Sex, Commitment and NASCAR

What You’ve Missed…
* A dude named Gideon becomes Israel’s judge.
* Gideon asks God to prove that His promises are true through two tests involving a fleece and morning dew.  I wonder if Gideon was rocking the same North Face fleece that every totally-suburban guy wears to show that he’s fashionably outdoorsy, and not really suburban at all.  (Note to those guys: it isn’t working.  Note to self: this applies to you.)
* God has Gideon reduce his army of 32,000 men to just 300 in order to defeat their enemies.  It’s never discussed just how sculpted and/or rippling and/or perfect the men’s abs were.
* After Gideon dies, his son Abimelech, who is 70th in line to rule after his father, kills ALL of his brothers in order to claim leadership.  While that’s a ridiculous expression of his need for validation, what blows my mind even more is that Gideon had seventy kids!  Geez Gideon, go easy on the ladies buddy.  Someone needs to invent a cold shower for this dude, pronto.

Day 94
Daily Reading: Judges 11-15

After the romping sex adventures of Gideon come to a close, and his son Ambimelech dies in battle, a new judge named Jephthah is raised up to lead Israel.  (Don’t worry.  This guy has more on his mind than just getting it on with every woman who exists at the time.)

In fact, our friend Jephthah is focused on an upcoming battle against the Ammonites.  Jephthah wants to lead Israel into certain victory, so he makes a deal with God.

“Jephthah made a vow to the LORD.  He said, ‘If you give me victory over the Ammonites, I will give to the LORD whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return in triumph.  I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.’”  (Judges 11:30-31)

Now, I get that Jephthah is eager for victory, but I’m not so sure the guy thought this one through.  I mean, what’s he expecting to come out of his house?  A chicken?  Ok, but why are there chickens running around inside anyway?  (NASCAR and Mississippi haven’t been invented yet.)  And why would a chicken come out to greet him?  Maybe a dog then?  I could see that.  He returns home from battle and his loyal canine companion runs out, eager to slobber all over him?

But even so…Jephthah would then have to kill his own dog, and no man can really bring himself to do this.  C’mon on.  We’ve all read Old Yeller, and we’ve all bawled our eyes out when that little boy had to shoot his very own dog.  That book destroyed me as a kid.  And Where the Red Fern Grows?  Another demonstration of the pain of a beloved dog death.  (And I never read White Fang…but I bet something sad happens with him too.)  So, I can’t imagine ol’ Jephthah voluntarily offering up his sweet li’l pup as a sacrifice.  I don’t know what the dude is thinking on this one.

Anyway…he goes to war, and God grants him victory.  So Jephthah returns home, only to be greeted by…drumroll please…his daughter, who is his only child.  Not the homecoming he was expecting.  So as a rational man you’d think he’d say to God something like, “Oh…you know I didn’t mean a family member right?  I mean, I know I didn’t get all specific, but we both know having to offer you a person I love dearly wasn’t really in the cards.  I mean, that would be ridiculous.  You wouldn’t want me to do that right?  Right.  So, let’s just see what else comes out of the Casa de Jephthah that I can offer to you.”

But he doesn’t do that.  Jepthah is truly a man of his word.  In complete agony he tells his daughter that he’s made a vow to God that involves her, that he cannot take it back, and that it’s not going to end well for either of them.

So how does she respond?  Well…another drumroll if you’d be so kind…she pretty much says, “Ok dad.  You made a vow to God, so do what you gotta do.  But before it goes down can I have two months to head up into the mountains with my friends to cry about this, because I’m going to die a virgin.”What!?  Who are these people?  Dude doesn’t back out of the deal because it got way more intense and crazy than he anticipated.  Dude’s daughter doesn’t say, “Are you kidding me?  You don’t run my life.  Whatever, I’m going to the mall.  Can I have $20?”  But instead, honors her father to the point of willingly dying without ever getting to have some awesome sex, so that he is able to fulfill his own commitment to God.

(And can I add how I love that this girl is clearly a normal, hormone-filled teenager who views sex as the greatest, end-all be-all thing on Earth, to the point that she is less upset about having to die than she is about never having the opportunity to get it on and maybe have kids?)

So, not to spoil it for you, but two months later the daughter comes home from her mountain retreat and Jephthah offers her as a burnt sacrifice to God.  I can only wonder how he explained all this to his wife and neighbors, who I assume thought he had completely lost his mind.  This must have been the single worst day of this man’s life, and I cannot even begin to imagine the level of grief and sadness he endured because of it.

