A Heavenly Beat Down

What You’ve Missed…
* You know that scene at the end of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade where Indy almost falls into the bottomless abyss that opens up when that uber hot German lady tries to take the Holy Grail out of the temple?  Well, that actually happened…except instead of the Holy Grail being the cause of everything, it was a rebellion against Moses. And instead of one hot German chick and a few Nazis losing their lives, it was lots of men, women, children, babies and all their possessions.
* Oh yeah, and God followed that up by immediately unleashing his fire on 250 men burning incense, incinerating them immediately.  And I thought “finishing moves” in Mortal Kombat were over the top.
* God’s not into any kind of golden calf idol, but He does have Moses create a bronze snake statue, which He uses to heal people who have been bitten by poisonous snakes. I never knew the hair of the dog mentality had such Godly roots.

Day 65
Daily Reading: Numbers 22-24

So the Israelites are trekking through the desert when they come upon an area called Moab. Now according to biblical numbers, it looks like the Israelites were adding up to be more than a million people at this point. That’s a fairly large group to be wandering up to your border, uninvited. (Imagine if one-million Mexicans came up to the U.S. border…wall or no wall, Obama’s taking us to DefCon 1 and mobilizing a ton of Army dudes to go and “maintain order”. Let’s hope for his sake he’s wearing a solid pair of Depends during this whole thing.)

But Balak, the Moab king takes a different approach. He calls upon a known prophet in the area named Balaam to come and curse the Israelites. Balaam initially refuses, but eventually agrees to come check out the scene for himself, on the stated condition he can only do or say what God tells him to do or say. (I found it interesting this guy was a true prophet of God, yet not a member of God’s chosen people.  I guess I assumed in the Old Testament that God only worked with the Israelites.)

However, God isn’t too pleased that Balaam would be willing to go at all, so He blocks the road that Balaam is traveling on with an angel wielding a sword. Now, Balaam can’t see the angel, but his donkey sure can and his donkey knows this situation won’t end well, so it bolts off the road into a field.

Balaam beats his donkey for this.

As they continue, the donkey tries to ride by the angel, squeezing between it and a wall, injuring Balaam’s foot in the process.

Balaam beats his donkey for this.

As they continue, the donkey finally lays down in the middle of the road, refusing to go near the angel.

Balaam beats his donkey for this.

And it is here, dear reader, that the movie Shrek becomes less an animated work of fiction and more of a documentary film.

“Then the LORD gave the donkey the ability to speak, ‘What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?’ asked the donkey. ‘You have made me look like a fool! If I had a sword with me I’d kill you!’ Balaam shouted. ‘Have I ever done anything like this before?’ asked the donkey. ‘No.’ admitted Balaam.” (Slight paraphrase of Numbers 22:28-30)

Okay. Two questions. One: In a joke only God would understand at the time, did He have the donkey talk like Eddie Murphy? (You know, slightly sassy yet completely endearing at the same time?) Two (and more importantly): Why doesn’t Balaam react at all to the fact that he is having a legitimate conversation with a farm animal? In the version of Old Macdonald I know the donkey makes an abrasive and annoying donkey noise followed by E, I, E, I, O…not “Quit hitting me you jerk,” followed by A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y.

Balaam doesn’t bat an eye at the fact his donkey just made a sound, reasonable, and calm attempt at conflict resolution. Instead he reacts like he’s all jacked up on steroids getting all huffy and defensive and making instantaneous death threats towards a harmless animal. And this guy is one of God’s prophets?

Anyway…Balaam finally sees the angel who says he would have killed Balaam and spared the donkey in a heartbeat. Balaam admits he was wrong, goes on to King Balak, and ends up blessing all of the Israelites instead of cursing them.

It just goes to show…when it comes to God speaking to His people, He can even use a real ass.

