Pharaoh Kept Coming Though he Had Nothing! Just Like Cool Hand Luke, Except He Wasn’t Cool

About the time that Pharaoh asked Moses for a blessing, John said at the mid-week meeting: “He should have thought of that nine plagues ago!”

Take also your flocks and your herds and go, just as you have said. But you must also bless me,”  (Exodus 12:32) he said. Gods don’t usually make this sort of request, and he was viewed as a god back then. Whether he believed it or not is another thing entirely, but he certainly knew he had a good gig going and didn’t do anything to mess it up. He was good at playing the role.

This is the same guy (John, not Pharaoh) that I had gotten into a routine of working with in the ministry—every Wednesday afternoon, usually. Generally we would ride together but then work separately. When we did work together, we would encourage each other with remarks like: “Try not to mess up this door like you did the last one.” He has a easy way about him, and people readily chat with him whether they agree or not. He’s non-threatening.

But Pharaoh, of course, was super-threatening. After the ninth plague he said to Moses: “Get out of my sight! Make sure that you do not try to see my face again, for on the day you see my face, you will die.” (10:28) When he called back Moses after the tenth plague, the latter could have said: “I thought you said you didn’t want to see this mug anymore,” but he didn’t. He was a good sport that way.

Thihi gave the Bible reading the week before last, and I loved the inflection and pausing he put into it—inflecting up into the object, and pausing briefly afterwards. “Go, serve Jehovah your God. But just who will be going?” Pharaoh wanted to know. “Then Moses said: ‘We will go with our young people...our old people...our sons...our daughters...our sheep...and our cattle”—inflection into each, and pause afterwards—all but saying, “and what are you going to do about it?”

Pharaoh blew a gasket at this and kept laying down terms, yielding a little after each plague. Like George Kennedy said of Cool Hand Luke, “He just kept coming at me, even though he had nothing!” The only thing that didn’t match with Pharaoh was that he wasn’t cool. Not even a dog will bark when we leave, Moses told him. My own dog goes livid at the window when someone has the nerve to walk past on the public street. They just keep on walking, but even that minor disturbance would not happen.

They’d leave with a lot of dough, too. By the time the plagues were done, Egyptians would be so sick of seeing them, and so desirous to keep them happy and moving, that they would load them down with goods. “Jehovah gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, so that they gave them what they asked for, and they plundered the Egyptians,” (Exodus 12:36) as though God had determined that they would be paid for their many years of labor. Nor did they leave alone, but a “vast mixed company” threw in their lot with them. (12:38) Maybe they included Pharaohs’ own servants, who had worked up the courage to urge him, “How long will this man continue to menace us? Send the men away so that they may serve Jehovah their God. Do you not yet realize that Egypt has been ruined?” (10:7)

Thihi is coming along well himself. A Burmese man, initially with so-so English skills, I think the nature of his progress was missed by the one studying the Bible with him. “Where do you see yourself going with this?” he had asked Thihi, unfamiliar with teaching those of halting English and the slower pace it requires. As though the question was the biggest ‘Duh’ imaginable, he had answered that he wants to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

We have one of those congregations where Sunday afternoon service is not terribly popular (“It’s like pulling teeth!” Miriam said once, trying to get others to join her)—sometimes it would just be my wife and I. Soon Thihi began to be a regular companion with me, but he wasn’t speaking yet, nor was there any hurry to rush the event. I even thought of finding Burmese people in our area (where there is no Burmese group) calling on them with him in tow, and he could chime in at will, even cutting his teeth that way, but then Covid 19 hit and the physical ministry ended. I do see him on the Zoom meeting when the entire congregation meets for service experiences.

There was some talk about how Moses agreed not to show his face anymore to Pharoah. Wasn’t he rash to say that? What would he do when God said to go back with the next plague? It seemed to me that he had indeed been rash—not so much rash as chicken, but God got him out of a spot by announcing his next plague (the tenth) before he had left the room. But someone else uncovered a research note somewhere that said the whole thing was “parenthetical,” whatever that means. I don’t know—you be the judge:

Pharaoh said to him: “Get out of my sight! Make sure that you do not try to see my face again, for on the day you see my face, you will die.” To this Moses said: “Just as you have spoken, I will not try to see your face again.” Then Jehovah said to Moses: “One more plague I am going to bring upon Pharaoh and Egypt. After that he will send you away from here. When he does send you away, he will literally drive you out of here.” (Exodus 10:28-11:1)

When he did drive them out, it is summed up as: “For I will pass through the land of Egypt on this night and strike every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from man to beast; and I will execute judgment on all the gods of Egypt.” Every one of those ten plagues struck at something that a god was supposed to be in charge of. The last eight plagues the “magic-practicing priests” were powerless in the face of. But of the first two, they were not powerless. They were able to replicate the plague.

