Three Musketeers (part 2)

41855E78-5DFE-4CCF-A287-4C868050C67C“It was this fear that restrained him, so powerful is the influence of a truly great character on all that surrounds it. (40.59 – 40.60)” — Alexander Dumas

D’Artagnan was a young man whose dream was to join the Kings body guards.  When he goes to Paris, he is given the run around.  When he runs into a few of the Musketeers, unbeknownst to him, by challenging them each to duels. They end up teaming up to defeat the Cardinals guards who had interrupted their duels.

D’Artagnan befriends Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, the Three Musketeers.  Athos is a calculated man.  “Athos…never gave his advice before it was demanded and even then it must be demanded twice. ‘In general, people only ask for advice,’ he said ‘that they may not follow it or if they should follow it that they may have somebody to blame for having given it’” writes Dumas.  The strong, reserved, soft spoken leader.  He becomes a father-figure to D’Artagnan.

Unlike the Disney version, Dumas’ novel paints a more chaotic plot.  It’s not the Cardinal vs. the Musketeers in the book.  The Cardinal, near the end of the book offers D’Artagnan the commission and leadership he has been seeking from the beginning…all he had to do was sign on the line.  He paused as he left the room, weighing the results of his decision  and this was the thought that went through his mind: “It was this fear that restrained him, so powerful is the influence of a truly great character on all that surrounds it.”. The great character was Athos he was thinking of.  The influence was the decision not to sign the commission.  He knew that should he sign, Athos would renounce him.  Truly great characters change the actions of everyone around them!

Mark 9.2 begins with the words “after 6 days”.  What is the deal with waiting almost a week?  As discussed previously, Mark is a fast paced book.  And also discussed elsewhere, Mark is all about identifying Jesus as the Son of God.  His book begins with the statement: “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God…”(Mark 1) and climaxes with the Roman Centurion at the base of the cross exclaiming “surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15).  Right smack dab in the middle of the book, Peter makes the confession “You are the Messiah.” (8.29)  So there is the confession. 

Then Jesus begins to tell his disciples about his death.  He would do so in chapters 8, 9, 10.  Mark 8 serves as a tipping point in the Gospel.  It is the fulcrum that balances the entirity of the book.  The confession and the prediction are where the two purposes of Jesus come together.  His action and identity.  In Mark 1, Jesus declares: “I have come to preach.”  (1.38)  In Mark 10, Jesus says that he came “not to be serve but to serve and give his life up as a ransom for many.” (10.45)  The middle of chapter 8 begins a section of the book that serves as central teaching to Jesus’ ministry.

Finally, on top of the confession of Peter and the prediction of Jesus, there is the teaching of Jesus at the end of chapter 8.  The confession and prediction mean little if there isn’t anything that becomes of it.   Jesus reiterates that this is not just a teaching or a lesson, it is a pattern of life.  Jesus wants his disciples to know that it doesn’t end with his cross, but ends with ours.   “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8.34)

The whole book has been racing along and now all the information about Jesus that is needed has been communicated…then he hits the brakes for 6 days.  For an impatient man like Mark, I bet 6 days seemed like eternity.  If you have ever taught 6th graders or trained a horse, you would understand what Mark is doing.  Its called “think time”.  Letting the message sit and rest for a period, preventing overload of information.  If you have ever tried to teach someone how to play pitch, you know the look of overload.  So he takes a break.

Then the story picks up with the Three Musketeers.  They head up the mountain, alone, with Jesus.  Think of how many great moments have happened on mountain tops.

  • The Ark came to rest on Ararat (Gen 8.4)
  • Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac on Mt. Moriah (Genesis 22)
  • Moses was given the 10 commandments on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20)
  • The Blessings and Curses came from Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim (Deut. 11)
  • David built his city, Jerusalem, on Mt. Zion (2 Samuel 5.7)
  • Elijah had a showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18)
  • Jesus gave his sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5)

Every ancient culture, the pyramids of Egypt, the Ziggurats of Sumer, the temples of the Mayans, the gods on Mt. Olympus for the Greeks, believed that Mountains were where man met with God.  So there is some theology wrapped up in their trek up the mountain.

When the reached the summit, Jesus was transfigured before them.  Essentially, he started radiating.  There isn’t a whole lot more to this word than what comes to your mind at first.  He became really shinny.  That’s when two other men showed up: Moses and Elijah.  Neither were unfamiliar with mountain top moments as seen above.  The list above, however, left off two very important moments.  The first being Moses’ Mt. Sinai experience in Exodus 34.  The second was Elijah’s Mt. Sinai moment in 1 Kings 19.  I will deal with each in turn.

