Joshua

Joshua

Joshua picks up after the death of Moses and follows the Israelites as they enter the promised land. In the first chapter God tells Joshua “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you” (Joshua 1:5). This phrase strikes me as slightly ironic because the sole reason Joshua is leading the people is because God forbade Moses from entering the promised land in the first place. God shunned Moses at the end. God’s message to Joshua most likely serves as encouragement for the people, establishing Joshua as the leader and one who God works through, as he worked through Moses. But the other side of the coin seems to imply God will be with Joshua as long as, and only if, he obeys.

Joshua’s first conquest is Jericho. He sends spies into the city who stay with a prostitute named Rahab. Rahab hides the spies when the king’s men come looking for them, in exchange for her and her family being spared from what she rightly expects to be a slaughter. The spies agree, telling Rahab to bring her family to her house and they will live. Rahab then lets the spies out of her house in a unique way: “So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall.” (Joshua 2:15).

This becomes an important detail when we learn how Jericho falls.

When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys. Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, ‘Go into the prostitute’s house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.'” (Joshua 6:20-22). 

Now, the spies told Rahab to bring her family into her house, which we learn made up a part of the city wall. That wall collapses. Then the Israelite army goes in and kills “every living thing.” And then spies get Rahab and her family? How was her house not destroyed?

Simply, the entire Rahab element of this story makes little sense. Joshua doesn’t send spies to any other city. Joshua orders the spies to “look over the land” and the next sentence states they entered a prostitute’s house. The only information the spies gain is that the whole land fears the Israelites because of their wholesale slaughter of cities. Then they leave, Israel destroys Jericho using none of the information gained, and they spare one family out of tens of thousands who eventually die by the Israelites’ hands. Sparing lives goes against nearly the entire rest of the book. Joshua doesn’t show mercy, as we learn soon after Jericho.

When Jericho falls, an Israelite named Achan steals a robe, gold and silver from the city. Because of this, when the Israelites attempt to take the next city, Ai, they fail. “So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about thirty-six of them” (Joshua 7:4-5). Losing 36 men out of 3,000 hardly qualifies as a route, but I think the point here is that with God angry at Israel, Israel will fail. So Joshua calls the people together and discovers Achan stole from Jericho. To turn God’s anger away, “all of Israel” stones Achan, his family and his livestock then burns them. Another example of women and children dying for the actions of one man.

With Achan’s sin atoned for, the Israelites move again on Ai. Here’s the account:

When Israel had finished killing all the men of Ai in the fields and in the wilderness where they had chased them, and when every one of them had been put to the sword, all the Israelites returned to Ai and killed those who were in it. Twelve thousand men and women fell that day—all the people of Ai. For Joshua did not draw back the hand that held out his javelin until he had destroyed all who lived in Ai. But Israel did carry off for themselves the livestock and plunder of this city, as the Lord had instructed Joshua.

So Joshua burned Ai and made it a permanent heap of ruins, a desolate place to this day. He impaled the body of the king of Ai on a pole and left it there until evening. At sunset, Joshua ordered them to take the body from the pole and throw it down at the entrance of the city gate. And they raised a large pile of rocks over it, which remains to this day. (Joshua 8:24-29)

Slaughtering whole cities isn’t new in the Old Testament. However, two specific and unique details regarding Ai stood out to me to make it worth exploring further. First, Israel plunders Ai immediately after stoning a man and his family for plundering Jericho. The only difference being God forbade plundering Jericho, and apparently instructed the Israelites to plunder Ai. It seems fickle, and cheapens any sort of message that God wants to get across, unless that message is “I am God so do as I say.”

Second, the additional brutality. If losing 36 men in a battle served as a route for Israel, what would they call murdering 12,000 civilians? Impaling the king on a pole sends a message of violence and mercilessness, like an Israelite Genghis Khan. But this too was apparently done at the request of God, or at the very least he allowed it. The idea of God instructing and even wanting total destruction comes up again later: “For it was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the Lord had commanded Moses” (Joshua 11:20). So we have God, helping a ruthless warlord in Joshua destroy every human life he comes across, forcing those people to stand against him just to die, sending a message of fear throughout the whole land by way of merciless violence. And yet the Bible continues to call these acts good.

“Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hands. Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled” (Joshua 21:44-45). Over and over I read God wants to kill everyone and everything. Joshua 12 simply lists 31 cities and kings destroyed by Israel, all with the populations massacred, many with their kings impaled. Every person in every city dies. But, for Israel, this was the fulfillment of good promises. I contest that definition of good.

Thank you for reading,

AR

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Deuteronomy

Deuteronomy

Deuteronomy contains almost equal parts review of the Israelite’s escape from Egypt and wandering in the desert, and guidance from Moses before he sends them to the promised land with Joshua.

The book starts with Moses retelling the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness extended by their rebellion against God. Interestingly, Moses blames the Israelites for his own dismissal from the promised land (Deut. 1:37). He does this even though we know it was really because Moses didn’t publicly acknowledge God when he brought water from the rock, the same reason God forbid Aaron from entering it as well. Moses had said as much previously.

Chapters 2 and 3 give more detail to the battles of Sihon and Og touched on in Numbers. Moses explains again how the Israelites killed Sihon, his sons, his entire army and the entire populace “men, women and children — we left no survivors” (Deut. 2:34). Chapter 3 starts with the defeat of Og, and the same fate befalls his entire family, army and populace. Deuteronomy 3:4 says 60 cities and towns get destroyed with no survivors. I shudder at the thought of a loving God commanding the slaughter of 60 towns full of people. But often in these first five books God is more interested in showing his power to instill fear. Deuteronomy is no different. “This very day I will begin to put the terror and fear of you on all the nations under heaven. They will hear reports of you and will tremble and be in anguish because of you” (Deut. 2:25).

The idea of impressing God’s commandments on children comes up frequently in the first few chapters. I’m torn about this. On the one hand I understand a parent wanting to teach their child a way of life that they know, and one we’ve seen from earlier books that would keep a society intact and functioning (albeit barbarically at times). On the other hand, giving no context to commandments can be dangerous, especially if those commands are tied to you and your people being chosen by God. It teaches first and foremost a difference between yourself and others based on something that you not only must accept, but can not question. That mentality can make a person view others as lesser.

In a 1960s study Israeli psychologist Daniel Bar-Tal found that around 60% of Israeli schoolchildren would totally approve of the total destruction of an Arab city in the same way Joshua totally destroyed Jericho. Of that same group only 20% totally disapproved. But when told a similar story of a fictional “General Lin” destroying a city and killing the populace only 7% agreed, with 75% totally disagreeing. Again, the same story was told but Joshua and other specific names/places were changed. The difference here is simple: the Arabs are different because of religion, and therefore don’t deserve to live. The answers provided by the children say as much. “I think they acted well, as Joshua did, because the Arabs want us to believe in their idols” and “Joshua acted properly because the people who inhabited the land were of a different religion, when Joshua killed them he wiped their religion from the earth.” The Arabs believe in a different religion and, therefore, they are fundamentally less.

This study, though older, is fascinating (I encourage you to follow that link if you haven’t already) and can easily translate to today. The religious tensions in the Middle East haven’t gotten better (you could certainly argue they are worse). But even in “Christian America” you can see the same effects: treatment of LGBT individuals as less than human (looking at you, North Carolina) and framing equal rights for those individuals as an attack on religious freedom. Also, the rampant spread of Islamophobia has led to hate crimes and the recent and extreme claim that Islam is not a religion but a death cult.

On a personal note, growing up in a Christian background it was heavily implied if not outright stated that any non-Christian, anyone who had not accepted Jesus as their savior, was going to hell. So my Mormon friends, the Buddhist families who opened their homes to me when I traveled to Asia, the billions of Muslims and Jews in the world and the millions more who had never even heard of Jesus…they were all going to hell? For what? I wish I had an answer for that question but I still don’t.

Prejudice is learned, and while I am not saying people are teaching their children to explicitly show prejudice, I am saying religion can easily define others by what they are not, which can often outweigh what they are. Take that mentality and pair it with a belief that you are doing God’s will, and the groundwork for justifying atrocities is well-laid.

Along these lines, Deuteronomy 7 gives explicit instruction on how to take over the promised land:

“[when] you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.”

