Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Some of you may be aware of a controversy that has erupted over the movie THE END OF THE SPEAR. Before you believe the allegations that are being bandied about, or before you urge others to boycott a powerful, life-changing film, please take a moment to read the following two articles linked here.
My friend Randy Alcorn has written an article to address this issue, and he has spoken with all the parties involved. Please take the time to read these two articles.
Randy's article: http://www.epm.org/articles/end_spear_response.html
Steve and Mart's answers: http://www.epm.org/articles/end_spear_chad_allen.html
Monday, January 30, 2006
Yesterday an old friend spoke in church. Bruch McCoy, who I knew back in my Re'Gen days, is now a pastor and a "Dr." besides. Anyway, he was in town and spoke in our church. In his sermon I found a powerful metaphor--one so good I'm going to unabasedly steal it for use in my WIP.
Bruce (and I'm sure this was one of those sermon stories that all pastors tell) said that a jewel thief broke into a jewelry store and didn't steal a thing. Instead, he switched the price tags. The next day, in full view of the clerks and security cameras, he came in and bought the most valuable items for a pittance. And all the while, the store clerk thanked him for his business.
Bruce went on to describe how Satan has tricked our culture. We have sold the most valuable things--fidelity, honor, truth--for a pittance while placing too high a value on fleeting things--material goods, fame, appearance.
And as I sat there and thought more about it, I realize that this is what Michelle, my protagonist in the elevator, has done. I had written a scene where she shoplifts an outfit from the department store where she works. And while the scene worked, it pushed at the boundaries of credibility a bit. But now--ah! She can switch the price tags!
And later, at the moment of her epiphany, she will realize what she's done and how that philosophy, if you will, has affected her entire life.
So, thank you, Bruce. It's a wonderful metaphor.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
I gotta tell you--this morning in church we sang that Michael W. Smith song, "Breathe," that says, among other things, "This is my daily bread . . . your very word. . . spoken to me."
Since I've been partaking of the 90-Day-Challenge (or, as my friend Lisa calls it, "The Overachievers' Program"), my daily reading does feel more like a meal than a snack. My Bible margins are scrawled with smiley faces, exclamation points, and question marks . . . and I think God is happy with the fact that I'm reading and digging.
I sang a solo in church this morning, the first one in years. And I discovered that the world of accompaniment trax has gone to CD format, which leaves me with two drawers full of cassette tapes, a shiny new cord to link the tape player and computer, and a stack of blank CDs.
Yesterday I painted a room, upholstered three barstools, and recovered a hope chest that had seen much better days. Today I shall turn my thoughts toward technology . . .
I love weekends.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
The older I get, the more memories I have, and they've got to go someplace. If you think of your brain as a computer's memory, we all know that occasionally we need a defrag and a disk cleanup. The files we don't access every day are the files that usually get deleted.
So we all have systems, conscious or not, or depositing memories in other storage drives. For instance, I write in a daily journal. If something's bothering me, I write a lot. I can also find a lot of my memories in my books--no, none of my novels are strictly autobiographical, but sometimes my characters just happen to stumble on a painful or pleasant experience that comes straight from my memory disk.
Sometimes my memories are left with the Lord. I love Psalm 56:8:
You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in
You have recorded each one in your book.
I don't have to keep track of my tears or sorrows; God is doing that for me!
By far my favorite place to deposit memories, however, is in the memory banks of friends. My dear pal Nancy Rue and I don't see each other often, but when we do have a chance to catch up, it's like we've never been apart. We tell each other lots of personal stories, and I'm always amazed at what Nancy remembers.
The other day she said, "I always love that thing Tyler told you when he was little."
I had no clue what she meant. It's been years since my son was little, and I couldn't remember sharing any funny things. "Please," I asked her, "remind me."
And then Nancy retold my story . . . and reminded me of a precious thing my son once said. I'd been so caught up in his adolescent trials that I needed to remember the precious things.
When Tyler was smaller--about six or seven, maybe--he was testing me, trying to get my attention, trying to come up with the worst possible thing he could imagine. I don't remember what he wanted me to do, but he said something like, "If you don't do it, I'm gonna . . . I'm gonna . . . I'm gonna fall down and worship idols!"
ROFLOL! Okay, idolatry's not funny, but the child's mindset is. Reminds me of when I was a kid and couldn't figure out how we "gave money to God" when we put it in the offering plate. I mean, how did it get up to God? So when the preacher spoke on the Old Testament burnt offerings, I figured that after church, the deacons took all the money out back and burned it. The smoke went to heaven, and everybody was happy.
And yes, that memory has just been deposited in my WIP. For safekeeping.
Friday, January 27, 2006
The recent flap over Oprah and Frey's book (clearly fiction, but labeled a memoir), combined with an email from a friend, reminded me of a resolution I made several years back. And since the spotlight is once again on truth in publishing, I'd like to write about this issue.
You know all those celebrities who write books and novels? You may be surprised to learn that they didn't actually write those books and novels. In many cases, if not most, a ghostwriter was hired to create those books.
I used to be a ghostwriter. At the time I accepted it as industry practice. I thought the publisher was hiring me in the same way I would hire an artist who was skilled with paints to paint my picture. After all, when the picture was done, it would still be ME, even though I had never even lifted a brush.
But then another godly friend helped me see that there's a huge difference in saying, "Yes, that's my picture" and saying (or even implying), "Yes, I'm an accomplished portrait artist."
My ghostwriting took place in the realm of nonfiction--I took people's ideas and put them into books. The ideas were theirs, the writing (and a lot of the research) was mine.
And I began to think--what would it cost the "ghostee" to admit that he'd had help in writing a book? Nothing. After all, we don't expect everyone to do everything well.
I'll let you in on a secret--it takes YEARS to become an accomplished novelist (I don't think I've yet arrived.) So these celebrities who apparently sit down and whip out a novel--well, my friend, it didn't happen. Either they had a complete ghostwriter or they had an "editor" come in and recraft the work after submission.
I think readers deserve truthfulness in advertising. I think celebrities need to be honest about their abilities. And I think it's time that publishers stopped the practice of hiring ghostwriters. You can still have a celebrity name on the cover (provided he did actually supply some ideas), but let's give the hard-working writer his due. As our mothers always said, "just because everybody does it doesn't make it right." Christians are supposed to be truthful in every aspect of life.
For the record--the novels I wrote with Grant Jeffrey were joint efforts. Grant supplied many of the ideas and a lot of research, together we plotted out those ideas, and I wrote every word. To his credit, Grant insisted that my name be on the cover from the beginning.
That may have been the beginning of my "seeing the light." That was a fruitful and respected partnership, and it serves as a model of the way things ought to be done if it must be done.
Mostly, though, I think people should exercise their own God-given gifts and abilities. "But we want to get this message out," a publisher might say. "So we'll let Famous Teacher publish a novel really written by Mr. X."
Why not let Mr. X write the novel under his own name and let Famous Teacher put a blurb on the cover? Should work just as well, and it's honest.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Wow! I had no idea there were so many novelists blogging!
I gave a shout out to some friends because I wanted to compile a list. Though this list is far from exhaustive, it should keep you happily killing time every day. One note: I thought about including a list of novelists who have e-newsletters, but nearly everyone does something like that these days. To sign up for a newsletter from your favorite novelist, just visit their web page and either drop them an email or look for a sign up box.
Roxy Henke: http://www.roxannehenke.com/diary/
Angela Hunt: http://alifeinpages.blogspot.com/
Charis Connection: http://charisconnection.blogspot.com/
Robin Lee Hatcher: http://robinlee.typepad.com/
Brandilyn Collins: http://www.forensicsandfaith.blogspot.com
Linda Hall: http://writerhall.com.hosting.domaindirect.com/blog.htm
Lisa Samson: http://lisasamson.typepad.com/
Girls Write Out: http://girlswriteout.blogspot.com/ (Colleen Coble, Denise Hunter, Kristin Billerbeck, and Diann Hunt)
James Scott Bell: http://www.suspendyourdisbelief.blogspot.com/
Deborah Raney's domain name is also her blog: http://www.deborahraney.com/.
Alton Gansky: http://altongansky.typepad.com/
Kathryn Mackel’s fictional blog: http://www.esaudespised.com/
Donna Fleisher: http://www.donnafleisher.typepad.com/.
