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.

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.

“The Three Amigos” Isn’t As Ridiculous As You Might Think

What You’ve Missed…
* We’re in the book of Exodus now, and three-hundred years after the time of Joseph, all of Abraham’s descendants, The Israelites, have become slaves in Egypt.  They’re pretty pissed about it.
* About this time, Moses is born.
* Around the age of forty, Moses takes the law into his own hands, becoming the world’s first vigilante hero, when he murders an Egyptian guy who’s beating up some Hebrew dude.  (I’m thinking the local papers referred to him as “The Sackcloth Sucker-Puncher.”)
* Around the age of eighty, Moses doesn’t encounter God-As-A-Talking-Tornado, but rather, God-As-A-Talking-Bush-On-Fire.  (Not to be confused by The-Now-Not-So-Implausible-Singing-Bush from The Three Amigos.)
* God-As-A-Burning-Bush tells Moses He is going to rescue the Israelites from slavery, and that Moses will act as His mouthpiece.  Moses goes all King’s Speech, whining about his stutter, and so God brings Aaron (Moses’ older brother) on board to announce to everyone all the things God speaks to Moses.
* Finally…God gives Moses an awesome staff that He turns into a snake from time to time.  (Finally answering the question, “What do you get the man who has everything?”)
* Got all that?

Day 34
Daily Reading: Exodus 7-9

Whew…let’s all take a breather, because that’s a lot to digest.  Go ahead and grab some coffee or a quick smoke break or something.  I’ll wait.

So old man Moses is taking direction from God on how to get the Israelites out of Egypt, and because he’s human, and because God can be confusing, he protests and questions some of God’s plan.  But in the end he trusts God and does as he’s asked, providing the people of Egypt the craziest experience of their lives.

You see, God doesn’t just want to rescue His people from slavery, He also wants Pharaoh to know He is The One True God.  So He puts on a little display to demonstrate His power.  And we’re not talking about a mind-blowing Pink Floyd laser light show.  For starters, when Pharaoh refuses to let the Israelites go, God turns the Nile River into blood.  He doesn’t stop with just the Nile, but all the water in Egypt (including the water in jugs, cups, storage basins, etc.) also turn to blood.  And it lasts for seven days.

Let’s just stop and imagine this for a second.  You’re meeting someone for lunch, and as you take a sip of your water, you realize it’s blood.  The whole restaurant realizes what’s happened at roughly the same time, and people start screaming and freaking out.  Or maybe you open the washer to discover your clothes aren’t pink because you washed colors with the whites, but because they were “washed” in blood.  Or perhaps you’re standing around the water cooler at work (do people actually do this in real life, or just in Dilbert?) when all of a sudden you and your co-workers find yourselves standing around the blood cooler instead.  (Or think about if it happened while you were in the shower.  That’s something straight out of The Shining.  And that gives me the heebie-jeebies.)

I think you get the idea.  This is not a normal thing.  People notice when ALL of the water in their life turns to blood.  That’s a pretty strong showing of power in my book.  But apparently Pharaoh didn’t think so, because he didn’t let the Israelites go.  In fact, his own royal magicians also turned water into blood (Exodus 7:22) which is pretty impressive.

So God moves on to Phase Two and produces a plague of frogs.  Frogs start showing up everywhere, including people’s ovens (Exodus 8:3) which makes me wonder if they were instantly incinerated, or whether they were special “plague frogs” that were a lot harder to get rid of.  (Also, it says that Pharaoh’s magicians summoned frogs too…which makes me wonder if they could have had the most amazing magic show Vegas has ever seen.)  But again…can you imagine what that was like for everyone in Egypt?  Think about the noise at night alone when millions of frogs are croaking at once.  Or the fact that you’d be walking on frogs (living and squashed) everywhere you went.  That would get really old, really fast.

So Pharaoh relents saying he’ll let God’s people go…but as soon as the frogs are gone, he changes his mind.  This pattern of relenting and then changing his mind continues as God brings more plagues on Egypt, setting the standard for a man struggling through some very serious commitment issues.  During this time God also brings on a plague of gnats, a plague of flies, a plague destroying all the livestock in the country, a plague of boils appearing on everyone and a plague of hail.

Seriously…think about if this was you.  First, all your water becomes blood.  Then your house, car, workplace and everyplace are covered in frogs.  Then you’re constantly covered in gnats ALL THE TIME.  And if that isn’t enough, later you’d be covered in flies everywhere you went.  (I don’t think anyone is gettin’ “lucky” while this is happening either.  Being covered in gnats and flies tend to really destroy the mood.  So on top of suffering, everyone’s also in a major “dry spell” which I’m sure upped the tension in Egypt a hundred-fold.)

Later, all the animals around you die.  Then you’re covered in boils and finally everything you own is destroyed by hail.  That’s a rough couple of weeks right there.  And what if you found out the reason for it all was because the leader of your country was acting like a complete turd?  I imagine Pharaoh’s approval rating would be zero, and that the Occupy Egypt movement would be more of an Angry Violent Mob Out For Blood Movement.  (Though being out for blood would be slightly ironic.)

So…yeah.  Evil dictators are the worst.  Also, between this and the book of Job, I think God is doing a pretty solid job of showing us that having a fairly normal life, without being covered in boils, is a pretty huge gift in-and-of itself for mankind.  Welcome to the book of Exodus.