Monthly Archives: March 2015

Father Forgive Them…A Poem for Good Friday

El Greco, Christ on the Cross (1588)

El Greco, Christ on the Cross (1588)

Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing
Your people chose to listen to the voices that fill the air of this noisy world
The calls of the gods of violence and might they have answered
And in the kiln of conflict the green wood is drying awaiting the spark
Of these angry gods of war and rebellion that are never satiated
Though rivers of blood and the screams of the innocent stream out
Poured out as a libation making the profane sacred and the sacred profane
In the days to come they will cry to the hills to cover them in their terror
Calling the barren blessed and the ones lost in natural disasters lucky
Because of the wrath of their gods that rejoice in the conflict of the nations

Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing
Dividing the world into the righteous and unrighteous, the holy and the mundane
Those who are blessed and those who are cursed, offering to gods of privilege
Those who can be excluded and kept out by their blood and their birth
By the language they speak, the hue of skin or hair, who they love or how they act
They bear the projected fear of the mob by sickness or disease or demonization
Confined to the outskirts of the city, to the graveyards, the asylums and prisons
They are prevented from having a place at the table and the temple
The very outcasts that I once rescued from their sojourn as pariahs
The poor who received good news and the captives that were set free
Now instead of the favor of the Lord receiving the scorn of these tribal gods

Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing
They may be full and laughing and rich now but they live in spiritual destitution
The concerns of the world and the lure of wealth have choked the seed
God’s kingdom came among them and they never saw it snatched away
They have offered their lives to the cruel gods of mammon and security
Offering their lives in to quench the unending thirst for acquisition
Joining house to house, starving the widows and the orphans and yet
Their appetites only yearn to consume more for that is what they are
They are consumers whose lives are built upon the things that in turn consume
I have yearned to gather them together under my wings as a hen
But they would not come for their lives were built around shrines of their own making
Fouling their own nests and poisoning the waters of their children
In their hunger to feed these insatiable gods that delight in their indentured servitude

Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing
Their fathers and mothers didn’t have ears to hear the prophets you sent
And they have not the eyes to see the Son in their midst, and so they cast me out
They rejected the cornerstone and crafted idols of stone and ideology to offer their lives to
Instead of peace they chose war, instead of love they chose hate
They believe they have never been slaves to anyone as they ignore their yoke
Locked into the world of their fears and isolation, cursing what they do not know
They mock me to ‘save myself’ but it is their lives I cry out to save
It is their world that has the sun blotted out; their veils which are torn in two
They and their children will bear the burden of appeasing the gods they chose
Conflict and alienation and slavery may be the path that they have chosen for their own
Yet, Father it is you who pull light from darkness and life from the maw of death
Whose rejected kingdom is at hand and who breathes the life into the new creation
It is into your hand that I commend my spirit and their shattered world as well
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Give unto the righteous and the unrighteous their daily bread
And forgive them their trespasses for they do not know what they are doing

Neil White, 2015

Review of Reading Backwards by Richard B. Hays


READING BACKWARDS: FIGURAL CHRISTOLOGY AND THE FOURFOLD GOSPEL WITNESS, by Richard B. Hays. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014. 155pp $34.95

Richard B. Hays began his work of examining how the earliest followers of Jesus were interpreters of scriptures in 1989 with his work The Echoes of Scriptures in the Letters of Paul. Twenty five years later, after changing the dynamic of the way many people view Paul’s engagement with the Hebrew Scriptures Professor Hays now gives us a short introduction into what he states he hopes will be a much larger projects examining each of the evangelist’s engagement with the scriptures, but this short and provocative work should help continue the conversion of the imagination he challenged his readers to see in Paul now in the voice and words of the authors of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. The book is the adaptation of the Hulsean Lectures presented at Cambridge University in the fall of 2013 and the spring of 2014 and is a work that will encourage its readers to understand the manner in which these early evangelists use the Hebrew Scriptures prefigure their experience of Christ.

The relationship of the Hebrew Scriptures to the New Testament is an important question for the church, but one that has often been overlooked. Richard B. Hays invites us into an exercise in learning to place ourselves in the evangelists’ places and see these scriptural texts that they used through their own eyes. Dr. Hays is convinced that “the Gospels teach us how to the OT, and –at the same time—the OT teaches us how to read the Gospels.”(4, emphasis author’s) Rather than seeing the evangelists as proof-texting pieces of the Hebrew Scriptures to make a certain points but rather invoke a set of rich and intertextual relations between the experience of the words of Jesus and the experience of his followers with the vision and world presented by the portions of scripture that the evangelists cite or allude to. The readings of each of the four gospels that are presented in Reading Backwards provide a rich and concise with the way in which each gospel distinctively uses scripture to paint its picture of Jesus.

