King David and The Good Wife

Often, as I read the Bible, I come to a passage which makes no sense. Something happens, there is a reaction to it, and you are left wondering why. In the olden days (of not so long ago) people would have heavy tomes sitting on bowed bookshelves, and would pull down a version of their favourite commentary to investigate. Today we have Google.

However, the problem with Google, is that usually, you have no idea who has written something. Sometimes it’s difficult to know if someone is giving their own opinion, which is no more valid than your own, or if they are Biblical scholars and know what they’re talking about. And they write with so much authority!

Take a passage I read recently (as part of my task of reading through the whole Bible – which is taking me months). I read an account of King David, before he died, telling his minions to take a census of Israel and Judah, because he wanted to know how many people he ruled. (End of 2 Samuel.) This makes God angry, and there is a plague, which kills thousands of Israelites. Why? What is wrong with a census? I put the question into Google, and came up with dozens of results.

Several people said the problem was David’s reasons for taking the census, that it showed pride in his own achievements. Some people suggested that the problem was lack of trust, or wrong priorities – David was more concerned with how many people he ruled than what God wanted. All sounded very plausible, and were more or less what I’d decided myself.

Then I read another explanation, posted on a website called “gotquestions.org”. They came up with a different reason for the census being wrong. They said that in Exodus 30, God had clearly said that no one should take a census of Israel, because Israel belonged to God, and only he could instigate one (as he did when the book of Numbers was written). When the people were counted, they had to make sacrifices, showing that they belonged to God.

So, the reasons for the census (pride, wrong priorities, etc) weren’t the problem. Taking the census in the first place was.

There is also the issue of what prompted David to take the census. In 2 Samuel, it says God incited David to. But in 1 Chronicles (same story) it says Satan incited David to. So, which is correct?

Again, there were lots of answers online, people saying that actually it was God, who allowed Satan to incite David. Or saying that Satan was not a Hebrew word, and that is where the problem lies. However, scholars who actually know some Hebrew point out that actually, the verb ‘to incite’ has no subject in the original text. So it is better translated, “There was who moved David against them,” – which doesn’t make sense. So English translators added what they thought was best. Which means that to be definite in our interpretation of the English translation is foolish. There are, it seems, a lot of foolish people out there.

Which actually, is my point (I know, you were wondering if I had one!) The reason the title mentions The Good Wife, a series on Netflix which I very much enjoy, is there is a character, a judge, who insists that when the lawyers present their arguments, they should always say, “In my opinion.” I think this would be a good rule for people who expound the Bible, whether they do it online or teach, or preach. To give an opinion on part of the Bible, and to say this is absolute, when perhaps you are using a translation (eg, a version written in English) is dangerous. I would even go as far as to suggest it might be wrong. Yet people do it all the time.

My understanding of the ten commandments, is that the second commandment, is relevant here. It’s the one that says, “Do not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20) I was taught that this does not mean casual ‘swearing’, using the name of God as a meaningless word, saying, “Oh God!” when we drop something (though that is also wrong, but for a different reason). It means, do not claim something is from God when it is not. Do not say, “God told me to…” if you’re actually not sure if it was God or your own mind. Do not claim something is God’s word – an absolute explanation of the Bible, if actually it is just your own opinion. Especially if it’s based on a translation.

People should not be so forceful when telling others what they believe, because they might be wrong. To say: “If you want to come to God, you must first say you are sorry, because that is what happened in the parable of the prodigal son,” would be wrong. ( I have explained this in my article on understanding stories : https://anneethompson.com/christian-tearfund-materials-and-poems/understanding-stories/) We can be sure of God, sure of our relationship with him, sure of his character. But when we are interpreting the Bible, we should show a little humility.

Perhaps those who take a particular stand on a subject, be it homosexuality, or the place of women, or euthanasia, need to be careful. Yes, we should pray about issues and ask God to guide us. Yes, we should stand up for what we believe is right. But we need to be ever aware that we are standing for what we believe. We do not speak for God. Sometimes we might be wrong. It worries me when I read Christians write about those who disagree with them, referring to them as, “Those who claim to be Christians,” clearly indicating that actually, their own view is correct, their own view is the true interpretation of the Bible, the others cannot possibly be right.