Exodus 34 recounts a 40 day stay atop Mt. Sinai by Moses.  The purpose of this ascent was two-fold.  Primarily it was to make good on God’s promise to Moses in the previous chapter to show him His glory.  Second, it was to renew the 10 commandments and the stones Moses had broken in anger the first time he was up on Sinai.  God meets Moses and “passes by” him making a statement about his identity.

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (34.6-8)

This meeting has been discussed more elsewhere, but for the purpose of this piec it can be said that Moses met God in Sinai.

On the same mountain, many years later, Elijah stands after a 40 day journey (1 Kings 19.8).  He too meets with God.  He is exhausted standing and speaking for God against a corrupt royalty and a stubborn nation.  He had wished for death before coming to the mountain (19.4) but now he has a hearing with God where he offers his complaint.  He says that he is the only faithful one in Israel and that won’t last long if Ahab gets his way.  So God responds:

“Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” (19.11)

And God did so in the following verses.  He wasn’t in the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but in the subsequent whisper.  There it is again; the idea of God “passing by” which brings us to Mark 9.

Peter and the guys are frightened by the dazzling sight before them.  Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are talking in front of them.  So Peter speaks up while scared.  He wants to build shelters for them.

God ends up speaking in verse 7, putting a halt to Peter’s idea, with His statement: “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

The two men on the mountain with Jesus are no strangers to mountain top moments.  And with each of their encounters there was the presence of the Lord and the voice of the Lord.  Mark 9 has God speaking and God presence, through and in the person of Jesus.

The Three Musketeers were shown Jesus identity as the Son of God and his relationship with God.

And once again they were told to keep it quiet (Mark 9.8).


Leverage: Suffering (Part 1)

Lois Lowry’s book, The Giver, is about a predictable community.  They have no colors, no seasons, no cars.  They have no weather, no poverty, no wealth.  They just “are”.  Population control, job placement, family placement, medicines for everything conceivable, and food rations.  The collective memories of all time are held by one person, for the purpose of providing wisdom to the council of Elders who runs the community.  People have the memories from their life, but nothing of history or anything outside of their own community.  Jonas, the protagonist of the story, is chosen by the Elders to have the Job of Receiver.  He is selected to get all the memories from the Giver, to hold.  He starts out with memories of sailing on a tranquil lake, a ride on a sled down a snowy hill, and a tour of the Serengeti.  But the Giver had promised him that the job would hurt.  All he had were positives.  One day, Jonas reminded him of this promise and the Giver sent him back on the lake…for a sun burn.  Then it was the memory of the broken arm from another sled ride.  Again, it was the Serengeti, but with a tusk-less, bloody, elephant, an abandoned calf, and poachers.  Jonas was the only person in the community who now knew what it was to suffer.

Suffering is just one universal experience that we all face on this earth.  Everyone will sit beside a hospital bed and watch someone they love dying.  All of us will feel the sting of betrayal from a close friend or family member.  There is no escaping the touch of natural disasters, cancer, abuse, and hatred.  The result of all of these being suffering.   Throughout Scripture I have traced 6 reasons why suffering comes our way:

