The Gathering of Israel – My Interpretation

Introduction

In recent years, my religious tradition has placed a renewed emphasis on a concept we call the gathering of Israel. Gathering is a core belief in my faith codified succinctly if not slightly confusingly in our tenth of twelve articles of faith, articles that state core tenants of my faith. Like many ideas in religion, everything has a historical, orthodox, fundamentalist, and alternative interpretations and applications. Here I propose a way to interpret gathering that is expansive, inclusive and that speaks to the specific challenges facing people today.

Gathering – Definitions

We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisaical glory.

Article of Faith 10

The word “literal” in this sentence imposes quite a burden. Scripture and theology takes a much richer place in my life as metaphor. I am perfectly free to ignore the “literal” claim imposed by this phrase but perhaps I should at least try to take it seriously as a jumping off point. Israel has a literal meaning in terms of geography, history and people. The twelve tribes of Israel organized originally by Moses and Joshua after they left Egypt, fleeing as slaves. They eventually create a tiny, ancient nation subjected to the forces and temptations of surrounding nations to whom they would ultimately succumb. The Israel nation begins slowly as a set of twelve affiliated tribes governed loosely by different judged until they organize themselves into a kingdom, only to have that kingdom split into two – the Northern/Southern kingdoms. The Old Testament documents the scattering of the Northern tribes by Assyria who most likely assimilated into the surrounding nations, losing their identity as descendants of the Genesis patriarchs and as inheritors of that religious covenant. Judah, Benjamin and remnants of Levi survive through exile, scattering, and violence but continue to this day as a Jewish people with a rich history, theology and an ambition that includes the reconstitution of a Jewish state in Israel.

The Latter Day Saint faith, more so than most Christian traditions, attempts to graft a purely Jewish notion of history and nation into Christianity by claiming its own connection to Jewish heritage. Faithful members receive a patriarchal blessing and as part of that they are assigned membership to one of the twelve tribes. Most are assigned assigned membership to the tribe of Ephraim, one of the lost ten tribes. The tribe of Ephraim, Mormons believe has been designated to gather Israel in the last days. The Book of Mormon, in fact, is record of a remnant of the tribe of Manasseh and will become a key vehicle from which this gathering can occur. These tribal assignments could be literal, but mostly we accept membership through adoption, itself sort of a metaphor of a binding familial tie. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints believe as adopted members of the tribe of Ephraim, we have been designated to lead the effort of gathering Israel in preparation of the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Current Interpretations

The current prophet and president of the church, President Nelson has placed an emphasis on this gathering. Shortly after being called as prophet, he said to the youth of the church:

My dear young brothers and sisters, these surely are the latter days, and the Lord is hastening His work to gather Israel. That gathering is the most important thing taking place on earth today. Nothing else compares in magnitude, nothing else compares in importance, nothing else compares in majesty. And if you choose to, if you want to, you can be a big part of it. You can be a big part of something big, something grand, something majestic!

When we speak of the gathering, we are simply saying this fundamental truth: every one of our Heavenly Father’s children, on both sides of the veil, deserves to hear the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. They decide for themselves if they want to know more.

President Nelson

Reading that tenth article of faith is difficult to understand, but here President Nelson simplifies it – gathering is the work of being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which involves taking on covenants through ordinances like baptism and temple and then inviting others to do so as well. The additional work of geneology and proxy ordinances is also included in the work of gathering. This definition implies Israel is within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the gathering work amounts to bringing people within this particular church.

I don’t want to extrapolate too much. President Nelson does not necessarily limit gathering to missionary and geneology work, nor did he say explicitly that Israel can only be found within the church he leads. What he says is that this is part of the gathering work, but perhaps a small part of something bigger. And I should hope so. Just like Moses’ Israel was a tiny nation with limited geographical reach, the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a tiny branch within Christianity, a tiny strand within one of a number of other global religious movement. There is no way that the burden of gathering can be born on the shoulders of this church alone.

Is There a Better Interpretation?

Perhaps not a better interpretation, but certainly a more expansive interpretation. To think of what it means so gather, I think it’s helpful to think of what it means to scatter. Perhaps other words might help think about this idea differently – inclusive vs. divisive, building bridges vs. burning them down. In this sense, think of all the ways we scatter, at macro vs micro scale.

Scattering Activities:

  • Rejecting a loved one because they fail to live up to expectations. Kicking a member of the family out because they are gay. Rejecting a family member because of their religious beliefs.
  • Trump supporters who believe Democrats are driving the country to destruction. Democrats who cancel Trump supporters. Cancel culture. Talk of RINO’s.
  • Closed borders. Reducing immigrants wanting to come to America to work in pursuit of a better life as criminals.
  • War
  • The rich who live in housing within gated communities, sending their kids to private schools, and pressuring local governments to defund public schools.
  • Religious claims that elevate one faith over another.
  • Addiction. Excessive online activities. Isolation.

Gathering Activities

  • Interfaith organizations that cooperate to uplift their communities.
  • The rich giving away their resources to uplift marginal people and communities.
  • Bi-partisan efforts to find compromise legislation that includes the concerns and best ideas from both parties.
  • A humble recognition that no single perspective is looking at a complex world without bias and blind spots.
  • A recognition that black lives matter and because they do all lives matter as well.
  • We need to enforce our borders but we also need a robust pathway for continual immigration and we also need legitimate avenues for asylum claims.
  • The best way we can respond to war is to provide a safe haven for those most affected by it – we should be doing all we can to welcome Russian refugees fleeing Putin’s failed leadership.
  • Finding ways to reconcile and include the best ideas of science, art, humanities and religion. The university and the church cooperate in a give and take in search for both truth and the kind of truth that provides meaning and well-being in people’s lives.
  • Yes, we need individual churches to seek converts but we also recognize that different people will find the journey more satisfying in different faiths.
  • So many more ideas.

In Conclusion

The gathering of Israel is another way of pursuing something that has also been part of my faith – establishing Zion, creating a world where division dissolves and inequity disappears. Individuality blends with pluralism to create a world where there are no poor and where everyone can reach their potential as we support and sustain each other even if we don’t always understand or agree with one another. A world where we end exploitation, where we give up on the pursuit of wealth for wealth’s sake, and a world where we seek abundance broadly shared and broadly enjoyed. This is the work of gathering, and we can’t do it alone. We need everyone.

To bring it back to literal Israel, the Abrahamic covenant, the founding covenant of Israel, was to create a nation founded on the rule of law with a commitment to bless the entire earth. The promises of that covenant still exist but only as we thing bigger. Gathering of Israel means gathering everything that is good, united and linked to nurture and care for all who have been gathered.

And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of mount aZion, and upon her assemblies, a bcloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming cfire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence.

And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of arefuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain.

Isaiah 4:5-6

Come Follow Me: Proverbs/Ecclesiastes

Proverbs 1

My summary

We need to seek wisdom and understanding but sometimes this might meen we need to confront ideas that seem like “dark sayings (verse 6). Having a sense of wonder and awe (fear of the Lord) is really a precondition for even starting on the journey of obtaining knowledge (verse 7). We need to pay careful attention to the instruction of our parents and of those from the preceding generation. Their wisdom will adorn our heads with grace (verse 9). We must be careful to avoid those who would entice us toward sin or anything that seeks to gratify our own selfish desires through the exploitation of others. We will be tempted because we live in a world filled with needs. We hunger, we need shelter from at times brutal elements, we need medicine. At times we feel we are at risk of depravity, degradation or isolation and we desperately need comfort and support from others. But choosing a life of sin over wisdom is a trap that will serve us poorly in the end. In fact, if we do reject knowledge, we will do so with wisdom’s ever-present beckoning, imposing its offering upon us at every turn, coming as it does from the pull at our hearts when we feel or experience suffering and injustice, or simply as we notice unread books or an untaken class, or an un-pursued degree. Or when we find ourselves in conversations with others who seem to be further along than us. We can scorn our deficiencies and turn away from these learning opportunities but we do so at our own peril. At some point, our deficiencies will be exposed and we will experience real suffering and it will be too late to really deal with it.

Key verses

  • verse 3-4 subtilty to the simple
  • verse 6 – dark sayings.
  • verse 7 – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.
  • verse 9 – ornaments of grace
  • verse 15 – turn away from evil
  • verse 20 – wisdom crieth without
  • verse 28 – then shall ye call me and I shall not answer

Proverbs 2

Successfully obtaining wisdom requires immense effort and sacrifice. Think of the most precious treasure imaginable, the most desirable riches you could desire, seek for wisdom as if it were more precious than even that (verse 4) and only then will we find the knowledge of God (verse 5). To obtain wisdom requires one to be righteous and requires a person to seek for goodness for its own sake. You cannot obtain it for selfish purposes but only in the service of God and others (verse 6, 7). The pursuit of wisdom is righteousness and pursing righteousness produces wisdom. These principles are mutually reinforcing. Pursing this type of life will be enriching and “pleasant to the soul.” (verse 10).

There’s safety in this type of life. “Discretion preserves, understanding protects” (verse 11). Wickedness is to “forsake the guide of our youth” (verse 17) when we forget the covenant of our God (verse 17). This is deadness in the end. It’s no way to live and worse can be the end of us (verse 22).

Key verses

  • verse 4 Seek knowledge as if it’s silver.
  • verse 5 Understand the fear of the Lord.
  • verse 9 – Understand every good path.
  • verse 17 – Forsake the guide of her youth and the covenants with her God.

Proverbs 3

How do we really learn wisdom? It takes time and effort. We have to find a way to get truths and wisdom bound around our necks and written upon the fleshy tables of our hearts (verse 3). We will never be enough on our own, recognizing that in our journey “we have to trust in the Lord with all of our hearts, leaning not unto our own understanding (verse 5). How do we do that? We need to be ever-willing to recognize our own weakness (verse 7). We cannot get to hung up with our possessions. How do we do that? By donating them to the poor (verse 9, 10). We have to accept correction, recognizing that it’s a sign of love to be cared for, watched after and guided (verse 11-13).

