You Can Totally Follow All These Laws

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.

Deuteronomy 30:11 (NIV)

I have been fired twice in my life.

My county allowed teens as young as fourteen to get a work permit, so my Mom signed me up to teach swimming lessons with the local Parks & Rec department. Classes began every Saturday morning at 8 am and took place in the High School’s balmy natatorium. Since I went to church around the same time every Sunday morning, this meant that I had 0 days a week to sleep in. On this basis alone, I had a problem. Also even in eighth grade, I knew that my life’s calling was not swim instruction. Needless to say, I did not enjoy this job, and thus I did not put in all of the required effort to help hapless toddlers stop from drowning. One day, in the view of my superior, I pushed a friend into the pool as a joke; my boss said that I was not cut out for this line of work. What a relief. Fired.

The second occurred many years later after I had graduated college. I charmed my way into an assistant teacher position at a private school for autistic children, and from the get go, my lead teacher and I did not see eye-to-eye. We just had different philosophies – she wanted to “keep the peace” in the room while I wanted to push. Also, as I found out after my dismissal, she actually wanted a female assistant as she felt men just did not have “the instinct.” I was not cut out for this position – my superior had laid all her forces against me – but nonetheless, I wanted this job. So I started scrambling. I altered my approach – much more “maintaining” and less pushing. I changed my demeanor – softer tones and a more delicate touch. But it didn’t work. The teacher just did not want me. They gave me three weeks to improve. I lasted one.

This experience unsettled me in a way that resonated for months thereafter. In this circumstance, I was not some angst-ridden teen forced to wake up early on Saturday mornings; this was my dream job. And in spite of 100% of my efforts, I was simply inadequate for the position. I came just as I was, and they rejected me. It stung like the most intimate of break-ups.

And now it is time to break away from the Torah. I spent the past three weeks reading and cataloguing the Law, and what have I learned? Well, there are 553 laws total – on my count anyway. I provided a list of statistics in the previous entry, such as the most repeated law and the category with the highest total, but what does that tell us?

Not much.

Did you know The Law has a Wikipedia page that catalogues each and every rule? My friend sent it to me, perhaps as a way of discrediting my count of 553, but also to say, “Why did you do all that work when so many have done it before you?”

The answer is simple. Because I wanted to know first hand how God views me.

And according to the Law, I am inadequate. I am inadequate just as I am. Not because of the homosexuality thing, but because of all the things.

Near the end of Deuteronomy, Moses states that we are all completely capable of following the Law. He says it is not like flying into the heavens or crossing the seas; it is simple. Be adequate. You are completely capable of being adequate.

But we all know that we cannot possibly be adequate in God’s eyes; He placed a curse on us for the sins of Adam and Eve due to the fact that we were utter disappointments in our very nature. And the Law further cements this idea, because – and hold on to your hats – it was designed to be completely impossible to follow. Yes, that is what I have learned. God bestowed a standard that no one could ever meet so that we would fully remember our place. We are inadequate, even at our best.

Unlucky enough to be born with a disability? Never enter the presence of the Lord.
Brash enough to have your period? Sit alone for a week.
Gather yourself some firewood on the Sabbath? Lie down and watch the stones fly.

Is it any surprise that about 2/3s of the behavioral laws use negative language?

You want to do something? Asks the Lord, Well, do not do it.
It is your choice, says Moses. It is well within your reach.
You are not enough, says the Bible. You are not enough.

After reading the Law, it is my recommendation that no one ever go near it again. Exactly 0% of the rules still apply in our modern culture, and if Christian theology is correct, it all goes out the window anyway. Stop putting these verses on placards. Don’t reference them in your arguments. Frankly, never quote them again, unless your quote begins with the words, This isn’t true, but…

You want to know what I learned? The Law is dead.

The Full Law (Jesse Is Thankfully Done with the Law)

As Jesus will say approximately six months from now (according to my blog schedule at least):

It is done.

