Monday, February 28, 2011

Solomon the wise

1 Kings 3:3-28 TNIV

Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.

The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream.

He returned to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the Lord’s covenant and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then he gave a feast for all his court.

Now two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. One of them said, “Pardon me, my lord. This woman and I live in the same house, and I had a baby while she was there with me. The third day after my child was born, this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there was no one in the house but the two of us.

“During the night this woman’s son died because she lay on him. So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I your servant was asleep. She put him by her breast and put her dead son by my breast. The next morning, I got up to nurse my son—and he was dead! But when I looked at him closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn’t the son I had borne.”

The other woman said, “No! The living one is my son; the dead one is yours.”

But the first one insisted, “No! The dead one is yours; the living one is mine.” And so they argued before the king.

The king said, “This one says, ‘My son is alive and your son is dead,’ while that one says, ‘No! Your son is dead and mine is alive.’ ”

Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword for the king. He then gave an order: “Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.”

The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!”

But the other said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!”

Then the king gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.”

When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.

My thoughts -

This story has an intriguing "was it a dream or not" angle to it that I think is great in light of the Oscars last night.

Solomon was renowned for his wisdom. From Solomon we have the book of Proverbs, which contains a great deal of every day "wisdom" and advice for living. This story shows Solomon, in a dream, asking God for wisdom in discernment, waking up, realizing it was a dream, and then ruling with wisdom anyway.

On question we may ask out of this is: Did God give Solomon this gift from the dream or was this a gift that Solomon already had? Was Solomon, by his own nature (which God also gets credit for) already wise or did this dream miraculously grant him this gift of wisdom?

Two things to consider in this: The first is that his father, King David, in giving him instructions for ruling in the previous chapter, praises Solomon multiple times for his wisdom and trusts his judgement in dealing with certain matters. The second thing to consider is the request in the dream itself. Who but a wise man would think to ask God for wisdom?

Solomon was obviously a wise man. This story leads me to wonder less about his wisdom and how he acquired it and more with his approach to prayer and what we can take from it. While this was a dream and not specifically a prayer Solomon did have an encounter with God much like we do in prayer and he did ask God for something like we often do in prayer. Let's look at how Solomon approached God.

First, Solomon was thankful and humble. He praised God for what God had done for his father, David, and his family. Then he declared himself to be God's servant. God approached Solomon and told Solomon to ask for anything and the first thing he did, rather than make a request to be filled, was to praise and thank God for all that God is and has done. What a wonderful way to approach prayer. It is a time to connect with God and to devote oneself to God, not just a time to make requests (demands?) of God.

Second, in making his request of God Solomon asked not for a selfish gift but essentially for the tools to do the job that God had called Solomon to do. God appointed Solomon king. Nathan the prophet and Zadok the priest anointed him with oil and blessed him as king. Solomon was chosen by God in this way over his older brother. This is the duty that he was called to do. His request of God, when present with the opportunity to do anything, was to ask for the ability to do God's will for him. He clearly seems intimidated by the duties of king. He declares himself to be a "little child" who cannot do the duties and he asks God for the gift of discernment so he can determine right from wrong in ruling.

What would our lives be like if we prayed constantly for the ability to do God's will? Not for riches. Not for long, healthy lives. Not for anything for ourselves but the ability to do what God wants from us. Would God not give us what we ask for? Would God not give us what we need?
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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Preparing for worship with 2 Samuel 12

2 Samuel 12:1-25 TNIV

The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’ ”

Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.”

After Nathan had gone home, the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill. David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them.

On the seventh day the child died. David’s attendants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, “While the child was still living, he wouldn’t listen to us when we spoke to him. How can we now tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate.”

David noticed that his attendants were whispering among themselves, and he realized the child was dead. “Is the child dead?” he asked.

“Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.”

Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.

His attendants asked him, “Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!”

He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and made love to her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon. The Lord loved him; and because the Lord loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah.

My thoughts -

David was a great man. He was king of Israel and a man after God's own heart. He was mighty and he was just. He delivered his people from the Philistines and he ruled them with righteousness. Even here, in this story you find David concerned with righteousness and justice even at his own expense (admittedly he doesn't know Nathan is talking about him).

David messed up. He messed up in a bad, bad way. Despite his close relationship with God he was still tainted by sin and he did a horrible, horrible thing. While his army was away in battle he fell for the wife of one of his soldiers. He seduced her and got her pregnant. In an attempted cover up he called her husband back to sleep with her so the baby would seem to be his. When the man refused to sleep with his wife because his fellow soldiers were still in battle and it didn't seem right that he should enjoy the comforts of home David sent him back and had him killed.

I can't come up with worse than this. Not only did David sin in sleeping with another man's wife but he allowed that sin to create much, much worse sins. In his embarrassment rather than try to come clean he tried to cover it up and when that failed he had an innocent man killed. David, a powerful man, stole from and then murdered a powerless man. It doesn't get much worse than that.

So Nathan goes to him and shows David his sin. It's all out in the open now. David is ashamed. David also repents. But the sin has its consequences and his son dies. What is David's response? Look at verse 20:
Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.
David, while his son was ill, fasted and mourned. He begged and pleaded with God for his son's life. But the boy died. And when David found this out he cleaned himself up and worshipped. That doesn't make a lot of sense, does it? His servants didn't think so, either. They thought that response was crazy. But let's look at what all happened here.

David was living in sin and acting in secret. He had done wrong and was covering it up. He was still acting the part of the righteous king, even in the exchange with Nathan at the beginning of this passage. But his actions were not those of a righteous man. He was living in sin.

While what transpired was unpleasant it was also liberating. David's sin came out into the light. His deeds were exposed. He suffered. He repented. He was restored to God and he worshipped. Yes, it was an unpleasant process. Yes, it hurt. Yes, he suffered and he mourned and he begged God to do what he had to know wouldn't be done for him. And then, restored, he worshipped.

