Numbers

The Immutably Mutable God

balaams ass“God is not man, that he should lie or a son of man that he should change his mind (naham)” (Num. 23:19).  Thus, Divine Immutability.

“So the LORD changed his mind (naham) about the harm which he said he would do to his people” (Exo. 32:14).  Thus, Divine Mutability.

So the Bible clearly teaches both that God doesn’t change his mind and that he does change his mind.  And both texts use the same Hebrew verb, naham.

If you’re uncomfortable with this translation of Exo. 32:14 (ESV), perhaps you’d prefer the King James Version which says “the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people”.  God had to repent of evil?  On 2nd thought, the KJV sounds worse.

So, how do we resolve this biblical tension?

In a word, “Context.”

I realize not all of you have read God Behaving Badly where I discuss this topic in chapter 7, so if you’re interested in my longer than one word answer, but you don’t want to fork out $11 to buy the book, you can listen to this sermon podcast here “Is God Rigid or Flexible? (30 minutes).  I preached at Grace Bible Church of Souderton (April 28, 2013).  The sound is a little weak for the first minute, but then gets much better.  The website also includes my sermon from the previous week, “Is God Angry or Loving?” (30 minutes; April 21, 2013).

I conclude that God is predictably flexible,  consistently changeable and immutably mutable in regards to showing mercy toward repentant sinners.  That’s good news for me.  I’m a sinner.  (But don’t tell my family–they haven’t realized that yet.)

What do you think, does God change?  

Image of ‘Balaam’s Ass” (from Numbers 22-24) by Rembrandt from http://www.wga.hu/index.html.

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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.

Ouch!

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 http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/annibale-carracci/the-stoning-of-st-stephen-1604.

Sticks and Stones

What do you do with the story of the guy who was stoned for picking up sticks on the Sabbath?  I taught on this in Sunday school this past week.

While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation. They put him in custody, because it had not been made clear what should be done to him. And the LORD said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the LORD commanded Moses (Numbers 15:32-36).

The people know the guy has done something wrong.  That’s why they bring him to Moses and Aaron.  But they just aren’t sure how to punish him.  What will YHWH say?  There are at least four options:

1) Have him put the sticks back and tell him not to do it again.
2) Get him to repent then show him mercy.
3) Ostracize him.  Send him back to Egypt, or forward to Canaan.
4) Kill him.  By stoning.  With the entire community (get the whole family involved).

Why does YHWH pick option #4?  If someone asked you about this story what would you say?  In the next blog, I’ll discuss your answers as well as my own.  So, make some comments. 

No cheating, if you’ve read God Behaving Badly.  I’m not even going to tell you where I discuss this story.

Image from http://frmarkmossasj.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/saint-ignatius-sticks-and-stones/

 

Humorous edification and a talking donkey: Luddite Chronicles 5

My last Luddite Chronicle argued that real books are like the Energizer bunny (click here).  It elicited an interesting comment from Simon: “To be honest, there’s no spiritual edification in this blog post.”

First, I commend Simon for commenting on one of my posts.  I’d love it if more folks would comment.  Even if you disagree with me, feel free to follow his example. (I assume Simon thought the absence of spiritual edification was a bad thing.)

Second, to be honest I appreciate his willingness “to be honest” in a way that’s gracious.  Other commenters have expressed disapproval less graciously.

My response to Simon’s comment are below in italics:

Simon, I believe humor is edifying.  (Although, you may not find any humor in my post.) 

I firmly believe that humor is good for the soul, and the God who spoke to Balaam through his donkey (Num. 22), I suspect, agrees with me on this point.  (Although, one could certainly argue that my Energizer post, in fact, lacked humor.)

Also, I firmly believe technology is one of the biggest idolatries of our time.  I’m trying to defame this particular idol, to make us question why we always need the newest and best (and most expensive) technology.  Sometimes I make my attack on technology explicit.  Sometimes I try to be more subtle.

One of the things I’m trying to do with these Luddite Chronicles (here’s Post 1 (Intro), Post 2 (Newspapers), Post 3 (Smartphones are dumb)) is to get people to think about how the latest technology is both a blessing and curse.  I’m focusing on the curse side because too much is made of the blessing side.

I can’t speak with confidence about the idols of others, but I would assume that people who frequent the blogosphere are more susceptible to techno-idolatry, than the non-blogging community.  Sometimes idolatry needs to be bashed directly (see Judg. 6 and this post on Bulls and Baals), but other times it can be defamed with humor, parody and trash-talking (see 1 Kings 18 and this post on Baal’s bowel movement).  I hope my attempts at making fun of techno-idolatry cause people, including myself, to reflect on how nothing (not even a new iPhone) other than the God of the universe will ultimately satisfy us.

What do you think–was the energizer bunny post edifying?  Is humor edifying? 

Image from http://www.unlikelypastor.com/archives/90