Brutal, simple and clear. Destroy them completely solely because of their gods. Chapter 9 even states the wickedness of others serves as justification for their destruction, not the goodness of the Israelites. “It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations” (Deut. 9:5). So we have blind obedience paired with orders to destroy entire cities, men, women and children, based solely on perceived wickedness rooted in a differing religion. This is religious cleansing. We shudder at the idea of this happening today, but here it is laid out in explicit detail in the foundation for Judeo-Christian belief.

I want to block quote chapter 13 here:

If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people.

We now extend the cleansing to friends and family. Most previous calls for death of family members in the Bible comes from acts that jeopardize the family and community system already in place. If you sleep with another man’s wife, for instance. I’ve written before about how many of the laws, draconian by today’s standards, could allow a nomadic community to stay together without crumbling. This is different. This disrupts the family group and by extension the community for something that does not directly affect the social structure. This makes the other punishments appear more like additional blind obedience than an attempt to keep a social structure in place. It also reminds me of honor killings, which most Western societies abhor. But again, it’s laid out in Judeo-Christian text.

Chapter 18 has an interesting double standard. “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire … Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord” (Deut. 18:10-12). What about Abraham and Isaac? Is it not detestable because God stopped Abraham from actually sacrificing his son?

Chapter 20, worth reading, gives instructions regarding going to war and taking cities. God asks more mercy be shown to fruit trees growing near the cities than the women or children living in them.

Chapter 22 discusses marriage violations. The one that stuck out to me was if a man “doesn’t like” his wife, he can claim she was not a virgin. Then her parents have to prove her virginity with a cloth (presumably the bed sheets after the newlyweds had sex the first time, but I’m not sure). If they don’t prove her virginity, she gets stoned to death. The phrase “purge the evil from among you” is used here, the “evil” being the “outrageous act” of promiscuity. If the parents do prove her virginity, the man must pay his father-in-law 100 shekels.

Deuteronomy 28 contains both blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. There are 14 verses for blessings; 54 for curses. This keeps with the theme of the first five books of short descriptions of God’s love paired with long, detailed excerpts describing the horrors that come with disobedience. Some noted curses: “You will be pledged to be married to a woman, but another will take her and rape her” (Deut. 28:30); “You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule” (Deut 28:37); “Because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters the Lord your God has given you” (Deut 28:53). Chapter 29 then doubles down on these promises, describing a wasteland of death and ruin if the Israelites disobey God. Chapter 30, to be fair, notes that if the Israelites return to God’s commandments he will restore them to the promised land. But again, the “God of love” is not present in the Old Testament.

Deuteronomy 32:3-4, the song of Moses, sums up the overarching theme that I have an issue with:

I will proclaim the name of the Lord.
    Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
    and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
    upright and just is he.

I disagree with Moses. The blanket statement that God does no wrong justifies all the horrible things he both does and, through his laws, allows. Something that would be unilaterally condemned suddenly becomes okay, simply because the Hebrew god says that’s how it needs to be. I can’t honestly say a God that orders the extermination of entire cities, or the stoning of a girl whose husband doesn’t like her, or the murder of a brother or sister who doesn’t believe in him has perfect works. I can’t say his ways are just. I can’t say he does no wrong.

Thank you for reading,

AR

 

 

 

The Awakening – Kate Chopin

The Awakening – Kate Chopin

The Awakening, published in 1899, follows Edna Pontellier on a journey of self-discovery. The book is labeled by some as one of the first feminist works, with a healthy skewering of the upper class lifestyle of the late 19th century.

The main plot follows a summer romance between Edna and Robert Lebrun after they meet during a summer on the Gulf Coast. Edna enjoys Robert’s company and he serves as the catalyst to her seeking independence. Constant companions, the two of them spend hours, sometimes days, together. Their conversations, and Robert’s genuine interest in her, awaken a longing in Edna to be rid of her life as it is. Married for social status with children because it is the womanly duty. Edna feels trapped. Robert is her escape.

