explanatory)
            lots of examples for bringing this sacrifice
Ch. 5 - Guilt offering (not sure how it's different from sin offering)
           more examples for bringing in this sacrifice
Ch. 6 - review of 1, 2, and 4
Ch. 7 - review of 3 and 5
           health tip - don't eat fat and blood
           making sure the priest's get the leftovers from all these sacrifices
Ch. 8 - Exodus 29 put into action and Moses's brother Aaron gets ordained. I appreciate this input on Aaron, the guy who made an idol for the Israelites while Moses was on the mountain. He didn't deserve the job, but God forgave.
Ch. 9 - Aaron starts his job
Ch. 10 - Two of Aaron's sons do the job wrong and get killed by God on the spot, then Moses tells Aaron not to perform any grieving rituals, then Aaron does it wrong and Moses chews him out, Aaron told him to back off. Moses did. Aaron did not get killed. God again forgave him, but not his boys.
Ch. 11 - Crazy food rules. They are somewhat arbitrary, sort of like my crazy Lenten fasts, and when I let them be arbitrary, instead of trying to justify them, it's cool. No pork! No insects except grasshoppers. These are the rules that God cleared up for Peter, saying they no longer applied in Acts 10. Thank you Jesus!
Ch. 12 - Disturbing purification rituals for women who give birth. Because of the blood shed in birth, mom is unclean, requiring a burnt offering and a sin offering to be declared clean. There is a provision for poor women, only two birds, what Jesus' mother Mary brought, Luke 2:24. The weird thing is, after she sits around as unclean for a week, she is supposed to wait a month before bringing her sacrifice. Mary did not do this, so things changed. If a daughter is born, mom is unclean for two weeks, and has to wait two months before bringing her sacrifice. It might be nice to have the extra time off but i's not a good thing since her state of uncleanness is doubled.
Ch. 13 - Skin rashes. Way too much discussion about whether someone's skin issues might be a disease that's contagious, making them unclean, and kicked out of society. It's harsh on the individual, but would prevent epidemics. Big focus on sick house syndrome with a discussion on mold and fungus issues.
Ch. 14 - What to do if the skin rashes or mold improve or decline. This is not compelling reading.
Ch. 15 - Emissions from men or women's reproductive systems make them unclean, women for a week, men for a day, unless they get intimate during her menses, making him unclean for a week as well.

For the most part, this book leaves me irritated. I get that the rules are tutors, as Paul calls them, that instruct us of our need for a savior. In Paul's letter to the Galatian church writes, 23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. Gal. 3 These laws are exasperating. I'm grateful for faith. I'm grateful for a high priest who gives us rest, see Hebrews 4-5. I'm grateful for a cleansing that does not involve a myriad of sacrifices, see 1 John 1:9. I'm grateful I can eat pork barbecue. I'm glad I'm in the present, and not that past. It's sort of like when I read American history. So much of it is shameful, embarrassing, and painful. I'm glad so much has improved, and irritated at how many were ground down in the process of getting to here and now. There is still so much to fix in America. Like everything else, the fixing starts with me.

Dig. Lift. Toss. A few more inches of snow is expected tonight, which means more time to meditate and wait for epiphanies while trying to convince God to see things my way.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Thoughts on Exodus, Day 3 Lent 2013

Part of my Lenten discipline this year is to read the entire Bible between Ash Wednesday and Easter, which works out to something like 27 chapters a day. I got the inspiration and reading plan from Margaret Feinberg. This morning I read most of Exodus. I'm reading it in the Message paraphrase to facilitate smoother reading. I really enjoy reading in big gulps. My concentration in college was ecology, which seeks the big picture and how everything fits together. I like that approach in my Bible reading as well. This is a post involving Biblical criticism, which could upset the faith of others. Please don't read this if your faith does not like too many questions. It's the faith I have, and this is my story of gratefulness and irritation, see yesterday's post.

When read in such a large serving, Exodus does not read at all like one book, but a collection of stories, that sometimes contradict each other.

Even without reading the Hebrew, it's easy to say Moses did not write every word. For example, he didn't write about his own death at the end of the Pentateuch. But there's another little spot, at the end of chapter 16, which explains a measurement for the readers. If the readers were Moses' people, they wouldn't need the explanation. A later editor must have added this information for the later readers. By the way, I think that effort is very kind of the editor.

In the same chapter, 33, we learn Moses sits down face to face with God, v.11, but in v. 20 God tells Moses he can't show his face to Moses. To me, it seems two different stories are added to the same chapter. At the end of ch. 33, God walks by Moses and lets his back be seen. It's kind of weird. One idea in my head, is that Moses was dealing with God's three persons. When he was face to face with God, he was dealing with a Christophany, Jesus before he was born. When he was seeking God's glory, and unable to see God's face, he was dealing with the Father, who is spirit, John 4:24. The cloud by day and fire by night may have been the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. It's interesting to think on that one.