The Gospel of Mark tells a story that is more suggestive and allusive in its narrative style and likewise many of Mark’s uses of the scriptures are allusive as well. Mark rarely quotes scripture but frequently uses language that alludes to how Jesus’ work and God’s work are mysteriously linked. Mark intimates that Jesus is, “in some way that defies comprehension the embodiment of God’s presence. Mark never quite dares to articulate this claim explicitly; it is too scandalous for direct speech. For Mark the character of God’s presence in Jesus is a mystery that can only be approached by riddle-like allusions to the OT.” (19f.) By looking at the way Mark creatively cites and alludes to scripture from the beginning of the story in Mark 1: 2-3 and running through the crucifixion narrative examining the way the larger context of the scriptural allusions to open the readers to the mystery of Jesus’ relationship with the God of Israel. Mark’s characteristic tension holds this identity in suspension as well, never overtly coming out and claiming Jesus’ identity but rather in a poetic way hides this answer in order that it might be revealed to those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Mark attempts to lead his readers into an exploration of the mysterious way in which Jesus is recognized as the embodiment of the God of Israel.

The Gospel of Matthew is much more explicit in its claims and the ways in which it uses scriptures. Matthew quotes scripture explicitly more than any of the other evangelists and from his first citation of Isaiah 7.14 in the birth narrative where Jesus is titled God is with us until the end of the gospel where all authority has been given to Jesus who will be with them forever Matthew presents, in a much more direct way, that Jesus is the presence of God among the people and the appropriate response is to worship the living presence of God who is present with them. Matthew uses a combination of scripture quotations as well as allusions to the Old Testament stories, like Herod in the slaughter of the innocents certainly would be heard as echoing Pharaoh’s decree in the Exodus narrative, to show how Jesus comes to embody not only God’s presence but also comes to be the fulfillment of the hopes of the law and the prophets. Where Mark encourages us to explore the mystery of the way divine presence of the God of Israel is present in Jesus, Matthew wants us to see this presence in order that we may worship God where God has now been found.

Luke reads the scriptures in a way that points to Jesus being the one who is the hope of Israel. From the prophecy of Zechariah, where God is praised for having “looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.”(Luke 1.68) to the journey with the two disciples on the way to Emmaus where these disciples, in their sadness, say, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24. 21) Hays invites us to read again how Jesus might be seen in Moses and the prophets and how Luke might use the scriptures to help us see who Jesus is. Luke uses language and events that reflect the type of things that happened in the stories of the scriptures while never simply the same. The effect is to create a powerful but indistinct relation between the saving acts of God in the story of Israel and the liberating acts of fulfillment in the story of Jesus. (59)

For John’s gospel the fundamental hermeneutical claim is that the scriptures are the ones that bear witness to Jesus, but to understand those same scriptures one must first come to Jesus to receive life. This retrospective reading of Israel’s scriptures allows John to use a more visual set of images and figures from the narrative of the people where Jesus through verbal echoes and direct quotations link Jesus with both the wisdom of God as well as the images of the temple and sacrifice. Through these images John wants to illustrate that Jesus is not only the temple—but also the place where God’s presences comes to meet us and deliver us into union with the divine presence. (82) Since John understands Jesus as the Logos of God the entire narrative, the temple, sacrifice and the festivals of Judaism are a rich set of signs and symbols of God’s activity in the life and presence of Jesus.

In this short work with numerous illuminating explorations of the way the evangelists read their scriptures and the scriptures provide a fuller meaning to the telling of the story of Jesus, Richard B. Hays invites the reader to discover a gospel shaped hermeneutic. This, he argues, involves a complex poetic sensibility that pays attention to the narrative arc of the scriptures. Hays argues that the more we explore the way the evangelists explore the scriptures the more clearly it is apparent that each of the evangelists in their own unique portrayal point to Jesus being the embodiment of the God of Israel.  This short work, which continues Richard B. Hays long work with intertextuality and the art of reading scripture, is a very generative and helpful introduction to the deep question of how the evangelists became interpreters of the scriptures and how the experience of Jesus reframed their reading of scripture while scripture gave them the language and symbols to express the mystery of who Jesus is to their communities.