Just Say No! (To Tim Allen)

What You’ve Missed…
* God has the Israelites blowing trumpets every time they move camp, to call a meeting of the elders, during battle, during times of gladness and at annual festivals. That’s a lot of trumpet action. How did they not invent Jazz?
* The Israelites do the whole Locks of Love thing. Except instead of giving their hair to cancer patients, they burn it on an altar as a sacrifice to God. Close enough.
* God tells the Israelites to stone a guy who was caught gathering wood on the Sabbath day of rest. I bet the dude’s wife told their kids that he died fighting a bear or something. Death from picking up wood on the wrong day? No one wants that to be their legacy.
* Oh yeah…we’ve finished the books of Exodus and Leviticus. We’re in Numbers now.

Daily Reading: Numbers 14-15

I bet God is the kind of guy that loves movie previews.  (Yes, I have seen the new trailer for The Dark Knight Rises.  Yes it looks awesome.)  So, while the Israelites are hanging out in the desert, God tells Moses to send twelve men to scope out the promised land, giving them a sneak preview of what’s to come. More than a month later the men return with their report, stating the land is incredibly fertile and rich. But ten of the men start whining saying things like, “It’s scary out there,” or “We saw giants,” or “I want my mommy!” Okay…maybe not that last one.

Anyway, two of the men who actually have a spine, Caleb and Joshua, tell Moses the land is good and worth entering into, despite the dangers, because they trust God. But our good friends the Israelites, who seem to love a good mob mentality, don’t listen to Caleb and Joshua. They listen to the other dudes, and they start crying about the whole deal, complaining about life in the desert, all night long like a bunch of children who can’t stay up past their bedtime to watch some crappy Tim Allen movie on TBS.

However, God, like any reasonable parent, isn’t going to put up with it. (First of all, if I ever have kids that act this way, my biggest concern won’t be their behavior, but rather my lack of good parenting skills that has lead them to believe a Tim Allen movie is a great use of their time.  Obviously this doesn’t include Toy Story.  Obviously.) So how does God handle this group of adult crybabies? He grounds them. And how does He ground them? Like this:

“…I will bring them (your children) into the land, and they will enjoy what you have despised. But as for you, you will drop dead in this wilderness.” (Numbers 14:31-32)

“Because your men explored the land for forty days, you must wander in the wilderness for forty years – a year for each day, suffering the consequences of your sins. Then you will discover what it is like to have me for an enemy.” (Numbers 14:34)

Daaaaaaaang. And I thought picking up trash for 4 hours outside the gas station where I got caught stealing when I was twelve was rough. (By the way, thanks Mom and Dad for making me do that. It worked.) But God wants to make an example of the ten men who started all the whining in the first place, so He simply strikes them down where they stood.

After seeing that happen (which at this point has to be something fairly normal for the Hebrew people, seeing as it seems to happen fairly often) and after hearing God’s punishment, the Israelites do the typical, “I’m sorry. I’ve learned my lesson. Now can we please forget about that whole punishment thing,” and decide to just go ahead into the promised land without whining about it this time. But God’s no softie, and as the Israelites move forward into the new country, God allows them to be attacked by the locals who chase them away.

And so starts the Guinness World Record for the longest grounding in history. God has His children think about what they’ve done as they wander around the desert for forty years. (You know anytime some kid complained about how their parents were punishing them for being bad, the parents responded with, “You think doing the dishes for a week is bad? You just be grateful that I’m not God. He’d make you do them for a lifetime.” I bet that shut those punks up pretty fast.)

These Guys Are Fired Up!

What You’ve Missed…
* We’ve taken a detour into the book of Leviticus, which includes:
* An incredibly detailed list of exactly which family members you shouldn’t sleep with.
* An incredibly detailed amount of instructions for burnt offerings, and peace offerings, and sin offerings. The priests of the day had to have been the best butchers in town at this point. (The legacy of the Jewish deli begins…)
* An incredibly detailed amount of instructions on how to avoid becoming “unclean” and an incredibly detailed amount of instructions on how to become clean if you are “unclean”. I’ve never been more thankful for hand sanitizer.
* Finally, God must really love pancakes, because He sure does talk a lot about unleavened bread. I bet that’s why He was taking the Israelites to the “land of milk and honey”…it’s all about breakfast.

