Jesus had a complicated relationship to the God of the Israelites.
Today, we discover that God has feet.
I feel like we’ve got a lot to remember these days. Step by step, all through the day, I try to finish the task right in front of me so that I won’t have to remember it. And if I get interrupted, or have to set a task aside until something else happens, or think of something else I need to do next but might forget it, I write the task down. All throughout my house, you can find piles of to-do lists from months ago, full of obsolete items that I’ve already done or that don’t matter anymore. And sometimes I carry an object with me to remind me what I need to do next, which ensures that I’ll actually do the task when I run out of hands. And for all the things I couldn’t possibly hold in my brain all at once, I outsource my remembering to computers.
We’ve got a short one today. This chapter serves as prelude to the last plague, the calm before the final storm. It calls back to several events that God predicted previously, so we’re going to look back at those previous passages, in the interest of actually having something to talk about. Ha! I’m not being entirely facetious.
God doesn’t pull any punches in Exodus 9. If anything, between the livestock-slaying pestilence, the flesh sores, and the hailstorm, he ups the ante. And as I read about God wrecking shop on the Egyptians’ animals, skin, and crops, I couldn’t help thinking, “This is not going to go over well with some people.” The Shortpacked comic in which David Willis, by way of The Prince of Egypt, goes for the throat of the God of the Exodus narrative springs readily to mind. I can’t hope to resolve every difficulty with Exodus in a single post, but perhaps I can shed light on a few issues and offer answers to some questions. You know what? This one’s for the skeptics. This one’s for the skeptic in you and the skeptic in me. Let’s do it.
We left Jacob in a precarious situation. He’s safe as long as his father lives, but it’s a thinly-veiled secret that Esau plans to kill Jacob as soon as Isaac dies. However, Rebekah has a plan to get Jacob far away from his brother. She drops a hint to Isaac that she would absolutely hate it to death if Jacob married anyone from Canaan. So, in today’s chapter, Isaac sends Jacob to Rebekah’s family, so that he can marry one of Laban’s daughters.
Laban is Rebekah’s brother. Rebekah intends to save Jacob’s life under the pretext of having him marry a cousin.
Maybe it’s just a function of growing up evangelical, but sometimes it’s hard to get away from reading Genesis as a battleground for fundamentalists and skeptics. Here we are, about to go into a giant flood and a giant boat intended to preserve eight human beings and every kind of animal, while an ostensibly omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity kills every other living thing because the world has gone south. If it strains your credulity, then it strains your credulity; I get it. It’s weird. And it’s a story about God’s direct involvement in the world; true or false, you can’t expect it not to be big. But there is a time and a place for apologetics, and to me at least it doesn’t seem that today’s entry is that time or place.
When I sat down the first time to write this post, I felt like I had nothing new to say about today’s chapter. Peter and John’s foot race to the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Messiah, Thomas’ insistence on empiricism: for nearly two thousand years, wiser individuals than I have been saying things about these scenes, and what could I add to them? As I’ve been reading and re-reading the chapter here, I don’t even have any fresh insights that I’m noticing for the first time. But how is it that I’ve never before discussed Thomas on Chocolate Book? I, a professed Christian skeptic? And of all the topics I could retread today, none seem more worth recapitulating observations on which you may well have heard before than our friend Doubting Thomas.
I’ve had an up-and-down relationship with the gospel of John. Of all the four gospels, it was the one that most saturated my childhood. I have these random memories: reading it with my mom at a TCBY as part of homeschool lessons, memorizing John 3:16 and thinking about God’s love for the world while swinging on a pull-up bar on the playground. In high school, I became increasingly aware of the scholarly skepticism surrounding it, its alleged late authorship and its authenticity. The sun moved, everyone’s favorite gospel suddenly became shrouded in shadow, and for years afterward reading through it became weird for me.
If you’ve read even one gospel, the events of John 18 will seem pretty familiar to you. There are passages in John which read like him whispering, “Come hear this thing about Jesus that you never knew!” But between Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter’s three denials, the inquisition at the Jewish temple, and Jesus’ questioning before Pilate, this chapter feels like John’s just hitting all the events that everyone knows happened. What is this: four chapters of John-exclusive content at the Last Supper, and then suddenly a synopsis of the synoptics? Not quite. The events may be the same, but John includes a few new details about them. Let’s take a look at one such detail.