Lord

Day 148-150

Numbers 31

return of balaam(deep inhale)

Ahem.

He dies.

Over the course of the invasion of Midian by the Israelites, there is a quick, almost throwaway line about Balaam being put to the sword. Doops. As C.S. Lewis wrote, and as I have previously quoted, some men serve God as sons while others serve as tools. It seems like this tool outlived his usefulness.

In other news, the Israelites burn the towns and rape the fields, or something. Or maybe they plunder the fields, steal the towns, and rape the livestock. I think I’m getting my war stuff mixed up.

But seriously, they put all the men and boys to the sword, kill any woman who is not a virgin, and take all the virgins.

It is interesting to note that anyone who killed another human, even in what might be called a “righteous war,” is considered unclean and must be cleansed. At times, it seems, force may be necessary, but that makes it no less distasteful.

Articles must also be cleansed with fire or water, as appropriate.

The commanders, it is written, did not lose a single man in the battles, and so they return to Moses and Eleazar and offer them gold articles as an offering to the Lord. The articles are taken as a memorial for the Israelites.

A point of note in this chapter: the Lord is given His tribute, which is entrusted to Eleazar the priest. The Levites are given a portion of the tribute as well. It is important in our victories to give credit, to pay tribute, to the Lord and to those who lead us as His servants. The Levites abdicated their worldly inheritance in exchange for their divine obligation. Even though those who serve God must renounce certain worldly pleasures, in time they will be given their own rewards, as appropriate for their service.


Numbers 32

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this chapter, and Mr. Henry’s concise commentary is little help.

Basically, a couple of the tribes request the recently conquered land so that they may build cities and have fields for their livestock. They would rather live there than in Canaan, and Moses goes off on them for this. He condemns them thus in Numbers 32, verses 14-15:

“…a brood of sinners, standing in the place of your fathers and making the Lord even more angry with Israel. If you turn away from following him, he will again leave all this people in the wilderness, and you will be the cause of their destruction.”

Matthew Henry does make a good point here:

“If men considered as they ought what would be the end of sin, they would be afraid of the beginning of it.”

Moses outlines the consequences of the sin of these tribes and they quickly attempt to find a solution. They offer to send their armies out ahead of the other tribes, and vow not to return to their lands until all of Canaan is in the hands of the Israelites. Moses warns them of the consequences of not keeping their word, but allows them to make this vow.

Here’s what I don’t get. They deny the inheritance, the Promised Land offered them by the Lord. And yet, by making this vow to support and to lead ahead of their brother tribes, they seem to be doing fine.

What I’m wondering is, is this a case like Balaam, several chapters ago, where God finally just gives them what they want and allows them to sin, regardless of how detestable? Or is this something else, some kind of alternative?

It seems to me closer to the first one. If they don’t want the Promised Land of Canaan, then God isn’t going to force them to take it. There is no one dragging us to heaven. We have to seek it and (most of all) accept it for ourselves.


Numbers 33

This chapter features a summary of the travels of the Israelites. I’m glad this exists because let me tell you, this journey has been really hard to follow. I think someone knew that people wouldn’t want to keep track of everything, and so here outlined it. Huzzah!

I feel like there is another quick point I can make here: there are things that are not in the Bible because they do not relate to the relationship between man and God. The Bible is not a textbook; it does not explain the mechanisms by which the world operates nor the methods by which God interacts physically with the world. The miracles are important; the methods maybe not so much. It is important to remember that miracles are possible; the opening of Balaam’s mouth by God was just as miraculous as His giving a voice to a donkey.

The travels of the Israelites are probably important. Matthew Henry explains that the Israelites were led forward and backward, all over by the guidance of the Lord.

“The way God takes in bringing his people to himself is always the best way, though it does not always seem to us the nearest way.”

The Israelites are commanded, when they go into Canaan, to destroy the temples and crush the idols, and to drive the people away. God warns (Numbers 33:55) that anyone left

will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides.”

It is important to note that this is metaphorical; we must eradicate all traces of our sin, and especially of outward temptation. We must guard ourselves carefully against temptation, lest it threaten our inheritance, lest it threaten the gifts that God has for us.


Good day to you all. Peace be upon you.

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Day 147

Numbers 29

Moses outlines the festivals that followers of the Lord are commanded to celebrate. Interestingly enough, celebration was the topic at last Sunday’s sermon, which… took place on the day after I was supposed to write about Numbers 29.

The problem with the sermon, as well-meaning as I believe the pastor to have been, is that it sounded a lot like “if you’re somber or sad, then you’re not being a good Christian.” This is a little too close to what has been called prosperity theology, or the prosperity gospel. To quote Wikipedia,

“Prosperity theology teaches that Christians are entitled to well-being and, because physical and spiritual realities are seen as one inseparable reality, this is interpreted as physical health and economic prosperity.”

