Mahafaly Bible Stories: Moses

Hello, it’s me again, the Traveler, and I have a story to tell you. It’s a story from a book of holy writings called the Bible. This book is a collection of many stories, and they have all been brought together to tell the whole story. It is the story of our ancestors, and our story. Let me tell it to you.

This story is called, The Calling of Moses . . .

The Calling of Moses

It came true what the Prince of Creation had said to Abraham: those from Abraham’s heart, his tribe, settled and grew. But, these from the tribe of Abraham, at that point, did not stay in the land given to Abraham by the Prince. Instead, the settled in a land inhabited by other people. And they suffered in that land, enslaved and suffering badly. Just then, the Prince of Creation made a plan to take them from there, leave that place, and finally go home to the land given to Abraham. So he chose someone, one person, to lead them there. Moses is the name of this person.

So there was Moses. Then one day, Moses went to shepherd out there. So there he was out there, shepherding. And when he was out there, he saw a bush in flames! But the bush did not make any ashes, it did not turn to ash at all! So befuddled by all this was Moses, he went and visited this bush.

A voice, then, spoke from out of that fire there, “Mosesy! Mosesy! Slip out of your cow-hides there. This is holy ground.”

Moses took off his cow-hide sandals. Moses got closer to the plant. Again, there was a voice, “Mosesy! You’re going to be sent by me. You will go to the land of Egypt where the lineage of Abraham is suffering. They are ensalved by that land. And you will lead them to get them out of there, to not be there anyone. And you will lead them to the land I gave to their ancestor . . . that’s Abraham.

“Aha,” said Moses. “Look, I, even though you’re sending me to go there, those people don’t miss the sound of my voice. They won’t take me seriously, but this is what they’ll say, “Hey! What God and from where said all this to this guy? I’m a person who doesn’t know how to talk. So you just pick another person.”

“Aha,” said this voice. “You look, I am the Prince of Creation who is said to have always been from ages past. That’s me. I am the Prince of your ancestors. Abraham’s God. Isaac’s God. And if you speak this, my name, to them they will be afraid and they will believe what you say. All this that you’ve said, like, ‘I don’t know how to talk.’ Look, I made the mouth. And I will put want I want to say in that mouth of yours, and the same thing will be done to the mouth of your brother, Aaron. You two guys are gonna go over there. “You all,” said the Prince, “I will be send with three signs.”

So then, after all that, Moses left and met with his brother, Aaron, took him with him and the two guys went there. And when they arrived there in that town, they gathered the tribe of Abraham there. They told them the story of what God had said, how he would get them out of that land, and go to the land the Prince had given to Abraham. And, they also did there, those three signs. After that, the tribe of Abraham was good and scared and they believed the Prince and trusted Moses.

Then, the tribe of Abraham was happy and thanked the Prince and they were saying, “Would you look at that! God sees our suffering and he’s gonna get us out of this suffering to the land there that he gave our ancestor Abraham.

And that is the story taken from the holy writings, and it’s all true.

Theology Tuesday: God and Unsolved Mysteries

Recently, we gave the revitalized Unsolved Mysteries a try. The first episode is about Rey Rivera, a guy who goes missing suddenly after he runs out unexpectedly one night, only to be found days later in an old, hotel conference room where he has, supposedly, plummeted to his death. Props to the show, it pulls you in immediately and gets your mind to working.

But I was disturbed by the time the show ended. Obviously, Rivera’s case is unsolved; but there are so many things that stick out like and cry foul-play (would someone please decode that freaky, little note he left!). It leaves you dissatisfied because you know Rey and his family didn’t get justice and don’t have the peace of mind knowing the bad buys were exposed. Theologically, there’s actually a lot that could be said for this. Our insatiable impulse for justice in unsolved mysteries and foul-play coverups speaks to God’s character, the need for every act to be held to account at some point, and what God is doing in the meantime.

I don’t think it was running at the time, but Job could very well have been the subject of an Unsolved Mysteries episode back in the day. In fact, if we didn’t have the supernatural backstory of how a shadowy figure is running Job through the gauntlet to challenge his trust in God, Job’s story would be every bit dissatisfying as Rey Rivera’s. He’s goes from a respectable, wise leader to a deranged, homeless guy. And from Job’s perspective it’s actually God abusing him.

