SOAP Journal – 31 March 2017 (Numbers 27:5)

So Moses brought their case before the LORD.

Numbers 27:5

Moses had given out the LORD’s directive about how the Promised Land would be split up and who got an inheritance. Into this situation enter the daughters of a man who died in the wilderness with no sons. Since the law of the time was that sons inherited from fathers, the women came to Moses and set the situation before him. Their father was dead, they had no brothers, they believed that they should inherit in their father’s name. This morning’s verse is Moses’ response to that.

There are a couple of things that I notice about this.

First, Moses did not rely on his own wisdom. I am wont to do that. I sometimes think that a situation is so obvious that I need not bother God with it. The women’s logic seems sound to me, looking back at it from now, but Moses might have been struggling with the social norms of his time or any number of things that I do not know about. Moses takes the matter to God. This is an excellent example for me. I should bring anything and everything to God. I should seek God’s wisdom about things — even things that might seem obvious.

Second, Moses brought their case before the LORD. There is no record of Moses injecting his own commentary or thoughts on the matter. He states their case and looks for God to answer them. As a believer, there will be times when people ask me to pray for them; to talk to God on their behalf. This might be fellow believers who are having a rough patch or non-believers who kind of sort of believe or think that it will not hurt anything to have me praying about things. In any situation, what I should be doing is the same: [bring] their case before the LORD. God does not need my commentary on the situation or my suggestions about how He should sort things. If I am relying on His wisdom, then I will simply state the facts and see what He does or says about things.

Father, thank You that You listen when we simply state our case or the case of others. Thank You for caring about what concerns us, even though we may think our cares inconsequential. Please work in me that I might rely on Your wisdom and simply state cases to You instead of trying to tell You how You ought to address them.

SOAP Journal – 30 March 2017 (Numbers 26:63-65)

These are those who were numbered by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who numbered the sons of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. But among these there was not a man of those who were numbered by Moses and Aaron the priest, who numbered the sons of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. For the LORD had said to them, “They shall surely die in the wilderness.” And not a man was left of them, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.

Numbers 26:63-65

The Israelites are preparing to enter the Promised Land. They have enjoyed a few victories in battle. And, as the census reveals, there is not one person left of those who had been numbered in the census taken in Sinai. This is an entirely new generation, with three exceptions.

The first is the obvious: Moses. He is not yet dead. But God has told Moses that he will not enter the Promised Land, so Moses has to know that it is only a matter of time for him. I imagine him taking this last census with a mixture of relief and sadness. He knows that God is almost done using him in this world. He knows that the Promised Land is close and that this generation is ready to go in and take possession of that land. That must provide him with some relief. But I imagine it being tinged with sadness, as he knows that he will not be there to enjoy the Promised Land himself. He knows that he has to pass on before the Israelites can enter into the fulfillment of God’s promises to them.

The second is Caleb. Caleb is one of only two people who brought back an encouraging report the first go around. Caleb, then in his forties, wanted to go into the land and take what God has promised them. He saw giants and fortified cities, just like the other spies, but he saw them in the light of God having promised that land to him and the rest of the Israelites. He saw a conquest just waiting to happen, not because the Israelites were such amazing warriors, but because their God is that amazing. Not only was Caleb promised that he would get to go into the Promised Land, but he was promised a particular parcel within the land. This census must have him about ready to burst with excitement to see what God has in store.

The third is Joshua. I do not know if Joshua knows for certain that Moses is going to hand the reigns of leadership to him, but Joshua has to be aware of the possibility. He, I think, is probably seeing this census before entering the Promised Land as bittersweet. He has served as an assistant to Moses for over forty years. That is a long time to get to know someone and learn how they do what they do and why. And there was an effective communication of spiritual life from Moses to Joshua, because Joshua depends on God as he leads the Israelites and challenges the Israelites to choose whom they will serve when he retires from leadership. Just as Moses reminds the Israelites of the Law in Deuteronomy, Joshua reminds the Israelites of Who it is that gave them victory in their conquest of the Promised Land. There was an effective transmission of spiritual life there, but that, I think, must have left Joshua sorrowing over the impending departure of a man to whom he had probably grown very close.

Whenever God does something new, it seems that these three are present somewhere.

There always seems to be the person God used to lay the groundwork for the new thing He plans to do and this person often knows that they cannot be a part of the new work. It is not that God has ceased to love them or use them, but that they have served the purpose for which God called them to that work and he is going to move them on to something else.

There always seems to be the eager servant, someone who was ready to do the work back when the outgoing leader shared the vision in the first place and they are positively aching to get to work now that God has said things are ready. These people energize a work in a unique way. Plenty of people will serve — God is more than capable of staffing His endeavors — but not all with the same unbridled enthusiasm.

