What’s With All The Snakes?

I’m not a fan of snakes, of any type. It’s not a paralyzing phobia, I’m simply cautious because I know I don’t know the benign from the dangerous. But even the benign aren’t favorites things of mine. So, when I read that Yahweh changes Moses’ staff into a snake, it’s not my favorite method of God’s work.

The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” And he said, “A staff.” Then He said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it. But the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand and grasp it by its tail “– so he stretched out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand–

Exodus 4:2-4 NASB

Yes, I wish Yahweh hadn’t chosen to use a snake. He does it again as the sons of Israel are traveling in the desert too.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.”

Numbers 21:8 NASB

An additional piece of dubious historical irony, according to Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, Moses had used serpents to defeat the Ethiopians for the Egyptians while he was still among the court of Pharaoh (Antiquities of the Jews, II:10:2). So, why is he scared when the staff becomes a snake? Maybe because he didn’t have a bird to protect him this time?

Snakes factor into Egyptian mythology as well. Unfortunately their myths don’t produce a simple easy explanation for Yahweh’s use before Pharaoh. For instance, Pharaoh’s crown, the pschent (probably not their word), has a representation of a serpent on it, which refers to the goddess Wadjet, the protector of Lower Egypt.

But the great evil opponent of the sun-god, Ra, was Apophis, a serpent, sort of a “sea-serpent” living in the chaotic waters surrounding the world. Think, Leviathan, and you’re in the right area. So, serpents can be good or bad in Egyptian mythology. In fact, one of Ra’s protectors is a serpent named, Mehen. You can find a fairly decent article on Apophis here.

So, Moses and Aaron approach Pharaoh, and Aaron throws down his staff. Dramatically, it becomes a serpent. What is a Pharaoh to do? He calls for his magicians, and they do the same, each man throws his staff, and they become serpents too. Yahweh’s serpent challenge is met, and He’s out numbered. But what does it mean? What should Pharaoh conclude from this, because serpents can be good or bad, so how does he know?

Aaron’s staff swallows the staffs of the magicians. So, in a sense, the protectors of the king, Wadjet, is defeated by another serpent, who must therefore be Apophis. All it probably took is for one of the magicians to speak that name, and now Moses and Aaron are of Apophis, the enemy of order and the gods of Egypt. And, that’s kind of true, from one perspective, just not the whole truth. Regardless, Pharaoh refuses to listen to them.

Judging this passage from a modern western thought mindset could be blinding us from the message of our Creator. We seem to think that, because his magicians could duplicate what Moses and Aaron did, Pharaoh wasn’t “impressed”. But think about that. If impressing Pharaoh were the point, then the consumption of his magicians staffs should have accomplished this, and Pharaoh’s response confuses us. There must be something we’re missing.

What if Yahweh is demonstrating something to Pharaoh, something that will take 11 miracles to fully communicate? Yahweh calls what He’s doing “judgements” (see Exodus 7:4). They are “signs and wonders” (see Exodus 7:3), but they are also “judgements”. Later on, when the angel of death takes the firstborn and passes over Israel, Yahweh says this:

For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments— I am the LORD.

Exodus 12:12 NASB (emphasis mine)

These judgements are “against the gods of Egypt”. So, consider for a moment, all gods are real. Pharaoh’s gods are such that serpents can be either protectors or enemies. One comes in the name of a god you don’t know, and his staff becomes a serpent. What do you do? Is it a good or evil serpent, and how do you tell? You call your own powerful magicians, and they turn their staffs into serpents, protector serpents. What happens next tells you what you want to know. This one in the name of the unknown god has a serpent that devours your protector serpents. It must be the evil serpent, and righteously, you refuse their demands. Order prevails, and your gods are pleased with you for fighting with them against this serpent of chaos.

By itself, this act of power looks like Yahweh has aligned Himself with the evil of Egypt, and He has, because the gods of Egypt have aligned themselves against Him. And now, because He is the One True God, He executes judgements against them, and takes away their validity, revealing them for what they are, rebellious servants of Yahweh.

Okay, so that might make a decent movie or exciting fantasy book for nerds and comic book fans. But we’re modern scientific rationalists, what’s the message for us? Well, rationally speaking, this world is upside down. Right is now decried as wrong. Wrong is held up as the highest form of good, and the people holding to belief in our Savior are considered worse than evil, we’re stupid evil people. The beliefs and practices of Scripture are ridiculed, and legislated against. We are sojourners in an unholy land.

But all of this opposition is actually spiritual in nature, the product of these spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12). What we, as modern rational believers, need to know is that this spiritual war is between our Savior and those rebels opposed to Him. What we witness is a form of what Moses and Aaron stood up against, and we need to be, as they were, obediently opposing those forces.

