Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sex, Plagues and Plop & Roll

The sex starts with Balaam. Yeah - the guy with the talking donkey.

He tried to get a curse from God to pronounce over the people of Israel. The Bible dedicates an entire chapter to the endeavor. Three prophecies come out, each one more strongly in favor of the people of Israel than the one before.

So he comes up with an alternate plan. Send out the beautiful, lucious women.

No kidding! And it works.

The men go "gaga", start having sex with them, and start worshipping their idols, which are part of a blood thirsty and sex oriented religion. "While Israel was camped at Shittim (Acacia Grove), the men began to have sex with the Moabite women. It started when the women invited the men to their sex-and-religion worship. They ate together and then worshiped their gods. Israel ended up joining in the worship of the Baal of Peor." (Numbers 25:1-3)

How does God feel about this? Not happy.

Triple disobedience. 1. Don't mingle with the locals. 2. Don't have sex outside of marriage. 3. Don't worship any gods other than God almighty. As a culmination of haughty disregard for God's standards, one of the leaders proudly parades his beauty in front of everybody, takes her into his tent in broad daylight, and starts "doin what comes nachrally". The priest of God went into the tent and put a sword through the both of them. Put out the passion rather suddenly...
(Its all in there. Chapter 25)

Plagues.
God was S-O-O-O angry, he started a plague among the people. The action of this priest stopped the plague, but 24,000 people died. (Did I say God was angry?) "God spoke to Moses: "Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has stopped my anger against the People of Israel. Because he was as zealous for my honor as I myself am, I didn't kill all the People of Israel in my zeal. So tell him that I am making a Covenant-of-Peace with him." (Leviticus 25:10-13)

Plop and Roll
So it is some time later.
"God spoke to Moses: "Avenge the People of Israel on the Midianites. Afterward you will go to be with your dead ancestors." (Numbers 31:1,2) So Moses sends only 12,ooo men to deal with the Midianites. If I understand correctly, they killed EVERY Midianite man, and not a single Israelite soldier died. Not quite sure how that happened, but it appears that it did.

What happened to Balaam? He was killed too...

So the Midianites plopped down dead and rolled over. (I know, it is a sad attempt to be "cute", and it didn't work very well.)

Several family groups negotiate to settle into the land and houses they have just emptied. The conquest and take over of the promised land has begun!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Doesn't Seem Right!

Moses has been faithful.

He has sacrificed a lot.

God has used him to effect some of the mightiest miracles of history.

He will be revered by Jews and Christians through the ages.

Yet here he is, toward the end of his life. God is telling him what will happen, although it does not happen for a while. He will get to SEE the land that the people are to possess and live in, but he will not get to GO to it.

Wow! After all the dust, and the complaints, and the desert, and the rebellions... He does not get to actually go into the land. And why?

"When you've had a good look you'll be joined to your ancestors in the grave—yes, you also along with Aaron your brother. This goes back to the day when the congregation quarreled in the Wilderness of Zin and you didn't honor me in holy reverence before them in the matter of the waters, the Waters of Meribah."

He didn't honor God in holy reverence. He became accustomed to being used by God, and almost started acting as if the power were HIS. He was tired and he was angry. He was sick and tired of the people complaining. I seem to be able to make lots of excuses for him, but God does not. He disobeyed, and he dishonored God.

I had to go back and read the original story again. Here it is...

The LORD said to Moses, 8 "Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink."
9 So Moses took the staff from the LORD's presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, "Listen, you rebels, must WE bring you water out of this rock?" 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.
12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them."

So Moses does not get to go into the land of Caanan. He does not get to have an heir to take over leadership in his name.

He is going to die.

On top of the mountain.

An old man.

Alone.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Strange Story

Today we start with the people of Israel on a rampage. They are coming up the east side of the Dead Sea, and that area was pretty populated. Different than some of the desert where they had been wandering. Not even a rat would live out there. This land was varied, and nice, and people had settled into towns, with kings.

Of course, 3 million people coming to pay a visit was a pretty big threat. The first Caananite king came out and attacked them. Here is what follows:

2 "Israel vowed a vow to God: "If you will give this people into our power, we'll destroy their towns and present the ruins to you as a holy destruction."
3 God listened to Israel's prayer and gave them the Canaanites. They destroyed both them and their towns, a holy destruction. They named the place Hormah (Holy Destruction). "

So - next time you are mad and go on a rampage, don't say you lost your temper. Just say you are causing "a holy destruction" Well - that struck me as funny when I read it, but as I write it I realize it is not funny. Not funny at all. If you have an anger problem you need to get counselling...

On to a truly strange story.

The Israelites are moving in. They take over a number of towns and cities, kill all the residents and take over the real estate. I am a real estate investor, but this is the best deal I have ever seen. Fix up the house (from the damage that you yourself did) and move in. No down payment, no qualifying, no mortgage, no payments, no real estate taxes, no utility bills. Sounds great to me!