So please, next time you give your view about something, especially in a public forum, remember that it is your view, not God’s. Because, in my opinion, we can never be sure.

xxx

 

Anne E. Thompson is the author of several novels and a non-fiction book, How to Have a Brain Tumour.
Her books are available from bookshops and from Amazon.
You can follow her blog at: anneethompson.com

 

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Are Women Possessions?

I have been reading through the Bible, from start to finish, and trying to blog about what I read as honestly as I can. Obviously I am partly a product of my upbringing (not necessarily bad) but I wanted to look with fresh eyes, to try and take the words written and understand them.

I ran into problems fairly early on. There was lots I didn’t understand, and then, in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, I came across things that just seemed wrong. Completely wrong. Which caused bit of a problem. How could I challenge the words, spoken by a prophet of God, as a direct quotation from God? Either I wasn’t understanding something fundamental, or the words of God were not something I felt was fair. It did not reflect my own understanding of God, a God who is just, loving, fair. The words reflected a God who I did not want to know.

Let me give you some examples. Now, I am a woman, but actually, this isn’t about female issues. I would think the laws were unfair whichever sex they related to. For example, in Deuteronomy, if a man thinks his wife might have been unfaithful to him, even if she hasn’t, and he has no grounds for thinking she has, he can take her to the priest to be ‘tested’. This test involves untying her hair (which I understand was a sign of shame in those days – perhaps like being shaved bald today). Then she is forced to drink poison. The poison will make her ill. If, when she recovers, she is unable to bear children, this will be proof that she has been unfaithful. If she recovers fully, she is deemed innocent. There is no penalty for the suspicious husband. How can that be okay? That is physical and psychological abuse.

I therefore took a break from reading through the Bible and blogging about it, and did a little research. I wanted to know, did God rate men above women, to the extent that women, and animals, and possessions were all equal, with men above them all?

There are multiple instances of wives being little more than possessions, with no rights whatsoever. If a man wanted to sell his daughter as a slave (including as a prostitute) then, that was okay. If a man wanted to beat his wife, provided he didn’t beat her enough to kill her, then that was okay. If a woman made a decision that either her father or husband didn’t like, they could overturn it, and that was okay. And to be clear, these are not the rules that evolved over time, these are the rules which are presented as dictated from God to Moses. Which caused me a problem. So I did a little research. This is what I have discovered so far (though I still have a way to go).

Firstly, in contrast to the apparent disregard of all females, there are some powerful women in the Old Testament. I hadn’t previously heard much about them. Perhaps churches should focus a little more on powerful women in the Bible, so everyone (men and women) realise the place they might have in today’s society.

I especially like the story of Deborah. (Deborah is the Hebrew for “honeybee”, which I think is a pretty cool name!) Deborah was a prophet, in the days when prophets, as direct messengers from God (like Moses) were more important than the priests. She sat under a tree, and people came to her to ask her judgement on matters. This was a woman with authority. She then summons Barak (which means “lightening bolt”) to come to her. Barak is the commander of the Israelite army, so somewhat powerful himself, yet he obeys and presents himself before her – a woman. Deborah then gives precise details of a military operation, and tells him to do it. Barak is too frightened to attempt it unless Deborah goes with him, so she does. They defeat the enemy. The leader of the enemy escapes, and another woman, Jael, tricks him into falling asleep under some blankets, and then hammers a tent peg through his head and into the ground. Not a woman to mess around one feels.

This shows that God does use woman. He even used women in the Old Testament, in a completely male-dominated society, and sometimes put them in positions of authority over men. You don’t get much more ‘in charge’ than hammering a tent peg through someone’s skull! So, what does it mean? Why is there the apparent discrepancy between women having absolutely no rights, and being in God-given positions of power.

As I read on, it became very clear to me that how women are treated by God, is very different to how they are treated by men. Men in the Bible absolutely view women as inferior, something to be used, owned. Even some of the ‘Bible greats’, like David, treated women in a shocking manner. David collected wives and concubines at will – if he fancied a woman, he acquired her. A bit like collecting horses. Even when he encountered a wise, Godly woman (Abigail, who defied her husband to save her people), he didn’t show much respect to her when he then “took her as his wife” – another wife added to the hundreds he already had. Being a wife was to be owned. (I don’t think I would like King David if I met him. ‘Womaniser’ comes to mind.)