It might look like we’re evil in our culture/society’s sight. They may call us evil, but remember the words of Paul in Galatians 5:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law

Galatians 5:22-23 NASB

Our response to this evil and perverse generation is one of love, not anger. Paul was followed about by a slave-girl possessed by a spirit of divination in Philippi. He wasn’t angry with her, and he didn’t fight her or abuse her. He was worn out after many days, and cast out the demon (Acts 16:16-18). In the same way, we need to address our attacks to the spiritual forces of darkness, and not at the people.

Notice the serpent of Aaron’s staff didn’t attack Pharaoh or his servants. It attacked and consumed the other staffs, the expressions of power of those in rebellious opposition to Yahweh. But Pharaoh doesn’t get it, not yet. And many of those who oppose us will not get it either. Even when we address our attacks against the spiritual forces rather than the people, we will still not get the appreciation or understanding of people.

We, like Moses and Aaron, like Paul and Silas, like Stephen, and like our Savior, Jesus, cannot allow the praise of others to direct our actions. I need this lesson as much as, if not more than, anyone. Because it’s easy to let the praise of others become our measure of success. It’s hard to be misunderstood, and not rail against it. And yet, there is no real victory, no lasting peace, unless we follow in the path of our Savior and His servants ahead of us. It is truly a narrow way.


Knowing God Through Combat

The life of a believer, follower, or disciple of Jesus can be summarized as spent getting to know Jesus better.  The process of knowing Him more has the added affect of changing the disciple into the likeness of their Master.  The typical methods used today are prayer, Bible study, worship, perhaps service to others, or ministry within a church.  But what about combat?  What about the biblical method of learning about our God through learning combat?  You haven’t heard about that particular method?  Ah, then this entry is for you!

Now these are the nations which the LORD left, to test Israel by them (that is, all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan; only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly).  These nations are: the five lords of the Philistines and all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites who lived in Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath. (Judges 3:1-3 NASB)

From the passage above, you can clearly see that Yahweh used the Canaanites in the land to teach His people about Himself through combat.  Does that seem a lot to derive from the word “test”?  Fair enough, then consider the next few verses:

They were for testing Israel, to find out if they would obey the commandments of the LORD, which He had commanded their fathers through Moses.  The sons of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and they took their daughters for themselves as wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods. (Judges 3:4-6 NASB)

Does the testing seem more clear now?  And, not only the testing, but the people’s struggle to pass the test, becomes clear.  The people of Yahweh seemed content to live among the people, as Canaanites themselves!  Combat was the method Yahweh used with His people to distinguish them from their Canaanite neighbors, to demonstrate they were different than the Canaanites.  Through combat, His people became holy, it was a test to sanctify His people.  Instead, His people married among those they were supposed to oppose.

Do you see where this is headed yet?  We, as disciples of Jesus, are to be obviously different than our “neighbors”.  We are supposed to be holy.  We’re not supposed to look or act like “everyone else”.  Our priorities and goals are supposed to be different.  We’re supposed to be distinguishable from those around whom we live and work.  But, most of the time, we seem content to be different at church.  That we go to church at all seems to be difference enough for many of us.  While going to church is great, and necessary, it’s not “holiness”, or not nearly enough of it.

For a disciple of Jesus, the struggle to be different, for holiness, is not about being an individual.  It is personal combat against the pressure to be unlike Jesus.  This can be difficult, even in church.  But, the struggle for holiness can be easily forgotten in the rest of life.  It’s easy to forgive ourselves for not being different “out there”, after all, who wants to be “offensive”?  Well, to be clear, Jesus did.  John 6 is a great view into Jesus’ “Church Growth Strategy” – drive off inauthentic followers.  To be His disciple means we will be fearlessly offensive as well.

It’s not easy being a disciple of Jesus.  It takes whole-hearted determination, perseverance, and pig-headed stick-to-it-tiveness.  It takes study to get to know Jesus’ priorities, His point of view, and His goals.  It takes study of both Testaments.  The people of Yahweh, the sons of Israel, struggled with Yahweh.  That’s what their name means.  They earned it.  And it’s time for us, as disciples of Jesus, to enter into this struggle as well.

Suit up!  Grab your gear!  Let’s get out there, and fight!

That’s my view through the knothole this morning.  What do you see of our Master through yours?

Giants In The Land

So Judah went against the Canaanites who lived in Hebron (now the name of Hebron formerly was Kiriath-arba); and they struck Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai. (Judges 1:10 NASB)

Now the LORD was with Judah, and they took possession of the hill country; but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had iron chariots.
Then they gave Hebron to Caleb, as Moses had promised; and he drove out from there the three sons of Anak. (Judges 1:19-20 NASB)

Because the Septuagint translates some Hebrew words as “gigas” or “giant”, the mythic memory of the battle of the Greek gods against the giants vaguely becomes a background for some of the conflict in Canaan.  But even so, isn’t it interesting that both traditions preserve this memory of large powerful people?