I have finished cataloguing all of the commandments mentioned in the Law and came up with a few interesting statistics. First things first, let’s see our final graph and tallies (alternatively, you can view this info by clicking on “The Law” tab):

FINAL TALLY: 553 LAWS

Final

Final

 


 

FINAL TOTALS

Gods & gods : 47
Sexuality & Relationships : 38
Ritual : 99
Money & Property : 58
Food : 51
Behavior : 121
Sacrifice : 66
Health: 29
Miscellaneous : 44


SUPERLATIVES
(you know… like in high school)

Category with Most Laws: Behavior with 121 laws (22%)

Most Repeated Commandment: “Keep God’s commandments.” (18 mentions)

2nd Most Repeated Commandment: TIE “Remember Sabbath” and “Do not worship other gods.” (13 mentions each)

Number of Laws Forbidding Gay Relationships: 1

Number of Laws Forbidding Lesbian Relationships: 0

Number of Laws Requiring Us to Not Pollute the Earth: 1

Number of Laws Requiring Us to Have Tassels on All Our Garments: 2

Number of Laws Forbidding Various Forms of Incest: 13

Tomorrow… a little analysis. But in the meantime, go up and check out the “Law” tab to see the complete list of entries.

“I Don’t Lie,” Says Mom (Jesse Interprets the Law: Pt 13.2)

This is the second part of a two-part entry. Read the first part here.

I have received a command to bless;
he has blessed, and I cannot change it.

Numbers 23:20

It was no secret in my household that my mother was much more difficult to swindle than my father. This did not come from a weakness of the latter, but rather just availability. My father not only worked a ten-hour day, but he also commuted nearly an hour. Early rising and late arriving meant less time to understand the exact events of our days. So if Mom said “no” to something, I would just wait for Dad to come home, tired and unaware, and ask him. Every kid learns this strategy at a young age; it works best on parents that sort of hate one another – even better on divorced parents (then they had a reason to contradict one another). But no, my parents loved each other, so no luck at all. I just had to get at my father before my mother could properly inform him. And she couldn’t find out that I went around her. Oh no that would be bad.

So like all 12-year-old boys, I wanted to buy Goldeneye 64. I had the money from saving my allowance on top of a hefty $30 Christmas check from my uncle. So I gathered my money and approached my mother about driving me to the mall to pick it up.

She said, “No.” Not for the game’s notorious violence (after all, this was the same mother who took me to see Gladiator four times in theaters). It was that she didn’t want me wasting my hard-earned money on a game. Or maybe it was lugging me to the mall late on a weeknight that set her off.

“It’s both,” she said.

Those blood splotches really pissed some people off.

Those blood splotches really pissed some people off.

So I kicked the strategy into gear. I waited patiently for my father to come home, and…

“Sure,” he said. “It’s your money.” Jackpot, now off to the m-!

“Wait,” a stern voice said behind me. “What are you doing?” I turned around and faced my mother (and her growing wrath). It all unraveled, and on top of being barred from buying the game, I found myself with a secondary punishment. Early bedtime. A killer.

It was never easy to dupe my mother, because she had a few unshakable qualities. For instance, she believed in chivalry in its most enduring form – a value passed down from her mother, my nana. If I failed to open up a door for them, they would just stand there until I realized my mistake, came to my senses, and rushed back to open it for them. Also, she believed in cleanliness (but only after Godliness of course). Our home was always as clean as a museum exhibit, and anything that projected dirtiness would not be tolerated. I once found a bug underneath one of our sofas and ran upstairs screaming. “I found a roach,” I yelped, but my mother did not even put her book down. “No you didn’t,” she replied confidently. “It is just a beetle. Roaches are associated with filth, and our home is clean.” I went back and captured the critter. She was right. It was a water beetle that had scurried in during a rainstorm. But how did she know for certain? Her confidence was staggering to me.

Her final quality and the most important: She never lied. She would tell us this at any juncture of uncertainty in order to quell our fears. “If I tell it to you, that means its true.” That is comforting for a child, to have unshakeable faith in those that care for you, but it certainly cannot last. And as an adult, it just isn’t true.

Don’t get me wrong, my mother is an extremely honest woman, and I admire that quality about her. If I call her to ask her opinion on some event or for her side of a story, I know that I am getting the information to the best of her knowledge. However, no one is 100% honest; that is just the nature of being a human. So how do we reconcile that with her previous claim: “I never lie.” Do we condemn her for not admitting her own weakness, or commend her for setting a fine example?

