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.