Whatever we've got going on in our lives, whatever we're ashamed of, whatever we're hiding, whatever we're running from, we can always return to God and be restored. That is why we worship. God, who is greater than us and is righteous and holy, can redeem even the worst in us. David's sin led ultimately to King Solomon, who is still remembered to this day for his wisdom. And David, the man who in his younger days worshipped God with such enthusiasm that his dancing embarrassed his wife, was able to return to God and, even in his mourning, worship.
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Saturday, February 26, 2011

It's complicated

2 Samuel 4:5-12 TNIV

Now Rekab and Baanah, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, set out for the house of Ish-Bosheth, and they arrived there in the heat of the day while he was taking his noonday rest. They went into the inner part of the house as if to get some wheat, and they stabbed him in the stomach. Then Rekab and his brother Baanah slipped away.

They had gone into the house while he was lying on the bed in his bedroom. After they stabbed and killed him, they cut off his head. Taking it with them, they traveled all night by way of the Arabah. They brought the head of Ish-Bosheth to David at Hebron and said to the king, “Here is the head of Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, your enemy, who tried to take your life. This day the Lord has avenged my lord the king against Saul and his offspring.”

David answered Rekab and his brother Baanah, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, “As surely as the Lord lives, who has delivered me out of every trouble, when someone told me, ‘Saul is dead,’ and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and put him to death in Ziklag. That was the reward I gave him for his news! How much more—when wicked men have killed an innocent man in his own house and on his own bed—should I not now demand his blood from your hand and rid the earth of you!”

So David gave an order to his men, and they killed them. They cut off their hands and feet and hung the bodies by the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of Ish-Bosheth and buried it in Abner’s tomb at Hebron.

My thoughts -

Reading about the conflict between the house of Saul and the house of David in 2 Samuel is a bit heartbreaking. David wept and mourned when Saul and Jonathan were killed. He refused to eat and was so upset he killed the messenger. Now, that's not an entirely fair statement. The messenger was also the man who killed Saul. But still... What seemed as though it should have been good news, David's enemies were dead, was in fact heart wrenching news.

Here you have wicked men committing murder and trying to pass it off as something else due to the identity of the victim. Saul ran David off, hunted him down, and tried repeatedly to kill him. If that doesn't make him David's enemy then I don't know what would. But like all things it's complicated. David faithfully served Saul. Their relationship was almost like father and son. And David loved Jonathan, Saul's son, like a brother. David had many opportunities to kill Saul, and would have been justified in doing so, and yet he refused. And it wasn't because David was squeamish about killing, either. When David captured a city he liked to leave nothing alive, not even the livestock.

Life is complicated. Relationships are complicated. Sometimes we like to simplify things to try to make them easier to manage. It's easy to segment people off as enemies and friends. But when we do this we tend to dehumanize. David had complicated relationships. He counted the love of Jonathan as being better than "the love of a woman". He called Saul his master. He helped Saul's army defeat the Philistines and then, years later, served in the Philistine army against Saul. Saul in the same breath called David his son, urging him to return to him, and threatened to kill him. First and second Samuel is filled with these heartbreakingly complicated relationships.

What Rekab and Baanah did was indefensible. They murdered a man during his nap. The only way they could have defended their actions was by claiming that they killed their master's enemy. Maybe they believed they were doing right by David. Maybe they were just evil men doing an evil thing. Either way, what they did was far worse than Saul and Jonathan falling in battle. And yet, based on this feud, they tried to justify their actions, and even spin them as having done a good thing.

This could only happen because of the conflict between the two houses. David is angry that an innocent man is killed. He is angry that a crime has been committed. This was an atrocity. But I think he also mourns the loss of the sense of family between the two houses. There is a deep connection here that is tearing. Relationships are being severed. The feud with Saul did not even end with Saul's death. There is a deep, strong relationship there. But like all things in this life, it's complicated.
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Friday, February 25, 2011

People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart

1 Samuel 16:1-13 TNIV

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”

The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”

Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”

Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord ’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things human beings look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

So he sent and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came on David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah.

My thoughts -

The people wanted a king and so they got one. But things didn't work out so well with Saul. Saul did not have a heart for God. He followed his own will and trusted in his own strength. After many disappointments Samuel, who had selected Saul with the Lord to be king, gave up on him. This caused Samuel to grieve.

In Samuel's grief over Saul the Lord visits him and tells him to stop grieving and go anoint the new king. I love how David is then selected. He wasn't the oldest. He wasn't the biggest. He wasn't the strongest. He wasn't the handsomest. In fact, he wasn't even there. All criteria that people would use to choose would have picked someone not like David. Heck, Saul was a better choice by human standards then David.

Saul was big and strong. He stood a head taller than his peers. And we was good looking and a powerful warrior. Dude was larger than life. No wonder the people wanted him to be king. David is little more than a boy when Samuel first encounters him here. He is such an afterthought that he's not even present when Jesse and his sons are invited to the sacrifice. He's stuck at home tending the flock. He's the youngest. If a warrior is needed he's got three bothers in Saul's army. Who would want the youngest? Who would want the smallest? Who would want that guy to be king?

But God does not judge by the same standards that we do. David had a heart after God and was everything that Saul wasn't. He trusted God and not his own strength. He went on to kill Goliath without having a sword or armor so that all of the people could see that God saves them, not their swords and spears.

Human judgement would not have put David on the throne, and yet God selected David to be king and he became the greatest king in his people's history.

Look, too at Jesus through human eyes. He was born into poverty. He was effectively driven out of his home town by his own people. He was ultimately executed by the state. If this was the Messiah, if he was God incarnate, if he was to deliver his people he picked a really odd way to do it. Where was his army? Where was his kingdom? How could he rule when he was killed? Jesus didn't look anything like the Savior we humans would imagine.