Janelle Schneider: http://janelleclareschneider.blogspot.com.
Donita Paul: http://412live.blogspot.com/
BJ Hoff: http://www.bjhoffgracenotes.typepad.com/
And that's it for today! If you're reading this on Wednesday, I'm in Nashville (Lord willing), signing copies of A TIME TO MEND for Steeple Hill. Looking forward to it!
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Thanks to Robin Lee for pointing me to George Barna's column on Christians and the DaVinci code movie.
I so agree with his perspective. There's an appalling lack of theological knowledge in our nation today. I remember once getting into an argument with one of my professors at my community college--he kept insisting that "God helps those who help themselves" was in the Bible, I kept insisting it wasn't. (For the record, it's not.) People just assume things, and that's the danger of The DaVinci Code book and movie. People assume that it's true, but it's a fictional novel based on the writings of gnostics who came a couple of centuries after Christ.
I don't know why people were so excited about this book--I didn't read it, but even my UPS man stopped me to ask what I thought of it. People are so willing to believe heresy, but they resist believing, for instance, that Jesus lived a sinless life.
That's one reason I was so thrilled to be able to write MAGDALENE. In that book I was able to do solid biblical and extra-biblical research into the lives of first-century Christians. I hope that book will point people in the direction of truth, not heresy.
MAGDALENE releases in March; the DaVinci Code movie opens on May 19. If your friends ask you about whether or not Mary M was married to Jesus, please point them in the right direction.
Monday, January 23, 2006
Rehoboam (930–913) Evil King
1 Kings 11:43-12:24; 14:21-31
Jeroboam I (930–909) Evil king
1 Kings 11:26-14:20
Abijah (913–910) Bad King
1 Kings 14:31-15:8
Asa (910–869) Godly King
1 Kings 15:8-24
Nadab (909–908) Evil king
1 Kings 15:25-28
Baasha (908–885) Evil king
1 Kings 15:27-16:7
Elah (885–884) Evil king
1 Kings 16:6-14
Zimri (884) Suicide king
1 Kings 16:15-20
Civil Unrest (884–880)61
Omri (880–874) Evil king
1 Kings 16:15-29
Ahab (874–853) Evil King
1 Kings 16:28-22:40
Jehoshaphat (869–848) Godly King
1 Kings 22:41-50
Ahaziah (853–852) Wicked king
1 Kings 22:40-2 Kings 1:18
Joram (852–841) Evil King
2 Kings 3:1-9:26
Jehoram (848–841) Bad King
2 Kings 8:16-24
Ahaziah (841)Bad king
2 Kings 8:24-9:29
Jehu (841–814) Good king
2 Kings 9:1-10:36
Athaliah (841–835) (Queen) Evil
2 Kings 11:1-20
Joash (835–796) Good king
2 Kings 11:1-12:21
2 Kings 13:1-9
Jehoash (798–782) Evil King
2 Kings 13:10-14:16
Amaziah (796–767) Good king
2 Kings 14:1-20
Jeroboam II (782–753)Evil king
2 Kings 14:23-29
Azariah/Uzziah (767–740) Bad king
2 Kings 15:1-7
Zechariah (753–752) Evil king
2 Kings 14:29-15:12
Shallum (752) one month reign, Evil conspirator
2 Kings 15:10-15
Menahem (752–742) Brutal king
2 Kings 15:14-22
Pekahiah (742–740) Evil King
2 Kings 15:22-26
Jotham (740–731) Good king
2 Kings 15:32-38
Pekah (740–732)63 Evil King
2 Kings 15:27-31
Hoshea (732–722) Evil King
2 Kings 15:30; 17:1-6
Ahaz (731–715) Evil King
2 Kings 16
Hezekiah (715–687) Good king
2 Kings 18-20
Manasseh (687–642) Evil king, but converted
2 Kings 21:1-18
Amon (642–640) Evil king
2 Kings 21:19-26
Josiah (640–609) Good king
2 Kings 22:1-23:30
Jehoahaz (609) Neutral
2 Kings 23:31-33
Jehoiakim (609–598) Evil king
2 Kings 23:34-24:5
Jehoiachin (598–597) Evil king
2 Kings 24:6-16
Zedekiah (597–587)64 Evil king
2 Kings 24:17-25:30
Have you noticed all the occasions where Scripture tells us that God put an idea into men's hearts (usually to go to war, etc), in order to punish a king or the nation of Israel for disobedience? I see examples of God's sovereignty in the affairs of men on almost every page of these readings!
Sunday, January 22, 2006
Bible Reading Schedule:
Sun: 1 Sam. 28:20-2 Sam. 12:10
Mon: 2 Sam 12:11-2 Sam. 22:18
Tues: 2 Am. 22:19-1 Kings 7:37
Wed: 1 Kings 7:38-1 Kings 16:20
Thurs: 1 Kings 16:21-2 Kings 4:37
Fri: 2 Kings 4:38--2 Kings 15:26
Sat: 2 Kings 15:27-2 Kings 25:30
And here's a hint: If you miss a day or two, don't force yourself to read those missed days. Just highlight them for later and stay on schedule. I'm finding that folks who try to make up AND keep up don't do either.
Lots of good stories last week: David and Saul and the witch of Endor and Jonathan and Methoboshith (sp?). BTW, if the witch of Endor interests you, be sure to check out Liz Higgs' Bad Girls of the Bible. Fascinating!
Friday, January 20, 2006
Once upon a time, a lady named Lori asked her good pal Angie if she'd be interested in co-writing a series of books. Lori wanted to write about small town life and Angie had a hankering to write about angels. So they put the two ideas together and Heavenly Daze, a five book series, was born.
The books have been out for some time, and as charming as they are, something far more than reader enjoyment has resulted from them. Heavenly Daze is a mythical island located off the coast of Maine, but it's also a real place. It dwells in the hearts of men and women who have bonded together in the spirit of Heavenly Daze . . . that is, in the Spirit of God.
Once the series came out, we established a yahoogroup for Heavenly Daze readers, and the site has been going strong for years. There are about 300 members, and on any given day they are sharing recipes, jokes, funny stories, and prayer requests. They may be separated by miles, even continents, but in their hearts, they are as close as the Wickam's parsonage is to the Heavenly Daze Community Church. They even have an annual reunion, where they meet in person to exchange hugs.
Heavenly Daze had a loss this week. It wasn't their first and it won't be their last, but as I watched these people come together to comfort, encourage, and pray, I couldn't help but stand amazed at what the Lord has done. He took two women, blessed their friendship and the work of their hearts, and used it to build a caring community that can and will make a difference for eternity. The writing work is done, but the ministry goes on and on.
Praise be to God for his glorious gifts. Thank you Father, for the ministry of Heavenly Daze. It is a real place, to be found wherever people carry the spirit of Heaven in their hearts.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
Everyone needs a Jim Whitmire in his or her life. "Mr. Whitmire," as I knew him, was the minister of music at my church when I was a teenager. I have hundreds of memories from Merritt Island and most of them are affiliated in some way with Jim Whitmire and the music program. Because I am married now to a youth pastor, I’ve come to realize that while we didn’t have a youth pastor at Merritt Island in those years, we had Jim Whitmire and he functioned as a pastor in practically every area of our lives.
I remember a sign he had hanging in the choir room: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”
I remember feeling my heart in my throat as I struggled to ring my handbell in the proper instant. A handbell choir with more than ten members was an insult to the music (fewer people is harder, but Mr. Whitmire assured us ten people should be able to handle anything), therefore we played a LOT of bells and a lot of notes . . . usually very quickly. He challenged us to do the near-impossible . . . and somehow, we rose to the occasion, though I was nail-biting nervous every time I slid on those white gloves.
I remember him asking us to consider what movies we went to see on Saturday night . . . because those were the thoughts that would follow us into worship on Sunday morning.
I remember him singing, “The love of God . . . is greater far, than tongue or pen can ever tell.” To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone sing that song more eloquently.
I remember one Sunday in particular. I and a couple of friends had come in late, and we slipped into a pew down front while the youth choir was singing in the early Sunday morning service. During the benediction, Mr. Whitmire came down off the platform, leaned over the front pew, and caught our attention. “I want to see you in my office,” he said.