The goal, always is wisdom. Happiness comes through its pursuit (v13). Wisdom is better than anything on earth, more precious than rubies (verse 15). Wisdom is the “tree of life” (verse 18). Creation is possible only through wisdom (verse 19, 20). We can find confidence in the Lord (verse 26). Wisdom requires righteous living so avoid evil (verse 29, 30, 31, 32).

Key verses

  • verse 3 Bind truth and wisdom around thy neck and upon our heart.
  • verse 5-6 Trust the Lord.
  • verse 9 – Honor God through charity.
  • verse 12 – Accept correction, for the Lord loveth who he correcteth.

Proverbs 4

We depend so much on our parent’s instructions. We need to listen for the good doctrine (verse 2), pursue wisdom (verse 5), forget it not (verse 5). Get wisdom, get understanding (verse 7). Exalt it and wisdom shall promote you in turn (verse 8). With understanding we can find straight paths, we can run without stumbling (verse 12). The path of the just is recognizable because it is full of light (verse 18) whereas wickedness is darkness (verse 19).

Proverbs 15

How can we live a good life? Be gentle with others, especially with those who don’t reciprocate it (verse 1). The righteous are pure inside and out and you can see it in the way they talk (verse 2, 4), their tongue is the “tree of life”. You can see it in their willingness to learn from their parents (verse 5), in their willingness to teach others (verse 7), through the way they pray (verse 8), the way they take correction when they make mistakes (verse 10). You can see it in their countenance (verse 13), their attitude toward new knowledge (verse 14), in the way they approach life (verse 15), the way they eat dinner with others (verse 17), the way they treat their parents and others in the preceding generation (verse 20), the way they take counsel (verse 22).
Verse 28 says the righteous studies toward an answer but the wicked just spout off nonsense.

Key verses

  • verse 1 – Soft answers
  • verse 4 – Wholesome tongue
  • verse 7 – Lips of the wise disperse knowledg
  • verse 13 – A merry heart
  • verse 17 – A modest dinner with love.
  • verse 28 – Righteous study to answer

Proverbs 16

The Lord requires effort. Prepare one’s heart (verse 1) and watch our tongue, this is of God. We think we’re clean but the Lord will truly make that judgment and we need to allow that to happen. Our works should be consecrated to God in the service of others (verse 3). Lifting oneself above another and especially above God is wrong. Our only hope is through the mercy and truth of God (verse 6) and its within righteousness we can find peace even with our enemies (verse 7). We should always follow the path of right (verse 8) even when we suffer financially for it. Our heart determines our path, rely on God to establish our path (verse 9). God is just (verse 11). Power ups the ante and those with power have greater responsibility given the influence and impact (verse 12). Wisdom is better than gold (verse 16). Pride will destroy us (verse 18). Be slow to anger (verse 32).

Key verses

  • v2 Everyone thinks they are pure, the Lord knows.
  • v6 Mercy and truth iniquity is purged.
  • v16 Wisdom better than gold.
  • v18 Pride before the fall
  • v19 Better to be humble with the lowly.
  • v32 Slow to anger

Ecclesiastes

1:18 For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

2:16 For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever

3:11 There is a time for everything, but the world is planted in our heart, and it is hopeless to understand it.

3:21-22 There may be nothing else, so enjoy our work now.

5:13-15 A warning against hoarding riches.

5:18-20 Enjoy what you have

6:7 All of our labor is for us to enjoy,

7:2-4 Funerals are better than parties, sorrow better than laughter, better to mourn than to laugh.

7:14 Enjoy prosperity, be mindful during adversity

8:1 A man’s wisdom maketh his face to shine.

8:17 There are things we will never be able to come close to understand.

9:9 Live life joyfully with those you love while your alive. That is our work.

9:11 Everything we get i by chance.

10: 16 Woe to the world when the king is a child

10:20 No matter what, curse not the king, curse not the rich, a bird shall carry thy voice…

11: 5,6 We don’t know anything so just work.

12:1 Remember God

12:13 Fear God and keep his commandments, that is all we can do.

Come Follow Me: Job

William Blake’s engravings illustrating the book of Job.

Introduction

Most people’s superficial knowledge of Job comes from the basic story illustrated within Chapters 1-2 where Job loses everything and then in Chapter 42 where everything is restored. The 38 chapters in between contain an incredibly rich, incredibly complicated, incredibly difficult to read poem that captures a debate between Job and three of his friends about why Job is suffering, God’s role in that suffering, and how one should respond and interpret suffering generally.

Job is inserted at a particular point in the Old Testament narrative. In the Christian version, it follows Esther, preceding Psalms, but it actually resides outside of time and place. Job is arguably not a part of the covenant Jewish people, though his book stands prominently within their sacred text. Much of the Old Testament connects personal and national righteousness to happening and a thriving life and nation. Israel desperately wants to understand its destruction to Babylon and believes it’s come from their own wickedness. The Old Testament makes that case pretty clearly. Job’s argument is different, that suffering often has no clearly understandable cause. Job is righteous but still loses everything anyways.

The Prologue

In the very first chapter, within the span of three verses, Job loses everything, all of his possessions, all of his children. Neighboring tribes steal his possessions. Fire reigns down on his sheep. A wind blows his house down killing all of his children. In chapter two, he loses his health. His wife, who shares much of his burden, suggests that he curse God and die. All of this comes, inexplicably from a wager between God and the adversary to see if Job would endure through inexplicable loss. Chapter two ends, when three of his friends come to comfort him. When they discover they cannot even recognize him, they weep and mourn, tear their clothes and sit with him for seven solid days in silence.

Job 3: Job breaks his silence

Finally and abruptly, Job breaks the silence. Here the narrative transitions from prose to poetry, pulling the reader into the emotional space of someone in deep pain, wanting reprieve that only death can bring, cursing the day he was born. Why did he not die at his birth (v11) he wonders. Death seems to be his only reprieve, the place where prisoners are at ease and even the wicked cease in troubling (v17, 18). His groaning is his bread, his roars pour forth as water. The phrases pour out poetically. Job here seems to be following the advice of his wife, or perhaps he despairs because his friends have nothing to offer him.

Job 4-28: The Grand Debate

Job’s eruption starts an incredibly long, emotional and escalating debate between him and his friends. These men seem to have a notion of a God who rewards the righteous and punish the wicked. They trust in a just world and a just God, with rules that make sense. None of them truly understand Job’s suffering and that suffering seems to push their understanding of God. They don’t give up what they think without a struggle. The wrestle begins.

Chapters 4-5, Eliphaz jumps in, encouraging Job to keep the faith and to trust in a God of justice.

Chapter 6-7, Job responds saying that his calamities are beyond what he can bare. He’s already at his breaking point. Pretty much immediately, Job loses faith in his friend’s ability to sustain and support him. In every response, Job shifts from his friends to confront God and bemoan his fate.

Chapter 8, Bildad makes an attempt, wondering that while Job is righteous, perhaps his children did something to warrant their fate. He suggests that he can learn something through his suffering and to trust in God.

Chapter 9-10, Job wonders if God even cares. Perhaps God doesn’t even hear him. He points out that God wounds him without cause and that this happens all of the time. God destroys the blameless and the guilty. Why, he wonders, if God created Job, why would he treat him in this way?

Chapter 11, Zophar wonders if Job is really so innocent. Perhaps there is some indiscretion Job does not know about and that if God would help him see it, Job can remove it, perhaps finding the healing and recovery he seeks.

Job 12-14, Job responds. He knows what they know. He complains that his friends are incompetent and demands to talk to God himself. If a man dies will he live again, he wonders? (14:14)

Job 15: Eliphaz jumps in again, warning Job that his speech betrays his sinfulness that his lips testify against him. Are not God’s consolations enough? God is just, the wicked man is in torment all of his days.

Job 16-17, Job again dispairs, his face is red with weeping (v16-17). He wonders if he’s lost all hope. (17:15)

Job 18, Bildad is inexplicably offended. Does Job think of them as brutes? He assures him the light of the wicked will fail. Again testifying of the justice of God.

Job 19, Job continues to dispair. Their words crush him, humiliate him. They all know God is at fault. He demands their pity. He testifies that redemption will come (19:25)

Job 20, Zophar jumps in yet again, again testifying to the justice of God. The joy of the wicked will be brief and it will perish.

Job 21, Job just asks his friends to listen to him. They are wrong, the wicked prosper all the time.

Job 22 – Eliphaz jumps in, wondering about Job, accusing him of his own guilt, pleading with him to stay close to God, to be wholehearted and good things will eventually come.

Job 23-24 – Job’s strength is spent. He wants to make his case to God but cannot find him. At this point, Job’s lens widens and realize the world is full of unjust and unnecessary suffering.

Job 25 – Bildad jumps in yet again. Saying that Job has got this wrong. All of humanity is guilty. No person is right with God.

Job 26 – Job stays firm. He condemns the help his friends give him. Until his death, he will affirm his integrity. He knows the truth. He is innocent and does not deserve what’s happening to him.

Job 29-31: Job’s Closing Remarks

In 29, Job remembers how good he had it earlier in his life. In 30, he laments his suffering. He’s become a byword, derided, condemned, no hope, just darkness. in 31, he affirms his innocence. He’s always been good, he’s cared for the poor, has been watchful of his actions, never taken for granted the blessings he has. His case is clear. He’s suffering and he does not deserve it.

Job 32-37: Elihu Jumps In One Final Time

At this point, Job finishes, he friends give up, but then Elihu, whose been listening to this exchange, realizing it’s coming to an unresolved conclusion jumps in and for six solid chapters makes his case. God is greater than man, God cares for us, remembers us, speaks to us, but we so often refuse to hear him. God is just if we would only commit ourselves to service. God is greater than we know. This argument is left without a response from Job.