Deuteronomy 3: Visions of a Future Land

James Tissot, Moses Sees the Promised Land from Afar

James Tissot, Moses Sees the Promised Land from Afar

Deuteronomy 3: 1-17 Preparing the Way for the Conflict across the River

When we headed up the road to Bashan, King Og of Bashan came out against us, he and all his people, for battle at Edrei. 2 The LORD said to me, “Do not fear him, for I have handed him over to you, along with his people and his land. Do to him as you did to King Sihon of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon.” 3 So the LORD our God also handed over to us King Og of Bashan and all his people. We struck him down until not a single survivor was left. 4 At that time we captured all his towns; there was no citadel that we did not take from them– sixty towns, the whole region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan. 5 All these were fortress towns with high walls, double gates, and bars, besides a great many villages. 6 And we utterly destroyed them, as we had done to King Sihon of Heshbon, in each city utterly destroying men, women, and children. 7 But all the livestock and the plunder of the towns we kept as spoil for ourselves.

 8 So at that time we took from the two kings of the Amorites the land beyond the Jordan, from the Wadi Arnon to Mount Hermon 9 (the Sidonians call Hermon Sirion, while the Amorites call it Senir),10 all the towns of the tableland, the whole of Gilead, and all of Bashan, as far as Salecah and Edrei, towns of Og’s kingdom in Bashan. 11 (Now only King Og of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. In fact his bed, an iron bed, can still be seen in Rabbah of the Ammonites. By the common cubit it is nine cubits long and four cubits wide.) 12 As for the land that we took possession of at that time, I gave to the Reubenites and Gadites the territory north of Aroer, that is on the edge of the Wadi Arnon, as well as half the hill country of Gilead with its towns, 13 and I gave to the half-tribe of Manasseh the rest of Gilead and all of Bashan, Og’s kingdom. (The whole region of Argob: all that portion of Bashan used to be called a land of Rephaim; 14 Jair the Manassite acquired the whole region of Argob as far as the border of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and he named them– that is, Bashan– after himself, Havvoth-jair, as it is to this day.) 15 To Machir I gave Gilead. 16 And to the Reubenites and the Gadites I gave the territory from Gilead as far as the Wadi Arnon, with the middle of the wadi as a boundary, and up to the Jabbok, the wadi being boundary of the Ammonites; 17 the Arabah also, with the Jordan and its banks, from Chinnereth down to the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, with the lower slopes of Pisgah on the east.

At the end of the previous chapter I spent a lot of time talking about the command of the LORD to the people of Israel to wipe out the people and take possession of the land of King Sihon. In chapter three we see the completion of this theme with the people now taking possession of the land of King Og of Bashan and the occupation of the land of the Amorites and the elimination of the people and the threat of these two kings.  There are some differences in this and the previous narrative, where King Sihon was offered terms of peace which, by God’s hardening of the king’s heart, King Sihon and his people refuse the terms of peace which are never offered to King Og as he and his people draw up battle lines against these Israelite invaders. There is a tension in Deuteronomy between the way that the people of Moab and the descendent of Esau are treated and the manner in which the Amorites will be, between the people who are to be the neighbor and those who are to be the enemy. Within Deuteronomy things that may evoke question are given definitive answer, the Ammonites are not the enemy but the Amorites are and for the Deuteronomist what is important is the obedience of the people. It is obedience that is the life and death issue for the people of Deuteronomy to understand. It is obedience that will separate them from their ancestors who failed to enter the Promised Land and who died in their sojourn in the desert. They are called to hear and obey the LORD and those the LORD is speaking through.  If we put aside for a moment the trouble that this passage may cause modern followers of the LORD for its practice of genocide, at least within the text, and look at what is happening to the people who are being prepared to cross the Jordan, who after a lost generation are preparing to take possession of the Promised Land. The things that caused the previous generation to turn away, the well fortified cities and the presence of people bigger and stronger than themselves are now proving to be insignificant obstacles as they quickly overcome the ‘giant king’ Og and the fortresses with high walls and double gates. The doubts and fears of the past are being overcome through the demonstration of the power of the people in the present.  The close relationship between God’s action of handing over Og and his lands is paired with the reality that there are real armies and fights that the people engage in, ‘we struck him down, we did not leave a single survivor, and we captured all his towns.’  As the people in the story follow they are seeing the concrete ways in which the LORD is working through them in this fight. As they stand at the edge of the Promised Land experiencing the first spoils of the conflict to come, they will find that they have experienced the LORD’s power precisely in the midst of their own perceived lack of strength. They can see in their own triumph the triumph of the LORD. And that in their own obedience they can see the blessing as the previous generation bore the curse of disobedience.