Honestly…we talk about putting God first in our lives a lot as Christians.  We talk a lot about being men and women of our word.  For me, this takes it to a whole new level.  Things just got real.  Here is a story of a man who really did put God first, and who honored the commitment he made, no matter how incredible the cost to himself.  Yeah, I didn’t see this one coming at all.  Way to blindside me Judges.

(For more thoughts on this as it pertains to God’s incredible love for humanity, check out a companion piece I wrote entitled, God Doesn’t Love You.  Catchy title huh?)

History Never Repeated Itself Like This

What You’ve Missed…
* Eleven chapters of the book of Joshua describing in detail how the Israelites divided up the land they conquered among themselves.  Eleven chapters.  In detail.
* The book of Judges has the best opening scene yet.  The Israelites kill 10,000 people in battle, and then cut off the thumbs and big toes of King Adoni-bezek.  That sounds like the start of a solid Joe Pesci mobster movie to me.  I’m in.
* Joshua dies and the Israelites go through a series of judges who rule over them.  One of them pulled some sweet James Bond spy moves and killed a comically fat bad guy.  One of them pulled some sweet Braveheart hand-to-hand combat moves and killed 600 regular bad guys.  And one of them was a woman who pulled some sweet Margaret Thatcher gumption and tact moves, and didn’t kill any bad guys.  But she did have the Israelite army kill about 900 bad guys.  Score one for women in power.

Days 90 and 91
Daily Readings: Judges 1-6

So, remember the blog about God giving His people a choice to obey Him or not?  And remember how the benefits of choosing to obey Him were ridiculously awesome?  And remember how the consequences of disobeying were ridiculously horrible?  Yeah.  Well.  Bad news folks.  The Israelites made a bad choice.

After Joshua and his generation of Israelites die, the next generation pretty much turn into a bunch of high-schoolers, ready to party hard the minute mom and dad pull out of the driveway.  They abandon God and choose to worship other gods.  And so round one of God’s promises come to pass.

“This made the LORD burn with anger against Israel, so he handed them over to raiders who stole their possessions.  He turned them over to their enemies…”  (Judges 2:14)

After eight years of suffering, Israel asks God for help, and so God raises up a judge to lead them, gives them victory over their enemies, and provides forty years of peace and prosperity.  Way to go Israel, lesson learned.

Or not.  Israel goes into cool, rebel, high-schooler mode again, doing their own thing and choosing not to obey God.  (I could probably sneak in some reference to High School Musical here…but I won’t, because High School Musical is horrible.  Granted, I’ve never seen it.  I just know it to be horrible, empirically speaking.)

So, God once again hands them over to their enemies and allows His people to suffer.  I’m not sure what Israel was expecting, but they discover that suffering is pretty horrible, so they ask God to rescue them again.  So He raises up another judge among them and not only does He rescue them, again, but this time He provides eighty years of peace for them.

Now, I’ll spare you the long version of the story and cut to the chase.  This happens again.  God’s people rebel, suffer greatly, ask for help, and God raises up a judge and helps.

Then, there’s finally a change of pace.  Just kidding.  There isn’t.  Because this happens AGAIN!  I mean, I know history repeats itself, but this is just ridiculous!  C’mon Israel!  You gotta institute some national holidays to remind yourselves that life with God is way better for you.  I know you probably don’t have fireworks choreographed to musical accompaniment, or animated television specials, or special Google logos to help mark the occasion, but you gotta come up with something here! How long can this go on?

And how long can God continue to put up with this?  He rescues them every single time! This is a level of patience and a degree of forgiveness that blows my mind.  I had a hard enough time staying calm when my younger brother “borrowed” my favorite t-shirt every time I came home from college.  (This happened repeatedly, and drove me nuts, repeatedly.)  And yet, God never loses it.  He never freaks out.  He never says enough is enough and just gives up on the Israelites, thinking they’re a lost cause.  In fact, the Bible says,

“Whenever the LORD raised up a judge over Israel, he was with that judge and rescued the people from their enemies throughout the judge’s lifetime.  For the LORD took pity on his people, who were burdened by oppression and suffering.”  (Judges 2:18)

To me, that’s a God who truly loves His people.  He takes them back every single time, even though they voluntarily chose to leave Him.  That is truly some crazy love.

