Saturday, January 24, 2009

Exodus 2: Preparing for a Different Kind of War

What kind of ironies or paradoxes can you find in Exodus 2 below? (World English Bible)

If you see any surprising insights, please post them in the comments below!

The Birth of the Deliverer

A man of the house of Levi went and took a daughter of Levi as his wife. 2 The woman conceived, and bore a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. 3 When she could no longer hide him, she took a papyrus basket for him, and coated it with tar and with pitch. She put the child in it, and laid it in the reeds by the river’s bank. 4 His sister stood far off, to see what would be done to him.

5 Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe at the river. Her maidens walked along by the riverside. She saw the basket among the reeds, and sent her handmaid to get it. 6 She opened it, and saw the child, and behold, the baby cried. She had compassion on him, and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.”

7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Should I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for you?” 8 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.”
The maiden went and called the child’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away, and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.”

The woman took the child, and nursed it. 10 The child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, and said, “Because I drew him out of the water.”

Moses Flees to Midian

11 It happened in those days, when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his brothers, and looked at their burdens. He saw an Egyptian striking a Hebrew, one of his brothers. 12 He looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no one, he killed the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand. 13 He went out the second day, and behold, two men of the Hebrews were fighting with each other. He said to him who did the wrong, “Why do you strike your fellow?” 14 He said, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you plan to kill me, as you killed the Egyptian?”

Moses was afraid, and said, “Surely this thing is known.” 15 Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and lived in the land of Midian, and he sat down by a well.

16 Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came and drew water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 The shepherds came and drove them away; but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock. 18 When they came to Reuel, their father, he said, “How is it that you have returned so early today?” 19 They said, “An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds, and moreover he drew water for us, and watered the flock.” 20 He said to his daughters, “Where is he? Why is it that you have left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.”

21 Moses was content to dwell with the man. He gave Moses Zipporah, his daughter. 22 She bore a son, and he named him Gershom, for he said, “I have lived as a foreigner in a foreign land.”

The Call of the Deliverer

23 It happened in the course of those many days, that the king of Egypt died, and the children of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up to God because of the bondage. 24 God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the children of Israel, and God was concerned about them.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Exodus 1: Blessings that Bite

What ironies or paradoxes can you find within the first chapter of Exodus?

View Exodus 1 here.

Post your ideas here as soon as possible! Click on the "Comments" link below to add your thoughts.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Don't Bury My Bones in Egypt

Joseph could have had a pretty impressive résumé. After being sold into slavery as a boy, then falsely accused and imprisoned, somehow he made the best of his circumstances and was promoted to the highest office in the kingdom, next to the pharaoh. In the process, he uses his God-given wisdom to avert a national disaster—a famine—and saves everybody. Yet, this great hero is only memorialized in the New Testament for one thing:

"By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones." (Hebrews 11:22)

After all he did, the highlight of his 93-year career is one line--that he wanted his bones buried in Canaan?

Let’s take a look at this closely to see how this is significant. The ancient author writes, “Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am about to die. But God will surely come to you and lead you up from this land to the land he swore on oath to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ [Canaan] Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath. He said, ‘God will surely come to you. Then you must carry my bones up from this place.’ So Joseph died at the age of 110. After they embalmed him, his body was placed in a coffin in Egypt.” (Genesis 50:24-26)

Why was that statement of his a big deal? What is the paradox of this? Several reasons. Being in Egypt of all places, having a monument after the death of a high official would be a big deal. Yet, Joseph didn’t want to be buried in some pyramid in Egypt. He wanted to be buried in Canaan.

But Joseph had lived most of his life in Egypt, and his family had followed him there from Canaan. Why would Joseph want to be buried in a country that he had not lived in since he was a boy?

For him or for them?
Joseph’s instructions were essentially a reminder to his followers that God would not forget them, but would take them out of Egypt back to Canaan. God had foretold a long period of suffering but promised that one day, they would populate a great nation: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” (Gen. 15:13-14).

Doubt or belief?
The paradox here is the tension between our tendency to doubt versus Joseph’s decision to believe an old promise. Rather than building any monument to himself, he sought to inspire faith in his followers and descendents. By asking them to take his bones back to Canaan, he was giving evidence of his conviction, essentially saying, “I believe God’s promise; you may or may not, but here is the evidence that I do.”

Worldly protector or God as protector?
The second paradox is the tension between our tendency to look to worldly protectors and looking to God as our protector. As Joseph was dying, the sons of Israel may have been afraid that they were losing their protector and benefactor in Egypt, since he was the highest-ranking officer and happened to also be a Hebrew. But now, Joseph felt it necessary to turn their attention to God and tell them essentially, “God is your protector and benefactor, not me, He will visit you, and take you out of this land.” He was inspiring them with faith, and they would remember the instructions 400 years later.