  • Bad Decisions: Genesis 3.  In Genesis 1-2, God creates everything and it was “good” except for the woman who was “very good”.  They live in the Garden where God takes care of them.  And in this garden, they live out the purposes that God has for them.  The one stipulation, “Don’t eat from that tree!”  But they disobeyed God and every (and I mean every) purpose given to man and the earth was marred by that decision.  Eve wanted to rule over Adam and Adam now has to plant Round-up Ready soybeans because weeds are taking over his garden.  Man has fallen in his relationship with God and the Earth is under the same curse of death.  Cancer is mutated cells, tornadoes tear apart cities, fires destroy communities because we live in a fallen world.  People lie to one another, betray at the drop of a hat, abuse and neglect, because of decisions made.  We hurt one another and we have been hurt by one another.  All because of decisions.
  • Bad Community Life.  It’s one thing to be hurt by a stranger, but what about by the Church.  In Numbers 11, the people of God are wandering around in the wilderness.  God has been feeding them manna and quail every day for 40 years.  Still they think back to the fish and fruit they ate in Egypt.  Sure, they were slaves and all, but it was like Golden Corral back there.  Who wouldn’t trade a life of slavery for a good spread.  So they complained to Moses.  Moses says to God concerning their complaints: “They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.” (Numbers 11.13-15)  If you have attended Church at some point in your life, I am will to bet you were hurt by someone.  I have too long of story to tell about my own hurt right here.  The truth is that I have also been the one doing the hurting.  But before we give the Church a bad name, it happens anywhere you have groups of people.  Rodeo Associations, PTO, Bible Studies, the Elks Club…not too make light of Scripture but Matthew should have written: “Where two or three are gathered…there will be division.”
  • Bad Enemy.  First Peter 5.8 describes Satan as “prowling around like a lion.”  Job saw that first hand.  If you remember the story, Job had it all.  The family, fame, fortune, integrity, and everything a man needs to live a full life.  Then Satan met with God.  The NIV says that God asked Satan to look at Job’s life.  The Hebrew, on the other hand, would indicate that Satan was already watching Job’s life.  Gods question was this: “Satan, why have you set your heart of Job?”  Satan wanted to destroy Job.  Satan took everything from Job, save 3 friends and his wife, which wasn’t necessarily a good thing.  And in the midst of his suffering Job writes: “May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’ That day—may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine on it.” (Job 3.3-4)  There is a very real enemy.  For years I discounted his presence.  I am one of those people who believes that you get hang nails from dry cuticles, not from the devil, still, C.S. Lewis words in The Screwtape Letters ring true.  The Demon Screwtape is talking to his nephew Wormwood and advises him this:I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves…I do not think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that “devils” are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.”
  • Bad Events.  Elijah was the prophet when Ahab was the King.  Ahab, with the help of his wife Jezebeel, built altars to foreign gods, had an open exchange policy with any cult religion, and then began to purge their country of prophets.  Elijah looked around and left. (more on that here)  On the way out of town, resting under a tree “he asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’” (1 Kings 19.4)   It is not hard to look around at the events of the world and realize the suffering that is coming as a result.  Gas attacks in Syria, drug wars in Somalia and Mexico, human trafficking and human rights violations in Qatar and to what end: a billion dollar soccer stadium for the World Cup.  A sports celebration of World unity.  Events of the day can bring suffering.  9/11, Challenger, OKC bombing, JFK, MLK, and this list doesn’t end there.  
  • A Good Message.  Jeremiah was preaching the words that God had given him to speak and act.  In Jeremiah 19, God had tasked him with the purchase of a clay pot.  He was to then take said pot and throw it down and break it in front of the people.  Then say: “just like the pot I just broke, so God will bring another nation to break you!” God, like Drago from Rocky IV says: “I must break you!”  As a punishment for their rampant idolatry, God is punishing their sin by sending them into Exile.  The message doesn’t go over well and the people are a tad upset.  A priest takes particular offense to the message and had Jeremiah beaten and thrown in the stocks (Jer. 20.4).  Jeremiah was preaching the message God had given him and now he is locked up.  Jeremiah laments to God this: “Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, who made him very glad, saying, “A child is born to you—a son!” (Jer. 20.14)  Have you ever been serious about sharing your faith with someone and it cost you a relationship?  Maybe you shared an opinion with some friends and now things are awkward?  It could be that you took a Godly stance to an issue and things are no longer the same?  I am not comparing, nor calling what we in America go through as persecution, especially in light of the hundreds of thousands being killed every year for their faith in the Middle East or locked in prisons in China and North Korea.  I am, however saying, that when a concerted effort is made to let people know what we believe, there will be pushback and it may lead to suffering.

It is a universal problem.  The only way to leverage it, is to view suffering through the crimson colored blood, the black darkness of a closed tomb, and the vibrant light of the morning sun as it shone on the rolled away rock.   Because Jesus went to the cross, laid in the grave, and then left his tomb empty, hope can be born from the womb of despair.  

A Long Distance Call

195157My manual is in the mail and I am strategically planning what tools I need. The project is a Ford 8n that will come in mighty handy as I build my arena. It hasn’t run for 2 years, but even when in weekly use, it wasn’t the greatest of machines. My mechanical expertise being limited, I’m fairly confidant that diagnosing, repairing, and rebuilding the tractor is something I can accomplish for two reasons: (1) I will have a manual in hand; (2) my uncle has fixed anything and everything that has an engine and a cell phone.

There is nothing like having an expert on the other end of the line.

If there was one statement that characterized Moses ministry as the leader of the Israelites (other than Numbers 12.3) would be Exodus 33.11: “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” David had a heart after God, Abraham’s feet followed the Lord, Job had a covenant with his eyes, but Moses spoke with God like a friend, ‘face to face’.

Steps should be taken at this point to ensure that a proper view of God is maintained, for as of late, the idea that ‘God is love’ or ‘God is compassionate’ has made God out to be a weakened and soft being, who is to be befriended instead of feared. Don’t get me wrong, God is love and He is gracious, but He is also holy and just. Like the kids in Narnia who asked to pet Aslan were told, “He is not a tame lion.” There the metaphor was Jesus, but how often do we do the same with God.

This particular scene takes place at the Tent of Meeting. Set up just outside the camp, the tent was where people would go to inquire of God. I find it interesting that the Old Testament people who inquired of God were nearly universally answered. The exception was Saul, who two times did not receive an answer from the Lord. (1 Samuel 14, 28) When an inquiry was brought to God an answer followed. The responses came from priests, prophets, Urim, and dreams; each a method which God used to communicate with his people.

