Saturday, June 14, 2014

Exodus 14: Moses Parts the Red Sea

Scripture summary is in black
My comments and questions are in purple and numbered
Christian commentaries and my responses to those are in blue. Unless otherwise stated, these are from Guzik's commentary
(Note: I've changed my format a bit with this post, let me know if you like/dislike the changes)

Today's Podcast

Previously:

The Israelites are enslaved by the Egyptians, so God tells Moses to go rescue them. Moses proves to Pharaoh that God is on his side, but God hardens his heart so he won't let the people free. Then God sends plague after plague upon the Egyptians so Pharaoh finally lets the Israelites go.

Crossing the Red Sea (v. 1-31)

God tells the Israelites to go to a particular spot and set up camp where they will be trapped by the sea. Then God will harden Pharaoh's heart to make him pursue the Israelites. Then God will "get glory over Pharaoh" and the Egyptians will know he is the lord. The king of Egypt was told that the Israelites had fled and his mind and the mind of his people was changed toward the people. They pursued the people of Israel as they had gone out defiantly.

1. Free Will: Once again, God has taken away Pharaoh's free will. He didn't simply make Pharaoh aware of the Israelite's apparent poor tactical position, he hardened his heart. 
Even after the horror of the death of the firstborn, the change in Pharaoh's heart was only temporary. He was quick to strike at Israel when he had the chance.
Wow, if Pharaoh was so quick to strike whenever he had the chance, then why did God have to harden his heart?

2. God's Motivation: The reason that God has done this is to "get glory over Pharaoh" and so "the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD". It really does appear that God is doing this just for his own ego, how does him getting glory help his people?


3. Do the Egyptians Know God is Powerful? God does this in part so that the Egyptians will know that God is the LORD. Why is this necessary? God just plagued the shit out of Egypt to convey this message. And the message was apparently received earlier when the people of Egypt insisted that the Israelites leave, have they forgotten the plagues already? It just doesn't make sense. 

i. This demonstrates how we are often quick to forget what God has done and what He has shown us. It is easy to quickly move from walking in the spirit to walking in the flesh. 
ii. Perhaps Pharaoh thought that the LORD had shot all His arrows and had no more "ammunition" against Egypt. After all, no more died after the plague of the firstborn; but God isn't short on resources. He had plenty of ammunition left.
ii doesn't make much sense to me, if Pharaoh thought that then he wouldn't have let them leave in the first place, right? i though, is exactly the kind of thing I remember hearing from church all the time. Seems like a good way to relate the story to our lives "don't be forgetful, don't fall into your old ways" etc. Seems good for that purpose I suppose, still though, for the story itself it doesn't make a lot of sense. Are you really going to forget so fast with so much death and destruction around you? 

4. Pharaoh and the King of Egypt: I was actually a bit confused on whether Pharaoh and the king are the same person. Verse 8 seems to suggest they are the same person. However, in verse 5 seems to suggest that the king is surprised that they Israelites have been set free even though in chapter 12 Pharaoh was the one who let them go in the first place. It's possibly a minor point, but the story doesn't really make sense if they are the same person. I wonder if this is a case of two different stories being merged into one. This would also explain why he has two different titles for no apparent reason.

5. Defiance: Verse 8 says that the people of Israel "were going out defiantly", but that makes no sense as they were told to leave Egypt. In fact, they were pushed out of Egypt so fast they weren't able to finish their bread, which is supposedly the origin of the unleavened bread at passover. Am I missing something here?

6. My Previous Christian Perspective: I often like to think about how I would justify things back when I was a Christian. I'm pretty sure that in this case I would have said that the Egyptians would chase the Israelites at some point in time no matter what God does. Therefore God is only manipulating the timetable of things rather than actually changing Pharaoh's ultimate actions. I'm fairly certain this would have satisfied me back then, but the problem is it is not supported by the text at all. If that's what God was doing why not say it? Instead he says he's doing it to get glory. I suppose it doesn't contradict the text, but if that was really the reason it seems like it should have been stated.When the Egyptians got near to the cornered Israelites they were very afraid and complained to Moses. They even said that they would rather have stayed in Egypt as slaves than to be killed out here. Moses said that God would fight for them and save them out here.


