A Place for Everyone: 1 Chronicles 23 – 29

Some Are Priests. Some Are Musicians. Some Gatekeepers and Leaders and Overseers.

[David said,] “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”

1 Chronicles 29:14 (NIV)

Everyone Has a Talent to Contribute, reads the invisible motivational poster hanging up in every church in America. Some people were great orators and gifted with leading Bible studies and sermons. Then there were all the praise and worship people, the young rockers and the blonde singers who took charge of the band. Some people were greeters. They were good at… holding open doors and smiling and setting out muffins.

Mine was “tech,” like audio/visual support. I was good at that. Except that I wasn’t, it was just the best for me at church. Math was my talent growing up, and that really had no place in a pre-teen church service. But Math was sort of like Science which was sort of related to tech, so there you go. But I genuinely liked it, even though I had no idea what I was actually doing, because it was a role for me to fulfill. We laid out cables and pushed the “next” button on the slides. My close friend and techie master Ian did all the real stuff, like mixing the audio and solving in-the-moment problems. I mostly took orders, stood by if someone needed a body or a mic cord needed replugging, but I genuinely enjoyed it. Purpose, however contrived, felt good.

But secretly, doesn’t everyone want to be one of the musicians? Some admire the pastors, because they are in charge. But what’s cooler, the boring guy on the pulpit or the singers and dancers and praisers? Anyone can read a Bible verse and put a group of teenagers to sleep, but few can strum chords on beat and sing with perfect pitch. Their talent transcended the church experience – it was cool in any setting.

Not my domain though, and such a shame. My brother had taken all the shares of the music genes allotted for our family – none for Mom, Dad, Sister, or me. He was so good that he did not even have time for the praise and worship team at church. No, no, far too busy traveling to Australia and South Africa, and singing on Saturday Night Live*. This sounds like sour grapes (because it is), but I had a hard time grasping why my brother got all the “visible” talent. But I got over it as time went on and settled into my position far behind and above everyone else (in the tech booth, obviously). I never got good at electronics and stuff, though, nope. Just learned to be passable until the church offered another position that suited me better – which they did a few years later when they introduced the high school “drama team.”

What does this have to do with 1 Chronicles 23-29? The author makes a very detailed list of all the roles that God set aside for each of the tribes of Israel – which is a rehash of a similar list from the Law. It is comprehensive, taking into account roles for musicians and leaders, ark-attendants and soldiers. Everyone has their place.

But it is not based upon interest or talent. My church… they tried to match up individuals with jobs with some sort of logic, but the men and women (read: men) of the Bible had their positions endowed based upon birth. Levites had it the best – acting as the priests of the group. They got to go near the Ark of the Covenant and took the best portions of the offerings.

They were like the “Christian rock band kids” of the Old Testament. They even had it better than the musicians.

*For real. He’s one of those kids in the red jackets in the back.


This Is Satan: 1 Chronicles 16 – 22

Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.

1 Chronicles 21:1 (NIV)

Don’t skip the opening verse this time. Scroll back up three lines, and read it.

Satan, in the flesh, finally jumps onto the scene (and just a far warning for everyone, this is going to be one of those lots-of-questions-and-few-conclusions entries).

In my last entry, I spoke about a particularly painful sin of David’s that led to a great divide between him and God. It was a painful experience, once that resulted in many Israeli deaths as punishment, but also in the loss of status. Humans tend to look up to role models, and God is David’s utmost concern. So yes, there is sin, but there is also loss. And there is a distinction between those two things.

But I glossed over one important detail, namely that Satan himself inspired the great David to fall. For a villain so infamous, I am surprised at how late the Bible mentions him, especially since he was supposedly so instrumental in the Fall of Man way back when (Though, we just assume the serpent was one with Satan – no textual evidence to support that yet). So here we have the Devil, and his temptation of choice is convincing David to count his soldiers? This does not seem like a grievous sin to me. While reading the Law, many of God’s rules seemed ridiculous to me – uncleanliness during periods, the infidelity-abortion practice, and the statute against shellfish, to name three – but even though I judged these laws’ efficacy, I still sort of got the internal logic underneath. We do not know why it is a sin to count up troops, but God certainly hates it, judging by his what’s-behind-door-number-one retribution.

I remember Satan being a very active antagonist in both the modern and ancient worlds. My understanding growing up was that the devil, or one of his minions, was behind most sinful behavior, and that any temptation originated from his scheming. So far in the Bible, however, that has not been the case. Yes, we had the serpent (read: not necessarily Satan) who tempted Adam and Eve, and then a whole stretch of generations up until David with no mention of a tempting outside force – just sinful men and women doing damned sinful things. No wait, that is not entirely true… Yes, there were sinful people, but there was also God hardening the hearts of those who needed to fall in order to enact some part of His grand plan.

When I thought about that, I realized that this story sounded familiar. We read this exact same narrative back in Samuel, with God becoming furious over David numbering his troops, so I went back to see if Satan popped up there as well. I came across 2 Samuel 24 for some clarity:

Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.”

This is a different story, with a huge distinction. On this account, we witness one of God’s “heart hardening” scenarios, and in the latter scene, the wrath of God is unleashed only after the sin of David (purported by Satan) takes place.

Nope. Not the same at all.

So I am left with this question: “Who is Satan supposed to be?” I thought he was a menace, the real arbiter behind humanity’s wretchedness. But maybe that is not the case. Is he just meant to be a symbol, something we point to as an image of sin?

And how do we deal with this huge contradiction, when we are meant to believe in the Bible’s infallibility?

See, people. Questions. And no conclusions.

Pride & Disappointment: 1 Chronicles 16 – 22

God Loves David. God Punishes David.

[God said,] I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name like the names of the greatest men on earth.