Job 38-41: God comes in a whirlwind to respond to Job

Finally, finally, after all of that God appears in a whirlwind, but he ignores the entire argument, never addresses Job’s questions or demands. Instead, he pummels Job with questions. Who is he? Where was he when the universe was created? What does Job even know? Can he even begin to impugn God’s justice? He points to the leviathon and the behemoth, two beasts in nature, uncontrollable and beyond understanding, who can tame them? No one. The world is big, complex, massive, much bigger than Job’s world.

Job 42: Job’s Concession and the Epilogue

None of Job’s questions were answered but nonetheless Job’s interaction with God has deepened his knowledge. There’s something more there to learn. Job drops the case.

Here God condemns Job’s friends. Among all of them, only Job spoke truth. The story ends with Job regaining his friends, his health, he gains new possessions and has more children. But in the end, like the rest of us, Job dies.

Come Follow Me 1 Kings 17-19

Introductory Timeline

After the timeline of judges, where the Israel had spread out upon the land but were not cleanly united behind a single government, they institute a kingdom, rules in succession by Saul, David and Solomon. Solomon rules for nearly forty years, known for his wisdom and over the course of his reign becomes extravagantly wealthy. That wealth and power leads him into sin, forgetting his people, imposing burdens on them. On his death, his son Rehoboam reigns. The people plead with him to ease their burdens. Instead he doubles down, increasing the burdens provoking a rebellion already fermenting, splitting Israel into two. Rehoboam rules the south, populated by Judah Benjamin, Jeroboam rules the north, populated by the remaining ten tribes.

The Northern kingdom is much more volatile than the south. Jeroboam leaves the kingdom to Nadab, his son. Baasha overthrows Nadab to gain the kingdom and then passes it on to his son Elah. Zimri overthrows Elah to gain the kingdom only to lose it to Omri who eventually passes it on to Ahab. It’s here the confrontation between Ahab and Elijah begin.

1 King 17 – Drought

None of the kings in the northern kingdom are righteous, but according to Kings 16:30, Ahab was the worse of them all. He marries Jezebel, the daughter of the Ethbaal king of the Zidonians (31) and brought Baal worship into the Northern kingdom, building altars and groves dedicated to the worship of Baal.

The story kicks off abruptly. Elijah (whose name means My God is Yahweh) confronts Ahab, promising an extended drought in response to his wicked reign, ironic because Baal is a god of fertility and rain. Immediately after this briefly described encounter, Elijah flees, finding sustenance in isolation by the brook Cherith where he is fed by crows. After some time, the creek dries up and he’s told to seek sustenance from a widow in Zarephath. This detail is also interesting because this city is near Sidon where Jezebel is from and outside of Israel. He finds the widow gathering sticks, asks her first for water then for a morsel of bread. The widow tells Elijah, she has just a handful of meal and a little oil and she, at that moment, was preparing a final meal for her and her son before they would die. Eljiah promises her that if she feeds him first, that barrel of meal and cruse of oil shall not fail until the rain comes again. The widow believes and provides and receives the blessing promised.

This is an interesting story that leads to all sorts of questions, here are mine:

  • Why does Elijah transition from being sustained by birds and a river to a widow? What do we learn from isolation in nature? What do we learn from connection?
  • Why do you think Elijah goes all the way to Zarephath? Why do we sometimes need to learn from outsiders?
  • Why does Elijah choose a poor widow to sustain him? Why is it in the moments of our weakness we are asked to serve others?
  • What does the widow have to teach Elijah?  What about us?

1 King 17 – The Widows Boy Dies

Some time later, out of the blue, the widow’s son dies. The widow understandably questions this turn of events. Why would God save them at the moment when their food is about to run out only to later allow her son to die? Elijah has a similar question. He takes the boy and prays to God that the boy revives. The prayer is answered, the boy revives, and the widow declares her testimony to Elijah’s God.

  • Why does tragedy descend upon us even when we are in Gods’ service?
  • Here the son is revived, but this doesn’t happen. How can we recognize God’s hand in the face of tragedy? How can we move forward when it doesn’t seem God answers are prayers?
  • How does this experience prepare Elijah for his confrontation with Ahab?

1 Kings 18 – Elijah’s confrontation with Ahab

Three years into the drought, God tells Elijah its time for rain, but first, Elijah must confront Ahab, the cause of the drought. Elijah’s travels to Samaria. At this moment, Obadiah, a governor of Ahab’s house but a dedicated servant of God and protector of prophets whose life Jezebel sought, was asked by Ahab to help him find land for their flocks to feed, since water and grass were scarce. They went different directions in this search and it’s here Obadiah meets Elijah. Elijah asks Obadaih to tell Ahab he is here and would like to meet. Obadiah fears for his life. If he tells Ahab Elijah is here but Elijah does not present himself, Obadiah would die. Elijah promises he will follow through.

Elijah meets with Ahab who immediately accuses him of causing the drought. Elijah responds saying, no, Ahab was the cause. And then challenges Ahab’s prophets to a contest. Whoever’s God can reign fire upon an altar will be proven to be the true God. Ahab gathers 450 of Baal’s prophets. They kill a bullok, dress it and lay it upon wood. They spent the day crying out to Baal, leaping upon the altar, cutting themselves. Elijah mocks them, perhaps Baal is on a journey or sleeping, perhaps they need to cry louder. Still, their best efforts are unsuccessful.

Now, Elijah’s turn. He builds an alter on twelve stones to remind the people of the twelve tribes of Israel. He builds a trench around the alter, and drenches the wood with water three times, filling the trench. At the time of the evening sacrifice, he offers a quiet prayer, asking for God’s intervention that the people might turn their hearts to God. Immediately a fire drops down on the altar consuming it. Elijah kills the prophets of Baal by the brook Kishon, gets on the top of Carmel and predicts rain. After looking seven times, the clouds form, the rain comes and the drought is over. Questions

  • How do we halt between two opinions in ways that lead us from God?
  • What can we learn from Elijah’s method of making the sacrifice (full of symbols), prayer and the nature of prophets? 
  • In the face of suffering (drought in this case) what can we do proactively to address the causes of that suffering in ways that are effective?

1 Kings 19 – Elijah’s Sorrow

When Jezebel hears of this encounter, she vows to take Elijah’s life. Elijah flees for his life down to Beer-sheba, leaving his servant there, and he continues on into the wilderness. He prostrates himself by a tree and wants to die. An angel comes and gives him cake and water, strengthening him. He goes into Horeb into a cave and continues to wonder of the futility of his efforts, sorrowing. Elijah experiences strong wind, an earthquake, a fire, but God was in neither. He finally feels God in a still, small voice.

God tells Elijah, first, that he’s not alone, that there are 7000 others in Israel that have not bowed to Baal. Further, he tells Elijah he has more for him to do, to anoint Hazael king over Syra and Jehu king over Israel, and Elisha shall be anointed prophet.

Elijah obeys.

  • How can we turn to God when we feel isolated, alone, frustrated or otherwise depressed?
  • How does it help to know we are not alone? 
  • What does God’s intervention teach us? How can we feel God’s spirit? How can being called into service help with depression?

Come Follow Me – Judges

Introduction

Judges cover the hundreds of years between Joshua’s death and the beginning of the Israeli Kings beginning with Saul. The book has three sections: an introduction providing a basic overview of the purposes of judges (Judges 1 – Judges 3:6), an overview of twelve judges (Judges 3:7-16:31) and concludes with two stories of lawlessness and idolatry. The judges described were not actual judges in the way we think of judges. Rather, they were regional leaders, sometimes called by God to deliver different parts of Israel from oppression from neighboring tribes. The stories have a regular pattern. The people feel oppression for a number of years, cry to the Lord for deliverance, at which time a judge is called by the Lord to deliver their people, the people enjoy a period of rest and peace. The book describe a few judges in great detail, the rest of them are mentioned in passing.

War

The book of Judges is extremely violent in often disturbing ways. The purpose of Judges is not to provide a model of righteousness, but rather how difficult it is to fulfill the promises of Abraham – to build up a covenant nation whose purpose is to bless the earth. The Israeli’s are commonly falling into bad habits of those around them, resort to violence and other serious ethical failings. They do have a national memory, consistently remembering their deliverance from Egypt, God’s hand in that deliverance, and with that, as times become desperate, they call on God for deliverance, often coming through violence. But this never results in long-term peace.

God’s alternatives are clear. God desires peace.

Therefore, arenounce war and proclaim peace, and seek diligently to bturn the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children;

Doctrine and Covenants 98:16

Blessed are the apeacemakers: for they shall be called the bchildren of God.

But I say unto you, aLove your benemies, cbless them that dcurse you, do egood to them that fhate you, and gpray for them which despitefully use you, and hpersecute you;

Matthew 5:9

Judges 2

This chapter offers a nice introduction of the theme of judges. In verse 1, an angel promises that God “will never break my covenant with (Israel)”. Israel is warned about the non-covenant people they share the land with that will be “as thorns in (their) sides” (verse 3) when they stumble. After Joshua’s death and as that generation passed on, the next generation after them “knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel” (verse 10). In their rebellions, they fall into the hands of their enemies.

Nevertheless the Lord raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them.

Judges 2:16

Each time to people forget God, they fall under the rule of neighboring tribes. A number of years pass and they pray for deliverance, the Lord raise up judges who find a way to deliver the people. They people enjoy peace for time until they again forget God, rinse, cycle repeat (verse 16-19).

Questions:
Why is it so hard to pass on knowledge of the Lord to the next generation?

How can we be influenced by good and influence for good as we are naturally integrated into a broader society that does not live within the same covenantal relationship with God?