“[Aaron] lifted up the rod and struck the water that was in the Nile River before the eyes of Pharaoh and his servants, and all the water that was in the river was turned into blood... Nevertheless, the magic-practicing priests of Egypt did the same thing with their secret arts...” (7:20-22)

And

Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs began to come up and to cover the land of Egypt.  7 However, the magic-practicing priests did the same thing by their secret arts, and they too made the frogs come up over the land of Egypt.  (8:6-7)

“Yeah, it’s just like Satan,” someone muttered at the mid-week meeting. “He can’t fix anything. He can only screw it up worse!

 

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The Bridegroom of Blood and Rizpah—Verses to Trip up a Scoundrel

When I wrote the post about deciphering the bridegroom of blood, I didn’t know that those verses were on the program. Thus, it might have seemed that I was making some snarky remark about whatever had been written. I wasn’t. 

My post wasn’t really about Zipporah and Moses, anyway—that is but a side point. The real point is that passages like Exodus 4:24-26 are very hard to explain to people...

Now on the road at the lodging place, Jehovah met him and was seeking to put him to death. Finally Zipporah took a flint and circumcised her son and caused his foreskin to touch his feet and said: “It is because you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” So He let him go. At that time she said, “a bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision”

...and that one effect of them existing is that they serve to separate persons conscious of their spiritual need from persons who are not. It is as though a forerunner of ‘separating the sheep from the goats.’

Ida mentioned an ‘apostate’ in her family who was impressed with the Dawkins book, The God Delusion, someone who “was inquisitive in all the wrong ways and too smart for his own boots.” These characters get separated out by such passages, and the others mentioned in the post, like the one of God ‘making’ the blind one (Exodus 4:11) and the one of Jesus’ flesh and blood—true food and drink (John 6:55). The ones too “smart for their own boots“ (my wife says it is their pants they are too smart for) either are excited that they now have a chance to prove their intellect by explaining what it tells us about some technical point that is not spiritual and doesn’t really matter, anyway. Or, they are put off by it, declaring it ‘ridiculous’ and ‘not worth their time’—and you almost wonder if it is deliberate on God’s part to trip them up this way. I think it is. 

I take such ‘bridegroom of blood’ verses, and for the most part I shelve them. I play around with them a little bit, but if you take them too seriously they become like that pebble in your shoe that begins to drive you nuts. Yeah—it could mean a lot of things, and there is not enough detail to know. Besides, they are essentially trivia, something that doesn’t interest me all that much, even Bible trivia. Maybe it should, but it doesn’t. If there is not enough to go on, I make a few stabs at it, glean or salvage what I can, and move on.

It’s far more interesting to me how people are separated out over such passages—and it is roughly according to their heart. I used to illustrate it with a secular parallel: “When Trump tweets that North Korea has launched its nuclear missels, people of common sense will run for the hills. People of critical thinking will run to their keyboards to point out that the idiot can’t even spell the word right.”

Unfortunately, the secular situation has grown so toxic that I can barely use that illustration anymore, though I love it. Trump has been under non-stop attack since he began, he has a sizable ego, a background unlike any politician, a crazy set of hurdles to leap, and he has taken to acting so erratically that you don’t know if he is losing it or deliberately goading his enemies—the list of which grows ever longer with each erratic tweet. I don’t even pretend to know what is going on anymore. Heckuva system for running a country, though.

Rizpah offers another example of how sometimes we try to sanitize verses, whereas I almost think it would be better to say, “Hoo, boy!” and move on. Instead, we almost act as though ones like her are as modern-day Witnesses transposed to a different setting, with concerns intact about dress & grooming, and turning in service time. 

With Rizpah, it’s a worse mess than with Zipporah:

“...the daughter of Saul whom she bore to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite.  Then he handed them over to the Gibeonites, and they hung their dead bodies on the mountain before Jehovah. All seven of them died together; they were put to death in the first days of harvest, at the start of the barley harvest.  Then Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it out on the rock from the start of harvest until rain poured down from the heavens on the bodies; she did not allow the birds of the heavens to land on them by day nor the wild beasts of the field to come near by night. David was told what Saul’s concubine Rizpah the...”