As Edna wrestles with her fear of breaking out of societal norms, Chopin uses the lovely metaphor of Edna learning to swim that summer to illustrate how free she feels as she embraces her “true self”. What was once terrifying and unknown is now joyous. Edna and Robert enjoy most of the remaining summer in each other’s company. However, with Edna a married woman Robert eventually leaves, saying he has business in Mexico. Edna, hurt, returns to New Orleans.

Once in the city Edna quickly tosses aside what society expects her to do: host weekly visits with friends, oversee the house and watch the children. Instead she walks the streets alone, goes to the race track to bet on horses and takes up sketching. Those around her believe she’s acting odd or ill, but Edna herself feels liberated.

Edna begins a fling (at least an 1899 version of a fling) with a suitor, Alcee Arobin, and throughout that courtship we see Edna address sexuality the first time. The underlying desire to break free that Robert stirred up grows during her time with Alcee until finally they kiss. A lustful kiss. It was interesting to read about a woman straying from her husband without the author adding shame or guilt. Chopin allows Edna to completely embrace her own individuality, her own “I will do as I please” mentality without apology. Edna does feel awkwardness after, but not regret. If anything it emboldens her.

Edna eventually moves out of her husband’s mansion into a small “pigeon-house” down the street, the “first house that ever felt cozy”. Chopin writes about a woman leaving her family to live alone without any condescension, and truly explores the psychological state of Edna as she essentially starts a new life for herself. She has moved past the social pressure of keeping a loveless marriage for status and the implied “job” of raising children. Chopin explores, realistically, what an independent woman would do in that time.

Robert returns to New Orleans, to Edna’s shock, and the two eventually meet one evening in the “pigeon-house”. There they confess their love for each other and Edna gives Robert her first passionate, loving kiss. With the truth finally laid bare, the two plan on spending all their time together. But not soon after Edna rushes to a friend giving birth, where she is reminded of her own children and what she would lose by abandoning them. She then returns to find a note from Robert saying he has left for good. Crushed, Edna returns to the Gulf where they first met and swims as far as she can before losing strength and drowning.

The end shocked me, but it seemed like Chopin admitting that while many women may have the aspirations to do what Edna does, society at the time would not allow it. Robert wouldn’t bring the shame of infidelity to Edna or her husband, and Edna couldn’t completely forget her maternal duty. And to drown, to die by the very thing that the previous summer had been so joyous, was especially poignant. You must be strong to fight a current of injustice, or inequity, or even bias. Perhaps too it served as a sort of foresight that while maybe women of Chopin’s generation could not easily do it, future generations of women could live as Edna did as easily as swimming.

A final, lighter note: this book taught me the word perambulation which I hope to use as often as possible.

Thank you for reading,

AR

Numbers

Numbers

Numbers, and there were plenty of them. Mixed in with censuses, lineage and exact weights for every sacrifice possible, the Israelites packed a ton of action in this book.

Since this is Numbers, I’d like to start with a number: 600,000. That’s the fighting force listed in the beginning of this book. That helps explain a lot of the future battles, which we’ll get to. It also makes me comfortable estimating there were close to 3 million people in the group (women, children, elderly and slaves) which helps to visualize just how huge this group was.

Numbers 5:5-10 discusses restitution for sin and how a portion of all those sacrifices belong to the priests. This gets explained in more detail later in the book, but the priests and those in charge of the Tabernacle essentially have no other source of income. In this circumstance it makes sense and works, but made me think of Catholic abuses of indulgences.

The second half of Numbers 5 has to do with tests for an unfaithful wife. In short, if a husband suspects his wife was unfaithful he takes her to the priest and a ritual is done, ending with the wife drinking “cursed” water. If she becomes barren, she was unfaithful. If she is innocent, the water won’t make her barren and she is blameless. Interestingly, the book makes special note that “The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin” (Num 5:31). Blame falling on women remains a theme.

In Numbers 11, the Israelites are wandering the desert and they get tired of eating mana. They implore Moses to ask God for meat. God answers by sending wave upon wave of quail into their camp. Some of the Israelites eat it, but then, because God is angry that the Israelites complained about the mana he sent, God sends a “sever plague” on the people. Plagues are also a theme.

