Numbers Chapter 16

Three guys took a group of two hundred fifty Israelites to tell Moses that they were just as holy as everyone else in the congregation. Moses told them to prepare their censers with incense and gather at the tent of meeting when God will decide who is holy and who isn’t.

This is another chapter of repetition as the same things are repeated at least twice. The paragraphs following the order above is the action being carried out in the same amount of detail instead of the author saying, “and they did just that.” Is that easier? Maybe I’ll rewrite the Bible and call it the Plain, Everyday Language EditionTM.

Anyway, long story short, the two hundred fifty-three men show up armed with censers and are ready for a smoke-off with Aaron and Moses for God’s affection. Well, God already picked his winner and it’s Moses. The families and possessions of the families of the three men, including slaves and animals were swallowed up by the earth and sent down to Sheol alive.

I was reading another of the tracts that were sent to me by a SecretSatanTM and according to the author of that tract, Sheol is Hell. According to Hebrew scholars, it is not, it is sort of a (my term) waiting room for the dead. Guess which one I tend to believe more? (if you’re new here, the answer is the Hebrew scholar).

Continuing on, God isn’t done killing people. After the first wave of death, Eleazar gathered up the now holy censers and pounded them out as another decoration for the altar. This was to remind everyone that only a descendant of Aaron is permitted to offer incense to God. Well, the rest of the congregation didn’t like the fact that the earth opened and swallowed up all those people, so they let it be known. And God, who is a reasonable and thoughtful listener of complaints…who am I kidding? God started killing all of them until Aaron stepped between God and the congregation to make atonement for the people. Anyway, more than fourteen thousand died before Aaron could light up the censer. So I’m guessing that somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen thousand people died in that chapter.

Questions For Atheists Answered

From time to time, I will run across questions from religious folks to atheists. Most of them contain many of the same questions, but seeing as how this is my first time posting any of these, they might be all new to you. Seeing as how I’m an atheist, I decided to try answering some of these. These questions come from Cornerstone Church Kingston in the United Kingdom.

Question 1. How do you know there is no God?

Short answer. I don’t.  OK, I’ll give a longer answer. My first question, if I was asked this point-blank without knowledge of my interlocuter, would be, “What do you mean by god?” since many people have their own ideas about god, so I would have to find which faith tradition he/she belongs to.

Since I can tell from the website that this is an evangelical Christian church, I feel safe in assuming that they mean the God of the Bible. First of all, as an atheist, I do not assert that there is no God. I don’t believe in God or gods, it’s really that simple. However, I feel rather confident saying that I know the God of the Bible does not exist simply because he is an amalgam of contradictions. As I am slowly making my way through the Old Testament, I am wondering where this idea of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, and all-loving God comes from. It certainly isn’t this book (I am familiar enough with the rest of the Bible to make this assertion).

Question 2. Where did everything come from?

I’m an electronics technician, not a cosmologist or astrophysicist. Apparently, as an atheist, I am required to know the origins of the universe, the galaxy, the solar system, the planet, the continents, life, species, and everything else. In my day to day life I give very little thought to origins of anything except a) my paycheck, and b) my next meal. This is usually posed as a gotcha question because science doesn’t have all the answers, so it must be the God of the Bible who poofed everything into existence. My answer to this question is, “I don’t know.” And that is a perfectly suitable answer.

Question 3. Why are there human beings?

See my above answer.

Question 4. What is the point of life?

This question is asking about the purpose or meaning of life. I believe that we assign our own meaning to our life and that meaning can change several times. At one time, my purpose was to learn as much as I could about electronics and start a career in that field. These days, I think my girlfriend and her pets give me a pretty good purpose to my life.

Note: I am skipping some of these because I’m not really interested in answering them.

Question 7. Why are you scared of death?

I once heard somebody respond to this question, “It’s not being dead that scares me, it’s the getting dead part.” I like that answer. I believe that death is the end of the line. Once we’re dead, that’s all folks. That makes this life, the one I’m living right now, so much more valuable. I wrote about Heaven and Hell a couple weeks ago, but I believe that if I’m a good person in this life, people will remember me for that and that’s how I want to be remembered.

Question 42: What is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything?

42

Genesis Chapters 49 & 50

Chapter 49

Jacob calls upon all of his sons and, in the form of a blessing, recounts their lives. Reuben is not favored because he defiled his father’s bed by laying with Bilhah. Simeon and Levi are divided because of their violence against the Shechemites. Judah will be the continuation of the line to King David (not stated here, but we all know what happens). The rest, up until Joseph, are well regarded it seems. I’m not going through all of them lest I bore you with repetition. Joseph is given the longest blessing, while Benjamin is called a ravenous wolf. This is both a recap and foreshadowing since this book was written well after the events of a lot of these books.

