Saturday, March 21, 2015

Yul Brenner's Favorite Passage
Deuteronomy 5

Moses brings the people together and in his humble way reminds them of that time that he was the mediator between them and God.  Back when I was God's mouthpiece, He told me that these were the laws you all were to follow- and these aren't laws handed down through generations that might have gotten distorted through time- these are laws He told me to tell you.  There are ten of them, but you may have seen that coming.

Before enumerating the rules, God reminds them (through Moses, of course) that He is the God that brought them out of slavery.

Number 1: No other Gods before Me.  Interesting that He doesn't say no other gods- just I come first.  
Number 2: Don't make images of anything in heaven or on earth.  No photo albums, no tv, no IPads, no paintings, no sculptures (oops).  But if you do make them (?) don't worship them.  I'm jealous- this won't make me happy.  It's interesting that He says not to make them, but then gives rules for when we make them anyway.

Number 3: Don't misuse My name.  This seems like a real cut and dry rule...but what is His name?  Don't misuse Jehovah?  Or Yawheh?  Or God?  Or Lord?  Or god is ok as long as you use a lowercase g.  Or just tweak God to goodness and then we're golden?  Or is it some other name not in our vernacular to start with?

Number 4: Take a day off.  Work six- but the seventh is my sabbath- for you to rest.  Not just you, your son rests, your daughtesr. your wife, your servant, your donkey, and foreigners in your town.  You will be couch potatoes.  

Number 5: Honor mom and dad- even when they're dumb, even when they're wrong, even when you know better.  Do this and you'll live a long life. That retirement home is right out.

Number 6: No murder.

Number 7: No sleeping around.

Number 8: No stealing.

Number 9: Don't tell lies about your neighbor.  Even if their kids ride an ATV around your house.  Even if they're incredibly loud.

Number 10: Don't dream about getting the neighbor's wife, or house, or land, or servant, or donkey.  Just be glad for what you have.

God wrote this stuff on tablets and gave them to me.  You were scared because you thought if you heard God's voice you would die.  So you were willing to send me off to die.  Lucky I'm braver than you.  God's glad you're afraid of Him.  He hopes this fear will keep you from messing up.  So please, don't be dumb, keep the law.

In some ways having a law in black and white is comforting- I know what to do and what not to do- but it also serves to forever mark my inadequacies- and creates a system I can never keep.  Neither could they.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Just in Case You Missed It
Deuteronomy 4: 44-49

Moses is entering prologue work here at the end of chapter 4- which is a pretty odd thing to do partway through book five of your bestselling series.  

He says- what follows is the law Moses (and I know, since I am Moses and all) laid before the Israelites.  He then gives a bit of a history lesson that seems a bit self serving.  When did this happen?  Remember when Moses (once again, Me) defeated the King of the Amorites?  Yeah, that was when Me-oses handed out the law.  Then he adds in some geography.  After all the fussin' and feudin' we had land that stretched from Aroer to Mount Sirion, to the Dead Sea, to Pisgah.

It might seem odd that Moses is rehashing all this again.  And while ego might be part of the equation, it might be influenced even more by the oral nature of this culture.  I'm guessing most didn't read, fewer still were alive when it happened, and no one had their own personal copy of Moses' greatest hits on their Ipods.  So this repetition makes sense when people didn't have the luxury of re-reading (or even reading for the first time).  

Tedious for us.  Perhaps necessary for them.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Nice Place to Visit... Deuteronomy 4:41-43

A Nice Place to Visit...
Deuteronomy 4:41-43

Moses repeats information about the cities of refuge.  We discussed this back in the day.  Here's a refresher:

Basically, if you killed someone by mistake- hit the road to these cities and you'll be safe.  They are somehow free from the irate mobs seeking revenge.  

I'm guessing they didn't have a great department of tourism.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

I Saw the Sign
Deuteronomy 4:32-40

Moses makes a case for refraining from worshiping other gods, idols, celestial bodies, rock stars, etc.  He tells them-  Dudes.  You've seen the real thing.  Voices from fire.  Plagues. Deliverance.  Mighty world powers falling at your feet.  A beautiful inheritance.  You have seen the power of God- why would you look anywhere else?

So since you've seen it- worship Him.

Simple and straightforward and seemingly encouraging.  We too have seen signs.  We too serve a mighty God.  We too have seen our foes vanquished.  Except sometimes we don't.

Moses talks to God's chosen people.  A literally, genetically favored group of people who God shined on for a specific time and a specific purpose.  The problem is, when we signs and wonders we view ourselves as God's chosen people (chosen over others who do not see themselves as passed over).  When our foes smite us, when we are victims of the plagues and not the victors, when the tsunami hits us- and not a foreign country- we don't in turn assume that God is against us.

I'm a bit wary of people who have heard the voice of God and have gotten a unique directive from their own "burning bush".  Perhaps things work this way, and I don't mean to belittle anyone's spiritual experience, but more often we interpret God's power in hindsight in ways that affirm our already formed world views. And when others hear those voices in ways we don't understand, we tend to think they're on the far side of crazy.

That's not to say God isn't mighty. Isn't able to see us through.  Doesn't care about our pain.  It just means that if your view of God involves Him choosing you at the expense of someone else, it's important to remember that He made that person too.

Praise God.  He has done great things.  Remember, though, you don't have a monopoly on His blessings.

Idol Hands

Idol Hands
Deuteronomy 4:15-31

Moses continues his pity party.  I won't be going with you to the promised land.  I'll be stuck here while you get all the Honey Nut cheerios and lactose you can tolerate.