And there always seems to be the new leader; the person whom God is raising up to take the work forward now that everything is ready for the new thing He plans to do. This leader may be reluctant and may be frightened of the shoes they feel that they must fill. The reality is that God has a whole new pair of shoes that is custom-tailored to the person who He wants doing His work.

Father, please prepare me for whichever of these roles You want me to fulfill. If the eager servant, then please prepare me for whatever work You have in store. Please strengthen me for that work and equip me with whatever I may need. If the new leader, then please place a desire in my heart for that work and give a vision for where You want that work to go. I suspect I must first be the new leader before You can call me to be the outgoing leader, so I need not pray for that for myself, but I ask that You comfort the hearts of those leaders whom You are currently moving from an old work to a new. Transition can be difficult and Your comfort is a necessary balm for the aches that come with off-loading any burden that You placed on us — light as Your burdens are.

SOAP Journal – 29 March 2017 (Numbers 23:19)

God is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent;
Has He said, and will He not do it?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

Numbers 23:19

Balaam, the for profit prophet, reaches Balak, the king of Moab, and they get right down to business. Balaam tells the king to set up seven altars and seven sacrifices and after he has offered those seven sacrifices, Balaam goes off at a distance and meets with God and receives words to speak concerning the Israelites. The first time does not go well, in Balak’s opinion. The Israelites are blessed by God. So Balak decides that maybe God will curse them or let Balaam curse them from a different location. Maybe if Balaam and God see the Israelites from another angle, then a curse will be forthcoming. Verse 19 is the beginning of God’s response to that.

God’s response boils down to this idea: God does not change His mind. He has no reason to.

God is not a man, that He should lie. He did not just see the Israelites at a propitious angle and think that He wanted to bless them, but might change His mind if we take Him over to some other vantage point. Likewise, God is not going to be convinced by any reasoning I might present. He has already heard my reasoning and already knows how solid or flimsy it is. The word that is translated lie could also mean deceive, disappoint, or fail. God is not going to fail in what He says He is going to do. If He says it, then it is going to happen.

God is not a man … that He should repent. God has no reason to repent of anything. To repent would imply that one had done something wrong and God is incapable of doing anything wrong. But the word can also mean to be sorry or to rue. I rue certain decisions I have made to this day, but I recognize that they were bad decisions. God, knowing the end from the beginning, is not going to make a bad decision. He has nothing to rue. Every decision He makes is the best one and works toward His desired outcome.

The questions asked were for Balak, in their original context. Has God made a promise that He does not intend to follow through on? There have been several times in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers that God has said something to Moses like “Let me destroy these people and I will start over with you.” and those times seem to contradict what God is saying through Balaam. Taken in their context, though, it becomes clear that God was trying to prompt Moses’ compassion and provoke Moses to intercession. In any one of those instances, God would have been fully justified in wiping out the lot of the Israelites. They had transgressed His Law and had whined against Him and against His chosen representative. In no way would God have been outside what is right and just if He had destroyed every last whining Israelite.  But Moses prays and God is then able to make the action He wanted to perform — being merciful and sparing the rebellious Israelites — an answer to Moses’ prayer. It is a win-win for God. God does what He intended to do (spare the Israelites) and grows Moses’ faith and prayer life in the process.

Back to Balak and Balaam.

The whole of their exchange with God is an object lesson in God not changing His mind. Balak tries three different vantage points hoping that one of them will change God’s mind. None of them does. And none of them could. God told Balak at the second location that He (God) was not going to change His mind, but Balak persisted.

Am I trying to drag God around to some place where the circumstances look favorable to what I want? If so, have I stopped to consider that God has already seen things from that angle? None of what I have to say is news to Him. There is no view that shows my desires to advantage. If God has answered me, then His answer stands. I will not; can not change His mind. There is no reason for Him to change it.

Father, thank You for not allowing me to change Your mind about anything. The longer I walk with You, the more I see that I am wrong when I disagree with You and that Your will is the best case scenario for me and the situations I face in life.

SOAP Journal – 28 March 2017 (Numbers 22:28-30)

And the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”
Then Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a mockery of me! If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now.”
The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?”
And he said, “No.”

Numbers 22:28-30

Sometimes, God does the unexpected. The Israelites, having a peaceful camp out after putting a beat down on the Amorites, are doing nothing much except enjoying some peace and quiet. Knowing the Israelites, there was probably one group or another getting ready to complain about something. Maybe the rocks were too soft for them to sleep.