When this was in our CLAM program, the comment was that Rizpah’s great love for God was such that she would not allow the hung bodies to be devoured by the birds overnight because she had such high regard for his law—as though any other woman would have no problem letting the birds devour the remains of her sons. She probably went insane, is my take, and whether she had regard for the law or not hardly seems the point. 

Now, it turns out that I amazed everyone by knowing all about Rizpah—an obscure character that no one else had ever heard of. The reason for this is that there is a book called Rizpah, by Charles Israel, that I read shortly after coming into the truth. The remarkable thing is that it made Rizpah, one of Saul’s concubines, the pivotal  character, and told everything though her eyes. And in her eyes, Saul was the hero, David the usurper, and “the dishonest scribes” had rewritten history to reverse what had really taken place. 

All the events in Bible narrative were covered. What was remarkable is that it all made perfect sense as she told it—events could be seen from that point of view. I’ll have to read the book again to see if I still feel that way—it’s sitting on my shelf now—I just got it from eBay. But it was the first in a series of impressions—sometimes they have grown weaker and sometimes stronger—that things can be presented another way, and that we choose the way we look at them because we choose a view that leads somewhere—if you choose Rizpah’s view, all you are left with are endless beefs about how things ‘should’ have been.

For me, this carries over as to how we view ‘apostates.’ Things can be seen from their point of view, but we choose ours because it leads somewhere. We avoid theirs because it doesn’t. Or rather it does, just like Rizpah’s views, but it leads to places we do not want to go because of heart. They do want to go where they go, again because of heart. Head has little to do with it—it is just employed to devise a convincing rationale for what the heart has already chosen.

Our choice: matters of life being decided by Jehovah’s standards. Their choice: “The way of Jehovah is not adjusted right,” and thus they choose man’s rule (we do, too, have the wisdom to direct our own step!—and even if we don’t, no one’s telling us what to do!) or they choose ‘Jehovah-lite’—(let’s not worry about us being a people for his name. Let’s redefine it as he being a God for our name). In either case, the head is charged to spin no end of arguments to “make it so,” as Picard would say.

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Amazing New Parchment Brings to Life Details of Exodus 8!

They are wicked smart over there at the Whitepebble Biblical Institute. Dumb people need not apply. Try hard to hide that fact as Wilhelm Whitepebble scrutinizes your job application, because he doesn’t miss much.

A normal day finds him at his desk, elbow-deep in ancient manuscripts, dislodging secrets from them that they yield to no one else. But once in a while he smells a rat. He suspects that verses are missing, just as his great great great great great great great great great great great great grandfather did with the Book of Mark—it simply ends too abruptly—and wrote a squirrelly little conclusion himself involving handling snakes and drinking poison.

The current passage that Whitepebble finds curiously incomplete is that of the eighth chapter of Exodus, in which Moses calls forth frogs to plague the land of Egypt and then the magic-practicing priests do the same. “Something is missing,” Wilhelm furrows his brow, “but what?”

Whenever Whitepebble is hot on the scent, he goes out to the dry dessert where parchments are preserved for thousands of years. Sure enough, after poking around a bit, he found one—and it does indeed offer a fascinating footnote to the historical record. It introduces a character found in no other Bible verse—Samthesham Sfinx.

Here is the passage of Exodus 8:1-8 , now revealed as incomplete, that first caught Wilhelm Whitepebble’s attention:

“And the LORD spake unto Moses, Go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Let my people go, that they may serve me. And if thou refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs: And the river shall bring forth frogs abundantly, which shall go up and come into thine house, and into thy bedchamber, and upon thy bed, and into the house of thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thine ovens, and into thy kneadingtroughs: And the frogs shall come up both on thee, and upon thy people, and upon all thy servants.

“[vs 5] And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch forth thine hand with thy rod over the streams, over the rivers, and over the ponds, and cause frogs to come up upon the land of Egypt. [vs 6]And Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt. [vs 7] But the magic practice ing prests did so with their enchantments, and [also] brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt. [vs 8] Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, Intreat the LORD, that he may take away the frogs from me, and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may do.”

