Curious Thoughts on Exodus 32

Desert

When I read a chapter like Exodus 32, I end up with more questions than answers. I hope this doesn’t sound sacrilegious, but this inquiring mind wants to know.

Here’s the scene: After 40 days on Mount Sinai, Moses and Joshua (yes, he was there also) come down the mountain, 10 commandments in hand, after negotiating with God regarding not annihilating the whole Israelite nation. They have been in the very presence of holiness and purity.

While standing at the gate (What gate? What was it made of? Why was it there?), Moses calls out for the people to join the Lord’s side. How did Moses get their attention? How did he speak to a million people at the same time without a PA system? Did he yell at everyone near him to go to his or her own tent and they each passed the word to their neighbor? Or were they all together in a mob and the front guys passed the word back to those behind them? (Like playing the game “gossip” or “telephone,” I can imagine how that message would have gotten garbled!) Or did Moses just speak to the elders of each tribe who spoke to the clan leaders who fanned out to relay the message to those under them?

By this time, Moses had already ground down the golden calf and made them all drink it. (How do you force someone to drink something nasty anyway?! It’s not like he held a gun to their heads.)

So now Moses has all the Levites standing with him (Levi, the original brother, was no saint, but somewhere down the line, someone made some godly choices), and God honors that, and He gives them instructions to kill/murder/slay their fellow Israelites who aren’t on God’s side. And the Bible says they slew 3000 men! Does that include women and children? If not the women, can you imagine all those women being left widows? Knowing God’s dealings at other times with rebellious people, I suspect that whole families were annihilated. It says, “They went from gate to gate (there are those gates again).”

Apparently they had divisions between them—maybe to separate the tribes? Maybe to contain their animals? BTW, how did they find enough grazing food—not to mention water—for all those animals in the desert? The statistics are mind-boggling.

How difficult was it for the Levites to obey God? What residual emotional and psychological effects would they have had after this massive slaughter? Who had to bury all the corpses? And how do you bury that many people in the desert? I suppose they cremated them, but what a stench that would have been!

And didn’t the victims try to fight back? I’m sure they didn’t just stay put when they saw sword-wielding Levites coming toward them! They must have tried to run and hide . . . but where? . . .  or attempted to defend themselves. Chaos! Maybe the Levites came after the victims while they all slept! (I doubt it.)

And who inherited all their stuff—their tents and clothes and cooking utensils and sheep? (Can you imagine all the trading and bartering that went on in a camp that size? The entrepreneurs getting rich off their neighbors . . . ) Or maybe they burned their stuff up with the bodies.

My mind can’t wrap around the logistics of such an endeavor. What would it feel like to voluntarily kill your fellow man? Perhaps being clannish, it didn’t feel so bad, but verse 29 says, “Slay every man his brother, companion, and neighbor.” Is this literal or metaphorical? That would mean everyone who had not stepped over the line to join Moses and God. So if your brother or son did not join you, you were instructed to kill him. I can’t let my mind go there.

Following this, God sends a plague. You wonder if in the process of burying or burning this many people with rotting flesh in the desert (it had to be done very quickly) and grief being so strong, they would get ill from it. This is not to negate the miracle of a plague, but to understand the enormous stress they were under. Perhaps the plague weakened them so they wouldn’t seek revenge on the Levites.

God—who can understand His ways? He wipes out humanity with a flood, but keeps a remnant. He wipes out 3000 in one day and keeps the Levites. He allows a holocaust but brings a remnant of Jews back to the land. Abraham asks God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah, but God only brings out Lot and his women. (I don’t think it was God’s initial intention. Wouldn’t it have been better to have destroyed Lot’s lineage?) But God listens to a man. God wants to wipe out the entire nation of Israel, but Moses intervenes and asks God to spare them. God agrees—but only partially. He knew what was best.

Whose side am I on? Will I be willing to do the hard thing when You ask it of me?

Holiness, holiness is what I long for.

Holiness, holiness is what I need.

Holiness, holiness is what you want from me.

 

Dress for God’s House

You shall reverence my sanctuary (Leviticus 26:2).

