Saturday, March 10, 2012

March 5-10: a transition in leadership

In the March 5 entry of the Chronological Bible, leader Moses is dictating the Law to wandering Israel. In the March 10 entry, new leader Joshua is kneeling before the Angel of the Lord on holy ground, outside of Jericho. In a week of Bible reading, a lot can happen.

WHAT HAPPENS TO A GOOD FOR NUTHIN' SON - he gets stoned. Not marijuana stoned. Rock-stoned at the gates of the town, a bad trip from which there is no return. something I just noticed: these executions are corporate: "all the men of the town" and in other places "all the people of the town". Isn't this actually a form of protection, a rough "trial by jury" that protects people from vigilante justice by a gang of thugs? To meet God's law, it must be carried out by EVERYONE. Besides protecting the accused from one-sided justice, it also makes a heckuva impression on the punishers. "Listen young man don't force me and your uncle and your grandfather and your brothers to pick up stones and kill you. Can you imagine anything worse for yourself, or for us?"

PROTECTION FOR STRANGERS, THE DEAF, THE BLIND, ANIMALS - the Law of Moses is much kinder to the weak than, say, 19th century utilitarian capitalism or 20th century totalitarianism. So, how's that Enlightenment thingy workin' out for ya?

LATE IN PAYING YOUR BILLS OR YOUR WORKERS? - "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." Deut. 25:4

JUDGMENT PTSD - "I will make their hearts so fearful in the lands of their enemies that the sound of a windblown leaf will put them to flight." Levi 26:36-39

THE PROMISED LAND ITSELF SAYS, 'THANK GOD THEY'RE GONE' - with Israel gone in captivity, at least the land will enjoy a sabbath rest.  Lev 26

GOD'S PEOPLE A 'LENDER TO MANY NATIONS' - the Jews have historically been money lenders, a mixed blessing for them at best given the greed and envy displayed by their "Christian" neighbors. Deut. 28

CURSE OF SIN - "madness, blindness, confusion of mind." Substance abuse? STD symptoms? Thinking that existentialist, communist Sartre is the wisest man of the 20th century? All of the above. Killing time in a library Tuesday night I opened a reference book of Nobel Prize winners. Many of them were "peace-loving" pre-WWII appeasers, including the older brother of British PM Neville Chamberlain. Pretty smart to let Hitler rise to power, yup..... Deut. 28

ISRAEL TO RETURN IN SHIPS TO EGYPT  - Deut. 28. This seems to have happened at least once, when the rebellious elite of Israel fled Babylonian captivity by going to Tahpanhes, Egypt. Although ships are not mentioned specifically, Tahpenhes is just east of the Nile, which is of course accessible via the Mediterranean. Makes sense that they sailed instead of walked.

  • But Johanan the son of Kareah and all the captains of the forces took all the remnant of Judah, who had returned from all nations whither they had been driven, to dwell in the land of Judah-- even men, and women, and children, and the king's daughters, and every person whom Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had left with Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, and Jeremiah the prophet, and Baruch the son of Neriah. So they came into the land of Egypt, for they obeyed not the voice of the LORD; thus came they even to Tahpanhes.
PROMISED LAND PROPHESIED TO BE A WASTELAND OF SULPHUR & SALT - this seems to have happened, too. The Negev desert, part of the Promised Land, was considered by the British in the 19th and 20th centuries as uninhabitable. Then the Zionists got hold of it....see this text from "":

After centuries of neglect under the Ottoman Empire, the Negev was completely desolate and sparsely populated. When the British Mandatory Authorities explored the region after WWI, they marked it as uninhabitable, dismissing the idea of Jewish resettlement. The land was just as Deuteronomy 29:23 said it would be after centuries of exile: “a burning waste of salt and sulfur -- nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it.”

Making something out of nothing, however, is where true Zionism excels. With the establishment of the state of Israel, the ingenuity of Israeli pioneers turned previously desolate wasteland into a success story of the Zionist movement. Israeli engineers developed the world’s greatest systems of water desalination, drip irrigation, and desert preservation. The Negev bloomed into an economically productive desert with thriving agricultural settlements, fish farms, floral hothouses, and desert research centers. Only after this miraculous transformation was the harshness of the desert conquered and the Negev ready to be populated.


  • Lord Nelson, dying aboard H.M.S. Victory as his Hearts of Oak were destroying the hopes of Bonaparte at Trafalgar.