We—and I don’t remember exactly who was with me, though I have my suspicions—promptly went upstairs and took seats in Mr. Whitmire’s small office. He came in, opened his Bible to the last chapter of Hebrews, and read a single verse: “Obey your spiritual leaders and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they know they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this joyfully and now with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit” (Hebrews 13:17, NLT).
Mr. Whitmire proceeded to tell us that when we joined the choir, we made a commitment and effectively gave up our seats in the congregation. I don’t remember everything else he said, but I left feeling chastened and cared for, not brow-beaten. By reminding us that he watched over us in order to give a good account to God, Mr. Whitmire challenged us to do better, be stronger . . . and to get out of bed on time on Sunday mornings.
Those were the lessons of leadership, and I’m glad I learned them early, because they have followed me into adulthood, motherhood, and my “job” as a youth pastor’s wife. Thanks, Jim, for everything you taught me. I hope one day to stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ and hear “Well done” from Him . . . and catch a smile from you.
P.S. Jim has recently retired as minister of music from Bellvue Baptist in Memphis, TN. I know they'll miss him!
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Since when is it wrong to consider one’s market when writing a book? The writer who wants to be read--the writer who wants to even inadvertendly minister or teach or entertain or say "life is like this"--will certainly consider his/her reader in the writing process.
I was listening to a Sol Stein tape the other day. Just before my 20-year-old car’s tape player ate the tape, Mr. Stein had three people in the audience stand up. He pointed to one and said, “You’re the writer.” To the next he said, “You’re the book.” And to the third he said, “You’re the reader.” Then he told the “writer” to sit down, leaving the “book” and the “reader” standing.
His point? By the time the book gets to the reader, we’re done. We’re out of the picture.
If your editor or test reader asks a question and you find yourself saying something like, "You may not understand what's happening now, but you will by the time you get to chapter three--" well, that's a problem. Because you're not going to be around to say that when an editor or reader is plowing through your manuscript.
We had better do our best and think of our reader as we’re writing. We have to consider his needs (emotional, intellectual, and spiritual), his sensibilities, and his expectations. We can stretch him if we like, but we must think of him with every word we write because once we’re done, we’re gone.
Remember that. Mark it down. And don't ever believe that writers shouldn't write for the market they serve.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Photo: Regina, from the WIP
A couple of notes . . . first of all, the "Real Issues in Christian fiction" list is growing, so you might want to keep checking it. We write about real life, not usually to address a specific issue, but because the issues are THERE . . . as they are in life. Writers reflect the world we live in, and these are the issues we humans face.
THE ELEVATOR is coming. I'm either on the second or third draft, depending upon how you count (I wrote about half and started over, so I suppose this is really the second-and-a-half draft.) I'm at that stage where I know where the problems are--one character is pitifully underdeveloped, certain backstory passages have to go while more pivotal ones need to be included, and I still need to work on some technical aspects of the elevator. I also need to go back and check the senses--I like to include at least three in each scene (something to see, hear, taste, touch, or smell)--and I need to make sure that the interior monologue and even the vocabulary of each scene fits the character.
Gina is highly educated and rather literary--a bit of an elitist, actually.
Michelle is from West Virginia, and though she has polished herself to a shine, occasionally she slips back into mountain vernacular.
Isabel is Mexican and English is her second language. One tip I've learned--go easy on the contractions when you're writing dialogue/thoughts for folks who have English as a second language. It helps make the language seem just a little stilted.
In any case, even though this is only a 2.5 draft, I am still occasionally staring at one sentence for ten minutes, rewriting it, weighing it, trying on all kinds of words until I find the perfect fit. It's a 15-page a day pace, and I'm taking every available minute to do those 15 pages.
Now, time to fire up the computer so it can read yesterday's pages to me. My ear picks up a lot that my eye misses.
P.S. One note from the Bible reading challenge (Yep, I'm still on schedule): Is that dismembered concubine story not one of the strangest in the Bible?
Time Magazine had a wonderful collection of articles on the brain in the Jan. 16 edition. I've always been fascinated by the brain; in fact, I wanted to be a neurosurgeon at one point in my younger life. (I'm sure there are scores of medical school professors who are glad I chose another course.)
Anyhow—the article on multitasking included some new words that I thought you all might find interesting since they are likely to apply to anyone who's into blogging.
Screen sucking: wasting time online long after you have finished what you signed on to do. Ex: “I’d be done with my first draft if I hadn’t got caught up screen sucking.”
Frazzing: frantic, ineffective multitasking, typically with the delusion that you are getting a lot done. The quality of the work, however is poor.
(I need to teach my family that when I LOOK busy--doing many things at once--that's actually the best time to interrupt me. It's when I don't look busy--when I'm sitting very still staring at something--that's when I'm most occupied.)
Pizzled: How you feel when someone you’re with pulls out a cell phone or BlackBerry and uses it without an explanation or apology. A cross between p-o’d and puzzled.
Doomdart: the internal distraction of a forgotten task that pops into your mind when you are doing something else. A side effect of frazzing. (Oh, yeah . . . I know that one!)
Monday, January 16, 2006
Yea! 24 is back on TV!
I'm sure you've seen these before, but they're worth another giggle. Ah, the wonder of words.
Why are there flotation devices under plane seats instead of parachutes?
Why are cigarettes sold in gas stations when smoking is prohibited there?
Why do fat chance and slim chance mean the same thing?
Why isn't phonetic spelled the way it sounds?
If you can't drink and drive, why do you need a driver's license to buy liquor, and why do bars have parking lots?
Do you need a silencer if you are going to shoot a mime?
Have you ever imagined a world with no hypothetical situations?
How does the guy who drives the snowplow get to work in the mornings?
If a cow laughed real hard, would milk come out her nose?
If nothing ever sticks to TEFLON, how do they make TEFLON stick to the pan?
If you tied buttered toast to the back of a cat and dropped it from a height, what would happen?
If you're in a vehicle going the speed of light, what happens when you turn on the headlights?
Why do they put Braille dots on the keypad of the drive-up ATM?
Why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways?
Why isn't "palindrome" spelled the same way backwards?
Why is it that when you transport something by car, it's called a shipment, but when you transport something by ship, it's called cargo?
You know that little indestructible black box that is used on planes, why can't they make the whole plane out of the same substance?
Why is it that when you're driving and looking for an address, you turn down the volume on the radio?
If someone invented instant water, what would they mix it with?
Why is it called a TV "set" when you only get one?
Why does your nose run and your feet smell?
Why does an alarm clock "go off" when it begins ringing?
If pro is the opposite of con, is progress the opposite of congress?
Why does "cleave" mean both split apart and stick together?
Why is it, whether you sit up or sit down, the result is the same?
Why is it called a "building" when it is already built?
Why do they call them "apartments" (apart-ments) when they are all stuck together?
Why is there an expiration date on SOUR cream?
Why do flammable and inflammable mean the same thing?
How can someone "draw a blank"?
Shouldn't there be a shorter word for "monosyllabic"?
Why is the word "abbreviate" so long?
Why did kamikaze pilots wear helmets?
When they ship Styrofoam, what do they pack it in?
If 75% of all accidents happen within 5 miles of home, why not move 10 miles
Why doesn't "onomatopoeia" sound like what it is?
Why do 'tug' boats push their barges?
Why do we sing 'Take me out to the ball game', when we are already there?
Why are they called 'stands' when they're made for sitting?
Does a fish get cramps after eating?
Why does "slow down" and "slow up" mean the same thing?
Why is it when two planes almost hit each other it is called a "near miss"? Shouldn't it be called a "near hit"?
What does Geronimo say when he jumps out of a plane?
Why are there interstate highways in Hawaii?
Sunday, January 15, 2006
SHOWERS IN SEASON, Beverly LaHaye and Terri Blackstock (Zondervan)
AN AMERICAN ANTHEM SERIES, B. J. Hoff (WestBow)
SEASON OF BLESSING, Beverly LaHaye and Terri Blackstock (Zondervan)
EVIDENCE OF MERCY, Terri Blackstock (Zondervan)
BREAKER'S REEF, Terri Blackstock (Zondervan)
PRIVATE JUSTICE, Terri Blackstock (Zondervan)
AN AMERICAN ANTHEM SERIES, B. J. Hoff (WestBow)
AN EMERALD BALLAD SERIES, B. J. Hoff (Bethany House Publishers)
JUSTIFIABLE MEANS, Terri Blackstock (Zondervan)
TRIAL BY FIRE, Terri Blackstock (Zondervan)
Saturday, January 14, 2006
My “tip of the month” for this month is one that can be magically accomplished with a word processor’s global search-and-replace function. It’s something I always do after the first draft and before delving into the second pass—I simply look for my “pet” words and tell the computer to find and replace them with the same word in all caps. Then, as I work through the second draft, the word springs to my attention and I am able to replace, remove, or retain it.