Scholars, especially the scholars that are not fussy, are much enthused with Whitepebble’s new find, and it is currently housed in the central museum of some little town whose name I forget, where it has been dubbed the whitepebble hogwaticulus manuscript. Manifestly, it calls for a new numbering system, as it extends both the present verse 6 and 7, and makes them of unwieldy length:

“vs 5] And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch forth thine hand with thy rod over the streams, over the rivers, and over the ponds, and cause frogs to come up upon the land of Egypt. [vs 6]And Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt.

Now, there was dwelling in the land of Egypt a crude man named Samthesham Sfinx, a man harsh in his ways, and uncouth, who was nevertheless a man who put trust in the gods of Egypt. As the frogs came into his house, covering all that was his, and from the kitchen his wife started to let him hear about it, he said, “Not a problem. Don’t we have magic-practicing priests? They’ll get rid of them.”

[vs 7] And then magic practicing priests did likewise with their enchantments, and also brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt. Sam, who had been looking forward to their exodus, found that the frogs had doubled in his home, and his wife shrieked something fierce. And so Sam, earthly man that he was, said to Moses and the magic-practicing priests, “Hey, anytime you guys want to take your pissing contest elsewhere, that will be perfectly fine by me!”

[vs 8] Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, Intreat the LORD, that he may take away the frogs from me, and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may do.”

You have to see this amazing parchment, which reveals that rank and file Egyptians of that time entertained an ‘enough-is-enough’ policy regarding frogs. Shoot me a text should you decide to go visit, and I’ll rummage through my notes. I’m pretty sure I’ve still retained where the place is, assuming that my wife hasn’t thrown it away during one of her housecleaning expeditions. It may even be in my glove box. She usually misses that.

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Figuring Out the ‘Bridegroom of Blood’ - Part 2

After I wrote my original post on that tricky ‘Bridegroom of Blood’ set of verses, posted it, and linked to it on Twitter, their were unintended consequences. You must admit that commenting on that passage in Exodus is not exactly a piece of cake: 

“Now on the road at the lodging place, Jehovah met him and was seeking to put him to death. Finally Zipporah took a flint and circumcised her son and caused his foreskin to touch his feet and said: “It is because you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” So He let him go. At that time she said, “a bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.” (Exodus 4:24-26)

My post was light in tone. Afterwards someone recalled how at his meeting “one of elders rather swaggered his way through the answer as if it was a slam-dunk.“

This was my first clue that the passage had been on the program. Maybe I was being seen as flippant toward the ‘official’ version, whatever that might be, and if I could do it, he could do it. Another had picked up on the light tone and one-upped it, suggesting that when he met Moses in the resurrection to ask “And this ‘bridegroom of blood’ stuff, what’s that all about?” maybe Moses would say: “Oh, that.  Well it was late when I wrote that, and the grape juice I had been drinking had been sitting around a while, and I guess it must have fermented. . . .“

I began to worry that I was the unwitting head of an insurrection. So I tweeted that I didn’t know what the official version was, and that I had posted what I did without knowing it was even on the program. This brought a clarification from that first brother that he hadn’t meant to mean-mouth anybody, and that he actually holds that elder in high regard.

A little more back and forth, and then BW Schultz points out that the “Insight book explains the "bridegroom of blood" phrasing. I'm surprised few have looked. the explanation found there was first published in a WT in the 1940s.” (Translation: It would be nice if you did a little research before shooting your mouth off.)

So i went to the Insight book (eventually) to read that they don’t really know what the passage means, since “The literal reading of the ancient Hebrew in this passage is veiled in the idioms used nearly 3,500 years ago.”

Consequently, scholars are all over the board as they “attempt to settle questions as to whether it was Moses’ or the child’s life that was threatened, whether Zipporah touched the feet of Moses or the feet of the child or the feet of the angel with the foreskin,” and “why Zipporah said (and to whom she said), “You are a bridegroom of blood to me.” In other words, there is not a single thing that is not up in the air!

Then the Insight book offered up its own version, and it is this version alone that made it into the CLAM program, giving the impression that they really do know—and that, no doubt, accounts for the elder who is said to have “swaggered his way through it”—he ‘read the answer’ in a manner that suggested he didn’t understand it himself.

