Month: September 2012

Sticks and Stones (Part 2)

In a recent post (Sticks and Stones) I asked what would you say to someone who asked about the man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath.  In case you’re not familiar with the story in Numbers 15:32-36, when the Israelites asked what should happen to the Sabbath stick-gathering man, God told them to stone him as a community.


What kind of God commands death for such a minor offense?  New Atheist Richard Dawkins likes to focus on this story in his book The God Delusion (p. 281) so, while those of us who are Christians might want to ignore this story, the atheists aren’t.

There were some great comments to this post.  Here is a summary of the comments (in italics), with my responses (not in italics):

Cindy asks if we can compare Num. 15 to Mark 2 and Luke 6, where Jesus’ disciples pluck grain on the Sabbath, and while the Pharisees seem to want to punish (stone?) them, Jesus thinks its OK.  A great connection.  Jesus’ apparently cavalier attitude toward the Sabbath makes Num. 15 so troubling.  I think part of the solution to this conundrum is context.  In Jesus context legalism was a huge problem.  In Num 15, disobedience and rebellion were the problem.  There were rebellions on either side of this story, in Num 14 (refusal to enter the land) and in Num 16 (the rebellion of Korah).

Elizabeth points out how difficult it would be to participate as part of the “firing squad”.  Yes.  I don’t even like to think about what it would be like.  When I spoke on this at church 2 weeks ago, a woman came up and said almost exactly the same thing as Elizabeth.  I hadn’t thought of that before.  It would be brutal, but memorable.

Colin is honest about his desire to cast stones (yet he resists temptation).  It is good to be honest.  And to be totally honest, we don’t always resist these types of temptations.  Jesus said when we call our brother a fool it’s like killing him (Matt. 5:21-22).  And the troubling part here is God is mandating the killing.

Dave (not me) thinks God must place a high value on Sabbath rest and points out what a blessing rest is in general.  Dave makes many good points here, particularly the one about Sabbath breaking being a capital offense (Exo. 31:15; 35:2-3).  This guy would have known about the penalty and he was blatantly ignoring it.

In the two versions of this command in the 10 Commandments (or as I like to call them The 14 Commandments), both go into more far depth about the Sabbath than any other command, which should tell us something about its importance.  The Exodus version (Exo. 20:8-11) explains that the Sabbath is important because it reminds the people of God creating the world in 7 days (I don’t think this was literally 24 hours).  The Deuteronomy version (Deut. 5:12-15) explains that the Sabbath is important because it reminds the people of God’s deliverance from enslavement and oppression in Egypt.

So, ignoring the Sabbath is like forgetting about God’s two most dramatic acts in the Old Testament, Creation and Exodus.  I’m still troubled by this story, but it helps to remember what the Sabbath was supposed to remind people of.  God creates.  God delivers.  God wants us to rest.  I need rest.

So, would these “answers” satisfy you?  I’d love to hear more comments about the stick-gathering man and why God wanted him dead.

Image of the Stoning of Stephen from

Taunting and the Love of God (Psalm 119:42)

Then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me,
for I trust in your word
(Psalm 119:42).

Someone has been taunting the psalmist.  Sounds like more biblical trash-talking (under Categories, see posts on Trash Talking, my favorite: Canine Blood Lickers, Avian Flesh Pickers).

The “Then” at the beginning of this verse ties it back to the last one, so when YHWH’s steadfast love and salvation come to the psalmist (119:41), “then” he’ll have an answer to the taunt.

How does one answer a taunt?  With a taunt (this is the Old Testament, none of that “turning-the-other cheek” stuff here).  How does this sound as a counter-taunt: “God loves me and saves me, so there“?  It sounds a bit strange, but it’s good to be able to state boldly what we know about God and the status of our relationship with God.

Taunts are meant to belittle and discourage.  The fact that God loves me and saves me should give me confidence.

The end of verse 42 is the key for these first two verses of the Vav section (119:41-48, where all verses begin with the 6th letter of the Hebrew alphabet…yes, you guessed it…Vav) The psalmist trusts in God’s word.  And because of this trust, the psalmist is confident that he will have appropriate counter-taunts involving God’s love and God’s salvation to verbally defeat his opponent.

The psalmist knows that God’s word is reliable and trustworthy.  And not just for taunting.

God, give us confidence in your word, your love and your salvation to overcome discouragement. 

How can we use God’s word, God’s love and God’s salvation to overcome taunts or discouragements? 

Image from

The Rewards and Consequences of a Torah-Focused Life [Psalm 1]

I’m talking to a friend about the Bible, and we’ll need to check what the Bible actually says on a subject.  My friend says, “Here, I’ve got a Bible in my back pocket” and he pulls out his “Bible.”  But it’s not a full Bible.  I blurt out, “That’s not a real Bible.  That’s a half-Bible, a quarter-Bible.”

Old Testament professors are a bit defensive about pocket New Testaments that are billed as real Bibles.  The Old Testament is over three-quarters of the Bible, you know.

But there’s one Old Testament book, that occasionally makes it into the elite status of the NT, so that it gets included into these quarter-Bibles.

The Book of Psalms (and occasionally Proverbs).

I’ve started a series of blogs on the Psalms for Biblical Seminary’s Faculty blog, beginning, of course, with Psalm 1.  Check it out: The Rewards and Consequences of a Torah-Focused Life [Psalm 1].

Don’t be afraid to ask God to love you (Psalm 119:41)

Let your steadfast love come to me, O LORD,
your salvation according to your promise (Psalm 119:41).

The psalmist wants love and has no qualms about asking for it directly.

I recently heard on NPR’s “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” about an interaction between an 8th grade boy and New Jersey governor Chris Christie.  The boy asked for advice in his upcoming student body election.  The governor’s response may seem obvious, “Don’t be afraid to ask people to vote for you,” but gets to the heart of the issue.   The psalmist here apparently lives by a similar philosophy, “Don’t be afraid to ask God to love you.”

The love that psalmist is asking for is hesed-love.  I describe it in God Behaving Badly, “hesed is the best kind of love one could imagine.  It is the love of a devoted parent to a child from infancy to adulthood and beyond.  It is the love of a committed spouse to her or his partner over decades of marriage” (p. 38).  You can understand why the psalmist would ask for this from God.

But the psalmist isn’t satisfied with that, he asks for salvation also.  But why does he need to ask for salvation if God has already promised it?  Yes, that’s a good question, thanks for bring it up.  Apparently the promised salvation hasn’t fully arrived yet, so the psalmist is reminding God and making his desire clear.  The psalmist is also acknowledging that his focus is on God, for love, for salvation, for everything.

I tend to ask God for specific things like healed vocal chords (mine are currently damaged), a good class (I taught at church yesterday), a safe trip (we’ve been driving as a family a lot this summer), but not intangible things like love.  That should probably change.

This is the first verse in the Vav section of the psalm (119:41-48), the 6th of 22, where every verse begins with the Hebrew letter Vav.

God, give us your hesed-love in abundance. 

How comfortable do you feel asking God for intangible things like love?

Image from (this boy is the wrong one, he’s an 11 year-old who asked to be excused from school).