  • Abraham Lincoln, shot dead a month before the end of the Civil War.

  • Franklin Roosevelt, dying a month before the Germans surrendered and five months before the Japanese surrender finally ended WWII. (Both of these presidents were mourned and honored as "Moses" by African-Americans.)

  • Martin Luther King Jr. - shot dead a day after giving his famous "I may not get there with you, but I have been to the mountain" speech to civil rights workers in Memphis, Tennessee.

A SONG PROPHESYING DEFEAT - it probably wasn't an upbeat worship song, but the Holy Spirit moved Moses to share with all Israel a song that prophesied Israel's rebellion and humiliation - and eventual atonement. Deut. 32. Perhaps in this song the people of God can receive the warnings against sin, the urging of holiness, the certain need for a savior, and God's sovereign deliverance.

A GOOD BLESSING FOR A SON OR EMPLOYEE - "Bless all his skills, O Lord, and be pleased with the work of his hands." Deut 33

REPEAT AFTER ME......"Be strong and courageous." Moses tells it to Israel. Moses tells it to Joshua. God tells it to Joshua. Deut 31. And for good measure, the Reubenites, Gaddites, and Manasseh tell it to Joshua (Josh 1). In the last account, it is almost like an exclamation/post-script,  as when a Roman soldier said "Strength and Honor" or a Naval Academy middie says "Go Navy Beat Army".  Words to live by, good for any occasion.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Pope Leo the Great's sermon text, and my murder/mystery book idea

The gist of a sermon by Pope Leo the Great, as posted on Facebook today by musician/monk John Michael Talbot, is:

"The law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).

Well, right on, Pope Leo. As I, in my chronological reading of the Bible, plod through the "wilderness" of Numbers and Leviticus and the laws about - well, about everything - the contrast between the New Covenant and the old is striking to say the least.

In my last post I joked about writing a murder mystery, "Murder in the Promised Land". A Levite judge and his Edomite sidekick would, like Brother Cadfael of "Masterpiece Theater", solve crimes according to the law and social context of their theocratic society. A good murder/mystery is a morality play, with the detective delivering edgy homilies about the seamy underside of respectable society. Reading through Moses, one sees an entire society of throroughly stiffnecked sinners being slowly whipped into shape by the enthusiastic education and application of a cradle-to-grave Law:

Hey lady DON'T grab the private parts of the guy beating the tar out of your husband - if you do, we'll cut off your hand. Use a stick, a poker, a skillet but NOT your hand.

Hey fella when you sack some pagan town DON'T rape the pretty women. If you want a female survivor bring her home and treat her well for a month and then, if you want, marry her, if not, send her on her way.

Hey husband, DON'T sleep with your mother-in-law. (Can't imagine they needed to enforce that one very often, but you never know.....)

And the premise behind it all is......priests, continually tell them what's wrong. Punish all wrongdoing without fear or favor. Do this and remind them of both the shortterm and longterm consequences of disobedience, and that if they obey, "all will be well with you."

But they couldn't. You might as well ask salamanders to sing Handel. Because of the radical depravity of their hearts, there would be no everlasting Kingdom of God on earth, no truly peculiar people. The Chosen would envy the heathens, act the heathens, and as a result be judged like the heathens.

And why?? Many reasons but two things jump out at me. First, the blood-soaked land of Israel cried out for justice and vengeance but there was just too much iniquity with no suitable sacrifice. Everything was soaked in sin. Lawbreaking was not a rare horror leading to instant death, like Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Instead it became as common and as expected as the croup. In short it was an epidemic beyond the abilities of the priests to control.

Second, although the Law was given through the Spirit and the prophets spoke to the people through the Spirit, the people themselves did not have God's empowering, morally guiding Spirit in them. So - salamanders singing Handel, again. The problem persists today, and will until the Last Trump. In societies that value freedom (the West), people are dying from the sins of freedom: substance abuse, STDs, obesity, greed-related crime and practices, and suicide because they just can't take it anymore. Families are dying because one parent or the other is "free" to express their inborn, demonic pride. In more structured societies, people are dying from policy tyranny, "honor killings", racial and religious bigotry, and suicide because they just can't take it anymore.

Oh wretched man that I am, who can deliver me?!

Thanks be to God.....for the permissable one-for-all sacrifice of the Perfect Lamb. The perfect Law, perfectly satisfied.