So when our meeting came, I waited to see if anyone raised their blue Zoom hand, and nobody did. So I raised mine, and said I had read the Insight book that pointed out how nobody really knew, but that the brothers had offered up an educated guess, which was why the passage abounded with words like “possibly,” “seems,” and “appears.” I knew I was untouchable because I had referred to the Insight Book, and probably no one else had read it, having just read the paragraph quoted in the Research Guide. 

I’m done with the hard stuff. I’m going back to taking notes like the tots do, tallying up words to show that I am paying attention:

”Jehovah”  lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll ll

”Jesus” lllll lllll lllll lllll l

”Brother, you’ll have to unmute yourself” lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll llll

.....See Part 3 of “Bridegroom of Blood”

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The Devil and Dennis Christensen

Dennis Christensen was to be released after serving 3 years of his sentence—there is a formula in Russia for counting each day of pre-trial detention as 1.5 days of actual time—but the Ministry of Justice has appealed. He is now in a special holding cell. He was guilty of ‘misconduct’ during his term, the MOJ charges.

He had organized an English class for fellow inmates—how bad can his ‘misconduct’ be? They are trying to break him, Watchtower HQ says, and everyone with a brain in their head knows it is so. His ‘misconduct’ was not renouncing his faith.

I couldn’t believe it when I heard of his early release. Two days later, I saw that I was right not to believe it. The reason I could not believe it is that it flew in the face of recent Russian escalation of efforts to stamp out the faith. The stiffest prison term yet had just been imposed upon sixty-one-year-old Gennady Shepakovsky. Is he not a little old for such harshness, especially when his “crime” is no more than worshipping God per the tenets of his faith? The judge of the case suggested that Jehovah’s Witnesses (there are 175,000 of them!) go to a country where their faith is “more needed.” I thought of how the prophet Amos was told exactly that by rebellious servants of the king:

Off with you, seer, flee to the land of Judah and there earn your bread by prophesying! But never again prophesy in Bethel for it is the king’s sanctuary and a royal temple.” It is exactly how an anti-God world responds to hearing his words.

This comes directly on the heels of the MOJ appealing its own victorious verdict against another Witness because the sentence imposed was insufficiently harsh. This comes directly on the heels of another Witness having his citizenship revoked.

These penalties are unheard of—even a crime-boss does not have his citizenship revoked—the Ministry of Justice comes across as unhinged in its hatred of a faith—for that’s all these ones are—members of a faith—and everyone of sense knows it. Russian enemies are fighting Christianity, for none of these convicted ones are guilty of anything other than being Christian—and the most exemplary of Christians at that: Christians who will not kill, Christians who will not steal, lie, fall into sloth, do drugs, abuse alcohol, Christians who do more than their share to contribute to the common good.

It is possible to overplay one’s hand and in so doing provide a glimpse into a deeper reality. There is no human explanation that makes sense for such over-the-top ill-treatment. Therefore, it dawns upon some to look for a super-human explanation. At the Kingdom Hall, a weekly segment for 2 or 3 years running has been a consideration of the book, Jesus’ Life and Ministry, detailing events of his life in chronological order. Last night, his post-Passover final meeting with his disciples came up for examination. Was it to be always easy sailing for those who would stick with him?

Men will expel you from the synagogue. In fact, the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he has offered a sacred service to God”​—Jesus’ words of John 16:1-2 were reviewed. See why Dennis is not unprepared? He has been fortified with these words all his of his life.

He has also been fortified by Revelation 2:10: “Look! The Devil will keep on throwing some of you into prison so that you may be fully put to the test, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Prove yourself faithful even to death, and I will give you the crown of life.” It is also to be mentioned John 15: 19-21: “If you were part of the world, the world would be fond of what is its own. Now because you are no part of the world...for this reason the world hates you. Keep in mind the word I said to you: A slave is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me [Jesus], they will also persecute you; if they have observed my word, they will also observe yours. But they will do all these things against you on account of my name, because they do not know the One who sent me.”

So Dennis is not unprepared. He is bummed, no doubt—how could anyone not be? but probably not unprepared. He knows who he is battling, and it is not men. If I didn’t believe his early release, he probably didn’t, either—“not until it is in the bag,” he would have said. He knows he is up against the Devil, standing up as a test case almost like that of Job. The humans don’t matter—if one of them forgets his/her lines or has a change of heart, he is replaced by someone true to the wicked cause of a play that has not only continued from Jesus’ time but is coming to a head. A friend who has traveled to Russia tells me that the brothers there are cautious—but they have always had to be cautious. They find satisfaction in knowing that their resolute stand answers the taunts of the Wicked One before the entire world.