There are  several clues for us that this world is not as our scientists would have us believe.  In some ways I wonder if science fiction may be closer to the truth.  The Scriptures, including the Christian Scriptures, paint a scene of heaven where there is conflict.  There is a war among the “Sons of God”, and sides have been chosen.  We are fairly oblivious in our western philosophical arrogance, and it’s in the “third world” that this war clearer.  The miracles and spiritual powers are much more obvious to people without our “scientific” sophistication.  These people are also much more aware of the war.

The problem we face is our prejudices and fears.  We consider every other culture to be ignorant of how the world really works.  Yet, we fear the nagging fact that there seems to be so much we can’t measure but which still seems to have an effect on our world.  Isn’t it ironic that we assume the fears and prejudices of ancient cultures  spawned their myths? And yet, science has spawned its own myths.

What if the world depicted by Scripture isn’t all that different from reality, and we have it skewed by our fears and prejudices?  What if there are giants in the land, or were.  There were lions in Canaan, but we know they were hunted to extinction.  There were bears too, and we know those were destroyed.  What if, before that, there were giants?

It’s possible we, modern western science-minded people, don’t actually know as much as we think we do.  Perhaps the enlightenment wasn’t as enlightening as we thought.  Maybe modernist and post-modernists didn’t improve our perception of the universe.  Perhaps all we’ve done is hobbled our ability to stand against the spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly realms.

Just kidding.  Probably not.  What a load of hooey.  Go back to your day, enjoy your breakfast.  There’s no bogeyman, no monsters, and no reason to believe in ghosts.  So what if you can’t explain stuff, right?  It’s just a matter of time until we figure it out…

I’ll just be over here praying.  Which for me means I’ll be entering into the spiritual realm of my King, and communicating past an army fighting Him, out for my destruction.  Don’t mind me.  Just put more apple butter on your English muffin, and refresh your coffee mug.

Carry on.  Nothing to see here…

Passion Week XIXe

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  But he said to Him, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!”  And He said, “I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.” (Luke 22:31-34 NASB)

The beginning of Job is almost as disheartening as the rest of the book (except the ending).  We read that, and think, ‘Wow, that guy was setup!’  And we’re sort of left with the unsettling feeling that God was complicit in the setup, after all, He points out Job to Satan!  Many of us probably settled into some sense of relief that this is the only place we see God do this…except, for this one.

The wording of Jesus in this passage implies that God gave into Satan’s demand.  The context supports that too, but the choice of words and tense support it all on its own.  So, God does this thing using His people in some sort of challenge with Satan, still.  It’s not just with Job.  With Job it was God’s idea, with Peter, it was Satan’s idea.  Either way, it happened again.  And I suspect still happens.

This is one of those places where we experience a sense of depersonalization in our relationship with God that is very counter to our self-centered culture.  Even in those who see themselves as philanthropists, they are generally shocked when they are mistreated and disrespected.  There’s just something about human beings that refuses to let us believe that all this is not really all about us.  Even in cultures that are more enmeshed in either family or cultural groups, they still think life is all about them (examine modern Japanese culture right now…it’s as if WWII never really happened).

On a personal level, the inconvenient or catastrophic circumstances we encounter about which we have no control we consider personal attacks.  But from this we learn that it’s possible it has nothing to do with us at all, and God and Satan are just pushing each other around the “heavenly realms”.  It’s a bet, and we’re the one’s being bet on or against.  We’re the horses, the greyhounds, the players on the field, and we run, race, and play for the sport of others.  It’s gladiatorial combat all over again, and we’re the combatants.  The really frustrating this is that we signed on for this.

Here’s the deal.  God and Satan argue over us.  When Scripture says that Jesus intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father, we need that for reasons we aren’t even aware.  We think it’s to help us in our lives, make us happy, something like that.  But now we see that  actually it’s to help us survive the game the Father and Satan are playing.  That sort of changes how we see this relationship with God which we have given everything to gain.  We give up everything to be pawns and gladiators in the cosmic contest in the heavenly realms between the Father and Satan.  But it’s okay, because we have Jesus interceding on our behalf with the Father; kind of like “legal cheating”.

If this all sounds like we have been duped, then now is the time to read the end of Romans 8.  We win and our victory is inevitable.  We cannot be separated from the Love of God in Christ Jesus, not even a little.  We win.  To be specific, we are on the winning side when we give everything to be a disciple of Jesus.  The alternative is to be on the losing side, just to state the obvious.  So the question is how valuable is it to us to be on the eternal cosmic winning side.

