1.29.2015

Things I Missed: CSI Israel

There's a bizarre, troubling story found in Leviticus 10. It goes something like this:

The newly formed nation of Israel has exited Egypt in epic fashion thanks to their God, YHWH. God leads them down to the the same mountain on which he first appeared to Moses - Mount Sinai. The tribes of Israel are encamped around the base of the mountain while God gives the constitution, the bill of rights, and the basic laws of the land to Moses and Aaron. God goes into incredible detail of how the Tabernacle was to be built, where to place the furniture inside the Tabernacle, how the priests are supposed to dress, how the animals are to be killed and sacrificed. It's riveting material that just keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Finally in chapter 10 of Leviticus there is a shift from Law to Narrative. Everything is ready to go. The Tabernacle has been set up, the furniture arranged, the priests purified - Lights, Camera, Action!

Well, first things first - Lights. Nadab and Abihu, the eldest sons of Aaron, kick things off by lighting the altar of incense. And that's when things go downhill quickly. It's the first official act of the priesthood in the Tabernacle and - boom! - they are struck dead. It's disastrous. Tragic. Shock. Dismay. Mouths hanging open. Eyes wide and unblinking.

Did that really just happen?

God fills them in on a little key piece of advice: "Among those who approach me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored."

Turns out that Nadab and Abihu had grabbed the wrong incense or lit the fire incorrectly or...something. It simply says that the offered "strange fire" that wasn't "authorized" by God.

...And that's why we can't have instruments in worship today.

Seriously.

I can't tell you the number of times I've heard this story given in order to defend the use of a cappella style singing in worship. Instruments aren't "authorized" just like the fire/incense these guys burned was not "authorized." If God had wanted instruments, he would have "authorized" them.

I think we may have missed the point.

We may not be given the specifics of what they did or why it upset God so much, but it had more to do with their attitude and their regard for that which is holy than it did their own personal preferences. It's not like they thought to themselves - You know, I think this incense smells WAY better. Let's just use this. No one uses that old one anymore.

No. The thing I never noticed about this story before was what God commanded immediately afterward:

"You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come."

They made a choice beforehand to get drunk before performing their priestly duties. They didn't take their responsibilities seriously enough. They were not of sober mind and body when they approached a holy God. It's as if God is thinking - I can't believe I have to make this a command. It should go without saying. Don't drink on the job!

We understand this. We don't want police officers, fire fighters, ambulance drivers, teachers, doctors, electricians, etc., drinking while on the clock. Why? Because we can't be trusted when we're drinking.

The point is not that drinking is a sin. The point is holiness, reverence, and taking our responsibilities before God seriously. God made this command for his priests so that they wouldn't lose their senses. He wanted them to be able to perform their tasks to the best of their ability. And his didn't want them to become discredited among the people.

Who's going to listen to a drunkard about the things of God?

Who's going to listen to the class clown about religion?

Who's going to be won over by a bunch of people who don't take their faith seriously in the first place?

So when we investigate this crime scene, we find that it was the blood-alcohol level that got these two into trouble long before they offered that "strange fire." It was their own indifference and indiscretion that got them killed.

1.26.2015

Things I Missed: Forgetting Joseph

One thing I've always wondered is how the Hebrews got themselves enslaved in Egypt. Everything seemed to be going so well for them there, but then suddenly -BOOM- 400 Years a Slave. What happened? Where was God? Why did he allow his people to become slaves in a foreign land?

As you finish reading Genesis and begin the book of Exodus, there are two passages that I think make an interesting side by side comparison:

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaacand Jacob.” And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.” (Genesis 50:24-25)

Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.

Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. (Exodus 1:6-8)

I had never noticed that before. Before Joseph died he basically made the rest of his family promise not to stay in Egypt but to follow God's lead back to Canaan. He reassured them that God would help them and guide them and bring them back home.

The problem was that Egypt was home to his sons and grandsons. Canaan was never home for Ephraim or Manasseh. All they knew was Egypt - and Egypt was the place to be. It was the most powerful Empire in the world. It was wealthy and prosperous - largely thanks to Joseph himself. They lived in comfort and luxury. It was a great place to raise a family or start a business.

The Israelites were growing in strength and numbers. They had every physical blessing they could desire. This must be the will of God, right?

Maybe for a time. But the noise of comfort and power tends to drown out the voice of God. Calling Abraham out of his city to move his wife and servants across the country was one thing. Trying to get the attention of an entire nation living in luxury became all but impossible.

