Fox Byte 5775 #49: Ki Tetze (When You Go Out)

כִּי־תֵצֵא

Ernest Borgnine as Boris Vaslov, the Russian double agent in the Cold War espionage drama Ice Station Zebra. (Photo: The Movie Scene)
Ernest Borgnine as Boris Vaslov, the Russian double agent in the Cold War espionage drama Ice Station Zebra. (Photo: The Movie Scene)

As with all good spy stories, the 1968 movie adaptation of Alistair MacLean’s Ice Station Zebra does not reveal the full truth until near the end.  All we know at the beginning is that a US Navy submarine is on a mission to rescue British scientists trapped at a weather station on the Arctic ice pack.  We realize something unusual is afoot since the boat’s captain, James Ferraday (played by Rock Hudson), has been ordered to take aboard not only a platoon of Marines, but also a British Intelligence officer who goes by the name Jones (Patrick McGoohan).  At sea they are joined by Boris Vaslov (Ernest Borgnine), a Russian defector.  After an act of sabotage nearly destroys the submarine, Captain Ferraday confronts Vaslov, asking why he should not believe him to be the saboteur.  Vaslov responds, “That should be obvious, Captain.  I was born a Russian, but I chose my side out of conviction, not by accident of birth.”  Jones vouches for him, and the mission continues.

In time the submarine reaches the destination and breaks through the Arctic ice near Ice Station Zebra.  As the Navy crewmen rescue the surviving scientists, Jones and Vaslov go about the real business of the mission.  Ferraday finds opportunity to speak with Jones alone as the British agent searches for what we learn is a canister of highly sensitive photographic film created in the United States for use in a British camera of extraordinary technical capabilities.  Soviet agents had stolen the film and the camera, and the Soviet Union adapted both for use in a spy satellite.  Jones explains this in one of the movie’s most famous lines:

The Russians put our camera made by “our” German scientists and your film made by “your” German scientists into their satellite made by “their” German scientists, and up it went, round and round, whizzing by the United States of America seven times a day.

Just as the film canister is discovered, a force of Soviet paratroopers lands near the ice station.  Their mission, of course, is also to recover the film canister.  It is at that point that we learn Vaslov’s convictions are not as strong as he would have others believe.  He assaults Jones and reveals himself as a double agent whose real intent is to assist the Soviets in recovering the film.  As the American and Soviet forces engage in a firefight, Jones kills Vaslov.  The fighting ends when the hopelessly outnumbered Americans agree to surrender the canister, but then succeed in destroying it by a final act of intrigue.  Having no further reason to remain in conflict, both sides withdraw, leaving the body of the treacherous Vaslov on the ice.

Boris Vaslov teaches us an eternal truth.  Unable to choose between two identities, in the end he loses them both.  So it is with everyone who halts between allegiance to the Kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of this world.  It is best to choose wisely since Scripture provides an unambiguous statement on the conclusion of this matter:

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.”  (Revelation 11:15 NRSV)

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Fox Byte 5775 #48: Shoftim (Judges)

שֹׁפְטִים

The Senate as a Court of Impeachment for the Trial of Andrew Johnson, by Theodore R. Davis. Illustration in Harper's Weekly, April 11, 1868.
“The Senate as a Court of Impeachment for the Trial of Andrew Johnson”, by Theodore R. Davis. Illustration in Harper’s Weekly, April 11, 1868.

What does it take to remove a head of state?  This question concerns situations in which a nation finds cause to remove a leader before the established time.  A survey of history informs us that such circumstances usually involve war and upheaval.  The incumbent, whether a king or a prime minister, is not inclined to surrender power, and therefore must be compelled to give it up, often on pain of death.  In consideration of this state of human affairs, the Founding Fathers of the United States established a procedure by which presidents might be impeached, or removed from office.  The product of their deliberations appears in Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

And that is all they have to say on the matter – which is why jurists for nearly 230 years have debated exactly what they meant.

The Founders certainly understood the seriousness of the question.  They had just gone through a lengthy and painful process of removing King George III as head of state over the American colonies by the extreme measure of extricating the colonies from the king’s domain and establishing a separate sovereign nation.  Their attempts at less drastic measures had not sufficed, leaving them no option but the usual method of war and upheaval.  That is why they sought to limit the power of the president, providing a method of removal by legislative and judicial means.  The grounds for removal would have to be well established, which is why the Constitution specifies the obvious transgressions of treason and bribery.  But what exactly are “high crimes and misdemeanors”?  This is where it gets interesting, and frustrating to those who desire to remove an incompetent, unpopular, or abusive president.

The Founders sought not only to prevent abuse of power in the Office of the President, but also to protect the dignity of the office and ensure continuity of government.  Succeeding generations have understood this, which is why only three presidents have been the subject of impeachment proceedings.  President Richard Nixon resigned before Congress could vote on articles of impeachment for his abuse of power.  Had he not done so, it is likely he would have been the only president ever removed from office.  Congress did impeach Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton on charges stemming from their obstruction of Congress and abuse of power, but acquitted both men – not because the charges were unfounded, but because of the political motivations behind the impeachment proceedings.  Under such circumstances, their removal would have brought immense harm to the Office of the President and its foundation in the organic law of the United States.