The words in my search list? They vary from manuscript to manuscript, but a few are always at the top of the list: was and were. I’ve been accused of being an “anti-wuzian,” but was and were often signal passive voice, and there’s no reason to be passive when active is but another thought away.
After hitting the big two, I go on to search and replace every had in all caps. Two caveats about had: first, a flurry of them in one or two paragraphs almost always indicates a “telling” episode—fine if it’s a quick recounting, horrible if it should be a fully-recounted scene and shown, not told. Second, if you are flashing back to a quick recollection, only two hads are necessary—the first to unlock the door and take the reader back, the second to bring him back to the present. Any other hads can usually be deleted.
Other words on my pet peeves list: rather, suddenly, very, that. There are others, but this list will vary with each writer.
Finally, I look for pet phrases that apply to each particular book. Once, when I'd finished a macho book filled with guns and wars, I realized that every time a character picked up a machine gun, he or she “slammed the magazine home.” Ugh. Once was enough. I’ve had hard drives “whirr” every time someone sits down at a computer keyboard, and characters lift a brow every ten seconds. The eyebrow calisthenics have to go!
Friday, January 13, 2006
I hate Scrabble. So much that I can't stay away from it.
My friend Jerry is a Scrabble player--I mean a GOOD Scrabble player. He even plays in tournaments.
So when my new computer came with a Scrabble game aboard, I thought, "Hey, give it a whirl. Letters and words, and you work with those every day, don't you?"
So I loaded the game and started to play. At the end of the thirty-minute trial period, I wanted more, but I wasn't about to pay the twenty bucks download fee.
So at Target I found a computer Scrabble game for ten bucks. Brought it home, loaded it, and it's the same game that came on my computer. I started playing, pitting myself again "Maven," who was ranked as a novice--which means it takes an entire second for him to put down a six-letter word .
At first I lost every time. I felt like a two year old, as all the words I came up with consisted of three letters: OLD. HER. CAR. HAT.
Occasionally I'd get a thrill turning OLD into SOLD or CAR into CARE. Especially if one of the words originated with Maven.
Then I noticed that Maven was using words I'd never use in every day life--I've come to think of them as WORDS CREATED FOR PLAYING SCRABBLE. Words like FA. HA. AH. I promise, I heard Maven chuckle when he turned HA into AHA.
So I started to be creative, too: OLAM. (I heard it in a Hebrew prayer.) The referee blew a whistle and threw the tiles back onto my tray. Okay, let's try ANON. ("Anon, good nurse, I come." Surely everyone knows that!) Nope--referee challenged me. Okay, IV. Nope, apparently abbreviations that have entered the lexicon are out of bounds.
I just don't understand why Maven gets away with UH and I'm penalized for DUH.
Last night when I fired up the game, I tried to give Maven a geeky name, just for spite: "Egbert" seemed appropriate. Nope, not allowed. Maven's ranking is 600; mine has crawled up to 84.
Maven started off the game with MA, playing horizontally. I stuck an N on the end. Then he created AN vertically. Wow, off to a rollicking start.
I tried JIF. Nope, the referee called me out. So later I got reckless and put down LI. Whaddya know, it worked. How about GIF, as in a computer image file? Nope. Alrighty then, how about NA? Aha, it's legal. RIO? Nope.
Today, when my work is done, I hope to try ROM, RAM, and JPEG, just to see if Scrabble is up to speed. I need to see what Maven uses to play his Qs and Xs and Zs--I always seem to end up with a trayful of those letters. I'm dying for a chance to play QUAD.
Last night Maven played SOMA. I'm convinced he did it only because I played it the night before. (Don't ask me what it means; I took a wild guess. The referee challenges me a LOT.)
I really hate this game . . . and I can't wait to play it again.
(Still hanging in there?)
Just a couple of thoughts on today’s passage:
First—have you ever considered that Moses may have been the first LITERATE Israelite? Slaves weren't taught to read and write, but as a son of Pharaoh, Moses would have been skilled in probably several languages—Hebrew (possibly), a couple of Egyptian dialects, and Akkadian, the courtly international language of the day. Another reason (or benefit) the Hebrews wandered in the desert forty years was that the children had an opportunity to learn how to read and write the Law Moses transcribed from God.
Notice that before he goes off to die, Moses reads the law and teaches the people a SONG. Song-as-learning-tool was a favorite tool of the Egyptian schoolmasters. We learn more readily when we put words to music. (I can recite all fifty states in alphabetical order if you’ll let me sing them.)
Three more brief items: 11:10-11 mentions the difference between the rain of the promised land and the irrigation system the Egyptians used. It doesn’t rain in the Egyptian desert—the Nile flooded once a year, and the Egyptians had to develop shadufs, which functioned as rudimentary doohickeys that scooped up water from the river and sent it through the irrigation canals.
Notice in 17:44 ff, God foretells that they will have a king. And he also gives a list of warnings about what the king should not do, and of course, Israel’s later kings did these things and suffered the consequences.
Notice in 18:15ff: Messianic prediction.
Notice in 21:16: the warning against favoring the son of a loved wife—this, of course, is exactly what Jacob did. Joseph was not the first-born son, but he was the firstborn son of Rachel, the wife Jacob loved. That’s why Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph’s two sons, were included among their uncles, the sons of Israel. Jacob effectively gave Joseph a double portion inheritance by including his two sons in the division of property and blessings.
Notice 21:22-23: This curse against anyone “who hangs on a tree” is later repeated in the New Testament in reference to Jesus. He was cursed for us, in his hanging on a tree.
And don’t forget the SONG of Moses in chapter 32. Wonder what that choir sounded like?
Thursday, January 12, 2006
This morning I was particularly struck by the Messanic prophecy Balaam gave—it’s just beautiful:
17 “I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
a scepter will rise out of Israel.
He will crush the foreheads of Moab,
the skullsa ofb all the sons of Sheth.c
18 Edom will be conquered;
Seir, his enemy, will be conquered,
but Israel will grow strong.
Notice also in 22:39-40 that Balak sent “some” of the cattle and sheep to Balaam to provoke a curse/prophecy against Israel. What he “sent” was probably the entrails, for Balaam to use for divination. Notice that in 24:1, Balaam does NOT resort to sorcery “as at other times”—no animal guts needed for these last prophecies!
Were you bothered by Nu. 22:12 (“Do not go with them”), verse 20 (“Go with them”) and vs. 22 (“But God was very angry when he went?”) After digging around a little, it becomes clear that God declared his will—he didn’t want Balaam to go. But when Balaam went again and asked God for permission, God pretty much said, “You’re going to go, but you’d better say only what I put in your mouth.” And the next day, God demonstrated his anger and his sovereign will—Balaam would go, but he would deliver the Lord’s message.
Was Balaam a “believer?” It seems that he was a sorcerer—he knew of God, he knew enough to recognize him as God, but yet he still practiced sorcery and worshipped other gods. And he paid the price, being struck down in the battle against Midian (Nu. 31:8).
There was a lot more in this reading, including what Jesus called the most important commandment of all (Du. 6:4). Enjoy!
a Samaritan Pentateuch (see also Jer. 48:45); the meaning of the word in the Masoretic Text is uncertain.
b Or possibly Moab, batter
c Or all the noisy boasters
The Holy Bible : New International Version, Nu 24:17-18. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984.
We buried Miriam at Kadesh, then for thirty days we mourned Moses’ sister and Israel’s first prophetess. Moses, Femi, and I missed her terribly, for our tent seemed empty without her. I had learned to think of her as a sister and mentor, for in her later years she showed me how to walk with God in quiet, unremarkable humility.
The people had no sooner completed the days of mourning than they began to complain about another water shortage. The children of the wilderness picked up the familiar refrain of their parents, demanding to know why Moses had brought them out of Egypt to a barren place, without seeds and figs, vines and pomegranates. . . . like fabled Egypt.