1 Chronicles 17:8 (NIV)

This is what the Lord says: “Take your choice: three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies, with their swords overtaking you, or three days of the sword of the Lord—days of plague in the land, with the angel of the Lord ravaging every part of Israel.”

1 Chronicles 21:11–12 (NIV)

Today, we get a retread of a high and low of the David-God relationship. At first, things are looking as bright as ever, as David offers to build a permanent home for the Ark of the Covenant but God wards him off. You’ve worked enough and been a loyal servant, God says. That will be someone else’s worry. This prompts David to go on a chapter long reflection of God’s love and kindness; you can sense his genuine appreciation for the life God has provided.

But then, things take a sour turn as David knowingly disobeys the Lord’s will. He decides to take a census of all the soldiers in under his command, which is (inexplicably) against the wishes of the Most High. This leads to a quick condemnation, even from the sinner himself, and three options for punishments are offered: three years of famine, three months of wartime losses, or three days of famine. David chooses the latter, and the result is tens of thousands of Israeli deaths. The scorn is palpable throughout, and on my second time reading this story, I felt much more understanding for David’s pain. He genuinely wants to please God, his spiritual father. That is not a ridiculous desire.

Seeking approval has been a pastime of mine since the beginning. It started with teachers; I just loved teachers. When they wanted us to hush down, I would look around and shush detractors. Homework was always done properly and on time. I volunteered for the little jobs no one wanted to do – like collecting papers and holding the door. I frequently called my female teachers “Mom.” Yeah, I was that guy. In high school, that obsessive need to please moved on to peers, and I became hung up on anyone who took a special dislike towards me. If someone gossiped about me or threw a nasty comment my way, my gut reaction was to “fix the issue” rather than defend myself. It rarely worked. Now, as an adult, it is all of the above – friends, bosses, co-workers.

But I always wanted to please my parents – nothing felt completely right without their approval. It was something about their expectations for me. They wanted me to be happy – all loving parents want that – but they also pushed me to be a good person, a role model. Following the pack would not do, because most of the time, the “pack” stumbled in the wrong direction. No, they desired something more for me – an intelligent mind but more importantly, a resplendent character. They more than desired it; they expected it.

So I once I realized that my nature (read: MY QUEERNESS) contradicted my parents’ intentions, I learned how to adapt given the situation. Around Christian folk, I puffed up my chest and spoke the words and spouted the values. Then, in secret – and more and more in public as the years went on – I would sing a totally different tune, a show tune if you will, about attractive guys and alt-lifestyle living. I was either liberal or conservative, but never moderate – activist and relaxist in one. Needed someone to hear you out? You called me up. I had serious opinions about Lost and whatever writing project I was working on, and that was pretty much it. And for about eight years, that dual-nature was ordinary to me, just a part of who I was. And I did not mind it at all. I mean it when I say… I was prepared to keep it up forever.

You can interpret my flip-flopping behavior as well-meaning or completely nefarious (though neither would absolve me from the deception involved). I honestly believe that it was both empathetic and illusory. I wanted to present my best self to everyone I came across, which made me weaken my self-image when confronted with dissension. It was incredibly easy to go with the flow and adapt myself to the company that I encountered, and it usually ended in my favor – with new friends and strengthened bonds. However, I also genuinely empathize with most people and see their perspective – that is a huge reason behind this project. Believe it or not, I sense good behind even the most challenging opinions of Christianity, and due to my religious history, I feel the need to figure it out.

That is not a ridiculous desire.

Also, hey, I forgot to mention something about this narrative. The passages outlining David’s sin start with a very memorable sentence:

Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.

That’s right readers. The devil himself Satan finally comes in to play. We’ve got to talk about this

See you Monday.

A Second Pass: 1 Chronicles 1 – 15

A Whole Lot of Begatting – Nine Chapters Worth. Saul Kills Himself. David Rises. The Return of the Ark. Battle with the Phill- Wait a Minute… Haven’t We Heard All of this Before?

Some Gadites defected to David at his stronghold in the wilderness. They were brave warriors, ready for battle and able to handle the shield and spear. Their faces were the faces of lions, and they were as swift as gazelles in the mountains.

1 Chronicles 12:8 (NIV)

The two volumes of Kings end on a cliffhanger, with the nation of Judah falling to the advance of Nebuchadnezzar and the future of God’s kingdom in doubt. Now, we move onto the two volumes of Chronicles, and instead of chugging forward, we take a step back. A huge step back, that is, all the way to creation. That’s right folks… it is time for another round of so-and-so (male) begat whos-a-what (male) whose children (sons) were A, B, and C. It goes on for nine chapters, and no, it is not exactly riveting for the layperson to review. It is important, however, to show us how far we have come in the Bible so far. Call it a respite or that summary review at the end of a textbook chapter.

But then, after catching up on all the lineage, we still remain back in time a few hundred years, picking up with the end of Saul’s story (for those who forget… he kills himself by the sword). As it turns out, Chronicles covers the exact same time period as the books of Samuel and Kings, providing some additional detail that the previous efforts may have missed. So we get a second pass at these stories, and these rules, and their disappointing behavior, and their eventual downfall. So strap in folks as we go round the Saul-David-Solomon carousel one more time.

I think second passes can be a good thing, if not for clarity’s sake, then for a different perspective. My impression of the Chronicles retelling is that it is much more of a confirming account than a differing perspective (think the Gospels rather than some nifty JJ Abrams show), so I do not expect to learn some hidden detail about these stories. Rather, I am looking forward to hearing them for a second time, where I am in a different emotional and social state of mind than the first.

It is no secret that my current attitude drives the content of each of my entries. I am, after all, writing an essay a day with little hard reflection time on the passage at hand, so rarely do I get to sit long on a story before I comment on it.

Here’s my chance. Second chances. I hope you enjoy them.