Of course, Dennis had no way of knowing that he would be the test case—no doubt he does not like that. Or maybe he does. You never know. Some Witness survivors of the Holocaust are on record as saying that they would not have traded away their experience if they could, for it gave them opportunity to give answer to the Devil before the world. They mirror the attitude of certain first-century Christians who, upon release from abusive treatment, went out “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of [Jesus’] name. (Acts 5:41)

Is it a coincidence that the weekly Bible reading schedule that Witnesses adhere to has rolled around to Exodus chapter 5, about how Moses’s first foray to Pharaoh initially went badly for the Israelites?

Afterward, Moses and Aaron went in and said to Pharaoh: “This is what Jehovah the God of Israel says, ‘Send my people away so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.’”... “The king of Egypt replied to them: ‘Why is it...that you are taking the people away from their work?’... That same day, Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters and their foremen: “You must no longer give straw to the people to make bricks. Let them go and gather straw for themselves.... Make them work harder, and keep them busy so that they will not pay attention to lies.” (Exodus 5: 1-9)

“Hmm. Is there anything today that corresponds to supposedly good news being turned on its head like in Moses’s time and unexpectedly made harsh news?” I asked myself, and then I read about Dennis being shoved back into the slammer. The events even parallel in how the faithless ones back then charged that Moses had made a hash of his assignment and should have left matters alone—just as faithless ones today have charged that the Witness organization reads the situation wrongly and makes it worse for the Russian Witnesses. “They’re no Moses!” the villains will say. Maybe not, but in this case the developments could not have paralleled those of Moses more closely. In fact, the modern Russian brothers put the Israelites to shame, for the latter did blame Moses for their problems. “May Jehovah look upon you and judge, since you have made Pharaoh and his servants despise us and you have put a sword in their hand to kill us,” they accused the one assigned to deliver them. (vs 21)

“There’s something happening here—what it is ain’t exactly clear,” sings the Buffalo Springfield—50 years too soon and on the wrong stage. The fog is dissipating fast. Russia becomes the most visible nation to fight against God. “The kings of the earth take their stand, and high officials gather together as one against Jehovah and against his anointed one” (Psalm 2:2), and Russia acts as though wanting to lead the charge. You never know when a given king will read ahead and decline to play the game, for the ending bodes ill for them: “Ask of me, and I will give nations as your inheritance,” God says to his son, “and the ends of the earth as your possession. You will break them with an iron scepter, and you will smash them like a piece of pottery.” So far, though, most are adhering to script.

Matters are coming to a head—you can smell it. Is it reasonable to insist that Exodus 5 finds a parallel in today’s Russian events? No. But it’s reasonable to suggest it—just as it was reasonable to suggest that the then-scheduled Bible reading of the Assyrian army assaulting Jerusalem prepared the hearts of Russian brothers who were facing immanent ban of their organization in 2017.

Is it reasonable to look at these parallels? It hardly matters. Reason has had its day in the sun. It has been weighed in the scales and found wanting. The point of 2 Timothy 3: 1-5 is that in the last days people would forget all about reason—and a host of other stabilizing qualities. Does it seem that reason is the order of the day in light of the Covid 19 epidemic, as punctuated by protests escalating to riots, as a black man’s death at the hands of police stokes mayhem around the world? Jehovah’s Witnesses are among the few—at least in my American home—who without fuss don masks. Normal meetings and methods of ministry are suspended, and it is almost as though ones are retreating to interior rooms until the denunciation passes. Anger, not reason, becomes the order of the day, and it is not so foolish to lie low during that time.

The world is not friendly to Christian values. The persecution that Jesus guaranteed would visit his followers is not to be averted. But what can be guaranteed, as Paul said to Agrippa, is that this thing will “not be done in a corner.” It will receive maximum publicity so that whoever is of good heart will be moved by it. This the Witness organization has done and continues to do.

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...This post will soon be appended to the free ebook: Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses write Russia. The book is in ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ version—the only difference being that in ‘safe’ version, all quotes from Watchtower publications are redacted. Even if is the New World Translation quoting Jesus on how we must love our enemies. “Redacted for reader safety,” it will say.