Deuteronomy 3: 18-22 the First Portion of the Land

 18 At that time, I charged you as follows: “Although the LORD your God has given you this land to occupy, all your troops shall cross over armed as the vanguard of your Israelite kin. 19 Only your wives, your children, and your livestock– I know that you have much livestock– shall stay behind in the towns that I have given to you. 20 When the LORD gives rest to your kindred, as to you, and they too have occupied the land that the LORD your God is giving them beyond the Jordan, then each of you may return to the property that I have given to you.” 21 And I charged Joshua as well at that time, saying: “Your own eyes have seen everything that the LORD your God has done to these two kings; so the LORD will do to all the kingdoms into which you are about to cross. 22 Do not fear them, for it is the LORD your God who fights for you.”

This portion receives a longer telling in Numbers 32, where the tribes of Reuben, Dan and the half tribe of Manasseh receive their inheritance on the eastern side of the Jordan River. The story alludes to what is explicit in the narrative in Numbers, that the people of Reuben and Dan raised more cattle which require plains with larger amounts of feed than the sheep that many of the other tribes predominantly raise. It is true that different types of livestock require different types of property which is why Bandera, Texas where my family lives in the hill country is more frequently used for raising goats and sheep while the vast areas of plains in Texas typically are used for cattle. It is interesting that there is no reason given why the half tribe of Manasseh (the two half tribes of Joseph’s sons which were both large were known by the son of Joseph’s name rather than the other tribes bearing the names of Joseph’s eleven brothers) is also given possession on the east side of the Jordan, but the primary concern of this and it’s parallel in Numbers is that the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh now that they have their land will not feel compelled to fight on behalf of the other ten and a half tribes.  The agreement is set that the warriors of these two and a half tribes are to be the vanguard, the troops at the front of the fight once the people are ready to cross the Jordan under Joshua and carry on the fight to take possession of the Promised Land. The people are to see the way the LORD has acted in their own time as well as the stories they have from their parent’s generation to see the way the LORD has provided for them up to this point and will continue to provide for them as the go forward to take possession of the land.

Deuteronomy 3: 23-29 Glimpses of the Promised Land

 23 At that time, too, I entreated the LORD, saying: 24 “O Lord GOD, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your might; what god in heaven or on earth can perform deeds and mighty acts like yours! 25 Let me cross over to see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and the Lebanon.” 26 But the LORD was angry with me on your account and would not heed me. The LORD said to me, “Enough from you! Never speak to me of this matter again! 27 Go up to the top of Pisgah and look around you to the west, to the north, to the south, and to the east. Look well, for you shall not cross over this Jordan. 28 But charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, because it is he who shall cross over at the head of this people and who shall secure their possession of the land that you will see.” 29 So we remained in the valley opposite Beth-peor.


Moses, as the leader of the people, has often stood between the people and God. There have been times throughout the story where God was ready to turn God’s back on the people and Moses would call upon God to be the God who would fulfill God’s end of the covenant even in the midst of the people’s continuing unfaithfulness. Moses enjoys a close relationship with God and has borne the weight of leadership for the people throughout this journey but will not be there to cross the Jordan. Moses again appeals to God, knowing God’s verdict from earlier in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 1.37) that Moses will not enter the land and yet as Moses has done before he calls upon God to change God’s mind. This time the LORD will not change course, Moses will not enter the land and Moses is commanded not to pray about this again but is, in concession, given a preview of the land. Climbing to the top of Pisgah, Moses is able to look out and see from a high point the lands that the people will enter. This is a part of the transition of leadership and power from Moses to Joshua. Moses is the one who has stood between the people and God, who led them out of slavery, through the wilderness and to the edge of the Promised Land but Moses is now linked with the disobedience of the previous generation. Even though Moses may not have been the one who was disobedient he is pulled down in the weight of the disobedience of the people of that generation.  Moses’ role now becomes to lift up the leadership of Joshua, to encourage and strengthen him for the conflict ahead and to pass on one final exhortation to the people so that they may know how to live as the people of God in a new day. Moses bears the cost of the disobedience of the previous generation and now he must charge the new generation to choose the blessings of obedience and not the curse of disobedience. Blessing and curses, life and death, prosperity and famine lie in the choices the people must make in his absence. Until now he has been their leader, their judge, their advocate and the one who could stand between them and the LORD. Now the people must take on these promises and the possibilities of new life for themselves.

