Promised Puzzle

I’m reading through the Bible in a year for 2017. I didn’t do it last year, and I missed getting more time in the scriptures. I had a thought today when I read Exodus 3. You remember this chapter. Moses and the burning bush ring a bell? How about a visual?

burning-bush-610x351

Not to be confused with Burning Man.

Burning Man: Art on Fire

Here’s the passage that gave me pause.

But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand forces him. So I will raise my hand and strike the Egyptians, performing all kinds of miracles among them. Then at last he will let you go. And I will cause the Egyptians to look favorably on you. They will give you gifts when you go so you will not leave empty-handed. Every Israelite woman will ask for articles of silver and gold and fine clothing from her Egyptian neighbors and from the foreign women in their houses. You will dress your sons and daughters with these, stripping the Egyptians of their wealth. – Exodus 3:19-22

God reassured Moses that He would be with him. He used the sign of the burning bush to initiate a conversation with Moses. The elders would follow Moses’ lead, too. He basically says, “Go tell Pharaoh you want to leave. I will do the rest.” He gave Moses a synopsis of what would happen. But he sort of left out all the details. By details, I mean plagues. Flies. Frogs. Water turned to blood. You remember now, right?

I wonder if Moses thought this strange. Why not rain down fire and brimstone, God? So I’m just going to walk up to Pharaoh and say, “Let my people go.” Remember I killed a man, God? I might get arrested. Why can’t we fight these losers? They enslaved us, Lord. They did this to your precious people. A little payback might be nice.

God instituted a sort of civil disobedience here. No fighting allowed. No armies. Only a straightforward exodus and persistent asking. Yes, it got heated at times. Pharaoh didn’t want his free labor force to leave the country. And the Egyptians did chase the Israelites into the Red Sea. But I wonder why God wanted it to go down this way. Could it be that the Lord knew His people couldn’t fight and had few weapons?

I think God wanted to show Himself strong on behalf of His people. He hadn’t forgotten them, despite the 400-year gap of time from Jacob’s family moving to Egypt during the famine to the rise of Moses as liberator. They needed to grow in numbers so they could inhabit the Promised Land. God’s promise to Abraham  – “your descendants will outnumber the stars in the sky” – needed time to mature. Pharaoh and his kingdom helped the Hebrew population to grow (Ex.1:12).

Sometimes, God promises us things that take time to come about. God’s plan will prevail. He will use all the circumstances for His glory. May we learn to wait and trust as the pieces move into place.

 

 

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Joshua 5

joshua and commanderTucked at the end of Joshua 5 sits a strange passage.

When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?”

 “Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the Lord’s army.”

At this, Joshua fell with his face to the ground in reverence. “I am at your command,” Joshua said. “What do you want your servant to do?”

The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did as he was told. – Joshua 5:13-15.

The context of this passage is:  Moses is dead. Joshua heads up the company of millions of homeless Israelites. They continue marching onward, conquering cities along the way on the east of the Jordan River. Earlier this chapter, God commands all the males in the party to be circumcised.  I guess nobody got circumcised during the wandering period. Now, as an act of renewing the covenant, it’s time. More about what I’ve gleaned here.

What I find interesting is that the angel of the Lord never appeared to Moses as a commander of an army.  In fact, He never appeared to Moses in any sort of form. He burned in the bush.  He covered the mountain with a cloud. He inhabited the pillar of fire.  But to my recollection, Yahweh didn’t appear to Moses in any sort of familiar form, animal or human.

Joshua got to see a fighting man.  Probably an angel, though the scripture remains vague on this point.

Why?

Joshua was the leader his people needed right then:  a commander of an army.  Over 40 years of eating manna and  traveling any time of the day or night, they’d learned a measure of obedience. They had finished a sort of boot camp.  When they started out, they needed a leader like Moses who could bring their hearts back to God.  Now, the job entailed someone who could instill courage to attack.  Joshua followed hard after God; no question there.  But Joshua had a different anointing and filled a different job description.

What of Joshua himself?  Did He desire to see God in a cloud or burning something?  No.  Spending time assisting Moses while Moses heard directly from God gave him an idea of God’s omnipotence. Joshua needed to see that God would show Himself as what Joshua needed. Perhaps Josh needed a reminder that God controlled the armies, ultimately, not him. Despite every incredible victory, the glory belonged to God alone.