Bible Body Count: More Than Robocop

What You’ve Missed…
* Moses sings a song. It’s a bit long, kind of a downer, and without any kind of infectious pop beat. I’m sure Simon would hate it, Paula would love it and Randy would still be trying to get everyone to think he’s really cool.
* Moses makes Joshua the new leader of Israel. (And the dude is ready to get down to business. Just keep reading.)
* Moses dies and God personally buries him. Which makes you wonder, did God give an amazing eulogy? And did He have an after funeral party to attend? And since that party was in heaven, was Moses there, attending his own after funeral party? (Also, is it possible to have seen Zoolander too many times? I mean, really?)
* The Israelites have a seven day music festival outside the walls of Jericho that makes Bonaroo look like amateur night at The Apollo. They literally brought the house down. Lots of houses actually. And then they killed everyone.

Day 84
Daily Reading: Joshua 10-12

So the forty years in the desert have come to a close and Israel is about to cross over the Jordan River and move into the Promised Land. There’s only one problem…it’s inhabited by tons of people who don’t really want to hand over everything to this crazy group of gypsies wandering through the desert who think they’re entitled to everyone else’s stuff simply because their God told them they could have it. Except, it isn’t really a problem at all because God is leading Joshua, and Joshua is a firm believer in killing anyone who gets in his way.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us on the brink of an epic war equal to those fought in the land of Middle Earth. (What’s Middle Earth? It’s where nerds pretend they live. It’s also the setting for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.) The word is out that the Israelites have defeated a couple of nations in the past, and this time around, no one is taking any chances. So five local kings in the area team up to fight and dominate Israel.

Things don’t go as planned for those kings, and they quickly find themselves impaled on poles, by Joshua. And as scripture so delicately states, “So Joshua and the Israelite army continued the slaughter and completely crushed the enemy. They totally wiped out the five armies…” (Joshua 10:20) Five armies down, and that’s only the beginning.

As God continued to hand city after city to Joshua, he continued to annihilate person after person.

“That same day Joshua captured and destroyed the town of Makkedah. He killed everyone it…leaving no survivors. He destroyed them all…Then Joshua and the Israelites went to Libnah and attacked it. There, too, the LORD gave them the town and its king. He killed everyone in it, leaving no survivors. From Libnah, Joshua went to Lachish…” (Joshua 10:28-31)

I think you get the idea. God leads Joshua to a city. Joshua and the Israelites destroy everyone. They move on. I imagine this to be, well, I imagine it to be a lot like this…

Only with less John Cleese, and more blood spraying all over the place…also with a lot more moaning, suffering, and recently amputated limbs flying everywhere. So, I guess what I’m saying is maybe it was really more like that scene in Kill Bill where Uma Thurman turns a cool Japanese nightclub into a modern day Thunderdome with her Samurai sword.

The Israelites do this again and again and again. They are an unstoppable force, completely wiping out, killing and destroying everyone who is not part of Israel. The Bible even says, “So they [Israel’s enemies] were completely destroyed without mercy, as the LORD commanded Moses.” (Joshua 11:20)

At the end of it all, Joshua and God’s army had completely destroyed thirty-one kings and their kingdoms. They went on a 31-0 killing streak. That’s some serious conquering and a whole heck of a lot of killing. That body count had to be in the millions. And that’s about the same as Robocop.

So…why isn’t the Bible rated R?

Cake or Death: Surprisingly Not The Easiest Choice in Life

What You’ve Missed…
* No pork for the Israelites.  Which means no bacon.  Or pork chops.  Or ham sandwiches.  Total bummer.
* God introduces the “Get Out of Jail Free Card” for slaves and people in debt.  Still no Free Parking though.
* God knows WhoCanISue.com isn’t too far off, so He tells His people to build railings around the edge of their roofs for insurance.  Good tip.
* God reiterates the importance of not having sex with family members or in-laws.  (Apparently the Israelites were having a harder time grasping this than I originally imagined.)

Day 78
Daily Reading: Deuteronomy 28

When my friend Hope found out I was reading through Deuteronomy, she got incredibly excited and proceeded to tell me it was her favorite book of the Bible.  She went on to enthusiastically expound on her interest in God’s blessing and curses towards the Israelites found in Deuteronomy.  Admittedly my first thought was, “Woah, settle down weirdo.”  (Note: Hope is not a weirdo.  I’m just kind of a butt sometimes.)