I grew up on the mission field attending a church with backless mud benches, a cement floor, and a tin roof. The worshipers arrived each Sunday decked out in their very best attire. One day I was amused to observe a lady proudly wearing a bra over top of her clothing. (Bras were unheard of in that village, so I assume she was showing off her new purchase from the village market.)

I’ve listened to the debate between the old and the young regarding what is acceptable attire for church. My mother believed we should wear our best on Sunday morning in the sanctuary to show honor to God. My children think that God doesn’t really care what we wear.

I say both are correct—or both are wrong.

If I dress up in order to impress people, then I’m a hypocrite if I claim I’m doing it for God. In my African village, the American tradition of wearing a new Easter outfit was unheard of, but at the day-long Christmas service every single person in attendance had to have new clothes–for show I surmise. If we proclaim that we must give God our best on Sunday mornings, then why don’t we show up in tuxedos and formal gowns? (My mother did not have an answer for that one.) I wonder sometimes, however, if coming to church in sloppy or casual clothing results in sloppy or casual worship. On the other hand, if I arrive feeling comfortable in my clothing, I’m not distracted by hurting feet in high heels.

How much does culture weigh into this discussion? If I attend a church where the norm is more formal, it is appropriate to honor that culture. If casual is acceptable, then you might feel out of place showing up in a suit coat. In either case, we are admonished not to judge each other over our attire.

Does God really care what I wear to church? I doubt it. I think He’s more interested in my heart.

What do you think?

 

Pagan Holidays

In II Kings 23:4-7 we’re told that King Josiah cleansed the temple—not a synagogue, but the sacred temple in Jerusalem—where articles for Satan worship had been used for several decades. By now, asherah poles and houses for male prostitutes were fixtures.

Having been to this holy site in Jerusalem, it is unconscionable to me that anything unholy was ever permitted there. How could the people have strayed so far from the God who loved them? Josiah was 8 years old when crowned king, and 18 years later he discovers The Book of the Law and begins to obey God’s commandments. Up to that point in his lifetime, he had no clue what true worship was supposed to look like.

The question for us today is—what festivals do we practice that have pagan origins or overtones? Why do we celebrate Halloween? Christmas? Easter? I know some who have taken a stand against these holidays and refuse to go trick-or-treating, put up Christmas trees, or pexels-photo-356330decorate Easter eggs. I can respect that. But I don’t think it’s evil to display a tree in my house or send my kids on an egg hunt. In the past I’ve rolled my eyes at those who condemn these holidays as being pagan in origin and therefore shun all activities associated with them—and then I begin to think what if they were right? And what would it take for me to buck the culture and stand up for what’s right and holy and God-ordained?

Finding out the origin of Halloween is a no-brainer. But did Christmas and Easter begin in paganism or with Christ-followers? I hate what Christmas has turned into, and I cringe when I see bunnies and eggs in our churches. Why? Because Easter baskets weren’t part of my upbringing, and because of its association, I guess, to the fertility goddess. Perhaps, like Josiah’s day, we’ve strayed far from the purity of our original celebrations.

And then we rationalize. They may have pagan origins, but Christians say they have reclaimed the holidays for God. We’re not worshipping anyone but the one true God—even if we hide Easter eggs in our backyard—and we’ve turned the symbol into a Resurrection Egg. Is it ONLY a matter of the heart that’s important? The birth of Christ and His resurrection are legitimate historical events—so why shouldn’t we celebrate them?

My mind is free-wheeling here, but the thought crosses my mind that if these two holidays were truly of pagan origin, we wouldn’t celebrate them . . . or would we?

What if I found out, like Josiah, that I’d been doing it all wrong all my life? Would I have the courage to stand up to culture?

A God of Second Chances

. . . The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished . . . (Exodus 34:6-7 NIV).

How do you reconcile these two statements?

He forgives wickedness, rebellion, and sin.
He does not leave the guilty unpunished.