It is also noted that followers and preachers of the prosperity gospel view poverty and sickness as spiritual ailments or curses that can be alleviated through faith. My partner has had some very negative experiences with churches that follow prosperity theology.

Poverty and illness are curses? Yeah, I mean it’s a damn shame to be sick or poor, and I believe that dedicated faith can lead to greater willpower and desire which can in turn lead to financial success. However, I don’t think that God’s plan for people involves or guarantees financial well-being. Poverty is not a sign of God’s disfavor.

Can poor personal habits and a lack of direction lead to poverty? Yes. But I don’t think that physical, material wealth has much to do with faith in Christ.

I see this situations as teaching surrender to God and His will, as opposed to undesirable curses. Does being poor debilitate a person? Damn right it does. I’ve lived with it for a long time, and sitting around that poverty line is depressing. It emotionally and spiritually drains you. Or it can.

But regardless, God can and will give you the strength to work through it, if you ask. “Thy will be done, in all things.” I seriously hate the phrase “Let go and let God,” but it’s important to ask that His will be done, that He may guide you to it.

Can the principles in the Bible teach you to be rich? Probably? I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but I’m willing to bet that if that’s the motivation one has while reading it, one will find a variety of implementable tips or lessons for financial success.

And just to be clear, I have no problem with people who want to be rich. I myself am determined to achieve some measure of wealth, to surpass my parents and my family, to provide for my own family and possible future children.

However, I think we, especially as Christians, have to see wealth as a means and not an end. Wealth as an end is idolatrous. But with wealth, one can do many things and help many others. We should seek to do our best as Christians even in poverty, but if we are wealthy, then our goal should still be to serve and glorify God.

Bill Gates is probably my favorite example of a wealthy person who does amazing things with his riches. Go to the website of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Read the 2014 annual letter. If that doesn’t restore some of your faith in humanity, I don’t know what will.

Wealth and power are responsibilities. Health and stability may be gifts if God intends them to be, but they may make us complacent.

“[A]s there may be pleasures in Hell (God shield us from them), there may be something not all unlike pains in Heaven (God grant us soon to taste them).”

— C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

In Numbers 29, the Israelites are commanded to celebrate, but every day of these festivals and celebrations involves sacrifices and offerings to God. Even, or especially, in our celebrations, we are told to humble ourselves to God, to supplicate ourselves before Him, and to glorify Him in all things.

In sorrow and in joy, do not forget the Lord.


Numbers 30

Oh my goodness, I went and looked at Matthew Henry’s unabridged commentary. It made my head hurt a little.

Numbers 30 concerns the making of vows, oaths, and pledges. Basically, at its core, this chapter states that a man who makes a vow must not break his word.

That’s a quote, by the way: “[H]e must not break his word but must do everything he said.”

This chapter also outlines how fathers and husbands have the power to override vows made by their daughters and wives, respectively. I think this is meant to be indicative of the Biblical position of fathers/husbands as the heads of households, which I think is intended to correlate with how God (the Father) is meant to be the head of the Church, both as a collective and as the singular body of worship that one human being offers.

Now, I don’t have the book in front of me, but I am reminded of the book Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill. If I recall correctly, he talks at some point(s) about the importance of keeping one’s word or speaking the truth. Or maybe I’m thinking of The Four Agreements, in which I know for a fact the author Don Miguel Ruiz outlines the importance of what he calls “being impeccable with [one’s] word.”

“Impeccable,” by the way, comes from a Latin word, meaning “not liable to sin.” An impeccable word is free of sin.

The way I see it, breaking vows erodes the strength of one’s soul. You make a habit of being disingenuous, of saying things that you have no intention of following through upon, of being careless in word and in deed. There is some Biblical support for this, I think:

“Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.”

— Ecclesiastes 5:5

Keep those words and deeds in line, dear readers! Keep that soul strong, exercise the power of your will, that you may have more dedication to offer to God.

Peace be upon you.

Day 94

Leviticus 4

Goodness gracious. I’m looking ahead at what’s to come and there are at least 3-4 more chapters of laws and rules and sacrifices.

I suppose I can see the point here; the way parents have to be with children, for instance, is to set up strict rules (bedtime, diets, etc.) that over time grow less severe as the child gains more independence, knowledge, and wisdom. So it is with God as the Father figure to His children. Early on, the Law needed to be obeyed in very specific ways.

I notice, for example, in this chapter that atonement is done through the action of a priest and through a ritualized sacrifice. Later, with the death of Jesus Christ, animal sacrifice was no longer necessary for atonement. From the point of view of the New Testament, I suppose, the old Covenant is fulfilled; the old rules are no longer needed.