But seriously, there’s no way blessings and curses could be that interesting.  At least, that was my opinion until I came across Deuteronomy 28.

It is in this chapter that through Moses, God gives His people a choice.  They can choose to follow Him, love Him and keep His commands.  Or not.  Pretty basic stuff really.  But God knows that humans love a good deal, so He goes into a little more detail.  For the benefit of His people, He lays out the pros and cons of the available options.  Let’s start with just a few of the pros of Option A, obeying God:

Your children and crops will be blessed.  The LORD will conquer your enemies.  The LORD will guarantee a blessing on everything you do.  The LORD will give you prosperity…the Lord will send rain at the proper time…and will bless all the work you do.  You will always be on top and never on the bottom.  (Deut. 28:7-14)

That’s pretty solid.  God’s promising safety, victory in war, prosperity, and His blessing as a result of being obedient.  I’d say that’s something I’d be willing to invest in.

But apparently not everyone was convinced, because God goes on to describe what happens to those who choose Option B, refusing to obey Him.  (And keep in mind…this is only a tiny, tiny fraction of what’s listed.)

The LORD Himself will send on you curses…until at last you are completely destroyed…The LORD will strike you with wasting diseases, drought, blight, mildew, boils, tumors, scurvy, “the itch”, madness, blindness, and panic.  Just as the LORD has found great pleasure in causing you to prosper and multiply, the LORD will find pleasure in destroying you.  (Deut. 28:20-63)

And if just having “the itch” wasn’t enough to sway you, check this out:

“The siege and terrible distress of the enemy’s attack will be so severe that you will eat the flesh of your own sons and daughters…The most tenderhearted man among you will have no compassion for his own brother, his beloved wife, and his surviving children.  He will refuse to share with them the flesh he is devouring – the flesh of one of his own children – because he has nothing else to eat…”  (Deut. 28:53-55)

When I read this I immediately thought of my friend Steve.  Not because Steve is a flesh-starved cannibal, but because he may be the most tenderhearted man I know.  (The guy is so kind and loving, that one time when he treated me to lunch and I tipped the waitress really well with his money while he was in the restroom, he didn’t even get mad.  In fact, he actually treated me to lunch again a few weeks later.  I’m telling you, the guy is a sweet, sweet man.)  And it would be this man, according to God, who would be ferociously eating his beautiful daughters.  I can’t imagine any situation that would be even remotely dire enough for this to happen…yet God promises it will happen to the Israelites who don’t obey Him.
At this point, for me, the decision is crystal clear.  I don’t have kids, but if I did, I’d rather not eat them.  I’ll go with obeying God on this one.  But some Israelites must’ve still been weighing their options (these people would be idiots by the way) because God continues to paint a picture of the life of a person who would choose disobedience:

“The most tender and delicate woman among you…will be selfish toward the husband she loves and toward her own son or daughter…and she will hide from them the afterbirth and the new baby she has borne, so that she herself can secretly eat them [for] she will have nothing else to eat…”  (Deut. 28:56-57)

Ok…how desolate has life become when a woman would not just eat the afterbirth of the baby that she recently gave birth to, and not just eat the baby itself (which is completely insane), but would also be willing to put in the effort and energy to cook and eat these things in a secret place so that no one else can have them!?  That is beyond my comprehension.  That sounds like hell.  That sounds like absolute hell.  And yet, it’s what God promises will happen to the Israelites who disobey Him.

Who would ever choose this?  Could there possibly have been a dude, who upon hearing this, thinks to himself, “Well, now that prosperity thing sounds pretty good.  I like having lots of stuff.  But that whole eating my children thing has lots going for it.  And “the itch” doesn’t sound too bad.  And having the most horrible life ever in the existence of mankind has a nice ring to it.  Yup, I’m gonna have to go with Option B on this one.  So where’s that afterbirth at?”

Come on Israel!  I haven’t read far enough to know what you chose…but I am seriously hoping that as my spiritual ancestors, you thought this one through.  Wait.  Since this is the easiest choice ever presented to anyone, ever, with absolutely no need to think it through at all, let me rephrase that.  I really hope you weren’t a bunch of stupid idiots.

You were right Hope.  This is some fascinating stuff.  A little scary, but fascinating.