But God works differently than we do. God used weakness as strength and in death provided life. Time and time again we see this. Our own judgement wants to use might to do our will. And yet God chooses the humble and turns our expectations upside down.
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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only

1 Samuel 7:1-17 TNIV

So the men of Kiriath Jearim came and took up the ark of the Lord. They brought it to Abinadab’s house on the hill and consecrated Eleazar his son to guard the ark of the Lord. The ark remained at Kiriath Jearim a long time—twenty years in all.

Then all the people of Israel turned back to the Lord. So Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the Lord only.

Then Samuel said, “Assemble all Israel at Mizpah, and I will intercede with the Lord for you.” When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the Lord. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.” Now Samuel was serving as leader of Israel at Mizpah.

When the Philistines heard that Israel had assembled at Mizpah, the rulers of the Philistines came up to attack them. When the Israelites heard of it, they were afraid because of the Philistines. They said to Samuel, “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.” Then Samuel took a suckling lamb and sacrificed it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. He cried out to the Lord on Israel’s behalf, and the Lord answered him.

While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar.

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

So the Philistines were subdued and they stopped invading Israel’s territory. Throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines. The towns from Ekron to Gath that the Philistines had captured from Israel were restored, and Israel delivered the neighboring territory from the hands of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.

Samuel continued as Israel’s leader all the days of his life. From year to year he went on a circuit from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places. But he always went back to Ramah, where his home was, and there he also held court for Israel. And he built an altar there to the Lord.

My thoughts -

Samuel was a special child. His mother, Hannah, could not bear children. Her husband's other wife teased her relentlessly about this. She prayed to God to relieve her anguish and God heard her prayer and gave her Samuel. And then, amazingly, she gave Samuel back to God.

Samuel served under Eli, whose sons, with his knowledge, took the best parts of Israel's offerings to God for themselves. This lead ultimately to the death of the sons, the death of Eli, the capture of the ark, and the calling of Samuel. As we get to this passage the Philistines have been struck by horrible plagues and gave decided to return the ark to Israel along with an offering. This was received with both rejoicing and mourning as seventy men were killed in receiving the ark when they looked inside it.

So Israel has the ark back. And they have a priest who is faithful to God and not to his own interests. They are on their way to restoring their relationship with God. Things have been rough. They've trusted in their own strength and it has failed them.

The ark stays with them for twenty years as they work to mend their strained relationship with God. They repent. They confess that they have sinned before God. They ask Samuel, who is their mediator with God, what they should do. And then they do it. They come back to God. They tell Samuel to "not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us". And God hears their cries. They are now restored to God and liberated from the oppression of the Philistines. They are now fully restored and at peace.

We don't have Samuel as a mediator like the Israelites here did. We have Jesus. Jesus is the way that we become fully restored in our relationship with God and free from our bondage to sin and at peace.

It seems so simple, almost too good to be true, but we see it time and time again. Repent. Return to God. Follow God's ways and be restored and at peace. And yet how often do we trust in our own strength, pursue our own selfish, sinful desires, and blind ourselves to what God wants for us and our calling to care for the needs of others?

We need to, like the Israelites here, return to God with our with all our hearts, then rid ourselves of the things that we worship instead and commit ourselves to the Lord and serve him only.
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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A beautiful day

This morning was a little chilly but it was supposed to warm up this afternoon and with the forecast looking dicey for the rest of the week I decided this was probably the best day this week to get the road bike out. The below freezing temps this morning were less than ideal but not too bad. This afternoon, however, was wonderful.

Low 50s and clear with almost no wind is about perfect for biking. I took advantage of the weather and the road bike and got about 40 miles in. It was good to get out of my usual routes and head out of the city towards some of our surrounding farms for a while. I got some pics. I would have loved to have gotten more but my legs HATE stopping. They want to move.

I really think I should do this more often. I can't wait until spring.
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Samson and Delilah

Judges 16:1-31 TNIV

One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her. The people of Gaza were told, “Samson is here!” So they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the city gate. They made no move during the night, saying, “At dawn we’ll kill him.”

But Samson lay there only until the middle of the night. Then he got up and took hold of the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron.

Some time later, he fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah. The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, “See if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him so we may tie him up and subdue him. Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels of silver.”

So Delilah said to Samson, “Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued.”

Samson answered her, “If anyone ties me with seven fresh thongs that have not been dried, I’ll become as weak as any other man.”

Then the rulers of the Philistines brought her seven fresh thongs that had not been dried, and she tied him with them. With men hidden in the room, she called to him, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” But he snapped the thongs as easily as a piece of string snaps when it comes close to a flame. So the secret of his strength was not discovered.

Then Delilah said to Samson, “You have made a fool of me; you lied to me. Come now, tell me how you can be tied.”

He said, “If anyone ties me securely with new ropes that have never been used, I’ll become as weak as any other man.”

So Delilah took new ropes and tied him with them. Then, with men hidden in the room, she called to him, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” But he snapped the ropes off his arms as if they were threads.

Delilah then said to Samson, “Until now, you have been making a fool of me and lying to me. Tell me how you can be tied.”

He replied, “If you weave the seven braids of my head into the fabric  on the loom  and tighten it with the pin, I’ll become as weak as any other man.” So while he was sleeping, Delilah took the seven braids of his head, wove them into the fabric and tightened it with the pin.

Again she called to him, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” He awoke from his sleep and pulled up the pin and the loom, with the fabric.

Then she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when you won’t confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven’t told me the secret of your great strength.” With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was tired to death.

So he told her everything. “No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.”

When Delilah saw that he had told her everything, she sent word to the rulers of the Philistines, “Come back once more; he has told me everything.” So the rulers of the Philistines returned with the silver in their hands. Having put him to sleep on her lap, she called for someone to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him.

Then she called, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!”

He awoke from his sleep and thought, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him.

Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding grain in the prison. But the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.

