Sunday, October 25, 2020

A Consequence We Can Be Sure of


A Consequence We Can Be Sure of

Numbers 32:20-23

            I confess.  I have become more and more convinced that many of the stories in the Bible—especially those in the Hebrew Scriptures—are quite likely not true, at least not in a factual, historical sense.  I know this will be viewed by some as heresy.  How could these stories not be true?  Isn’t this God’s word?  Is God a liar?

            There are those who believe every word in the Bible is absolutely true.  If you begin to pull on one thread or another the whole Bible will fall apart.  For these people it’s all or nothing.  I don’t agree.

            For me, the truth of the Bible—and I believe in the Bible’s absolute truth—lies in the fact that it is the best record we have of God’s interaction with humankind.  God created the universe and populated it with all kinds of creatures, many—most—of which exist far from us, in other solar systems and galaxies.  Some day we will be able to reach out to these other worlds and communicate; but we’re not ready yet.  First we must set our own house in order, beginning with our country then proceeding to our entire world.

            There are many experts who doubt that Israel’s sojourn in Egypt ever happened, and therefore, the exodus and wilderness experience never happened.  However. it remains part of the defining story of the Jewish people, a large part of what makes them who they are.  The story is full of theological truth.  The lesson we can take away from this story?  God cares for God’s people.  Sometimes it’s not easy to see that in a world full of pain and evil, but God is always present.

            The story of Israel’s conquest of Palestine also rings untrue to me.  I have a difficult time believing that God told the Israelites to destroy every person in the land they were to inherit.  It sounds like history written by the winners—you know: “Of course we killed everyone!  Ethnic cleansing?  No way!  It’s what God told us to do.”

            There is another group of stories I find it difficult to accept as historical truth.  Many times in the Hebrew Scriptures we read that God punished Israel.  It’s not that I don’t believe God can do it; it’s that I believe they were victims of their own stupidity and wickedness rather than of God’s displeasure. 

            A good example is the Babylonian captivity.  Israel was a tiny nation lying in the way of anyone going from north to south—or south to north—intent on expanding their territory.  There is no way this minor people on this small piece of land could stand for long against the might of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece or Rome.  They were bound to fall.  What made it easier for them to be defeated was their belief that they were invincible, that nothing or no one could conquer them.

            Like nations before and after them, they believed they could live fat and lazy lives and still survive.  Imagine their surprise when they found out it didn’t work.  It didn’t work for Assyria, or Babylon, or even Rome either.  When prophets warned the Israelite leaders that they were headed for trouble, they were laughed at—until the enemy was at the gates.  They would have done well to remember Moses’ words to the tribes who chose to settle on the other side of the Jordan: “Be sure your sins will find you out.”  That’s a consequence we can be sure of.

            Live without concern for all your citizens and soon your culture begins to rot from within.  When that happens, God doesn’t have to do much if anything to topple you.  You’ll take care of that yourselves.

            America would do well to remember.

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