Numbers 12:3 caught my eye. In full: “(Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)” I had to chuckle at a parenthetical verse devoted to Moses’ humility. In this chapter, Aaron and Miriam (Moses’ sister) get jealous of Moses’ relationship with God. They confront Moses and God about this, and God rebukes them both, but makes Miriam a leper (not Aaron). She is banished for seven days, is healed and returns to the camp. Nothing else happens to Aaron.

In Numbers 14, men explore Canaan and report back that the land is beautiful but there are many other people there, and they outnumber the Israelites. All the men but two spread rumors through the camp that the land is barren, and thus the Israelites ask Moses why they left Egypt just to wander the wilderness and die. They decide to get a new leader and go back to Egypt. This upsets God. “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they” (Num 14:11-12). Moses saves the lives of the Israelites, but God does promise that every person who wanted to leave for Egypt will die in the wilderness and never see the land he promised them. They will wander for 40 years.

In chapter 15 a man who gathers wood on the Sabbath gets stoned to death. Stone-able offenses: cursing the name of God and working on the Sabbath. Again, the entire community stones him.

Numbers 16 tells of three men who form a group and attempt to rebel against Moses and Aaron, claiming they are no more holy than the rest of the them. This ends predictably, but there are a few interesting wrinkles. The three men who lead the rebellion get swallowed up by the earth the next day, but not alone. They stand in front of their tents with their “wives, children and little ones.” All of them are killed. In addition, the 250 men who rebelled stand in front of the Tabernacle with bronze censers full of incense. God strikes them down with fire, burning them to death. Moses then commands a priest to take the bodies away, but to keep the bronze censers and mold them to the altar as a reminder not to defy God. That latter seems calloused, and the former mention of wives and little ones keeps with the theme of women (and now innocents) being punished for men’s sins. As a kicker, God also sends a plague on the people which kills 14,700. It should be noted he wanted to kill everyone.

To rid himself of the “constant grumbling” of the Israelites, God chooses Aaron as the right-hand man to Moses by making a staff with his name blossom as a “sign to the rebellious” thus ending their doubt so “they will not die”. Understandably, the Israelites are still scared and say to Moses “We will die! We are lost, we are all lost! Anyone who even comes near the tabernacle of the Lord will die. Are we all going to die?” (Num 17:12-13). A fair question, and one that was answered already in chapter 14, but I think this chapter really drives home the idea of the “fear of God.” The Old Testament God requires sacrifice and obedience, and the punishment is death.

In Numbers 20 Moses brings water from a rock for the Israelites. Interestingly, this action also causes Moses and Aaron both to be denied the promised land. Although they brought the water out, they did not honor God as holy in the presence of the people, they also will never see the land God promised. Moses is the single most holy (and humble, as was mentioned before) man in the entire book, but even he gets refused the promised land. Moses, the one who speaks directly with God and led the Israelites out of Egypt, messed up once and now is done.

In chapter 21 the Israelites start winning some battles and taking some land. First the people of king Arad. They “completely destroy them and their towns.” Later the armies of Sihon and Og, which are struck down completely with no survivors. That is not a phrase you see often, and implies either killing people who had surrendered or hunting people down. Either way, pretty terrifying.

Numbers 25 has some of the Israelites indulging in “sexual immorality with Moabite women” and then following a god called Baal of Peor. God’s response is another plague, this time killing 24,000. We’ll get back to this incident shortly.

Numbers 27 changes things up in a good(!) way. An elder dies with no sons, so his daughters ask Moses to give them their father’s inheritance. In a surprise to me, Moses accepts the offer and the daughters receive the lands and property of their father. Finally, something good for women.

Well, Israelite women I should say. Chapter 31 pits the Israelites against Midianites and it does not go well for the latter. As seems to be par for the course, the Israelites kill every man in the army. No survivors. In a morbid twist, when the commanders report back the victory and all the captives/plunder, Moses is furious and responds:

“‘Have you allowed all the women to live?’ he asked them. ‘They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.'” (Num 31: 15-18)

Another bad day for women and children. I think barbaric serves as the best word to describe this. Kill every woman and boy, but of course save the virgins for yourself.

Ironically chapter 35 discusses murder and how justice should be handed down to murderers. It seems that murder has no place in the promised land. “Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land… Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites” (Num 35:33-34). If killing pollutes the land, then the promised land seems to be the only safe place by default. Everywhere else the Lord went was soaked in blood.