Now the rulers of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to celebrate, saying, “Our god has delivered Samson, our enemy, into our hands.”

When the people saw him, they praised their god, saying,

“Our god has delivered our enemy

into our hands,

the one who laid waste our land

and multiplied our slain.”

While they were in high spirits, they shouted, “Bring out Samson to entertain us.” So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them.

When they stood him among the pillars, Samson said to the servant who held his hand, “Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them.” Now the temple was crowded with men and women; all the rulers of the Philistines were there, and on the roof were about three thousand men and women watching Samson perform. Then Samson prayed to the Lord, “Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.” Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived.

Then his brothers and his father’s whole family went down to get him. They brought him back and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father. He had led Israel twenty years.

My thoughts -

If ever there was a flawed hero it was Samson. He was proud, arrogant, rude, whiny, condescending, and a very violent and angry man. He seemed to spend a lot of time visiting prostitutes and his love for women made him do some pretty dumb things.

His one real act of faith, what he was remembered for, what Paul lauded him for in Hebrews 11, was to kill an awful lot of Philistines while destroying their temple. Rather than a hero Samson may be a cautionary tale.

Here we have the story of Samson and Delilah. There's a lot more on Samson in the preceding chapters. But this story really gets to me.

First, Samson seems to have trouble with women. His first wife betrayed his confidence to her people which led eventually to her and her father's death. It also led to Samson stealing, literally, the clothes off of people's backs. Delilah has caught Samson's eye and she, too, seems like a curious selection for him. What ensues is almost inexplicable.

I can kind of see Samson "confiding" in her the "secret" to his strength. He isn't really risking anything. It's not really the secret. Besides he can find out through this if he can trust her. Of course, he finds that he can't.

Maybe I've never met a woman like Delilah. Maybe her charms were irresistible. Maybe with Samson's great strength comes the kind of hubris that makes you think you can't be touched. Whatever the reason Samson didn't leave like I, or any sane person would have. He stayed and even took some flack from her about lying. If I were in that position and stayed I probably would have retorted with something like "So what if I lied? You tried to have me killed!" Samson just gave her another lie.

This played out over and over again until he got so sick of her hassling him that he finally told her the truth. I don't even need to say how bad of an idea that was. But that's Samson. Maybe this was hubris because he seemed genuinely surprised that his strength left him. He knew the covenant with God. He knew the source of his strength was God. Maybe he was so used to having that gift that he assumed it came from himself. Maybe he believed that he was capable of overcoming anything and did not need God and did not need to hold up his end of their agreement. I don't know.

It's easy for me to sit here and judge Samson. But it's also easy for us to believe that we are the source of all that is good in our lives and turn our backs on God and others. We do this time and time again. Samson believed in his own strength and got distracted by a woman and it led to him being captured, mutilated, embarrassed, and then to his death. We believe that we are the source of our own prosperity and allow what we have and what we want to have to rule over us and distract us from God's calling for us to care for others. We have no less hubris then Samson. We just have different gifts.

Samson, of course, in his humiliation, remembered that God was the source of his strength. He called out to God and his cries were heard. His final act in this life was a greater feat of strength than any he had done previously.
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Monday, February 21, 2011


This post is in response to a friend being told by a local church that she is "not saved" because she can not recall the "exact hour" of her salvation. Oddly, I too find myself in this same position. Am I not saved?

My grandfather was a Baptist minister. My mother was a Methodist Sunday School teacher. Some of my earliest memories are getting to "sing" into the microphone at my grandfather's church. I have been in church literally for my entire life.

I went through confirmation class in fourth grade and was baptized as a member of the United Methodist church at that time. I never really rebelled. Never drank or did drugs. Always aspired for righteousness. I have faithfully attended worship services for my entire adult life and have had a staff position at a Methodist church leading worship for the last six years.

I read my Bible every day. I do not mean that it averages out to reading daily. I mean that every morning I wake up at 4:40am and read the Bible for an hour before I do anything else. Okay, before I do anything except make my coffee. Got to have me some caffeine.

And I do not recall the moment I "accepted" salvation. Was it when I was confirmed? I got baptized then. Did the water do the trick? Did I pray the exact right words at that moment? I sure hope so. But maybe it didn't take then.

Perhaps I was "saved" that time I went up to the alter in ninth grade at a youth event. It was a particularly stirring message and I had a girlfriend at the time so I'm sure that at the very least I had something to repent of. Maybe that prayer I prayed then did it.

It could have happened at that one youth retreat in twelfth grade. If it didn't it wasn't for lack of trying. I'd broken up badly with a girlfriend, had no idea what I wanted to do for college, had to find a job and was really stressed out and depressed. I asked God for a lot of things then. Did I pray the right prayer? Was the moment right? Did I receive salvation?

Nothing, and I mean nothing I or anyone else has done has gained salvation for any of us. No prayer spoken. No repentance or act of contrition. No Bible study, no disciplined devotional time. No action of my own has saved me. No action of anyone except Jesus has. None of my prayers could gain me a thing. No act of kindness shown. No mission trip. No volunteering. No nothing. I am saved by grace through faith.

I didn't stone anyone like Paul. I was not blinded nor did I dramatically turn. And yet I need grace every day. I am "saved" each morning when I wake up. I am "saved" every night when I go to bed. I am "saved" every second of every day not based on any action of my own. If you must know the "exact hour" of my salvation of it to be valid for you then I guess I can give it to you. It's the same as yours. And my friend's. I was saved the moment that Jesus took all of our sins upon himself. That's it. No sinner's prayer saved me. There was no magic incantation I performed. It was Jesus. Just Jesus. To assert anything else would be to spit in the face of the grace that we have been given.

But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord

Joshua 24:1-31 TNIV

Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God.

Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. I gave him Isaac, and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I assigned the hill country of Seir to Esau, but Jacob and his family went down to Egypt.