Judges 3 – Ehud, the left-handed judge

Judges 3 spends most of the chapter describing the judge Ehud, a left-handed judge who confronts Eglon king of Moab who ruled over Israel for 18 years. Eglon is fat, Ehud is lefthanded, both facts are relevant to the story. Ehud makes a small two edge dagger and hides it under his clothes on his right thigh. In this sense, being left-handed is an advantage considering the people who would protect the king would expect and search him for weapons on his left side not realizing he’s left-handed. Ehud and his people present an offering for Eglon. Ehud sends everyone away, saying he has a secret errand for the king. Unsuspecting, Eglon allows Ehud to come to him alone at which point Ehud thrusts the dagger into Eglon’s stomach. Eglon’s fat “closed upon the blade” preventing Ehud from pulling it out. Ehud flees. His people assume, with the doors locked, that Eglon was disposed, giving Ehud an opportunity to escape. They finally break in discovering their dead king.

With the Moabite king dead, Ehud organizes his troops for battle and “Moab was subdued”.

Judges 4 – Deborah, the prophetess

Deborah is the only female judge sited in Judges, the only one who actually is said to offer judgment and the only one described with prophetic gifts. She is not, however, a war general, and instead calls Barak to deliver their people from Jabin king of Canaan, whose captain and key the story is Sisera. Barak refuses unless Deborah joins him. Deborah agrees, but prophesies that the glory will go to a woman deliverer.

At Deborah’s urging, Barak’s army confronts Sisera’s army, defeating them. Sisera flees leaving his people but pursued by Barak. Sisera seeks rest at the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, believing he’s found an ally and a source of support. Jael plays the part at first, offering him milk, shelters him and even covers him with a blanket. Once asleep, she drives a tent nail through Sisera’s temple, fulfilling Deborah’s prophecy.

Question:
How can unusual, looked over or unexpected gifts or circumstances be the means for accomplishing God’s plan for us?

Judges 6-8 Gideon

This story opens with the Midianites harrasing the Israelites like “grasshoppers for multitude”, devastating their livelihood. In verse 6:6, the Israelites cry to the Lord. An angel of the Lord visits Gideon saying the Lord is with him, a mighty man of valour (verse 6:12). Gideon questions the angel, remembering God’s past willingness to deliver Israel, wondering why God forsakes them now. God calls Gideon to be the deliverer. Like Moses, Gideon shrinks at first, saying “my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (verse 6:15).

Gideon, still unsure, asks for a sign as assurance (verse 6:17). Gideon prepares food, places them on a rock, the angel touches the rock and a fire rises up out of the rock and consumes the food, giving Gideon the sign he seeks.

The first thing God tells Gideon to do is to tear down the altar of Baal and built up an altar to God in its stead, offering a burnt sacrifice on it, something Gideon does with ten men in the middle of the night. When the Midianites discover this, they quickly realize it was Gideon’s doing and demand his father, Joash, to turn Gideon over so that they can put him to death. Joash defends his son telling them to let Baal fight his own battles.

The Midianites and the Amalekites gather for a battle, and Gideon gathers people from Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali. Additionally, he asks for further reassurance involving a fleece of wool on the floor. Assured, Gideon prepares for battle, but the Lord tells him he has too many people. In response, Gideon tells anyone who is “fearful and afraid” to leave. 22,000 people leave, but still with 10,000 left behind, the Lord still says Gideon has too many and offers an extremely random an unrelated for battle filtering mechanism. The army are told to go down to the river to drink. Any of them who drink the water with their hands can remain. Those who get on their knees to drink straight from the pool are dismissed. This left 300 soldiers remaining, sufficiently small enough to go to battle.

Three hundred Israelis against the Midianites and Alalekites who “lay along in the valley like grasshoppers” (verse 7:12). Gideon in preparation went down with his servant, Phurah to scout things out in secret and overhears a man tell another about his dream, who then interprets it. This dream assures Gideon of their impending success. He returns, divides the 300 men into three companies and stations them around their enemies’ camps, with a trumpet in one hand and a lamp in another, but notably no weapons. In the middle of the night, just at the beginning of the middle watch, they blow their trumpets, hold up their lamps, injecting chaos into the minds of their enemies causing them to flee.

In chapter 8, Gideon is shown to be a much more decisive leader, completes his overthrow of his enemies and is ultimately offered the position of king, , “I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: The Lord shall rule over you.”

Questions:

How can we rise up to our challenges when we feel overwhelmed?

How does knowing God is with us help? How can we get that assurance?

Can we over-prepare? How come sometimes the Lord asks us to become more vulnerable? Can you think of applications?

Judges 13-16 Samson

Chapter 13 focuses on Samson’s mother. With previous judges, they are called into action as adults, directly by God through a prophet or by an angel. With Samson, his mother is called to bring forth a child that will be dedicated to called as a Nazarite. Even from the womb, she is not to take “strong drink, neither eat any unclean thing: for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb to the day of his death.” (Judges 13:7). Manoah, the father, is not included in the original vision but wants in and asks God for that visitation. The angel comes again, but again to his wife. His wife summons her husband and they, together, encounter the angel. Like Gideon, Manoah offers a sacrifice upon a rock, and like with Gideon a flame consumes it and the angel disappears, confirming the angel’s divine mission.

The remaining chapters in this section focuses on Samson who over and over again uses his gifts not for the benefit of Israel but for his own purposes. In Chapter 14, he desires a woman from the Philistines. On his way, Samson kills a lion unknown to his parents. Later, on a return trip, he sees a swarm of bees with honey in the lion, eats and takes honey for his parents.

Still later, at the wedding feast, his prospective wife brings thirty companions to which Samson offers a riddle they have no hope in answering, wagering thirty sheets and garments as part of the wager. His to-be-wife’s companions badger Samson’s wife to find out the answer or risk having their house burned down. She badgers her husband for seven days and finally he tells her. When the companions successfully answer the riddle, Samson expresses anger to his wife, goes to Ashkelon and kills thirty men in order to honor the wager. In response, the wife is given to his companion.

When Samson discovers he lost his wife, he catches three hundred foxes and sets them loose on the Phillistine corn, destroying their crops, vineyards and olives. The Philistines respond by killing Samson’s wife and father. Samson response by killing them with “a great slaughter (Judges 15:8). The Philistines respond by threatening Judah. They convince the men of Judah to deliver to them Samson. Samson allows the men of Judah to bind him and deliver him to the Phillistines promising him they will not attack him themselves.

Bound and delivered, Samson uses his strength to break the cords. He sees a nearby jawbone of an ass and kills one thousand men with it. After the battle, he is thirsty and for the first time, calls on God to provide water, which is provided.

The final chapter (16) begins with Samson sleeping with a harlot. The Gazites want to kill him and wait for him in the gate of the city. Samson waits until nightfall and takes the doors of the gate and the two posts and carries them to the top of a hill. After that, he falls in love with Delilah.

The Philistines see an opening through his wife and offers her a lot of money to find out how to weaken Samson. After multiple attempts to discover Samson’s strength, Delilah finally discovers the secret is his hair and she has it cut off. The Philistines subdue Samson, gouge his eyes and imprisons him.

The story ends when the Philistines bring him brought him out of prison and tie him between two pillars in order to mock him. Samson finds renewed strength, brings down the pillars killing him and all those who were there celebrating.

Questions:

What lessons can we learn from Samson’s birth and the way it echoes Abraham’s, Jesus’ and John the Baptist?

How does this echo the birth of our own children?

Samson has obvious gifts but uses them for selfish purposes. What are the difficulties, dangers and temptations of having gifts that put us in positions of power and authority over others?

Come Follow Me – Numbers (Numbers 11-14, 20-24)

Introduction

Of the four standard works, the Old Testament has to be the most challenging but perhaps also the most rewarding. The narratives are deceptively complex in ways that prevent quick, superficial interpretations and as a result map quite well onto the complexity of our actual lives. The prophets are flawed, the covenant people are often as troubled as the people they contend with. Even God, at times, acts in mystifyingly, seemingly human ways. Fundamentalist interpretations of the text have to flatten out all of this complexity in order to preserve fundamentalist loyalties. A manipulative reader must cherry pick, hand-wave past contradictions, and otherwise force the text into the shape the reader already had in mind for it. Why even read the text with this objective? Many don’t.

I, like many, believe this text to be set apart as sacred scripture and as such, I’m required dig in and figure out what God is trying to teach through these complicated, confusing and sometimes contradictory narratives. The words come at me through thousands of years of translators and redactors. Flawed people wrote these words down, flawed people redacted, compiled and translated the text over time. We don’t have to accept every word as the literal word of God, but we ought to take it seriously.

With that as introduction, I’d like to go through the book of Numbers from all of the perspectives offered – Moses obviously, but also other leaders identified, Moses, Miriam, Caleb, Joshua and Balaam, and of course from the perspective of the Israelites as well as those the Israelites encounter. Come Follow Me suggests the focus be placed on Numbers 11-14 and Numbers 20-24. (The Old Testament is really, really long).

Moses

Moses was born an Israelite of the tribe of Levi, the tribe ultimately responsible to administer the tabernacle. But this was by birth. Culturally, he was raised in the Pharaoh’s household, raised not as an Israelite but as an elite part of the Egyptian class. As a young man, encountering injustice, he slays an Egyptian and then ultimately flees, realizing his life is in danger. Away from both Egypt and the Israelites, he marries and raises a family. In this setting, he’s called by God to rescue the Israeli people from slavery. I mention this to point out Moses’ awkward and disconnected relationship with the Israelites. He did not directly experience the slavery of his people. He was raised with the comforts of power but then flees from the conflict to save his own life. Only as an older man, he is called into service and leadership but reluctantly and with uncertainty. Ultimately and over time, Moses becomes a great conduit of God’s law and power. The rescue from Egypt was done by the power of God with very little help from Moses . But Moses led the people out of Egypt, received and administered the law and was the religious leader of this early Israelite nation.