Even later, in the New Testament, women are treated unfairly. When two people are found committing adultery, it is the woman who is hauled before the people and criticised, the man isn’t mentioned again. But in the New Testament, we see a change. We see how Jesus treats the women, and this is copied by his followers. Jesus treats women with respect, as equals to men. So do his followers.

There has been a lot preached about St Paul’s writings, how he said women shouldn’t speak in services, should cover their heads, and so on. He writes about man being created before woman, which some people believe means women are ‘second’ to men. But obviously that can’t be what Paul means, or all the animals would be above man. If you read commentaries by historians who understand the culture of the day and who are translating the original texts, it seems clear that actually, Paul viewed women as equal to men, with an equal right to speak and teach and lead worship. If you disagree with this, read some of the writings by Kenneth Bailey.

So, to conclude (I could write a whole thesis on this, but I’m trying to keep it short!). When you read the Bible, much of it is written as a historical account – it tells you what happened, what the laws were, but it does not make value judgements. So we might interpret that stories are ‘meaning’ something, but actually, they might not. They are simply accounts and to interpret them is always open to error. So yes, King David may have done some great things, but that did not mean he was always right. The way he treated women was appalling. Men in the Bible, pretty much always treated women as inferior. God did not. Men only appointed male priests, male teachers, male leaders. God appointed women as prophets, he used women to save the Israelites, he spoke to women, and gave them as much responsibility as he gave men. God does not see women as inferior. Men in the Bible treated women badly, but it does not mean that God thought that was okay; an historical account does not mean the actions described were condoned by the author. I still don’t understand those early laws which were so cruel to women – did Moses fudge what God had said, or were they modified by God to suit a corrupt male-dominated society? I don’t know. But when viewed in the light of the rest of the Bible, my belief is that the fault is man-made, not from God.

Churches today are perhaps slightly better balanced than the church I grew up in. When I was a child, men preached, men welcomed people at the door, men were the deacons who made all the decisions; women did the catering and looked after the children and played the piano. I think however, we still have a way to go before we are behaving towards women how God does. We need to be hearing more about the strong women in the Bible, women used by God to do amazing things. Because then our children will grow up knowing that a woman leader isn’t ‘second choice because no men were available’, they will understand that God treats men and women equally, and so should we. And women will realise that they have as much responsibility as men to listen to God, to speak out in society when something is wrong, to lead people in the right direction.

As a woman, I personally find it rather thrilling that God wants to use me. God doesn’t see me as ‘just a woman’ – he values me as highly as any man. Which makes me feel special, and love him even more. Thank you for reading.

anneethompson.com

I will continue to write my Bible Blog as I find things to write about.

Bible Blog 8 – Into Numbers

Numbers is well named – someone did an awful lot of counting. It is not an easy book, as the first part seems to be mainly lists of genealogies, and the second part has stories which I do not understand at all. I will tell you about the few snippets which seem to make some sense – the rest you can find someone wiser than me to explain. (I’m not sure if the problem is the English translation is dodgy, or if the books that were lost would explain more of the background.)

Basically, the book is a continuation of the laws in Leviticus, with lots of strange sounding rituals, a few rules, and some common sense (like, a boy isn’t old enough to fight until he’s 20, and not sensible enough to serve in the temple until he’s 30, but by 50 things are deteriorating, and he should be relieved of his duties!) There is a clear emphasis on worship, and the tabernacle was always the first thing to get sorted, before the wandering Israelites set up camp. Moses continues to lead, and is mostly wise, asking for help from God and people as necessary.

The people seem to complain a lot, but life must have been fairly tough. At one point they were sent manna, to eat. This looked, apparently, like bdellium. I’d never heard of that, so have found you a photograph to show you what it looked like. Not especially appetising to look at, if I’m honest. They also wanted meat, so God sent quail. Soon after this there was a plague, which makes you wonder if the birds were carrying the disease.