“ ‘Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I afflicted the Egyptians by what I did there, and I brought you out. When I brought your people out of Egypt, you came to the sea, and the Egyptians pursued them with chariots and horsemen as far as the Red Sea. But they cried to the Lord for help, and he put darkness between you and the Egyptians; he brought the sea over them and covered them. You saw with your own eyes what I did to the Egyptians. Then you lived in the wilderness for a long time.

“ ‘I brought you to the land of the Amorites who lived east of the Jordan. They fought against you, but I gave them into your hands. I destroyed them from before you, and you took possession of their land. When Balak son of Zippor, the king of Moab, prepared to fight against Israel, he sent for Balaam son of Beor to put a curse on you. But I would not listen to Balaam, so he blessed you again and again, and I delivered you out of his hand.

“ ‘Then you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. The citizens of Jericho fought against you, as did also the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, but I gave them into your hands. I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you—also the two Amorite kings. You did not do it with your own sword and bow. So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.’

“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”

Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”

But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.”

Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.”

“Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied.

“Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”

And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.”

On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he reaffirmed for them decrees and laws. And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the Lord.

“See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.”

Then Joshua dismissed the people, each to their own inheritance.

After these things, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten. And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Serah in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.

Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel.

My thoughts -

Israel has been delivered. The people have been freed from bondage in Egypt and have, at long last, been given the land that God promised them. Joshua has reminded the people of what God has done for them. He has also reminded them that they have not always served God, but God has been faithful to them. He has implored them to serve God, though they can choose not to. He then tells them one of my favorite quotes from the Bible:
"But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
The people have decided to serve the Lord. I love Joshua's response to this in verse 23:
“Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
We have been delivered from our bondage in sin. We have been, through the grace of God we have in Jesus, set free. We no longer have to be slaves to our own selfish, sinful nature. Will we choose to serve God? Will we choose to cast off our shackles, receive our inheritance, and throw away the foreign gods of selfishness, greed, and materialism? Will we throw away the idols of our culture? Will we throw away all that keeps us from serving the one true God? Will we throw away everything that keeps us from loving our neighbor? Are we willing to lose our lives, such as they are, mired in sin, to gain real life, abundant and eternal?

It is far easier to say yes than it is to live it. When choosing who to serve Israel said yes to Joshua. They said yes, they would serve God. And then, according to verse 31, they lived it, at least for a while.
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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Preparing for worship with Psalm 98

Psalm 98:1-9 TNIV

Sing to the Lord a new song,

for he has done marvelous things;

his right hand and his holy arm

have worked salvation for him.

The Lord has made his salvation known

and revealed his righteousness to the nations.

He has remembered his love

and his faithfulness to the house of Israel;

all the ends of the earth have seen

the salvation of our God.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,

burst into jubilant song with music;

make music to the Lord with the harp,

with the harp and the sound of singing,

with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—

shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

Let the sea resound, and everything in it,

the world, and all who live in it.

Let the rivers clap their hands,

let the mountains sing together for joy;

let them sing before the Lord,

for he comes to judge the earth.

He will judge the world in righteousness

and the peoples with equity.

My thoughts -

I love the enthusiasm here. Not only are we to sing in worship but we are to "shout for joy" and "burst into jubilant song". Think we should stay composed all throughout worship? Even the rivers are called here to "clap their hands". The seas resound, the mountains sing, all of creation cries out in worship of our awesome God.

I usually like to be pretty cool, calm, and composed. I don't like to get too carried away in anything for fear of looking dumb or crazy. But look at how the Psalmist is describing worship here. There's nothing "cool" about it, nothing "calm" about it, and nothing "composed" it. When we worship we're crying out with all of creation in worship. We're singing and shouting for joy.

Let us sing a new and jubilant song to our marvelous, awesome, righteous, faithful and holy God this morning. Our God is indeed worthy of our shouts of joy.
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Friday, February 18, 2011

Now choose life

Deuteronomy 30:11-20 TNIV

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

My thoughts -

Moses is giving the people the terms of the covenant they are entering with God as they prepare to enter the promised land. They have been given the law. They have been told what God desires for and from them. They have been told how they will be blessed and how they will be cursed depending on how they follow. Now Moses, or really God through Moses, is imploring them.

He tells them that this isn't that hard. They can do it. I love the language about the location of the law.
It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.
While there is a lot of mystery to God and the universe there is also a lot that has been revealed. And we, who have been and are being created in the image of God have been given the ability to distinguish right from wrong in most situations. Sometimes what should be done is not clear and we need help to discern it but most of the time we know what we should and shouldn't do, we just need the strength to choose to do the right thing.

The Israelites also have very clear terms in their covenant with God that Moses has presented to them. There is not a lot of mystery there. We do not have this same covenant and maybe things are not always quite so clear but we do have resources to determine God's will. We need to use them. We have scripture and we have leaders in our churches and families and communities. We need to use the resources that we have.

Moses is laying out for the people two choices that God has presented them with and imploring them to choose well.
This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
We face these same choices every day. You'd think it would be easy and yet our rebellious, sinful, selfish nature overwhelms us at times. Thank God for the grace we have through Jesus.
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Thursday, February 17, 2011

For your own good

Deuteronomy 10:12-21 TNIV

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord ’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is the one you praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.

My thoughts -

Leading up to this passage Moses has pointed out where the Israelites have gone wrong. He has pointed out their pride. He has pointed out their stubbornness. He has pointed out their sin that has brought God's wrath upon them to the point where Moses had to beg God not to destroy them all. He has informed the people that God has caused them to wander for forty years to teach them to depend on him and not on their own ability to acquire wealth. God even provided manna for them to live on miraculously. Moses has also explained that, while God is giving them this land, it is not because of their righteousness. They haven't been particularly righteous. They have been rather proud and rebellious.

