Transfiguration Sunday 2019: The Old Testament Passage – Questioning the text

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” (Exodus 34:29)

I needed to pause here, beloved reader, to make sure I understood the direction and/or cause of Moses’s shining face – that it shone because he had been practically face to face with the Divine; or he was not aware of the shine because he was so busy being in the Presence of the Divine. And actually, it was probably both – although biblical commentators adhere to the first explanation.

“When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them.” (Verses 30 – 31)

I also have to stop and wonder why Aaron and the Israelites thought when they saw Moses face, and why were they afraid. What might have Moses said to calm their fears? And did the Divine cause Moses’ face to glow in order to instill proper respect for Moses and the Divine? We know that Moses had been having a hard time keeping the Israelites focused on obeying the commandments that the Divine had set down. And keeping them focused to be the called and chosen people.

“Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.” (Verses 32 – 35)

Moses, in a sense, continued to remind the Israelites that he had been talking to the Divine. While residing with them in every day life, he kept his face covered. But after communing with the Divine, he showed them the evidence of his interactions with the Lord. And I have to wonder why. What was he trying to prove? Or was he not trying to prove anything? Did he not fully appreciate the effect it had on the Israelites?

I guess concerning this passage, I have more questions than answers. What I do know for certain, however, is that it is a very good passage for Transfiguration Sunday. And maybe by the time we get to the Gospel passage I will have some answers to my questions. Shalom!


Season After Pentecost (Proper 13[18]) – The Old Testament Passage: Temptations and sins of all shapes and sizes

Talk about being between a rock and a hard place – in the Old Testament passage where King David’s story is being told, we hear about David bringing Bathsheba into the palace, her giving birth to a son, and then David being confronted by the prophet Nathan concerning his sin against Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband. The other Old Testament passage is where “the whole congregation of the Israelites” were upset with Moses and Aaron. Now, beloved reader, who would you rather be confronted by? A prophet of God, or the disgruntled Israelites in the desert who had no food and very little drink. Me personally, I don’t think I would want to face down either one!

Now, King David knew he was in the wrong; the prophet Nathan told an allegory about David taking Uriah’s wife. When David heard it he was inflamed . . .

Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” (II Samuel 12:5 – 6)

And when confronted with the realization that it was he was guilty,

David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” (Verse 13a)

Now you have to understand, beloved reader, the prophet Nathan had a tremendous tirade against King David, basically saying that David as a king and as a man will be disgraced somewhere down the road.

I have been thinking about David a lot; and a great deal about David being a man after God’s own heart. Maybe the correct direction was David constantly seeking God, rather than God always approving of David. But, let us not leave Moses and Aaron hanging.

“The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Exodus 16:2 – 3)

You know, compared to the Israelites, David is looking pretty good. I mean, they would rather have died in captivity and slavery than to be free and able to live out their lives as they chose? I guess the Divine was practicing patience long before King David came along.

“Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. . . The LORD spoke to Moses and said,”I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.” (Verses 4, 9 – 12)

These were the Lord God’s called and chosen people. From the time forward, from the Exodus to the coming of Jesus, the people of God were reminded of how much God had done for them. Yet each generation forgot, or neglected to pass on to the next generation the appreciation and adoration that was due to the Lord. Yes, I know that I have professed some reluctance to praise on demand. But I have not lodged complaints against Lord because I have found myself in dire situations. Nor have I taken advantage of my position in life to abscond with another’s possessions.

Oh I have committed sin in my life – don’t think I am a saint. Each of us has our weak points – temptations that appear before us that we cannot and do not deny ourselves, or fleshpots and conveniences that we place more importance on than we should. And when our weak points become pitfalls we often need the reminder of what we have done and what we should do better.

May you, beloved reader, overcome your weak points and remain strong against sin and temptation. Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 25 [30]): The Old Testament Passage – Moses lays down his tasks and calling

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the LORD showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain — that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees — as far as Zoar.” (Deuteronomy 34:1 – 3)

I have had opportunities of going up small and large hills to look over the land below.

This is not a picture of a place close to where I live, but it does look a lot like the biblical lands of Moses might. Some places still do not show much signs of bustling civilization.

“The LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” (Verse 4)

Somewhere in Numbers (chapter 20:12 actually) it explains why Moses did not get to take God’s people into the new land. It was because Moses did not strictly adhere to God’s instructions. And it is one of the things in the Old Testament that puzzles me – that is, why the Lord God is portrayed one way in the Old Testament and another way in the New Testament. But it is not our task today to figure that out.