Thank you for reading,

AR

 

 

Leviticus

Leviticus

Leviticus, or the book of laws. This book offered a blueprint for the Israelites to govern themselves and keep themselves alive and strong, but also had some eyebrow-raising moments.

A lot of the beginning is about how to properly sacrifice to God. It’s interesting to me that the priests doing the sacrifices will get to keep a portion of most, presumably because a priest is a full-time job.

An intense part of the book comes in Leviticus 10, when two of Aaron’s sons (Aaron and his family have been declared the only ones who can become priests) make an unauthorized offering to God and are immediately burned alive by him. That’s extreme, and Moses’ reaction is to tell Aaron “Do not let your hair become unkempt and do not tear your clothes, or you will die and the Lord will be angry with the whole community.” Seems tough after your sons were just burned alive.

Leviticus 12 focuses only on the regulations for childbirth. This makes sense on a level, because childbirth was a potentially life-threatening endeavor each time. Having rules and regulations to make it as safe as possible makes sense for the well-being of women. The other side of the coin, though, is that this chapter calls women “ceremoniously unclean” for 33 days after giving birth, and then has to offer a lamb to be clean again.

Leviticus 15 is all about “bodily discharge,” which again as a health hazard makes a lot of sense. Sickness and disease could easily be spread if that wasn’t taken care of. It’s also a little funny that a chapter of the book of the Bible is dedicated to poop, blood and semen.

Leviticus 18 goes into great detail about unlawful sexual relations. Most of it has to do with not sleeping with family members, which if anything gives a great snapshot into what kind of culture lived back then, that it needs to be expressly forbidden to not have sex with your relatives. Again, it helps to keep the people in order and if the family structure fails then the entire community will crumble, but I couldn’t help but chuckle at “Do not have sexual relations with your mother, that would dishonor your father” followed by “Do not have sexual relations with your father’s wife, that would dishonor your father” which heavily implies they were often two different women.

An interesting find here was Leviticus 19:18 – “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” I believe love thy neighbor is the single most important idea in the Bible, and I was frankly a little surprised to find that sentiment in Leviticus, a book with rules and prices for purchasing slaves. It could be a much more literal “neighbor,” as in “fellow Israelite” as opposed to “fellow human,” but still it was interesting to see. The book also says to be kind to fellow Israelites in need, who are poor or who have lost family. It was refreshing to read.

But then we hit Leviticus 20, which is basically a list of things you’ll be put to death for if you do them. From prostituting yourself to the god Molek (he/she/it must have had a big influence), to cursing your mother or father, to homosexual sex, it was an unforgiving time. It reinforces chapter 18 mostly, and keeps the family and social order intact, but is still intense.

In Leviticus 24 we see our first example of this when a man curses the name of the Lord, and the entire community stones him to death (Lev 24: 23). Ironically, a few verses before that it reads, “Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death.”

Leviticus 26 is the penultimate book, and it lists the rewards for obedience to God. Prosperity, good harvests and the enemies of the Israelites fleeing from them. It takes nine verses. The following 30 verses are about all the terrible things God will do to you if you disobey him. Sudden terror and disease, no crops, sending wild animals to devour your children, being destroyed by your enemies and your lands being taken, and punishing you seven times over for your sins. But, of course, you won’t be destroyed completely, as we see in Leviticus 26:44 “Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them. I am the Lord their God.”

Thank you for reading,

AR

 

Quiet – Susan Cain

Quiet – Susan Cain

Quiet takes an in-depth look at introversion in an extroverted world, and how we can better understand the way these two personality types work. Susan Cain has spent years researching and learning about what makes introverts tick. For me, as someone who would describe themselves as introverted before reading this book and even more so after, it offered insights into the reasons behind the way I go about things. For example:

Introversion has physiological sources, as well as environmental. Introverts and extroverts not only react to things in different ways, but perceive the world in different ways. The amygdala, a set of neurons deep in the medial temporal lobe of the brain, reacts to stimuli differently. The result of this causes two types of people: high-reactive (introverts) and low-reactive (extroverts). Say you’re at a party. A high-reactive person literally feels overwhelmed and drained by the noise, people and music playing. Trying to hold conversations with multiple people, crack jokes and socialize is psychologically taxing for this person, and you are much more likely to find them in a quiet corner or outside, talking with one or two others. On the flip side, a low-reactive amygdala thrives on that same noise, people and music. They feel bored or the need to do something if things slow down. They will be in the middle of the room, pouring drinks and telling stories until 3 a.m.