We don’t have to be anyone else to but who we are to hear Him. I’m so glad God meets us where we are, with what we need, when we need it.

Scapegoat

tree-goats

This morning, our internet was down.  Not the internet in the whole world, mind you, but in our house, it didn’t work.  I found myself doing Bible reading old school:  with my Bible in my lap.  However, my two eyes didn’t focus together. I still have the really great right eye contact lens and the just-shy-of-blindness left eye, lagging behind. I couldn’t read the words.  I picked up the hulking mass and held it out a little father away.  Maybe that would increase clarity.  Nope.

I read today’s selection from Leviticus in the original King James Version.  Oh boy.  As if Leviticus isn’t dry enough.  This was all about how sacrifices are supposed to go down. Then, to me, the most intriguing portion:

Aaron will present his own bull as a sin offering to purify himself and his family, making them right with the Lord. Then he must take the two male goats and present them to the Lord at the entrance of the Tabernacle. He is to cast sacred lots to determine which goat will be reserved as an offering to the Lord and which will carry the sins of the people to the wilderness of Azazel. Aaron will then present as a sin offering the goat chosen by lot for the Lord. The other goat, the scapegoat chosen by lot to be sent away, will be kept alive, standing before the Lord. When it is sent away to Azazel in the wilderness, the people will be purified and made right with the Lord. – Leviticus 16:6-10

The “reserved for the Lord” goat got sacrificed. After some blood-sprinkling from the Lord’s goat, the second goat enters the picture.  Why goats?  All the other sacrifices are cows, sheep, and birds.

“When Aaron has finished purifying the Most Holy Place and the Tabernacle and the altar, he must present the live goat. He will lay both of his hands on the goat’s head and confess over it all the wickedness, rebellion, and sins of the people of Israel. In this way, he will transfer the people’s sins to the head of the goat. Then a man specially chosen for the task will drive the goat into the wilderness. As the goat goes into the wilderness, it will carry all the people’s sins upon itself into a desolate land. – Leviticus 16:20-22

In case you were wondering, God is relaying these instructions to Moses for Aaron. It all feels otherworldly to me.  I don’t live in this time period. Our sacrifices are very personal things, like giving money to a charity or time to mentor a child. No blood flows, as a general rule.

This goat driven into the wilderness will have to survive on its own.  What happens to it, out in the wild? Goats, I’ve read, are known for their lively and frisky behavior. They will nibble on most anything, but have definite preferences for woody shrubs and trees (wikipedia.com).  Their curiosity upon discovering new smells drives them to taste inedible things. They show unusual intelligence, too, with an ability to climb slanting trees or simply up and out of their pens.

Which begs the question, again, why goats? Does something untoward happen to the goat as soon as it’s set free from its leadline? This tells us how God hates sin, of course.  It must be driven out of the camp.  But is there more here?

I think goats personify what often gets us into sin in the first place:  curiosity.  What would it be like to…?  To quote the serpent, “Did God really say…?” (Genesis). The goat literally escapes from the camp, bearing the people’s iniquities. He became sin for the Israelites.

What do you think?

Janathon and Tabernacles

background_moses_tabernacle

This morning I headed out for a run after Saturday chores.  The freezing fog rose slowly around me. It actually felt like January. I managed a 3-mile out and back. The old bod is adapting to working full-time.  Yay!.

It’s January 31.  I thought it would never get here. Janathon:  complete.  I missed blogging one day, but since I started a new job among several other events, I consider it pretty good.

I’ve lost about 5.5 lbs. this month. I changed up my eating habits considerably and am so glad of it.  More on that at a later date.

Today, I read Exodus 40.  Moses commissioned skilled workmen such as Bezalel (why don’t kids get names like that anymore?) and co. to finish up work on the Tabernacle.  God outlined very specific instructions on how to craft it – gold-encased mercy seaet, bronze lamps, priestly ephod encrusted with 12 precious stones. Bezalel completed all the pieces, Moses put it all together.  I guess some assembly was required. Once Moses finished placing all the holy furniture and setting up the animal-skin tent, something marvelous occurred.

Then the cloud covered the Tabernacle, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. Moses could no longer enter the Tabernacle because the cloud had settled down over it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. – Exodus 40: 34-35

Every other time I’ve read these chapters about the creation of the Tabernacle items and the portable dwelling itself, my mind drifts.  I mean, we have very little in our churches today that resemble such ancient equipment.  The craftsmanship sounds fabulous, intricate and worthy of God.