Balak, the king of Moab, sees the multitude of Israelites camping out and he hits the panic button. He sends representatives to Balaam — a for profit prophet — asking the prophet to come curse the people camping out, because Balak’s army is too small and too weak. Since the Amorites had put a beat down on Balak’s father or grandfather and the Israelites had beat down the Amorites, it stands to reason that Balak might be freaking out at about that moment. The people who came out of nowhere and just kicked the tar out of the Amorites are camped on the plains of Moab near Jericho.

So the representatives come to Balaam and Balaam asks God is he can go. The first time, God says “No.” in no uncertain terms. The second time, God says that since the men came to get him, he might as well go with them. There is a condition, though. Balaam is to say only what God tells him to say. It is after this that the Angle of the LORD stands in the road and causes the donkey to veer off and generally do her level best to keep Balaam alive. She sees the Angel and Balaam — the prophet — does not. After her third successful attempt to keep Balaam from being killed, Balaam starts to really lay into the donkey and God, never One to do things the way we expect Him to, opened the mouth of the donkey.

The talking donkey is not the part of this narrative that causes me to shake my head in wonder and sympathetic shame. The part that makes me ashamed is the prophet who is so wrapped up in his anger and what he wants to do that it does not immediately catch his attention that his donkey is talking. Balaam is so focused on what he is up to — potentially dreaming up ways to curse the Israelites, since the Angel of the LORD reminds Balaam to say only what God tells him to say — that he misses the miracle right in front of him. He is so focused on how to get wealth and other things that ultimately pass away that he misses the power of God in action.

How many times has God done something just a little out of the norm  — like Balaam’s donkey, who had a habit of being obedient and compliant, suddenly turning disobedient and defiant — to slow me down or prevent me from doing something catastrophically bad? That automobile breakdown or that traffic delay, have I stopped to consider that those might have been God trying to slow me down and get my attention? As I look back over my life, I can see times where God hit the brakes on things and tried to get my attention to prevent me from some act of disobedience. Sometimes, it worked. Other times, I kept right on going.

When something out of the ordinary happens, let me pause and pray and check in with God to make sure that what is happening is not an attempt on His part to get me to listen to Him and adjust my intended course of action. Sometimes, things just happen. Sometimes, God is standing in the way of the thing I am trying to do so that He might prevent me from doing something that would displease Him.

Father, thank You for those times when You have tried to prevent me from doing things that displease You or cause You pain. For those times when I have listened, I am grateful. For those times when I have ignored Your warnings, I am sorry. You have often done more than I have any reason to expect or even ask and I have, too often, not been responsive. Please open my eyes and ears and soften my heart to be receptive to You and to see the delays that You cause for what they are.

SOAP Journal – 27 March 2017 (Numbers 21:22-24)

“Let me pass through your land. We will not turn off into field or vineyard; we will not drink water from wells. We will go by the king’s highway until we have passed through your border.” But Sihon would not permit Israel to pass through his border. So Sihon gathered all his people and went out against Israel in the wilderness, and came to Jahaz and fought against Israel. Then Israel struck him with the edge of the sword, and took possession of his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, as far as the sons of Ammon; for the border of the sons of Ammon [was] Jazer.

Numbers 21:22-24

The Israelites, in their wanderings, had to pass through kingdoms. When they arrived at some of them — the kingdom of the Moabites and the kingdom of the Amorites, for example — the Israelites sent in messengers asking permission to pass through. The statement made was the same each time they asked permission and boiled down to a promise not to take any of the resource of the land or to pay for whatever they might need. The king of Moab refuses to let the Israelites pass through his kingdom, so the Israelites go around. The king of the Amorites, on the other hand, gets hostile and comes out with his army.

The mistrust shown by the king of Moab seems somewhat reasonable. A large group of wandering people presents a very real danger to a settled nation. So the king of Moab refuses. Twice. And the Israelites go around.

The king of the Amorites is a different story. By this time, word has probably reached him that the Israelites are wandering around and there had to have been reports that everything was fine while they were present and after they left. The Amorites had even taken land from the Moabites a generation prior, thus presumably had a stronger military and the Israelites went around when the Moabites told them they could not pass through. The king’s violent response seems out of proportion to the real and perceived danger.

So Sihon, king of the Amorites, brings out his army and fights against the Israelites. And he loses. The Israelites end up defeating Sihon and his army and wiping out the people living there and living in the cities.

There is a lesson on both sides of this exchange.

From the Israelites, I learn that starting with the peaceful option will not always result in a peaceful outcome. The Israelites tried to just pass through quietly. They sent in messengers and asked permission and would, presumably, have gone around if told that they could not pass through. Sihon did not leave them a peaceful option.

