Sometimes I feel like when we read sensational stories in the Bible, the sensational details result in us missing the point entirely. We focus on "How did he fit all the animals on the ark?" (And how did he clean up all the poop?") as opposed to "Isn't it amazing that in a world where everyone assumed the gods were always angry, this ancient story is about a God who promises to never destroy the earth again (and never has)? We focus on "Why would God command Abraham to sacrifice his child?" as opposed to, "In a barbaric world, where people felt like they needed to sacrifice a child to appease the gods, (Notice in the story that Abraham doesn't seem to need instructions as to how to do it!) what does it mean that God tells Abraham and his people to knock it off? We focus on "How did Jonah survive in a whale?" or "Was Jonah really in a whale?"" as opposed to "What would it have meant for Israel who had been occupied or exiled by their enemies for much of their history to hear a story about a prophet who wishes curses upon his enemies and they actually repent ?"(Replace Ninevites with Russia or Iran or Republicans or Democrats depending upon your audience if you wanted to retell this shocking story.)
Here's another story from the Old Testament (book of Numbers) about Balaam, which usually leads us to ask, "How did God get the donkey to talk?" or "Why don't donkeys talk today?" (Some of you would argue that they do!) However, again this would be an example of missing the point. A good Jewish understanding of this story goes something like this:
The Israelites move along the eastern edge of the land of Israel. They approach the territory of Moab, and Balak, king of the Moabites fears that the Israelites will outnumber and overwhelm his people. So he sends a request to a well known sorcerer, Balaam, to place a destructive curse on the Israeliites, presumably to destroy the Jewish people.
The king brings Balaam to a spot overlooking the Israelite encampment, but instead of cursing the Israelites, Balaam ends up blessing them. They move to yet another overlook and the same thing happens, yet another blessing! The third attempt leads Balaam to say these words: "How good are your tents, O Jacob, and your dwelling places, O Israel." Through this story, we are reminded that sometimes what once was detrimental or destructive can be transformed and redefined as hopeful and constructive, that repentance, waking up, and seeing things in a new way is possible, and that blessing sometimes comes from the most unlikely of people and situations.
Let us not miss the point by rushing to judgment, refusing to forgive, or writing off people too quickly. Let us remember that God knows the human heart and can often see things that we can't. And let us trust that God is leading us to new directions and possibilities in our lives, with blessing.
See you in church!
Grace and peace,