What is more clear than God’s answering, is the negative outcome when the Lord’s guidance is not consulted. In Deuteronomy 7, God explicitly commands the Israelites not to make treaties with the people of the land (7.2). As Joshua and the Israelites marched throughout the land, the fame and news of conquest spread (Josh 6.27). Word eventually fell upon the ears of the Gibeonites (Josh 9.3). They devised a plan; they put on worn out clothes, packed moldy bread, old wine skins and worn out sacks. They claimed to have traveled from a great distance and begged for amnesty amongst the Israelites. The men of Israel had their doubts about the origins of these people (Joshua 9.7) but heard their story.

The Israelites took note of their supplies but “did not inquire of the Lord” (Joshua 9.14) and made a treaty with them. The priests carried the written law of Deuteronomy (Deut 31.9) with them and they knew the importance of the words of the law and the song:

“Moses said: ‘Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you—they are your life…’” (Deut 32.46-47)

It is a fairly simple equation in the Old Testament. When the Lord is inquired of, He answer’s and obedience follows. And when the Lord is forgotten, disobedience ensues. The same pattern can be seen through my walk. Though I have not hired a priest, used Urim or Thummim, or tried to interpret dreams…how often have I ignored scripture, just as the community of Israel did with Deuteronomy. When decisions arise, scripture is always present but seldom consulted.

Moses set the standard in his relationship with the Lord. His discussions and inquiries (Ex. 33); his relationship and intimacy (Deut 34.10) are things that I once envied, until I realized that instead of meeting with God as though ‘face to face’, I have the Spirit of God living inside of me, speaking with me daily, and interacting actively on my behalf. It is strange to think that Moses would envy me, for even Moses’ call was longer distance than mine.

Life inside a Crockpot

Movin’ cows in Montana

They say the “only way to move cattle fast, is slow.” When working with an animal who’s IQ is abysmally low, their fight/flight instinct is virtually indistinguishable, and a stubborn streak is readily observed, there really is nothing that goes quickly. I have seen them break for open ground, stand still and refuse to move, or turn around and run over anything that moves. They run through fences, run over feed bunks, but will balk at water in a ditch. Cattle, not unlike middle school students, can ruin the best-laid-plans.

Patience is a virtue when it comes to ranching. It takes years to accumulate the land, the cattle, the equipment, and the know how. The cold winter, the wet and muddy calving season, and the sweat spilling summer was spent getting ready for one fall pay-day. There are few quick solutions in ranching. It is a patience building profession. The nation of Israel found themselves in the patience building phase of their journey at the end of Exodus 24.

When it comes to chronology, there are two main types of stories in the Bible and each communicates a different message about God and His people. The first type of story is probably more well known and it takes place over three days. John Ortberg, in his book Faith and Doubt, calls these microwave stories. Microwaves make quick work of everything. Cold cups of coffee become warm in 15 seconds; leftover pizza in 30. On a cold morning, socks get warmed up in 10 seconds before being put on…like you guys don’t do it! The microwave works quicker than a dryer.

Three-day-microwave stories put the character and activity of God at the front and center. They are stories of “crisis and urgency”.1 Desperate circumstances surround the microwave stories. It was three days after the Israelites were deceived by the Gibeonites, when they realized their mistake (Joshua 9.16).   It was three days that the people had to prepare to enter the promised land (Joshua 1.11) and three days the spies hid after meeting Rahab (Joshua 2.16). When David has sinned against the Lord (2 Sam. 24.10), as a consequence, the Lord offered up three options: “Three years of famine…three months of fleeing…or three days of plague?” (2 Samuel 24.13) David, in his own words, describes the situation as “deeply distressful” [sara] (2 Samuel 24.14) a word reserved for the most dire of circumstances. There is also the three days Nehemiah waited in Jerusalem before checking the wall (Neh. 2.11); the three days to confess sin to Ezra (Ezra 10.9); and the three days Jonah was fish food (Jonah 1.17). Of course, the most famous three day story, Jesus resurrection account. Where the words “on the third day” took on a fuller meaning. Three-day-microwave stories point to a need for God to do something, a need for Him to show up, a need for his action. Moses experienced a three-day story when the Lord gave a three-day heads-up before the fireworks of his arrival on Sinai (Ex. 19.15). Moses knew what a three-day story looked like.

