Friday, April 07, 2006

He sent the people away (Look, links!)

I haven't added these links lately, but it occurs to me that it might be courteous to point out the blogs I've linked to on the sidebar. I wasn't originally going to do that, since I'm not really thinking of this as a blog per se, and I wasn't sure I really even wanted links at all, but what the heck, there are others out there writing interesting stuff, and they're worth checking out.

Actually, what got me thinking about this is that "I Read Leviticus So You Don't Have To" has finally gotten underway. For a while, there was only an introductory post, and I thought it was a project being left by the wayside, but now there are many good posts with some great writing. Furthermore, since Bob's been linking people back to me, I figure I ought to return the favor. I will warn you all that it's not good reading for the easily offended. (You can read his disclaimer.)

"A Messy Faith" is one among many blogs of a friend of mine who is a professional writer. Although his posting is probably as sporadic as mine, he's a much better writer, and his blog touches a lot on the moments of the Christian life where we remember that following God not only doesn't make life easier, but sometimes makes it harder, it seems. Actually, he's apparently recently renamed his blog to "The Recovering Christian" so I suppose I should update my link.

"Stumbling to Bethlehem" is the blog of my friend Victoria, who doesn't need my promotion of her blog, since it's a very popular one. She's just much more of an interesting person than I am, no doubt, and also posts regularly, completely unlike me. A very spiritual woman that I have intense respect for, she's a person whose blog you don't want to miss if you're really into blogs about Christianity, cat ownership, or the Atkins diet.

I don't personally know the writer of "Goosing the Antithesis", and in the very few online interactions I've had with him, he's been a real jerk, to be honest. Still, I found some value in linking to a blog that might likely deal with similar subjects to my own from a very different perspective. Of course, it's been a while since I read stuff over there, and they've changed their description to start, "We attack Christians..." so I'd suggest one tread lightly. If you read the whole description, I'm taking that a bit out of context, though, and really, the writers do have some good insights. I'd spend a lot more time reading their stuff if I had the time for it.

Oh, yeah, there's also "Running from Elevators" which is my second blog. I post there perhaps even less frequently than here, but the content is a bit more free-ranging, so it could be more interesting, or maybe mind-numbingly boring, I don't know.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Take the Levites from among the children of Israel (Exod 6)

Sheesh, Blogger's acting up a bit for me today, and after getting sidetracked by yesterday's topic which started out as a look at chapter six, but ended up being...well, whatever it was. Hopefully this will post today.

Well, here we are at Exodus chapter 6, and the first point that we get to is "Did Abraham know God's name?" I thought to myself, "Ah, I must have answered this back in Genesis. Looking back, I found that I specifically did not answer it in this post. Poop. Well, there is only one explanation that I can think of, but I have to admit, it's a tenuous one, especially in light of the verse the SAB uses to point it out, and, in my opinion, a possible contrast with Exodus 3:14. Well, here it is: As I touched on sort of tangentially in this really old post, and a bit more directly here, Moses wrote the book of Genesis, but was not there when the events took place. Since he wasn't there, I'm not sure one can rightly assume that any dialogue can be considered a direct quotation. If Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob ever mentions YHWH, it may be the case that Moses is inserting the name editorially, so to speak. In case the above problems I admitted are not clear, I'll spell them out. If Abraham actually named a place after YHWH, then one would think he knew the name, and an actual place-name seems more permanent rather than a bit of spoken dialogue. Secondly, if Moses telling the Israelites that "I AM" spoke to him was supposed to be significant, then one would think that name was already known.

At least I did answer the other issue, that of God being seen by someone or not, right here. Phew.

In verse 12, the phrase "uncircumcised lips" is marked as absurd. Really, I'm not sure what to say to this, as I myself have always found it sounding a bit absurd as well. Culturally, circumcision was a big deal to the Israelites, and while circumcision is literally something done to the foreskin of the penis, the Bible speaks of uncircumcised ears, hearts and nations, and it seems to metaphorically refer to not being dedicated to God as is proper.