I closed my eyes as I heard their complaints. Why were these people so quick to yearn for the Black Land? Had they forgotten the pain and suffering of slavery?
Moses and Aaron met with Yhwh in the Tent of Appointment, then set out to obey his command in order to supply water for the thirsty people. Assembling the community near a large boulder outside the camp, Moses stepped onto a smaller rock. His expression clouded in anger as he lifted his staff. “Now hear, you rebels! Must we bring you water from this rock?”
While the community watched, Moses struck the boulder with his staff—and nothing happened. I caught my breath, for never had Yhwh failed my husband, then Moses struck the rock a second time. This time liquid flowed, an abundant stream that would provide more than enough water for the people and their livestock.
But one look at Moses’ face convinced me that something had gone very wrong. “Yhwh told me to speak to the rock,” he whispered as he stepped down and took my arm. “And in my anger, I struck it.”
I repressed the words of consolation that bubbled at my lips, for I could give no comfort in this situation. Yhwh had proved himself an exacting God, full of mercy, but unequivocal in his commands. Even for Moses, with whom Yhwh had a deep and abiding friendship, God would not tolerate disobedience.
Though Canaan opened before us and the forty years of wandering were drawing to an end, something of the old Midianite melancholy settled upon my husband in those last months.
It was a time of farewells. Soon after God gathered Miriam to her people, Yhwh told Moses that Aaron’s time had come. The next day Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s son Eleazar climbed Mount Hor. At the summit, Moses removed Aaron’s priestly garments and placed them upon Eleazar, symbolically transferring the office of high priest from father to son. Supported by his brother, his son, and his God, Aaron died. Moses and Eleazar covered his body with stones, then returned to camp and announced Aaron’s death. We mourned him for thirty days.
The children of Israel endured other tests during that time—battles from anxious kings, temptations from the pagan women of Moab (related, I’m sorry to say, to my own people in Midian), and strife from within the camp. Moses handled these challenges as he had handled the previous trials—by consulting with Yhwh and obeying God’s commands.
As that final year ended, Yhwh told Moses that Joshua would succeed him as Israel’s leader. Joshua, however, would not speak to Yhwh as Moses had, friend-to-friend, but would instead seek Yhwh’s will before Eleazar the priest through the Urim and Tummim—two stones the priest would wear over his heart in order to know God’s will.
Moses grew restless in his final days, and neither Femi nor I could distract him from the heavy thoughts that pulled him into depths we could not plumb. In quiet afternoons I would often find him sitting outside the tent and staring toward cloud-covered Canaan, the home for which he had desperately yearned. Because I had spent my lifetime loving him, I could see that Moses had never felt at home in Egypt, Midian, or the wilderness . . . but soon his yearning would end.
He would not take his rest in Canaan, but in the presence of God.
One afternoon I lifted his hand and pressed it to my cheek. “Moses,” I whispered, for his sight and hearing had not diminished with the passing of time, “you have been a faithful servant. No one else could give Yhwh more than you have.”
“Yhwh will ask more of another.” There was a note of regret that went beyond nostalgia in his voice, as though he had missed a rare opportunity. “For Yhwh has told me that he will raise up for us another prophet from among this people. Yhwh will put his words in his mouth, and he will speak whatever Yhwh commands. And it shall be that any man who does not hearken to the words this prophet speaks, Yhwh himself will require a reckoning from him.”
“Is Joshua this prophet?”
Shaking his head, Moses’ gaze remained focused on some interior field of vision I could not see. “His time has not yet come. But when he comes, he will lead his flocks like a shepherd. He will do no wrong, and deceive none. Then like a lamb to the slaughter he will be led, and as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he will not open his mouth. From prison and trial they will lead him away to his death, and who among the people will realize he is dying for their sins?”
As tears gleamed beneath the thin veil over his face, Moses continued in an aching, husky voice I scarcely recognized. “But it is God’s good plan to crush him and fill him with grief. For when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have a multitude of children, many heirs. When he sees all that his anguish has accomplished, he will be satisfied. And Yhwh will honor him as one who is mighty and great, because he exposed himself to death and interceded for sinners.”
The silence of the hot afternoon flowed back into the space our conversation had made, filling in the gap as though Moses had never spoken. But he had, and I knew Yhwh had given him a glimpse of the future for our people and all mankind.
No more would we have to visit the Dwelling to offer the blood of animals to atone for our sins. The prophet who would come, the prophet like my Moses, would offer his perfect life instead.
Turning, I trailed my fingertips along the edge of the fabric covering Moses’ face. “May the daughter of a pagan priest look upon a man who has beheld the future?”
Beneath the veil, I saw the glimmer of a smile. “The wife of Moses may certainly look upon her husband . . . one last time.”
As I lifted the veil my tear-blurred eyes did not see the shining face of a man who speaks with God, but the calm visage of one who walks with God and knows his soul is secure.
I kissed my husband, then accompanied him to the base of Mount Nebo, the mountain that faces the land God had promised to the heirs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Something in the fixed look on Moses’ face drew the people after us—women came from the spring, men stopped training for battle, the shepherds left their flocks. Children interrupted their games and found their parents in the crowd assembling before Moses.
Once the people had settled, Moses reminded them of all the duties and instructions Yhwh had given. As the priests of Egypt had taught him through song, he taught the congregation of Israel to sing the lessons of the Lord. Then he challenged them with a choice—obedience and life or disobedience and destruction. The children of Israel responded with an enthusiastic cry in support of life and Yhwh.
“How blessed you are, O Israel!” he called from the foothills of the mountain. “Who else is like you, a people delivered by Yhwh? He is your helping shield, your majestic sword! Your enemies will come cringing before you, and you will trample on their backs!”
Moses’ voice simmered with barely checked passion. “So Israel will dwell in security, prosperous Jacob in safety, in a land of grain and wine where the heavens drop down dew.”
A jubilant cry echoed back from the mountain as the young warriors’ blood surged in eager readiness. While a sea of young men waved their swords, their fathers, women, and children looked upon them with shining faces. In that moment, even the most skeptical of outsiders would have believed that this band of former slaves held the promise of a great nation.
“Indeed,” Moses added in a low voice only Joshua and I could hear. “How blessed you are!”
Did he wish in that moment to be young again? Did he regret the frustrated, angry act that had resulted in his banishment from the land of promise? I do not know. I only know that Moses trusted Yhwh as a man trusts his best friend, and he was ready to follow the will of God.
I watched silently, pain squeezing my heart, as Moses and Joshua began to climb the mountain. Femi and Elisheba stood with me, supporting my arms as Aaron and Hur had once supported Moses’.
Later, Joshua told me that he and Moses said their farewells at a midpoint, then Moses left him to climb alone to the summit. Years later I heard a priest theorize that in Moses’ final moment, God bestowed a single tender kiss upon his lips, gently drawing out his vibrant soul.
I think Moses simply sat down and waited for Yhwh to honor his final promise. I also think the man who had yearned to see God’s glory was finally granted the opportunity to behold the One who first sought him in a burning thornbush. In that moment, Moses’ yearnings were fulfilled.
We mourned Moses for thirty days, then advanced to take Canaan. After a series of battles, Femi and I entered the Promised Land with the children of Israel and settled with my sons and their families in the area allotted to the tribe of Judah. My brother, Hobab, had taken a wife from that tribe, so I looked forward to spending many days with my grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.
From time to time, whenever a hot wind blew from the south and carried in it the faint sting of sand, I sat in my flowering garden and smiled at the memory of how I was convinced Moses was suffering from sunstroke when he told me about meeting Yhwh at Sinai.
Would the prophet yet to come meet with the same sort of resistance? I, who should have been my husband’s strongest ally, had been among the last to recognize the holy call upon his life. Likewise, the future prophet might face resistance from family and friends.
I had resisted the Israelites . . . but now I could not imagine dwelling with any other people or serving any god but Yhwh. I lived with skepticism for many years, yet when I tested the God of Abraham, I found him to be everything his name meant: merciful, long-suffering, faithful, holy, and just.
Yhwh is not benign, but a benign god never goads us to our knees or sends us free to conquer our enemies. A benign god never leads us onto holy ground . . . and now I cannot imagine living anywhere else.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
My intuition proved correct. My irritation continued boiling through the night, and by the time Aharon emerged from his chamber I had girded my heart with righteous determination. The elders would hear of Moshe’s marriage, and we would let them decide the matter. If they would not disallow this union, perhaps Aharon could take it before Yhwh in the Tent of Meeting.