Thanks be to God...for the indwelling Holy Spirit who gives freedom with obedience to the individual, and unity of love and purpose among His people. That Spirit which is a seal, a promise, of the Great Day after which no-one will say, "where is the Lord" because we all will know Him, from the greatest to the least, and even formerly sin-soaked spiritual salamanders will sing "Hallelujah!"

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Post Script to Wandering in the Wilderness post

One of the dangers of wandering in the wilderness is that I miss the forest for the trees. So much about sacrifices for sins and the need for holiness. Sin is a terrible thing. Especially the sin of unforgiveness, which spits on the Torah's system of forgiveness of sins and ultimately, on the forgiveness of the Cross. "In this area of my life, I wish neither to emulate or receive the forgiveness of God." The heart of man, including this man, is desperately wicked apart from the illumination of the Spirit and the Word. There are people I need to forgive (no one on this distribution). The Father so earnestly desires the uprightness of the Body and unity and love among His children.

Father, forgive your proud servant Guy his unforgiveness. By the grace of your forgiveness, I forgive also.

Wandering in the Wilderness - a week in Leviticus and Numbers

Well, it's the wilderness to me. Not to the more biblically literate, certainly not to its Author to whom I mean no disrespect or irreverance. But even a stumble through the wilderness has a few reference points and moments of beauty.

BURNING DAUGHTERS IN THE FIRE - in Leviticus 19, it is detestable to offer sons and daughters in the sacrificial fire of false gods. (Can anyone say saline abortion? No wonder the pagans danced and sang outside the abortion clinics back in the day, brothers Tim and Tom.) It is not irony but holiness that instructs the priests to "burn in the fire" any daughter of theirs who is found to be a prostitute. (Lev. 21).

PUNISHMENT & RESTITUTION - looks like the foundations of western civil justice to me. In Leviticus 6, the one found guilt of fraud or theft is to restore what he has taken, plus 20% (restitution) and also must pay an additional penalty (punitive damages). And, intent matters - but the lack of it doesn't get you off the hook completely. But by all means, take down the 10 Commandments from our courtrooms, what do they have to do with anything.....

"MURDER IN HEBRON" - how's this for the first paragraph from a murder mystery based on Deuteronomy 21, the guidelines for dealing with unsolved murders.

Yehudah the cobbler would never drive a nail again. The men standing around his body hadn't called Esau ben Levi and his Ammonite servant Ishmael to tell them that. The unblinking stare of his right eye told them that, as did the tent peg sticking out of his left. One of the men said, "hurry up Esau, bring down the heifer so we can kill it and declare our innocence of this man's blood."

But Esau, the go-to Levite in solving cases of dispute and assault, wondered why the man was in such a hurry. Ishmael touched the body, feeling its warmth. "Dead about two hours, Esau." Ishmael was a handy assistant. A pagan, he could touch a score of murder victims without needing to sit on his tuchus for ritual purification......

Esau grunted. "Go ask his son for a list of unhappy customers. And while you're at it - give him this shekel, I still owe him for fixing my sandals."

MAY THE LORD BLESS YOU AND KEEP YOU..... this blessing of Aaron in Numbers 6 brings back sweet memories of saying this over Joe and Imani at bedtime. I had dinner with Joe last night - he does seem at peace with God and his life, as does Imani, and Tim. Thank you Lord for answered bedtime blessings. I like blessing people - it is so encouraging, and as we are called to imitate Jesus and believe in His conferred power, we can in faith believe that according to His will He will bless what, and whom, we bless. So if you are reading this - I bless you today with love in your family and joy in your God.

RELEASE YOUR SLAVES, GIVE BACK YOUR PROPERTY - all them God fearin', whole counsel of God slave owners of the antebellum South probably didn't tell their "property" about the Jubilee provisions of God's law: after 50 years, the slaves go free, them and their families (Lev. 25). Oh, and any property you acquired from someone? You have to give it back. That will I am sure be truly Good News to the Indians!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Heart of the Lawgiver: Deuteronomy

February 15-18 in the Chronological Bible covers the Sermon of Moses, mostly from Deuteronomy. It is the Lawgiver's Sermon on the Mount, his summa of holy history and prophetic warning, suffused with a heart of uncompromising love for both the LORD and His stiff-necked chosen people, Israel.