These verses about God’s character intrigue me. The Old Testament leaves me feeling like God is an angry, judgmental God, quick to wipe out the earth with a flood or a plague or an infestation of snakes to decimate certain ones who’ve rebelled. Of course the book of Revelation in the New Testament has its share of judgments as well.

But then I think of the years and years that God waited—patiently, mercifully, kindly, slow to anger, waiting for His creation to repent and turn around and look at Him. It was an act of MERCY to destroy the earth with a flood. He saved many generations from destruction by preventing their birth. He knew what direction His creation was heading.

Do not accuse my God of being harsh. He waits and gives second chances and loves and weeps and calls and nudges. But there is a limit even to God’s patience. It is actually more merciful for Him to stop man in his tracks than to allow him to infect future generations.

My God is merciful, gracious, forgiving, full of lovingkindness and truth, but when I know God has directly commanded something, I dare not disobey, glibly expecting Him to withhold judgment.

But what if you are a victim of someone else’s sin, and you cry out to God, “How long must evil continue?” And He replies, “I’m giving the perpetrator another chance to turn to Me,” how would you respond?

Is My God Box Too Small?

Any belief that isn’t part of your experience remains in the shadow of doubt (Pastor Allen Jackson, WOC).

Left to Tell, by Immaculée Ilibagiza, is a moving and powerful story of a Rwandan genocide survivor. In this book Immaculée recalls how God protected her, how her faith grew during the ordeal, and how she found God’s power strong enough to forgive her enemies.

My Protestant roots antennae shot up, however, when I read how Jesus AND MARY, the mother of Jesus, appeared to Immaculée and ministered to her. This scenario flies in the face of mypieta-by-michelangelo_2463081 Baptist upbringing. Was it truly Mary or was it simply a visual that God gave her because He knew it would comfort her heart?

Does God use what we believe and are familiar with when He speaks to us? Does God accommodate us in our beliefs with which we’ve grown up? OR does Mary, the Mother of Jesus, truly have a role in ministry to us here on earth? From my understanding of Scripture, I would say no, but how do I account for this person’s experience?

I have a couple Gentile friends who believe we should eat according to Old Testament dietary laws and worship on the Sabbath. Does God honor their hearts—their desire to return to the origins of our Christian faith? Are Protestants out of God’s will for worshiping on Sunday and eating pork? Who gets to decide what’s right?

I want to be holy. I want to do right, be right. I want to honor God with my lips and my actions. But what if I’m doing wrong out of ignorance? Does God honor my heart attitude? King David did right most of the time, but fell once, and conviction ate him up inside. Can I trust the Holy Spirit to convict me, to guide me, to prompt me?

While praying with people in my ministry, I’ve often been astonished at the answers God gives them that bring them to peace. “How can that be?” I wonder. I freely admit that my God-box is simply too small. Am I okay with the fact that Immaculée claimed to have seen Mary and Jesus and that they ministered to her? Is my God-box big enough to handle it—that her experience is hers and “what is that to me?” Like Mary, I “ponder all these things in my heart.”

I also hear the echoes of my teachers and pastors who cry out for doctrinal purity—who are careful to interpret the Scriptures faithfully according to their understanding. But who’s to say their interpretation is always the right one? Warren W. Wiersbe says, “Godly men differ.” We come to the Holy Scriptures with the biases of our own experiences, our triggers, our needs, our culture, our upbringing. How can we shake off error and embrace truth?

Will God honor obedience to what we THINK is right—even if it’s wrong? In Leviticus law, it didn’t SEEM to matter what the heart was—it was all about adherence to a set of rules. Or was it? God made provision for the unintentional sin.

I want to do right and to adhere to truth that I know and understand. If my friend chooses to keep kosher out of conviction, should I follow? No, I don’t think so. Then I would be following one woman’s leading instead of Jesus’ conviction on my own heart. But what if God gave me a vision of Mary ministering to me? How would I respond?

So does God have (or reveal) different truths for different people? Or is there only one truth, applied many ways? I believe that there is only one Truth—and His name is Jesus. Look to Him alone as the author and finisher of our faith and leave all others to God to handle, instruct, and teach. I’m not responsible for the way God works in others. I am only accountable for myself and my relationship to Him.