I had no sooner nodded good morning to Aharon than I heard a commanding sound unlike anything I had ever heard—and knew it was the voice of Yhwh. This voice did not ripple with power like the overpowering voices I had heard at Sinai, but sliced through Aharon’s dwelling like a spear, sharp and pointed.
“Come out! Moshe, Aharon, and Miryam, come now to the Tent of Appointment!”
I looked at Aharon, and knew from the fixed look on his face that he had heard the voice, too. A glance at Elisheba convinced me that she had heard something, for she had gone as pale as death and stood trembling in the center of the tent. “What is that?” Her hand rose to her lips.
“Aharon? Did you hear it?”
I squeezed her shoulder. “God calls Aharon and me by name, Elisheba. Wait here while we meet with Yhwh about Moshe.”
Convinced that God had heard and heeded our concerns, Aharon and I walked to the Dwelling. Once we stood before the entrance, we turned and saw Moshe step out of his tent, a question on his face. The new bridegroom nodded in our direction, then began to walk toward us, his eyes wide with curiosity and alarm.
I chewed on the inside of my lip, hoping the Cushite and Midianite would come out as well. I wanted them to see this.
Before we could hail him, Yhwh descended in a column of cloud and filled the empty space at the entrance to the Dwelling, blocking our entry. Though I remained motionless, something inside me began to tremble, and again I wondered how Moshe could stand in the presence of God without wanting to scream, flee, laugh or weep hysterically.
I had yearned to speak with God as he did, and today, finally, Yhwh had called me to meet with him. If I could only make it through the encounter with my sensibilities intact . . .
“Aharon and Miryam, come forward!” The voice drew me like a rod of iron; compelling a prompt response. I had been thinking it would be best if Yhwh held this discourse with us inside the Dwelling, for though it would be appropriate for the entire camp to witness Yhwh’s address to Aharon and me, it might be better to handle the matter of Moshe’s unsuitable marriage within the privacy of the Tabernacle’s curtained walls.
The concerns that had been lapping at my subconscious crested and crashed as Yhwh’s words rolled over us like a wall of pure energy: “Hear me! If there should be among you a prophet of Yhwh, I make myself known to him in a vision, in a dream I will speak with him. Not so my servant Moshe—in all my house, he is trusted. Mouth to mouth I speak with him, in plain words and not in riddles, and the form of Yhwh is what he beholds. So why were you not too awestruck to speak against Moshe?”
The powers of speech and thought fled away from me. The self-assurance that had supported me only moments before vanished like the dew beneath the scalding sun, leaving me gasping in a pool of terror, shame, and regret.
The pillar of cloud whirled, and my eyes burned as I felt the singeing fury of Yhwh within it. Though my garments flapped against my flesh and bones, in that instant I felt naked and exposed. For a dizzying moment the color ran out of the world and the rushing sound of the cloud faded, but just as I thought I would pitch forward in a faint, the Shekinah rose and returned to the Holy Place.
After the roar of the voice and the whirlwind, the resulting silence seemed as heavy as the waves that had covered Pharaoh and his army at the bottom of the sea. I turned in the thickened quiet and through blurred eyes saw Aharon, who had buried his face in his hands, and a curious crowd staring at us in openmouthed astonishment.
I lowered my head, absently noting the patterns of the swirled sand in front of me, then the stillness shivered into bits as a woman screamed.
I looked up; the woman was pointing at me. Behind her, people were whispering, their voices like the rustle of leaves in the wind.
“Tzaraat!” I heard someone say. “She has tzaraat!”
She? I looked around, but saw no woman with the dread disease. Then I looked at my hands and felt ghost spiders crawl up the staircase of my spine—my hands, my arms, even my toes were white with the leprous skin condition that meant immediate exile for anyone unfortunate enough to encounter it.
Beside me, Aharon was frantically begging Moshe to spare me. “Please, my lord, do not punish us for mere foolishness! Do not let her be like a stillborn child who comes out of its mother’s womb already half-decayed!”
I could not look at Moshe. I had not spoken to him about his marriage, so he had no idea why I had approached Aharon, or why the Lord had acted against us. He would be hurt or angry if he knew the entire story, and he might find it difficult to forgive.
Without pausing to ask what we had done to merit such punishment, Moshe lifted his hands toward the cloud over the Tabernacle: “Oh God, heal her, please!”
In a voice filled with quiet emphasis, Yhwh answered: “If her father spat in her face, would she not be put to shame for at least seven days? Let her be shut up for seven days outside the camp . . . afterward she may be gathered back to her people.”
No one had to tell me what must happen next, for I had learned the sanitation codes with everyone else in the camp of Israel. Since my hands, my feet, and my face bore evidence of Yhwh’s judgment, I could not stop for a kiss, an embrace, or provisions to take with me in my exile. I was unclean, and must depart the camp immediately.
As Aharon fell to his knees and continued to beg Yhwh for mercy, Moshe looked at me, and in his eyes I saw the glimmer of tears. “Seven days.” His voice broke with huskiness. “Then we will welcome you back.”
Without speaking or turning to seek pity of anyone, I walked through a crowd that parted like the Red Sea at my approach. I paused at the boundaries of the camp, wondering if I might ask for a goatskin or jar in which to carry water, then remembered that an unclean person was not to touch anything.
“Wait!” I recognized Tzippora’s voice, followed by the soft popping sounds of her sandals as she hurried toward me. I threw up my hands and took a step back, but she did not stop until she stood an arm’s distance away.
She pulled an object from the girdle at her waist, then held out a sliver of red granite as wide as my hand and as long as my finger. Two sides of it were perfectly smooth, the others rough and striated. A Sabbath stillness reigned over the crowd as she offered it to me.
“I don’t know if this will help you, but it might.”
I stared at her. “What do you think you are doing?”
“It is a piece of the Ten Words—the tablets Moses broke when he came down from the mountain. It is holy, is it not?”
The pagan thought I would have some use for a protective talisman. I wanted to ignore her and walk away, but how could I spurn the offer of a rock engraved by Yhwh’s hand when the eyes of Israel were upon me?
I held out my cupped palm, allowed her to drop the stone into it, then tucked the rock into the folds of my girdle. Apparently satisfied, Tzippora stepped back, leaving me to my fate.
From outside the camp, forlorn as the cry of a restless spirit, came the sorrowful call of a jackal.
Lifting my chin, I stared straight ahead and passed through the gate, alone.
Some good stuff in today’s passage. My 56-year-old youth-pastor hubby has always looked wistfully on that passage in Nu. 8:23 ff that proclaims that the Levites could retire at age 50. J
Also notice that Zipporah’s brother, Hobab, gets to go with the Israelites into the Promised Land. I’m pretty sure we’ll see that he actually made it through (though I can’t remember if that’s from my book or if I read that in Scripture. More later.)
One of my Bible professors made much of the passage in Nu. 12 about Moses’ Cushite wife. There are a couple of opinions about this—the first is that the passage is actually talking about Zipporah, who has been described as “midianite” until this point. The second opinion, the one I hold to, is that Moses took a second wife, one from Cush (which is not Midian). Cush was Africa, so there’s a very great possibility that Moses’ wife was black . . .
Now, ostensibly, Miryam and Aaron were grumbling because of pride, but my professor hinted that it might have been because of race. In any case, God struck Miryam (interesting that he didn’t strike Aaron, too) with a case of leprosy—effectively turning her “super white” with flaking and decayed skin. She had to spend a week outside the camp (and boy, was this scene fun to write in The Shadow Women. It was Miryam's personal epiphany.)
One more note: I can SO see God’s sovereignty and man’s free will at work in the incident of the Israelites’ refusal to enter the promised land. On the one hand, they used their free will and were punished with forty years of exile. On the other hand, God used those forty years to turn them from a band of unorganized, undisciplined ex-slaves into a lean, mean, fighting machine. God stated that they were timid early on—that’s why he didn’t lead them directly into Canaan, a route that would have taken less than a month. Instead, he took them through the wilderness, using those forty years to toughen them and teach them to depend upon Him.
A rich passage today!
Monday, January 09, 2006
Q: I’ve never heard about the night when God attempted to kill Moses! Could that be true?