7. Should they be afraid? I've seen atheists complain about the reactions of the Israelite slaves in the past. "They have an all powerful God helping them, why would they be afraid?". And while that might play in a bit here, I can totally understand them being afraid anyway. Imagine yourself in the same situation, even if there is a really powerful being who can save you, are you sure he will? Hell, even if you were convinced that he was going to save you, it would still be scary seeing that army close in on you.

God complains that the people are crying to him. He tells the people to walk forward and for Moses to lift his staff in order to divide the sea so the Israelites can walk on dry ground there. God will then harden the hearts of the Egyptians to ensure that they will follow, then they will know that god is the LORD once he "gets glory" over them.

8. God's Attitude: I don't really understand why God is complaining about these people. He's put them in a very scary position with no apparent way out and they are asking him for help. He seems to be put off by it, like they should have known that Moses could part the sea for them. It kind of reminds me of the stereotypical douchebag IT guy from the 90s.
The children of Israel cried out to the LORD: This was a good thing to do. When we find ourselves in dangerous places with no easy escape, we must cry out to God, because God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1)
This I find interesting, he says that crying out to God was a good thing, and yet it seems to me that God is saying they shouldn't have done it. In verse 15 God says "Why do you cry out to me?" I was thinking perhaps I was reading too much into it, but then Guzik says
Their fear could be understood and their cry to the LORD made sense. Yet their words to Moses show a great lack of faith and loss of confidence in God.
So it's good to cry out to God, but you shouldn't need to if you have faith? I dunno, seems a bit mixed up to me. And one final comment along these lines
The children of Israel were not yet a week out of Egypt and they were already distorting the past, thinking that it was better for them in Egypt than it really was.
This just made me laugh. Yes, they were slaves in Egypt and the conditions were terrible. But they are comparing it to the fact that they think they're about to die. 

9. Free Will Again: Seriously, is there any part of this plan where God isn't manipulating the Egyptians to do what he needs them to do?

parting the red sea
parting the red sea (Photo credit: amboo who?)
The pillar of cloud moved to be between the Israelites and the Egyptians and the two groups stays separated throughout the night. Moses raised his staff and there was a strong east wind all night that made the sea part like walls so the men could walk on dry land. The Israelites went onto the path and the Egyptians followed. In the morning God looked down from the pillar of cloud and fire and threw the Egyptians into a panic by clogging the chariot wheels so they would be slow. God had Moses hold his staff toward the Egyptians and the water rushed over them, yet the Israelites still were able to walk on dry land, having walls of water on both sides of them.  The Israelites saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore, so they feared the LORD because of the great power he used against the Egyptians, and they believed Moses.

10. How Long Did This Take? It's funny, my mental picture of this story has the water turning into walls pretty much instantaneously, yet in the actual story it takes all night. I suppose it's from a smattering of popular culture references that my impression is wrong here.

11. Omniscience? I find it interesting that God was looking down from the pillar of cloud and fire. This appears to be describing a powerful being in a specific physical place rather than an omniscient God.


12. Fear: I find the very concept of being "god fearing" and odd, it certainly seems to fly in the face of an omnibenevolent God


13. Violence: Once again, we see extreme violence from God, he kills tons of Egyptians apparently to prove a point to his people.
An oppressed people are slow to believe they are free while their tyrant still lives. God wanted Israel to know that their oppressors were dead
I guess that is a decent explanation as to why God would go to these extremes. Really seems like a fucked up route to go though.

Verses of Note:

--Fear--

Exodus 14:31 The Israelites fear God, which seems to largely be the point of this story

"Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses."

--Free Will--

Exodus 14:4,8,17 God takes away Pharaoh's free will again

"And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD." And they did so."

"And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the people of Israel while the people of Israel were going out defiantly."

"And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them..."

--God's Ego--

Exodus 14:4,18 God's motivation seems to be stroking his ego

"And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD." And they did so."

"And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen."

--Violence--

Exodus 14:27-30 God killed all of the Egyptians in this story (through Moses)

"the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the LORD threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea....and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore"

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

How Hard is it to Follow My Bible Posts?