Uninspired- A Playful Poem

I want to be productive and there is plenty I could do
It’s just that I don’t have the drive to start on something new
It’s not that I feel bad or sad or depressed or anything like that
But everything for this week is done and my inspiration is flat
The week’s tasks are through and my mind it wants to play
And yet the weekends is not here yet and so I try to work away
Perhaps the poem is a waste of time, perhaps a little fun
But nothing else is getting done until its path has run
I sure my inspiration will be back and perhaps sometime soon
Perhaps it only needs a little break and will be back this afternoon
Or perhaps it took a holiday, a little flight to sea
Wherever it went, the trip it took, I wish it would take me

 Neil White, 2015

Clocks by Azoz7 on

Clocks by Azoz7 on

Snow Day    

Snow day

The snow and the ice bring the wheels of civilization creaking to a halt
And for a day the factories and the machines enjoy a Sabbath
Yet, I in my imagined self-importance somehow feel propelled
To continue to work while others rest, to labor while others play
To allow that the snow and the ice afford an opportunity for others
Except me, that somehow I convince myself that there is no day of rest

And perhaps there is wisdom that one can only enter the mystery of the kingdom
If one can approach it as a child, one who can learn again to play where others see obstruction
To learn to delight in the world as it is and not to continually try to bend it to one’s will
Perhaps on these days where the roads are empty and sidewalks covered
We can learn again to rest and play, to restore and renew
And perhaps for myself somehow I can convince myself that there is a day of rest

Neil White, 2015

Deuteronomy 2: The Warrior God

 Deuteronomy 2: 1-25 ‘Here There Once Were Giants’

(After you has stayed at Kadesh as many days as you did) we journeyed back into the wilderness, in the direction of the Red Sea, as the LORD had told me and skirted Mount Seir for many days. 2 Then the LORD said to me: 3 “You have been skirting this hill country long enough. Head north, 4 and charge the people as follows: You are about to pass through the territory of your kindred, the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. They will be afraid of you, so, be very careful 5 not to engage in battle with them, for I will not give you even so much as a foot’s length of their land, since I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession. 6 You shall purchase food from them for money, so that you may eat; and you shall also buy water from them for money, so that you may drink. 7 Surely the LORD your God has blessed you in all your undertakings; he knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing.” 8 So we passed by our kin, the descendants of Esau who live in Seir, leaving behind the route of the Arabah, and leaving behind Elath and Ezion-geber.

When we had headed out along the route of the wilderness of Moab, 9 the LORD said to me: “Do not harass Moab or engage them in battle, for I will not give you any of its land as a possession, since I have given Ar as a possession to the descendants of Lot.” 10 (The Emim– a large and numerous people, as tall as the Anakim– had formerly inhabited it. 11 Like the Anakim, they are usually reckoned as Rephaim, though the Moabites call them Emim. 12 Moreover, the Horim had formerly inhabited Seir, but the descendants of Esau dispossessed them, destroying them and settling in their place, as Israel has done in the land that the LORD gave them as a possession.) 13 “Now then, proceed to cross over the Wadi Zered.”

So we crossed over the Wadi Zered. 14 And the length of time we had traveled from Kadesh-barnea until we crossed the Wadi Zered was thirty-eight years, until the entire generation of warriors had perished from the camp, as the LORD had sworn concerning them. 15 Indeed, the LORD’s own hand was against them, to root them out from the camp, until all had perished.

16 Just as soon as all the warriors had died off from among the people, 17 the LORD spoke to me, saying, 18 “Today you are going to cross the boundary of Moab at Ar. 19 When you approach the frontier of the Ammonites, do not harass them or engage them in battle, for I will not give the land of the Ammonites to you as a possession, because I have given it to the descendants of Lot.” 20 (It also is usually reckoned as a land of Rephaim. Rephaim formerly inhabited it, though the Ammonites call them Zamzummim, 21 a strong and numerous people, as tall as the Anakim. But the LORD destroyed them from before the Ammonites so that they could dispossess them and settle in their place. 22 He did the same for the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir, by destroying the Horim before them so that they could dispossess them and settle in their place even to this day.23 As for the Avvim, who had lived in settlements in the vicinity of Gaza, the Caphtorim, who came from Caphtor, destroyed them and settled in their place.) 24 “Proceed on your journey and cross the Wadi Arnon. See, I have handed over to you King Sihon the Amorite of Heshbon, and his land. Begin to take possession by engaging him in battle. 25 This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you upon the peoples everywhere under heaven; when they hear report of you, they will tremble and be in anguish because of you.”