EARLY REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY? - Overworked Moses tells Israel: "How can I bear your problems and burdens and your disputes all by myself? Choose some wise, understanding, and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you." (Deut. 1:9)

TURN LEFT AT THE OLD OG OF BASHAN PLACE - Any newcomer to a rural Vermont town quickly learns the local history and unofficial pecking order through place names. Diane and I moved into "Henry and Ruth Pollin's old place." The Pollins were related to Jack Corse, a well-known local businessman. Deut. 2-3 tells who used to live certain parcels in and around the Promised Land and why they don't anymore - they were Anakites, the descendants of giants, judged unrighteous by God (Deut. 9) and dispossessed by Israel, and let that be a lesson to you.

WHEN INTERCESSION DIDN'T WORK - we often read of the effective intercession of Abraham and Moses, but even though Moses lays it on pretty thick in his plea for permission to enter the Promised Land - "what God is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do?...Let me go over and see" - God answers, "That is enough. Do not speak to me any more about this matter."

WHY NATIONALITY AND DENOMINATIONAL LABELS DON'T DETERMINE GODLINESS - "if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul." (Deut. 4).

MILK & HONEY - Moses repeats these two foods as symbols of godly prosperity and security. I wonder if this term is "shorthand" for successful stewardship of the Promised Land, in both livestock and agriculture. Where there is milk, there is also meat and the promise of future baby animals. Where there is honey, there is also pollination of fruit trees.

SHEMA - What would overburdened, hot-tempered Moses think if he knew that for three millenia and counting, the chant of "Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one" (Deut 6) would be heard individually and in groups every day and around the world? It has been joined, but not replaced, by "Our Father, Who Art In Heaven". For a biblical source text for another oft-repeated prayer, see Deut. 7, "bless the fruit of your womb."

SAY GRACE AFTER THE MEAL? - "When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you." (Deut. 8)

WHY I NEVER WORRIED TOO MUCH ABOUT YOUTH GROUP - I figured that if I followed this commandment, the kids would learn, and if I didn't, no youth program would help much: "These commands that I give you today ar to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." (Deut 6:6-9). Bedtime stories, long drives in the car, my reaction to the mundane challenges of daily life - that was their Bible School.

WHY UNEMPLOYMENT CAN BE A GOOD THING - "He led you through the vast and dreadful humble and test may say to yourself, 'my power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.' But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth." (Deut. 8)

LOVE THE ALIENS? - God "loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt." I don't think this means open American borders to illegals. I do think it means that if foreigners of any kind are among us Christians, and they are in need, we need to help them and not ignore or exploit them. They are on the divine agenda, and so they must be on ours, too.

DEATH TO THE IDOLATOR AMONG YOU - whoa, pretty harsh, Moses. Except, except.....Israel is a theocracy and entreaty to idolatry is the equivalent of conspiracy to commit terrorism and treason. If Imani tried to bomb the Lamoille County Court House, I'd turn her over to Uncle Joel, and would expect him to prosecute. Just law protects individuals, the family and all society, and must be upheld fairly. So - "no pity." (Duet 13)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Three, no four sins of the prophets

The Hebrew scriptures have much to say about the sins of the kings, including the "good" kings like David. These tend to run to the Spirit of Babylon: pride, greed, and trust in Man as a political creature. In the latter half of the Book of Numbers, for the readings of Feb. 10-12, the Holy Book deals with the sins of the prophets - those who presume to speak for God.

In Numbers 16, Dathan - the character played so memorably by Edward G. Robinson against Charlton Heston's Moses in "The Ten Commandments" - leads a band of respectable types who insist that they, too, may speak for God, saying to Moses and Aaron: "You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord's assembly?"

Of course God is not with them, he is "with" Moses and Aaron, which everyone discovers when fire comes out of the prayer censors each rebel is holding and consumes them all, and the earth opens up and swallows the ringleaders. Dathan and Korah had assumed for themselves a "prophetic equality" that did not exist. Presumably they wished to use this equality to exert their own, unholy will over Israel. And the Lord tells Moses to take the bronze censors out of the smoldering, curled hands of the charred corpses and hammer them into sheets to overlay the altar! Talk about a memento.....Point One to the would-be prophets: you may think you are seizing religious power, but God always gets the First and the Last Word. 

In Numbers 21, Moses raises a bronze snake on a pole, and anyone who has been bitten by a poisonous snake and looks on it, will live. Did the Greeks borrow from Moses for their Aesculapius legend, hence the seal of the American Medical Association? Wikipedia doesn't seem to think so. And we also see a type of Christ being made sin (serpent) for us and raised up on a tree, so that all who look on Him in faith are made whole.....

