Fox Byte 5775 #44: D’varim (Words)

דְּבָרִים

"The King and Queen inspecting the tarts", by Sir John Tenniel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).
The King and Queen inspecting the tarts”, by Sir John Tenniel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).

One wonders whether Lewis Carroll required chemical substances to help him create the absurd worlds of his literature.  Readers of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and audiences of the screen and stage adaptations thereof often conclude that the author – whose real name was Charles Dodgson – must have been on opium or some other sort of mind-altering substance fashionable in Victorian England.  If we are to believe the Lewis Carroll Society of North America and other authoritative sources, there is no truth in such allegations.  How, then, could a rational man come up with such outrageous fiction, creating characters and situations that defy logic and even sanity?  Most likely Carroll would have explained in the same way C.S. Lewis explained how he could create the diabolical correspondence of the demon Screwtape a generation later:

Some have paid me an undeserved compliment by supposing that my Letters were the ripe fruit of many years’ study in moral and ascetic theology.  They forgot that there is an equally reliable, though less creditable, way of learning how temptation works. “My heart”—I need no other’s—“showeth me the wickedness of the ungodly.”  (C.S. Lewis, 1961.  The Screwtape Letters with Screwtape Proposes a Toast.  New York:  MacMillan.)

What Professor Lewis tells us is that all humans have the capacity to imagine evil, and to act upon it once it is imagined.  Evil is abnormal; the opposite of good and right and true.  If our hearts are inclined toward evil, they are also inclined toward everything else that is contrary to good and right and true – things which are unsuitable, wrong, and illogical.  That is why Carroll can depict an absurd criminal trial with such success.  The King and Queen of Hearts sit as judges to determine the guilt or innocence of the Knave, who stands accused of having stolen the Queen’s tarts.  As judge, the King has trouble getting beyond his instructions to the jury to consider the verdict before any evidence has been given.  As witnesses, the Mad Hatter and the Knave say nothing of substance, and throughout the trial no one seems to care that the stolen tarts are there in the courtroom, presumably having been returned by the thief.  The trial ends with a mockery of due process of law as the Queen says, “Sentence first—verdict afterwards”, and then pronounces summary judgment on Alice:  “Off with her head!”

The sad thing about this trial is that it is not far removed from reality.  For much, perhaps most, of history unjust judges have made people’s lives miserable and shorter than they should be.  This is true even for judges among the people of God, which is why in promising to restore His nation of Israel, YHVH delivers this glowing promise:

“Then I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning; after that you will be called the city of righteousness, a faithful city.”  Zion will be redeemed with justice and her repentant ones with righteousness.  (Isaiah 1:26-27 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #37: Sh’lach L’cha (Send For Yourself)

שְׁלַח־לְךָ

The Meeting of Dido and Aeneas Sir Nicholas Dance-Holland
The Meeting of Dido and Aeneas
Sir Nicholas Dance-Holland

About the time that Gideon of Manasseh delivered Israel from oppression of the Midianites and Amalekites (Judges 6:1-8:35), a war of (literally) epic proportions took place on the northwest coast of what is now Turkey.  The Trojan War really did happen, but the conflict was already wrapped in myth and legend when a Greek poet known only as Homer published The Iliad sometime around 750 BCE, four centuries after the war’s generally accepted dates of 1194-1184 BCE.  Homer’s epic inspired a number of classical works telling the tales of the Greeks and Trojans, including a sequel published in Latin seven hundred years later.  When the Roman poet Virgil wrote The Aeneid, he probably had a political agenda in mind.  His story is that of Aeneas, a Trojan hero of the royal family who escaped the destruction of the city and led a band of refugees in a journey that eventually resulted in their settlement at the mouth of the Tiber River in Italy.  There they became part of the story of Rome, a city which began as a colony of Alba Longa, the capital of the new kingdom Aeneas and his descendants founded.  Thus Rome could trace its origins at least in part to Troy.  More importantly, the family of Julius Caesar traced its genealogy to Aeneas, giving it a claim to royalty that helped Caesar’s nephew Octavian consolidate his power as Caesar Augustus.  Whether true or not, Virgil’s epic, written early in Augustus’ long reign, cemented the link of the Caesars with Aeneas and Troy in the minds of Romans, making it one of the most successful pieces of literary propaganda ever published.