But in Exodus 24 another type of story emerges. The 40-day (or year) story, which Ortberg calls a Crockpot story, is one of patience and perseverance. It is a sit-around-and-wait story where people are tried and tested. Crockpot meals set all day and simmer. They take a while to heat up. These are the stories the take time to develop, but develop the people they involve. Jesus began his ministry with a 40 day fast in the desert (Matt 4.2) and he ended his time on earth with 40 days before his ascension (Acts 1.3). Noah and his family waited through 40 day/night rain on the earth. Through tense and tumultuous seas, Noah and his family waited in the ark. (Gen 7.12) For 40 days Goliath defied the armies of the Living God (1 Sam 17.16); Elijah hid from Jezebel on Mount Horeb for 40 days and nights (2 Kings 19.8); and Ezekiel slept on his side for 40 days (Ezekiel 4.6). Moses would become very familiar with the Crockpot story. The spies would be in the Promised Land for forty days (Numbers 13.25) and when they brought back a bad report and the people were unfaithful, they would wander in the desert for 40 years (Numbers 14.34). Even Moses life was a testament to perseverance and Crock-pots. He was in Egypt 40 years learning leadership from the most advanced civilization of its day. Then he spent 40 years in the desert chasing sheep, un-learning his Egyptian ways and learning God’s way of leadership. Finally, he would spend 40 years leading the people in the desert.

In Exodus 24 the Crockpot story was for the whole nation of Israel. Moses and Joshua headed up the mountain to meet with God. They left Aaron and Hur to lead the people (Ex 24.13) Moses stayed on the Mountain for 40 days and nights (Ex. 24.18).   For the next 7 chapters, Moses is on top of the Mountain hearing from God and writing things down. Aaron, Hur, and the people are partying down below. In the “have patience-Crockpot story” the people couldn’t wait and became corrupt (Ex 32.7) Because they “didn’t know what happened to him” (Ex 32.1), they made for themselves an idol. So what are we to make of this story? The forty days of waiting?

Forty days is a long time to wait…to learn. Our forty-day terms can be a wait for a diagnosis, a period of unemployment or under-employment, a rebellious child, an extended disagreement with a spouse. God shouts in the three-day stories, but he whispers in the 40. God is always on a mission to reach us, speak to us, teach and lead us. For 40 days, he sought to teach patience to Israel. Are we learning in the Crockpot? What are we learning in the slowness and the still?


1 Ortberg, John. Faith & Doubt (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2008) 91.

The Origin of the Book of Genesis: A Thought

Will James worked his way through the west, ranch to ranch, which gave him background for some of his greatest cowboy stories.  John Erickson, of Hank the Cowdog fame, worked ranches in the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma which gives depth to the ranch that Hank runs security on in his 50+ books.  Baxter Black spent years as a large animal vet in feedlots and ranches throughout the Rockies and rubbed elbows with farmers and ranchers who have lived the stories and poems he pens.  These experts in cowboys and cowboy life lived what they wrote.

Sunday morning the Church where my wife attend when we’re in town, began a 66 week series through every book of the Bible.  A few years back, for a youth group lesson, I bought a book called Manga Mutiny, a manga re-telling of Genesis to the middle of Exodus.  It was the only way I could get some of our students excited about the book of Genesis.  But I was challenged when I first opened up the book and it began in Exodus, with Moses around a campfire talking with his people.  It was then that a flashback took over the book, with Moses narrating the events of Genesis.

Genesis was compiled and written by Moses.  I hesitate to use the word “compiled” for fear that it may be misunderstood as an embrace of source criticism and confused with the documentary hypothesis.  These theories of the origin of Genesis and the Torah, are radically mistaken.  In studying the structure and purpose of Genesis, as well as its connection to Exodus and the rest of the Pentateuch, it would make sense that Moses would compile information and utilize sources in documenting the history of his people.

Genesis is divide into 10 sections, or toldoth’s, accounts of men and their lives.  Men like Adam, Noah, Abraham and others, each have a toldoth that documents their activity and their progeny.  In Genesis 5.1, the word translated “written account” [sepher] is always used of physically written accounts, which differentiates this account from the other toldoth’s in Genesis.  This argument points to Moses composing Genesis with some kind of source material…but where would he find it?

There are three theories that dominate the location of composition debate surrounding Genesis.  Theory 1 argues for an Egyptian origin.  The use of Egyptian vocabulary throughout Genesis, argues that the author was definitely familiar with Egyptian society and culture.  This theory also accounts for the sudden rise in nationalistic identity within Moses in Exodus 2.11.  All the school of the palace could have involved a history lesson about Joseph and the shepherds, though doubtful becasue of the tension caused by the New King who didn’t know Joseph or his people (Ex. 1.8)  This theory looks to minimize the burning bush conversation as the catalyst for Moses’ actions and relationship with the Lord (Ex. 3-4).