But we’re talking about God here, the Lord of all creation, original Master of the universe.  He gave explicit instructions about the Tabernacle’s dimensions and the things to travel with it.  How does the infinite find a home in a tent made of animal skins, which has rather limited square footage?  Why should the eternal divine, who sits on a throne of rainbow-colored gems, hang out here?  By here, I mean Earth, which is prone to dirt and decay and all kinds of crunchy insects. Yes, the portable dwelling contained some articles of gold and precious stones.  However, not enough to warrant housing such majesty, to my way of thinking.

This Tabernacle, this temporary dwelling, became a tangible, visible reminder to the Israelites that Yahweh had come down from the heavenly realms to lead them to the Promised Land. His presence hovered over the Tabernacle during the day, and appeared as fire inside the pillar of cloud by night (Ex. 40:37-38). Since God had a home among them now, he planned to stay. His guidance and care continued though the journey was long. I’m reminded that once I accepted Christ into my heart and let Him lead, He came to stay inside me as well.  God’s presence inside me sanctifies this temple of flesh and continues to guide me every day.

The Golden Lesson

While doing a short kettlebell workout, I meditated on the day’s reading. I came upon Exodus 32 in my Bible reading plan. You know, the story about the Israelites worshiping the golden calf while Moses and God have their confab on Mt. Sinai. I’ve written about this before.

On the surface, their actions seem justified.  “We don’t know what happened to Moses,” they say to Aaron. “Make us something we can worship” (Exodus 32:1). It seems okay, like the calf is just a stand-in.  I mean, God helps those who helps themselves, right? Wrong. The worship becomes full-on debauchery (v. 6).

Once Moses leaves the mountain, things get rough. The Israelites’ idolatry infuriated God. Moses asks the people to choose sides. The Levites stand with Moses.  Moses commands the Levites to kill anyone opposing God, namely, everyone else.  The priestly order manages to snuff out 3,000. What a bloodbath! God killed even more with a plague later that day.

There are several morals here. But despite the gap of several thousand years, we aren’t so different. Don’t we find ourselves doing the same things?  “God isn’t coming through.  I’ll take out a loan to cover this month.” Relationship on the skids?  “I’ll manipulate them into getting my way.” In other words, we force circumstances to become what we want. We do this with our health and careers, too.

But this is not God’s way of dealing with “life”. The Lord has the best in mind for us, every day. We are not forgotten. We need to wait and pray, trusting in the meantime. He has the answers, if we’re willing to listen. They don’t include doing it our way.

The Pain of Becoming

cocoon

Today, I didn’t run until after breakfast.  It was still cool, in the 50s, with the sunlight chasing the shadow.  Clouds from out of the west moved in huge silent, dark-bottomed herds across the sky, promising rain eventually.  I needed to do this before the deluge.

I ran 4 miles.  And not surprisingly, my body didn’t like it.  I thought, Where is my mental tough girl today?!  Can she make a cameo appearance, please?  Come out, come out, wherever you are!  Geez.  I reached the top of the hill and walked a little.  I pressed on to the turnaround and started back.  Mercifully, the way back is mostly downhill.  It’s a good thing.

But as I coasted down the hill, my right side started to ache.  Really!?  And then the pain was excruciating, right under my sternum.  I had to smile.  Been here before.  My breathing became irregular, which you know if you’re a runner, is the kiss of death.  Yes, your muscles and correct form keep you upright.  But your breathing propels you, like the wind in the sails of a catamaran.  You.must.control.your.breathing.  So I went back to triplets – 1-2-3, 1-2-3, regulated breaths in and out.  It creates a sort of hemiola with whatever music I’m listening to.  Not a blood disease.

I can’t say I completely conquered the side ache, but I managed to finish.  Then I looked at my watch.  Holy cow!  I shaved more than a minute off each mile.  No wonder I was hurting!  The pain was because I had rocket-coffee fueled feet today.  I could not seem to go slower.  I did not intend to burn up the pavement.

I am becoming a faster runner.  But, as you can imagine, there is a cost: pain.  And a certain amount of nausea.

I read in Exodus today, starting in chapter 3.  God commissioned Moses to speak to His people, to get them ready to leave Egypt.  Moses would be God’s prophet and his brother Aaron the mouthpiece.  Moses argues with God about the whole thing.  Eventually, God got angry.  Moses it not entirely sure he wants to become.  He’ been hiding out in the wilderness, content with his low-key life.  He figured the excitement in his life was past.

