Jeff Mikels » May 17, 2006

Daily Archives: May 17, 2006

Explaining the Bible

In the Beginning(s)

How the Perfect Creation was Corrupted

Nothing existed except for God, and he decided when everything should begin. He created the world in a flash of light, and built it up piece by piece until it was exactly the way he wanted it, but despite its beauty and greatness, he noticed something was missing, so he created human beings.

God formed his crowning achievement from the dust of the earth and gave the first man and the first woman the first job—to be his representatives throughout the whole world, taking care of all that God had made. He also gave them their first true choice when he told them they were not to eat the fruit from one particular tree. However, disregarding God’s will, they ate it anyway.

The consequences for disobeying God were severe. They lost their innocence, they lost their place in paradise, they lost access to the tree of life and its sustaining power, but most of all, they lost the purity of relationship they had with each other and with God.

From that point on, history is a record of people struggling to have healthy relationships with each other, struggling to find their place in this world, struggling against sickness and death, and most of all struggling with the temptations to do their own thing and disregard God.

(The Bible does not shy away from telling us these struggles in all their graphic detail.)

Noah: Scrap it all and start over!

Adam and Eve had children together, and those children began to populate the earth, but the first two got in a fight over who was better at pleasing God. Cain couldn’t stand the fact that God was more pleased with Abel’s way of worship, so Cain became the first murderer. God banished Cain to be a wanderer, but his descendants were the first to develop cities and civilization.

In those early cities, people did whatever they wanted. They continued to live without regard for God. They became more and more evil. In fact, there was only one family line that maintained the knowledge of God, and by the time Noah was born, God was fed up. He destroyed all people with a great flood, but saved Noah, his family, and many animals by warning him in advance to build the largest sea-going vessel of all time.

When the flood subsided, God made a promise to Noah, that he would never bring flood the earth again. Additionally, he called Noah to a higher standard of living based on the simple fact that blood was sacred. No animal should be eaten with blood still in it, and no innocent human blood should be shed.

Noah’s descendants, however, soon forgot God’s commands to live in humble relationship with him and others. Instead, they tried to build a tower to the heavens to declare their own supremacy on the earth. God, again fed up with their disregard of him, simply caused them all to have different languages. Once they couldn’t communicate, they couldn’t work together, and they dispersed. After all, God had commanded them in the beginning to be his representatives throughout the whole earth and to take care of the whole world. As long as they stayed together in one place, they would only get more and more concerned with themselves and what they were doing. Getting their languages all mixed up was what they needed to finally begin the spread throughout the earth.

Abraham: A Third Beginning

As people began to spread throughout the earth, they continued to live their lives independently from the one who created them. They continued to disregard God, but God never gave up on them. Once again, he identified a single person with whom he could start over. God chose Abram (who later became known as Abraham), and made a “covenant” with him. God entered into a binding agreement with Abraham that was pretty one-sided.

God would bless Abraham with great wealth. God would give Abraham many descendants. God would give Abraham and his descendants a wonderfully fertile land to call their own. God would protect Abraham, and as if that weren’t enough, God would eventually use Abraham and his offspring to bless the entire world!

In return, Abraham had to follow God where he led, obey God’s clear commands, and be circumcised as a sign of the unique arrangement he had with God—each side would make specific sacrifices, but each side would receive great blessings. It would all start with Abraham’s offspring, so God claimed ownership over Abraham’s body.

Abraham proved to be the most faithful of all people up to that point. He had some major failings to be sure, but he developed a close relationship with God that empowered him to take great risks for God.

Abraham’s son Isaac had a son named Jacob, and God changed his name to Israel. He had 12 sons (and a number of daughters too), but two were his favorite. 10 of them ganged up on Joseph and sold him into slavery. He eventually ended up in Egypt. However, his faith in God caused him to be committed to integrity, and God blessed him with great insight as well. Before long, he ended up being the right-hand-man of the king (Pharaoh) of Egypt! In that position, he stockpiled food in preparation for a famine God warned them about.

When the famine came, many people came to Egypt for food, and Joseph’s family ended up moving there after Joseph’s brothers demonstrated their remorse for how they treated him when he was younger. Joseph wisely told them, “What you intended for evil, God meant for good.” It was because of their evil deed that Joseph ended up in Egypt, and it was because of Joseph that Egypt had so much food to go around. What they intended for evil, God meant for good.