It's really interesting how being away from something for a while can give you a new perspective on it. The last bible post I did was about 3 months ago and I'm currently working on my Exodus 14 post. I went digging through an older post looking for something and I found the style of my bible posts kind of annoying. I do my summary in normal text, my reactions in italicized text, and Christian commentary in blue text. The italicized text doesn't look different enough from the normal text, so at a glance it's not always clear what is what. Further, I don't explain this scheme anywhere on the blog, so a newcomer won't know what the hell I'm doing (this is an easy fix with a quick explanation at the top, but god dammit man).

So I'm thinking the easiest fix will be to replace the italics with another color. I want something that is different enough from the black regular text to be easily identifiable, yet not to bright to be annoying to look at long enough to read the post. Yellows and reds seems to be out, I don't think I like those too much. I thought I would hate orange too, but now that I write it, maybe it's not so bad. There's also that green I used for other things. That looks fine, but like I said I have used it elsewhere. This purple looks alright as well. I dunno though, I kinda suck at colors (just ask my wife). I think I like all of the colorized versions (demonstrated below) better than the old italicized version, I'm just not sure which to go with. Also, if anyone is reading this and is actually good at this type of thing I'd love to hear other suggestions, either of different colors or just something else that I haven't thought of. The easy color options are shown below. Of course, I can use any color I want with a hex value, but doing it that was is much more of a pain in the ass, so I'd rather use one of these unless something else would look much better


Another thought I have is that I've been going back and forth between the story summary and the responses too fast. Sometimes a single line of story then a paragraph of responses. Feels really disjointed. I think a good fix to that will be to do much more summary at a time and then reply to multiple things at once in a reply section.

I have a few examples of the colors I'm toying with below. I think I'm leaning toward the purple, the orange seems a touch jarring to me and I've used the green for other things.

I know a number of you guys are bloggers yourselves and have probably had to think of these types of things before, what do you guys think?

Old style


Pillars of Cloud and Fire (v. 17-22)

When the people left Egypt, God didn't send them via the most direct route (through the land of the Philistines) because they might see war and return to Egypt.

Wait, what!?! They were slaves in Egypt, they would return to that voluntarily because they see war? Do they have to fight in this war if they pass through this land? I looked through other translations, and some indicate that they would have to fight to get through the land. Even still, fighting to get through a country would be different than actually taking a direct part in the war right? Especially with 600,000 men, you would think they can pass through without getting too terrible involved with the fighting.

But that's irrelevant anyway, they were cast out of Egypt so fast they had to take their bread without finishing it, and they didn't have other provisions ready. They wouldn't be allowed to return if they wanted to. It just doesn't make sense.

From Guzik:
It would have been easy for the Israelites to think that the Via Maris was the way to go; it had good, easy roads, the shortest distance, it was a trade route so food and water could be bought. But the dangers of the way were too great, even though they could not see them. The same is true of our walk with God; a way that seems right to us may turn out to be full of danger we can't even think of.
This is an interesting way to use this passage as a connection to our lives I suppose. I remember hearing this kind of thing in church all the time. It still doesn't solve the problem of the inherent ridiculousness of the passage itself. Even Guzik points out that if they go that way the people would see war and might return to Egypt. That makes no sense. 



New Style with three color options



Pillars of Cloud and Fire (v. 17-22)

When the people left Egypt, God didn't send them via the most direct route (through the land of the Philistines) because they might see war and return to Egypt.

Wait, what!?! They were slaves in Egypt, they would return to that voluntarily because they see war? Do they have to fight in this war if they pass through this land? I looked through other translations, and some indicate that they would have to fight to get through the land. Even still, fighting to get through a country would be different than actually taking a direct part in the war right? Especially with 600,000 men, you would think they can pass through without getting too terrible involved with the fighting.

But that's irrelevant anyway, they were cast out of Egypt so fast they had to take their bread without finishing it, and they didn't have other provisions ready. They wouldn't be allowed to return if they wanted to. It just doesn't make sense.