A second theory has been put forth by Dr. Thomas Sharp in his Creation Truth Foundation video, Evolution: The Greatest Deception of All.  He argues for a composition of Moses after the Lord shows his backside.  The last time he descended the mountain, he found the people partying around the Golden Calf (Ex. 32).  He smashed the tablets containing the words of the Lord in disgust (Ex 32.19).  Now at the Tent of Meeting, Moses is speaking to the Lord and asks to see His glory (Ex. 33.18).  God says that “you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (Ex 33.23)  He passed in front of Moses and Moses saw his backside [‘achor].  Sharp postulates that backside is a metaphorical term for past works.  At this time, Moses instead of seeing the trailing end of God’s glory [kavod], he is seeing God’s past works.  The problem with this interpretation lies in the understanding of ‘achor as a literal term.  Moses saw something tangible from that cleft.  ‘achor is never used in a metaphorical sense in its 41 uses in the Old Testament.  It is used of literal retreats by armies, people being turned back from a place, and literal hindquarters.  I am not suggesting that God had taken a bodily form, for that would mis-apply the anthropomorphism, however, Moses saw something there, not a flashback.

When was Genesis composed?  I believe there is a case to be made for Moses’ first trip up the Mountain of Sinai in Exodus 19 for a couple reasons: 1) “keep my covenant” (19.5) is a reference back to the covenant that God made with Abraham in Genesis 12, 15.  Exodus 2. 24 mentions this covenant and it is at the forefront of the setting of the book of Exodus, the journey out of Egypt. This is the most recent covenant, the one they are living under now, from 600 years prior.  2) “out of all nations you will be my treasured possession” (Ex. 19.5)  Where did this thinking and this story originate…Genesis.  The book of Genesis is very clear about the value that God placed on His people.  The reason for their value originated in the story of Genesis. 3) “the whole earth is mine” (19.5) can only speak back to His creative process found in Genesis 1-2.  4) This is the first extended conversation that Moses has had with the Lord outside of his calling in Exodus 3-4.  During that discussion God and Moses focused on the problem at hand, with no natural place to put a history lesson.

Taking these three reasons under consideration, as well as the other two theories faults, I believe that Exodus 19, provides the best context for Moses composition and understanding of Genesis at the word and commission of the Lord.

The Tested and Tried Life

10014634_10203023491980170_2805328276579635130_nCowboys and cattle are as different as the geography they inhibit.  From the Great Basin to the Sandhills of Nebraska; the forested Rockies of Montana to the swamps and marshes of the deep south.  The differences in the way cattle are worked, raised, handled, sold, and bred, change from operation to operation and region to region.  Here in the Flint Hills of Kansas, one of our most distinguishing cattle ranching marks is fire season.  The last tallgrass prairie in America Flint Hills are known for its high protein bluestem grass, that packs pounds on to cattle.  Little bluestem, the state grass of Kansas, can provide 1-2 tons of forage per acre and is especially palatable to cattle after a spring burn, when plants are re-growing.  So every spring, along highways and back roads, smoke billows from acres and acres of grass fires, as ranchers are preparing the land for their shortened and intense 90-day grazing season (more head of cattle/fewer days).

When Grandpa used to burn his pasture, my favorite part happened about three or four days afterward.  When the flames had cleared the thatch, the dead undergrowth, and saplings, revealing shed antlers, skulls, and all other sorts of surprises.  That’s why I haven’t burned my pasture yet…Im scared of what I might find.  There’s the massive cemetery cross from a few years back. Then the horse skeleton from last year.  I know there are some mower decks, probably some implements, maybe a Model A or something.  Fire has a way of  revealing things that were once hidden.

Three months of marching had led the fledgling nation of Israel to the foot of Mt. Sinai. (Ex. 19.1)  Their extended camp-out would be marked and defined by the conversations they would have with God during this time.  Moses had hiked up and down the mountain a few times, each time carrying a message from God who has manifested Himself atop the mountain by cloud, storm, and fire.

Moses finishes chapter 19 at the base of Sinai with the rest of the people.  Without a break in the story, no pause in continuity, Exodus 20 begins with the words: “And God spoke all these words”.  From the summit of the Mount, to all the people gathered below, God spoke the 10 commandments, in the hearing of all the people. (Exodus 20.1-17)

When they “saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, the trembled [nua’] with fear.” (Ex 20.18)  The people, at the sigh of God’s presence on the mountian, and in the hearing of his voice, milled around with apprehension.  They became restless [nua’ — Gen 4.14]; they staggered like a drunk nua’ — Isaiah 29.9] and shook like a tree in the wind [nua’ — Isaiah 7.2].  Shaking with fear, they keep their distance from the mountain and ask Moses to do the talking for them.

Moses replied: “Do not be afraid.  God has come to test [nasa’] you…” (Ex. 20.20)

Testing doesn’t always conjure up positive feelings or thoughts.   This story (and the other stories in Scripture where God tests his people) makes me uncomfortable.  At first glance, these stories seem to reek of entrapment.  God in His divine wisdom and providence, provides the very thing that He knows will trip us up!  Seems kind of underhanded for a good and loving God.  It’s like he’s sitting on a cloud, waiting for us to screw up, expecting us to mis-step.  With this kind of thinking, its easy to see how people would have trouble believing in the goodness of God.