But to those of you still stinging from our lack of status, or feeling duped because we’re merely pawns, let me just ask, “So you thought the Maker of the Universe would make you some sort of ‘general’ in a fight you didn’t even know was raging?  What are you, some sort of numbskull?”  I’m sorry to burst your bubble that this really isn’t about you at all, but it isn’t.  It’s about God, Maker of the Universe (and probably a lot more) soundly and embarrassingly humiliating the rebellious pompous narcissistic enemy of all creation.  You want in on it, then you get in as a private; not a sergeant, not an officer, not a specialist, or corporal; a private.  That’s the deal.  Study to show yourself approved a workman rightly handling the Word of truth, and you can be a “lead private”.  But seriously, until you actually get there and see the fight, how would you even know what you’re doing?

Trust that God has it all under control, stay the course, fight the good fight you have before you, and hang in there until you finally get to see what’s really going on.  You do that, and maybe in the Kingdom to come you gain rank.  Until then, just hang in there.

That’s part of my view through this knothole.  The other part has to do with the foreknowledge and grace of Jesus’ statement.  But that will be for tomorrow.

What’s your view through your knothole?

Satan As A Worthy Opponent – Part III

And when He came out onto the land, He was met by a man from the city who was possessed with demons; and who had not put on any clothing for a long time, and was not living in a house, but in the tombs.  Seeing Jesus, he cried out and fell before Him, and said in a loud voice, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me.”  For He had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For it had seized him many times; and he was bound with chains and shackles and kept under guard, and yet he would break his bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.  And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him.  They were imploring Him not to command them to go away into the abyss.  (Lk. 8:27-31 NASB)

I captured a few more verses of this passage because I wanted to make something clearer I mentioned in the first entry on this topic.  This “legion” of demons was strong enough to negotiate with God the Son.  In other passages where Jesus is casting out demons, there’s no discussion, no debate, no delay, they simply fly out of people when Jesus says to, and shut up when He says to.  He says it, they do it.  These guys resist, and resist successfully.

Continue reading “Satan As A Worthy Opponent – Part III”

Satan As A Worthy Opponent – Part 2

Seeing Jesus, he cried out and fell before Him, and said in a loud voice, “ What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me.” For He had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For it had seized him many times; and he was bound with chains and shackles and kept under guard, and yet he would break his bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert. And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They were imploring Him not to command them to go away into the abyss. (Luke 8:28-31 NASB)

Previously I pointed out that this passage illustrates that there are spiritual forces which can resist even Jesus. In that entry I suggested some defensive measures to take to help protect ourselves against spiritual attack from the spiritual forces at war with us.  But I believe Ephesians 6 can be understood to mean that Paul tells us the battle is also offensive in nature.  So now I want to explore a protracted offense.

Continue reading “Satan As A Worthy Opponent – Part 2”

God Helps Kill Enemies?

For You have girded me with strength for battle;
You have subdued under me those who rose up against me.
You have also made my enemies turn their backs to me,
And I destroyed those who hated me.
They looked, but there was none to save;
Even to the Lord, but He did not answer them.
Then I pulverized them as the dust of the earth;
I crushed and stamped them as the mire of the streets.
(2 Samuel 22:40-43 NASB)

Theology, at its core, is a ‘word about God’, just as the word means: ‘theo = god’ and ‘logy = word’.  Since followers of Jesus are to get their word about God from the Scripture He created, it may be helpful to view Scriptures that make us uncomfortable. This one, is, on the surface, a praise for God’s help in times of trouble.  But as we delve into what was done, how God helped, we, 21st Century Christians, may be a bit uncomfortable with this word about God.

Continue reading “God Helps Kill Enemies?”

The Violence of God and His People

For You have girded me with strength for battle;
You have subdued under me those who rose up against me.
You have also made my enemies turn their backs to me,
And I destroyed those who hated me.
They looked, but there was none to save;
Even to the Lord, but He did not answer them.
Then I pulverized them as the dust of the earth;
I crushed and stamped them as the mire of the streets
(2 Samuel 22:40-43 NASB)

Would it bother you if I told you that God sometimes incites His people to violent acts?  Probably.  In our culture we would probably shudder or start calling for the guys in white coats, nets, and extra-long-sleeve jackets with buckles in the back.  It sounds like the ravings of a lunatic blaming God for their lunacy, ‘hearing voices’, and foaming at the mouth.  Not something we like to think about.  To be fair, most of the times (or all the times) this sort of thing has been reported in the news, that was pretty close to what it was, lunacy; perhaps even demonic activity.

Continue reading “The Violence of God and His People”