I like how the altar and it's tools cannot be corrupted. Instead, anyone who touches them are made holy. Exodus 29:37 and Ex 30:29. It reminds me of Jesus' ministry in the gospels. When Jesus touches a dead body or a leprous man or a bleeding woman, they do not corrupt him, but he cleanses them instead and makes them clean, whole, alive.

I don't get the plagues scenario very much. In Ex. 9:6, "all" the Egyptian livestock are killed overnight. However, the Israeli livestock are fine. In the very next plague, boils, we learn that not only are the Egyptians afflicted with painful boils, but the beasts are as well, v.10. Where did they come from? Are there years between plagues for the Egyptians to rebuild their herds? Did they buy the Israeli animals? In the very next plague, hail, Moses warns the Egyptians to get their livestock into shelters, v.19. I have the same questions. Have years elapsed? Was "all" a hyperbolic statement? Apparently, the hail was so bad it killed man and beast, v. 19. So now more Egyptian livestock are dead. In 11:14, the Passover is threatened, when God will kill all the firstborn who aren't protected, including the firstborn of beasts. Is this years later when flocks are restored? Did Egypt go out and buy entire herds from elsewhere? Were they not all killed back in the plague of ch. 9? In 12:29, the firstborn of livestock are mentioned as being killed. In 14:9 Pharaoh rides out with his army on their chariots pulled by their horses. War horses are not easy to come by. They are bred and trained for war. The Egyptians couldn't run out to "rent-a-steed" for weekend invasions. All of this leaves me scratching my head. Maybe the plagues were hyper-local, only in Pharaoh's neighborhood.

In Ex 12:38, I liked learning that it wasn't just Israelis that fled Egyput but also a "mixed multitude" or, as Eugene Peterson calls them, a crowd of riff raff. It reminds me of King David's motley crew as he was running from King Saul. It also reminds me of Jesus' disciples, terrorist zealots, fishermen, a traitorous thief, a swindling tax collector. In fact, I'm a riff raff follower of Jesus as well.

The laws are such a hodge podge, without much rhyme or reason. The slavery stuff is abhorrent. In Exodus 21, there seems to be an internal debate on slavery. First, this bit of nastiness, "20 If a male or female slave is beaten and dies, the owner must be punished. 21 If the slave recovers after a couple of days, however, then the owner should not be punished, since the slave is the owner's property." !!!!!!!
Yet five verses later, there's this, "26 If an owner hits a male or female slave in the eye and the eye is blinded, then the slave may go free because of the eye. 27 And if an owner knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave, the slave should be released in payment for the tooth."

Are they property like an animal or not? If I were a slave, I'd keep a loose tooth on hand, so when I got beat, I could throw it on the ground and get my freedom. It's real interesting that the eye and tooth examples come right after the (in)famous "23 But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe." The example of 27 is freedom for eye and freedom for tooth instead. That's not parity, that's restitution with pain and suffering added on top. This totally seems like a mash up of early and later laws. I like the latter better, but the earlier stuff, I'm sure, gave american slave owners comfort in being within God's "biblical" will. Seeking the minimum instead of the most generous verses, like 26 and 27, like the Golden Rule Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy.

Exodus is a weird trip. There are really cool things, and really ugly things, and both are put in God's mouth. Whenever those things disagree with Jesus, my doubts are raised. Jesus tells his disciples, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?" John 14:9 The ugly things don't line up with Jesus, who is the word of God in the flesh, John 1:1, uncorrupted and unveiled. Also, I can't imagine God contradicting himself in a couple sentences. God also is presented as a little senile in Ex. 19.
21 God said to Moses, "Go down. Warn the people not to break through the barricades to get a look at God lest many of them die. 22 And the priests also, warn them to prepare themselves for the holy meeting, lest God break out against them." 23 Moses said to God, "But the people can't climb Mount Sinai. You've already warned us well telling us: 'Post boundaries around the mountain. Respect the holy mountain.'"
Did God forget all those instructions in the previous verses he had Moses put into place? I'm not mocking God or the Bible here. It seems to me that God is a little too anthropomorphized here. Certainly, he had to repeat himself numerous times, the people were learning a new culture, but this seems like a conversation with your senior citizen neighbor about your kids and his yard.

One approach to the Bible that intrigues me is this book is God's but written with human hands, in human voices, with human fallibility. This is no different, in my mind, from saying the church is God's bride made with human hands, human voices and human fallibility. There's good, and bad, and ugly, all in God's name. As the apostle Paul said,
12 We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! 13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. 1 Cor. 13
I can live with that, and I can practice, faith, hope and love. Exodus is about that too. Trust in God's promise of deliverance. Hope that God will make a way. Love of God and the neighbors. I can get that.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

praying about unanswered prayers

Personally, it's been a rough month. The day my last post went online, the one about forgiveness, I wrote it earlier in the week and scheduled it to post later, my son was hit by a reckless driver with a suspended license. Although the truck ran over and killed our dog, it sent my son air borne so that he landed in the grass. His injuries are minimal, not what his doctors expected from such an accident. He is still recovering and healing physically. As a family, we are all still recovering emotionally. We miss our dog. We are looking for a replacement still.