(I must be in a really weird mood today!)

The strangest story is still to come. There is a guy called Balaam. If you think the Bible story is about his butt you are wrong. It is about his donkey.

He was known as a diviner. God talks to him, so perhaps he is a God follower or prophet, but he acts more like a mercernary witch doctor, doing spells and incantations for money. The leader of the next town sends a contingent to this guy - offering to pay money for a curse.

Balaam asks them to stay overnight so he can ask God in the morning. God says to Balaam, "Don't go with them. And don't curse the others—they are a blessed people." So Balaam says "No".

The king sends another contingent. More senior in his administration. MUCH more money offered. When Balaam hears the sum of money he thinks, "Maybe I didn't hear God right. Let's try this again..." So they stay overnight also.

The next morning God says, "Go, but only say what I tell you." So they are all returning together to see the king. Everybody is hopeful for a satisfactory and profitable result of this little trek.

God puts an angel in the way, so the donkey can't go around it. Balaam beats the donkey. Once. Twice. Three times. Finally the donkey talks to him. "Can't you see the angel? Why are you beating me these three times?" If that isn't bad enough, Balaam now sees the angel, who asks the same thing again, "Why are you beating your poor donkey these three times?"

Balaam repents, goes on his way, and ends up blessing the people of Israel. I rather think he did not collect the cash, but apparently he got away with his life.

What is the lesson? I have no clue. But it sure is an interesting story...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Loneliness


Loneliness

It has a bite unlike any other.

Am I connected?

Do I belong?

Are these MY people, or am I a stranger? Dislocated? Out of place?

Who cares for me, at the deepest level?

Moses was surrounded by some three million people. Yet at this point in his life he was very lonely. He had sent his wife and two kids away long ago to live in their ancestral home. They didn't have facebook OR email to keep in touch.

God had allowed him to work hand in glove with his brother. His older sister was always around. Close at hand.


In this passage Miriam, his older sister dies. She had rescued him from the waters of the Nile as a baby. Been close at hand when he was growing up. Although they lost contact for forty years, they reconnected when Moses came back, storming into Egypt and confronting Pharoah. She was always there during all the adventures in the desert. And now she was gone...

1 "In the first month, the entire company of the People of Israel arrived in the Wilderness of Zin. The people stayed in Kadesh.
Miriam died there, and she was buried."

He didn't have time to properly mourn, becuase they immediately fell into another crisis in Kadesh. So they moved on...

22 "The People of Israel, the entire company, set out from Kadesh and traveled to Mount Hor.
23 -26 God said to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor at the border of Edom, "It's time for Aaron to be gathered into the company of his ancestors. He will not enter the land I am giving to the People of Israel because you both rebelled against my orders at the Waters of Meribah. So take Aaron and his son Eleazar and lead them up Mount Hor. Remove Aaron's clothes from him and put them on his son Eleazar. Aaron will be gathered there; Aaron will die."
27 -29 Moses obeyed God's command. They climbed Mount Hor as the whole congregation watched. Moses took off Aaron's clothes and put them on his son Eleazar. Aaron died on top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. The whole congregation, getting the news that Aaron had died, went into thirty days of mourning for him."

This is doubly sad. Aaron, his quirky younger brother, was at his side at all times. Like so many brother relationships, he was a source of trouble as well as a source of strength and inspiration. I think they truly were best friends.

And now he was not only dead - but dead in disgrace.

This time the group properly mourns. Thirty days. But I think Moses' private mourning went on a whole lot longer.

My beloved grandpa died when I was 19. The other 3 before I was 25. Then my adored and beloved sister Dorie died when she was 44 of breast cancer. My beloved auntie Doris at 80 from heart failure. My Dad died in 2003. My Mom in 2007. Uncle Cecil shortly after.

I have experienced the bite of loneliness. Even when surrounded by good and loving people.

It hurts!

Clash!

The unrest from yesterday comes to a head today.

"Korah...had with him 250 leaders of the congregation of Israel, prominent men with positions in the Council. They came as a group and confronted Moses and Aaron, saying, "You've overstepped yourself. This entire community is holy and God is in their midst. So why do you act like you're running the whole show?"
4 On hearing this, Moses threw himself facedown on the ground.
5 Then he addressed Korah and his gang: "In the morning God will make clear who is on his side, who is holy. God will take his stand with the one he chooses."

Moses response is not to argue. Not to contradict. Not to get defensive. He appeals to God Himself for direction and help. In the morning he has a word from God, and tells the two remaining sons of Aaron to come to the door of the Tent of Meeting.