From Sihon and the Amorites I learn that I need to rightly understand the situation. Maybe Sihon thought that his army could take the Israelites — and the raw numbers might have backed his thoughts on the matter. Maybe Sihon thought that the Israelites presented a more dire threat to his people than they actually did. In any event, Sihon did not take the time to fully understand the situation and ended up defeated and dead.

So it is that I might try to do things peacefully and not be permitted the peaceful path by those with whom I am dealing. I might wrongly evaluate the situation and end up defeated. Let me begin with the peaceful solution, but be aware that it may not be permitted to proceed. Let me take the time to fully understand the situation in which I find myself and to act when I am as certain as I can be that I am acting from a place of prayer and thoughtfulness, not from a reactionary impulse.

Thank You, Father, for this account. Thank You for the reminder that the peaceful way is not always allowed  by everyone and for the reminder that not every situation is quite as dire as I might be inclined to think it is. Please slow my impulse to react and let me pray and think first. Please teach me to begin with the peaceful option but to be ready to deal with the alternative if the peaceful option is not pursued by those with whom I must deal.

Thoughts on Abortion

Foreword

Before I get started, there are a few things that need to be pointed out.

First, I am a Christian. This means that I oppose abortion on “religious” grounds. The Bible seems to indicate that God starts the life clock ticking before birth. God speaks of Isaac as a person before he is even conceived, making promises that Isaac will inherit everything that belongs to Abraham. God tells Rebekah that there are twins in her womb. There is a fair bit about how God addresses people not yet born that gives the impression that personhood is not conferred by being born, as far as God is concerned. Since that line of thinking is only a valid line of reasoning if one already agrees with me that there is a God and about Who He is, this line of reasoning will be set aside for the remainder of this piece.

Second, I am male. It is therefore often asserted that I have no business holding an opinion about abortion, since I cannot ever have one. While I hold this view to be absurd on its face — there are plenty of women who hold opinions about male circumcision and lack the gear to undergo the procedure themselves — my intent in writing this piece is not so much to convince people to legitimize my opinion — it is as legitimate as any other reasoned opinion — or to sway anyone to my view, but merely to express thoughts on the subject.

Third, I do not intend to write a persuasive piece. If you are here looking for someone to cite in trying to convince your friends that abortion is wrong, you are in the wrong bit of writing. I just wanted to dump some thoughts into the blue nowhere and be done with those thoughts.

Fourth and finally, I intend to posit some hypothetical situations in this piece. I will be rather specific and the situations posited may be a bit much for some. You have been warned.

Abortion and Legal Inconsistency

There is a strange bit of legal inconsistency that sometimes troubles me. For a brief summary of what I am thinking of, visit the National Conference of State Legislatures website — the article on fetal homicide laws, in particular. Allow me to illustrate.

In Case A, a man whose certifications we will leave vague approaches a pregnant woman and does some violence to her abdominal area. This violence, for the sake of consistency, is intentional and premeditated. The result is that the woman’s pregnancy is terminated.

In Case B, a man who happens to be a doctor approaches a pregnant woman and does some violence to her abdominal area. This violence is intentional and premeditated and has the goal of terminating the pregnancy. It is successful. The pregnancy is terminated.

Both Case A and Case B involve the same basic elements: a person doing something violent to a woman’s abdominal area which results in a terminated pregnancy. In about 38 states (maybe fewer if the Tennessee law lapsed), Case A can result in criminal charges being filed against the man for terminating the pregnancy while Case B will, as a rule, not. The man in Case A will be charged with assault on the woman in just about every place I can name.

If a woman goes to a doctor for an abortion, she chooses to end her pregnancy and the end of same is her desired outcome. If she is assaulted on the street or gets in an automobile accident and the violence results in a terminated pregnancy, the other person can be held criminally accountable for the death of a person.

Why the disparity?

The only reason I can see is the woman’s choice and desired outcome. In one instance, she wants to end the pregnancy and in the other she does not. If the only difference between a crime and an elective procedure is a person’s choice, then there are some very interesting court cases on the horizon (and already have been, if the above linked article is any indication).

Abortion and Evolution

Disclaimer: I do not believe in evolution on the macro scale, but do find it a useful tool with which to conduct thought experiments such as this one.

I hear often about how human beings are supposed to have evolved from some less evolved life form, the hubris-riddled implication being that we see ourselves as somehow superior to other creatures. Abortion, to me, represents a potential flaw in this line of thinking.