Moses has a rough time, and is blamed every time the people are discontent. In my experience, this still happens – people like to moan about the leader. Either the sermons are too long, or certain things (their favourite bits) are not preached on enough, or young/old/families are not being reached. Rarely do churches, even today, see a problem and look to themselves, to see what they need to be doing differently. Much much easier to blame the leadership. Moses had the added disadvantage of having his own siblings as followers. Does anyone ever, really, truly honour their little brother?

We meet Joshua, who was really called Hoshea but Moses changed his name. No idea why. (“Hello, what’s your name? Hoshea? Wow, that’s a silly name, let’s call you Joshua instead…”)

Then we have the bit about spying out the land, and the people not trusting God to give it to them. After they were punished, they were sorry (people are often sorry when facing punishment) but they still didn’t really grasp that the issue was not accepting that God is God, not them. This is still a problem today (especially amongst adolescent males – ask any school teacher). So, even when people claim to ‘return to God’, they still usually want that to happen on their terms, like God owes them. Hard for us to really understand that God is worth worshiping because he is God, not because of what we can get. This crops up a lot in the evangelical churches, where people are promised peace, joy, love in return for turning to God. Then when the divorce still goes through and they lose their job and someone precious dies, they feel short-changed, like God didn’t do his part.

Chapter 15 is definitely in the wrong place. Someone got in a muddle there.

Now, here is something which I find very challenging/do not understand. Quite often in Numbers, things are given holy status. So, the bad priests’ censers were hammered into plates, but those plates were holy. Later, in Chapter 19, water is blessed and then has special qualities. Is this right? Can things (and presuamably places) in themselves carry something of the holiness of God? I was raised as a good non-conformist, we shunned all icons, were told that it was our relationship with God that mattered, that places and things were simply ‘stuff’, nothing was special. But is that correct? I find this slightly worrying, as I have never credited any mere thing as holy, not even the Bible – to me this is just a book, the meaning is special but not the pages (in fact, when I was reading the Bible to a friend and translating it into Mandarin, I ripped out the book of Luke, so she could have a copy for herself). Is this wrong? What do you think? Obviously there is a danger that the things might become objects of worship themselves, which is clearly wrong. But is the opposite view also incorrect? Should we be careful with the Bible; behave differently in an empty church simply because it’s a church; believe that some places are actually holy? I know Catholic people have lots of icons/holy places. Are they right?
That is enough confusion for one week, so I’ll finish. The end of Numbers is next, then into Deuteronomy. Hoping they don’t raise too many new problems….

Thanks for reading.
Take care,
Anne

xxxx

On a different note…I spent yesterday putting JOANNA onto Kindle (not a stress-free activity!) It should now be available to buy as a Kindle book, if you search for it on Amazon, in whichever country you live in. JOANNA by Anne E Thompson. (If it’s not there, it should appear in a few hours, depending on when Amazon manage to make it ‘live’.)

If you live in the UK, the link is below (and if you could please please please add a quick review, it would mean so much. Thanks):

Bible Blog 7 – Continuing my read through the Bible.

Does God have a name?

I continued to plough my way through Leviticus. Not easy reading. Much of it seemed random. There are whole lists of laws, many of which are repeated, with no real explanation as to why they are laws. There may, originally, have been documents that explained them, but they have since been lost so we can only guess. Some of the laws are to do with being separate – the Israelites were called to be different to the surrounding tribes, and this was underlined by not mixing other things. No garments made from mixed fabrics, no sowing of mixed seeds in fields, no mixing of different types of body fluids.

One thing I discovered while researching Leviticus, was that the people were not monotheistic – they did not believe there was one God, they believed there were several, but they were only to worship one. This explains the “No gods before me” rules. I was a bit shocked by this, it was something we skipped in Sunday School. Is it okay to believe there are other gods, as long as we only worship God? If so, how do you know which God you are worshipping? Could the gods of Hinduism actually be the God of Christianity under a different name? Is Allah the same deity as Jehovah?