Israelites

The Israelites were multiple generations removed from Jacob and Joseph by the time Moses came to rescue them from slavery. The Lord had not instituted formal religious ritual or an expansive law. Noah and Abraham were given instructions and commandments, but it’s far from clear how much of this was passed down. Joseph, in Egypt, showed a resilience and a natural ability to depend on God in the face of trouble, receiving revelatory dreams and turning bad situations in his favor. But he was clearly fully acclimated within Egyptian culture, setting up his family for what would ultimately become generational slavery in Egypt. By the time Moses arrived, the Israelites had born the increasing burden of slavery that proved unifying but also gave them burdens and weaknesses that needed to be rooted out if they were to become the nation God wanted them to be. Even their deliverance was more God remembering the promises made to Abraham rather than the Israelites really asking for it.

Numbers describe their journeyings through the desert. Almost from the get-go, whenever they faced difficulties, rather than lean on a dependency of God, time after time, they yearn for a return to what they know – Egypt.

Moses’ Burdens – Numbers 11:

This chapter describes two episodes of Israelite’s complaining, both times incurring God’s wrath and then ultimate redemption through Moses’s interventions. The first is very brief. The people complain in verse 1 and God responds with fire. The people plead to Moses for help (verse 2), and Moses prays to God and the fire dies down. The second complaint is more specific – the people are tired of manna, remembering the meat, cucumbers, melons, and other diversity of food they enjoyed in Egypt, perhaps forgetting the slavery bits. This sets Moses off. Moses hears these complaints and decries the burdens of leadership he’s forced to carry in verses 11-15, culminating in a plea for God to just kill him now.

God’s responds to Moses’ burdens by calling seventy of Israel’s elder. “I (God) will draw upon the spirit that is on you and put it upon them; they shall share the burden that is on you and put it upon them; and you shall not bear it alone.” (verse 16, 17).

The Lord promises Moses that he will send enough meat to consume them for an entire month, so much meat that it will come out of their nostrils. Moses wonders how this could be done, in verse 23, the response, “Is there a limit to the Lord’s power?”.

Seventy people are called out to the tabernacle and blessed with the Lord’s spirit such that “they spoke in ecstasy” (verse 25). Two men, Eldad and Medad, who weren’t called, remained in camp but receive the spirit as well. Joshua pleads for Moses to restrain them. Moses’ responds:

“Are you wrought up on my account? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them!”

Numbers 11:29

From this chapter we see a Moses burdened with leadership, weighed down by the concerns of the people he loves, who seem to constantly want to reject Moses’ offerings and visions, rather preferring to return to the people who had enslaved them. We see a Moses that does not seek for power or rejoice in hierarchy, a sort of reluctant leader, who wishes his people would stand up and seek God for themselves. He seems reluctant to delegate, the command for delegation and hierarchy comes from God to help Moses with his burdens.

Israelite Difficulty

Ultimately God responds to their desire for food diversity by sending quail. They engorge themselves on the unexpected abundance, but this abundance comes with a curse. The chapter ends with a plague with quail still in their teeth.

Moses’ Meakness and Sibling Rivalry – Numbers 12

In chapter 12, Moses’ brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam question both Moses’ authority and marriage. (verse 1, 2). “‘Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?'” The narrative pauses at this question to describe Moses in verse 3, “Moses was a very humble man, more so than any other on earth.”

It’s not Moses that confronts Aaron and Miriam, it’s God. They meet God at the Tent of Meeting and Miriam is struck with leprosy. Moses prays for Miriam and is told that after seven days, banished from the camp, she will be healed and may return. The people wait for Miriam’s return before setting off again on their journey.

Moses has often been the reluctant leader but always willing to respond to God’s call. Time after time, Moses receives the brunt of the people’s criticisms and grumblings. Time after time, Moses responds with love, service and ultimately redemption. Here, his siblings question both his authority and his marriage. God intervenes, not Moses. Miriam receives the blunt of the consequence and then Moses advocates on behalf of Miriam to God.

Moses the Advocate, the Israelite Fears and then Overcompensates – Numbers 13-14

In Numbers 13, Moses sends representatives from each of the twelve tribes into Canaan to scout it out. Canaan is their ultimate destination, the land promised to Abraham as the blessed land where a righteous nation would be established. Unanimously they declare the land full of abundance but also worry that the people are too formidable for a confrontation with the Israelites. Caleb and Joshua pronounce faith that God will deliver this land, the rest of the people, once again wish they had never left Egypt.

Verse 11, the Lord repeats an earlier desire to give up on the people and replace them with Moses’ seed. Moses resists this plan in almost the exact way he resisted it the first time it was proposed. What would the Egyptians think if the Lord gives up on these people (verse 17)? Moses reminds God of his capacity to forgive with mercy (verse 18). And then pleads with God for forgiveness of this people.

The Lord forgives the Israelites but they lose the right to enter Canaan, postponing this blessing for the next generation (and to Joshua and Caleb (verse 30)). When the Israelites realize they will not in fact be able to takeover Canaan and will be forced to wander the wilderness, homeless, for forty years, they realize their mistake and vow to try anyway. Moses warns them against this. They will not succeed without God, and they don’t to devastating effect.

Here again, Moses, the dutiful leader of a people still struggling to rid themselves of the legacy inherited from Egypt, lacking confidence both in themselves and in God. Lacking it because they haven’t earned that confidence in themselves, nor have yet learned how to completely trust in God, not yet prepared to begin a nation.

Moses Forgets the Source of His Power, So Do the Israelites – Numbers 20

They give up on Canaan and move on, still in the desert. In Numbers 20, the Israelites worry about water. What’s so toxic about their complaints, time after time it’s coupled with either a desire to return to Egypt or a regret of ever having left. Moses and Aaron receive instruction from God to call forth water from a rock. Instead, Moses announces his ability to get water from the rock and then strikes it.

In this moment, perhaps, God realizes Moses isn’t quite up to the task of leading them into Canaan, which is understandably extremely difficult work. In verse 12:

“Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land I have given them.”

Numbers 20:12

In this chapter they encounter the people of Edom, requesting safe passage through the city which they are denied. To avoid conflict they must head south and around Edom. Near Mount Hor, Aaron dies, denying him the blessing of seeing their arrival into Canaan. Aaron is beloved by his people, Moses brother and religious counselor but unlike Moses someone who had lived and suffered with the people.

The Israelites Grow in Strength as they learn to trust in God – Numbers 21

The chapter opens with an encounter with the king of Arad who initially captures some of the Israelites in battle. After Israel vows with the Lord, the Lord delivers them victories as a preview of coming future successes in battle.

For the final time, the people after years of wandering, again complain about the food and regret their departure from Egypt. This time the people are plagued with serpents. The people immediately recognize the connection and plead to Moses for an intervention. Here is where God tells Moses to build a staff made up of a bronze serpent. If the people look at the staff they will live.

This chapter concludes with further battles. As Israel pushes north they encounter and defeat the Amorites and King Og of Bashan allowing them to continue on to the steppes of Moab across the Jordan from Jericho.

Balak and Balaam – Numbers 22-24

The reputation that comes from these Israelite military victories grow to an extent that Balak, king of Moab fears what Israel might do to them and seeks Balaam, a religious figure, to curse Israel. Balaam speaks to God and receives the instruction not to curse them for they are God’s people. Balaam refuses Balak’s request refusing to go against God’s counsel. Balak tries again, offering riches, really offering anything Balaam might want.

Baalam’s response to Balak through these chapters is consistent expressed in Numbers 22:18 but repeated throughout.

Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything, big or little, contrary to the command of the Lord my God.”

Numbers 22:18

Balaam’s power does not come from within but comes from God and Balaam recognizes he does not have the to control God at all. Balak’s insistence, pulls Balaam to him in which he tries three times to get him to curse the Israelites by placing him in three different perspectives. All three times Balaam blesses rather than curses Israel.

I cannot skip the truly wild incident of the talking donkey. On his way to Moab, riding a donkey, the donkey is blocked by an angel that the donkey sees but Balaam does not. Balaam beats the donkey into proceeding but in three attempts the donkey refuses to move. Finally, the donkey speaks, asking Balaam why he would beat him. Eventually Balaam sees the angel, repents, and is further repeated to only speak the words God gives him.

We can’t change reality, we can only face it with courage, truth and grace. Balaam could have vocalized a cursing, that he refused to speaks to his relationship to the true God. Even a donkey could see this.

Conclusion

This lesson ends with Balaam, a prophet residing without the Israeli camp who had direct access to God, personifying Moses’ desire that all people would become a prophet. Israel takes forty years and possibly the next generation to grow into the kind of people worthy to receive their inheritance, to begin a nation as a covenant people in service to God. I don’t think those who escaped Egypt should distress over this turn of events. They were in difficult circumstances, asked to do something that turned out to be beyond them. That vision was left up to their children. Every parent wants their children to go beyond them, a burden we impose that’s not always fair. But in this case, it’s ultimately successful. Moses is a central figure in the Israelite history, a founding father of the nation. Throughout it all, they were successful as they leaned into the mission God had for them to fulfill. That mission is both unique and individual to each of us.

Come Follow Me: Exodus 24; 31-34

Introduction

First a bit of context. The Israelites have escaped Egypt by virtue of the Red Sea and are now wandering through the desert of the Sinai Peninsula. At this point, they have paused near Mt. Sinai where Moses receives the law including famously the ten commandments as well as other instructions. The first map shows the possible route of the Exodus. The second map is a zoomed out version of the area with modern day geography.

Exodus 24

Preceding Exodus 24, Moses received the law from God, but the people had not yet heard it, neither is God done with instruction. Still to come is information about the tabernacle, its purpose, instructions on how to build it and ultimately how to administer it. The tabernacle is the means through which the people of Israel will gain access to God through regular ritual, ordinance and a reminder of their ever-present covenants. However, none of that has happened at this point. It’s not obvious Moses even anticipates or understands what’s still left to learn. In chapter 24, he appears anxious to connect with his people. Also it’s important to recall the nature of the covenant that God is so desperately trying to make alive in this people He has chosen, repeated beautifully in Exodus 19:4-6

Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on aeagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will aobey my voice indeed, and keep my bcovenant, then ye shall be a cpeculiar dtreasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a akingdom of bpriests, and an choly dnation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.