After he finished the blessing, he told his sons that he wants to be buried in the field of Ephron the Hittite where Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and where Jacob buried Leah. Then he laid back in his bed and died.

Jacob certainly said a whole lot for someone who has one foot in the grave. That blessing/curse for his sons took twenty-seven verses and he still had to go through his burial wishes. OK, admittedly I’m nitpicking because I don’t have a lot to say about these final chapters because it’s all pretty normal. There is still a long way to go and I will have things to say. OK, on to the final chapter.

Chapter 50

Jacob’s body was embalmed by the Egyptians over a period of forty days, and they wept for him for seventy days. Joseph told Pharaoh that he swore an oath to his father to bury him in the cave in the field in Canaan. Pharaoh allowed him to do this, so all of Pharaoh’s servants and elders, as well as Joseph’s household, his brothers’ and father’s household all went on the long journey back to Canaan to bury Jacob. Only the livestock and children remained in the land of Goshen.

This section describes a funeral procession with chariots and a ton of people. They held a seven day lamentation that was so big that others noticed it, commented and named the area something that translates to the Mourning Field or something.

After the funeral stuff is over, Joseph’s brothers beg him for forgiveness and bow to him as slaves, but Joseph forgives them and tells him that he will provide for them and their families.

Joseph stayed in Egypt, but to told the Israelites that God would deliver them from Egypt. He made them swear that when that happens, they would carry his bones to the land promised to Abraham by God.

And done with Genesis.

Saturday Sermon: My Life, My Terms

This week’s sermon is less sermon and more of me trying to process things.

A lot has been going on over the past few weeks and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about…not so much death, but about getting older and losing mental faculties. I know someone whose father is in the final stages of dementia and over the course of a few short weeks has gone from manageable to belligerent and violent. I can’t speak to that experience directly, but I know I would not want to deal with it on either side.

I’ve often said that I when I finally shake off this mortal coil, I want to do it as quietly as possible. I don’t want to linger with a horrible, long-term disease that robs me of my quality of life. I don’t want to be kept alive by machines that simply keep my heart beating with no hope of regaining any semblance of life. And honestly, I don’t want all of my social interactions to involve people coming into my room and their first words are, “How are you feeling today?” as I lay in a bed staring into space, unable to speak or communicate in any way. That’s not who I am and it’s not who I want to be.

If it comes to that point, let me go. If I know that my mind is going and I’m going to turn into a completely different person through no fault of my own, allow me to make the decision to end my life on my terms while I am still of sound mind.

Genesis Chapter 37 & 38

Chapter 37

So Jacob moved back to Canaan with the family and settled down. The author is still referring to him as both Jacob and Israel which can get confusing. Anyway, it turns out that Joseph is a little snitch and Israel loves him more than any of his other sons (he’s obviously going for father of the year). He even made him a special robe. Now, the NRSV simply calls it a long robe with sleeves, but it has been referred to as a coat of many colors, and in one musical acid trip, a technicolor dreamcoat. So take it as you will. Anyway, because of Israel’s love for Joseph, the other sons were jealous of him and hated him. And then Joseph told them about the dream he had.

6He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. 7There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” 8His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.

Bibles, Harper . NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (Gen. 6-8, p. 95). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

I’m going to guess that Joseph was a bit socially awkward and maybe wasn’t self-aware, either. I mean, the way he’s being written, he hasn’t a clue that his brothers hate him. Then he tells them about another dream where the sun, moon, and eleven stars bow down to him. His father was having none of it and rebuked him.

Joseph was sent to report on his brother who were minding the sheep, but when he got there, they were nowhere to be found. He asked a passerby where they were and he was pointed in the right direction. The brothers plotted to kill him and toss him in a pit, but Reuben didn’t like that idea, so they agreed to just throw him in a pit. So, they took his robe, threw him in the dry pit, and sat to eat lunch. Then they decided to sell him to some Midianite traders for twenty pieces of silver.

I am the younger of two brothers and I fully admit that I annoyed the crap out my brother on a near daily basis. However, I am reasonably certain that he never would have sold me to anyone for any amount (I am at least 63.275% sure of this). He probably would have killed me first.

The brothers took Joseph’s coat/robe/dreamcoat and dipped it in goat’s blood and took it back to their father who was quite upset that he tore his own clothes and then wore sackcloth and mourned. He is gonna be pissed when all those dreams come true and when he finds out that his sons got twenty pieces of silver.

Meanwhile…

The Midianite traders sold Joseph to Potiphar, the captain of the Pharaoh’s guard. I hope they made a profit (or a prophet! Guffaw).

Chapter 38

We have another soap opera chapter full of sex, wives, and deception.