And now we have this God who does not change. Recall that when Balak asks for a curse on the Israelities, Balaam instead delivers a series of truths about God. He is honest; He is faithful and acts; He is one who fulfills His promises. And he does not change His mind. But how can the rational observer weigh that against the fact that he so clearly changes His mind all the time. He promised the Israelites the Promised Land and took it back. He vowed to wipe out their camp but listened to Moses’ reasoning. He told Balaam not to go to Balak, but then said it was okay. If you are to believe the Bible, then you must believe that God is capable of change.

So why tell us that He doesn’t? Why all the mythologizing, the putting up on a pedestal? Why does my mother contend that she does not lie, ever?

Because it is simpler. It inspires faith and gives us something unshakeable to reach towards. So as Christians, we are meant to cheat the areas that don’t make sense in order to accept the greater message. Everything beyond understanding must be written off as a “mystery.”

So I have a question for the readers, and feel free to email or comment below. Do you think you can have a Christian faith in God, and also believe that the Bible contains actual inconsistencies and mistakes?

GodDoesntChangeBlog@gmail.com… I love hearing your feedback (and I try to respond to everything), so please let me know!

“I Don’t Change,” Says God (Jesse Interprets the Law: Pt 13)

God is not human, that he should lie,
not a human being, that he should change his mind.

Numbers 23:19b (NIV)

Ever heard of Balaam, son of Beor? How about Balak, the king of Moab?

Yeah, me neither. But you will find their story as enlightening as I did, especially for its conspicuous absence from church.

Balak feared the God of the Israelities, especially when he had heard of their exodus from Egypt and their new residence adjacent to his land. So he summoned a prophet by the name of Balaam – who bore no apparent relation to Moses’ wandering horde of Israelities – in order to place a curse on them, so as to impede their progress.

Balak sends some priests to Balaam in order to summon him for this purpose. Balaam asks God if he may go, but God says, “Do not go with them.” Case closed.

However, Balak is not satisfied. He sends even higher priests to ask again, this time offering a huge stack of riches for his compliance. Balaam returns to God again and receives a new answer. “Go with them,” he commands, “But do only what I tell you.”

Then things get weird.

Balaam travels on his donkey in order to fulfill his summons. After a bit however, the donkey suddenly halts. Balaam whips it to keep moving. It does. But… again, it freezes. A second beating. Rinse and repeat – a third time.

Finally, the donkey turns to Balaam and asks, “Why do you keep beating me?”

So Balaam replies, “Move! You’re making a fool of me.”

The donkey retorts, “Have I ever done this before?”

“Nope,” says Balaam. But then, he looks up and sees that an invisible angel of God, which had earlier frightened the animal into submission. Then, he understands.

Oh no, this was not me cleverly personifying the camel character for some artistic value. In the story, the camel actually talks (when God “opens its mouth”). As it turns out, God sent His angel to oppose Balaam in a fit of rage; He does not want him to see Balak, the nefarious king bent on the destruction of the Israelites. But since he is already on his way, God allows Balaam to pass, so long as he exactly recounts His word.

So he does. He stands before Balak, and God speaks from within him. He pronounces seven messages in total, all affirming the holiness of the Israelite people and cursing their opponents. Enough. Balak sends him away, frustrated by his unwillingness to enchant God’s chosen people.

This passage is surprising – talking camel aside – for a small part of Balaam’s second message (recounted in Numbers 18:23-24). Here, he characterizes the nature of God, saying, among other things, that God does not act like humans do. He promises and fulfills; He speaks and then acts. And above all, He does not change His mind.

This is the first time that God is regarded as unwavering – although one could argue it has been implied before this. This caught my attention, not only because it refers so directly to the name of my blog, but also for it’s unbelievable contradiction to the events immediately prior.

To recap what you read twenty sentences ago… Balaam asked for permission to go to Balak, and God said no. So Balaam asked again, and God changed His mind and said yes. Now, it is clear to me that Balaam is a compromised individual, likely motivated by the treasures that Balak offers, but that does not really alter the fact that God switched his answer. He said no. Then he said yes. That is the simplest form of change.

