Meribah

water from a rock

Only twelve verses are given (Numbers 20:2-13) to the account the waters of Meribah at Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.  Of those, ten tell the story of the thirst of the people of the covenant, their complaining, the petition of Moses and Aaron for the provision of the LORD, Moses striking a rock producing water, and the resulting stream being named “the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the LORD, and through them he showed himself holy.”

This story, with verses eight and twelve missing, closely resembles the story in Exodus 17 where the people of the covenant – having escaped from Egypt, having received manna from the LORD – complain of thirst.  As in Numbers 20, Moses seeks the LORD and strikes a rock that pours forth water.  That place, too, was called Meribah “because of the quarreling of the people of Israel”.

Those two missing verses, however, make all the difference in the world.  Verse eight is a command from the LORD for Moses to “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water”.  Moses strikes the rock twice, after which the rock gushes water.

This leads into verse twelve in which the LORD rebukes Moses for his unbelief and his failure to display the holiness of the LORD.  Moses is told that as a consequence, he will not lead the people of the covenant into the land the LORD has given them.

Was Moses wrong to strike a rock in pursuit of water?

“No.”  There was precedent.

And…

“Yes.”  Not only did Moses disobey a direct command of the LORD, Moses in producing water from the rock by his own means, took the glory due to the LORD for himself.  He did things his own way apart from the LORD which is rebellion.

1 Samuel 15:23 states that rebellion equals divination or witchcraft.

Exodus 22:18 and Leviticus 20:27 provide precedent for the death of Moses under these circumstances.  Certainly, by this point in the narrative, the LORD has brought about the deaths of many who have disobeyed his instructions including Korah from four chapters back.

So, Moses deserved death.  The punishment Moses received is to live knowing that he will not reach his goal, that someone else will bring his people, the people to whom he has dedicated the previous forty years, into the land of promise.

 

To read a post (with pictures) about the present day wilderness of Zin:  click here.

To read another take on why Moses wasn’t allowed to enter the Promised Land:  click here.

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A Fate Worse Than Death

Scapegoat

Yom Kippur, detailed in Leviticus 16, happened about a week and a half ago.  Historically, this was the day of the year when the high priest made atonement for the sins the people of the covenant had committed in the previous year.

This was the only day of the year that anyone was allowed to enter the most holy place.  Even then only the high priest was allowed, and only after he had made atonement for himself.

Each year, the high priest would kill a bull and a goat, using their blood to consecrate and make atonement for the Holy Place and the altar.  The bull also functioned as a means of atonement for the high priest himself as well as his family.

This goat that was killed was one of two goats used on this Day of Atonement.  When the goats were brought for the ceremony, one was chosen at random to be sacrificed, that is, to die.  The other, the infamous scapegoat, was to become the bearer of the sins of the people and released into the wilderness away from the people.

What the text actually says concerning this is, “And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, 10 but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.”

The word עֲזָאזֵל, transliterated Azazel, is not clearly understood.  One possibility is that the word means “absolute removal” as in the goat that is “for Azazel” is for absolute removal from the people.  This word has also been seen as a combination for the Hebrew words for rugged and strong and has been connected with Mount Azazel which was the supposed location at which the goat was released “into the wilderness”.  Azazel is also the name of a demonic figure referenced  in 1st Enoch and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Similarly, the concept of wilderness was tied to the ideas of chaos and disorder which were, in turn, associated with the absence of the presence of the Lord.  So, sending the goat “into the wilderness to Azazel” could be seen as sending this condemned creature to a demonic figure in a hellish place apart from the Lord.

This second goat, instead of dying a quick death at the hand of the high priest, was instead weighed down with the sin of the entire nation.  We may take this lightly, but that goat had the wrath of the Lord to contend with.  Certainly, in that sense, the scapegoat suffered a fate worse than death.

For a Messianic Jewish take on Yom Kippur, see this page.

For a psychological perspective, see this page.