These differences play out in the workplace as well. Extroverts are more vocal leaders, better at getting a group of people motivated behind a common cause. Introverts are equally capable of leading, but delegate tasks better and allow for self-motivated workers to flourish. Extroverts do well in think-tank activities; introverts prefer working solo and secluded. Cain warns, however, that more and more workplaces (and schools for that matter) promote extrovert ideals. Open floor plans, large meetings, employee retreats and group brainstorming sessions are all examples. There is also the danger of an introvert not receiving a promotion or raise because their extroverted peers appear to be doing better, or are more adept at “playing office politics” for that reward. This has dangers. Cain references the economic crash of 2008 as a perfect example. Too many extroverted, risk-taking, act-first-ask-later investors and too few cautious, inquisitive, risk-assessing people in position to make a difference. If you’ve seen The Big Short, Christian Bale’s character is the quintessential introvert.

But these traits aren’t set in stone. Of course both introverts and extroverts can share traits of the others. Moreover introverts, because of their high-reactive nature, are able to pick up subtle clues about how their behavior negatively affects others and then change that action. In short, introverts are better at learning how to “play extrovert.” So an introvert at that same party could be able to learn to bounce around, hosting conversation and sharing jokes with the room … but they would need to go home early and recharge the next day with a book and some tea.

I really enjoyed this book. It offered new insight into not only the what but the why and how of introversion. Cain has extensive knowledge and a concise writing style that is easy to pick up and understand. If you’re an introvert I recommend this to better understand yourself and get tips that may change your perception of the outside world. If you’re an extrovert I recommend it to learn about yourself as well, but also to have a better understanding of the introverts around you. You will encounter both types of people every day, everywhere. It can’t hurt to know who you’re talking to.

Thank you for reading,

AR

Exodus

Exodus

Exodus is a story of us vs. them. I can’t help but see the “otherization” of anyone not named the Israelites in this book.

We start with the Israelites in slavery, and God telling Moses he will lead them out of Egypt and to freedom. The Israelites lived in a terrible situation (see: slavery), but the story of how they got out has a clear “victors write the history” feel to it.

First take the plagues cast down by God on Egypt. These plagues decimate the population in increasing severity until every first-born living thing dies. Water to blood, frogs, lice, flies, diseased livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and death. Together these plagues are catastrophic to the Egyptian people. And while Pharaoh plays a large role in these plagues taking place, it also is written repeatedly that God hardened his heart. It begs the question: what would have happened if God hadn’t? Only two plagues? Three?

Another interesting tidbit from the Israelites leaving Egypt is that they took gold and silver from the Egyptians before leaving. The day after every first-born dies, the Israelites are allowed to leave and as they do so they ask the Egyptians for gold and silver. The Egyptians agree because “the Lord made them favorably disposed” to the Israelites. The Egyptians became favorably disposed after the God of the Israelites obliterated their way of life?

So the Israelites leave unscathed, with the plunder the Egyptians gave them, and get to the Red Sea. Pharaoh sends an army that pursues them to the shore. Moses leads the Israelites through the parted waters of the sea and when the army chases after them the waters rush in and drown the entire army. Then Moses offers up a prayer which includes the following:

The nations will hear and tremble;
    anguish will grip the people of Philistia.
15 The chiefs of Edom will be terrified,
    the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling,
the people of Canaan will melt away;
16     terror and dread will fall on them.
By the power of your arm
    they will be as still as a stone—
until your people pass by, Lord,
    until the people you bought pass by.

Every nation will be terrified of our God. And with good reason.

So the Egyptians are decimated, all other nations trembling in fear… how do fellow Israelites not in Egypt react? Moses’ father-in-law Jethro meets them in the desert, and after Moses tells him the story of their escape Jethro is “delighted to hear about all the good things the Lord had done for Israel” (Ex 18:9). Delighted.