So does God change or doesn’t He?

This story goes deeper. More tomorrow.

Let’s Talk about Abortion (Jesse Interprets the Law: Pt 12)

Numbers Chapter 5, Verses 11 thru 31…

It’s called “The Test for an Unfaithful Wife,” and it goes like this.

If a man believes that his wife has committed adultery but has no proof, he is to bring her to a priest.

After an offering, he takes the sand in the Tabernacle and mixes it with holy water.

He places a curse on the concoction. If she has remained completely faithful to her husband, then nothing will happen. But if she has slept with another man, the curse will force her womb to miscarry and her abdomen to swell.

She must say “so be it” and drink it.

And then, they wait for the truth to become evident. A miscarriage equals infidelity.


I have no interest in throwing my hat into the abortion ring in this setting. I am writing this blog to discuss my personal journey through a queer lifestyle with a strong Christian past. It goes without saying, however, that abortion is a polarizing issue, one with two sides that are often attached to religious affiliations.

Pro-life. Pro-choice. Anti-choice. Pro-abortion. The Church has a clear opinion – a crystal clear one. They value the life of the unborn child no matter the circumstance.

So my question is… has anyone in the Church read this passage?

Let’s not mince words. This passage describes a biblical abortion. More than that, a forced biblical abortion. The word “choice” may be synonymous with “abortion” nowadays, but there is no choice in this proposed scenario. In Old Testament times, men could force their unfaithful wives to miscarry bastard children. Yes, it is true that most modern Christians often disregard the Old Testament Law, but all the same, I found this shocking.

20 years as a devout Christian, and somehow, no one ever mentioned this to me. And the reason why is obvious.

It creates a huge problem. 

A common theme throughout this journey has been the willful ignorance of the Church when it comes to sticky topics. Homosexuality was rarely discussed with me as a child, because no one wanted to acknowledge its existence. It was as if any fair conversation about it would somehow be a tacit endorsement of its legitimacy. There were no fair conversations. There were only proclamations about its sinfulness and subsequent nods of approval.

We don’t discuss this passage, because it confuses the Church’s message on abortion. It’s that simple.

How can I be asked to give myself completely over to faith in God if there are certain parts of His sacred text that are ignored?

The price of admission to Christianity has to include the acknowledgement that the Bible does talk about forced abortion. It does have talking donkeys. It does have angels breeding with beautiful women to create half-human, half-angel hybrids.

So please, let’s discuss it. And then, with all the information on the table, we can decide if we choose to believe it or not.

A Fate Worse than Death (Jesse Interprets the Law: Pt 11)

“Are we all going to die?”
Numbers 17:13b (NIV)

This is starting to get a little repetitive.

I’ve bopped around the Law for two weeks now, and it is beginning to blur together. The constant barrage of outdated laws was one thing – I was prepared for that when I embarked on this project-within-the-project. But I never expected the outright nihilism.

The Israelites have rebelled five times. God has killed a large percentage of His followers for insolence. There have been frequent stonings and burnings; viciously described sacrifices; the rise and fall of false gods; starvation; dehydration; fire and water engulfing thousands of people at once. When will it stop?

Throughout this, I have had one constant question in my mind: What is the point of all of this? I mean this both internally and universally: Why free the Israelites from one torturous situation just to deliver them into another? And then why retell the story to modern-day believers?

I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

God is sick of all the nonsense. A Levite named Korah speaks up from among the crowd. The Israelites are all holy, he announces. Stop the plagues. I’ll get us to the Promised Land. But Moses warns against speaking up so loudly against God. Korah does not stop. He takes his family and followers before the assembly and opposes Moses. So Moses warns them again. They do not stop.

Then in retaliation, God opens up the Earth and drops them and all their possessions into the “realm of the dead.” But they do not die, oh no. We are told that they fall alive into this netherworld (Number 16).

The Israelites watch in abjection. Then, they mourn. They wail. They yell, “Are we all going to die?”

A valid question. Their needs are not met; they are uncomfortable and lost. Some of them even begin to cry out for death, which is solace compared to this lifestyle.

But oh no, God has a realm of the dead available for punishment. There is a fate worse than death, and it is where they are all headed if the moaning continues.