Listen to THEIR answer:

12 -14 Moses then ordered Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, to appear, but they said, "We're not coming. Isn't it enough that you yanked us out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the wilderness? And now you keep trying to boss us around! Face it, you haven't produced: You haven't brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, you haven't given us the promised inheritance of fields and vineyards. You'd have to poke our eyes out to keep us from seeing what's going on. Forget it, we're not coming."

This time Moses response is very human:

15 Moses' temper blazed white-hot. He said to God, "Don't accept their Grain-Offering. I haven't taken so much as a single donkey from them; I haven't hurt a single hair of their heads."

The result is dramatic.

And violent.

19 "It was Korah and his gang against Moses and Aaron at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. The entire community could see the Glory of God.
20 -21 God said to Moses and Aaron, "Separate yourselves from this congregation so that I can finish them off and be done with them."
22 They threw themselves on their faces and said, "O God, God of everything living, when one man sins are you going to take it out on the whole community?"
23 -24 God spoke to Moses: "Speak to the community. Tell them, Back off from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram."

Then God "did His thang..."

"...the Earth split open. Earth opened its mouth and in one gulp swallowed them down, the men and their families, all the human beings connected with Korah, along with everything they owned. And that was the end of them, pitched alive into Sheol. The Earth closed up over them and that was the last the community heard of them.
34 At the sound of their cries everyone around ran for dear life, shouting, "We're about to be swallowed up alive!"
35 Then God sent lightning. The fire cremated the 250 men who were offering the incense."

Wow!

Talk about Shock and Awe!!

I don't even know how to apply this. Let God do the fight for you? He can always take care of your enemy better than you can?

Its OK to be angry when you are attacked? Just don't let the anger control your response?

I don't know what to learn from this. It certainly is entertaining, like all good fights are. Would make a great movie. Wish God would do this stuff today.

In every group there are challenges to the leadership. Most leaders squash it powerfully and thoroughly. I guess Moses did too, but with a God component. Interesting stuff...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Turmoil, Toil and Trouble - Double Trouble


This is a tempestous time.

Of the twelve men Moses sent out in reconnoissance - ten have been killed by God. God sentences the entire group to forty years of wandering in the dry and parched desert - one year for every day the demoralized scouts spent in Caanan.

God offers to kill the whole lot and start over. Moses pleads with Him to reconsider.

A group of guys valiantly and foolishly decide they will march into Caanan and "kick butt." God says "No." Moses says "No" and they go anyway. They are immediately and easily routed. Many die.

Then we read a prayer that Moses offered at this time. It is Psalm 90. Its language is exalted, but also piteous.

1 -2 "God, it seems you've been our home forever;
long before the mountains were born,
Long before you brought earth itself to birth,
from "once upon a time" to "kingdom come"
—you are God. "

He goes on...

"Are we no more to you than a wispy dream,
no more than a blade of grass
That springs up gloriously with the rising sun
and is cut down without a second thought?
Your anger is far and away too much for us;
we're at the end of our rope."

My favorite part...

"We live for seventy years or so
(with luck we might make it to eighty),
And what do we have to show for it? Trouble.
Toil and trouble and a marker in the graveyard."

This part of his prayer I make my own...

12 -17 "Oh! Teach us to live well!
Teach us to live wisely and well!
Come back, God—how long do we have to wait?—
and treat your servants with kindness for a change.
Surprise us with love at daybreak;
then we'll skip and dance all the day long.
Make up for the bad times with some good times;
we've seen enough evil to last a lifetime.
Let your servants see what you're best at—
the ways you rule and bless your children.
And let the loveliness of our Lord, our God, rest on us,
confirming the work that we do.
Oh, yes. Affirm the work that we do! "

Sometimes the times of greatest turmoil and trouble create the closest relationship with God...

Sunday, March 1, 2009

So - You Want to be a Leader?

It started innocently enough.

It was a simple and appropriate decision. The people are close to the area they plan to invade, take over, and settle in. Moses sends out 12 CIA agents, carefully selected leaders, one from each family group.

They do reconnaissance throughout Canaan for 40 days, investigating the people, the culture, troop strength, the land, the crops. After they come back, they submit a highly classified dossier to the Commander in Chief.

The report leaks to the press, and pandemonium breaks out! Seriously! Read this:

1 -3 "The whole community was in an uproar, wailing all night long. All the People of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The entire community was in on it: "Why didn't we die in Egypt? Or in this wilderness? Why has God brought us to this country to kill us? Our wives and children are about to become plunder. Why don't we just head back to Egypt? And right now!"
4 Soon they were all saying it to one another: "Let's pick a new leader; let's head back to Egypt."
5 Moses and Aaron fell on their faces in front of the entire community, gathered in emergency session."

Sounds just like the main stream media in the US about the war in Iraq. At least, between the time of initial success, and before the final success.

Sometimes it is great to be the leader.

Sometimes it sucks...