Fox Byte 5775 #53: Ha’azinu (Give Ear)

הַאְַזִינוּ

In this scene from Empire of the Sun, Jim (Christian Bale) sings the Welsh lullaby Suo Gân in tribute to Japanese kamikaze pilots. The song of hope and of peace carries him through the tribulation of war. (Video via YouTube)
In this scene from Empire of the Sun, Jim (Christian Bale) sings the Welsh lullaby Suo Gân in tribute to Japanese kamikaze pilots. The song of hope and of peace carries him through the tribulation of war. (Video via YouTube)

The one element of Steven Spielberg’s movies which has remained just beneath my consciousness for nearly thirty years is not his stunning cinematography or compelling drama.  It is a song; a simple Welsh melody which carries us through Empire of the Sun.  We first hear Suo Gân (Lullaby) as the movie opens.  British choir boys sing it in church in the compound reserved for foreigners living in Shanghai.  The soloist is Jamie (Christian Bale), a boy of about 10.  He is British by birth, but he has never set foot on his parents’ homeland.  Jamie’s family live as privileged foreigners have lived ever since China capitulated in the First Opium War a century before.  They take no notice of the Chinese except where their own wants and needs are concerned.  Jamie, a son of privilege, knows no other way than to lord it over the natives beneath his station.

Change comes quickly when the Japanese attack.  China and Japan have been at war for years, but Shanghai is undisturbed until December 8, 1941.  As America’s Pacific Fleet burns in Pearl Harbor, Japan’s legions occupy Shanghai.  Jamie’s family flees, but in the confusion he is separated from his parents and left to fend for himself, eventually landing in an internment camp adjacent to a Japanese airfield.

By 1945 he is no longer Jamie, but Jim, a rough lad learning to survive among the mixed multitude in captivity.  Jim can hold his own, having grown accustomed to lying, stealing, cheating, and other mischief.  His innocence dies bit by bit, not only through the tribulations of war, but through betrayal by men he trusts.  Yet Suo Gân remains with him.  One morning he awakens to see Japanese aviators participating in the ceremony of the kamikaze.  Jim comes to attention, salutes, and sings the lullaby in tribute to these men who will soon die in the service of their Emperor.  Their deaths come more quickly than expected.  At that instant, American P-51 Mustangs, the “Cadillac of the sky”, attack, rapidly transforming the airfield into a smoking ruin.  In their wake Jim pauses to consider the dreadful price he has paid to survive.  With despair he confesses, “I can’t remember what my parents look like.”

At war’s end Jim finds himself in an orphanage among children awaiting reunion with their parents.  Tears of joy flow, but he stands in shocked silence.  His father passes by, not recognizing the hardened youth as the beloved, if rebellious, child he knew.  It is his mother who sees him, first as the Jamie she loved, then as the Jim she does not know how to love, and finally as a young man with gaping wounds in his soul who desperately needs the healing that only a parent’s love can bring.  He looks into her face and four years of pain and death wash away in peace beyond hope – the peace promised in the strains of Suo Gân.

BFB150926 Suo GanAll Jim can remember is the song, but it is enough to set him on the path of healing and reconciliation.  So it is with the exiled, destitute people of YHVH.  He also gave a song to them – a song that would carry them through time to peace beyond hope:

Then it shall come about, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song will testify before them as a witness (for it shall not be forgotten from the lips of their descendants); for I know their intent which they are developing today, before I have brought them into the land which I swore.  (Deuteronomy 31:21 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #52: Vayelekh (And He Went)

וַיֵּלֶךְ

Concept art for an upcoming Czech film adaptation of Karel Čapek’s War with the Newts. (Photo: The Fish People Attack! Amazing Concept Art For Czech Creature Feature WAR WITH THE NEWTS (VALKA S MLOKY) on twitch, via Topzine.cz; © 2014 Salamander syndicate)
Concept art for an upcoming film adaptation of Karel Čapek’s War with the Newts. (Photo: “The Fish People Attack!” on twitchfilm.com, via Topzine.cz; © 2014 Salamander syndicate)

Isaac Asimov could have written I, Robot without Karel Čapek’s help, but he would have needed a different word for the artificial life forms featured in his writing.  Asimov’s robot stories shifted the paradigms of science fiction by exploring the unintended consequences of creating something smarter and stronger than a human, but without a human’s ethical configuration.  For over half a century he probed dark and difficult territory, asking questions and spinning scenarios that remain disturbingly applicable to our present reality.  Yet Asimov neither invented the word “robot”, nor initiated the inquiry into the potential nemesis of unbridled technological innovation.