Moses: Deliverance from Slavery

A new dynasty of Pharaoh’s came to the throne of Egypt, and they wanted to undo many of the things of the past. This included the nice treatment given to the people of Israel (the Hebrews). Soon, they were considered slaves of the nation and the Pharaoh’s demanded hard labor from them. It got so bad that eventually a Pharaoh ordered that all the Hebrew boys were to be killed to control the population growth of the Hebrews. God spared Moses as a baby by having the Pharaoh’s daughter adopt him as her own.

Moses was raised in the palace but soon became aware of the terrible way the Egyptians were treating his own people. One day, in a fit of rage, he killed an Egyptian taskmaster who was beating a Hebrew. Ashamed of his deed, he ran into the desert where he met a man who believed in the God who created all things. Moses stayed with Jethro, married one of his daughters and tended his sheep in the desert for 40 years when one day, God spoke to him.

God told Moses that it was time to rescue the Hebrews from their slavery and to fulfill his promise to Abraham about his descendents living in a fertile land they could call their own. With the power of God on his side, then, Moses returned to Egypt and demanded that Pharaoh let the Hebrews leave. Of course, Pharaoh refused, and God sent plague after plague on the people of Egypt until finally Pharaoh relented.

The last plague was different from the others, though. Most of the plagues involved some kind of terrible environmental catastrophe that could have been explained away somehow, but the final plague was undoubtedly supernatural. Every single firstborn male in the entire land of Egypt, including people and livestock, died. However, some were spared. Specifically, God told Moses that if anyone took the blood of a lamb and put it on the top and sides of their front doors, then he would “pass over” that house and spare those inside. Thus, the blood of a lamb was a shield of protection against death.

Pharaoh’s own son died that night, and countless Egyptian families lost loved ones as well. They wanted the Israelites out of there. In fact, they wanted so badly for them to leave, that they sent them off that night with food, supplies, and tons of Egyptian gold and silver.

That’s how, after 400 years of life in Egypt, many of them served in slavery, the Hebrews finally left. All 2 million of them headed out toward the Red Sea and the desert beyond. When they got to the Red Sea, God sent a violent wind to push back the waters and let them pass, but when Pharaoh, who changed his mind, tried to cross with his army, the sea returned to its place and drowned them all.

The Hebrews were completely safe in the desert of the Sinai Peninsula. While they were there in the desert, God led them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He gave Moses wisdom to handle disputes that arose. He provided water in the most amazing ways, and he even gave them miraculous food. There were quail that flew through regularly for the people to kill and eat, and every morning the ground was covered with an edible white substance the people affectionately called “Manna” which meant, “What is it?”

Sinai: The Covenant

God had made a covenant with Adam and Eve—they were to be his representatives throughout the world, multiply, fill it up, and take care of it. God had made a covenant with Noah—God would never flood the world again, and people would consider all blood to be sacred. God had made a covenant with Abraham—God would bless, and Abraham would obey even to the point of making deeply personal sacrifices. Now, God was making a covenant that would be directly with all the people of Israel.

God had Moses lead the people to the mountain called Sinai, and he descended onto the mountain in a great dark cloud. It looked like a volcano about to erupt in smoke, ash and lava. The people were afraid to go near the mountain, and in fact, God told them not to touch it. Moses, however, was allowed to go up the mountain into the cloud, and it was there that he received the 10 Commandments for the first time.

God himself took two tablets of stone and carved the 10 Commandments onto the two tablets. Moses stayed on the mountain for 40 days and nights while God taught him other rules and laws for how this new society should function.

When Moses came down the mountain, however, he saw that Aaron, his brother, had taken the gold and silver given them by the Egyptians, had fashioned a statue of a calf, and all the people were having a worship party to honor the statue! Moses was disgusted. He threw down the tablets, breaking them to bits, he slaughtered many of the people in righteous anger, and he finally ground up the statue and put the powder into their drinking water. Many more died of illness from the water.

Moses returned to the mountain, where God gave him a second set of tablets, and confirmed once again the laws they were to follow with an added sense of urgency—the people were on thin ice with God. Nevertheless, God prescribed for the people a method by which they could always receive forgiveness for anything they had done and by which they could maintain a healthy relationship with the one who made them.