A: In what may be the least-mentioned story in Scripture, the Lord confronts Moses and is “about to kill him” until Zipporah circumcises her son (see Ex. 4:24-26). Some say Moses was stricken with an illness and near death, others believe an angel actually attacked Moses. Because the Hebrew passage never contains Moses’ name—only a masculine pronoun—we’re not certain if it was Moses or his son who stood in danger of losing his life. But Zipporah obviously understood the purpose and intent of the night visit, and she did what she had to do. One note, however: If God had wanted to kill Moses, he would have. It’s far more likely he wanted Zipporah to understand that his commands were not frivolous.
Two things struck me about today’s reading—well, three. The first was when I was reading Le 15:25 ff, about how a woman with a discharge was pretty limited for as long as the discharge continued—she couldn’t sit just anywhere, she couldn’t touch anybody, she couldn’t receive any physical affection whatsoever—and then I thought about the woman who touched the hem of the Savior’s garment. She had suffered from a discharge for TWELVE years. Can you imagine twelve years of no touching, of being an outcast? No wonder she was timid!
The second thing that struck me were the laws about how any deformity kept a person outside the fellowship of community. Jesus not only healed people, but by doing so he restored them to fellowship.
The third thing that struck me was something I remembered from a book I worked on about the festivals. There’s a pretty cool tidbit from Jewish records that you might find interesting:
This describes the Yom Kippur ceremony at the time of Christ:
The Hebrew word for scapegoat is azazel. When lots were drawn to see which goat would be sacrificed and which would be sent away, two tablets were placed in an urn. The tablets were identical in shape and size, but one was inscribed “For the Lord” and the other “For azazel.” The priest drew out the tablets, one with his left and one with his right, then turned to the goats and placed the corresponding tablets on their heads. One goat was sacrificed for the Lord, the other was designated to carry away the sins of the people. Later, the bodies of the sacrificial bull and goat were taken outside the camp where they were burned. The ancient meaning for the word holocaust is conflagration, or burnt offering.
At sunrise, other priests escorted the High Priest to the bath house, where he bathed and ceremonially washed his hands and feet ten times. Dressed in his golden robes, he offered the morning sacrifice in full view of the people. With his golden diadem on his head, a plethora of spangled gems on his breast, and golden bells hanging on the hem of his rich purple robe, he must have been a breathtaking sight. After offering the regular daily sacrifice, he was conducted to the bathhouse again, where he washed and dressed in elegant garments of spotless white linen, as God had commanded.
Stepping outside, adorned this time in simple white, he approached the young bull destined for sacrifice. He placed his hands on the bull’s head and said: “I beseech Thee, O Lord! I have sinned, I have been iniquitous, I have transgressed against Thee, I and my household . . . ”
During this prayer, the High Priest pronounced the mystic and ineffable name of God three times. Each time he spoke God’s holy name, the assembled priests and the congregation prostrated themselves and called out, “Blessed be the Name, the glory of His Kingdom forever and ever.”
After praying over the bull, the priest moved to the two goats, which were tethered on the eastern side of the altar, nearer the congregation. He reached into the urn and shuffled the two golden tablets, ready to draw lots to determine which animal would be the scapegoat, and which would be sacrificed to the Lord.
The people believed it was a good omen if the tablet marked “For the Lord” was drawn out by the priest’s right hand, but from 30 AD to the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD—and for those forty years only--the High Priest drew the “For Azazel” tablet with his right hand.[i] When the scapegoat’s tablet was discovered in the priest’s right hand, the troubled people fell to their faces in prayer for their Temple and their people.
Once the tablets were drawn, the priest placed them upon the heads of the goats standing before him, sealing their fates. As the sacrificial goat was led away, the High Priest tied a red sash on the horns of the Azazel goat. For a few quiet moments, the doomed scapegoat faced the assembled congregation who stared at him and waited. He could not be driven out—the people’s sin could not be removed--until after the blood was shed.
The priest then returned to the bull, prayed over him again, then killed the animal. The blood was gathered in a basin, and held by another priest while the High Priest poured handfuls of incense into a golden ladle. With the ladle in one hand, he picked up a golden fire-pan loaded with burning coals and stepped into the Holy of Holies. Once inside, he placed the fire-pan upon the foundation stone, then poured the incense over the coals. As the Holy of Holies filled with smoke, he stepped out, prayed again, and took the basin of blood from a priest who had been stirring it to prevent coagulation. Again he entered the Holy of Holies, this time to sprinkle the blood on the altar seven times. He stepped out again, killed the sacrificial goat, collected the blood, and entered the Holy of Holies for a third and final time.
When the priests returned from inside the most holy place, a specially-appointed goat-handler took the crimson sash from the goat’s horns, tore it in two, and retied one half to the goat’s horns. As the people chanted, “Hurry and go,” the handler led the condemned animal through a gate of the Temple. In the same manner that we have seen Olympic runners pass a torch, different individuals escorted the goat-handler from point to point until the scapegoat reached the appointed place, a cliff about ten miles outside the city. The goat-handler pushed the animal off the cliff and into the ravine below, and thus the people’s sins were eradicated. Runners quickly carried the news back to the Temple.
According to Eddie Chumney, the Mishnah mentions an interesting tradition about the scapegoat: “A portion of the crimson sash was attached to the door of the Temple before the goat was sent into the wilderness. The sash would turn from red to white as the goat met its end, signaling to the people that God had accepted their sacrifices and their sins were forgiven. . . . The Mishnah tells us that 40 years before the destruction of the Temple, the sash stopped turning white. This, of course, was when Yeshua [Jesus] was slain on the tree.”[ii]
I don’t know how much of that story is truth and how much is oral tradition, but God does tell us that though our sins be as scarlet, after forgiveness, they shall be as white as snow (Is. 1:18). And isn’t it interesting that the Mishna, a book written by Jewish rabbis, would confirm the time of Jesus’ death on the cross?
From the book Mama's Way by Thyra Ferre Bjorn about her Scandinavian family's life in America)
In this book Thyra is writing about the process of writing the books she's already written . . .
"I am never happier than when I have one (a book) in the making. It is fascinating to watch the words come out of the typewriter... I just sit down and let the words flow from my mind, knowing they are already written in my heart...In God's eternity there is no end and no beginning. So in the God-mind, this book had already been written. All that was left for me to do was to record it... The most important thing was to be still and cut off all thoughts of material things, to focus my mind on God from whom all talents and thoughts come.... when the words stop coming, that is the end of my writing, and a book has been born.
But to be still was the most important part, to let the mind rest. Words are like music. They are only so many notes. A person can play them and one knows that they are just notes put together. Ah, but if an artist takes these notes -- the very same notes -- they come out as living music that laughs and cries and moves all the listening world. All writers use words, but their effect depends on how they are put together."
Sunday, January 08, 2006
In honor of yesterday's 90-day-challenge reading:
How do you share your heart with a husband who glows in the dark? The first time Moses came into the tent after encountering the glory of God on the mountain, I quavered in the corner of the tent for the better part of an hour. Even though he wore a covering of lightweight wool over his head and shoulders, a ring of luminescence surrounded him like the glowing circle around the moon.
“Zipporah.” He reached out to me in the darkness. “I have not changed.”
I gritted my teeth in an effort to keep them from chattering.
“Yes, Moses, you have.”
“But I need you. I need someone to talk to.”
“Why would a man who talks to God need a woman? Surely you have no need of any counsel I could give.”
“You underestimate yourself. You always have.” The undertone of melancholy in his voice drew me to his side despite my fears. I lay down next to him, turning to face the inner curtain so I would not have to stare into that unearthly glow, but my heart contracted in pleasure when he wrapped a strong arm around me and drew closer to share my warmth.
When we were snuggled together like young lovers, Moses pulled the veil from his head.
Instantly, our small chamber brightened, and I could see our shadows faintly outlined upon the
“Yhwh knew about the golden calf before I did,” he confided, his breath warming my ear. “His anger was kindled. He said he would destroy the people and make a great nation out of me.”
“Out of you?”
“Out of our children, Zipporah. And I do not doubt he could do it. If he could produce this people out of Abraham and Sarah through Isaac, he could certainly produce a nation out of Gershom and Eliezer.”
I considered this—a holy nation from an Egyptian prince and the daughter of a pagan priest? The idea seemed ludicrous.