Sometimes when people ask me, “What does the bible say about this?” they assume that the Bible only speaks with one voice or has one answer and as a pastor I have to be sensitive to the situation the person is asking from how I answer the question. If the person is at a safe place where they can deal with the dialogue and variety of perspectives that emerge from the sixty six books collected together to form the Bible that many Christians use (Catholics and Orthodox would also include some additional books like Baruch, Wisdom of Solomon, 1&2 Maccabees and others as a part of their cannon) and I typically can do this in a way that allows the person to enter the questions of the people of God and their interaction with God. There are times of trauma and crisis where a person needs an immediate and certain answer to hold on to. Whether Deuteronomy emerges from its narrative context, where Moses is addressing the people of Israel prior to entering Israel, or as many scholars believe the trauma of the Babylonian exile, where all the things that once defined them have been taken away, it speaks from this need of an immediate and certain answer. For the author of Deuteronomy there are some bedrock truths that they want their readers in a situation of crisis to understand: God has been faithful, God is powerful and will act on their behalf and their previous defeats prior to entering the promised land were due to the unfaithfulness of their ancestors. There is strength and there is danger to this level of certainty and I will deal with the danger and the need for the broader perspective of scripture in the second half of this chapter.

Map Showing the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah in the 9th Century BCE

Map Showing the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah in the 9th Century BCE

The narrative that Deuteronomy leads us into has the people journeying peacefully through the lands of Seir, Moab and the Ammonites. Rather than approaching from the south as was done in chapter one the people move through these lands peacefully to approach from the east. There are a few really interesting things that the narrative highlights and the first is that there are other people who have land that has been given to them by the LORD. The descendants of Lot, who are distant kin according to Genesis; Esau, who are closer kin according to Genesis, both have land that has been entrusted to their heirs and even though these descendants of Lot and Esau presumably do not know the LORD, the LORD has enabled them to overcome whatever prevented them from coming into possession of the land. A new player is also introduced into the narrative, the Caphtorim who come from Caphtor, who are not mentioned in Genesis as having any link with the Hebrew people, instead they will become the Philistines who will factor into the later story of Israel, but as the prophet Amos will later state they too have a place given by the LORD:

                Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel? Says the LORD.
                Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor
                And the Arameans from Kir? Amos 9:7

And in the midst of the fear the people on this journey must be facing, Moses in the narrative reassures them over and over again that the LORD is not merely their tribal God but something much more. The LORD was able to bring them out of Egypt and settle all of these people because their LORD is a God above all gods.

The other side of this is that the narrative also lets us know that Israel is not the only people that the LORD is concerned with. As Walter Brueggemann says, “there are other communities on the horizon of YHWH’s specific beneficence. Israel’s entitlement gives it no permit to disrupt the entitlement of another people by YHWH.” (Brueggemann, 2001, p. 35f) This beneficence may or may not have been well received, but in the narrative the people journey onward peacefully through these lands. For the time being the most important thing is not their approval or disapproval but their obedience.

In the midst of this journey they have been provided with everything they have needed. They have the resources to pay for food and water for this part of their journey. They were able to barter for what they would need because, as throughout their sojourn in the wilderness, the LORD had provided for them. Another aspect of the LORD’s control in this narrative is the disposition of the people towards Israel. They are afraid and it is the LORD that has made them afraid but it is a fear that allows them to pass through the land without resistance rather than a fear that resorts to fighting and conflict. They walk through the lands of these former giant slayers and the giant slayers are afraid of them.

In Deuteronomy 1 their ancestor’s confidence failed when there were rumors of giants in the land.

The people are stronger and taller than we; the cities are large and fortified up to heaven! We actually saw there the offspring of the Anakim!” Deuteronomy 1. 28

The route prior to entering the conflict in the land leads them through the lands that were once possessed by related groups of giant people who were numerous but are no more. There were once giants here but the LORD worked with these other peoples to drive them out and if the LORD protected them, how much more will he protect the people who have this specific covenant with the God who took them out of Egypt, through the wilderness and now again to the precipice of the promised land. The narrative has done everything it can to build confidence and trust among the people as they prepare for the conflict ahead.