Their relationship with God would be based on three things, the Prophet, the Priest, and the Sacrificial System. The Prophet would spend time in God’s presence and hear his words for the people. Then he would speak to the people for God and let them know what God expected of them. The Sacrificial System would enable people to pay God back for the sins they had committed, to receive forgiveness from him, and to re-enact his saving grace when the angel of death passed over their homes back in Egypt. They would present an animal, perfect in every way, to the Priest who would kill it, spill its blood onto the altar, and then burn the carcass up. The blood was sacred, and the holiness of innocent blood was enough to wash away the sins of people and make them right again with God. The Priest was there to make sure everything was done the way God wanted it to, but more than that, he was the one who would take the blood from the sacrifice, and go into the presence of God himself to present the blood. It was an elaborate system, but the people knew clearly that their relationship with God was always based on the Prophet, the Priest, and the Sacrifice.

Aaron, despite his major mistake at the foot of Sinai, would be the first High Priest.

Kadesh: So Close, and Yet So Far

They soon reached the southern border of the land God had promised to Abraham a hundred generations before. Moses sent 12 spies northward to scope out the land, but when they came back, only two spies (Caleb and Joshua) actually believed God would help them take possession of the land. The others were too overwhelmed with the size and circumstances of the existing population, and spoke against heading into the land.

The people complained. No one wanted to go into the land God had promised, so God, once again angered by the rebelliousness of his people ordered them to spend another 40 years in the desert so all the rebellious people could die off and their children would be able to enter the land.

40 years later, though, Moses, Joshua, and Caleb were still alive and they brought the people back to the border of the land of promise. In one final speech to the people, Moses reminded them all of the amazing history of their relationship with God. Moses spoke of the promise to Abraham, the time in Egypt, the miraculous escape, the Laws of God, and the land before them. He prophesied of a day when God would raise up another prophet like himself, and then he handed the people over to their new leader, Joshua. Moses, however, went up onto a mountain overlooking the promised land. He died there, and God himself buried the body.

Joshua, down below, prepared to lead the people into the land they had been promised centuries before.

Joshua: Entering the Land

Of all the people who came out of Egypt, all had died in the desert. Joshua and Caleb were the only two who had seen the miracles of Egypt, endured the wanderings in the desert, and were going to enter the land promised to Abraham. Leading these hardhearted people was a daunting task for someone as old as Joshua, but at the beginning of his leadership, God spoke to him:

No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. — Joshua 1:5-6

With confidence that comes from knowing the presence of the Lord, Joshua led the people to invade the land of Canaan. God told them it was time to bring judgment on all the people who had been living in the land and worshiping other gods. He told his people to go throughout the land and completely eliminate all the people who were living there. It seems awfully vicious of God to ruthlessly kill so many people, but then again, this was only the second time since Noah’s Flood that God had brought judgment on a large group of people by killing them, and it was the only time that God told his people to go on the offensive against another group of people.

They first went up against Jericho, a city with a very formidable wall. In response to a message from God, Joshua led the people to march around the city and make a lot of noise for a week, and on the final day, they marched so much and made so much noise that the walls crumbled to the ground! Everything in the city was destroyed except the family of a former prostitute who had helped out the people of Israel because she feared God.

Aachan, however, stole some of the riches that he saw and hid them in his tent. For that disobedience, God did not help the Israelites in their next battle and they were soundly beaten. Aachan’s sin was then discovered, so he and his family were immediately stoned to death.

The rest of the conquest went pretty well under Joshua’s leadership. The land was divided into 12 units, and different family groups were given some of the land with a few exceptions. The descendents of Levi (Levites) were given the job of managing the religious system of the land, so as priests, they were given no land of their own. God himself would be their inheritance. Since the Levites had no land, Joseph’s descendents were split in two and each half-tribe was given a unit of land.

Once they entered the land and had gotten relatively settled, Joshua, at the end of his life, gathered the people together and once again reconfirmed the covenant they had with God to obey him and to receive his blessings. He culminated his speech with one of the most climactic sayings in the Bible:

“… choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” — Joshua 24:15

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