In the early books of the Bible, there seem to be different names for God. There is the name Jahweh (or Yahweh – which is usually written without vowels : JHWH) This comes from the Hebrew for “to be” – which is what God told Moses to call him in the burning bush. I think I read somewhere that Jahweh is translated into the English Bible as LORD (all in capitals). Have a look at your Bible – is it written in capitals? But when I went back to check that, I couldn’t find it again (the joys of internet research).

There is also the name Elohim, which comes from the Semitic root “el” which means “god” and is found in names like “Beth – el” (which means “House of God”). It is also the root of “Allah” (the name for the Islam God). This name was later perverted into “Ba’al” – which became an idol.

The name Adonai, meaning Lord, or master, is also used.

In Genesis the name Elohim is used, which is unusual as it is plural, while being used to describe a single deity.

Then there are the terms of address which are more descriptive : Mighty, Counsellor, Father, and so on. When Christians pray, most have their own term of address, sometimes the one they used when taught to pray as a child.

I’m not sure of the significance of all this. I absolutely believe that God is real. I am also increasingly aware that I know very little about him in terms of knowledge, though as life goes on I am learning more and more about the character of God. I can tell you that he is holy, is worthy of our worship; he loves us, supports us, wants us to acknowledge him. As to which name he should be called by, or whether he would prefer we ate beef and not lobster – this I cannot say.

Next week I’ll let you know how I get on in Numbers.

Thank you for reading.

Bible Blog 6 – continuing my read through the Bible

 I have read to the end of Exodus and into Leviticus. They smoothly run each to each other, as if written at the same time, by the same author (like the Harry Potter books!) I wanted to know if this was correct, so did some online research. I learned that yes, they had been written, supposedly by a priest, and were therefore labelled by scholars as having been written by the source ‘P’. The first five books of our modern Bible make up the Pentateuch- the first of three divisions in the Hebrew Bible.

Now, what I didn’t know, is that actually, there were probably lots more of these early books. They are full of rules and measurements and descriptions (so I, for one, am not sorry they no longer exist.) However, it would mean that the Jewish religion, which is the basis of my Christian religion (and also seems to overlap hugely with Islam) went through some changes. Initially, it would be very ritual based – all the instructions were clearly laid out in multiple books. Then, in about 600 BCE, the babylonians attacked, and destroyed pretty much everything they could, including all the holy books. At the time of the attack, someone must have grabbed what they could carry, and managed to save the books that exist today. The Jews were taken into exile to Babylon, and their religion would have had to be more in their hearts, and less in their rituals. Those texts that they managed to save would have been incredibly special, and they began to view them as sacred (things always seem more precious when we only have a tiny bit). They would have studied these texts, trying to remember the parts that had been lost, striving to make sense of what remained. It had become a text based religion, but most of those texts were missing.

I found this enlightening. It explains why later Jewish scholars, those who lived hundreds of years later during New Testament times, focussed so much on the letter of the law. Something precious had been snatched from their culture, so they were clinging to the remnant (and had rather lost their focus of what it was actually for along the way.) The books we now have, though incredibly boring to read today, held huge significance. But they were only a fragment. We should remember that, when quoting a few Bible verses to prove a point – we too only have a fragment. They help to point us towards God, they are not the absolute last and complete word of God. Especially when translated into English. God has to be the focus, not our own understanding of the words of our holy book.

But, back to basics. The end of Exodus is full of instructions for the construction and use of the tabernacle. It is not a thrilling read. There’s one part, when Moses finally constructs the tabernacle in Chapter 40, which reminds me so much of camping as a child. We had a big family tent, and we had to all help sort the poles, then my parents screwed the basic shape together. We all had to stand at a corner (except my little brother, who was fairly useless) and when my Dad gave the signal, we raised the tent. When the poles were in place, the canvas was draped over the top. Something similar happened with the tabernacle. (I have no clever message relating to this, it just reminded me of camping as a child!)

The end of Exodus talks again about the cloud being in the tent, and when it rose up, the people packed up and followed it. At night, it was full of fire. I can find no natural reason for this, it was a physical miracle that all the people could see. Perhaps they needed to see, to be sure. They had messed up once, and made a golden calf to worship instead of God. Now God was making it easier for them, giving them something they couldn’t ignore to remind them who he was. I guess he does that with us too. I have (more than a few times) messed up, done things I shouldn’t, lost sight of what I believe. God always made it easy to go back to him, he helps us follow him, if we will let him.