As a real world, personal example of this method of teaching, I think back to my math classes that I’ve taken over the years. They start by teaching you general rules, strict yet broad cases. Later, once you understand the general case, they move to specifics, and sometimes those specifics work around the general case. We have to understand the basics before we can understand or respect the exceptions. Perhaps this is a reason that the Old Testament is still a part of Christianity: by reading the old Law, we can see how things have changed and the grace that God has given us in Christ.

But has He made it easier or harder without the old rituals? Does He now trust us as people to give proper respect and worship without elaborate reminders? Does having infinite opportunities to be forgiven make us better or worse?

The world may never know.

Anyway, seriously, Lev 4 is about people goofing up and sacrificing animals. If you want more, go read it yourself.

I’ve said all I need to say for tonight, and I have to be up for work in the morning.

It feels good to get this done. Thanks, Lord, for everything.

Peace be upon you.

Day 91

(Note: This would/should have gone up on Saturday, June 14, 2014. It did not.)

You know, every time I get ready to right another one of these big headings for a new book of the Bible, the intro music to STAR WARS comes into my head. Every. Single. Time.

DUNNNNN dun dun dun… dun dun d-dun… da da DA da da DA da da da da da DA da da DA DAAAAAA da da da DAAAA daaa…

You get the idea.

Oh man. So awesome. Get ready for

The Third Book of Moses Called

leviticus

Boom! Look at that font! Even better than the last one.

So not that I had ever given it any thought, but I now realize that “Leviticus” is some Latin bastardization of something related to the Levites. The priestly types.

Oh yeah, new category.


Leviticus 1

Oh, that feels fresh. And Leviticus is only 27 chapters! I’ll knock this one out in less than a month.

This book is all like, “Kill the bull, bleed ‘im out, skin the corpse, wash the guts.” Leviticus opens like a heavy metal album cover.

Leviticus also gives handy tips on how to sacrifice a bird to the Lord.

Hooray!

(Two more to go…)

Day 63

Exodus 13

Here we get a lot more about Passover and unleavened bread and making sure your kids don’t grow up to be ungrateful heathens and so on. I think it is interesting that they say, after describing the whole bread thing, that

“This will serve for you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial on your forehead.”

— Exodus 13:9

In John Wesley’s explanatory notes, he writes that this is a metaphor for “things which are never out of our thoughts.” I find it interesting that this is similar to the “mark of the Beast” in Revelations, as well as the whole idea of it as a metaphor for something else. I also find more interesting the fact that according to the JW New World Translation, “on your forehead” can apparently be translated as “between your eyes.” Many mystics and New-Age types talk about the “third eye,” and its supposed relation to the pineal gland, which happens to be located roughly “between the eyes.”

But my favorite part of this chapter is Exodus 13, verse 21, cited here from the NKJV:

And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night.

This image of God as a magnificent pillar of swirling clouds, or as a pillar of raging fire against the night sky is marvelous. I have stared deeply into a campfire in the dark of night and regarded the whole thing as an otherworldly, mystical experience. To me, this all rings true.

I cannot speak to the literal interpretation of this, and it is hard to take it metaphorically. All I know is that the image and the story are magnificent.

Good day, all. Peace be upon you.

Day 61

Oh, my life. I played therapist for a family for three hours tonight and I am exhausted emotionally and spiritually. On my way home I reached out to God and as always He reached back. It was a nice, comforting feeling.


Exodus 11

This chapter is nice and short, which is good, because I’m tired. God tells Moses that there will be one last plague, after which Pharaoh will definitely send the Hebrews out of Egypt. God tells Moses to tell the Hebrews to go ask for silver and gold from their neighbors. I can’t help but think they’re planning to “borrow” them and then skip town, but perhaps the implication is that they will receive them as gifts.

Anyway, at this point the Egyptian people don’t seem so upset about the Israelites and they seem to like Moses specifically. This may have something to do with all the crazy magic powers and him revoking all the horrific plagues. But your guess is as good as mine.

Moses tells Pharaoh that the firstborn of Egypt will all be killed, from royal to slave to animal. And Moses tells Pharaoh that this is finally what will force Pharaoh’s hand, and the Hebrews will finally get to leave. God knows that Pharaoh will not give in until this deed is done, and tells Moses as much. Pharaoh’s obstinacy is necessary that all future generations might understand the power of the Lord.

Good night, all. Peace be upon you.

Day 60

I’m reading The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. It is awesome. My partner lent it to me but it is clearly the kind of book I will need to buy and read several times over. That is all.


Exodus 10

This chapter is very interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, God finally explains to Moses why they’re going through all this trouble and why Pharaoh is so ridiculously obstinate. God tells Moses:

“Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among themthat you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the Lord.”

