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!"