Job doesn’t get enough credit. In chapter 19:25-27, he burst out with his fundamental belief in God:

But I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the end he will stand on the dust.
Even after my skin has been destroyed,
yet I will see God in my flesh.
I will see him myself; 
my eyes will look at him, and not as a stranger.
My heart longs within me.

What is kinda crazy is that Job has been railing against God for treating him like an enemy. Job trusted him and this is how God treats him? And what is Job supposed to do? God’s too powerful and too smart for Job to get anywhere lamenting his situation with him (9:19). But here, Job tells us what he believe deep-down about God. He pushes past his present suffering to say the God he believes is hurting him is still the God who is good enough to save him.

As one scholar puts it, “Job is beseeching the God is whom he has faith to help him against the God who is punishing him. While this view seems irrational, this paradox lies at the core of Job’s struggle. These two conflicting views of God are at war in his own mind. Although he believes that God is just, he is overwhelmed . . .”

Is Job crazy? To be honest, this sounds more like the excuses of an abuse victim than it does sound logic. However, I think Job is just honestly struggling with two sets of experiences (1) God’s proven track record, with him personally and in history, of personal love and care, and (2) God’s present indifference to his suffering and impersonal silence to Job’s injustice. Which one is the real God? Someone like Luther would say God #2 is not God wearing the mask of evil but actually evil posing as God. Still, Job fundamentally believes that even in God is responsible for his suffering, he will personally come and sort things out.

The resurrection is the ultimate evidence of God’s personable love and care even in the face of horrible injustice. His love and justice can never be too late; they extend beyond the grave.

For Job, this clearly meant he believed God would restore him before death. But Job also sets the stage for Jesus, the who suffers injustice (seemingly at the hands of God) and yet is restored even after death. The resurrection is the ultimate evidence of God’s personable love and care even in the face of horrible injustice. His love and justice can never be too late; they extend beyond the grave.

Although Job’s confession as interpreted does not explicitly support the doctrine of resurrection, it is built on the same logic that will lead to that doctrine becoming the cornerstone of NT faith. Job is working with the same logic of redemption that stands as the premise of the NT doctrine of resurrection. Both hold to the dogma that God is just even though he permits unrequited injustices and the suffering of the innocent. God, himself, identified with Job’s sufferings in the sufferings of his Son, Jesus Christ, who suffered unto death even though he was innocent. Jesus overcame his ignominious death by rising from the grave. In his victory he, as God’s Son and mankind’s kinsman-redeemer, secured redemption for all who believe on him. While his followers may suffer in this life, he is their Redeemer, their Advocate before the Father. In this way Job’s confidence in God as his Redeemer amidst excruciating suffering stands as a model for all Christians

John E. Hartley, The Book of Job (NICOT), 297.

Justice is coming for Rey Rivera, just like it did for Job. How do I know? Because a man named Jesus is representing him. Do we really think Jesus is not interested? Was he not killed in an enormous, political hit-job which was quickly covered up? Did he not die to, in one fell swoop, take down the bad guys and restore the victims? The biblical hope is not that God will magically sweep away all wrongdoing. He’s going to stand in the flesh in front of us all and bring justice for all.

Meantime, Jesus has left us here as his deputies. Whether it’s Rey Rivera or any other silent victim, our job is to represent the Redeemer, advocating and working for justice on behalf of the vulnerable. And if we’re going to look anything like Jesus, we have to be ready to do what he did and stand between evil and the suffering, taking the hit so they have a way out. The boss is still coming, in the flesh, to set everything right. Meantime, we’ve got work to do.

Theology Tuesdays: Wisdom

Tessa and I are trying to communicate more regularly here on more of a schedule. So every other Tuesday we’ll start adding some theological reflections like this one. They say routine and schedule can add some semblance of order to our lives these days. We’ll see!

I’ve been doing what little I can, having a few people over here at the house to pray, reflect on God’s Word and work in the community. That has taken the form of crafting the biblical story of Job to broadcast on the local radio and some community development as we walk through the book of James together.

Job and ill-timed truths

Job has always fascinated me. As a former theatre junkie, it reads like a dramatic production to me every time. Maybe I’m trying to realize some of my dreams with this radio theatre venture now! James, however, I consider a more familiar book . . . except it’s kicking my butt right now. Both are steeped in the biblical, Jewish wisdom tradition. Along with Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, Job is a reflection on how to live. If Proverbs is the optimist and Ecclesiastes the pessimist, Job is the realist of the wisdom books.