In this section, Moses harps on the need to remember to stop graven-ing those images.  First off, when the burning bush appeared, no image.  So don't try to create one of God that looks like a man, or a woman, or a calf, or a beaver.  Also, you should really avoid the whole worshiping the sun, or moon, or satellite.  God's not much of a fan of that.  

And once you've settled in, you've made some children, you're thinking, this is a great time to start some idol worship. It isn't.  God is jealous.  It will not go well.

For me, the heart of this passage seems to come in the middle.  Moses says- if it wasn't for you, I could be enjoying the prosperity of the land.  But no, you had to go and build that calf. As you get ready to enjoy the greatest reward of your life, let me throw some guilt on it for you.  I can't go and it's your fault.

This feels a lot like Moses saving face.  Saying that the idol building is why Moses gets left behind is a bit of a stretch.  I've always felt like Moses got a raw deal in this whole process, but passages like this one seem to suggest that this account is pretty biased.  I was up on the mountain minding my own business when they built this calf.  I didn't strike the rock, someone threw it at my staff.  I was slipping, it's gravity's fault, not mine.

Even Moses strives to save face when things don't go his way.  It's not pretty for him.  It's not pretty for us either.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Redundant Again
Deuteronomy 4:1-14

Moses, as concise with his verbiage as ever, commands the Israelites to do the things I'm about to tell you.  It would seem like it would be enough to just tell them what to do- wouldn't the actual fulfilling of them be implied?  It's like he's concocted a big game of Simeon Says.  He warns them to obey the rules as is- no adding, no subtracting.

Before telling them these rules they are to fulfill, he sets up reasons why they should fulfill them.  He says, You saw what happened to those folks who followed Baal of Peor?  They aren't great models to emulate- seeing as they're all dead and you're still alive.

Obeying will:  

Show the nations your wisdom and understanding.  So the surrounding nations (at least those you don't kill) will be struck by how smart (and alive) you are by not rebelling.

Show the nations how close to God you are.  This is the coolest of the reasons.  Moses says, it will stand out to these people that you have a God who actually cares about you, who actually listens to you, who actually knows what you're going through.  

Show people how awesome your laws are.  Moses is grasping here.  I'm not sure many people would be watching the invading forces and thinking, man- those are some cool rules they follow.  Hope they don't kill us.

He then tells them to teach the laws to their children and to remember the day the received the ten commandments.  He describes God's voice coming from the fire and His writing the laws on stone.  He then reminds them (in a characteristic moment of self-indulgence) that God commissioned him to teach them to follow the laws.  

The thing most striking to me in this passage is the reminder of how close our God is to us.  He knew the plight of the Israelite- and he knows our's too.  He hears our voices the same way he heard their's.  And even if we've been told over and over- that's a message worth hearing again.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Mo' Problems
Deuteronomy 3: 21-29

As Moses continues recapping the Israelite's tale, he hits a couple of important events.  

First, he shares his pep talk with Joshua.  He tells him, dude- you've seen how God helped us demolish these two kings?  He's totally going to do the same thing as you enter the lands of all these other kings.  Worry not. All will be well. God will fight for you.

Second, Moses segues into self-pity mode.  He tells them how he tried to butter God up.  Hey, God.  Remember all that awesome stuff You've been showing the world.  About how awesome You are and all that?  It would be really amazing if I could, you know, travel into the promised land and see more of that stuff.  Whadda You say?  Let bygones be bygones?

Moses tells the Israelites- because of YOU God was still a bit peeved with me and said.  Look, enough with this whining.  I'm done talking about it.  No go Mo.  You're staying behind.  Hit a mountaintop- you can see the land- but that's all you're getting.  However, you should make sure Joshua is pumped and ready- he'll be leading the people in.

I am amazed at the amount of character insight into Moses we get here.  He's bitter, and really concerned with how he's perceived by the readers of his epic tale.  If it weren't for these pesky Israelites, me and God would still be buds and I'd have all the milk and honey I could consume.   But instead, I'm destined to sit on a mountain by myself, moping and spying on these people I've devoted my life to leading.

It also makes me realize that all scripture is written with perspective.  While these authors were certainly immersed in the story of God, their writing is interwoven with unique insight, distinct agendas, personal stakes, and narrative holes filled in based on their culture's oral tradition.  While believers tend to be dogmatic over detail, we often tend to not factor these kind of considerations into application.  Rob Bell points out that these books are written by real people- and need to be read that way.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Rand McMoses
Deuteronomy 3:12-20

Moses recaps the occurrences of Numbers 32, but in a much more abbreviated version.  If you don't remember our riveting conversation from last year, you can find it here:

Moses tells us in a quite boring fashion how this land was split up and that the folks who were staying to claim it still had to cross over the Jordan and help their brothers claim the rest of the land.  However, they could leave their women, children, and livestock safely behind.

Moe eliminates any detail of the discussion to claim these lands as inheritance and that this was an idea the Israelites pitched to God.  Could this be a separate thread of the oral retelling?  Family stories are told differently by different people who remember different details- or who want to frame stories to make themselves appear more heroically.  Both versions of this tale are ascribed to Moses, but certainly pieces of them (especially this book written after his death) could have been written by others who remembered things with less specificity. 

It's a bit disheartening for us lovers of plot that the part left out was the closest thing to a story that existed here. 

Perhaps the message is to remember that God's story doesn't end with the generation that experienced it.  Retellings keep the story alive from generation to generation.  However, those stories that more blatantly seem to tell us about God and his people are a bit more helpful to relive.