I am exhausted reading this – flat out depressed. I am engaging with a group of Israelites that I don’t like and a God that I can’t relate to. Merry freaking Christmas.

I never thought I would say this, but I miss the Laws. Let’s go back to Laws and give the stories a respite. At least the Law is theoretical. All this real-world smiting is getting me down.

The Great Regression (Jesse Interprets the Law: Pt 10)

…Not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times – not one of the will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors.

Numbers 14:22-23a (NIV)

Things have not turned out as planned for the Israelites. God demanded their freedom. He threw down some nifty plagues and signs. Armies? Defeated. Ocean? Split. Then came thirst, so He sprung water from a rock. Starvation settled in next and so – manna. The Israelites wanted and wandered, and so God thus gave and guided. But they just could not help from complaining. They succumbed to a resilient nostalgia of their lives of yesteryear (when they were enslaved, remember). Such insolence.

The tension starts mounting. The people wail for their resources back in Egypt, so God rains down fire on the outskirts as punishment. Then, they claim boredom from their palate of food, so God shifts the winds to provide quail for nourishment (though, really, it is a veiled punishment, as He vows to send so much quail that they will all get sick from even the thought of it). Then, Miriam and Aaron oppose Moses due to the foreign ethnicity of his chosen wife. Oh, so now Moses’ best friends reveal that they are not-so-secretly racist? And the finally, the climax.

The people rebel. They think that God, through His holy proxy Moses, is leading them astray, straight into the arms of their enemies. They consider stoning Moses and Aaron and starting anew, but God steps in. He vows to destroy every last one of them, until Moses intervenes and begs for their forgiveness. Remember Your promise, he says. So God backs off, sparing their lives, but not before completely reevaluating His plans.

The Israelites will keep their lives, but the Promised Land is no more. They will wander in the desert until they die. And the next generation – the blameless souls who did not witness the Exodus from Egypt – they will instead inherent the land flowing with milk and honey. The matter is settled, God says. Now go on and wander, you little a-holes.

Let me just say: I am relieved to have a respite from the Law (which will come rushing back this time tomorrow), but this little intermission is rather bleak for our heroes. God throws down a late act twist on us – those we have come to love are now an increasingly potent force for evil, and the prophecies laid down for them have been reversed. It’s like a movie that ends with the realization that it “was all a dream.” This negates a ton of what we have come to understand about our God, and yet it solidifies other aspects.

We get it. Don’t piss off God. You have made that point dozens of times, Bible. But this newest curse is a game-changing event. This is the first time that God completely reneges on a promise. He swore to these Israelities that they would see their homeland of Canaan, but through their sin, He changed His mind.

In other words, God changed…

Sort of. Or maybe not.

He changed His mind, which some might argue is His prerogative. But these little moments in the Bible always set off my logic alarm. If God is all-knowing… wouldn’t He have seen this coming? I have to disregard thoughts like that, because that would allow an all-encompassing nihilism to creep into the picture. Instead, I have to imagine that God – if accurate to the Bible – does have human emotions, which means – He is capable of change. He changes His mind. Maybe He also changes His values?

Or maybe not.

Just a few more days of the Law, and then we enter a much more story-based section of the Old Testament. I’m looking forward to that. Aren’t you?

Church Is Boring (Jesse Interprets the Law: Pt 9)

That’s right, I said it.

Catholic mass is especially boring. My traditional uncle asked me to be a junior groomsmen at his wedding when I was 12-years-old, and I excitedly agreed (like I even had a choice). I got to wear a tuxedo, which made me feel like James Bond, my personal hero. So I bought a little cap gun, I donned my tuxedo, I shoved the gun in jacket pocket for posterity, and I took part in the wedding.

And it was so boring. All I had to do was sit still for an hour and try to look vaguely interested. But the priest started chanting monotonously is gibberish (read: Latin). Then there was a sermon. A sermon? Really? At a wedding? Then communion. Then more chanting. Then the priest held up the Bible and started humming Do-Re-Me, I swear. And as I fought the urge to sleep, as well as the impulse to take my cap gun and play-execute everyone, I had a thought. Is this what heaven is like? Forever and ever of this crap? And thus began my fear of heaven – and eternity. Who would want a forever of this?