We were reading through Job a month ago. It struck me how much more poignant the story is now. I imagined certain people sitting here in the slums or on the side of the road voicing Job’s cries of injustice. I could see their pastors shaking their heads at them, or the local Christian ladies dressed in their Sunday best doing their best to comfort them by telling them to repent so that things would go back to normal, rubbing salt in an angry wound. I could see myself, speaking platitudes about God’s care to them from a place of privilege and health while they wail and moan and dare to ask why this is happening to them.

Derek Kidner, one of my favorite scholars on the Hebrew Writings for his clarity, put something into words I’ve never noticed before about Job’s friends. It’s not that they’re wrong, per se . . .

“A closer look at the material shows that the basic error of Job’s friends is that they overestimate their grasp of truth, misapply the truth they know, and close their minds to any facts that contradict what they assume.”

Derek Kidner, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job,& Ecclesiastes, 61.

The Bible has a category, an ensemble of characters even, that teach we can be technically right but contextually, relationally dead-wrong. To say it another way, if I could speak every language that exists, have the solution to every problem down to global poverty, have enough faith that I can actually physically toss mountains into the ocean, but don’t know how to treat people . . . I’ve got zilch, nada–I am nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-2).

How in the world are we any different than Job’s friends right now? It was startling for me to realize early on in this crisis that I did not need the barrage of spiritual encouragement sent my way. Faith over fear? Really!? As if a catchphrase will help me sleep at night or calm my pent-up three-year-old or suddenly open the borders of the country in which I feel stranded without help.

Then I thought about those around me. How many times do I do the same to them. Instead of sitting with them in their pain, I offer trite solutions. It’s not that “Faith over Fear,” or “God’s in control,” “She’s in a better place now,” or “All Lives Matter” are patently false statements. They aren’t. Neither are they helpful when someone is in pain.

Job’s friends all understand something true about God’s character. But then they misapply that truth and use it against one made in God’s image. And God makes it clear he is not cool with how they’ve handled the situation (Job 42:7-8). He calls their words of wisdom, “foolish.” They kept blabbing on about stuff they didn’t understand, making up excuses for God, it seems like, to help themselves feel more in control. Job gets his own remedial wisdom class, but he passes the test because he loves God too much to accept pat answers about him. He knows something’s up and he won’t rest until he figures it out and knows his relationship with God is solid.

The hinge of the book is chapter 28, where Job declares, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom! And to depart from evil is understanding” (28:28), which bookends the wisdom books at the opening of Proverbs (1:7) and the close of Ecclesiastes (12:13). This is wisdom distilled: Fear God, flee evil. But as we see with Job, this lesson is refined in the furnace not learned in the classroom; it will take our full attention to maintain the tension of standing in awe before the God of the whirlwind as we sit scraping our sores on the trash heap.

Too often, we fall into the trap of making excuses for God to make ourselves feel better instead of honestly wrestling with him. We either say he is too good to let us suffer (though it clearly happens) or we say he is obviously not good at all (which we clearly owe him our very lives!). But for those who say “maybe . . .” and try to push for answers, struggle to find real footing with God, we show only resentment. For some reason, we (and I am right in the middle of we) seem in short-supply of empathy, and it may be because, just like Job’s friends, we would be better off just sitting, listening, and not getting angry at things that contradict what we assume to be true of the world. In a context where, in real time, no one knows what’s really going on, it’s better to wrestle with God than lean on dogma. Because as Job shows, the world is a confusing place, and we don’t even know how much we don’t know.

James and double-talk

Speaking of being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry (1:19), James stands out as the wisdom book of the New Testament. Reflecting on various proverbs, psalms, the storyline of the Old Testament and also Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” James is giving the first Jewish church in Jerusalem Wisdom 2.0, in light of “glorious Lord Jesus Messiah” (2:1). He even references Job . . .

As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

James 5:11 (NIV)

I recommend James to you as a 2020 read, especially in light of the vitriol, double-talk, and double-mindedness that we’re seeing. James is concerned the church has double-standards:

  • They pray for wisdom, but don’t actually want to be given any (1:5-8)
  • They blame God for the bad without thanking him for the good (1:12-18)
  • They think everyone should hear their opinions, but don’t listen to any others (1:19-27)
  • They help out the upstanding, yet stand on the downtrodden (2:1-13)
  • They claim to follow Jesus, but never do anything for others (2:14-26)

And that’s just the first two chapters!