Day 50
Daily Reading: Leviticus 9-11

Now I have to admit that Leviticus doesn’t make for the most exciting reading. But I think whoever wrote it knew they had to keep their readers’ attention, and so every now and again the author includes something crazy to keep things lively.. Like God incinerating two dudes out of nowhere. Yeah, that got my attention too.

So at the end of Leviticus 9 Moses and Aaron bless the people and “the glory of the LORD appeared to the whole community.” Now, I have no idea what that even means, but I have to believe it was pretty intense. I mean, the last time God appeared to the people it was through a pretty radical thunderstorm with a little earthquake on the side. This time He simply reveals Himself in all His glory. Are we talking a crazy blinding light, pulsating to the rhythm of God’s voice as He spoke? Or did they see a very big man with flowing white hair, surrounded by angels, sitting on a throne the size of a small planet? Or was it something else? I don’t know. All I know is that being in God’s presence caused Moses’ face to glow from time to time, so God revealing His glory to everyone must have lit the place up like Vegas.

Anyway…so God is hanging out with His people, when two of Aaron’s sons decide to burn some incense. But they must not have read the packaging correctly, because they chose the wrong stuff. No big deal right? I mean, what’s the worst outcome possible here; that their girlfriends come over and tell them that creating the bare minimum romantic atmosphere isn’t enough to seal the deal? Wrong. Here’s another possible ending:

“In this way, they disobeyed the LORD by burning before him the wrong kind of fire, different than he had commanded. So fire blazed forth from the LORD’s presence and burned them up, and they died there before the LORD.” (Leviticus 10:1-2)

That’s nuts! Before even discussing why this happened, can we just pause for a moment and imagine what that was like? Fire shooting out from the glory of the LORD!? That’s like fire shooting out from a giant ball of pulsating light that’s just hovering around outside, killing two guys instantly. This sounds weird enough to be the climax of some crazy science fiction movie…except it isn’t fiction. You know people were standing around with their jaws on the floor, their minds completely blown. And you know there had to be one adolescent kid who leaned over to his buddy and whispered, “That was awesome.” And that kid would be correct.

Now, again, it’s stories like this that tell me God means what He says. He just lit two guys up for BURNING THE WRONG INCENSE IN FRONT OF HIM. He clearly wants His people to know the seriousness of His power and words.

Way to go Leviticus. You went from slightly mundane to incredibly insane in just two versus. Well done, my friend. Very well done.

(Note: If you want to read something else completely random and slightly bizarre, check out Leviticus 14:33-57. And if you can make some sense of it, by all means, please share it with the group. Man, the Bible is weird!)

Intense Family Arguments Never Looked So Good

What You’ve Missed…
* God gives the Israelites a couple of construction projects, providing some pretty detailed blueprints for them.  Incredibly detailed, actually.  We’re talkin’ like almost OCD level here.
* God trumps Trump, stating a lot of the stuff to be built needs to be made out of gold, or covered in gold or made out of gold AND covered in gold, which begs the question: Is it really possible to have too much bling?

Day 42
Daily Reading: Exodus 32-34

So our buddy Moses has been spending some time up on a mountain, talking with God, learning some basic rules for healthy community living, and he’s been up there for awhile.  He’s been up there about 40 days actually, and the Israelites are getting a little restless.  They go to Aaron saying, “Come on!  Make us some gods who can lead us.  We don’t know about this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”  (Exodus 32:1)

I can imagine the local Hebrew stand-up comedian (and I’m imagining a Jerry Seinfeld slightly-high-pitched-voice here) saying, “And what is the deal with Moses?  I mean, have you seen this guy?  Me neither!  That’s the problem!  What could he possibly be doing up there?  We haven’t invented skiing yet.  And rock climbing isn’t really a hobby or sport since we’re still doing it to survive.  What is going on up there?”