From Guzik:
It would have been easy for the Israelites to think that the Via Maris was the way to go; it had good, easy roads, the shortest distance, it was a trade route so food and water could be bought. But the dangers of the way were too great, even though they could not see them. The same is true of our walk with God; a way that seems right to us may turn out to be full of danger we can't even think of.
This is an interesting way to use this passage as a connection to our lives I suppose. I remember hearing this kind of thing in church all the time. It still doesn't solve the problem of the inherent ridiculousness of the passage itself. Even Guzik points out that if they go that way the people would see war and might return to Egypt. That makes no sense. 

Pillars of Cloud and Fire (v. 17-22)

When the people left Egypt, God didn't send them via the most direct route (through the land of the Philistines) because they might see war and return to Egypt.

Wait, what!?! They were slaves in Egypt, they would return to that voluntarily because they see war? Do they have to fight in this war if they pass through this land? I looked through other translations, and some indicate that they would have to fight to get through the land. Even still, fighting to get through a country would be different than actually taking a direct part in the war right? Especially with 600,000 men, you would think they can pass through without getting too terrible involved with the fighting.

But that's irrelevant anyway, they were cast out of Egypt so fast they had to take their bread without finishing it, and they didn't have other provisions ready. They wouldn't be allowed to return if they wanted to. It just doesn't make sense.

From Guzik:
It would have been easy for the Israelites to think that the Via Maris was the way to go; it had good, easy roads, the shortest distance, it was a trade route so food and water could be bought. But the dangers of the way were too great, even though they could not see them. The same is true of our walk with God; a way that seems right to us may turn out to be full of danger we can't even think of.
This is an interesting way to use this passage as a connection to our lives I suppose. I remember hearing this kind of thing in church all the time. It still doesn't solve the problem of the inherent ridiculousness of the passage itself. Even Guzik points out that if they go that way the people would see war and might return to Egypt. That makes no sense. 

Pillars of Cloud and Fire (v. 17-22)

When the people left Egypt, God didn't send them via the most direct route (through the land of the Philistines) because they might see war and return to Egypt.

Wait, what!?! They were slaves in Egypt, they would return to that voluntarily because they see war? Do they have to fight in this war if they pass through this land? I looked through other translations, and some indicate that they would have to fight to get through the land. Even still, fighting to get through a country would be different than actually taking a direct part in the war right? Especially with 600,000 men, you would think they can pass through without getting too terrible involved with the fighting.

But that's irrelevant anyway, they were cast out of Egypt so fast they had to take their bread without finishing it, and they didn't have other provisions ready. They wouldn't be allowed to return if they wanted to. It just doesn't make sense.


From Guzik:
It would have been easy for the Israelites to think that the Via Maris was the way to go; it had good, easy roads, the shortest distance, it was a trade route so food and water could be bought. But the dangers of the way were too great, even though they could not see them. The same is true of our walk with God; a way that seems right to us may turn out to be full of danger we can't even think of.
This is an interesting way to use this passage as a connection to our lives I suppose. I remember hearing this kind of thing in church all the time. It still doesn't solve the problem of the inherent ridiculousness of the passage itself. Even Guzik points out that if they go that way the people would see war and might return to Egypt. That makes no sense. 


Pillars of Cloud and Fire (v. 17-22)

When the people left Egypt, God didn't send them via the most direct route (through the land of the Philistines) because they might see war and return to Egypt.

Wait, what!?! They were slaves in Egypt, they would return to that voluntarily because they see war? Do they have to fight in this war if they pass through this land? I looked through other translations, and some indicate that they would have to fight to get through the land. Even still, fighting to get through a country would be different than actually taking a direct part in the war right? Especially with 600,000 men, you would think they can pass through without getting too terrible involved with the fighting.

But that's irrelevant anyway, they were cast out of Egypt so fast they had to take their bread without finishing it, and they didn't have other provisions ready. They wouldn't be allowed to return if they wanted to. It just doesn't make sense.