Exodus 19:4-6

In verses Exodus 24:1-3, God calls Moses and those who will become the priestly leaders back up to the mountain for more instruction. Verse 1 “Come up unto the Lord, though, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel.” Moses alone will ascent to where God will instruct, but Aaron and others so designated will ascend partway.

But Moses does not immediately head this call. Instead, perhaps realizing he might be up on the mountain for awhile, attempts to nurture, succor and ultimately bind the people to the laws through covenant. He builds an altar, representing God and twelve pillars, representing the people. He gives them the law, sacrifices oxen, sprinkles blood on both the altar and the people, although people here likely means the twelve pillars.

This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord now makes with you concerning all these commands.

Exodus 24:8

Once this ordinance completes, he heads up with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel as instructed to meet with the Lord. On their way up, in verse 10, they “saw the God of Israel” and in verse 11 “they saw God, and did eat and drink”.

Finally, Moses leaves his companions behind and ascends further into the clouds that cover the mountain (verse 15). Here God is hidden from Moses in the clouds for six days until on the seventh, Moses is called in. Perhaps the delay was needed to give Moses some time to prepare. Nevertheless, the Israelites witness a “consuming fire on the top of the mountain (verse 17) remaining there with the Lord for 40 days and 40 nights (verse 18).

Exodus 31

Exodus 25-31 contains the record of the instruction, consisting mostly of creating a sacred space, the tabernacle that will travel with the Israelites through the wilderness, a place God may dwell with His people. Chapter 31, however, describes sacred time. But first, in the early verses, Bazelel and Aholiab are identified as men with special skill, ability and knowledge to make the designs for the tabernacle. Next, though the Lord establishes a sign of the covenant through Sabbath observance. Sacred time, a time to rest, rejuvenate and to look upward. Coming to a group of people who endured 400 years of slavery, working taskmasters, building monuments to the Pharoah, having one day in seven as rest must have come as a relief.

Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my asabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.

Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual acovenant.

It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in asix days the Lord bmade heaven and earth, and on the cseventh day he drested, and was erefreshed.

Exodus 31:13, 16, 17

Exodus 31 concludes with a pronouncement that God wrote “tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God”. Is there anywhere else in the text that describes words written directly by God? Interesting that before Moses embarked on this journey to God, he wrote down his knowledge of the law, on his second trip up into the mountains, he comes down with God’s written law.

Exodus 32

The last thing the Israelites see is what appears to be a consuming fire on the mountaintop in the very place Moses was heading, then they do not hear him for 40 days. It’s good to remember, again, these are former slaves to the Pharaoh, who were rescued by God without asking for it or really fully understanding it. God does all the work, orchestrated through increasing negotiations between Moses and Aaron and the Pharaoh. They were called into the Exodus by Moses, who was also learning how to lead this people. It’s within that context, we get the iconic story of the golden calf with some amount of sympathy.

In verse 1, the people entreat Aaron to “make us gods”. They had so little experience with God and that experience was mediated through Moses who was now absent. They were homeless, wandering in the desert, hungering for direction.

Aaron, the entrusted leader with Moses away, concedes to their demands, asking them to bring all of the golden earrings they brought with them from Egypt and with that gold, Aaron creates a calf (verse 4). The next day, they rise up, offer burnt offerings and sit down to eat, drink and play, somewhat of an echo of the rituals Moses lead in chapter 24. Perhaps this was an attempt by Aaron to mimic Moses, merging influences from Egypt (the calf) with the rituals witnessed.

Meanwhile, Moses still on the top of the mountain in communion with God, hears from God that his people have corrupted themselves. God wants to give up and start anew with Moses.

And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a astiffnecked people: Now therefore let me alone, that my awrath may wax hot against them, and that I may bconsume them: and I will make of thee a great cnation.

Exodus 32: 9-10

Moses, echoing Abraham’s earlier negotiations, pushes back, reminding God that He delivered them from Egypt and what would people think if that deliverance ended with their destruction in the desert. He further reminds God of the covenants he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Sometimes we all need someone to intercede on our behalf. Sometimes we need to intercede on another’s behalf. God knew what was happening, but not sure Moses in fact did. Verse 19:

And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he asaw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ banger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and cbrake them beneath the mount.

Exodus 32:19

When Moses actually witnesses the scene, he loses it, breaks the very tables God created, grinds the calf to a powder and makes the people drink it. He then confronts Aaron who attempts to shifts blame to the people and softens his own role in the ordeal in verse 24:

And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.

Exodus 32:24

Perhaps for the first time seeing things the way God sees them, realizing desperate action is required, calls for a purge. The sons of Levi volunteer and ultimately kill 3000 men. More contrite, Moses returns to the Lord hoping to find redemption:

And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have asinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the Lord; bperadventure I shall make an catonement for your sin.

Exodus 32:30

Moses pleads on behalf of his people for forgiveness and then offers to pay the punishment, telling God to “blot” him out fo the book. God does neither. Further reconciliation is required.

Exodus 33

God must now deal with the reality of a people not fully consecrated to him and responds accordingly. The promises are still there. The land of milk and honey promised to them awaits, but perhaps for their offspring. God will no longer be able to be in their midst, but an angel shall “go before thee”. They still had the tabernacle, but it was moved outside of camp requiring anyone who sought the Lord to leave camp to do it.

In addition, the people mourned this loss as they realized the extent of their disconnection from God. In verse 4, “when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments”. They couldn’t connect to God, they eskewed all reminders of the idol that brought on that separation.

The rest of the chapter describes Moses interaction with God in the tabernacle. Here, Moses begins his own transformation, closing his own gap with God as he earnestly strives to atone for the sins of the people he leads. The Lord speaking to Moses “face to face” (verse 11). In verse 13, Moses prays to God, recognizing he has found grace, that God should “consider this nation they people.” Verse 16, Moses pleads for more intimate knowledge of God’s ways and further reconciliation for Israel. How shall the people know they have found grace if they remain separated from God. Verse 17, God concedes on Moses’ behalf. The chapter concludes when God gives Moses a view of his person.

Exodus 34

Having dealt with the incident of idolatry, Moses returns to the mountain for forty more days. Nobody journeys with him even part of the way. This chapter describes the nature of God, “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (verse 6, 7).

Moses pleads that God “take us (the people) for thine inheritance” (verse 9). Next, God warns against intermixing with the culture and the religion of the people they encounter. Again a reiteration to “make thee no molten gods” verse 17. This chapter appears to be a reiteration of the earlier law against idolatry and a plea to sanctify the sabbath.

The tablets Moses had previously destroyed get replaced again with the ten commandments (verse 28). When he returns, his face radiates. The people of Israel reclaim their conduit to God through Moses their prophet.

Conclusions

This lesson centers the message round Israel’s mistaken impulse to create the golden calf. Moses had already spent time receiving the law, he comes down and attempts to bind the people through a blood ordinance to God and then leaves them for forty days to receive instruction on the tabernacle. While gone, the people fall into idolatry. Moses returns, deals with it and then returns back to God to ultimately receive forgiveness, reconciliation, and ultimately spends an additional 40 days receiving the covenant anew.

What can we learn from this episode? How are we beholden to idols? How can we dedicate and consecrate our lives to God? How can we enjoy God’s presence in our lives? What can we learn about repentance and our own efforts at true atonement? What do we learn about the nature of God from these episodes?

Easter

The central doctrine driving Christianity is Jesus’s victory over sin and death that is both remembered and celebrated during this Easter season. I grew up with certain narratives about how to view, interpret and internalize Christ’s atonement in ways that I simultaneously took for granted and was completely mystified by. Historically, my Easter experiences haven’t been moments of deep reckoning with these mysteries. Rather, my Sunday experiences have the same basic feel week after week with only slight variations even during religious holidays. Tomorrow, there will be Easter themed talks, our choir has been working on an Easter musical number they will perform and it’s my turn to teach Sunday School.

This year in Sunday school, we’ve been studying the Old Testament, timed to be working through the Exodus story just as the Easter and Passover religious holidays arrive. To really parse this out with the detail it deserves is going to take some time and is beyond the scope of both this post, my training and my Sunday School lesson tomorrow, but hopefully I can point out broad themes.

The Exodus

Before Exodus, Israel was a person (previously named Jacob) who had twelve sons who all ended up in Egypt because a famine forced this migration after Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph, had been sold by his jealous brothers into slavery in Egypt. Joseph, by good fortune and revelatory skill, rose up to become second only to the Pharaoh in power and instituted a program to store food in preparation for that very famine that drove his family into Egypt with him. Joseph’s family prospered in Egypt because of Joseph’s position and power, receiving their own land, special privileges and access to resources that were broadly unavailable to the rest of the country. This privilege worked against them in subsequent generations. The next Pharaoh, not having the same feelings of loyalty toward Joseph’s progeny, worried that their increasing numbers posed a threat and as a result imposed escalating levels of burden in an attempts to control and reduce their numbers and power.

This is the setup for Exodus, the pharaoh, the wicked dictator suppressing and enslaving the chosen people of Israel. God calls first Moses and then through Moses, Aaron to lead the people out of Egypt in a manner that there would be no question of God’s intervention. These attempts consisted of an increasingly virulent Godly interventions that culminate in a sacrifice. The Lord required each family in Israel to sacrifice a “lamb without blemish, a male of the first year” (Exodus 12:5) then they shall take the blood and “strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses.” (Exodus 12:7). The Lord would then “pass through the land of Egypt this night, and smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast” (verse 12). Those with blood on their door will be passed over. This event would then be memorialized in ritual as a way to keep this miracle in the memory of subsequent generations (verse 27).