Now, I try pretty hard to see the people in these stories as human and relatable.  But I’m really struggling on this one.  They wanted a god who would lead them!!?  What do they think God’s been doing this whole time!!?  He’s given them food from heaven!  He’s provided clean water in the middle of the desert!  They heard God speak from a thundering cloud!  He has LITERALLY led them day by day and night by night.  What are these people talking about!?

I don’t get it.

So, they pool together a lot of gold and Aaron melts it down, forming it into a giant gold statue of a calf for them to worship.  (Remember, this is the guy God chose to be His mouthpiece for all of Israel.)  As they’re worshiping, God tells Moses He is going to destroy the Hebrews (except for Moses who He will bless) for being stubborn and rebellious.  But Moses asks God to change His mind, to remember His promise to give them the promised land, making them a great nation.  And get this…it works!  “So the LORD changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people.”  (Exodus 32:14)

So God doesn’t destroy His people.  He has mercy on them.  But Moses is pretty dinged up that they’d turn away from God so easily.  In fact, he doesn’t just give them a pretty heavy scolding, but melts down the calf idol, grounds the gold into powder and makes the people drink it.  I would imagine that would take some serious time and effort, and that a person would have to be pretty angry to see that undertaking through to the end.  I’m pretty sure after about fifteen minutes of grounding gold into powder I’d get pretty tired, convince myself it was overkill and follow it all up with a solid nap.

However, suffering a little yelling and some basic hazing-as-punishment isn’t enough to get the Israelites off the hook.  Moses is serious about letting the world know God means what He says when He refers to Himself as the One True God, and that He is the only one to be worshiped.  How serious is he about communicating this point?  He’s this serious:

“Moses stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, ‘All of you who are on the LORD’s side, come here and join me.’  All the Levites gathered around him.  Moses told them, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel says: Each of you, take your swords and go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other.  Kill everyone – even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.’  The Levites obeyed Moses’ command, and about 3,000 people died that day.”  (Exodus 32:26-28)

That.  Is.  Intense.  I can’t even begin to imagine having to kill my family or friends.  That’s just…that’s no joke.  When I read this, my jaw hit the floor, and I just sat for a minute, stunned, not knowing how to respond.  I might have even drooled in a little in my stupor.  If a stranger had been walking by at that moment and taken a second look at me, I’m sure they’d be wondering where my caretaker was and why they left this poor, helpless man all alone, sitting in a puddle of his own drool.

Think about it.  These were people who probably earlier in the day were laughing with their brothers.  Or maybe some young dudes were being taught how to make tents by their fathers.  Or maybe a group of buddies just found out their best friend got engaged.  And then later they’re told they have to kill the people they just shared these good times with because of different beliefs.  That would be tough for anyone…no matter how much religious fervor or passion had been worked up.  This is people attacking people they love, because they chose obedience to God above everything else.  That is a seriously high level of dedication to and faith in God.

I’m still not sure fully what to make of this story other than God seems to be incredibly serious about the things He says, like worshiping Him and Him alone.  I’m starting to think He doesn’t just say things half-heartedly.  Which is a good thing.  Scary, but good.

God’s Law: More Intricate Than American Tax Law

What You’ve Missed…
* There’s a lot, and it’s intense.  So buckle up.
* More plagues, and more of Pharaoh’s commitment issues.
* God kills off the firstborn son of every Egyptian family.
* The Israelites escape from Egypt via a newly-parted Red Sea which comes crashing down on the Egyptian army.  Major wipeout dudes.
God leads His people through the wilderness, providing all the nourishment they need.  This includes ‘Nilla Wafers from heaven and clean water that shoots out from a rock.
* God appears to the Israelites as fire, from a cloud, with lightning and thunder, while a ram’s horn blows, during an earthquake.  (Basically it’s like The Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular at Disney’s Hollywood Studios I saw as a kid, only…with less Indiana Jones and more of God’s vast power and holiness.)
* The Israelites are attacked and victorious in battle because Moses keeps his hands lifted in the air for an entire day during the fighting.  (Yup, sounds weird to me too.  Also, I’m glad my country doesn’t ask me to fight for them like that.  I can barely get through the YMCA dance without getting a little winded.)
* Moses and a bunch of other guys sit and eat with God on the top of Mount Sinai.  (The author makes a distinct note, with a hint of surprise, that these men were not instantly destroyed as they were allowed to see God face to face.)  I can only wonder what dessert was like.Days 38 and 39
Daily Readings: Exodus 20-24