Testing at the hand and will of God, shouldn’t have a connotation that impune the virtue of the Lord.  Perhaps a better look at “testing” throughout scripture, especially as seen in the wilderness wanderings, will allow God to remain good and “test” to retain its important implications.

First off, testing, especially in the wilderness narratives, was all about the response. In the same way that an academic test’s purpose was to elicit an intellectual reaction, so the testing of the Israelites response was intended to be a closer relationship with the Lord. The testing was there for the benefit of Israel, not failure.

  • “God tested you, so that you may fear the Lord and  stop sinning.” (Ex. 20.20)
  • “God tested you, so that in the end it might go well with you.” (Deut. 8.2)

The testing of Israel, was to their benefit. Will is found only when challenged; strength discovered when challenged. During its time, Israel had its share of tests? And not all of them were tests of desperation.

The wilderness tests weren’t all bad, a plague or destruction (like Job), sometimes testing can be of affluence. The Israelites were “tested” with manna from heave (Ex. 16.4, 15-16; Deut 8.16) and double on the 6th day (Ex 16.29). They were “tested” with the Lord’s presence (ex. 20.20) and meat every morning (Ex. 16.8). When they left Egypt, they wanted to know that God was going with them. So God led them all the way in the desert, what they desired, as a test (Deut 8.2). Thoughts of testing usually happen in the valley’s of life, cancer diagnosis and debt, divorce and rebellion, but tests hit the Israelites at the good times as well. Affluence can bring out the worst in folks.

The purpose, the reason for the tests, was not a quiz for the people to pass, but a revelation of their heart to embrace. “You never really know what you don’t really know until it really is shown what you don’t really know.” God knows the thoughts and actions of our heart…but we are really good at convincing ourselves that those intentions, thoughts, and purposes aren’t there. James tells his readers, “When tempted, no one should say: ‘God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, his is dragged away and enticed.” (James 1.13-14) What does the tempting, what brings the test comes from within the heart? The testing simply brings forth, it reveals, what is hidden beneath the surface. God provides the test, to reveal, not quiz his people:

  • When false hoods arise and mistruths are being spread: “The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you live him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut. 13.3)
  • Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years as punishment for their disobedience and for God to know “what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Deut. 8.2)
  • Israel at manna and meat to see if they would pay attention to his commands (Ex 15.26); live of His daily provision (Ex 16.4, 16); keep the Sabbath (16.5); and trust Him at His word.

Up to this point the word that has been translated as “testing” has been the Hebrew word nasa’. Thirty six times in the Old Testament, throughout the scope of the Hebrew Bible, this word was used to communicate a situation in order to reveal motives and attitudes of the heart. But there is another word, however, that is more poetic and metaphorical for this process of getting to know deeper issues. The Hebrew word bachan, is largely used later in the Hebrew Scriptures and is clustered in the writings of the prophets and the wisdom books. In the same way that gold or silver is refined, so too does the Lord test the heart. Six different times (Job 23.10; Ps. 66.10; Prov 17.3; Judges 6.27-30; Jer. 9.7; Zech 13.9) is the word used in connection with the understanding of metallurgy: a refining fire, bringing impurities to the surface, heat to shape and mold. While in the fire, being tested, the heart’s contents are shown.

In Exodus 20.20, Moses tells the people the God has come to “test” [nasa’] them. God had descended on the Mountaintop, spoken with the nation of Israel from atop the mountain, and given them the 10 commandments. They had been told ‘not to go up the mountain or touch the foot of it” (Ex 19.12), and now they were committed to following His instructions. They told Moses to speak them instead of God. God’s presence came to reveal what was in their hearts concerning Him: fear and obedience. The test had come and had revealed.

Testing is God’s way of helping us; helping us realize and uncover the motives of our hearts in order to better understand our relationship with Him.  How are you holding up under the fire?

Keep Choppin’ Wood in 2015

DSCN2531In my experience, trees never fall where convienient.  A windstorm a few weeks back dropped an elm on a picturesque 5-strand barbed wire fence of mine.  In the couple week break from school, I took the initiative to clean up the fallen trees from my pasture and cut some new fence posts.

I don’t burn wood at all, but I know people who do and people who burn firewood are always willing to take a chord of wood.  At the same time, splitting firewood is a whole lot cheaper than a gym membership.  So I cut up the elms that had destroyed my fence and began splitting.  There are a few realities that come with chopping wood:

  1. It wears you out.  Shoulders, back, arms, core…it is a full body workout especially for a skinny armed, outta shape guy.
  2. Time slows down and drags on…Einstein must have been chopping wood when the Theory of Relativity hit him.
  3. Activity and Achievement aren’t necessarliy synonymous.  You can wander around, stack wood, pet the dog, move the truck, but none of these things makes the pile any smaller…what does?  Every swing of the axe…only when splitting wood are you actually splitting wood.