Deuteronomy 2: 26-37 The Defeat Of King Sihon And The Slaughter Of The People Of The Land

26 So I sent messengers from the wilderness of Kedemoth to King Sihon of Heshbon with the following terms of peace: 27 “If you let me pass through your land, I will travel only along the road; I will turn aside neither to the right nor to the left. 28 You shall sell me food for money, so that I may eat, and supply me water for money, so that I may drink. Only allow me to pass through on foot– 29 just as the descendants of Esau who live in Seir have done for me and likewise the Moabites who live in Ar– until I cross the Jordan into the land that the LORD our God is giving us.” 30 But King Sihon of Heshbon was not willing to let us pass through, for the LORD your God had hardened his spirit and made his heart defiant in order to hand him over to you, as he has now done.

31 The LORD said to me, “See, I have begun to give Sihon and his land over to you. Begin now to take possession of his land.” 32 So when Sihon came out against us, he and all his people for battle at Jahaz, 33 the LORD our God gave him over to us; and we struck him down, along with his offspring and all his people. 34 At that time we captured all his towns, and in each town we utterly destroyed men, women, and children. We left not a single survivor. 35 Only the livestock we kept as spoil for ourselves, as well as the plunder of the towns that we had captured. 36 From Aroer on the edge of the Wadi Arnon (including the town that is in the wadi itself) as far as Gilead, there was no citadel too high for us. The LORD our God gave everything to us. 37 You did not encroach, however, on the land of the Ammonites, avoiding the whole upper region of the Wadi Jabbok as well as the towns of the hill country, just as the LORD our God had charged.

One of the earliest heresies the early Christian church has to deal with was the followers of Marcion (more on Marcion and some of the early heresies of the church here) who could not reconcile the warrior God presented here and in many other places throughout the scriptures with the God he had come to know in Jesus Christ. Marcion approached the scriptures from a Greek perspective and wanted everything to line up systematically and give us easy answers. There can be great strength in a unified vision and a common cause but we also know all too well the dangers of such absolutism. This is a passage that will offend and I think should offend us and make us ask questions and go back to the scriptures and the dialogue they present and many other passages as we discern what God’s calling is for us at any given time. There are many places in the Old Testament where God seems to call for genocide and this is one. There are also many times where Christians have felt justified in their attempts to wipe out another people or persecute them because of a different religion or a different culture. I wrestled with this question much earlier when I was going through the book of Esther here.

We have the scriptures we have and as uncomfortable as this passage may be it is a part of our scriptures and our stories. I would rather wrestle with what is uncomfortable than ignore it. The image of the warrior God can be a great source of strength for people who are oppressed. Luther’s ‘A Mighty Fortress’ comes out of this picture of God and it is not a coincidence that the narrative that many of the preachers of the civil rights movement went back to was the people of Israel being led by the warrior God out of Egypt and to the promised land. I served for five years as a soldier prior to beginning my training for ministry and we live in a different time but the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan opened our eyes again to the challenge of close warfare. In contrast with the conflict in 1991 where it was a maneuver war fought primarily with airpower and artillery and armored vehicles firing at long range, in both Iraq and Afghanistan this long term conflict involved infantry and non-uniformed combatants in close quarters with urban populations. This is a type of conflict that quickly becomes ugly and distasteful, there is no glory in this type of war and many of the technological advantages become neutralized. I think if nothing else these conflicts have reminded us that war is an ugly, brutal and costly thing in lives and longer term psychological damage. The experiences of the Holocaust, Bosnia, and Rwanda have reminded us of what genocide looks like. We come to passages like this where the people strike down men, women and children leaving no survivors and it makes us wonder why, and that is a question we cannot answer satisfactorily.

I also worry about inscribing our values on the lives and times of ancient peoples. As I have told my congregation many times, “we are offended by the violence of ISIS when they behead people, but we need to understand that in the ancient world beheading was an honorable death. We should be horrified by it now, but it also reflects where our world has come.” The ancient world was a brutal place and the scriptures are a part of that world and will reflect that world. The God of Israel is a loving God but not a controllable one. Perhaps a line from the chronicles of Narnia fits here, when Lucy is wondering about Aslan she asks if he is safe, and the response is ‘Safe! He is a lion, of course he is not safe, but he is good.’ And perhaps that may be all the resolution we can come to as we approach the LORD as presented throughout the Exodus narrative. The LORD is good and passionate and hears the people but they never mistake the LORD is safe and perhaps as we go through the narrative we need this side of the LORD’s presence which complements our too easy accommodation to a God who is safe and doesn’t intervene in our world.