I’ll discuss Leviticus in my next Bible blog. It’s bound to be thrilling…..

Thanks for reading.

Bible Blog 5 – continuing my read through the Bible…

I am still ploughing through Exodus – fairly boring in parts, but there are some nuggets of interest. Here are some thoughts:

Exodus 21 – laws concerning slaves. This bit I don’t understand at all. It seems like God is saying that owning, in fact, mistreating, slaves is okay – as long as you don’t hit them so hard they die. This does not, in any way, reconcile with my understanding of the nature of God (which is why it’s so dangerous to read a snippet of the Bible and then say, “Ah, this proves such and such.” It probably doesn’t!) So, how to make sense of this bit? – I am open to suggestions. All I can think is either we just cannot, in our English version, thousands of years later, really understand what was originally meant by these words. Or, perhaps when they were written, the abuse of slaves was very extreme, and these words were a moderator, toning down the abuse, until such a time as society had progressed enough for everyone to be treated properly. Sometimes God allows people to progress slowly, and maybe society of those days wouldn’t have coped with being told “no slaves”. But I’m clutching at straws, really, I have no idea what this bit means. It seems especially ironic when you consider it was being given to people who, until very recently, had been slaves themselves.

Nor do I understand why they were told not to boil a young goat in its mother’s milk. I think this is the basis for Jews today not eating cheese and meat in the same dish, but I don’t know why it mattered.

Then we have the details of how to build the tabernacle, a special tent for God to ‘dwell in’. It’s very detailed – not especially thrilling to read. It does however raise some questions. The materials were costly and beautiful – why? God had better beauty in nature: flowers, sunsets, stars, seas. Why would he want a tent, even an expensive one? Obviously the point was that it was not ‘for’ God, it was for the people, so they had a special place to worship. I wonder if we’re missing that today. Perhaps having a place that is special, that’s our very best, is important. Maybe we physical beings need reminding that God is worthy of more than we can offer, and we should designate somewhere suitable to worship him. Yes, when we have no time, we can pray anywhere (when you have toddlers and babies, sometimes the only place you can think for a second is in the bathroom.) But when life is not so extreme, should we be making more effort? If we snatch times to pray when in bed, or at the kitchen table, are we missing something of the holiness of God? I wonder if other religions, such as Muslims who wash before prayer, have something to teach us here. Yes, we need to be careful that the ritual doesn’t become an end in itself, but I wonder if we have lost something by rejecting rituals so completely. Even our churches tend to be a bit shoddy. We have an attitude of “take the cheapest biscuits to have with coffee, it’s only church”. I think we should take more care to only bring the best, because it helps to remind us that the God who we claim to worship is worth our best. Always.

In Exodus 29 we have the consecration of Aaron and his sons. They are told to “…lay their hands on the head of a bull. Then you shall kill the bull…” We often have bulls in the fields near us. They are huge. These instructions are no simple thing. It also means the priests were in essence, butchers. They would smell like your local butchers shop – not especially pleasant. I wonder if they could wash the clothes they were told to wear?

Talking of smells, in Exodus 30 there is the recipe for a perfume. I read this weeks ago, right after I had visited Floris, the exclusive perfumery in London (see blog). So I was extremely interested that there was a special smell used for the place where people were to worship. The part of your brain that deals with smells is right next to the part that stores memory, which is why smells can evoke such strong memories. For me, one whiff of Old Spice aftershave in a supermarket, and I’m a little girl again, being hugged by my Dad. So, for people to have a smell that they associated with worship, would be very special. I guess that’s why they were forbidden to use the perfume anywhere else – it was only to be associated with God. Smells, memories, emotions, would all be intermingled when they came to their special place. I know some people light a candle when they pray. Maybe keeping a special scented one, not to be burnt at other times, would also be helpful. God never forgets we are physical beings, even if we like to sometimes. I’m not sure we should ignore all this as much as we do.