After Blizzard Nemo left it's two feet of snow at my house, I spent many hours shoveling. The long repetitive exertion leads me an enjoyable mental zone: contemplative, meditative, in the moment, peace. There's something that occurs in the haze of exhaustion, something not accessible behind a snowblower. I started praying as I dug, lifted, and tossed the snow.

I was thankful for the miracle of my son's accident, for the guardian angels who protected him.
Dig. Lift. Toss.
But, Jesus, if you do such amazing things, and even more miraculous things in the gospels, why do some things I ask of you not ever happen?
Dig. Lift. Toss.
Why don't those around me who are mentally ill heal?
Dig. Lift. Toss.
Why do so many Christians, self included, fail to mature, and move away from selfishness to greater charity?
Dig. Lift. Toss.
Why do so many Christian leaders in the limelight behave so wickedly? Why are the so-called "fruits of the spirit"* so hard to find in the lives of these examples?
Dig. Lift. Toss.
Where is your power?
Dig. Lift. Toss.

I finally had my 1997 Crown Victoria dug out. It was time to start it up. But it refused. This car never has battery trouble. The minivan does, but not this time. In anticipation of the van having trouble, I had parked the two cars nose to nose before the storm. I connected the jumper cables and impatiently tried to start the Crown Vic a few times without success. My long suffering wife, who does exhibit fruits of the Holy Spirit, told me to give it more time.
I went back to shoveling.
Dig. Lift. Toss.
I told Jesus, "Speaking of power, could you get my car working too?" I imagine he was chuckling at this point.
Dig. Lift. Toss.
I got back in my car, turned the key, and the engine struggled to life. It was a moment that irritated me as much as it gratified me.
Jesus still hasn't answered my big questions. He answered that little prayer though.

I read books by Christian authors who live very different lives than mine. They jet around the world doing great deeds. They seize life by the horns and see God do amazing things. I'm not sure why these books are written. for encouragement or for discouragement. I feel more of the latter when I read them. As a dad of three kids, supporting my family, my life stays pretty much the same, Dig. Lift. Toss. I feel all the time the way I felt in my car that day, grateful and irritated.

Jesus, you've done so much, there's so much more to do.

One sentence of Jesus' in John's gospel has been my main source of spiritual stability in 2013 since just before the accident.
John 16:33b "...take heart; I have overcome the world."
I've been focused on the "take heart, I have overcome" part. But a friend reminded me of the rest of the verse. John 16:33 "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." The promise of trials is not comforting. Yet, the promise of his victory is supposed to give me courage and hope and peace.

This morning, I read through the 2nd half of Genesis. Every time, I'm struck by Jacob's summary of his life to Pharaoh. Genesis 47:9 And Jacob said to Pharaoh, "The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life..." This is a guy surrounded by a multi-generational and disturbed family of 70, who regained the son he thought had died, who worked his entire life as a successful shepherd, and had these intense encounters with God once every other decade or so when he was given amazing promises from God.
I think he was grateful and irritated as well.
He was grateful that his family would survive the famine. He was irritated that God didn't make that happen in his homeland, Israel. I think he was pretty much the same rascal in his old age that he was when he conspired with his mother to steal his brother's inheritance. He hadn't matured much.
Nevertheless, God's involvement in his life made his life worth recording.

Life goes on.
Dig. Lift. Toss. Dig. Lift. Toss. Dig. Lift. Toss. Dig. Lift. Toss. Dig. Lift. Toss. Dig. Lift. Toss. Epiphany. Dig. Lift. Toss. Dig. Lift. Toss. Dig. Lift. Toss. Dig. Lift. Toss. Dig. Lift. Toss. Dig. Lift. Toss. Epiphany. Dig. Lift. Toss. Dig. Lift. Toss. Dig. Lift. Toss. Dig. Lift. Toss. Dig. Lift. Toss. Dig. Lift. Toss. Epiphany.
I'd like to only have epiphanies from God.
But someone has to move the snow.
Someone has to earn a paycheck.
Someone has to drive my son to the doctor's office.
My epiphany is that Jesus is involved in my life and I need to stop worrying about his degree of involvement in other's lives.

I don't expect any more epiphanies anytime soon. Another snow storm is forecast for Connecticut in a couple days. I need to get ready. I bought a couple new shovels, since I broke three last weekend. It's nearly time for another day of Dig. Lift. Toss.

*22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Galatians 5