Approaching the scriptures is not easy. To hold together the God who hardened the heart of King Sihon , like Pharoah, and prevented peace here with what St. Paul labels God as the God of peace (Romans 15.33) is challenging and some would say impossible. Others will need to come up with systems to contain what God is like, but the God of scriptures always challenges any easy answers. This is a part of the mystery of faith and the journey of faith that we make with God. There will be times where we understand and times where we don’t but as a part of the people of this story and the story of the cross I pray for the wisdom to pray for both the people of Israel and the people of Sihon, to love my neighbor and my enemy. This is one of the many images of God that I have come to know, but for me it is not the dominant one.

The Rejected Kingdom- A Sermon on the Crucifixion in Mark’s Gospel

Time Heal All Wounds, by

Time Heal All Wounds, by


33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” Mark 15: 33-39

When I began seminary one of the first books that I was required to read was Gerd Theissen’s The Shadow of the Galilean which follows Andreas, a first century merchant who kept walking through the places where Jesus had been, hearing the echoes of his passing, seeing the effects that he had on people. He never meets Jesus while before the crucifixion but I enjoyed this scholars attempt to wonder what it might be like on the ground in ancient Palestine at the time of Jesus. Through the story the author tries to figure out who is this Jesus and why did he die, and those are questions that Christians and others who live in the wake of this Galilean have wondered for two thousand years. In the words of the Appalachian carol ‘I Wonder As I Wander’

I wonder as I wander, out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die
For poor ord’n’ry people like you and like I.
I wonder as I wander, out under the sky.

And each of the gospels wonder as they wander with Jesus, narrating his story in their own way. They pull on their experiences, on the stories they’ve heard, on the things they’ve seen, on the world they understand in light of their scriptures and they call us into the mystery as well. So as we wonder about the cross and why Jesus did die we come to Mark’s gospel and one answer, and that is that God had a dream that was rejected. Jesus comes and proclaims that the kingdom of God is at hand, that God has a vision for the world and that because of this the world was changing. It was not a new dream, the prophets had pointed to it, the psalms sang of it, and the law envisioned it, but just as the people had never accepted the prophets in their own time they did not receive the son. But why would people reject this dream? Why would they turn away from God’s calling and desire? Why would they choose something else than the kingdom of God?

Well in part because this dream challenged the reality had grown up experiencing. It challenged people’s practices, how they could judge and exclude one another, who they could ignore, who they could exploit. It challenged the temple and the religious, for healing was coming from a source other than them. Jesus didn’t do the right things, hang out with the right people, and show the right people the proper deference. Who did he think he was? It challenged the Romans and the powerful of the day, it didn’t believe that a person’s value was based on their power or position, it didn’t occupy strongholds or build armies but it did undercut the threat of violence. It challenged the rich and the wealthy because it told people to place their trust not in wealth or possessions or land but instead in the presence of God who had come down to be a part of the world. It called people away from their trades, their homes, their families and their lives. It made lepers clean and allowed the blind to see and yet those with eyes to see and ears to hear were few indeed. It lifted up the weak and the widow, the outcast and the orphan, the foreigner and the forgotten. It imagined a place where the first where last and the last were first where people found a new community in being gathered together around this Galilean. It taught people to love and that aroused hate.

Why did Jesus die, well on the ground level there are a number of answers: fear, power, authority, security. The religious of Jesus’ day felt that he was a blasphemer and a heretic, the Romans crucified him as a rebel and he dies on a cross viewed as a traitor to both Israel and Rome. He dies because the dream was rejected, the kingdom cast aside and its king crowned with thorns. Jesus dies to kill the messenger and destroy the message. Crucified to erase his honor, name and memory from all traces of history. But in this crazy dream where the first are last and the last are first, where the irony of Jesus’ mocking title hung over him on the cross is somehow true, where one consigned to be forgotten becomes remembered far beyond any other figure of any day or time, this mystery of the message lives on in us. We are those who come today and wonder as we wander out under the sky, how Jesus the Savior did come for to die. And while there are many answers to this question and what happened on this day will continue to defy our attempts to lock it down and so we come together and we wonder about the mystery of the cross and the one who went to the cross. We learn to dream God’s dreams, to live in God’s kingdoms, and to be transformed by the message and the messenger who died on the cross and yet live.