But back to the sin of the prophets - one of the biggies, Balaam. A prophet-for-hire, he is asked by a pagan king Balak of Midian to prophesy against Israel, encamped in their hundreds of thousands across the Jordan River. Much as he would like to take Balak's money, he can't do it - God is giving him a word that is against Balak instead. Even Balaam's donkey can see the angel preventing Balaam from giving the false word to the proud but fearful king. Point Two: it is pointless for prophets to conspire with kings against the Word of God. His will will be done. Be smart and join the winning side, even if it makes the kings angry.

I do not hate what God does next - put an entire nation to the sword, except for the young girls. God is the creator and judge and He must do as He wills, and I would be like Dathan and Balaam to resist it or speak against it, be my motives ever so pure in my own eyes BECAUSE I am not as smart as God. Like the "man on the street" making superficial comments about complex legislative and judicial issues, I simply lack the inside knowledge and wisdom to make a right decision.

I DO hate when man commits genocide in God's name. Bad luck for native peoples everywhere sitting on valuable natural resources and being told that it is the will of the white man's God that they leave or die or both. The Americas could have been settled with justice, Europeans bringing progress and order without destruction. Samuel De Champlain did so in Acadia and New France.

And finally, beware the faithless coward in prophet's clothing. Of the 12 spies who went into the Promised Land, all 12 reported that the land was indeed rich and fine and was controlled by giants. They observed correctly. Yet all but Caleb and Joshua predicted disaster for Israel, which they compared to grasshoppers to be stepped on by giants. Point Three: trust the God of the Plagues of Egypt - God can use even grasshoppers to subdue a mighty people and deliver Israel.

And a a fourth big non-no for prophets, which I forgot: don't take credit for the power of God. In Numbers 20, both Aaron and Moses are severely punished because Moses not only didn't follow God's instructions about bringing water from a rock, but seemed to take credit for it, as if it was the power of his staff hitting the rock that brought forth the water. Though I speak with tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am nothing....

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Chronological Bible, Feb. 4-6 - the Tabernacle then, the Tabernacle now

Following some of the outward liturgical practices of the Egyptians, but not the theology, the people of Israel at God's command build and maintain for Him a Tabernacle - a word that literally means "dwelling place." No expense of time, treasure or talent is spared. God's tabernacle gets the best gold, the prettiest cloth, the coolest looking uniforms, all made by the most skillful hands. Interesting how the Torah says that God gifted people with the skill to work with cloth, metal, etc.. 

The purpose of the tabernacle - which contained a sanctuary (holy place) and was an early, transportable version of the three temples (Solomon, the Babylonian returnees, and Herod) - was to be literally God's House, a place where He would be present and could receive offerings. And so naturally it had to be holy. And beautiful. And well-kept. And treated with respect. And suitable for being carried across the landscape of the Middle East according to the will of Jehovah.

And so it was until Pentecost, when a new Temple was constructed. God would henceforth live in the bodies of His Body. He would live in us. "Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit." esus was ever ambivalent about the Temple, respecting it as God's House but saying it was just after all rocks and the Kingdom of God is within you. As prophesied, the temple of Herod was destroyed by the Romans, and the Jews slowly abandoned the priest in favor of the rabbi, the synagogue in favor of the temple. But even before the destruction of the Temple, Christians knew and experienced the thrilling new reality that their bodies had replaced the temple as the dwelling place of God. That's what it means to be "filled with the Spirit", a universal expectation for Christians but only an occasional experience for the prophets of the Old Covenant.

Here's what it means to me that the New Tabernacle is now sitting here at my table, typing these words: First, as the attending Levites were commanded, it must be treated with the strictest of holiness. Nothing unclean, no impure union with women or the idolatrous spirits that plague this world, may be permitted. His temple will be a house of prayer, not a den of thieves. Second, it must be well-cared for in a physical sense, quick to be moved wherever necessary, quick to be readied for God's service. The poles, pegs, ropes and sea cow hides need to be kept in good working order. Laziness and indifference in this mundane task is not acceptable. To accept His presence into this body is to accept the Levitical responsibility of holy, conscientious treatment of the things of God - which includes "my" body, which of course is not mine at all, but has been bought with a price. This is how I choose through grace to honor God with my body, His temple: I eat right, I exercise, I guard my heart and my eyes and I breathe spirituallly, exhaling sin through rebuke and confession and inhaling the Word by the Spirit's power through reading, prayer, listening and meditation.