Even if the Caesar’s claims were falsified, and even if Aeneas never existed outside of classical literature, his tale is an illustration of the remnant:  those who remain.  Whether it is Ishmael surviving to tell the story of Captain Ahab and Moby Dick, or Job’s servants fleeing disaster to report to him (Job 1:13-22), fact and fiction throughout the human experience have featured a fortunate few who escape.  The remnant has the task of carrying the memory of those who went before, of rebuilding what they lost, and of achieving their ultimate destiny.  These remnant tales would have little impact on us if they were not a common feature in reality.  The remnant is a continuous reminder in Scripture that God’s judgment is tempered with mercy in the expectation that a people will at last be able to step into the fullness of the promises YHVH has spoken from beginning of time.

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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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The Shemitah and The Yovel:  Examining The Relevance of God’s Appointed Times, Part VIII

Walking Through The Open Gate

The Vision of the Dry Bones is the most graphic illustration of God's promised restoration of the Kingdom of Israel.  The establishment of the State of Israel opened the way for Judah (the Jewish portion of Israel) to return to the land, but to the way for Ephraim (Northern Israel) is only now beginning to open.  (Ezekiel's Vision, The Coloured Picture Bible for Children, available on Mannkind Perspectives.)
The Vision of the Dry Bones is the most graphic illustration of God’s promised restoration of the Kingdom of Israel. The establishment of the State of Israel opened the way for Judah (the Jewish portion of Israel) to return to the land, but to the way for Ephraim (Northern Israel) has remained closed until now. (Ezekiel’s Vision, The Coloured Picture Bible for Children, available on Mannkind Perspectives.)

An Enduring Standard

We see from Scripture that the Creator’s processes are lengthy, thorough, and often completely different from what humans desire or expect.  This should not be a surprise.  YHVH says quite plainly that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts.  Nevertheless, He does tell us what we need to know, and He reveals things at the appointed times to those who bother to seek Him.  What we often learn is that the answer has been there all along, but we have never understood it correctly until the right time and until we approach with the right heart.  When it comes to the purpose of the Lord’s processes regarding His people Israel, the answer has been staring at us for about 3,000 years.  He spoke it through Moses to prepare the people for their first great meeting with Him at Sinai:

In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai.  When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain.  Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel:  You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself.  Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”  (Exodus 19:1-6 NASB, emphasis added)

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The Shemitah and The Yovel:  Examining The Relevance of God’s Appointed Times, Part VII

Managing Expectations:  Case Studies in God’s Processes

The Scriptures tell us that God designated two men to be Nazirites from the womb:  Samson and John the Baptist.  The engraving Samson and Delilah, by Gustave Doré, features Samson's uncut hair, the sign of a Nazirite.  Their hair indicated their special status as set apart to God, and in the case of the Bible's two most famous Nazirites, that the Holy Spirit rested on them for similar purposes of judging the nation of Israel and proclaiming the Lord's salvation.  In John, the Spirit's presence manifested in uncompromising preaching; in Samson the Spirit imparted supernatural strength.
The Scriptures tell us that three men were designated to be Nazirites from the womb: Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist. The engraving Samson and Delilah, by Gustave Doré, features Samson’s uncut hair, the sign of a Nazirite. Their hair indicated their special status as set apart to God.  In the case of the Bible’s famous Nazirites, the Holy Spirit rested on them for purposes of judging the nation of Israel and proclaiming the Lord’s salvation. In John, the Spirit’s presence manifested in uncompromising preaching; in Samuel it was unquestioned authority to anoint the kings of Israel; and in Samson the Spirit imparted supernatural strength.

Ancient Hair Care

One of the most colorful characters in the Bible is Samson, the Judge of Israel from the tribe of Dan.  His story is in Judges 13-16.  It begins like this:

Now there was a certain man from Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had no children.  And the Angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Indeed now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son.  Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean.  For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son.  And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.”  (Judges 13:2-5 NKJV, emphasis added)

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