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Figuring Out the ‘Bridegroom of Blood’

Whoa! What a mess! Better defuse this one. It’s right there in our assigned Bible reading this week:

Now on the road at the lodging place, Jehovah met [Moses] and was seeking to put him to death. Finally Zipporah took a flint and circumcised her son and caused his foreskin to touch his feet and said: ‘It is because you are a bridegroom of blood to me.’  So He let him go. At that time she said, “a bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.” (Exodus 4:24-26)

What in the world is that all about? I hate to say it—maybe it betrays a weakness on my part—but I cannot rely on the brothers to clear this up. Too often, it seems to me, they go after such verses determined to ‘clean them up’—‘put a smiley face on it’—and....um...it’s really not that easy to do, is it? That’s how they—and nearly all other Bible-believers—go on and on about how Dinah was raped because she hung out with the wrong crowd, and appear not to notice the rather huge elephant in the room—her brothers slaughtered the whole tribe in retribution! Oh, I guess the fact that Jacob rebuked them counts for something, but even so....

It’s like when the she-bears come out of the woods and devour the 42 children making fun of Elijah—“Go up, you baldhead!” they shout with glee but they stop shouting it as the bears were making child-sandwiches out of them (2 Kings 2:23-24). You can—as our people have done, lecture on how those parent should have better trained their “juvenile delinquent” offspring, and then (this they have not done—but it is the kind of thing that appears sometimes) maybe will even go off on a tangent about how the Bible is accurate because it doesn’t say ‘about 40’—it says 42–and thus it reflects getting the details straight, the mark an historian, and not a fairy tale which would content itself with ‘about 40’—but—well, that doesn’t quite smooth it over for everyone, does it? As far as I concerned, about the best you can do with those verses is to assign them to a bald brother who will tap his shiny dome as though he is a protected species and suggest that you’d better not give him any grief. I did try—I really did—to put a smiley face on this one, or at least a plausible one, building off a vaguely parallel contemporary report, and I am rather pleased with the result, but let me tell you: it ain’t easy reconciling cultures thousands of years apart.

Don’t think it need be thousands of years, and don’t think it need be the Bible. “Here, I thought you might like this,” researcher B.W. Shultz tweets to me, as though he were flicking a spec of dandruff off his shoulder. It is an ebook from 1884: Rochester—A Story Historical, and it upends everything I thought I knew about my home, upstate New York! It turns out that the first settler in what became Rochester, Ebenezer Allan, was a scoundrel. He was a barbarous ne’er do well. He was a drunken lout. He’d pair up with Mary Jemison’s (the white woman on the Genesee) no-good son—the one who shoved around his mom whenever he’d consumed too much firewater, which was a frequent occurrence—and raise all manner of hell.

Now—it’s a little hard, when you are holding up your city as a shining example to the world, to come to grips with how its first settler was a dirtbag. But a certain town historian tries—she tries mightily. She seizes on the fact that he was not a lowlife in every way—he actually could work hard when he wanted to and he did run some diplomatic missions that did benefit, even if accidentally, persons other than himself. She gushes on of how he “found happiness” after taking on yet another wife, and does not mention how with a former one, he had guys paddle her on a canoe to the falls and bail out so that she would go over and not they—for is that not but a trifle in the overall tale of a man’s finding happiness? The poor woman—she swum to shore and then went to beg the jerk’s forgiveness! Our historian is determined to plaster lipstick on a rather hideous pig, and she works up to the hope that “If history colors him a little testy at times, perhaps it needs to reflect opon the primitive conditions of that era and be a little more understanding of, and charitable to, Mr. Allan.” Elsewhere, she genuflects to him as “one of the frontier's greatest romantic rogues.”

So with that established—that outrageous histories abound and the temptation to clean them up is not unique to Bible students, let’s try to clean up this mess at Exodus, knowing that the critical thinker may not be satisfied with our effort—perhaps even cynically ad-libbing “At least they gave attention to their dress and grooming”—with whatever spin the Watchtower puts on those verses. It’s hard to know where to start, but we could acknowledge that Abraham decreed circumcision for his offspring as a sign of a special relationship with God, that Moses “knew or should have known” that, and that Moses accordingly should have seen to it that his son was circumcised. Maybe it didn’t occur to him, because Issac and Jacob deliberately set out to find and marry one of their own, whereas he, Moses, had to hotfoot it out of Egypt and take whoever he could get—believer or not. “Here, you can have my daughter,” Midian says—and that’s the way marriages were commonly done—women were used to build alliances. It’s not exactly the world of today, is it? That’s how royalty might end up with hundreds of wives, and have to put them in a harem—a lonely existence for women: men gave their daughters to form alliances and otherwise get in good with the king.