“Then Moses, the servant of the LORD, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated.” (Verses 5 – 7)

I think in one respect it is a mercy that Moses did not cross over to the new land. Moses’ task under God was a specific one, and once accomplished he was given eternal rest.

“The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended. Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the LORD had commanded Moses.” (Verse 8 – 9)

I’ll bet that was a tough 30 days. Moses had often gone up to hear from God, and this time he just did not come back. Moses was told back in chapter 32 that he would die up on the mountain. One has to assume he told the Israelites, if the writer of Deuteronomy knew what happened. The mantle of leadership passed, and the people prepared for their new life.

Moses was remembered as a great prophet. He was a human prophet. And just as the Hebrews who were liberated from Egypt struggled to learn how to live as God’s people, Moses struggled to learn how to live as God’s prophet. The lessons that can be learned from a prophet are not just how to live perfectly, but how to evolve into a man of God. Where we read stories of the prophets, pay attention to where their struggles were and how they overcame them. Pay attention also to how God provides opportunities for growth for the Lord’s prophets. When things are tough and the tasks before you seem insurmountable, remember that your strength and ability is not the only thing that overcome the obstacles. God will provide. Selah!

“Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.” (Verses 10 – 12)

Season after Pentecost (Proper 23 [28]): The Old Testament Passage – A break down in communication and covenant

When we last left the Israelites, they had received from Moses the verbal Ten Commandments. The verses from last week’s RCL were not very clear that it was the verbal commandments as opposed to those written in stone. The mountain rumbled and the people were afraid. Moses tried to calm their fears, saying that the Lord God is placing fear within them so they would not sin. Then Moses went back up the mountain and received further instructions as to how the Lord’s called and chosen people should live – chapters 21 to 31. And while Moses was getting the refined and extensive commandments that covered all aspects of living, the Israelites were left alone.

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”
So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron.
He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”
When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD.”
They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.” (Exodus 32:1 – 6)

It would be easy, very easy, to easy to cast blame. Maybe the rumbling of the mountain scared the people and made the long for a more approachable god. Maybe Moses should not have put the “fear” of God in the Israelites. Maybe Aaron should not have given into temptation to be the “man with the golden plan.” Maybe a lot of things. It has been said many times by many people that the Old Testament is the story of a very imperfect people being formed and details all the mistakes and missteps of that story. Most likely a similar story could be told/written about our modern generations. In both cases it is important to remember that not all the people present at that time were all bad, or all good. When we hear stories of those who have gone astray, we mistakenly thought everyone went astray. And when we hear stories of people who have been completely faithful, we mistakenly think everyone was faithful. Humanity has been and will always be – a mixed bag.

“The LORD said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'”
The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”
But Moses implored the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?
Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people.
Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'”
And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.” (Verses 7 – 14)

It is interesting, is it not beloved reader, that Moses pleads with God for mercy, and the Almighty, Eternal, Omni-Everything Lord is persuaded by a weak fallible human. There is something kinda weird here. I do not get much support from my favorite commentator, nor any other commentator for that matter. Barnes says this incident was a test to Moses as to which mattered to him more; the people he was leading or finding favor as the start of a new nation. And I struggle with this, beloved reader. I do. I have always felt a disconnect between the way God is portrayed in the Old Testament and the way the Lord God is portrayed in the New Testament.

But the reason it bothers me so much is that at times people (ie believers) prevail upon the stern authoritative God for something and the gentle yielding God for others. Here God is swayed by Moses, yet we are to believe that God’s rage is a test for Moses? The Lord God threatens destruction for the Israelites that he saved just to prove a point to Moses? I can see where the commentators scramble to make sense of it. And I can understand why they search for a reason and rationale. I don’t have any definitive answer, but am left with questions. That is okay. Next week we will continue the story of the Israelite’s journey, and discern and ponder on what we find there. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 22 [27]): The Old Testament Passage – When the laws came down

Then God spoke all these words: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; . . .” (Exodus 20:1 – 2)

When we have been looking at the psalms passages, a common theme had been praising the Lord for what the Divine did for the Israelites when the Divine took them out of Egypt, saved from the Pharaoh’s army and provided for them in the desert. In return, the Divine had certain expectations and guidelines for them. We as modern Christians have taken them on as our guidelines.