We all have blind spots. I wonder what error, mis-belief, or false teaching I hold to in my life?

But It’s Against the Rules!

 

RefereeThis may be a hot topic for some, but I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve changed my views on this subject over time. I’ve moved from dogmatically opposed to cautious acceptance to taking my hand off the lid of the box and letting God be God. I’ve come to realize that some rules are guidelines, not always absolutes.

  • The posted minimum speed limit on the freeway is 40.
    But in fog or heavy snow, it would be foolish to try to maintain that speed.
  • The rule stated that only priests were allowed to eat the holy showbread.
    When there was no other food available, King David ate some of the consecrated bread and was not condemned for his action.
  • The fourth commandment says to keep the Sabbath day holy.
    Jesus healed the sick and “harvested” grain on the Sabbath.
  • The norm was for male judges to rule over Israel.
    One of the 12 judges in the Bible was Deborah.

The norm is for male pastors to provide church leadership. Can there be exceptions without violating Paul’s instructions to Timothy?

What do you think?

 

On Love

Let love for your fellow believers continue and be a fixed practice with you—never let it fail. (Hebrews 13:1)

God loved me when I was most unlovely, and He loved me before I loved Him. In turn, I want to radiate God’s love to others, no matter what they are like or how they treat me. But how does one do that?

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My Visual:  I see a thick steel cable stretching from the cross to the end of time. And I am walking on a platform beneath this cable, but I cannot fall off because I am harnessed and hooked onto the cable with a permanently sealed brass ring. Nothing can release me from God’s love or His covenant (Heb. 13:20-21). I may slip or stumble, but the cable from me to Him is strong. I will not fall. I am safe.

An obstacle in my path might try to prevent me from moving forward, but God can remove it for me. Or my brass ring might get tarnished and I’ll need to polish it with prayer. I may get distracted on my journey, but sometimes it’s okay to stop and look around and rest and see the beauty and the scenery around me. I get so focused on my goal that I forget to do that sometimes.

And now I see that I’m actually on a moving platform. It’s God’s job, God’s timing, and His decision as to when to move the platform forward and when to make it stop still—because my concern is not the end goal (I can’t see the end anyway because it stretches to eternity). For now, I have a job to do—rest when He says rest; keep alert when He moves me forward; look around and enjoy the scenery; fight the good fight, keep my spiritual armor on at all times.

Suddenly I see myriads of other cables—each person is hooked to his/her own, each on a separate platform. I can reach out and touch several people. One is on a steady platform, and we spur each other on to love and good works. Another one is afraid. Her platform is wobbly, disconnected, unstable, and she keeps looking down. I keep encouraging her to take the next step and to put her faith in the cable. Another one accuses me falsely of knocking her off-balance. I remind her to refocus on her own cable. Help me, Lord, to love well each one in my sphere of influence.

Let us continue to invest our lives in people even though we may not see immediate results. (Missionary Sam Goertz)

A Chance Encounter?

A friend of mine once challenged me to be on the lookout for God-sightings throughout my day. This one didn’t take much imagination on my part to see His footprint!

July 2007 Journal. Scott and I are attending managers’ meetings for Moody, and I had Bookstore 2some time to myself. I was praying that God would give me an opportunity to minister to someone this week, but little did I know that He’d planned something special for me this afternoon.

I wandered down the street and into a two-story bookshop, found a secluded corner and plopped down on a comfy couch to read. Before I got to page two in my book, a young couple sat down in the seats next to me. Within two sentences of greetings, she began to tell me that they’d just gotten word that she’s pregnant and that she was feeling both excitement and fear. She said she felt like she was in a dark place.

I asked her if she’d like me to pray with her, and she agreed. Immediately, God gave her a visual of Himself being in the dark room with her, and she no longer felt alone. The anxiety left her.

A chance encounter? Hardly. She said she’d been praying for an answer to her fear for the last 24 hours and hadn’t slept all last night. God heard her prayer—and mine.

Have you had a God-sighting lately?