Which brings me back to “otherization,” defined as making a person, group, etc. alien. It’s the ideology that causes Donald Trump to say all Mexicans are rapists and criminals. It’s what convinces ISIS to kill indiscriminately, because they are the truest believers and everyone else, even the Muslims who are the majority of victims in terror attacks, deserves to die. It’s what allows Americans to shrug off the fact that U.S.-led airstrikes have killed nearly 200 Syrian civilians in the last two months.

So when I read that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, brought plagues on the nation of Egypt culminating in the killing of every first-born because of Pharaoh’s hardened heart, the Israelites plundered the Egyptians as they left and finally an army of people drowned in the Red Sea I have to pause at the word delight. I find myself more in the camp of the terrified. I see the dismissal of tragedy because those affected were less than those unaffected. The Egyptians were on the wrong side of God, the un-chosen, and because of that alone their suffering is reason for delight. I want nothing to do with that mentality.

Exodus may be known most for the Ten Commandments, but in the chapters following those Ten God issues laws and societal rules on a wide variety of subjects. We learn God is jealous, compassionate and angry at varying points. More interesting to me though, the laws provide a tool to keep the Israelite people and culture alive. There are strict laws (anyone who strikes their mother or father is to be put to death comes to mind) but overall they show a people of the time attempting a justice system. And strictness kept the people together, especially a nomadic people. There is little room for gray area when you wander the desert 4o years. But, going back to the fear instilled in God’s enemies, that same fear will keep you from sinning. Multiple times it’s stated a breaking of the laws will result in God killing or cursing you.

The Tabernacle serves as the house of God, and its dimensions are laid out here. Much more interesting to me is the ordaining of the first priests (Aaron and his sons). I encourage the curious to read it in Exodus 29, but in short it involves slaughtering a bull and two rams, a lot of blood, many specific pieces of one ram and wave offerings. Check it out.

An eye-raising moment came with Exodus 30: 15, a passage regarding atonement money paid every year to avoid God sending a plague on you. It reads, “The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the Lord to atone for your lives.” The amount is a half shekel, which when I researched it doesn’t seem like a large amount, but still the precedent set there caused the aforementioned eye raise.

Moses talks with God for 40 days, and in that time the Israelites make a golden calf and begin to worship it. It seems insane that so soon after God led them from Egypt, took the form of a pillar of fire and a great cloud, parted a sea, drowned an army, made bread and quail appear in the desert and then spoke to 70 elders in person that they would abandon God. But, to play devil’s advocate, perhaps this shows why the laws needed to be so strict, and God saw fit to make the first four of the Ten Commandments about not having any other gods before him. Maybe that’s why the punishment for breaking laws is death … otherwise the Israelites wouldn’t learn.

That’s how God seems to see it anyway. He actually tells Moses “Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them” (Ex 32:10). Moses has to remind God he promised multiple times to make Israel a great nation and God relents. The number of times God needs to be persuaded to no kill a large swath of people is surprisingly high. Then Moses leaves the mountain and this happens:

25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. 26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him.

27 Then he said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’” 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died.29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.”

30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”

Seriously, read that again. Moses calls people who are “for the Lord” to kill their brothers, friends and neighbors. Then they are blessed. Then Moses says everyone has sinned and there needs to be atonement. This is after he convinced God not to kill them all. Then, in verse 35, God strikes the people with a plague. I honestly don’t know how to respond to this other than “what the” followed by a swear word.

Lessons of faith in a god greater than yourself to achieve things you didn’t think possible exist in Exodus, mainly in the form of Moses. But so to do lessons of violence against your enemies (and sometimes brothers, friends and neighbors), also exemplified by Moses. Interestingly, evidence exists that the plagues really happened, but that’s mostly ammunition for whichever side you believe anyway. For the sake of this blog I’m assuming God caused the plagues, which then poses the dilemma of belief in a God who would decimate the Egyptians and then shortly after bless the Levites for slaughtering 3000 of those he rescued, only to bring a plague on them after.

Poor them. If only they were us. Not something other.

Thank you for reading,

AR