There have been times when chopping wood, that the job seemed endless, the destination seemed unlikely, and the ending point unattainable.  The people of Isreal felt that way about their expedition.  Fresh off their march through the Sea and into the desert where Pharoah had no jurisdiction, the People of God experienced their first freedom in years.  They were on their way to the Promised Land, but they didn’t know how fast they were going to get there.  When they were following a cloud and fire, the Presence of God, but didn’t know the route He was taking them.  They were one of Heisenberg’s particle’s, knowing where they were or how fast they were going, but never both.  This uncertainty (lack of trust on their part) and desire for comfort, led to some tense moments on the way.  For three months (Ex. 19.1) they marched and camped trying to learn the concept of “chopping wood”.

When chopping wood its best not to think about how much is left, how fast (or slow) your going, or when you are going to get done.  The way to go about it is to just keep chopping.  Through the cold wind, blistered hands, sore back, and tired limbs…just keep chopping.  If it doesn’t get done today, you will still have to chop tomorrow.  Its going to get done sometime and its going to be you who does it.  May as well be today as tomorrow, so just keep chopping.  Its a phrase Bill Snyder uses to teach his football team, its a phrase my grandfather would tell me, and its a phrase I had to keep telling myself this past year.

Israel was coming out of the Red Sea and began marching South into the Sinai Peninsula where they:

  • Grumbled [lun] against Moses about water. (Ex. 15.24)  Five times before they reach Sinai in Exodus 19, the people would grumble about their situation.  Every step of the way they would have a problem with what was happening.  This word comes up constantly in their 40 years of wandering as well.  God turns the bitter water, the cause of their grumbling, sweet by having Moses throw a piece of wood into it (the word for “showed” [yara] indicates God gave Moses directions about the piece of wood).  God heard their cry and provided.  But then He did one better.  He led them to Elim where they would have spring water to drink…an oasis on their trip.  They wanted sweet water…he gave them abundant spring water.
  • Grumbled [lun and telunnot] about food.  Eight times in chapter 8 the Israelites were either grumbling or being described as grumbling.  They had plenty of food in Egypt (Ex. 16.3) but now in the desert they were hungry.  Again God answered and gave them quail and manna.  But even with His provision, some of the Israelites refused to obey God’s instructions.  They either kept the manna overnight (Ex. 16.29), an instance of not willing to trust God’s provision for tomorrow, or tried to gather manna on the Sabbath (16.27), an instance of not following instructions.
  • Quarreled [rib] with Moses about water, but this time its not bitter water, but the lack of water.  They’ve been on their own for 2 1/2 months and things are a little rougher than they thought it would be.  It was here, at Meribah, that Israel “tested” [nasa] the Lord.  In the same way God asked Abraham for his son Issac (Gen 22.1), Gideon “tested” God with his fleece (Judges 6.39), and the cheif official of Nebuchadnezzar “tested” Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah with the vegetalbes, so here does Israel test the Lord.  Questioning and Observing who God is.
  • Battled and fought the Amalekites and won because the arms of Moses were held up.  It was such an incredible victory that the Lord told Moses to “write this on a scroll as something to be remembered [zakar]…” (Exodus 17.14)  To remember is something that will become vital to these people, as is evident from the use of the word zakar in Deuteronomy, especially as take control of the promised land.
  • Learned to act in accordance with God’s law.  Moses had been carrying the people ever since he returned from Midian.  When his father-in-law showed up and saw all that he was doing, he advised Moses: “What you are doing is not good.  You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out.  The work is too heavy and you cannot handle it alone…Teach [zahar] (or warn) them the decrees and laws, and show [yada] them the way to live and the duties they are to perform.” (Ex. 18.18-20) For Moses it was about learning to let go and for the people it was about taking hold.

So many lessons to learn in the three month journey of the infant nation.  At Sinai, Israel would get the brunt of their teaching from the Lord, but the lessons would stick with them for the next 40 years.  The main lesson that would serve the People would be this: keep chopping wood, keep moving forward, keep learning, keep growing.  It was clear they couldn’t go back, so ahead was the only option.  Keep chopping wood.

Looking back 2014 was a wood choppin’ season for me.  Getting let go from the church, being lied about and too, losing friends and relationships that were 7 year investments, and the shame of both made for a very long year.  But the only thing to do was to keep chopping wood.  Somethings went incredibly well like getting to speak at camps, the buckle that I received from the kids and families of the CY, and the chance to fight bulls at some really cool places and with some awesome people.  Even when things are going well, keep chopping wood.  In the best of times and the worst of times, the infant nation of Israel shows us to keep chopping wood.

Perhaps 2015 will bring the end of the stack, the bottom of the wood pile.  Maybe not.  But it doesn’t really matter because all you can do is keep choppin’ until you arrive!