From Guzik:
It would have been easy for the Israelites to think that the Via Maris was the way to go; it had good, easy roads, the shortest distance, it was a trade route so food and water could be bought. But the dangers of the way were too great, even though they could not see them. The same is true of our walk with God; a way that seems right to us may turn out to be full of danger we can't even think of.
This is an interesting way to use this passage as a connection to our lives I suppose. I remember hearing this kind of thing in church all the time. It still doesn't solve the problem of the inherent ridiculousness of the passage itself. Even Guzik points out that if they go that way the people would see war and might return to Egypt. That makes no sense. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Prison, Hell, and Child Abuse

Solitary confinement
(Photo credit: Chris.Gray)
Today's Podcast

Prison is a scary place and no parent wants their child to end up there. As part of teaching your children about the world, it is a good idea to tell them about prison and the kinds of things that people can do to end up there. If you think your children are particularly at risk for going to prison, you might spend a fair amount of time warning your kids about the kinds of activities that land them there. If you see them engaging in dangerous behavior, a prudent course of action would be to warn them against those behaviors.

However, suppose you obsess about the possibility of your kids going to prison and talk about it all the time. Perhaps even with the intention of scaring them to keep them safe. Your children could easily suffer some psychological issues from this and we might want to call this child abuse.

Now, suppose we hear about a parent who is teaching their child about prison, do we assume that the action is child abuse? I would argue that such an assumption would be irresponsible of us. Sure, it is possible that the parent could be obsessing about prison and causing their child to live in a world of fear. But it is also possible that they are teaching their children about prison in a reasonable way.

For my purposes, prison is just an analogy for hell. The point here is that I "recently" (damn, more than a month ago) wrote about my dislike of the common atheist meme that indoctrination is child abuse. A very brief summary of my argument was that since the Christians truly believe that hell is real we shouldn't call it abuse when they tell their children about it. In the comments, Cephus pointed out that some NAMBLA members really believe that having sex with young boys is good for the boys, by my logic we couldn't call this abuse either*. Clearly with this example at hand it is clear my logic was flawed. The beliefs of a person committing an act does not affect whether or not their action is abuse.

So I thought back about what had been annoying me in the first place that motivated me to write that post. What I don't like is the wholesale statement that indoctrination is child abuse. Teaching your children your religion does not necessarily constitute child abuse, it depends on how you do it. Replace "prison" with "hell" in my first 3 paragraphs and we can see an example of this. Teaching your children about hell can be very damaging psychologically, but it doesn't have to be. If it is mentioned briefly and never emphasized it probably won't cause any issues (my wife grew up in this type of environment).

In my first post I focused on the wrong detail. Whether the parents believe in hell or not is irrelevant. If they teach their kids about hell in an abusive way then it is abuse. If they teach their kids about hell in a responsible way it is not. Whether or not hell is a real place is irrelevant to the discussion (although it does add a dimension of disgust for atheists to think the kids are being subjected to psychological torture for nothing).

So is indoctrination child abuse? I think the only reasonable answer is "sometimes". Certainly some denominations are worse than others. I would say that fundamentalists fit this category more often than other churches. But even that is not universal. If you want to talk about religion as child abuse, I think the only reasonable thing to do is focus on a particular behavior and identify why you see it as abusive. This could spark an interesting discussion, who knows, you might even convince someone of your point of view. But making the broad statement that all religion is child abuse will just turn off any religious people who are listening.

(*note: I am in no way saying that the actions of NAMBLA members are equivalent to teaching your child about hell. In fact, the whole point is that they are significantly different, and yet my logic applied to both indicating that the logic is flawed)
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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Indoctrination and Child Abuse

Today's Podcast

It is not terribly uncommon to see atheists make the claim that raising someone with religion is tantamount to child abuse. Recently (say, over the past year or so) this has really irked me when I hear it. I wish atheists would stop using the argument as it seems quite hyperbolic to me. Statements like this have huge potential to alienate exactly the types of Christians that I would like to engage with. On the other hand, I have to admit that when I was going through the early stages of my atheism this type of statement resonated with me big time. In this post I am going to explore these two conflicting thoughts on this common statement.

Why does this stuff resonate so well with many atheists?

I first heard the "religion is child abuse" meme when I was new to atheism. At the time I was very angry at religion, I see it as responsible for a lot of the pain I experienced as a child. The fear of hell and thought-crimes were the biggest offenders, but there were a great many things about the religion that affected my childhood in a negative way. I was terrified of hell a lot during my childhood, there were plenty of nights where I was unable to sleep as I had these fears running through my head. I was afraid to try new things unless I was certain it was acceptable from the church's perspective. I was afraid to ask questions as the answers might lead me to losing my faith. Being mired in fear is a really shitty way to grow up.