One might wish that the Founding Fathers had been more specific in the standards they expected of people holding high office.  Then again, how much more specific did they need to be in a Christian culture based on the rule of law derived from the Bible?  Their understanding of God’s requirements for public leaders shaped their creation of the Government of the United States, leading them to do as YHVH did:  provide just enough detail to establish wise government under the principles of justice and mercy.

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Fox Byte 5775 #20: Tetzaveh (You Shall Command)

תְּצַוֶּה

Chuck Connors as Jason McCord, a man unjustly accused of cowardice and drummed out of the Army.  From the 1960s  NBC TV Western, Branded.  (Photo:  riflemanconnors.com)
Chuck Connors as Jason McCord, a man unjustly accused of cowardice and drummed out of the Army. From the 1960s NBC TV Western Branded. (Photo: riflemanconnors.com)

One of the compelling images I recall from childhood is the opening scene of Branded.  This Western TV drama starred Chuck Connors as a United States Army officer unjustly charged with cowardice.  Week after week the series opened with Jason McCord, Connors’ character, being drummed out of the service at a remote post in the American West.  As the garrison assembles, McCord is marched to the front and center of the formation, where his commander removes from him every vestige of his connection with the Army – his hat, rank insignia, and even the buttons on his coat.  Last of all the commander removes McCord’s sword from its sheath, breaks it over his knee, and tosses the broken hilt out of the fort’s gate.  The shamed officer then walks out of the fort as the doors close behind him.  Now on his own, branded for life with the mark of a coward, he must find a way to clear his name.

What if someone had exonerated Jason McCord?  Such things have happened before.  There is provision in the law to excuse an offender, either when the accusation is proven unjust, or when a duly constituted authority bestows clemency in an act of mercy.  The law, however, remains in effect.  Should another man, or even the same man, desert his post in an act of cowardice, he would be guilty of the same offence.  Even if the entire United States Army deserted, requiring the President to recruit an entirely new force, the deserters would still be guilty according to the statutes and regulations governing the military service.  And should the law change somehow, perhaps refining the definition of cowardice and clarifying the penalties, the law would still be in effect, and those subject to it would be wise to learn the changes lest they find themselves inadvertently in error.

How interesting that such a principal gleaned from a 1960s TV Western is actually a principal of the Word of God.  While some may argue that the Law of God has no application at all in an age when Messiah Yeshua has won forgiveness for all who believe on Him, in actuality His work of redemption secured a prophesied change in the Law, not its abolition.

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Fox Byte 5775 #15: Bo (Go)

בֹּא

Donkeys in Transition.  Top left:  James Cagney as Nick Bottom, with Anita Louise as Titania in the 1935 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (via “The Many Faces of Nick Bottom” on Shakespeare Talks).  Top right:  Pinocchio turns into a donkey, from the 1940 Walt Disney film, Pinocchio, via The Disney Wiki.  Bottom Left:  Donkey (voiced by Eddie Murphy) in Shrek the Third (via HD Wallpapers).  Bottom Right:  Donkey as Stallion in Shrek II (via Wiki Shrek).
Donkeys in Transition. Top left: James Cagney as Nick Bottom with Anita Louise as Titania in the 1935 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (via “The Many Faces of Nick Bottom” on Shakespeare Talks). Top right: Pinocchio turns into a donkey, from the 1940 Walt Disney film, Pinocchio, via The Disney Wiki. Bottom Left: Donkey (voiced by Eddie Murphy) in Shrek the Third (via HD Wallpapers). Bottom Right: Donkey as Stallion in Shrek II (via Wiki Shrek).

Is there anything more ridiculous among beasts of burden than a donkey?  They are hardly the picture of a noble animal.  On the contrary, they are loud, obnoxious, stubborn, homely (not exactly ugly, but certainly not beautiful), and they smell bad.  It is no coincidence that William Shakespeare places a donkey’s head on the foolishly self-confident Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Neither is it a coincidence that in The Adventures of Pinocchio Carlo Collodi chose to transform foolish boys into donkeys.  Walt Disney offered a simple explanation of this process in his 1940 film version of Pinocchio:  “Give a bad boy enough rope, and he’ll soon make a jackass of himself.”  And then there is the companion of the ogre Shrek:  the carefree, friendly, and unbearably annoying Donkey, brought to life by the vocal talents of Eddie Murphy.  In the second film of the Shrek series Donkey is changed into a white stallion, but the change is only outward.  Inside he is still the same Donkey:  kindhearted, loyal, and eager to please, but seldom aware of the chaos that follows him at every step.

With such a pedigree it is a wonder that donkeys receive favorable attention in Scripture.  In fact, the lowly donkey and the lamb are the only animals mentioned by name in God’s instructions on how to remember the Exodus.

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