The idea of “survival of the fittest”, as I understand it, is to survive and to pass on one’s genetics to as many progeny as possible. This is, to my recollection, meant to be in service to evolution, as the fitter creatures will tend to pass on their genetics more while their weaker counterparts will not. Abortion interferes with this (as do birth control and monogamy, to be candid, but I am not considering birth control or the validity of monogamy in this piece … maybe another time). Abortion interferes in one of two basic ways that I can see.

Way One: Abortion terminates the development of a potentially superior creature. While I do not think that the X-Men are coming any time soon, I do believe that geniuses of every type and kind have potentially been prevented from entering this world by abortion. The real trouble is that there is no reliable method of knowing. All that can be known is that a pregnancy was terminated. What may have happened is that humanity may have been robbed of its next great physics genius or musical virtuoso. Humanity may also have been relieved of several de Sads and Bathorys, but there is absolutely no way of knowing.

Way Two: Abortion, when used by eugenicists, selects the traits that the eugenicist (or those controlling them) determine to be desirable. The founder of Planned Parenthood was a eugenicist and thought that abortion could be used to remove elements from the populace that she deemed undesirable. I will not comment on whether or not the organization she founded has adhered to her agenda (because I do not know), but point her out particularly because she illustrates the point well. There have bee others who had eugenic agendas, but most often pursued their goals by other means.

Whether by selectively removing traits that some controlling group or person deems undesirable or by potentially quashing the birth of geniuses and virtuosos, abortion interferes with evolution as well as inhibiting the biological imperative. It is, in short, unnatural. And also makes those who adhere to a belief in evolution potentially inconsistent. Unless they are eugenicist, I cannot reconcile believing in evolution and survival of the fittest, then interfering and/or permitting others to interfere with the process.

Wrap Up

I could probably go for pages, but these have been the two thought processes rattling around in my head since panicked people began to run about as if the sky were falling after the last election here in the United States. We Americans are legally inconsistent in our treatment of whether or not the result of terminating a pregnancy is murder/manslaughter or a removal of tissue. And abortion seems to me to be interfering with evolution’s work, if you buy into that sort of thing.

I am sorry if this thought dump is a bit more rambling than previous — my Thoughts on Hell piece is more organized, I think — but I am a bit rusty at writing anything non-technical and not a morning devotion.

SOAP Journal – 24 March 2017 (Numbers 20:12)

But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.”

Numbers 20:12

Numbers 20:8-13 is the account of the waters of Meribah. God tells Moses and Aaron to take the blossoming rod from the tabernacle and speak to a specific rock and get water for the Israelites. Moses and Aaron, instead, take the rod and chastise the Israelites and hit the rock with the rod. Verse 12 is God’s response to their disobedience.

The obvious lesson here is that God’s work must be done in God’s way or there will be consequences. Both Moses and Aaron heard the instructions. Only Moses is recorded as being disobedient, but Aaron could have stepped in to remind Moses of what he should have been doing. In the end, neither one is permitted to enter into the Promised Land. Aaron dies a short while later on a mountaintop and Moses will go up to a mountaintop to look at the Promised Land from a distance before he also dies. All the work; all the prayer and agonizing over the Israelites and one act of disobedience was enough to keep them out of the Promised Land. And I have to wonder why.

The New Testament sheds some light on the why. The rock that Moses strikes is said to be a metaphor for Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). God was putting together a picture of Christ and Moses and Aaron marred that image. I can only guess what God might have said through Moses and Aaron being obedient. Instead, I have a lesson in the consequences of disobedience.

The consequences are twofold, in the case of this incident.

The first and most important consequence is marring the work of God. God was doing something and Moses and Aaron disobeying Him and His instruction distorted the picture God was painting. The message did not come through clearly. And we still lack what might have been.

The second consequence is the personal cost to Moses and Aaron. These two had endured much in trying to bring the Israelites into the Promised Land. There are many recorded instances of one or both of these men on their faces in intercession for the Israelites. More than once, God goes to bat for these men and reaffirms His choice of them as His representatives. And God does not revoke His choice. These men remain His representatives until their deaths. But their disobedience in this matter comes with a cost of not being able to enter the Promised Land.

What cost does my disobedience carry? There is the obvious cost of Christ’s redeeming work, but there are, possibly, other costs that I do not always consider. If my disobedience is public, then I damage the image of God’s work and character to those who know I am a believer and see my disobedience. Even the disobedience I think is private can be known and can distort how others perceive God. This, I suspect, is part of why Samuel told Saul that obedience is better than sacrifice. It is better to keep the picture intact than to try to mend it.

Father, please forgive me for the times I have mangled Your image by my disobedience. Please keep me mindful of the costs of disobedience and strengthen me to be obedient and to represent You faithfully.