Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Details or Meaning?

Sometimes I wonder about the stories in the Hebrew Scriptures; the people are old before they begin their adventures, which seem to go on and on for many years. I mean Sarai was an old woman past menopause when she laughed at the angels and got pregnant. Now, if laughing at the angels in your older years will cause pregnancy, I’m surely not going to laugh at anything I suspect might be an angel.

But, she bravely goes on and raises a son, which Abraham tries to offer as a sacrifice to God. Amazing what things Abraham heard! Take your son and kill him and burn him as a sacrifice to me. Yeah, right. I’m not sure who was talking to Abraham, but it probably wasn’t God. I mean, Abraham had already done everything God (or the voice) had asked. Why would God demand another proof of his faithfulness? Although, I grant you, the Voice stopped Abraham before he killed his son. Thank you, God.

Jonah apparently was a fairly young person, but he required no recovery time at all after being spit out by the whale. Nope, he was up and off to Tarshish in nothing flat. He’s pretty human, though. He keeps resisting the Voice. And, the Voice just keeps after him until he’s thoroughly sunburned and miserable. That’s right, God, give ‘em pain and they’ll do what you want. Punish them first. I mean, a little positive reinforcement would be nice. And, once again, Jonah forgot about his sunburn and misery and went off to save the world.

Now Moses got a little better deal! He was raised in the money! Then, one day, he forgets the protocol of court (and he doesn’t know about the Ten Commandments yet; so they don’t count) and kills someone. Instead of asserting the authority that is rightfully his as a grandson of the Pharaoh, he runs away. Dumb, but this accomplishes the Voice’s purpose. He’s peacefully raising sheep far away from Egypt when the Voice calls out again. I wonder how many times Moses passed that bush before his curiosity got the best of him. “Hmmm, there’s that strange bush again; maybe I’ll go take a closer look this time.” Yea, the Voice asks an impossible task for this dude that has a speech impediment. But, this time, the Voice helps out; Aaron, Moses’ brother, is appointed spokesman. Now, I don’t know how Moses and Aaron communicated; maybe Moses spoke in tongues and Aaron interpreted, but they surely did play havoc with the Pharaoh’s plans.

However, just showing that no one is perfect, Moses gets tired of hearing the people he’s leading in the desert complain and complain. So he strikes his rod against the rock, and out flows the water they need. Of course, that’s not what the Voice told Moses to do to provide water. Moses has disobeyed the Voice; so Moses is not allowed into the promised land. He gets to see it from the top of the hill, but he can’t go there. Seems like a whimsical God if you ask me.

At this point, I have to stop and tell you that I don’t believe any of these details are what the stories are meant to teach, but they are tough teachings when you do examine the details. Here’s a God who commands impossible things of ordinary humans – and they do it! So, I guess this God is giving strength to the doers. In this age, they are strange stories in which we have to look for the “moral” behind the details. What is the universal truth that each story is conveying?

I tend to be caught up in the details of the stories just as I am caught up in the details of life. But, maybe one purpose of the stories is to teach us to look at the truth, the real meaning, the broader picture.

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