So they've fallen short of what God desires. But what does God desire?
And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord ’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?
Has God given some arbitrary commands to see how obedient they will be? No, he has given the law "for (their) own good". Following God is a better way to be. We people can be selfish, heartless, cold, and cruel. God's law checks against the worst in us and demands that we care for others.

I love how Moses describes God starting in verse 17:
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing.
God is a God who cares for the weak, needy, and vulnerable. God, who is mightier than anything in creation, uses that might not to oppress and gain greater advantage but to lift up the weak and vulnerable. That is God's desire for those who serve him, to serve others.

Moses is telling the people to worship and serve this God who cares for the weak, marginalized, and vulnerable. We worship this same God today. An act of that worship is to serve that God by serving others. Who is more vulnerable in a patriarchal society than the fatherless and the widow? Who is more vulnerable in such a tight knit community than the stranger? When Moses points to God's desire to care for them and provide for them he is pointing to a desire to care for those who have the least, and no way to care for themselves. There's no profit margin in that. It's not good business. But it is goodness.

That is God's desire for us. To do good. To serve others. To provide for the needs of the least, the lost, and the broken.
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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Philosophy of a #bikingfool

There's nothing new under the sun. Everything that I've ever thought that might seem deep, profound, meaningful, and fresh has been thought and said many times over the last couple of thousand years by far greater minds than mine.

That said, a couple of things really hit me on my ride this morning and I'm going to share them. I will try to phrase them as "philosophically" as possible to try to make this shallow guy look deep. Here goes:

The first -
Don't kill yourself going up the first hill. There are many mountains to climb.

And the second -
Life is a journey, not a conquest. You don't get to keep what you pillage and plunder.
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For the Lord your God is a merciful God

Deuteronomy 4:5-31 TNIV

See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. Then the Lord spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets. And the Lord directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.

You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the Lord your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven. But as for you, the Lord took you and brought you out of the iron-smelting furnace, out of Egypt, to be the people of his inheritance, as you now are.

The Lord was angry with me because of you, and he solemnly swore that I would not cross the Jordan and enter the good land the Lord your God is giving you as your inheritance. I will die in this land; I will not cross the Jordan; but you are about to cross over and take possession of that good land. Be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

After you have had children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time—if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol, doing evil in the eyes of the Lord your God and arousing his anger, I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you this day that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You will not live there long but will certainly be destroyed. The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the Lord will drive you. There you will worship gods of wood and stone made by human hands, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell. But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him. For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath.

My thoughts -

Things are looking up for God's chosen people. They've been wandering for a generation but they're about to finally get to go to the place that will be their home. Moses, though, doesn't get to go with them. So he is leaving them his final instructions. He is giving them God's law for them and encouraging them to remember it.

I have found in my own life something that seems like it shouldn't be so. I would think that in good times it would be easy to remember God and to do God's will but in bad times I would be mired in despair and forget God. The opposite seems true, however. When things go well for me I find myself without any real need or desire for God. I'm good. I'm self-sufficient. It is in the times of trouble that I find that I am not able to do everything on my own. I am not strong enough. I can't do it. I need God.

Moses is telling the people to remember God. To remember all that God has done for them. To remember where they came from and what they were delivered from. They suffered and God was there and saved them. God has, in God's greatness, given them the law to follow. Moses asks what other nations have such righteous laws and a God so near that he listens when they pray. This sets them apart. It makes them unique. They need to remember this.

But they're going to their new home. Things are looking up. They may, like I do, forget their God when things go well. If they do this they will eventually suffer. But God is merciful. And when we forget God and turn to our own ways we suffer for it, but God delivers us from our suffering. God hears our cry in anguish and delivers us.

I don't know why it is easier to turn to God in my despair than it is in my joy. But I am grateful that we have a merciful God who listens to our cries and delivers us from our suffering. Even when it's self-inflicted.
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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The journey

There's a lot to be said for looking at your commute not as a trip to a destination but as a journey. If I was just going from point A to point B today I would have been frustrated. Traffic was awful. I got a late start and ended up getting home almost a half hour later than usual. In the car that is cause for anger. On the bike it was just more time I got to spend outside on a beautiful day. I even stopped a couple of times to take some pictures.

That last one, and you really can't tell from the picture, is of a little rainbow. From where I was biking it looked like it was above my house that was still about five miles away. That was a wonderful image to bike towards. I wish I could have done it justice.
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Balaam and his donkey

Numbers 22:1-41 TNIV

Then the Israelites traveled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan across from Jericho.

Now Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites, and Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites.

The Moabites said to the elders of Midian, “This horde is going to lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.”

So Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, who was at Pethor, near the Euphrates River, in his native land. Balak said:

“A people has come out of Egypt; they cover the face of the land and have settled next to me. Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.”

The elders of Moab and Midian left, taking with them the fee for divination. When they came to Balaam, they told him what Balak had said.

“Spend the night here,” Balaam said to them, “and I will report back to you with the answer the Lord gives me.” So the Moabite officials stayed with him.

God came to Balaam and asked, “Who are these men with you?”

Balaam said to God, “Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, sent me this message: ‘A people that has come out of Egypt covers the face of the land. Now come and put a curse on them for me. Perhaps then I will be able to fight them and drive them away.’ ”

But God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.”

The next morning Balaam got up and said to Balak’s officials, “Go back to your own country, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.”

So the Moabite officials returned to Balak and said, “Balaam refused to come with us.”

Then Balak sent other officials, more numerous and more distinguished than the first. They came to Balaam and said:

“This is what Balak son of Zippor says: Do not let anything keep you from coming to me, because I will reward you handsomely and do whatever you say. Come and put a curse on these people for me.”

But Balaam answered them, “Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God. Now spend the night here so that I can find out what else the Lord will tell me.”

That night God came to Balaam and said, “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.”

Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, it turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat it to get it back on the road.

Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, with walls on both sides. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat the donkey again.

Then the angel of the Lord moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff. Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”

Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”

The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”

“No,” he said.

Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.

The angel of the Lord asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.”

Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back.”

The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials.

When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the Moabite town on the Arnon border, at the edge of his territory. Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not send you an urgent summons? Why didn’t you come to me? Am I really not able to reward you?”

“Well, I have come to you now,” Balaam replied. “But I can’t say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.”

Then Balaam went with Balak to Kiriath Huzoth. Balak sacrificed cattle and sheep, and gave some to Balaam and the officials who were with him. The next morning Balak took Balaam up to Bamoth Baal, and from there he could see the outskirts of the Israelite camp.

My thoughts -

I love this story, and not just because it is wide open for jokes about people talking out of their... uh... donkeys.

Sometimes we only see what is right in front of our noses. Balaam could only see the inconvenience his donkey was causing for him. His donkey was acting crazy and that caused frustration and pain for him. He couldn't see the problem, only the symptoms, so he beat the donkey.

Balaam was running from what God told him to do. His path was blocked. He could not continue that was. Even the donkey could see that, but not Balaam. He was too proud, stubborn, frustrated, angry, and defiant. It literally took a talking donkey to open his eyes to his own sin.
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Monday, February 14, 2011

Bliss is

Today was Monday. I had an objectively bad day. It sucked. I'll spare you the gory details but it was not good. I've been really stressed out and frustrated lately. There's a lot going on that's beyond my control. I don't deal with that well. I don't let go well.

And yet there were moments of bliss. Especially on the bike ride. It's kind of sad when the highlight of you day is your commute but hey, at least I've got that going for me. Anyway, I stopped and took pictures along the way today. If nothing else this is a reminder that even on the darkest day there's a little bit of light. Sometimes you just have to stop and look for it.

This is of the sunrise on the ride to work.

I rode right past this swing and it caught my eye. I'm a little jealous if the kid who gets to swing in it.

The swing has a creek that runs right by it.

Sometimes the sky is just so beautiful.

I need to stop and appreciate life and all that I have more often. I need more peace. I need to be slower to frustration and anger. I need to spend more time in prayer and even more time on the bike.
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We have lost our appetite

Numbers 11:1-35 TNIV

Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the Lord and the fire died down. So that place was called Taberah, because fire from the Lord had burned among them.

The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”

The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin. The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into loaves. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down.

Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. The Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled. He asked the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.”

The Lord said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.

“Tell the people: ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” ’ ”

But Moses said, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?”

The Lord answered Moses, “Is the Lord ’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”

So Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied—but did not do so again.

However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”

But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord ’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

Now a wind went out from the Lord and drove quail in from the sea. It scattered them up to two cubits deep all around the camp, as far as a day’s walk in any direction. All that day and night and all the next day the people went out and gathered quail. No one gathered less than ten homers. Then they spread them out all around the camp. But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the Lord burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had craved other food.

From Kibroth Hattaavah the people traveled to Hazeroth and stayed there.

My thoughts -

Sometimes God reminds me of an exasperated parent. God's children are grumbling again. I can relate to that. Do you have children? If so, have you ever taken a long trip with them? Grumbling happens. They may have just eaten, but they're always hungry. Someone is always touching someone else. Something is always not fair.

The Israelites are grumbling about meat. I can relate to God's response. "You want meat? I'll give you so much meat it'll be coming out of your nose! I'll give you so much meat you'll never want to eat meat again!"

I also like the sub-story here with Moses, Joshua, Eldad, and Medad. Moses, rightly so, feels that carrying all of the people's burdens is too much for him. So God gives some of the power of the Spirit to seventy of the elders so that they may share in carrying this burden.

For whatever reason I guess Eldad and Medad missed that memo. I haven't studied this enough to know why they weren't there. Maybe they didn't want to be. Maybe they didn't know they were supposed to. I don't guess it really matters. They weren't there with the others. When God gave the power of the Spirit to the elders they prophesied. Eldad and Medad were still at camp for this.

Now, I would think that if you don't show up for something then you'd just have to miss out on it. Not being familiar with this story and having read a lot of this the last few days I was afraid that they might even be killed in some magnificently horrific way for not being where they were supposed to. But instead, since they were in camp when the prophesying happened, they prophesied in camp.

Joshua may not have realized that Moses really wanted this to happen so he kind of freaked out. These guys were doing Moses's job here. Moses should put a stop to it. That's his thing. Of course Moses, being sick of carrying this burden, responds by saying that he wishes everyone would prophesy.

Is there something that we can learn from this? First, I'd say in the case of the Israelites and the meat you should be careful what you ask for. You just might get it. How many times do we grumble to get our way and find that once we get it it's less a blessing and more a curse? Sometimes we can't see how blessed we are and only see what we don't have. That's no way to be.

As for Moses and the elders, a lot of times we can cling to our responsibilities and not let them go. Moses did not do that. One person can not do everything. This is true even in ministry. Our natural reaction may be more like Joshua's. We see people step up and want to say that it's not their role. But we don't know how God is working. And not even Moses could carry everyone's burdens.
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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Preparing for worship with Psalm 148

Psalm 148:1-14 TNIV

Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord from the heavens;

praise him in the heights above.

Praise him, all his angels;

praise him, all his heavenly hosts.

Praise him, sun and moon;

praise him, all you shining stars.

Praise him, you highest heavens

and you waters above the skies.

Let them praise the name of the Lord,

for at his command they were created,

and he established them for ever and ever—

he issued a decree that will never pass away.

Praise the Lord from the earth,

you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,

lightning and hail, snow and clouds,

stormy winds that do his bidding,

you mountains and all hills,

fruit trees and all cedars,

wild animals and all cattle,

small creatures and flying birds,

kings of the earth and all nations,

you princes and all rulers on earth,

young men and women,

old men and children.

Let them praise the name of the Lord,

for his name alone is exalted;

his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.

And he has raised up for his people a horn,

the praise of all his faithful servants,

of Israel, the people close to his heart.