The wisdom of James is to not forget our history in the faith, the wisdom of God’s word, but to live our lives in gratitude before king Jesus. Re-verbalizing Jesus’ own teaching, his little brother says, “Say what you mean, do what is true, and love others like you want God to love you.” Most of the time, we say, do, and love only in a way that benefits me, myself, and I.

Last week, me and the guys were looking at James 1:19-27; this week we were in 2:1-13. Both times I’m struck by what I’ve never noticed there. James clearly is talking to a stratified congregation of Haves and Have-nots. He says it several times (1:9-11; 2:1-7; 2:13-17; 5:1-6). Let that sink in, because it permeates the whole book. I’ve never understood that being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger are conversation guidelines for Christians in different socioeconomic positions. But it clearly is, as some people were claiming to know Jesus yet hadn’t been listening to the needs in their own community. They were listening to the sermons on Sunday but they hadn’t visited with the poor (1:27). Is there a more Jesus-like thing to do?!

In 2:1-13, James lays down the law (literally), saying “Don’t have faith in Jesus and partiality.” Partiality, discrimination, favoritism, racism, they’re all talking about the same reality. And the passage that I have used as an apologetic for how all sin is equal in the eyes of God (2:10-11) is actually making a much different point in context. As Craig Blomberg, another of my favorite Bible scholars, writes:

Discrimination is sin and breaks the law. The word here for “show favoritism” is the verb from the same root as the noun in 2:1, again with the connotation of viewing people’s external appearances only instead of seeing them as whole persons.

Craig Blomberg, James; ZECNT

God hates our unequal treatment of any person as much as he hates murder and adultery. It doesn’t matter if they have Corona virus, it doesn’t matter if they are or are not wearing a mask. If we are going to take Jesus’ name, we better start treating all people as “whole persons.” Not to improve our position, not just people who agree with us, not just people who look like us. The “law of the kingdom,” as James calls it, is a law of freedom based on the mercy of Jesus who did not come to yell at us but loved us, even as broken people. At a deep level, James is saying to the extent we have a distorted view of others we are distorted ourselves. We have become double-minded.

Wisdom is the opposite. Wisdom is an integrative principle. It is the truth of the living God lived out in loving relationships between God and his image bearers. It is a truth that survives the strongest scrutiny in the worst circumstances, and it is a truth that pulls us together instead of fracturing us. It derives from the fact that how we love all humans has direct bearing on how we love God and even ourselves. But we’ll save that for another Tuesday.

Manuely

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been meeting with a couple young guys here in Toliara. We’re studying through the book of James as well as planning how to help the community in this crisis. I wanted to give them a chance to encourage you as well with what we’re learning. Here’s Manuely . . .

Transcript: Good morning, everyone! We thank God for this wonderful day he has given us, so that I can share with you what I have learned from God’s Word. I have been studying with Nathan Baker. Thanks to Nathan Baker for teaching me in English. If it wasn’t for God’s Spirit using Nathan, I wouldn’t be speaking English. I hope that you can understand me now.

The one thing I want to share with you today is about temptation. You know that we have a problem around the word because of this COVID-19, right? But that doesn’t mean we should stop preaching the gospel. Instead, we should communicate with our family and take advantage of this time to share God’s Word. Especially, we have a lot of churches not open because of this virus. Worshippers of God are discouraged, because you do not understand what has happened. People are asking, “Is this from God, or from evil?” But if you worship God, don’t be afraid.

James says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted by evil. And he himself does not tempt anyone.” What does that mean? That means, He is not testing you. Instead, he gives you a choice, to trust him or to blame him. But you should know, like James says, the good things you have are from God. Even if you blame him, he is good and he does not change.

For proof of that, you can read 1 Corinthians 10:13. It says, “No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man. God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can do. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way so that you can stand up under it.”

So for us, we should have courage and remember, God has given us a way out in Jesus. And even in COVID-19, we can stand strong in him. I guess, that’s all today. Thank you for listening and watching me. God bless you wherever you go and whatever you do. Bye!