My protestant church was archaic. Not so much in its presentation – there were far less “ceremonially” elements than the Catholic counterpart – but it certainly needed a revamp. The kids at the congregation called it “big church,” because to us, it was meant solely for “big people.” Because there was nothing there to hold the interest of children. The sermons were too complex. The hymns dragged on for far too long. They forced us to take communion as well. I told my mother that the cracker needed salt. She told me she wasn’t taking me to big church anymore, because I clearly was not ready for it. She was right. Is heaven like this? I wonder what hell is like? Maybe I should give hell a shot. My mother decided to send me to the church service designed for elementary-aged students.

But “kid’s church” was asinine. The leaders smiled too much, and they tried too hard to make connections that were obviously nonexistent. My parents had never sent me to our church’s summer camps, which was where all the kids has become close friends, so I was on the outside. Typically, I sat in the back row and played my Gameboy up until the moment the service started. They gave out raffle tickets and awarded prizes. Such tactics to engage. Yawn. They sang Christian rock songs in place of hymns, but they were so repetitive, and no one dared to sing it above a whisper. None of the strategies to engage y young mind worked. I was disengaged.

But not all churches were boring. Black churches, for instance… They were the absolute best.

I started dating this girl Briana over the summer between sixth and seventh grade, and as a hang out idea, we decided to attend each other’s churches. She came to my kid’s church first, and she was the only African American person there. We sang our worthless songs. We sat through our worthless raffle. She functioned well and even pretended to have a good time, but secretly, I was embarrassed for her. What lifeless worship.

But the next week, we went to her church. Singing and dancing up the aisle. Three voluptuous black women crying their hearts out on the edge of the stage. A boisterous pastor spouting the positive aspects of a faith in God (imagine that). Altar calls that felt unforced. Singing with actual group participation, above the volume of a mouse. Some of the congregation even seemed to be praying in different language, which sounded almost like gibberish.

To everyone in that room, church was the absolute best part of the week (imagine that).

When I arrived home after the church date, I told my parents all about the experience, and a minor look of concern came across their face. The behavior I witnessed, they said, was something called “speaking-in-tongues” or “charismatic” for short. I wasn’t so sure they had it correct. I had seen people speak in tongues on the TV, often in association with fake healing rituals, and this seemed much more legitimate, much more heartfelt.

But for some reason, my parents did not seem thrilled by this type of worship. Not like evil, but just a tad wayward.

Which made me ask:

Is heaven like our church, or is it like Briana’s church?

I could see their wheels turning, like they suddenly had to make up an answer.

So they said: Maybe it is both. We have our place in heaven, and they have theirs.

Oh. So heaven is segregated.

I never understood why everyone loved the idea of heaven so much. As an adult, I get why people want to go, but as a kid, there’s nothing to conceptualize it. It is just not dying. That is the only appeal. Unless there are roller coasters and televisions aplenty. What is fun about worshipping God? There has to be something to it. Most people seem to enjoy it.

 

 

Context (Jesse Interprets the Law: Pt 7.2)

Let’s recap the noted rigidity of the Old Testament law.


During the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, God commanded Lot and his family to look away from the destruction. Lot’s wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt.

(Genesis 19:26)


Onan was commanded to impregnate his brother’s wife. He did not want to and spilled his semen outside of the womb. He was immediately put to death.

(Genesis 38:9)


God demanded that fires burned in His honor were to be built a certain way. Aaron’s two sons added unauthorized incense. God grew the fire and consumed them.

(Leviticus 10:2)


God commanded everyone to rest on the Sabbath. A man was gathering sticks for firewood on the Sabbath. God commanded him to be stoned to death.

(Numbers 15:36)


And that is just to name a few. I think it is clear that God is not messing around with His laws.

So that makes this story all the more shocking:

It was one of the first Passover celebrations since the Israelites had left Egypt. God commanded earlier that those who were ceremonially unclean were to be separated from the rest of the community so they would not make others dirty in the eyes of the Lord. However, there was a dilemma. Some of the members of the community were ceremonially unclean but still wanted to participate in the Passover festival. If you are Moses in this situation, what would you say?