And of course on the night of the passover, the people leave Egypt only to be held up on the borders of the red sea with Egyptians armies bearing down on them. God rescues them, famously, by the parting of the seas allowing Israel to escape.

In the book, Founding God’s Nation, Reading Exodus, Leon Kass makes the case that the oppressive Egyptian Pharaoh was decisive in turning Israel into a nation. Rather than allowing Jewish integration into the Egyptian economy, culture and eventual inter-marriage, similar to what happened with Joseph who married an Egyptian and had fully assimilated into the culture, the Pharaoh treated this people like the other, a group to be feared and oppressed, and ultimately enslaved with escalations that turned into multiple attempts to murder their children. It’s through this oppression that God intervened, turned this people, previously bound together simply through genealogical lineage into a covenant people chosen by God.

The Exodus is the founding story for the people of Israel. The passover is remembered through covenant and ritual. Through subsequent generations they managed to regain control of the land promised to Abraham only to lose it to later oppressive regimes, notably Babylon and ultimately Rome.

Through those years, different notable prophets record prophetic and aspirational predictions of an eventual King that will rescue, restore and ultimately reign.

I think it’s worth a pause to consider how important the Exodus story has been in US history, inspired from the this interview with Rabbi Meir Soloveichik that makes note that the US founding, the slave emancipation and the civil rights movement took inspiration from Exodus. The Mormon exodus from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City was also inspired by this Biblical story. It’s impossible to underestimate the influence and effect the Exodus story has had on the world.
Specific examples:

America’s Founding

  • Thomas Paine compared the British monarch to the Pharoh
  • The third most cited biblical text during the Revolutionary War was Exodus 15’s “Song of the Sea”.
  • Both Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson suggested stories from Moses become the seal of the United States.
  • Pastor Eli Forbes in his eulogy of Washington called Moses the “Washington of Israel”.

Abolition

Civil Rights

Jesus – Atonement

A Bit of Roman Historical Context – Inspired by NT Wright’s book Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters

Jesus was born into the world during the Roman empire’s rule over Israel. Rome had a form of a Republic with various checks and balances. Julius Caesar a military leader of notable success made himself Roman dictator in 49 BC but was assassinated in 44 BC and later deified so that his successor, Caesar Augustus could claim the label, son of God. By the time Jesus came on the scene, Caesar Augustus was an absolute monarch of Rome with some claim to divinity. In that time Herod was appointed ruler over Jerusalem given the name “King of the Jews”. Rome by this time was also overpopulated, relying heavily on the import of resources from Northern Africa and other regions through which Jerusalem was situated. Rome really needed stability and cooperation within the region of Israel to sustain its empire.

The Jewish people knew in their bones the story of Exodus, God’s promises for Israel and the prophecies of a new Messiah. They felt like it was their destiny and their promise to overthrow Rome and re-establish Israel. Judas the Hammer was an early example of someone who attempted this with some success although it ultimately ended in failure. Simon bar Kokhba was another, later attempt of this that also had some early success followed by ultimate failure.

This is the context Jesus appears on the scene, with Rome in control feeling they have divine authority for their empire with every incentive and power to suppress uprisings that happen to arise. And a Jewish people who feel their history in their bones, recorded in scripture, bound by covenant, looking forward to a restoration of their nation. Within the Jewish people, there were some who cooperated and found favor with Roman rule, and others who sought opportunities to undermine the empire in hopes of being worthy to help usher in the fulfillment of prophecy.

Jesus knew the history, understood the prophecies and through the course of his three year ministry, offered a completely different interpretation of its fulfillment in ways that even his closes followers had trouble immediately understanding.

The events that lead up to Christ’s resurrection follow a well documented series of events, timed to correspond to passover, the ritualistic celebration of Israel’s redemption from Egypt.

  1. Palm Sunday – Jesus rides triumphantly into Jerusalem, prophesied in Zechariah 9:9
  2. Monday – Jesus cleanses the temple.
  3. Tuesday – Jesus laments over Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives
  4. Wednesday – Rest
  5. Thursday – Passover and the Last Supper ((Zechariah 11:12-13)
  6. Friday – Trial, Crucifixion, Death and Burial
    1. Isaiah 53:4,7
    2. Psalm 22:16, 18
    3. Psalm 69:21
    4. Isaiah 53:9
  7. Saturday – Day in the tomb
  8. Sunday – Resurrection
    1. Daniel 12:2

First of all, aligning these events with the passover marks a transition. Just as Exodus transitioned God’s work from the familial to the national. Christ pushed this work out into the world. Christ’s work was most definitely both religious and political in ways that subverted both Roman and Jewish narratives. Romans needed this redemption just as much as the Jews. Their political systems needed redemption as well. Jesus work was radically non-violent and sacrificial. Jesus offered himself up as the sacrifice and it was through that sacrifice we find redemption, from both sin and death.

How Can We Make that Sacrifice Resonant In Our lives – Ideas Inspired by An Early Resurrection among other Sources

Christ’s sacrifice calls us into sacrifice. Christ’s death is an invitation for our death – the death of our old self and resurrection into a new life in Christ. This message of death and renewal is everywhere. The cold dark season of winter brings forth new life in the spring. The darkness of evening followed by the light of the morning. So, we are called daily to sacrifice our old self to a life in Christ, which means a life fully and completely connected and alive. In this sense death is a form of surrender. We give up realizing that on our own we are hopelessly not enough. Our best efforts will always come up short. We will eventually die. So we surrender in Christ and then become renewed in Christ. How is this done? In the way it’s always been done. We seal this intention through covenant and ordinance and then live into these promises through regular, daily efforts, through constant and consistent sacrifice and consecration.

I think we can look at what’s expected of us by looking at what was expected of Christ’s closest followers. The book of Acts provides a good example. In the lives of Peter, Paul, Stephen and others, we see to live in Christ means acting like Christ, becoming as Christ was, fully engaged in the world, attempted to redeem it through sacrifice, obedience and covenant.

That is the Easter message.

The Lord is With Us in Hard Things

Last fall my wife and I were asked to help out with the Trek experience, which is a reenactment of the early handcart pioneers making the journey from Nebraska to Salt Lake City.

From the period of 1846 to 1868 less than 10% of the total immigrants into Salt Lake used handcarts, consisting of ten total companies. We remember two of those companies, the Willie and Martin handcart companies because they met with tragedy, more than 210 of the 980 pioneers in that company did not make it across.

These Saints were poor, the church was poor, as what was so common in our early history we were striving to build Zion in our poverty and God was with us. Their stories and sacrifices continue to inspire us to this day. We have church history sites in Wyoming in Martin’s Cove where these Saints sought shelter from a brutal winter storm awaiting rescue. And many stakes across the world, commemorate these sacrifices by a re-enactment we refer to as Trek.

Last fall, when our former bishop and now young men’s president, John Jones visited my wife and I to see if we would help out with trek, my thought was.. do you actually know my camping history? what I do for a living? That I spend my days sitting on a computer. We’ve tried to camp over the years with our family, but we always do so with a bathroom nearby. We gone on family hikes, but we have a history of turning around early.

I’m going to give you a brief summary of the experience from my perspective. I was asked to be a captain, helping John Jones navigate the hiking and communicating between the families and the leadership.

Going in we knew there it was going to be unseasonably cold and that there might be rain and maybe even snow. Normally on trek the kids sleep under a canopy for some overhead protection from rain, but basically outside. The first adjustment was that they brought in 10-person tents, two for each family.

Thursday morning began, we got the families together to assemble the handcarts, load in their bucket with their clothes and their garbage bags on top holding their sleeping bags. Everything was tied down with a tarp. And we started the journey. The first day was going to be out long hike. We started our hike around 10:30am and expected to finish somewhere around 6 or 6:30pm. We hit some initial challenges almost immediately. Sleeping bags kept falling out on the bumpy trail, and families kept having to stop to make adjustments. We hit the spot for lunch which was at a fork. If we went left as planned, it would take us on a pretty long loop north of our camp where we would hit a road that would take us south back.

The plan was that we would go down the road for some distance and then turn around back to the fork and then take another road that would bring us back into camp cutting out a few miles and avoiding some pretty steep inclines.

When we got to the point where we thought we should turn around, we decided to ask the kids what they wanted to do. At this point it was about 3pm. Still pretty warm though with clouds. We could push through and potentially be out on the trail after dark. We collectively decided we should turn back. And that was a good decision because as we started the journey back, some hard winds started to bear down on us. When the winds started to die down a bit of rain started. Soon that rain turned into a wet snow and the trail got muddy. Our shoes picked up a lot of that mud.

We had intended to let the kids and the big brothers and sisters push the carts, but soon after the mas and pas jumped in. And then so did I. With a collective effort we made it into camp before the sun fell and before it got really cold. That night it got down into the 20’s but worse, the wind continued relentlessly through the night. Some of our tents weren’t strong enough to resist, some broke collapsing on the families inside. None of us slept very well because of the relentless noise.

We got up, had a hearty breakfast and made further adjustments. We pushed the handcarts with just the buckets. Some of the kids were not up for the second day hike. Some couldn’t push and just had to walk alongside. The hike was shorter and concluded by lunch when we were able to enjoy a day of activities. That night we had a beautiful fireside. And finished with an incredible hoedown.

On the third day, we hiked out. By then, our feet and legs hurt, some of us endured blisters. But we were in good spirits. And we had fun.

D&C 88:13 The alight which is in all things, which giveth blife to all things, which is the claw by which all things are governed, even the dpower of God who esitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.

The assigned topic given to me was that God is with us when we do hard things. And yes, God is with us. He will strengthen us and comfort us and guide us. God was in that decision to turn around we did, so that we would not over-extend ourselves. But if we had made the opposite decision, God would have been with us as we worked through the cold and snow and darkness. God was with us that night when the winds were blowing our tents over and none of us could really sleep. But God was also with us the next night when the night was a little warmer and the winds were still and the night was quiet. On that second night, we had a beautiful fireside, Mattie Watson spoke about her connection to our handcart heritage. The stake presidency spoke. We had a beautiful music number in the cold. And then we all sang “I am a Child of God.” in the dark and in the cold and God was with us.