“. . . you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Verses 3 – 4)

This, I think, was a consequence of the golden calf made by the Israelites when they desired something more tangible to focus worship on. It did not end well. In more modern times we have taken this as a warning not to make anything more important or more worthy of worship than the Lord God. Success at doing this, or not putting something in place of the Lord God, has had mixed success.

“You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.” (Verse 7)

Through the generations the Jews (or at least certain segments of Jews) have been very scrupulous about honoring the name of the Lord God. We modern believers have tried, in varying amounts of success, to keep the Lord God’s name holy.

“Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work.” (Verses 8 – 9)

There has been some discussion as to when the Sabbath falls – the first day of the week, Sunday, honoring the day when Jesus arose. Or the seventh day of the week, Saturday, that is incorporated into our week as the day when God would have rested from creation. Additionally, there is discussion and mixed opinion as to how the Sabbath is kept holy.

“Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Verse 12)

Again, differences of opinion have made murky what this commandment would mean. And yes, beloved reader, it is a trend you are seeing. While Moses brought the commandments straight down from the mountain, they have been commented on, paraphrased, and re-worked to keep up with the current understandings. So for this commandment, the discussion has been how to honor your parents? What does than mean in pragmatic terms? And what if one’s parents are not people who are honorable?

“You shall not murder.” (Verse 13)

Then there are commandments that would seem to be very clear. And even then they are tweaked and refined to incorporate practices from one generation, civilization and nation to another.

“You shall not commit adultery.” (Verse 14)

Sometimes it seems that the very commandments that seem so clear and exact are the ones that are ignored by so many people.

To digress just a little – I was at the public library the other day, and a fellow patron spotted a DVD of the Ten Commandments a la Cecil B DeMille. She made a comment to a friend that she had never seen the movie. I wanted to tell her it is something that I think everyone should see just once. Especially I think as I write this, the scene where the commandments are set down in stone, and then brought down the mountain. That scene I think restores a lot of honor to commandments that seen to have gotten wishy-washy over the years.

“You shall not steal.” (Verse 15)

Where has the impetus gone in obeying these very clearly set out guidelines and directions. Whole civilizations have been founded on the premise that these rules are important, and have been incorporated into laws. And governing bodies have been set up to make sure the laws are followed, and those acting counter to the laws have been punished. Many historians (amongst others) believe that societies start to crumble and be dismantled with these laws are ignored.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Verse 16)

And yet people disobey theses rules and laws right and left, and come up with all kinds of reasons, excuses, and logical rationale that it is okay to disobey these rules.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Verse 17)

The thing is, Jesus made these rules even more binding than when Moses delivered them. The Israelites who became the Jews as the centuries passed found ways to get around the spirit and intent of the law. As did Christians. History is more rife with people who flouted the rules and laws than those who obeyed them. Admittedly, I am getting quite pessimistic about humanity’s success, or lack of success, in keeping these laws. The judgment as to what is and is not sin is largely based on these laws. We can say it is when the Lord God is disobeyed, but the disobedience in large part is measured by these laws. Paul had a great deal to say about “laws” and their effectiveness in governing behalf. However, we are not in the New Testament but in the Old.

“When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” (Verses 18 – 20)

The Israelites present at the bottom of the mountain where the laws were handed down had a pretty good view of the seriousness involved. Perhaps more so than any group of people since. They had a pretty good idea of what the basis was for establishing these rules. Perhaps their former life in Egypt had been in stark contrast to these rules. Maybe we also have known times and places where life has been lived out in stark contrast and defiance of these rules and laws.

As I have read through this passage again, and thought about how the ten commandments are perceived by us in our modern times, it occurs to me that we have much less fear than the Israelites did at the bottom of the mountain. And maybe that is a significant difference. We are not afraid. More the fools us!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 21 [26]): The Old Testament Passage – Lost in the desert and really thirsty

“From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.” (Exodus 17:1)

For a while now I have been focusing on the Israelites as they journeyed from Egypt to the land that the Lord God had promised them. And I don’t just mean that the RCL has caused that focus. What I mean is that my focus has been on what the Israelites have been doing and saying. Of course they are weary and unsure of what the future will hold. They are not sure how to relate to this Yahweh, this Adonay, who is leading them. There ancestors of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are far removed from them. And Joseph enjoyed the comforts of Egypt (eventually) while they only knew the whip hand of their overlords and slave drivers. To hear them tell it, that was better than desert. But there is also Moses, who interprets what the “new” Lord God wants, and mediates the Divine’s message to them. What do they think of him? And how is Moses acting towards them?