The fear was instilled so deeply that there was even a couple of years when I didn't believe in any of it anymore and yet I was still afraid of hell. I definitely wasn't a Christian and I was pretty sure I didn't believe in God anymore, and yet I just assumed this meant I was going to hell. I had some pretty serious struggles with depression during this time. I have heard similar things from quite a few atheists, it really shows how strong indoctrination can be. Many atheists say that the reason this kind of fear is instilled in people is so the church can keep members, although I would guess that the causation is the other way around, the church still exists because it instills this kind of fear but they don't subject people to fear for that reason.
Source

But details aside, the point is that I look back at my childhood and I see that the indoctrination I experienced as a child definitely caused me years of unnecessary anguish. In this state I heard people say that religion is child abuse and it really resonated. Furthermore, pictures like this will pop up from time to time and I find them creepy as hell. I feel really sorry for those kids, it seems to me that they will either be Christians for life or they will experience the kind of pain I did when they leave the church. I really wish there was something I could do to make that not happen.

But is it appropriate to call this child abuse?

What makes something abuse? Is it simply that it causes someone distress? Imagine my son is playing in our front yard and I scream at him, which makes him stop what he's doing, sit down, and cry. If I'm doing this just to fuck with him I'm a horrible father and we might want to call it abuse (especially if it is a regular occurrence). If I just stopped him from running in front of a car then perhaps I just saved his life.

So where does indoctrination fall? Let's focus on the doctrine of hell for a moment, is it abuse or not? I think many atheists see it as causing pain for no good reason. Hell doesn't exist and yet they were tormented for years because of the thought of going there after they die. Being tortured for eternity is terrifying, and the made up threat is designed to keep them in line. From this perspective it definitely feels like abuse.

But what if hell were real? Whether or not it scares them is beside the point, you must warn your children about hell and in so doing help them avoid it. If hell were real it would be your duty to tell your children about it, a little fear is a small price to pay compared to an eternity of torture. If my son was running in front of a moving car and I sat back and did nothing I would be a negligent father, if hell were real and I said nothing the same logic would apply.

So what is the real situation? Does hell exist and the Christian parents are doing their due diligence by telling their children about it, or is hell made up nonsense and they are causing their children undue pain? This is the disconnect, Christians think we are in the first situation and atheists think we are in the second. Many atheists see the unnecessary pain and call it child abuse, but the Christian parents think they are saving their children's souls. Even if we are right, I think child abuse is an unfair charge.

Return to my analogy with my son running out in front of a car. Suppose that after I scare him I realize that the car was parked. He was never in any danger, it turns out I scared him for no good reason. Does this make me a bad father? Does it make my actions child abuse? Hell no! I should probably pay more attention to my surroundings and those of my son, but an abuser I am not.

The Christians see a car aimed at their children and they are trying to keep them from getting run over. It is up to us to convince them that the car is parked. We need to work to convince them that hell is not real. We should tell them that we think they are wrong and more importantly tell them why. But we should not call them monsters for doing what logically makes sense based on the beliefs that they hold. All that does is make us look like dicks and gives them a reason to dismiss us.

**edit 27 April 2014** I have been reconsidering my thoughts on this topic. I am still working through some of and I am planning on writing another post on the topic soon (probably in a couple weeks, this week and next weekend will be very busy for me). If you have anything to add please throw a comment in. I'd love to hear more perspectives on this.

