Friday, March 12, 2010

March 12

OT: Numbers 19:1-20:29

I've gotta tell you, today's reading was hard. God is starting to wear me down. He is just such a mystery to me. He baffles me in so many ways. And I know that He doesn't owe me any explanations, but I just have to wonder, "Why does a God who seems so determined to make Himself known to man choose to be so enigmatic??" For one thing, why does He act so differently at different points in history? Why does He put up with all of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob's crap, but then strike 14,700 people dead for complaining against Moses? And then, why doesn't He keep up that behavior through the rest of Israel's history? He burns 250 men alive and kills thousands more for grumbling against Moses and Aaron's authority, but when Doeg slaughters a priest, his family, and the whole town in I Samuel, where is God then? He definitely doesn't smite ol' Doeg the same way He smited these guys! The more I think about it, in fact, this behavior on God's part is very short-lived. His direct, violent intervention makes up a tiny slice of history, and His directly-sanctioned violence against others (which we will see shortly) makes up another small section. Throughout most of history, though, that is not how God chooses to act. Hmmm. Maybe He is teaching the people the definition of "holy" right now. All I can say is that that is not a fun lesson to learn, apparently.

It's also odd how He seems so bent on setting up such a strict hierarchy now, only to demolish it later. After all, his prophet, Jeremiah, foretells of a time when:
"No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,'
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,"
declares the LORD.
"For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more."

That time came with the Holy Spirit and the new covenant. But it is still just so interesting/baffling to read about the progression, to see the many different "faces" of God throughout history. I just don't know what to make of it. But actually, typing about it did help:). The first time I read through the Bible, I felt so isolated and confused for a lot of the time. I didn't understand what God was doing half the time, and if anything, I felt more distant from Him after reading the Bible, rather than feeling closer to Him. This time has been so much better, and I know that part of that has come from getting to process each reading with my brothers and sisters. So thank you for encouraging me to do that. And please, if you have any insight into readings like today's, now is the time to share:).

Mark 16:1-20

Okay, time for Resurrection account #2. I urge you to read Matthew's account from February 14 (or you can get my synopsis here). I have been interested in comparing details, and it was interesting (my word of the day, apparently) to see how each gospel highlighted different things. In Matthew's account, the women and the guards actually witness the stone being rolled away; in Mark's account, it is already rolled away when they get there, and there are no guards mentioned. Mark also repeatedly highlights the unbelief of the disciples. I seem to remember that we will hear a different perspective on that in John. I'm not quite sure what to make of these discrepancies. For instance, whether the stone was rolled away before they got there or after is a very small detail...but shouldn't the Gospels not contradict each other? You can explain a lot of the "contradictions," but I'm not really sure how to explain that one....

It's also weird how our text (and most Bibles) include a portion of Mark that wasn't in the earliest manuscripts. Um, well, if it isn't in the earliest manuscripts, why include it? (I'm just full of questions today. I'm sorry if you came here expecting any insight:).)I thought at first that verse 10 seemed to contradict verse 8, but I see upon reading it again, that verse 10 talks about Jesus' appearance, whereas verse 8 was just about the angel. So in verse 8, there are two women who don't tell anyone out of fear, but in verse 10, there is one woman who does tell people. And that works, of course, b/c it is two separate occasions. Duh, Kim.

Psalm 55: 1-23

In a lot of ways, this psalm is "typical David," but it stands out for two reasons to me. One, David talks about the betrayal of a close friend, instead of just his usual nameless, faceless enemies (12-14). And secondly, it has some amazing poetry. Verse 21 really jumped out at me: "His speech is as smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords." What powerful imagery! What contrasts! That, my friends, is some powerful poetry! I loved it.

I also love, of course, our bolded verse: "Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall."

Proverbs 11:7

Another good, simple insight into the futility of wickedness. The power of the wicked ends abruptly in death.


  1. Numbers:

    The first thing that stood out to me today was that I don't think God was actually going to destroy the entire community of Israel as He threatened. If He had, that would have kept his promises from coming to fruition. In dEphesians chapter 1, it says (generally) that God had decided before the Creation of the world to have Jesus die for our sins. Well, that couldn't have happened if the entire tribe of Judah had been wiped out. Also, God had already promised Abraham that the savior would come through his seed. God does destroy (or at least cause to be enslaved) the majority of them at later times in history, but He always leaves a remnant. Anyway, my point is that I think God knew exactly how Moses and Aaron would respond to His anger, so He knew that He wasn't actually going to destroy the entire community. That's my thought for the moment, anyway.

    My second thought was that I wonder how all of this "set apart"-ness applies today. I know that when Jesus died and the curtain was torn in two, that symbolized that we now (all of us, individually) have full access to God through Jesus. Maybe God was showing the one extreme of His character so that now we can fully appreciate the other extreme. (I'd rather Him be mean then suddenly nice instead of being nice then suddenly mean.) Oh, but my point was that I wonder about God setting apart certain people for certain tasks and responsibilities (and the respect and rewards that come with them). God makes it clear that Aaron is special. In the New Testament, the Apostles are special too. As the potter, God can make vessels for whatever He chooses. So, how does that all work now? How do we know who is set apart for what?

    As for God's behavior, like I said, maybe He was showing one extreme so we can appreciate the other. Also, WE don't always react to things the same way either, and we are made in His image. However, unlike us, He has the benefit of truly knowing people's hearts. He knows what really is fair. Another thing is that, if you think of the community of Israel as a person, growing from a child in the OT to an adult in the NT, it makes sense that God would be harsher in the beginning to teach them. If he tried to lay all the NT stuff on them at the beginning, they wouldn't have understood or appreciated it. (That's not to say that I enjoy reading about Him destroying thousands of people at a time.) Still, even in the NT, in Acts there is the story of the husband and wife who lied about their offering and God killed them. I think that was supposed to be a teachable moment too.


