Friday, July 14, 2006

I will make the wilderness a pool of water (Exod 17)

Chapter 17 is a pretty easy one, so as I often do in such cases, I'm going to complicate things with my own comments on what I suggest the SAB might want to say.

First of all, it seems like verse 2 ought to be added to this page, although only if Wells is trying to be comprehensive in his citations. I think a lot of the time, he's just looking for a few good examples, but I'm not sure. It should be noted that he has mistakenly put Genesis 22:1 and 2Sam. 24:1 on this page, which I don't think he meant to. This verse would fit just fine, though. I suppose that since I therefore have not addressed this issue, I ought to here. I think the issue is not whether God can be tempted per se, but whether people will try to tempt God. One of the hard things about this concept is that "tempt" and "test" are largely used interchangeably, with some confusing results. God's certainly not going to be tempted into sin, which is the way we usually think of "tempting". However, God is certainly able to be tested; the only question is whether or not it's appropriate to do so at any given time or in any given manner. For some reason, throughout most of the wilderness wanderings of Israel, the kind of testing/tempting they were doing was inappropriate, while there are examples both of people testing God with positive results, and God actually ordering the people of Israel to test Him! Although the word "test" is not in that verse, the concept is pretty clear there, and I think Wells ought to consider adding it to the test page.

Really, I don't understand this well. I once heard a pastor who said that all testing of God is forbidden in the Bible except for what we find in Malachi 3:10. The guy was a great speaker, but I think he had forgotten Gideon, who doesn't really fit under this heading. (This is also akin to the story in Luke 1 which I really should have included in my "Christmas edition", in which one person gets in trouble for asking a question to an angel, and another person does not.) My only thought is that it has a lot to do with attitude. The Israelites were essentially saying, "Oh my gosh! Moses has led us out into the desert to die, and God doesn't care about us!" While people like Elijah tested God with an attitude more like, "I'm so certain that God is with me, that I'm willing to give him a test to show you!" This is only speculation on my part, but it makes some sense in that God seems to value faith very highly.

Now, Moses goes with the leaders of the tribes to this place where there is this rock that God says, "I will stand before thee there..." which I assume to be somewhat figurative; perhaps the pillar of smoke mentioned previously stopped at the rock. Moses hits the rock with the staff, and water comes out of it. "God is such a clever guy!" the SAB says. Yes, I suppose He is. Apparently, this is absurd to Steve Wells, but he doesn't explain why. I guess it's another case of anything miraculous is absurd. This is definitely meant to be a miracle, and aside from the obvious fact that it's supernatural for rocks to spew out water when hit, the fact that this staff is used is often an indication in the Torah that miracles are involved.

Shortly after this (although it's not clear, since the Bible isn't much on sequential storytelling) the Amalekites come to attack the Israelites. Apparently, the SAB deems fighting back against this attack to be cruel, unjust, and intolerant. Am I to take it then that they should have just let themselves be attacked?

Something miraculous seems to happen in this story. Moses goes up on a hillside, and holds up his staff. So long as the staff is over his head, the Israelites keep winning, when he puts it down, the battle turns on them. This may indeed be a miracle (remember what I said about the staff?) in which case it needs no further explanation. I do notice however that most of the miracles that Moses performs during his ministry are following an order from God to do them. No such order is mentioned here, and I wonder if it might have been a psychological morale-booster for the troops to see Moses holding up the staff? It's a possibility.

God tells Moses to write the story down "in a book," presumably this one we're reading now. I find this verse in itself to be an odd one, and it may be a Hebrew idiom that we don't fully understand, but God says essentially, "Make sure everyone remembers the Amalekites, because I'm going to make sure everyone forgets them." Huh? Sort of the reverse of Jesus' statement in Matthew 26, where He says the woman with the ointment will be remembered forever, but Matthew fails to tell us who the heck she was. (It may have been Mary, as a very similar story is told in John, and Mary is named there.) In any case, as I mentioned way back, Israel indeed had to keep fighting generation after generation of Amalekites, and yes, most of the time they had to do it without Moses' help.

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