Egyptian or Israelite?
The third paradox is that even though he had lived in Egypt for almost a century, he saw his identity as being a citizen of God’s promised kingdom. The tension here is between identifying with the people around us and identifying with God’s kingdom, or seeing ourselves as “settlers” or as “pilgrims” passing through. Essentially Joseph was reminding them that Egypt was not their home. His coffin, or tomb, became to the wanderers in Egypt a constant reminder of the promises of God, that their permanent home was to be the land of Canaan and not Egypt. Rather than use his death as a way to glorify himself, he used it to strengthen the faith of his fellow brothers.

Why is it important to remember that Egypt was not their home? Egypt had a strong culture steeped in idol worship and beliefs in the afterlife. They were to remain true to their identity as Israelites. If they didn’t have that strong anchor, they may have merged with and been submerged by the Egyptian culture.

Therefore, Joseph showed where his allegiance really laid. Joseph had every reason to settle and be comfortable in Egypt, but this revealed where his heart really was. “Honored as he had been in the land of the Pharaohs, Egypt was to him but the place of his exile; his last act was to signify that his lot was cast with Israel.” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 240)

Joseph did many great things to help people. And I’m sure he wouldn’t have been able to do them without faith in God. But what he’s remembered for is that he did more than help people in the end; he inspired faith in others. Let's do more than just good things--let's inspire faith! I have to remind myself that even though I work in communications for a ministry, am I doing it just to help people, or to inspire faith? You may ask yourself something similar. Do you want to be a doctor/nurse/counselor/etc. just to help people, or do you want to inspire faith in others? Is going to church an end in itself, or is it a way to reach others and share our faith? I’m not saying that helping people is bad. Joseph saving thousands from starvation was very good. But we can go beyond that. Something I appreciate about my colleagues is that they always find some way to uplift God naturally in their daily conversations and it is contagious, which reminds me how I would like to also inspire faith in others too. What has God given you to point others to heaven? How can you live a life of faith that shows people that God is real?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

What is a Paradox?

A paradox is something that is beyond belief! It sounds contradictory and surprising but may actually be true. It comes from two Greek roots. "Para" literally means going beyond or past the root word, implying that it is contradictory or abnormal. The Greek "Dox" means a belief or opinion, as in orthodoxy. Unlike orthodoxy, which means the "right" belief, paradox means that it is "beyond" belief.

Whereas Modernism is all about Orthodoxy, Postmodernism is all about Paradoxes!Postmodernism rejects the clearcut certainty of modernism. The postmodern world loves the contradictions and complexities of reality.

The “Right” Belief“Beyond” Belief

Jesus loved paradoxes. In fact, his sermon on the mountainside started with a list of spiritual paradoxes (Matthew 5):
  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed (Happy) are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
  • Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
God and the universe is full of paradoxes. In order to fathom the depth of God and his creation, we should seek out and understand these paradoxes.

That is why we need to approach the Bible through the lens of paradoxes to gain greater insights. Looking for paradoxes can help us gain new spiritual insights. According to Wikipedia: "The paradox as a literary device has been defined as an anomalous juxtaposition of incongruous ideas for the sake of striking exposition or unexpected insight. It functions as a method of literary analysis which involves examining apparently contradictory statements and drawing conclusions either to reconcile them or to explain their presence."

Within the framework of a story, incongruencies or "ironies" are used to make people think and face the inconsistencies of reality. In his book Comedy and Preaching, Joseph Webb describes some common literary incongruencies:

The Anticipated and the Unanticipated
"A first form of incongruity is that found between the anticipated and the unanticipated. One looks for something that happened that was unexpected. In the midst of one’s routines, of going about one’s business as one does day in and day out, where were the unanticipated interruptions?"

Ambition vs. Achievement
"Somebody has a desire to do great things but either fails or is thwarted. For example, I want to learn to sing, but my teacher has to have a lot of patience; or how I always talk about preaching but my friends have never heard me preach; or I aspired to be an actor, but I failed my acting audition. It is the ability to laugh at our weaknesses, and yet still have hope. In one’s heart one lives another life, a 'secret' life, one that seems to remain forever an exalted, imaginary life, but is a reflection of what God has designed us for."

The Ideal and the Actual
"We want our ideals to be big things; we construct them as large as possible and set them out in front of us to call to us and pull us; and yet, in actuality, they are never what we think they are."

Individual vs. Institution
"This is the struggle between a person and a giant bureaucracy, the isolated person and the system. One’s ideals continuously thwarted by the overpowering, impersonal bureaucracy or one’s ambitions never achieved as a result of one’s resources being continually drained by the tax machine or by some conniving boss at the top of the bureaucratic heap."

The Normal and the Abnormal
"It is the juxtaposition of the normal with the abnormal, such as a man trying to function in a woman’s world in order to get an acting job in a soap opera."

(Excerpts from Joseph Webb's Comedy and Preaching)