Praise the Lord.

My thoughts -

This Psalm covers pretty much everything, doesn't it? Everything in heaven and everything on Earth is called to praise God here. Angels, stars, sun, moon, ocean, weather, mountains, plains, plants, animals, kings, people, even space and time give praise to God.

This is what we were made to do - praise the Lord. All things, perishable and eternal, by existing praise their Creator. Let us join with all of Creation in singing God's praises this morning and into eternity.
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Saturday, February 12, 2011


Leviticus 16:1-34 TNIV

The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the Lord. The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die. For I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.

“This is how Aaron is to enter the Most Holy Place: He must first bring a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.

“Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.

“Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the tablets of the covenant law, so that he will not die. He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.

“He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. No one is to be in the tent of meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.

“Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites.

“When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.

“Then Aaron is to go into the tent of meeting and take off the linen garments he put on before he entered the Most Holy Place, and he is to leave them there. He shall bathe himself with water in the sanctuary area and put on his regular garments. Then he shall come out and sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and the burnt offering for the people, to make atonement for himself and for the people. He shall also burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar.

“The one who releases the goat as a scapegoat must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp. The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp; their hides, flesh and intestines are to be burned up. The man who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp.

“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work—whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you— because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins. It is a day of sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the tent of meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the members of the community.

“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.”

And it was done, as the Lord commanded Moses.

My thoughts -

Man, is there ever a lot here! I can't even fathom how anyone could keep track of all of this stuff, let alone do it. Leviticus is pretty intense. I haven't really studied to see how all of these laws were enforced or practiced but no one could follow them all, to the letter or in spirit.

This section deals with atonement. I think we have it easy. How do we deal with atonement? Jesus did it for us. And yet, there's something here I think we're missing. I'm not saying that we need to be putting all of our sins on goats or anything but sin is a big deal. Getting rid of it is a big deal. In fact, it seems to be impossible for us. Jesus may have taken on all of our sin but we're still stuck in it in this life. None of us is perfect. At least not that I can tell. At least not yet.

Does our faith in God and our belief in Jesus as God's atonement sacrifice for our sin enable us to treat sin like it's just not that big of a deal anymore?

I have sinned but that's okay. It's not a big deal. I've got me some Jesus. He takes care of that stuff for me.

Sin is a big deal. Dealing with the problem of sin is such a big deal that there is a series of very specific things prescribed here that must be followed to the letter or God says that Aaron will die. God already killed two of Aaron's sons for messing up a burnt offering. They were consumed by fire. Not a good way to go but that got everyone's attention, didn't it?

We, through Jesus, approach God so easily, so comfortably. I'm not lamenting that. It is a good thing. But do we still see God with awe and wonder? Do we still see falling short of what God desires from us and doing harm to our relationship with God and with others through sin as being a big deal? Grace empowers us to overcome our sinful nature, but sin is still a big deal and needs to be treated as such. Maybe we don't need to do everything prescribed here but I like the way it deals very seriously with the problem of sin.
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Friday, February 11, 2011

But then they learn of it

Leviticus 5:2-6 TNIV

Or if anyone unwittingly touches anything ceremonially unclean—whether the carcass of an unclean animal, wild or domestic, or of any unclean creature that moves along the ground—and they are unaware that they have become unclean, but then they come to realize their guilt; or if they touch human uncleanness—anything that would make them unclean—even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt; or if anyone thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil—in any matter one might carelessly swear about—even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt— when anyone realizes their guilt in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned and, as a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the Lord a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering ; and the priest shall make atonement for them for their sin.

My thoughts -

I want to say that I'm getting a lot out of Leviticus and I'm so glad I'm finally trying to study it some but that would be a lie. It's boring. It's repetitive. It's dealing with the mundane details of different kinds of offerings right now. Honestly I don't care about this any more than I care about the color thread for the priests' robes as prescribed in Exodus. It's tedious. Give me a good narrative. Create the world. Set aside a people. Deliver slaves. Do something.

But this section caught my attention in a way that I didn't expect. Here it is prescribe the types of offering to be made for sins that the person did not realize were being committed at the time. The constant in this id that the person later becomes aware of their sin. At that point the offering as described here is to be made.

Now, we don't go around sacrificing animals to atone for sin anymore. That's just not how we roll. But how often do we do something and not realize until much later that we have wronged someone? How do we respond to that? If you're like me you probably just shrug it off or defend yourself by saying, honestly, that you had no idea that what you were doing was wrong. You didn't know. You can't be held responsible, right?

How do we atone for sins we have committed without knowing that we were wrong? An offering is prescribed here. It has to be made right.
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Thursday, February 10, 2011

I have seen these people

Exodus 32:1-28 TNIV

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’

“I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “ Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’ ” Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.

When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, “There is the sound of war in the camp.”

Moses replied:

“It is not the sound of victory,

it is not the sound of defeat;

it is the sound of singing that I hear.”

When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. And he took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.

He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?”

“Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”

Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him.

Then he said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’ ” The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died.

My thoughts -

I don't know how to respond to this story. It continues and the Lord strikes them with a plague to atone for their sin of worshipping the idol Aaron made. But I just can't get past verse 28. Three thousand killed over this. And that wasn't the punishment for the sin. That was to see who would be loyal. I can't make that not horrific. I just can't. I'd like to but this is gruesome.

Bad things happen. Things get out of hand. Moses was gone for a while, and like they did with the water when they left Egypt the people seem to have forgotten who delivered them and how. Aaron lost control of the situation. Chaos ensued.

But the response seems disproportionate, doesn't it? It is good that Moses talked God down from destroying all the people but a lot still died and the rest suffered a plague. There are consequences to our actions and some things just suck and that's all there is to it. I can't make sense of all of this.

I guess the only thing I know for certain in this is that it is best to just not let things get too far gone. Far easier said than done, though.
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