“He probably didn’t circumcise him because he was a man just like you, and he was oblivious to what everyone else knew he should be doing,” says my wife, as she glances at the back lawn, the grass now as high as an elephant’s eye. She may be on to something. At any rate, you don’t mess with Jehovah. It was Zipporah who guessed what the problem might be, as Moses was thinking “Why is this angel messing with me?—I’m the good guy!” and it was she who did something about it, taking responsibility for it, though it hardly seems her fault. I won’t go so far as to say that she said, similar to Abigail, “Please, my Lord. You know how it is with Moses. He has his head in the clouds always. He’s so spiritually minded, he’s no earthly good.” No. I won’t say it. You don’t think I know what happened to Koran, Dathan, and Abiram?

Thus, all that remains is to explain away her words: “It is because you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” I’m not touching it—I’ve done enough—other than to observe that blood was something thought sacred back then—today it just sounds gory and calls to mind a Freddy Krueger movie—and in some way she is acknowledging the sacredness of bonds that we are oblivious to today. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I myself have given it on the altar for you to make atonement for yourselves, because it is the blood that makes atonement by means of the life in it,” the Torah says, as we scratch our heads at something that we know we probably should know more about but don’t.

So we can clean that one up, more or less, at least enough to carry on. But what is it doing there in the first place—the outrageous passage? Is it just there to trip us up? The question is better asked by going to a less-weird, but still not what we would expect, passage—that of Moses trying to wheedle out of an assignment:

“Moses now said to Jehovah: “Pardon me, Jehovah, but I have never been a fluent speaker, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant, for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”  Jehovah said to him: “Who made a mouth for man, or who makes them speechless, deaf, clear-sighted, or blind? Is it not I, Jehovah?  So go now, and I will be with you as you speak, and I will teach you what you should say.”  (Exodus 4:10-12) Really? He makes them “speechless, deaf, or blind?”

Let’s see what the brothers toss our way in the Research Guide. On those verses, there is a link to the 3/15/04 Watchtower, that says: “Although Jehovah has on occasion caused blindness and muteness, he is not responsible for every case of such disabilities. (Genesis 19:11; Luke 1:20-22, 62-64) These are the result of inherited sin. (Job 14:4; Romans 5:12) Since God has allowed this situation to exist, however, he could speak of himself as ‘appointing’ the speechless, the deaf, and the blind.”

Okay. I can roll with that. If you look at the greater picture, and those other verses, it certainly seems that it is that way. However—why not word it more precisely there in Exodus to begin with, and save everyone the trouble? Is God trying to mess with us? My guess is that he is. Recall the illustration of the secretary composing a letter for the boss. It is said to be the boss’s letter, but he didn’t actually write it—the secretary did. And it turns out that the secretary, in Exodus case, is like all humans—the treasure is carried in ‘earthen vessels.’ And God rolls with it: “Oh, wow—that ought to mess them up!” he whistles, as he surveys the work of the secretary. “Let’s see what they do with that one!”

Call it “testing” people if you like. God does it. It has a way of separating the wheat from the chaff. Nowhere is it more apparent than with Jesus telling how persons must eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to be saved. (John 6:52) “This is outrageous!” all the huffy ones say. “Who can make sense out of this? My time is too important for this nonsense!” and they stomp off before they can hear God say, “Who gave you any time at all, you pompous buffoon, so that you can carry on about how important it is?” Jesus’ disciples, of course, couldn’t figure it out either, but awareness of their own spiritual need was sufficient for them to stick around and find out.

So it is with the “bridegroom of blood” passage. Leave it where it is. Let the learned ones say, “This just shows that there are many sources of ancient history competing for the final word, and that they all want to stick in their two cents, and the reason it doesn’t make any sense is that they were all fighting their own turf wars and advancing their own opinions, and it all got jumbled up together, and I know it was that way in that world back then, because it is that way in the educated world in which I hang out, and I have never seen it any other way, so it must be there is none.” Meanwhile, the regular people will say of the passage, “Huh!” make a mental note to research it someday that will probably never come, and go on to consider with benefit the meat of the chapter.

See Part 2.

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)