Books: The Lawgiver

July 18, 2013

I had heard of Herman Wouk but never read any of his books. When I saw his latest book, The Lawgiver, in the library, I couldn’t even think of the title of any of those books of his I hadn’t read. But the name meant something, and I decided this looked like a good book to read to see if I wanted to read more.

I saw from the cover that Wouk had always wanted to write a novel about Moses, and he had finally found a way to do so by writing about the making of a movie about Moses. I enjoy reading novels about Biblical characters, so that was another reason to read it. And it’s short – even without knowing any of his books I remembered that they were long.

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What does God look like?

October 18, 2011

“What does God look like?” That was the question asked during the children’s sermon at the church my son and I attended Sunday (where our family often visits when my husband is not preaching elsewhere, though on this occasion he was filling in for a pastor who does two services on Sunday morning, at different locations, which is why we didn’t go with him).

It’s a question I imagine most children have wondered about, at least those who grew up with some kind of religious faith. I don’t remember ever having a specific mental picture of God, because one of the earliest lessons I remember learning was that “God is everywhere.” I don’t know if I also was told that God is invisible, but I know I always thought of God that way – after all, if a God who is everywhere were not invisible, how could I possible see anything else?

I don’t know what other children think when being told God is everywhere, but I concluded that it meant God inhabited every cubic inch of the universe. As a young adult I puzzled over what meaning there could be for the Holy Spirit to live in the hearts of believers in Jesus Christ. If God was already everywhere, how could He not be in every person, as well as every tree, rock, and single-celled organism?

Because I had been taught that God is specially present in believers, I believed it, but I couldn’t make logical sense out of it. My husband was the one who finally pointed out that saying God is omnipresent does not mean He is literally present everywhere. It means that there is no limit to where He can be, no place too far away or too hidden for Him.

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Reading: Moses: A Life

May 6, 2008

Despite the subtitle of this book, Jonathan Kirsch makes it clear that he does not think the Biblical narratives tell us much of anything about the life of the man named Moses – if such a man even existed. In Kirsch’s opinion, the stories of Moses were written by a variety of writers at different times and for different reasons.

I have read previously books which use the “documentary hypothesis,” which sees the five “books of Moses” as the work of at least four sources (referred to as Jahwist, Elohist, Priestly, and Deuteronomist), combined by a later editor into the books we have today. I might take an interest in a book explaining in layman’s terms how scholars assign passages to one of these sources, and what the arguments are for and against this interpretation. But Hirsch simply accepts it as factual, and makes reference to the sources without any attempt to show why such would be the preferred reading of a given passage.

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Reading between the lines

April 28, 2008

As I continue to study the life of Moses, I realize how difficult it is to really get a feel for the man behind the stories. The narratives in the Bible tell what he did, but often not why. So interpreters have come up with their own explanations, and these sometimes vary widely.

The first we hear of Moses as an adult, he is killing an Egyptian overseer. I had always thought of this as evidence that Moses had such a hot temper that he acted without thinking (a trait that required forty years in exile in Midian to moderate, though his temper still shows up at times in later life). But a book I am reading now calls it cold-blooded murder, pointing out that he took the time to look around to see if anyone was watching – which shows that he was thinking about the consequences of his actions. Jewish tradition sees in this act a commitment to delivering people from oppression, and good reason for God to pick this man as the one who will lead his people out of slavery. But the pastor of the church I attended as a teenager saw it as evidence that Moses was trying to do what he thought needed to be done in his own way, rather than waiting for God’s timing and God’s methods.

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Reading: Moses – The Prince, the Prophet

February 21, 2008

As part of my ongoing study of Moses, I was interested in reading a book written from a Jewish perspective. The book I selected (from the admittedly limited selection at my public library) is written by a rabbi who is also a chaplain and clinical psychologist. As such, his goal is not to provide a scholarly study about Moses, but to show how his life provides lessons for all of us, as “each of us needs to be released from our own forms of enslavement.”

One of the first things I noticed is the Rabbi Meier freely mixes elements of stories from the Midrash – part of the Jewish oral tradition – with the stories from the Bible. Sometimes he points out that what he is telling is from the Midrash, but other times he does not. (I recognize the latter simply because there are aspects to the stories that I know are not in the book of Exodus.)

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Meditation: Psalm 90 (continued)

February 6, 2008

For a thousand years in your sight
   are like a day that has just gone by,
   or like a watch in the night.
You sweep men away in the sleep of death;
   they are like the new grass of the morning –
though in the morning it springs up new,
   by evening it is dry and withered.
Psalm 90:4-6

As I approach the half-century mark (four years to go), I certainly see time differently than when I was a child. I remember how I disliked long car rides, how almost unbearable it was to sit cooped up in the car for the hours it took to get (from Connecticut) to Maine or Vermont or wherever it was we were going to spend a week camping.

At some time that changed, though I’m not sure quite when. I was 18, getting a ride between college in Ohio and home, when I realized that the 14-hour trip (or sometimes only 12 hours, depending on who was driving) was merely long, but not unbearable. These days, if I’m anxious for a long trip to end, it’s mostly to avoid falling asleep when I’m the one driving.

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What is meekness?

January 24, 2008

One of my goals this year is to study the life of Moses, including the character qualities that made him such a significant figure. Today I started looking at “meekness,” which is not a term most of us would think to assign to Moses after reading through the account of his life in the Bible. Yet Numbers 12:3 calls him “the meekest man on the face of the earth.” (Though I can’t help but wonder, if Moses wrote the “five books of Moses,” according to the traditional view, just what made him write that about himself? It sounds more like an editorial comment.)

I have long heard, in sermons and Bible studies, that meekness is not weakness, it is strength under control. Based on Moses’ life, one would have to agree meekness is not weakness, but I began wondering where the “strength under control” definition came from. Is that what the word translated “meek” in the Bible means, or is that a way of finding a way to look at meekness that fits with our modern value of being self-assertive?

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