2nd edit: I finally wrote a follow up post

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Getting Baptized Today

I'm sure my regular readers have noticed my lack of posts this past year. As I have mentioned quite a few times, having a baby has kept me quite busy and blogging always winds up pretty low on the list of things to do. But in addition to this, I have been on an extraordinary spiritual journey that is culminating today. I'm getting baptized!
An evangelical Protestant Baptism by submersio...
An evangelical Protestant Baptism by submersion in a river (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know this might seem crazy, but trust me, having a child changes your perspective on everything. It's one thing to risk my soul ending up in an eternal state of torment and torture, but how can I risk my son's? What if he winds up in hell and it's my fault? I'll feel pretty bad then! I just couldn't let that happen.

burn in hell
burn in hell (Photo credit: tacit requiem (joanneQEscober ))
But it's not just wishful thinking, or fire insurance, I have very good reasons for this. The reasons have been there all along, somewhere deep down in my soul I knew it, I just knew, but some part of me was holding back. My atheists readers know this feeling, God is real, you know it, you just don't want it to be true and you suppress it. But God has single-handedly reached into my heart and taken this block away. I can now really see the truth (which again, on some level I saw it all the time). God is real, and he loves me, and all he wants in return is for me to acknowledge this love so he won't be forced to let me be tortured for all eternity.

So what are these reasons? How do I know for certain that God is real? It's such and easy question that I could go on and on for days about it. I have so many good answers that it's hard to even know where to start. In fact, putting it in writing doesn't seem to be the right medium as it really downplays the magnitude of what I am saying. I have decided that I will instead summarize my thoughts in a youtube video. Please go watch this video and you will be convinced! It's unimaginable that someone could see this amazing evidence and not become a Christian. If you are an atheist and you are afraid of changing your position, then by all means avoid my video, but if you have the slightest bit of courage go have a look.
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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Exodus 13: A Pillar of Fire? Cool!

today's podcast

Previously:

After a swath of plagues from God, the Egyptians finally kicked the Israelites out of Egypt.

Consecration of the Firstborn (v. 1-2)

God says to consecrate the first born (among men and beasts) to him.

I'll be honest, I didn't know what the hell "consecrate" means. I had to look it up. Apparently it is just declaring something sacred. So in this case we are saying the firstborn is the most sacred and they belong to God, or they are to be used for a holy purpose...or something like that I guess. We saw this before with Esau and Jacob, it appears that the social convention was that the older one was preferred, but in Genesis 25 God demonstrated a willingness to go against the convention and favor the younger at times. That appears to be over now, God wants to consecrate the firstborn which seems to say that the preference to the younger won't happen again. (BTW, if anyone thinks I'm way off base here let me know, I am sorta shooting from the hip on this one).

From Guzik:
Consecrate to Me: The idea is that the firstborn was to be set apart to God, whether of man or beast - the firstborn belonged to God.
I still don't really understand what that means. So the firstborn son "belongs to God", does that mean he has work for the church? or serve the spiritual leaders? Or what? Perhaps this is obvious and I'm just being thick, but I really don't understand what is being said here. 

Also, I don't understand the preferential treatment for the firstborn at all. Sure, it is understandable that the first kid would be seen differently from any subsequent children (especially if the first kid was a medical marvel), the first is always going to be different and I could imagine the average parent would treat them a bit differently. But why cement that with a declaration from God? Shouldn't the ideal be to treat all of your children equally? To put everyone on equal footing? I assume the answer to that will typically be that it was a different time back then, but if that is the answer then why is it a good idea to use this book as a guide for how to live our lives in the modern world?

The Feast of the Unleavened Bread (v. 3-16)

They get instructions about not eating leaven for a week every year.

Didn't we just cover that material last chapter?

All of the firstborn will be for God, all firstborn male animals will be sacrificed to God and all firstborn male children must be redeemed.

I'm not 100% sure what it means to say the firstborn sons must be redeemed, but verse 13 says that firstborn donkeys either need to be redeemed with a lamb or have their necks broken. Presumably the redemption of the donkey is sacrificing the lamb. So my guess is when it comes to firstborn children being redeemed, there is also a sacrifice of an animal involved.

From Guzik:
But every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb … And all the firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem: If the firstborn was unacceptable to sacrifice (an unclean animal or a human) a substitute was offered to redeem the firstborn from God. If the firstborn was an animal the substitute was a clean animal. If the firstborn was a human, the substitute was money.
So you are supposed to sacrifice the donkey, but you can use a lamb instead. You are supposed to sacrifice the first child, but you can pay money instead? I still find myself confused. What exactly are they being redeemed from? Why does only the firstborn need redemption? Who gets the money?