No way! You saw what God did to Lot’s wife and Onan and Aaron’s sons and that guy gathering sticks!

Right?

But there is a bit of context in this situation. The Israelites had become unclean through no fault of their own. Numbers Chapter 9 recounts the story:

But some of them could not celebrate the Passover on that day because they were ceremonially unclean on account of a dead body. So they came to Moses and Aaron that same day and said to Moses, “We have become unclean because of a dead body, but why should we be kept from presenting the Lord’s offering with the other Israelites at the appointed time?”

Logic dictates that this is a reasonable request. Why should they be barred from participating in one of the High Holy days just because they encountered a dead body? But we know what this God is like. We know Him to be unflinchingly rigid. Well here is what He said:

“Tell the Israelites: ‘When any of you or your descendants are unclean because of a dead body or are away on a journey, they are still to celebrate the Lord’s Passover.”

In the political world, this is what they call a flip-flop. God set forth a clearly stated commandment and then, when approached with a gray situation, decided to allow an exception that was guided by a logical understanding of the dynamics.

This is a thunderous new precedent. It opens up the possibility that God allows His stated rules to be bended given certain circumstances. I don’t know about you, but I found this passage completely unbelievable! Here we have a clear example of where the statutes put forth in the Word were altered given a specific context. That is huge! If I were a lawyer during this period, I would have been fist pumping the air and cheering at the top of my lungs. We have precedent! We have proof that God can be swayed given the hearts and minds of His followers!

This might be my new favorite passage of the Bible. And I might be the first person to ever dog-ear this page. So be it. I have always had alternative tastes anyway.

Context (Jesse Interprets the Law: Pt 7)

Let’s create a context. A traditional Mexican cantina in Downtown Atlanta. A mariachi (cover) band warming up for a performance. Table side guacamole. An almost empty chip bowl. A booth next to a window. Outside: A failing sun, streaks of brake lights along I-85, a mid-autumn bluster. Across from me sits a friend named Samantha. Actually, a “friend.” We were set up by a mutual acquaintance, and I said yes to it, because as a rule, I generally say yes. We had run out of discussion topics, and now we were fighting over the crumbs of the chip bowl and avoiding eye contact. Samantha broke the tension.

So what’s one of your strengths?

Great. An interview question.

I said: I work with autistic children.

That’s not really a strength. That’s just what you do.

Okay. You’re right.

I’m not letting you out of the question.

What were you asking again?

What’s something you are good at?

I’m good at working with autistic children.

You said that.

(This date was not going well)

So I said: I feel like I can empathize with anyone.

Anyone? Like even bad people?

Yeah. Anyone.

What about bad people?

(She just asked that)

You just asked that.

You empathize with bad people?

Yeah.

Like what about a thief?

Sure. I think, why is that person stealing? They must have a reason, something that went wrong at some point.

What about a murderer? 

It might be hard to empathize at first, but I think that yeah, even –

What about Hitler?

Uh…

See! You can’t empathize with everyone.

(She had defeated my sensibility by throwing in the Hitler trump card)

(This was our first and last date)


There is an ongoing fight over context, and how we are to understand the rules set forth in the Bible. I have catalogued well over 350 laws of the Torah since beginning my little project-within-the-project, and unsurprisingly, the majority of them have been unflinchingly rigid. Most follow the structure of “Do not [blank]” or “You must always [blank].” This does not leave a ton of room for context.

For instance, one of the Ten Commandments says simply “Do not kill.” That seems like a simply worded law that is fairly easy to follow. Most of us will never enter a situation where that thought would even cross our minds.

Do not kill. Done.

But on second thought, maybe there is a time when killing a person is acceptable. Maybe there is a context where that rule applies.

What if my life was threatened, is it okay to kill then?

What about in times of war?

What about the death penalty in situations of violent, pre-meditated crimes?

What if Hitler was standing RIGHT THERE?

But wait. The law is simply worded. It is concise and straight forward. “Do not kill.”

Huh.

Did the Israelites ever take context into account? Was there truly any wiggle room when it came to the rigidity of these laws?

The answer is a resounding yes.

(To Be Continued)