    I'm not sure what to make of the discrepencies either, except that I guess the different authors had more knowledge than the others about different events. Maybe there are different endings to Mark because he wasn't quite sure himself how it all went down (or, maybe the scribes just made it up... who knows?). I think I would tend to go more with the accounts that have more specific details because those authors probably knew more what they were talking about. Yes, I believe the whole Bible is divinely inspired and, therefore, true, but it was still written down and translated by humans. If it were really important that certain parts of the story be 100 percent accurate, then they would be. Places where there are discrepencies, it must not be terribly important that we know exactly how it happened as long as we get the overall point. In this case, the point is that Jesus rose from the dead, an angel rolled the stone away, and Jesus appeared to his followers, just as he said he would. It is interesting to me that Jesus did tell them that he would meet them in Galilee after he rose from the dead, but they seem so surprised when he actually does that.

  2. Psalms:

    My version says, at the beginning, "For the choir director: A psalm of David, to be accompanied by stringed instruments." I just thought I would point that out. (Not that we should suddenly start usuing instruments at church, but I don't want to ignore the mention of instruments when they come up just because they make us, um, uncomfortable.)

    This particular psalm brings up bad memories for me because I actually once used the verses about betrayal against someone I felt had betrayed me. I feel guitly about that every time I read it.


    I have some thoughts brewing about the definition of wickedness, but I can't get them to come to the surface of my brain...

  3. Becky,

    Thanks for your comments. You made a lot of good points about the OT, especially. After I typed last night, I felt a lot more at peace about everything. I did want to give vent to some emotionalism, though, to remind myself (and others who are struggling) that it IS hard to understand God, and that we Christians DON'T have it all figured out. We love the Bible, but it also confuses us and makes us uncomfortable sometimes.

    That said, one way of thinking about everything that I found helpful was to view God's work in history as "God's drama of redemption." The idea of "narrative" or "story" has been really popular in scholarly Biblical circles lately, and when I was at Lipscomb for Impact last year, there was a scholarly conference totally focused on the idea of God's use of narrative (how I wished I could have snuck in!).

    And when i think of the OT and the NT, and even today, as part of a narrative through which God reveals Himself to us, it all makes a lot more sense to me, for some reason. Shakespeare says that "All the world's a stage,/And all the men and women merely players." When I think about that in terms of the "dramatic play" that God is putting on, I see the lives of the Israelites (and our lives as well) as merely tools in God's hands. He uses us to tell others about Himself. He used the lives of the Israelites (including the 14,700) to tell certain things, and He uses our lives to tell certain things. But there is one overarching message and one overarching purpose, and that is that God is a holy God who created us and loves us and wants a relationship with us. He took a long time to tell that story, and the OT is just Act 1. The NT is Act 2, and Revelation is Act 5 (assuming that this is a Shakespearean-style play:)), and we are somewhere in between. But it IS all part of one story with one message.

    For some reason, thinking about it that way helped me this morning.

  4. The whole topic of Biblical "inerrancy" pushes my buttons a bit. I've said this before in the context of 6 days of creation, and I'll say it again: if the question is purely a binary choice of (A) The Bible is 100% literally true, word-for-word, or (B) it's all hogwash, well, of course I'm choosing option A. But you don't have to be the world's greatest Bible scholar to recognize that some of the stuff in the Bible (and I don't mean miraculous stuff) is, to put it mildly, unlikely to be literally true. Whether it's the inclusion of the bat on a list of "birds" that Jews can't eat, or the odd quirk that every tribe of Israel's census count is evenly divisible by 1000, or some of the casualty figures in various bronze-age battles dwarfing the death toll at D-Day, Okinawa, or even Gettysburg, it seems pretty plain to me that God acted through the agency of mortal man in getting His inspired Word into Aramaic and Greek (and English). As a history guy, these "discrepancies" don't bother me--the numbers are all wrong in Herodotus' History of the Persian Wars, too, and we still call him the "father of history." I don't see why we would expect God to dictate a 19th or 20th century history/science text to a Bronze Age or first-century scribe. Please note: I'm emphatically NOT saying that The Bible is all a metaphor, or symbolic, or any of that post-modern deconstructionist garbage. It is True (with a capital "T"), but is a product of its time, its authors (inspired though they were), etc.

    Along those same lines, I have faith that the Holy Spirit is not going to allow honest translation problems to cause salvation issues for those of us who try to be the Bereans of our day. Yes, there are some doctrinal topics linked to translation and manuscript issues (one of my favorites is the phrase "age penetentiam" in the Latin Vulgate, which we modern protestants see as "repent," but which Catholics have seen as "do penance" ever since St. Jerome butchered the translation from the Greek), but I just cannot imagine getting to heaven and finding out that because the Bible which I read every morning was NLT instead of KJV that I've been locked out. So the whole longer vs. shorter Mark ending doesn't bug me that much.

    That said, the more tied in we are to hyper-legalism and to worshipping the text over its author, the more those issues rise up.

  5. Well, said. I agree completely.

  6. 2012 Thoughts:

    The Numbers stuff continues to bother me. In two days' reading, we have seen an ever-widening circle of violence: the people stone a man for gathering wood on the Sabbath; God opens the earth to swallow up a couple of families; God burns alive 250 men; God strikes 14,700 people dead with plague. No matter how you spin it, that is rough.