In fact, we tend to see gifts from God in mainly spiritual terms. But in Exodus 31, there’s a chap called Bezalel (unfortunate name) who is “filled with the Spirit of God” and is therefore intelligent, artistic, and a skilled craftsman.

I’ll post more of my notes next week. Thanks for reading. (If you sign up to follow my blog, you won’t miss the other things I discover.)

anneethompson.com

Bible Blog 4

After the plagues, Pharaoh decides to let Moses take the Israelites out into the wilderness to make sacrifices to God. I found it interesting that Moses was still pretending they planned to return – he at no point told Pharaoh they were leaving for good. Does this mean dishonesty is okay in some situations? Not sure, certainly Moses gave canny answers to people, he was a good politician.

Pretty soon after leaving Egypt, God tells the people they need to celebrate the Passover every year – a festival with special food and rituals, to remind them that God saved them. Sometimes I think Christians today have forgotten the importance of rituals – especially in non-conformist denominations. Other religions are better at this. We are physical beings, we need to do physical things to help us remember. I guess that’s why times like Christmas and Easter are so important, and the sacraments (communion, baptism). I think ‘occasions’ are important. We try to celebrate them in our family, to recognise things like exams, birthdays, graduations, (my book launch!) with family meals. Also important to make spiritual ‘occasions’ I think.

Then we get to the part about the people following a pillar of cloud and fire, the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptians. Now, several years ago, I watched a documentary on BBC, which was examining the physical evidence of the events of Exodus. It was very interesting, but I can’t remember most of it now. One thing they said was they thought the Israelites crossed the Sea of Reeds, not the Red Sea (which is possible, if you look at the Hebrew words). They made quite a strong case for the miracles being a result of volcanic activity in the area. If you read the descriptions while thinking about volcanoes, this does seem likely. Movement of the earth’s plates could cause a tidal wave, which would (I understand – I’m not a geographer) first draw the water back, so the Israelites could cross the sea, and then cause a tidal wave which fits with the Egyptians seeing the wall of water that’s described, and being swamped. The Exodus account implies all this happened at night, which would be completely terrifying.

The pillar of cloud/fire also fits with the stuff that’s expelled from a volcano, and certainly the later descriptions of Moses up the mountain are incredibly similar to the terrifying experience of being on an erupting volcano.

The journalists tried to plot the route of the Israelites, assuming they had crossed the Sea of Reeds, and they decided the mountain that most people today think was Sinai was wrong, and it was one in Saudi Arabia – for which they couldn’t get permission to test for historical eruptions. So, what do you think? As I said in a previous blog, I believe God made the world with all its natural phenomena, so it seems logical to me that he would use those. It doesn’t, for me, make it any less miraculous. In fact, if ancient people are describing so accurately what they encounter when a volcano erupts, surely we should also give credence when they describe hearing God speak directly to them.

When God sends the manna for the people to eat, we get another reminder of the law to keep the Sabbath as a day of rest. Interesting to note that the Sabbath was “given to” them – it was a gift. Although Christians keep Sunday rather then Saturday, it seems to be important that for one day we rest, think about God. I have read that in the early days of communism in the old Soviet Union, they tried to introduce longer weeks, but they found that productivity actually decreased. Not sure if that’s true, but there does seem to be some evidence that we are physically designed to need to rest every 7 days. So you might as well enjoy it!

There was lots of moaning from the Israelites. Just 3 days after they watched the Egyptians destroyed, they started to complain. Every time things got a bit tough, they complained. They also tended to blame Moses, even though they surely recognised that he was simply relaying messages from God. Always easy to blame the leader when things go wrong….

One of my favourite parts is when Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law arrives. Moses welcomes him and tells him what’s been happening. Jethro is not a Jew, he doesn’t even believe in the same God (he was a priest of another religion.) Yet Moses doesn’t tell him he’s wrong, he doesn’t even try to persuade him, he simply tells what God has done for him. He then listens. He takes advice from the priest of another religion. This is so rare today, we are so determined to convince people that our way is best, everything else is wrong, that we don’t even listen to good advice when we hear it. There is a time to learn from other people, even if they believe different things to us. It goes well with the verse in Matthew which says, “…be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves..” Sometimes Christians today forget the shrewd bit.