Seeing as tax season isn’t too far away, and that we’re now in a presidential election year, it’s a pretty good bet you’re going to hear people talking a lot about our tax code, and how whacked out it is  Actually, people talk about this ALL the time, because, well, because, it’s ridiculous.  But before everyone gets their undies in a twist about American tax laws, I’d like to quickly point out it may not be as intricate, nor as obscure, as some of the rules God was handing out to the Hebrews.

God goes over the Ten Commandments with Moses, and it’s all pretty basic stuff.  Don’t steal.  Don’t murder.  Basically, don’t be a jerk, and remember that God is God.  But then He goes ahead and adds some fine print.  Extremely fine print.  Here now are a few of the other rules God laid down along with the Ten Commandments that, even if they were allowed to be displayed outside a public courthouse today, wouldn’t.

* If a man who has married a slave wife takes another wife for himself, he must not neglect the rights of the first wife to food, clothing, and sexual intimacy.  (Exodus 21:10)
* Anyone who dishonors their father or mother must be put to death.  (Exodus 21:17)
* If a man beats his male or female slave…and the slave recovers within a day or two, the owner shall not be punished, since it is his property.  (Exodus 21:20-21)
* When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are.  (Exodus 21:8)
* You must give me your firstborn sons.  (Exodus 22:29)
* You must not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.  (Exodus 23:19)
* You must not allow a sorceress to live.  (Exodus 22:18)

And my personal favorite…
* Now suppose two men are fighting, and in the process they accidentally strike a pregnant woman so she gives birth prematurely.  If no further injury results, the man who struck the woman must pay the amount of compensation the woman’s husband demands and the judges approve.  (Exodus 21:22)

Why is this last one even necessary?  What kinds of lives did these people have that this was a problem?  Was the typical Israelite family living like most people who show up on COPS?  “Uh, yeah officer.  We was just wrestlin’ because Timmy wanted me to get him a beer, and I told ‘em to get his own dern self a beer and so he gone and socked me one on the chin for havin’ an attitude pro’lem.  So’s I went and hit ‘em back.  We tussled ‘round in front of the tv some, and then my old lady walked in and caught one in the jaw and dangit if I’m not a monkey’s uncle and she went into labor right then and there.  And now we’s gots twins!  Oh, no sir.  That’s not drug paraphernalia on the table.  That stuffs fer my asthma.”

There’s a lot more of these kinds of crazy laws.  Mostly centering around farm animals, money lending and court cases.  Yup, I think that solidifies it in my book.  Life with the Hebrews was much more like COPS than any of the Sunday school cartoons about Bible life I ever saw growing up.

I guess between the Flood and Sodom and Gomorrah, God realized we needed just a little bit more guidance in how to not be total idiots.  Though, hopefully we’ve progressed somewhat since the time of Moses.

Then again, Jerry Springer exists.

Happy New Year!!!

Happy New Year everyone!!!  No Bible craziness being posted today.  Just real life craziness!  This morning a few friends, family, and I (along with a few hundred of our closest neighbors) celebrated the new year by jumping into the Atlantic Ocean for the 2012 Polar Bear Plunge!
I’m convinced this is the ABSOLUTE BEST way to start a brand new year.  It’s crazy fantastic!

The rest of the day was simply outstanding in a way I cannot possibly describe.  And to close it all out, God provided this ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE sunset over the river.
One mind-blowing start to a hopefully mind-blowing year.  I hope and pray that 2012 is a richly deep experience for you.  Thank you for your support of this blog.  You are a great gift from a great God.  Truly.