So the generations came and went until the memory of Joseph and his God no longer remained. The Hebrews forgot about "the promised land," and the Pharaohs forgot about that guy named Joseph who saved their nation decades ago.

They forgot their God. They forgot their heritage. Then suddenly they lost their freedom. When all you have is wealth and power, what happens when those things are taken away?

Could the nation of Israel have avoided so many decades of slavery if they had remained faithful to God and followed his lead back to the land of their forefathers?

And what about us? Do we own our possessions or do our possessions own us? Are our ears dulled so much by the comfort and luxury around us that we can't even hear God calling us away from our own inevitable destruction and into a better life he has prepared for us?

Jesus' words at the end of his life sound very similar to Joseph's last words:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3)

Egypt was not Israel's home. God had something better in mind.

This world is not the disciple's home. God has something better in mind.

Don't forget.

1.14.2015

Things I've Missed - God's Pursuit of Israel

I must make a confession.

I've never read the Bible all the way through.

All told I've probably read a good 80-90% over my lifetime, but never cover to cover. Some books I've spent months at a time doing in depth study and research. Other books have gotten hardly more than a quick skim as I'm looking up one particular verse.

But with the new year I've set a goal for myself. I'm going to read the Bible completely and thoroughly. Not because I feel obligated in any way. But because we may never know what hidden gems are buried in Holy Scripture - those treasures hidden in a field, those pearls of great price, those fresh-air insights. As I read I am going to try to keep track of some of the bigger ones I've never noticed before.

And no, I'm not following any reading plan. I'm reading at the same pace I would any other book. I don't set out to read so many chapters a day of the latest Dean Koontz novel. So why would I treat the Bible differently? But I have made this part of the goal - I'm not reading any other book until I've completed the last chapter of Revelation.

Anyway, on to one of those interesting tidbits in Scripture I've never noticed before. I've read Genesis more times than I can attempt to count. It's one of the richest books, in my opinion, as far as plot, character development, and so on. Each character is so real, so vivd, so relatable. There are layers upon layers of personality.

This time through the book, the character of Jacob really stood out to me. Jacob didn't want to believe in God. He didn't want to follow God. He didn't want anything to do with God. But God had other plans.

In his early years Jacob was not a nice guy. He was that character you love to hate. He was wimpy, whiny, manipulative, and heartless - especially towards his own family.

He knew his father, Isaac, served the God of his grandfather, Abraham. But early on Jacob didn't want anything to do with this God. In what was his darkest hour Jacob steals the blessing from his older brother. I don't have time to go into detail about what the blessing was or why it was significant, but this was a BIG deal.

Anyway, Jacob, posing as Esau, brings Isaac some stew. When Isaac asked how he got back so quickly, Jacob said "The LORD your God gave me success" (Gen. 27:20). He knew the God of Isaac, but he didn't even pretend to claim him as his own God.

After Jacob stole the blessing away from Esau, he left home on the run from his brother. You can add "coward" to the list of descriptors. But while he's on the run from his brother after deceiving his father and stealing what was not his - in the middle of all THAT - God appeared to him in a vision. God revealed himself to Jacob and promised to bless and protect him.

Even though Jacob had no interest in pursuing God, God pursued Jacob. God didn't wait for Jacob to confess his sins and repent. He didn't wait for Jacob to realized what he had done. He didn't wait for Jacob to call out to God for deliverance.

God pursued Jacob.

And he wouldn't take "No" for an answer.

After that vision, Jacob is still hesitant. He tries to strike a deal with God. "If God take care of me, meets my needs, and keeps me safe, THEN he will be my God."

Even after that Jacob is quite the fence-sitter. He still tries to manipulate people to get what he wants and he still allows idols in his household. Finally, God had enough. He actually came down and had a physical altercation with Jacob. They fought and wrestled until Jacob finally learned his lesson - God is not to be toyed with. You're either in or your out.

It took seeing God face to face and hours of wrestling with him, but Jacob finally committed. And his name was changed to Israel.

Jacob never pursued God. But God never quit pursuing Jacob.

And perhaps that's one of the most hope-filled lessons in all of Scripture. God pursues man.

Jesus would tell similar stories about a shepherd who would not give up on his lost sheep, a woman who would not give up on her lost coin, and a father who would not give up on his lost son. God doesn't give up on lost people.

God will pursue us, even when we don't pursue him.