Later in the chapter, as we get a genealogy of Moses, the lifespans of several forefathers are called absurd. As I mused in a previous post, I'm not sure what the specific threshold is for ridiculously long lifespans, but it seems to be somewhere between 127 and 133, and I don't know why. Something that the SAB fails to mention here, although I'm surprised because it's pretty glaring, is that despite the fact that 400-odd years have passed since the last mention of Levi in the book of Genesis, Moses is only Levi's great-grandson. Something weird is definitely going on here, either these long-lived people are having children in their old age, or the genealogy is telescoped in some manner. There's no clear-cut contradiction even if you take it literally, it just seems very odd, that's all.

The last point the SAB brings up in this chapter is another one I have already addressed. Moses' parents were siblings, and thus their relationship was incestuous. But didn't God condemn incest? Yes, He did, but not yet. I discussed this issue when Abraham mentioned that Sarah was his wife.

There are no more points to address as given presently, but there is something that I'd never noticed before this morning that the SAB might want to point out as absurd just because it's a little bit funny, I think. Is it a sign that Moses may not be a very good writer? In verse 14, we read "These be the heads of their fathers' houses..." This seems to be an introduction to a list of the sub-families of the twelve tribes, listed in order of the birth of the sons of Jacob. One problem, though; it goes Reuben, Simeon, Levi--Oh! That's Moses' tribe! Let's talk about Moses' ancestry and family, shall we? Okay, but what about the other nine tribes? We don't get back to this list until Numbers 26, nearly 90 chapters later! Something that's an issue to consider in some places in the Bible is that few of the Biblical authors were professional writers, and none of them had word processors.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

That all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel (Exodus interlude)

So what is the reason that God gives for deciding to go through such a complicated and difficult process to save the Israelites? Part of it is given here in chapter six, and we see a bit more of it explained in chapter seven. There's a twofold point to all of this, and both parts of it are similar:
Exod. 6:7 " [Israelites] shall know that I am the LORD your God..."
Exod. 7:4 "And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD..."
I suppose someone might call it "showing off", and in a sense, they'd not be far from the truth. God doesn't just want to rescue the Israelites, He wants to rescue them while taking the time to drive home a point to everyone involved. Sure, God could have just forced Pharaoh to change his mind about the Israelites, and they could have just walked away, but what would be the result? Aside from the fact that God is forcing someone to change their mind (something that I think is against His basic nature), there is no justice in it, and no lesson for anyone to learn. What lesson should they learn?

Here's a pretty good analogy, I think. Suppose it was God's will for me to get a Master's Degree in Mathematics (something I've been considering pursuing lately). I could check out a college that offered a good program, get accepted, pass the courses, and earn my degree, with all of those actions proceeding smoothly and easily from one moment to the next because God paved the way for me. After it was said and done, I probably wouldn't think to thank God for the series of everyday miracles that brought me there. On the other hand, if I was reluctant to go back to school, and God firmed my resolve not to, I would say with surety, "I'm not going back to school." Then God could strike me with some sort of awful disease, make me lose my job, and have my car stolen. I might ask, "God, have I made a wrong decision? If you want me to go to school, I don't understand, because I need $22,700 dollars to pay for my expenses, and I just don't have it!" The day after praying this, a check arrives in the mail from the IRS for exactly $22,700 saying that they discovered a mistake on some of my previous tax returns. (Not likely, as I've never made enough to pay that much in taxes, I'm pretty sure.) Then I would enroll in school and my disease would clear up, I'd get a new, better job, and my stolen car would be found. "Wow," I'd say, "clearly God is trying to tell me something."

God is trying to tell somebody something here. He's sending a clear message to Pharaoh, Moses, the Israelites, the Egyptians, and a number of neighboring nations that will all see these bizarre miracles. Message? You'd better take the God of Israel seriously.