Pillars of Cloud and Fire (v. 17-22)

When the people left Egypt, God didn't send them via the most direct route (through the land of the Philistines) because they might see war and return to Egypt.

Wait, what!?! They were slaves in Egypt, they would return to that voluntarily because they see war? Do they have to fight in this war if they pass through this land? I looked through other translations, and some indicate that they would have to fight to get through the land. Even still, fighting to get through a country would be different than actually taking a direct part in the war right? Especially with 600,000 men, you would think they can pass through without getting too terrible involved with the fighting.

But that's irrelevant anyway, they were cast out of Egypt so fast they had to take their bread without finishing it, and they didn't have other provisions ready. They wouldn't be allowed to return if they wanted to. It just doesn't make sense.

From Guzik:
It would have been easy for the Israelites to think that the Via Maris was the way to go; it had good, easy roads, the shortest distance, it was a trade route so food and water could be bought. But the dangers of the way were too great, even though they could not see them. The same is true of our walk with God; a way that seems right to us may turn out to be full of danger we can't even think of.
This is an interesting way to use this passage as a connection to our lives I suppose. I remember hearing this kind of thing in church all the time. It still doesn't solve the problem of the inherent ridiculousness of the passage itself. Even Guzik points out that if they go that way the people would see war and might return to Egypt. That makes no sense. 

God instead led them through wilderness toward the red sea equipped for battle.

They are avoiding the war, why are they equipped for battle? I feel like I'm missing something substantial here.

Moses brought the bones of Joseph along as was promised back when Joseph died.

I didn't remember this, but as we can see it did happen in Genesis 50, I didn't make a note of it at the time, apparently I missed this strange detail.
English: Lag BaOmer bonfire
English: Lag BaOmer bonfire
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

God led the way in the form of a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night so they could travel day and night.

That's kinda cool I guess. 

One final thing from Guzik:
He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people: We often think that such miraculous assurance would make us never doubt the LORD again, but Israel certainly did - and so would we
This also reminds me of things I would hear in church all the time. They like to make these bold declarations about what everyone would do in the same situation. The huge number of people around today who don't doubt God with nowhere near this kind of evidence would seem to blow a hole in this idea. This kind of thing drives me crazy, and seems to me that it is just an attempt to explain away the illogical reaction that the Israelites will have later on. 

Moral of the Story:
Trust in God, he can see dangers that we can't.
This is right from Guzik's commentary up above, furthermore, it is something I remember hearing in church and that I hear from Christians all the time. Trusting in God and letting him guide your life is a pretty common thread in a lot of Christianity as far as I can see. And honestly, it seems like it works pretty well for a lot of people, the question is how it works. 

If you ask them, they would probably say that they pray and God tells them what they should do. In my opinion, they hear messages in church that generally focus on being a good person, helping their fellow man and such. They know what being a good person generally entails, and they apply those qualities to their God. Then when they do something that doesn't live up to that ideal, they think of it as God being disappointed in them or something, and use that as motivation to stop doing the bad thing. Not too different from what an atheist does, except we would just say it is our conscience or something.


Verses of Note:

--Short Memory--

Exodus 13:17 They might return to Egypt? Really?

"When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, "Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt."
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Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Children's Book About Evolution

I happened to stumble upon Great Adaptations - a children's book about evolution on kickstarter and I thought it might be the kind of thing my readers would enjoy. I'm looking forward to teaching my son about all of the science stuff that I love, and this is exactly the kind of thing that will help me make it fun. It of course also reminded me of The Magic of Reality, which I am also looking forward to reading to my son (once he's moved beyond board books).

In addition to letting you guys know about this super cool upcoming book, I would like to ask you guys if you know of other books along these same lines. Please add any other suggestions to the comments and I'll edit the post.

(Also, I want to let you guys know that I have my Exodus 13 post written, I just need to record the podcast for it, but I'm sick right now and my voice is ruined. Hopefully I will be able to get it done within the week)

Edit: Additional suggestions from the comments

Steve pointed us toward a slate article which suggests Bone by BoneWhy Don't Your Eyelashes Grow?: Curious Questions Kids Ask About the Human Body, and The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

I'm looking forward to getting all of these books, please keep the suggestions coming :)
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