On Death and Dieting (and The Karate Kid)

What You’ve Missed…
* Balaam died.  No word on that awesome donkey of his though.
* God tells Moses he’s going to die soon.  I wonder how awkward that conversation was.
* We finished the book of Numbers and now find ourselves in Deuteronomy, where Moses is giving an incredibly long farewell speech, mostly reminding the people of everything that’s happened over the last forty years.  My high school history teacher had a hard enough time keeping the attention of 35 young adults who were confined to desks in a small classroom.   How the heck does Moses speak to a million people in the middle of the desert?

Day 74
Daily Readings: Numbers 25, Deuteronomy 2-3, Deuteronomy 9

Rather than focus on one crazy or bizarre aspect of the Bible today, I want to quickly hit on three.  And seeing as it’s Monday, and you’re probably in the middle of getting some serious work or procrastination accomplished, I’ll go ahead and get this party started.

One.  There is a dude in the Bible named Phinehas, and that dude is a serious badass.  Basically at this point in the story some of the Israelite men have gotten a little too friendly with the local Moabite women, yeah, that kind of “friendly”, and have as a result, defiled themselves and all of Israel.  God tells Moses to have these men executed in broad daylight.  I’ll let Scripture speak for itself here.

“Just then one of the Israelite men brought a Midianite woman into his tent…when Phinehas, son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron saw this, he jumped up and left the assembly.  He took a spear and rushed after the man into his tent.  Phinehas thrust the spear all the way through the man’s body and into the woman’s stomach.  So the plague against the Israelites was stopped…” (Numbers 25:6-8)

Yeah.  That’s a scene straight out of 300.  (I wonder if he had beautifully sculpted abs as well.)  Also, this might be the quickest “quickie” in the history of mankind.  Forget Elvis.  Phinehas is a man who knows how to take care of business.
Two.  Speaking of badasses, Israel as a whole also knows how to throw down.  As God continues to bring His people to the Promised Land, he has them conquer a few nations in the process.  Actually, “wipe out” is probably a better phrase.  Why?  Because the Israelites took some advice from that bad guy karate teacher in The Karate Kid whose hobby (and profession) is to train suburban kids to fight each other in ancient hand-to-hand combat.  His advice and personal motto which the Israelites adopted?  “No mercy.”

“Then King Sihon declared war on us…But the LORD our God handed him over to us, and we crushed him, his sons, and all his people.  We conquered all his towns and completely destroyed everyone – men, women, and children.  Not a single person was spared.” (Deuteronomy 2:32-35)

Did you get that?  The good guys, God’s chosen people, killed everyone.  Even children.  They didn’t take prisoners.  They didn’t have pity on the handicapped or the weak.  For any sports fans out there, let me put it this way; the Israelites showed up to play.

Oh yeah.  They did this more than once.  No mercy indeed.  Score one for the Cobra Kai.  (Author’s note: The new Karate Kid movie makes me weep for the future.)

Three.  So the book of Deuteronomy recaps a lot of what’s happened, and in Chapter 9 Moses recounts the deal with the golden calf idol.  Now, I don’t know if the guy is bragging or what, but he throws in some info we didn’t seem to get the first time around.  I would like to share this information with you now.

“I was there (on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments) for forty days and forty nights, and all that time I ate no food and drank no water.”  (Deuteronomy 9:9)

I was pretty impressed with this, until a few verses later when Moses mentions how he came down the mountain to find the people sinning by worshiping the idol they’d made.  It was what Moses said next that completely shattered my brain.

“Then, as before, I threw myself down before the LORD for forty days and forty nights.  I ate no bread and drank no water because of the great sin you had committed…” (Deuteronomy 9:18)

By my reckoning, Moses didn’t eat in between these two events, which means, Moses didn’t eat or drink anything for eighty straight days!  I can hardly make it from breakfast to lunch without a snack, and this guy goes eighty days without anything!?!  That’s almost three months!  Three months without food or water!  Is that even scientifically possible?  I mean, clearly it happened, and I believe it…it just blows my mind. (I’m open to the idea that it is possible Moses had a li’l somethin’ somethin’ to eat on his way down the mountain…but still…even one meal in 3 months is pretty much the same as no meals in 3 months.)

Just thinking about it makes me hungry.

Real hungry.  Lunch couldn’t have come at a better time.