Bad things happen when man plays the role of God, as Mary Shelley demonstrated in 1818 with her first novel, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus.  Shelley brought the question into the modern era, but it was Karel Čapek who mechanized it.  Čapek’s play R.U.R. (Rossumovi univerzální roboti; Rossum’s Universal Robots) was a success from its first performance in 1920.  The play introduced international audiences to the Czech word robota, meaning hard work, a word rendered into English as robot.  The play is not a comedy; in Čapek’s imaginary world the robots are manufactured life forms designed to assist humans, but eventually they rebel and extinguish all human life.

Čapek revived this scenario in War with the Newts, a novel published in 1936 as satire on the hypocritically self-serving international system which enabled Nazi Germany’s dismemberment of Czechoslovakia two years later.  It is a humorously dark tale about a race of sentient amphibian creatures discovered in the waters of Indonesia.  The newts prove to be swift learners and adept at a multitude of tasks, making them ideal candidates for exploitation not only as workers, but also as undersea warriors.  In time the newts, like the robots, rebel, destroying the dry land and turning it into shallow waters suitable for their environmental needs.  The nations of the earth find themselves in a war for survival against a global amphibian army.  It is a war humanity will not win, but Čapek reveals that the victorious newts will turn on themselves and become the instruments of their own destruction, leaving a remnant of mankind to rebuild the planet.

It is frightful to contemplate the end of one’s world, particularly when the end is justly deserved.  Asimov, Shelley, and Čapek relate scenarios of judgment resulting from mankind’s own selfish shortsightedness – playing God, if you will.  The element of terror they invoke lurks in the revelation that the instruments of judgment are the works of our own hands.  As usual, art imitates life.  YHVH renders judgment on those who disregard His standard of righteousness and set up standards of their own – playing God, if you will.  Judgment brings a sentence of destruction and death, which is terrifying enough.  What makes it more chilling is to learn the name of the one who will bring about the anticipated death and destruction.  About 35 centuries ago, the doomed Canaanite civilization experienced that very thing shortly after Moses spoke these words:

It is the Lord your God who will cross ahead of you; He will destroy these nations before you, and you shall dispossess them.  Joshua is the one who will cross ahead of you, just as the Lord has spoken.  (Deuteronomy 31:3 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 #18: Mishpatim (Ordinances)

מִּשְׁפָּטִים

Even hell must abide by the Laws the Creator has established for the seasons.  (It's so cold that now HELL has frozen over:  Michigan town falls victim to record cold temperatures, Daily Mail, January 8, 2014)
Even hell must abide by the Laws the Creator has established for the seasons. (“It’s so cold that now HELL has frozen over: Michigan town falls victim to record cold temperatures”, Daily Mail, January 8, 2014)

How would one describe hell?  Dante does a nice job in his Inferno, depicting levels of escalating unpleasantness corresponding to the earthly misdeeds of the unfortunate sufferers.  It is important to note that Dante’s descriptions, however grotesque, are not without a certain order.  In other words, hell is not complete chaos.  There is an organization, a hierarchy, and a supreme authority that keeps it functioning.  If there were no order then hell would splinter into a million pieces and never cause harm to another soul.  And thus Dante reflects something that Yeshua explained about the infernal realm:

And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand.  If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand?  (Matthew 12:25-26 NASB; see also Mark 3:23-27 and Luke 11:17-22)

This principle of diabolical organization is something C.S. Lewis explains as the rationale for his masterful work, The Screwtape Letters:

I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of “Admin.”  The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint.  It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps.  In those we see its final result.  But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.  Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business concern.  (C.S. Lewis, 1961.  The Screwtape Letters with Screwtape Proposes a Toast.  New York:  MacMillan.)

If Yeshua and these literary masters are correct, our conclusion is that hell must be organized and lawful, to some extent at least.  But why is that so?  One would think that Satan, the enemy of the Most High God, would do everything opposite what God does.  That would mean he would preside over a completely lawless, chaotic realm.  Yet that cannot be so for a fundamental reason that Satan knows only too well:  without Law, nothing can function.

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