“The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” (Verse 2)

Some time back, Moses came down the mountain from communing with God, and Moses’ face glowed. It so unnerved the Israelites that Moses had to hide his face. I am not sure at this writing if Moses’ face was still covered. It seems a lot of times in this passages Moses has aligned himself with God; that is, he and God are guiding the people through the desert. And I have to wonder how the Israelites were separating out in their own minds the difference between the messenger of God and the Lord God the Divine.

“But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” (Verses 3 – 4)

And as I ponder on these things, I have to think back to Moses encountering the burning bush. And how Moses was kind of reluctant at being drawn into this rescue mission of God’s. Moses had his encounter with the Divine then, and during the exodus in the desert. The Israelites had not seen the power of the Divine except through what Moses did.

“The LORD said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.” (Verses 5 – 6)

I do not mean to point fingers at anyone, really. But I can see things from the perspective of the Israelites. They are far from home, in “sketchy” conditions, and relying on an old man who gets testy with them. A few days ago I was commenting on one of the psalms that we a praise to God for delivering the Israelites from the Egyptians and shepherding them through the trials of the desert. Very good hindsight. But today, we are in the moment (or at least in the moment with the Israelites). And things have been pretty shaky. I can relate to that.

“He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Verse 7)

It is a question that many have asked – is the Lord with us or not? Nations, armies, and generations have asked, does the Divine have our back or not? When things are hard going, and the odds are against us – is the Lord with us? Sure, we will be able to know in hindsight. But what about in the “now”? May you, beloved reader, find your own answer to that question. Shalom!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 20 [25]): The Psalm Passage – When praise of the Lord God does NOT alter behavior

O give thanks to the LORD, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
O offspring of his servant Abraham, children of Jacob, his chosen ones.” (Psalm 105:1 – 6)

Not exactly a good match to the Old Testament passage for this week. As you remember the Israelites were complaining about being out in the desert, the lack of food and water, and remembering how much better the living conditions were in Egypt. But in the collective memory of the Israelites, when the psalms were being written, the Lord God was praised because NOW the Israelites were well established and living in comfort . . . according to those times.

“Then he brought Israel out with silver and gold, and there was no one among their tribes who stumbled.
Egypt was glad when they departed, for dread of them had fallen upon it.
He spread a cloud for a covering, and fire to give light by night.
They asked, and he brought quails, and gave them food from heaven in abundance.
He opened the rock, and water gushed out; it flowed through the desert like a river.” (Verses 37 – 41)

Forgotten also were the days of uncertainty, and the fears they had beside the Red Sea. Gone also the fear of snakes and other tough lessons that the early Israelites had to learn. How is it (many times) that after tough times are past, and we collectively look back, we gloss over the hardships and suffering and remember only the good things? I suspect it is a survival instinct thing. And also, we were not the ones who actually went through the suffering but only hear the stories that came out of it.

“For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham, his servant.
So he brought his people out with joy, his chosen ones with singing.
He gave them the lands of the nations, and they took possession of the wealth of the peoples,
that they might keep his statutes and observe his laws. Praise the LORD! “ (Verses 42 – 45)

I also think that psalms like this assure, inspire, and remind us that others were in peril and had problems, and God was faithful to them. So the logical conclusion is that the Lord God will be faithful to us. But . . . if that is so, why did the later Israelites go so astray from the Lord God that had delivered and kept their forebearers safe while journeying through the desert? Why did not the collective memory of that hold the later Israelites in faithful worship to God? Furthermore, why does it not work in our current generation (that is, humanity collectively), this looking back to praise what God had done?

It seems, just as I have said previously about the early Israelites, each generation for themselves has to learn the lessons of following the Lord God, and Jesus Christ. While we have scripture and the stories of our spiritual forebearers, the lessons there do not always translate to our current situation. And if I can be bold enough to say, I think it is writers like myself and others who serve to remind us of past lessons from the lives of others and encourage us to incorporate those lessons into our own lives. And if that is true, I am humbled that my writings might be used in that way. I often times write as much for my own edification as for others.

May you, beloved reader, heed the lessons from generations ago. May the praise that is offered up to the Lord remind you of the blessings that come from living according to Jesus Christ’s example to us. Selah!