Chewing the Fat

bacon

In the first seven chapters of Leviticus, yes Leviticus, the people of the covenant are provided with a set of laws regarding ritual sacrifices.  These cover the purposes of the various types of sacrifice, what is to be sacrificed, and the procedures for each sacrifice.

Throughout these chapters, one of the most consistent instructions is to set aside the blood, fat, and entrails of the animals being sacrificed.  The people of the covenant are forbidden to eat the blood and/or fat of any animal, with the consequence of disobedience being separation from the community.

A reason for forbidding the eating of blood is explained in Leviticus 17:10-16, namely that the life of a creature is in its blood.  Note that this command is repeated throughout the Torah, and also is stated in Acts 15.

Entrails are to be set aside but are not forbidden to be eaten.  When entrails are mentioned in Leviticus, they are described as being fatty and covered in fat, and fat is forbidden.

As to fat itself, even the priests are not allowed to eat the fat of the animals they sacrifice as part of their portion.  Leviticus 3:16 even states explicitly, “All fat is the LORD’s.”

Here is the question:  Why are the people forbidden to eat fat?

Here is my answer:  I don’t know.

Nothing in the text provides an obvious answer.  Even in the wider context of the Bible as a whole, no clear explanation is given.

Nevertheless, much speculation on the question is available for a premium price at your local bookstore.

Or, for free, you could read some speculation here, here, here, and………….there.

Return of the Presence

SONY DSC

So the people of the covenant have escaped from Egypt, have evaded capture as they passed through the Red Sea, have been provided by God with food and water in the desert, have defeated a formidable army by the LORD’s blessing, and have finally reached Mt. Sinai.

What was the perspective of the people at this point? (Exodus 19-32)

–          Moses has gone up the mountain to something religiousy.

–          There seems to be a lot of heavy, dark cloud cover up there.

–          Random lightning strikes and thunder claps are happening on top of the mountain.

–          Moses said touching the mountain would result in death.

–          Moses is probably dead.

–          What now?

Though we know the story, and possess no doubt about the wellbeing of Moses, to the people of the covenant, all of this was new.  With Moses supposedly dead, nothing stood between the people and the overwhelming and terrifying presence of God.

One theory suggests that the people weren’t trying to replace God with the golden calf, but were trying to replace Moses, their advocate.  In this sense, the idol would have functioned as a go-between, insulating the people from the person and presence of God.

(On a side note, as Christians and particularly as Baptists, we often do the same thing.  Our golden calf is made of leather and paper, and deep down we feel it keeps us safe from having to deal personally with the infinitely sovereign, infinitely holy, infinitely intimate God we cannot control.)

Moses was not dead.  God was not amused.  People were slaughtered.

For a Jewish perspective on these events:  Check out this post.

For a Messianic Jewish perspective:  Check out this other post.

God Strikes Back

frogs from truthinmotion.wordpress.com

Above image from truthinmotion.wordpress.com

It is a dark time for the people of the covenant.  Although conditions have settled since the flight of the murderer Moses, the people possess little hope.

 Evading the dreaded Egyptian guards, Moses, in obedience to instructions from God Almighty, returns to the palace seeking the freedom of his people.

 The evil lord Pharaoh, obsessed with holding on to his slaves, refuses to let the people go.  Making conditions for the laborers more difficult, Pharaoh leaves the resistance with few options…

When we look at the plagues in Exodus, it’s easy to view them as normative.  Every time we encounter the story of the exodus there they are.

Ancient Egypt = lots of crazy miracles.

However, I doubt that Moses and Aaron had that perspective.  While they may have trusted in God’s power, witnessing the Nile turning to blood, massive swarms of creatures descending on the people, rampaging disease, localized darkness, and death taking only/all the first-borns would have been extraordinary and terrifying events.

And that’s really the point.

If these sorts of things were to be expected in that time and place, the effect on the Egyptian population, and specifically Pharaoh, would have been insufficient to bring about the release of the people of the covenant.  These were horrifying incidents.