Not hardly.

When Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh about leaving to go worship Yahweh, he cried, “They are lazy!”  He ordered the Israelite foremen to make their bricks without provided straw now. They must gather their own and still make their quota. Take that!  He resented the interference with his slaves and lashed out.  The word is tested.

The Israelite foreman push back on Pharaoh.  He responded:  “You’re just lazy!  Lazy!  That’s why you’re saying, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifices to the Lord.’ Now get back to work!  No straw will be given to you…” (Ex. 5:17).

So, the foremen complain to Moses.  This is not what they had in mind at all.  Moses, in turn, complains to the Lord:  “Why have you brought all this trouble on your own people, Lord?  Why did you send me?  Ever since I came to Pharaoh as your spokesman, he has been even more brutal to your people.  And you have done nothing to rescue them!” (v. 22).

Ouch.

God comforted his people in the next chapter, true to His goodness.  But the children of the promise didn’t understand that they were complacent.  They were comfortable as slaves; everything they needed was within reach.  No, they weren’t free, but they were well-cared for.  Yet God had so much more for them.  But in order for them to even *want* it, they had to be shaken out of their comfort zone.  He used pain – the physical pain of hard labor, whippings and verbal abuse – to awaken them.  In other words, he made their lives tougher.

We are not so different.  Usually it takes a series of rotten circumstances or some sickness for us to look up and acknowledge our need for God.  Our situations start to squeeze us out.  The grace to work at a particular place doing a particular thing starts to run out.  We feel uneasy, a bit unmoored.

God has a plan.  He always has good in mind for us.  The pain we’re experiencing now is part of the transformation process.  I want to become faster, and run longer.  The caterpillar must enter the cocoon to become the butterfly.  The children endure discipline and learn to make good choices as they move into adulthood.  Pain is part of the price we pay to mature.

No More Moses

I’m continuing to read the Bible through in 90 days.  I’m something like 18% done already.  Woo hoo!

I finished Joshua today and am onto Judges.

What I noticed is that at the end of Deuteronomy, Moses dies.  The transfer of power to Joshua is complete.  There is now a Levitical priesthood, the religious order, which is separated from the government of the people, headed up by Josh.

Joshua and his people, now a nation of warriors, get to complete the task of conquering the occupying nations and taking possession.

As I think back on Moses’ life, I can only marvel.  Set adrift on the Nile as tiny baby, collected by Pharoah’s daughter and raised in the Egyptian court, he arose to become a humble yet powerful leader of God’s chosen people. He and Aaron interceded for the people numerous times whenever the tribes’ complaining incited God’s wrath.  He fasted and prayed for 40 days at a time – twice!  Who else would?  Who else would be able to be in God’s presence, day and night, without sinning?  Moses was not perfect.  He had a temper (remember he broke the first set of stone tablets) and his fatal mistake at Meribah Kadesh (Num. 20:11-13) excluded him from inheriting any part of the new territory.  Yet, without Moses, where would the Israelites be?  Still wandering in the desert?  In the same way, it’s important to honor the leaders God puts over us.  They’re not perfect, either, but they will do their best.

Most of Deuteronomy is Moses telling the Israelites exactly what God wants from them in several points of the law and worship.  It’s a monologue.  To us, it might seem kind of oppressive and overbearing.  But it’s all written down for them.  Under Moses, it was a theocracy.  Moses interacted directly with God and the people did what Moses told them to do.  This seems to be part of the Israelites “growing up”, from little children in slavery, to teenagers, and eventually adults able to look after themselves in their new land.

I submit to you that Moses was a father figure to the Israelites, representing God’s holiness and mercy in the flesh. Deuteronomy 34:10 says:  But since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.  I wonder if Joshua trembled in his sandals at the thought of taking up where Moses left off.

Moses died.  The children of Israel mourned him 30 days.  Moses died on Mt. Nebo, a vantage point where he could see the entire land of Canaan. He gets to see all the land God promised Jacob but never sets foot in it.   I read in a commentary footnote that in ancient times, that “to see it with your own eyes” was a symbol of acquisition by which property became legally that of the viewer (Gen. 13:14-15).  So Moses accepted ownership of the Promised Land from God on behalf of all Israel.  How gracious God is!

Here’s a perspective using today’s country borders

Simply amazing.