Then they asked the kids whether they wanted to finish the night with a hoedown or just go to bed. They got a mixed response, but some kids wanted the dance. A ma and pa on the trip brought instruments and in the cold played their viola and violin while the kids danced. I was too tired and sore to join them but I watched the joy and the energy. God was in the dancing and in the music.

And that last day when we all hiked out. Some of the kids were strong, others less so, but we all made it out. About half way we pulled off and the families found spots of ground and had a testimony meeting. I didn’t listen but I could that God was in that moment of reflection and testimony.

God is in the midst of all things, including the details of our lives. Especially when our lives our difficult and we need him the most.

In the name of Jesus Christ Amen.



Come Follow Me: Noah and Babel, Genesis 6-11 and Moses 8

This week’s Sunday School lesson covers a lot of territory and among the most common, well-known stories in all of western civilization, if not beyond. I heard on a podcast that we are in danger of taking Noah’s flood both too casually and too seriously. I know my kids had this toy as an example of taking this story a little too casually. Because this story is so familiar it’s easy to take it for granted without having absorbed all the lessons it has to teach us.

Taking the story too seriously can be perhaps more damaging. Noah’s God comes off as cruel, willing to wipe out human life at a catastrophic scale. Or we can take the wickedness/punishment binaries too literally and wonder why our own efforts at goodness don’t always lead to positive earthly results. Thinking too literally about the global flood as a scientific possibility can lead one down anti-scientific backwaters. The stories in Genesis’ first 11 chapters is an invitation to think through the lens and worldview of those writing the story, the way they perceived the world and God. What, then, can we learn about the mercy and grace of a loving God we all so desperately want to believe in. Noah’s flood is a story we get only through this religious text, although there are very similar flood stories in other myths around the world. This religious text wants to teach its reader about God and that is the way we have to get through and into the story.

This lesson includes the Genesis account of the story as well as Joseph Smith’s revelatory expansion of chapter 6 found in Moses 8.

Corruption

The people’s wickedness is described consistently as corrupt, a description that is both broad and generic(Genesis 6:11,12, Moses 8:28, 29) but the text does provide three specific examples of that corruption.

A Corruption of Family and Marriage

First, In Genesis 6:2,4 and Moses 8:14,15 it appears on the surface the people were honoring and obeying the one commandment Adam received as he left the Garden of Eden – to multiply and replenish the earth. However, there appears to be corruption underlying this behavior. The sons of God take the daughters of men for apparent superficial reasons rather than as true, loving and equal partners working together within a marriage covenant. Men take possession of women “because they were fair”. In Moses, the Lord accuse the women of selling themselves. This union appears to be more about status than love, an an intermingling between faithful lines ( Sons of God) and those more concerned with their own welfare (the sons of men).

Violence

Second, violence is a clear component of their wickedness (Genesis 6:11, 13, Moses 9:28, 30). The flood would be a violent response to violence, but perhaps the flood is emblematic of what usually happens when societies devolve into violence. Violence begets violence. Individual violence scales up into society violence. A society organized into violence struggles to properly protect themselves against the inevitable violence nature inflicts on humanity.

Pride

Finally, pride is a clear sin described in the narrative. Genesis 6 describes the people as giants, mighty men, men of renown (Genesis 6:4, Moses 8:18). It appears that that description is probably both accurate but also says something about their emphasis, prioritizing personal accomplishments and renown over faithful lives.

In his book, The Beginning of Wisdom, Leon Kass wonders if this corruption was precipitated by the first non-violent death to take place on the earth when Adam dies. After nearly 1000 years fulfilling the promise given to him after eating the fruit of the tree (Genesis 5:4). These expansive lifespans may have been given them a feeling of invincibility only to have that punctured by the death of the first human, their lone human connection to the garden. How much of our corruption occurs in response to our anxiety of our own mortality?

Response/Consequence of Wickedness

The Righteous Grieves

God sees the wickedness and grieves (Genesis 6:6). In Moses, Noah is the one who grieves (Moses 8:25). Believing in a God who weeps, I believe both accounts are accurate and expresses God’s love and concern for all humanity and offers a lesson for us as well. We should be moved by the catastrophes we see in the world no matter what part of the earth they occur, even if we ourselves are unaffected.

A Massive Reduction in Lifespan

God reduces human lifespan (Genesis 6:3, Moses 8:17) severely impacting how much one person can accomplish, forcing a lifelong reckoning with one’s mortality. Growing lifespan is often used as a metric of progress and a reduction of lifespan usually comes from catastrophe – war, disease, despair. God wants us to have a full and long life, but ultimately, the primary purpose for life is to attach ourselves to God and through God to others. We don’t need one thousand years to do this type of work. What we do need is to emphasize helping the next generation continue our faith traditions. Our lives are short, our primary emphasis needs to be that our faith does not die with us.

A Reboot Through Flood

Ultimately, God decides to reboot. The language of Genesis echos the creation story in some surprising ways. First God looks upon the earth and beholds its corruption (Genesis 6:12). And then allows the waters to come in to destroy the “breadth of life” (Genesis 6:17). In Genesis 7:11, God allows the fountains of the great deep and the windows of heaven to undo what the creation did.

To understand this language it’s helpful to view the world the way the authors of this accounting did, surrounded by water. In the creation, the firmament is created by separating the waters from the waters (Genesis 1:6, 7). The flood reverses the separation, opening the windows of heaven and breaking up the earth.

A view of the world in this way, it’s easy to see the human vulnerability, sitting on unstable soil floating on deep waters, shielded from waters overhead by a leaky roof. Water in this world was symbolic of chaos and water, though necessary for life could also destroy it.

Noah: The New Adam

Starting over did not require a new creation. Instead, God preserves Noah, his family and a selection of the animal kingdom. Noah is tasked to preserve and continue life through this massive cataclysm, chosen not for his skill but for his faithfulness (Genesis 6:8,9,22, Moses 8:13, 27).

God commands him to build the arc, gives him precise instructions and Noah unquestionably obeys (Noah 6:22). In Moses 8, Noah tries to warn the people, pleads for them to repent, pointing them to Christ, through covenants and ordinances (Moses 8:16, 29, 24).

Covenant

Through this story and the next, covenant runs through the narrative and becomes one of the key lessons for those of us wondering how we can find peace and safety (though not necessarily freedom from suffering or death) in a troubled, difficult and often tragic world. In Genesis 6:18, God makes a covenant with Noah that he will be protected through the flood. In the midst of the flood, God remembers Noah (Genesis 8:1). The first thing Noah does after leaving the ark, seemingly unbidden, is to offer sacrifice. In response, God recognizes the inherent flaws in humanity and then makes the most famous covenant noted by the rainbow, to never again flood the earth (Genesis 9:11-15). Finally, Genesis 11 ends with the introduction of Abraham, connecting Israel to Noah through both lineage and God’s grace.

Shem, Japeth, and Ham

Noah, though righteous is flawed, understandably so. The sadness and anxiety of being among the very few who survive the flood. In response to that trauma, creating wine from a vineyard seems to have been an urgent priority. Noah gets drunk and passes out naked in his tent. Ham sees it and tells his brothers. His brothers cover his nakedness being care to do so without looking.

Like the rest of early Genesis, the story is spare. But in Ham there seems to be an impulse to denigrate his father. In Shem and Japeth there seems signs of respect for his authority. In the end, Noah curses Ham’s son, not Ham and recognizes the God of Shem. Our sins, weaknesses, failings and struggle tend to transmit through to our children. Geneology and the blessings, culture and faith that transmits through geneological lines is an important part of the Biblical narrative. Failure to respect, cherish and absorb the best of what our parents have to offer us will hurt not just us but those children we bring into this world.

Babel

The lesson concludes with another spare story, the impulse to build a tower in Babel. Here is among the first attempts at civilization. Likely in response to the flood catastrophe and a recognition of their own vulnerability, Babel is a fully human attempt to take control and provide protection and sustenance. Using brick for stone, slime for mortar (Genesis 11:3), they try to reach heaven and make a name for themselves that will endure (Genesis 11:4). God has to come down to see this and decides to disrupt their attempts by confounding their language (Genesis 11:7) and as a result of their confounded language, they abandon their attempts and scatter (Genesis 11:9).

How do we try and fail to control our environment, predict the weather, hold back the floods, lean into technology without grappling with our ethical responsibilities beyond just what we can do and what we discover. Is scientific and technological innovation all we need? Can a fully humanist response to the human condition be enough? This story provides an emphatic no in response to these questions.

Conclusions

What’s clear in these narratives our primary focus should be toward God through covenant, manifested through reproduction and ensuring the transmission of faith flows through the geneology that comes out of that reproduction.

Making our mark more often than not ends up in catastrophe. Or perhaps catastrophe is baked in the his world. The writers of Genesis believed in a world surrounded vulnerably by waters from both above and beneath. Water can be catastrophic and chaos inducing. Even today, we struggle to deal with the chaos of water as hurricanes spring up on a regular basis, flash floods erupt out of an unusually excessive storm. We’ve made progress in predicting the weather, holding back the water, but regularly nature overwhelms are best efforts.

However, our more modern view of the world should give us plenty of reasons to be petrified, a crust floating on a ball of fire making up a globe rotating around the sun with massive rocks regularly hurling past us, with plenty of marks indicating past, life altering collisions. Floods, fires, earthquakes, disease and all sorts of catastrophes spring forth out of nature regularly wreaking havoc. Meanwhile, humanity’s propensity to destroy ourselves has been pandemic in earth’s history with regular eruptions of violence happening individually and among nations.

Ultimately, in the midst of our vulnerabilities, weaknesses and confrontation with our mortality, the way to peace is God.