1IT happened at that time that Judah went down from his brothers and settled near a certain Adullamite whose name was Hirah. 2There Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; he married her and went in to her.

Bibles, Harper . NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (p. 97). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Wow, no courtship, no dating, not even a pizza night in with Netflix or Hulu. They just go straight into the baby making. They had three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah, but God saw that there was wickedness in his firstborn, Er, so God put his to death. How’d that flood work out again? Anyway, Judah instructed Onan to go into his brother’s wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Since Onan knew that the offspring would not be his (huh?) he spilled his seed on the ground. God didn’t like that either, so he struck him down as well.

Here we have another definition of Biblical marriage. If the man dies (or is struck down by God), then it his younger brother’s duty to take his wife and give him offspring.

Judah instructs Tamar to live in her father’s house as a widow until the youngest kid, Shelah, is old enough. So Tamar went home and stayed with dear ol’ dad.

OK, I’m going to summarize this part…Judah goes to Timnah to get his sheep shorn, as you do. Tamar finds out and disguises herself as a prostitute and Judah rents her services for the cost of one young goat. She asked for his signet, cord, and staff until he paid her.

Months pass and Judah has been looking everywhere for the prostitute that he promised the goat to, but she was nowhere to be found. He did find out that Tamar “played the whore” and  got herself knocked up. Judah called for her to be burned. That is until she produced Judah’s signet, cord, and staff. He said that she was in the right and that was that.

Tamar had twins, Perez and Zerah. Zerah was coming out first, but then his hand went back in and it was Perez who came out first.

Genesis Chapters 34, 35, & 36

Chapter 34

This chapter pisses me off to no end. Dinah is raped by Shechem (“he seized her and lay with her by force”) and then he wants to take her as a wife. Not surprisingly, her brothers are quite upset about this and want nothing to do with Shechem or his father, Hamor. However, it’s not because of the act of the rape, but because Shechem was uncircumcised and the best solution that they could come up with is for all the men of the city to have their junk cut off.

This is all a ruse, however, for Levi and Simeon to get their revenge by killing Hamor and Shechem, rescuing their sister, and then killing all of the men in the city and taking their wives and kids, their cattle, and their wealth. Jacob’s response to this is to say that they brought trouble on him.

30Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me odious to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites; my numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” 31But they said, “Should our sister be treated like a whore?”

Bibles, Harper . NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (p. 91). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

I’m saying anyone is right in this story. It’s a pretty barbaric story and the fact that Jacob seems not the least bit upset over his daughter being raped is pretty fucked up (excuse my language, but there is no other way to express myself). That’s all I have to say about this chapter.

Chapter 35

God tells Jacob to hightail it back to Bethel, or Luz, or whatever it’s called, and build an altar to El, the god that appeared to him in what is now called Bethel. He gathers the family together and tells them to get rid of the foreign gods which Jacob hides under an oak tree near Shechem. God also made it abundantly clear to the cities around them that they are not to be followed. When they made it to Bethel, Jacob built the altar and called the place El-Bethel because El is the name of this particular god. And then Rachel’s nurse Deborah died, who we only ever heard of in this very story.

Was this story part of a larger story that was lost to time? It was just a couple chapters ago that Jacob wrestled with God who changed his name to Israel, and now we get a repeat here at Bethel. Did Jacob not hear him or believe him the first time?

9God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and he blessed him. 10God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall you be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he was called Israel. 11God said to him, “I am God Almighty: [El Shaddai] be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall spring from you.

Bibles, Harper . NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (p. 92). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

So God gives the land that he had given to Abraham and Isaac to Jacob and it will be handed down through his generations. Once again, Jacob…err…Israel build a stone pillar and pours oil on it like he did a few chapters earlier.

Rachel dies in childbirth giving birth to Ben-oni, but Jacob called him Benjamin. So she’s buried on their way to what will be called Bethlehem, and Jacob set up a pillar on the grave. So, this can get a little confusing, but the paragraph uses Jacob in one sentence and Israel in the next. Anyway, Israel set up camp at the tower of Eder.

I can’t remember if it ever comes up again, but Reuben, firstborn of Jacob and Leah, got it on with Bilhah, who was his father’s concubine. Israel heard about it. I’m guessing this will come up again, but not here. Then, with the birth of Benjamin, that makes twelve sons for Jacob, or twelve tribes of Israel.

The chapter concludes with the death of Isaac, and Jacob and Esau bury him.

Chapter 36

We find out that there has been another name change as Esau is now Edom. This whole chapter deals with the genealogy of Esau’s lineage. I am not going to bore anyone with the details. Not even the Oxford Bible Commentary has much of interest to say about this chapter.

I read it. That’s all that’s important.