 

A Mountaintop Experience–Glimpses into other worlds

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I don’t have an imagination large enough to picture what it must have been like for Moses to encounter God on Mt. Sinai or to enter into the experience of Peter, James, and John who saw a glimpse of God’s glory atop the Mount of Transfiguration or to identify with Isaiah who had a vision of the Lord “high and lifted up.” I have friends who report having seen angels and others who’ve had a near-death experience.

Why does God allow some people to see visions, to see the “other world,” to have a deeper sense and understanding of and insight into the spiritual dimension?

Wouldn’t  mountaintop experiences like these change a person forever? You might think after such an event: I’d never sin again, never doubt, never have another fear. But it’s not so. At some point we have to return to base camp and live in the earthly realm where we experience hurts and triggers.

There were a million Israelites on the journey through the wilderness, but God CHOSE only one through whom to communicate and commune. There were 12 disciples, but Jesus CHOSE only 3 to see His glory. Out of all the prophets, only one records an experience similar to Isaiah’s.

God CHOSE for me to grow up in a remote village on the continent of Africa and to answer His call on my life at an early age. But He did not choose to give me the gift of sight into the spirit realm. He chose me to minister to wounded and abused and hurting people—me!—who has experienced so little hurt in my life. Me—a vessel offered to God for His use. No special talents or gifts, just average in skill, intelligence and energy being used by God so that He gets the glory. I just have to be faithful.

Would I really want to have been in Moses’ shoes? To catch a glimpse of God’s glory but then have to follow through and lead a bunch of rebellious, griping, thirsty, murderous stiff-necked people through the heat of the desert? Would I be willing to follow Jesus to martyrdom like the apostles? Or grind through a life of rejection and abuse as a prophet? I will not envy the mountaintop experiences of these giants in the faith. God has given me what I need now and prepared me for what He wants in the future, and that is enough.

I want to be faithful for life, not to falter when my body fails me or my mind quits working. I want to be faithful till I draw my last breath, at which time I will be able to see at last into the spirit realm and experience the Lord in all His glory, high and lifted up. I’m happy to wait for my mountaintop experience.

What kind of experiences prepared you for your work for the kingdom?

Gifts to Men

When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men. (Ephesians 4:8)

When Jesus returned to heaven, He gave gifts to men. I’m not sure exactly what gifts the Apostle Paul was referring to, but it got me to thinking. When He chooses one person to have a good voice and another to excel at math, it’s a gift. As children, we wanted equal gifts, and we wanted what our peers had. As adults, we want what our family, friends, or neighbors have. We want life to be equal and fair. I suppose everybody struggles with this on some level.

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Imagine it’s Christmas morning and Jesus is handing out gifts. Are you jealous of what your brother or sister got? Why? Perhaps theirs is the thing you wanted and didn’t get or you didn’t like what you got.

But I look down at my gift and discover it’s tailored just for me. It’s exactly what I needed. It’s perfect for what I wanted. I’m delighted with His choice—because He knows me and He knows my heart. He created me, and He knows what will give me pleasure. But even more than that, He knows that I’ll use the gift that He’s given me to minister to others in order to bring Him glory. And in this way, my brothers and sisters can benefit from it. And then they share their gifts with me, and I benefit.

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? (Matthew 7:11)

Gary Chapman has made popular The Five Love Languages, one of which is “gift-giving.” Giving is not my first love language, so I would do well to observe how the Father does it. God is an extravagant gift-giver. I cannot give Him anything in return that would equal His gifts. Therefore, it is never an exchange of gifts (like we tend to do at Christmastime). I am the child handing Him a dandelion, when He has given me a botanical flower garden. He even made the wildflower that I’m offering to Him.

But . . . just as I delighted in receiving a dandelion from my [then] two-year-old Grandson Ben, offered in love and innocence, God delights in me when I offer to Him my gifts—not just in gratitude—but out of love. I choose to give Him my heart, and His heart melts, just as mine does when Ben or Jack give me something of themselves, like a picture for my bulletin board.

Ben 2017

Nativity by Ben Wallace, age 5