“But I soothed Yhwh’s anger,” Moses continued, murmuring drowsily against the back of my neck. “‘For what reason,’ I asked him, ‘would you want the Egyptians to mock us? For they would say Yhwh brought us out into the wilderness to kill us, and the name of Yhwh would be defamed.’ So the Lord let himself relent of the evil he had spoken of doing to his people.”
I remained quiet, listening to the susurrant whisper of the wind against the walls, then murmured, “I am glad.”
“So am I.”
My husband said nothing for a long moment, then his hold on me tightened. “Zipporah—do you remember when we were trying to discover the name of the Israelite God?”
“There is power, real power, in his name. Yhwh passed before me when I called it out, and his name echoed off the stones of the mountain and echoed in the heavens. His name means showing-mercy, showing-favor, long-suffering in anger, abundant in loyalty and faithfulness, keeping loyalty to the thousandth generation, bearing iniquity, rebellion and sin, yet not clearing the guilty, calling to account the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons and upon sons’ sons to the third and fourth generation . . . and when I had called out his name, Zipporah, I saw him.”
The urgent note in his voice startled me. “But you have already seen him. You and the elders ate a meal with him upon the mountain.”
“That was different, that day we saw God-in-flesh. What I saw upon the mountain was his Spirit essence, God-in-glory. I begged that I might find favor in his eyes and see his face, and he told me no mortal can see his face and live. Yet he put me in a cleft of a rock, and protected me with his hand as his glory passed by. What I saw was only the remnant of his passing glory, but it was enough, Zipporah, to change everything.”
An involuntary shudder raced down my spine. Moses did not need to explain that the glow on his face was merely a shadow of the dazzling glory he had beheld, and the thought of such power was enough to make my mouth go dry. I had seen something of Yhwh’s power, for I had encountered it the night we camped before this mountain on our way to Egypt.
I needed a touch of that power in my own life, but I did not deserve it . . . and I feared it.
“Moses.” I closed my eyes. “I am sick. And I have a favor to ask of you.”
I felt him lift his head as his arm tightened around me. “Sick?”
“Something is growing in my belly and each day it saps my strength. The priests of Midian could not help me, and neither could the midwives. I fear I will not live long enough to enter the land promised to you and your people.”
His hand squeezed my shoulder as his gentle breath blew against the back of my neck. “What would you like me to do? Pray for your healing?”
I smiled at the kindness in his voice. From the day I met him at the well, I had always trusted Moses’ goodness.
“Your god has no reason to heal me. But the woman, Femi—she should have a husband, for her safety’s sake. She is unattached in this camp, and Miriam does not care for her. If you hold any regard for Femi at all, you should make her your wife.”
His hand tightened upon my shoulder. “I will protect and care for her, but I had never thought to take a second wife. You are the only wife I ever wanted.”
I chuckled. “You did not want me. My father tricked you into marriage.”
“Your father is not as clever as you think.”
“He made you jealous! You would not have wanted to marry me if he had not mentioned all those other men—”
“You give me too little credit. Avoiding your father’s eagerness to marry off five other daughters took a fair amount of skill, as I recall.”
I bit my lip as a blush of pleasure warmed my cheeks. “You . . . you really waited for me?”
“Who else among Reuel’s daughters had courage enough to speak her mind? Yes, Zipporah. I waited for you.”
I lay quietly, a kernel of happiness warming the center of my being, then patted his hand. “I will not feel threatened if you take another woman, Moses. Moreover, I am not strong, and Femi will be able to help you if I fall ill. Miriam is . . . busy about other things.”
My husband did not respond at first, then his strong arm turned me to face him. After studying my eyes for a long moment, he drew me into the silvery glow that bathed his features.
“I will consider it.” Warmth and gratitude mingled in his voice. “Thank you, wife, for thinking of her.”
Saturday, January 07, 2006
In reference to yesterday's 90-day-reading:
Early the next morning, Moshe wrote all the words of Yhwh on a papyrus scroll, then built a slaughter site beneath the mountain. He placed twelve standing stones at the site, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel, then he sent young men to offer sacrifices. He took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half he tossed against the stones of the altar. Then he took the scroll containing the regulations of Yhwh, and read it again so everyone heard. And again we said, “All the words Yhwh has spoken we will do!”
Then Moshe took the blood of the young bulls and sprinkled it upon us. “This blood confirms the covenant the Lord has made with you in giving you these laws.”
Then Moshe and Aharon climbed the mountain, along with Aharon’s two oldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, and seventy elders. There they saw the God of Israel, and beneath his feet something like the blue of sapphires, as pure and clear as the heavens. They knelt in the presence of God, then shared a covenantal meal.
Later, when I pressed Aharon for more details about what God looked like, I received only a trembling smile in answer. “I confess I do not recall much.” Aharon smoothed the disheveled strands of hair at the back of his neck. “I was so overwhelmed that I cowered on the ground and glimpsed only the tiles beneath his feet.”
“But you ate with him! You broke bread in his presence! Surely you were not lying on the ground then!”
Aharon smiled with a distracted, inward look, as though he were thinking of something beyond his power to describe. “No, I was sitting upright. But I was so astounded to be sitting in God’s presence that I could only stare at my trembling hands.”
He looked up, and for a moment his face went smooth with secrets.
I knew that look. I had seen it a hundred times in our childhoods, and always when spite or selfishness motivated Aharon to keep a secret from me.
I captured his eyes with mine and steeled my voice. “Tell me, Aharon.”
He drew a deep breath. “I did catch a glimpse of him . . . but only a glimpse.”
“So tell me!”
My brother pressed his lips together, then wiped sweat from his eyelids and squinted toward the horizon. “He wore many crowns upon his head. A name had been woven into a shawl around his neck, but I could not read it, and only he knew what it meant. He was clothed in a white tunic, but blood stained its edges. And his eyes . . .”
Ever impatient, I prodded him. “Yes?”
“His eyes were as bright as the sun, and should have been painful to gaze upon. Yet in the instant I looked at him, I felt no pain . . . only love and understanding. And though we were eating a meal of celebration, when I looked into his eyes I saw sadness there, as though he had suffered greatly . . . on my behalf.”
“On your behalf?” I made a face. “Why? What have you done to displease him?”
“I don’t know.” Aharon’s voice sounded uneasy. “But I must have done something.”
I exhaled sharply and waved the matter away. “If you had displeased Yhwh, do you think he would have invited you to celebrate the covenant meal? No. So stop torturing yourself. You are the brother of Moshe, and no one has done as much for these people as the children of Amram and Yokheved.”
As I left Aharon’s tent, I found myself wishing that I had been among those invited to the mountaintop. Perhaps if I had gone, I might have been able to stop the disaster that soon befell us.
For the next day Moshe told us he must go up on the mountain and remain long enough to receive tablets of stone engraved with the instructions and commands of God. He left Aharon and Hur in charge of the camp. I stood by, of course, ready to help when needed.
Then Moshe arose, with Yehoshua his attendant, and together they climbed the crimson Mountain of God. As they grew smaller and more distant in our sight, the Shekinah cloud withdrew from us and dwelt atop Mount Sinai, glowing like a consuming fire on the top of the peak.
Moshe stayed on the summit forty days and forty nights . . . long enough for us to get into dire trouble on the plain below.
A: Yes, the story is recounted in Exodus 24:9-11. They saw God and ate a meal in his presence. (No word on who did the cooking.)
The Bible clearly teaches that God is a Spirit (John 4:24), and therefore invisible, so if they could see God, he had to be present in a physical manifestation. Physical manifestations of God are known as theophanies, and there are several recorded in the Old Testament. Christians believe that these are Old Testament appearances of Jesus Christ, who is God revealed in physical flesh.
When Moses spoke to God “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex. 33:11), I believe he may have been speaking with Jesus, God-in-flesh, who appeared to him—either that, or the phrase is a metaphor to describe the extremely close relationship between the Lord and Moses.
When Moses asked to see God—the entire glory of God the Spirit—he was refused, for no living man can behold things of a spiritual dimension. Yet God did allow Moses to see the parting remnants of his glory (see Ex. 33:18-23).
I don’t claim to understand these mysteries. Even Paul, who was caught up to the third heaven and glimpsed visions of Paradise, admitted that such things were beyond his understanding (see 2 Cor. 12:2-4). But, as Paul wrote, even though we can’t explain it, God knows.