— Exodus 10:1-2, NIV

I’m going to divert from the NKJV here, because apparently God tells Moses to “Go in to Pharaoh,” and I don’t think that’s quite what God meant… I was a little confused and shocked given the previous uses of the phrase “go in to.” You’re welcome to insert your own banjo music and Deliverance joke here. I really want to, but I’m not about to go that far. Not today, anyway.

But the point is that God specifically tells Moses that this is the way things have to go down so that way all the descendants of Israel will remember forever who God is. Makes sense enough to me.

Moses and Aaron go to warn Pharaoh about the impending locust plague and this time, Pharaoh’s servants finally beg him to end this madness and let the damn Hebrews go worship, already. So Pharaoh brings Moses and Aaron back. He tells them finally to just go, and then asks for clarification of who will be going to make this sacrifice.

Moses tells them that everyone will be coming, boys, girls, elders, youth, and the animals. Pharaoh’s response in different translations is interesting; I find the Jehovah’s Witness translation the best, as in it makes the most sense in context. This is what Pharaoh responds in NKJV (Exodus 10:10-11):

“The Lord had better be with you when I let you and your little ones go! Beware, for evil is ahead of you. Not so! Go now, you who are men, and serve the Lord, for that is what you desired.”

“God had better be with you, because there is evil ahead! But no! Send the guys out.” What? This is super confusing and I’m not sure I understand. Pharaoh sounds like he’s changing his mind mid-conversation.

Now let’s take a look at the NIV:

“The Lord be with you—if I let you go, along with your women and children! Clearly you are bent on evil.No! Have only the men go and worship the Lord, since that’s what you have been asking for.”

The NIV mentions that “Clearly you are bent on evil” could also mean “Be careful, trouble is in store for you!” But again, Pharaoh’s meaning is confusing. At least here he is clearly denying letting everyone go, and only wants the men to go.

The following is the New World (JW) Translation:

“If I ever send you and your children away, then Jehovah is indeed with you! It is clear that you intend to do something evil. No! Only your men may go and serve Jehovah, for that is what you requested.”

Does that not make so much more sense? “Wow, really? If I ever let all of you go, then God really is on your side. No, it’s totally obvious that this is some kind of trick. How about only the men go, and we keep everyone else as collateral?” (The bit about collateral is borrowed from Mr. Henry’s commentary/interpretation. Didn’t really think of it that way myself.)

Pharaoh makes his demand and kicks Moses and Aaron back out. They shrug and summon a plague of locusts that ravage the already-ravaged land. Whatever was left after the hailstorm gets devoured. Egypt is in a sorry state indeed. Pharaoh begs for forgiveness and asks Moses to ask God to remove the locusts. Moses does so, and predictably Pharaoh does not let the people go. Shocking.

Before we move into the ninth plague, I want to bring up another translation issue. Exodus 10:19 mentions that God summoned a west wind to send the locusts away and blow them into “the Red Sea.” The Red Sea in this case is in the proper direction for this to happen (i.e. east of Egypt) but the NIV notes that this could also be translated as “the Sea of Reeds.” While this isn’t such a big deal now, this potential mistranslation will come into play in the near future.

So, plague number nine! Pharaoh doesn’t let the people go; Moses stretches out his hand and darkness falls across the land.

thriller - zombie

Why yes, that is a Thriller reference!¹

The Egyptians are all stuck in the dark, but the Israelites are fine and have light. Gee, heavy-handed-metaphor, much? Didn’t even notice that til just now.

Pharaoh tells Moses once again to go make his sacrifice, but this time to leave his flocks. Moses tells Pharaoh that he does not yet know what kind of sacrifice they will have to make, and they will need their flocks to make burnt offerings. This exchange follows, ending the chapter with an awesome Biblical one-liner (in the NKJV, anyway. The other versions I’ve read are decidedly less cool).

Then Pharaoh said to him, “Get away from me! Take heed to yourself and see my face no more! For in the day you see my face you shall die!”

So Moses said, “You have spoken well. I will never see your face again.”

mic-drop-charlie-murphy-o yeahhhhhOhhhhhh! Moses out, b****.


¹ Thriller. 1983 John Landis and Michael Jackson. Image retrieved from http://theukuleleblog.blogspot.com/2012/09/thriller-1983.html

Moses’ mic drop: http://gifsoup.com/view/1324222/mic-drop-charlie-murphy.html

Moses’ air punch: hiding in a link on http://www.gq.com/blogs/the-feed/2014/02/house-of-cards-season-two.html

Killer guitar riff: http://youfoundasecret.wordpress.com/2013/03/13/video-games-according-to-csi-miami/