Now, people ask (as the SAB does in Exodus) whether it's worth killing children to make this statement. It's a question worth asking, no doubt. In my view, the answer to that is, you have to look at the big picture. We, as living beings, are afraid of death. Why? Well, if you don't believe there is an afterlife (or if you believe the afterlife is something generally unpleasant), then there is a sense of loss in having a loved one die. If, however, you believe that there is such a place as Heaven, and specifically that all children who die go there (I may have mentioned this common Christian belief in an earlier post, I'm not sure...), then while killing hundreds, nay thousands of Egyptian children is cruel to the parents of those children, we have no reason to believe that the children themselves suffered in any way. So we are only left with the question of whether the parents deserved to be punished.

I remember reading a bit of an essay by Jean-Paul Sartre several years ago in which he addressed from an entirely atheistic point of view the idea of responsibility of citizens of a nation for the actions that nation takes as a whole. (I probably don't remember it so very well, and I've not read Sartre extensively, so forgive me if I get his ideas not quite right; in the end, I'm making my own point, but isn't a bit of namedropping fun?) Essentially, it doesn't really matter what sort of government you live under--although perhaps in a democracy, you participate more than would those living under a monarchy--if your government commits some atrocity, you are, in part at least, responsible. Don't like the war in Iraq? Too bad, U.S. citizens, your government is waging it in your name. Lived in Germany during the Third Reich? If you stood passively by as millions were gassed in concentration camps, their blood is on your hands as much as the Nazis. The fact is that Pharaoh systematically tried to kill off the Jews, and he wasn't overthrown by an outraged citizenry. The Egyptians were responsible for the deaths of those Israelite children, and the time was about to come upon them when they would receive the comeuppance for it.

Was it cruelty, or was it justice? It's all speculation, and in a sense, it's only God's place to judge. As for myself, though, I see the strong possibility that this was a righteous act on God's part, despite the personal distaste I may have for the result.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Why stand ye here all the day idle? (Exod 5)

The SAB has no notes on chapter 5, but I think there are a few things here that deserve comment. First of all, I've always thought it interesting that Moses' initial demand is not that Pharaoh set the people free, but only to let them go for a few days to freely practice their religion outside of Egypt. At least, that's what it sounds like when I read it. If this is indeed true, then I wonder if Moses is lying to Pharaoh, or if perhaps the intention was just to ask for a little bit at first rather than come right out and ask for it all. If Pharaoh had said yes, would they have come back after three days?

Pharaoh has nothing of it, though, whatever it is that they're asking. Instead, he decides to enact some cruelty on the Israelites by saying essentially, "If you slaves have time enough to waste my day with ridiculous demands, you're clearly not working hard enough," and he gives them more work. This is actually another place where I wonder if we're only getting part of the story, as Pharaoh claims of Moses, "ye make them rest from their burdens." Is he talking about the three or six days off they'd get if he gives in to Moses' demands, or is he making something up, or is there something going on behind the scenes where the people stopped working that day, and they're standing around waiting to hear what response Moses gets? I suppose that the scene later in the chapter in which "the officers of the children of Israel came and cried unto Pharaoh" points to them not really knowing what's going on, and therefore, it's not the latter. Still, it could be a matter of a few Israelites hanging around Moses; he had at least Aaron with him, and it seems reasonable speculation that they might have had a small entourage.

Anyway, the people get angry with Moses, and instead of accepting him as their savior, they accuse him of making their lives worse, which after all, he did. And Moses asks God essentially the same question that so many skeptics ask: Why does all of this have to be done the hard way? And in Chapter 6, God gives the only answer we ever really get, like it or not.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The beginning of wisdom

I've been having a hard time getting back to my blog lately, partly because of my current workload and personal issues, but frankly, there is something else that's been keeping me from blogging lately.

All this reading and rereading of the notes in the SAB is making me start to have some serious doubts and questions. Maybe I need some time to consider more of the content of that site before continuing on this project much farther.

Just because I'm saying this doesn't mean that I have given up the faith. On the contrary, I'm still holding fast to it as best I can, but I have to be honest. Knowing some of the things I know now, I do have to admit logical difficulties. In the meantime, I suppose I'll still continue with my other blog. Never fear, faithful two or three regular readers, in some form, I will carry on. Get yourself some rest this weekend.