Looking at the text, Pharaoh repeatedly felt some motivation to release his slaves under the weight of these plagues, but would later change his mind.  Only because God hardened Pharaoh’s heart did Pharaoh continue to withstand the terror of what was happening around him.

One theory suggests that each of these plagues was a targeted attack against a particular Egyptian god.  If true, how much more terrifying would this have been for the quasi divine Pharaoh.  His own gods, those who were greater even than himself, were being outdone by the God of his slaves.  How scared and hopeless Pharaoh must have felt.

By the time the people of the covenant were released, both camps in this struggle had witnessed the overwhelming might of God.  Why he can even make giant yellow letters fly through space.

For more on the plague/Egyptian god theory:  go here

To make your own Star Wars intro:  go there

A New Hope

Scottish Burning Bush

Caption:  “Yet it was not consumed”

 

Try to see events from Moses’ perspective: 

You remember being raised in what for others would be luxury.  That is your standard, your default.  From your earliest memory, you have been stamped with the identity of being one of Pharaoh’s household.

You remember the slaves.  They were other.  They were outside your world.  As a child, you couldn’t perceive how different they were from you, but as you grew in age, you grew more and more aware of their otherness.  The fog of that otherness gradually gave way to some feeble concept of the poverty and the brutalism under which the slaves suffered.

You remember becoming a murderer.  When the question “Why do they suffer while I do not?” though unvoiced, seeped down into your soul, you began, through comparison, to identify with those who were suffering.  And when the weight of that disparity over days and weeks and months and years had left you with bitterness toward their oppressors, and hatred toward yourself for being one of Pharaoh’s house, you snapped at the sight of one more beating and took the life of the guilty tormenter.

You remember being running away.  You remember the fear of facing your household, afraid that your refuge, your safe place, was no longer safe, your act of insurrection marking you for death.  Fear for yourself caused you to lose both your identity as an Egyptian and your new-found identity as one-with-the-oppressed.  You remember being a coward.

 

These shameful, suppressed memories are what resurface when the voice of the Most High God calls to you out of a bush in the desert, a bush that is full of light, blazing but not charring or turning to ash.

 

So Moses is understandably reluctant in Exodus 4 to participate in freeing the people of the covenant from Pharaoh making excuse after excuse.  He is ashamed.  Even though decades have passed, he is still carrying around this baggage.  His self-image is as an ignorant, hypocritical, murdering coward.

 

But…

 

He said yes anyway, choosing obedience to God over acquiescence to his self-image and self-imposed limitations.  And that choice led not only to a new hope for Moses, but also for all of the people of the covenant.

 

For more on Moses’ identity crisis see:  this post

And for a better look at the first part of the Book of Exodus also dealing with new beginnings see:  this much longer post

Thoughts on Genesis

IMG_0280

Taking another look at Genesis, I notice how diverse the content really is.  I see romance, murder, giants, a maritime zoo, and an ancient attempt to unite the world as one people.  Toward the middle, I run across a multitude of sexual exploits the inclusion of which would have any other book banned by God-fearing folk, exploits such as … well, perhaps your imagination will do more justice to the text than will my keyboard.

At one point, I find a man who after running away from his brother finds himself in a dramedy of mistaken identity worthy of Shakespeare.  Later, a young fool is sold into slavery by his brothers only to end up saving the lives of those brothers when he becomes the Big Cheese’s right hand man, along the way spending a stint in prison and snagging a gig as a dream interpreter.

And as I read these outrageous stories about outrageous people, I have to remind myself, “Self,  this isn’t a collection of outrageous stories about outrageous people.”  In fact, this is one story about one person (though he does sometimes refer to himself in the plural), and those outrageous people are merely bizarre supporting characters who’s tales weave themselves around this central figure.

Oh, and here is a dinosaur for your viewing pleasure.