Tuesday, January 29, 2013

God of the snappy and sarky

As you may know, I am trying to read the Bible more this year, so don't be surprised if more of my posts become Bible focused, as I attempt to process the passages I read.

The other day, I was working through parts of Numbers, which isn't known as one of the most exciting books. There was one passage that really stood out for me though, Numbers 14:11-20. The Israelites have been in the wilderness for a while, and keep disobeying God. This time, they are wanting to return to Egypt, believing slavery to be better than trudging through the desert and eating only Manna and quail.

And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? Will they never believe me, even after all the miraculous signs I have done among them?  I will disown them and destroy them with a plague. Then I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they are!” (Numbers 14:11-12, NLT)

God is fed up, annoyed and ready to give up on people. He's going to wipe out the Israelites. But then Moses speaks.

“What will the Egyptians think when they hear about it?” he asked the Lord. “They know full well the power you displayed in rescuing your people from Egypt. Now if you destroy them, the Egyptians will send a report to the inhabitants of this land, who have already heard that you live among your people. They know, Lord, that you have appeared to your people face to face and that your pillar of cloud hovers over them. They know that you go before them in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.
Now if you slaughter all these people with a single blow, the nations that have heard of your fame will say, ‘The Lord was not able to bring them into the land he swore to give them, so he killed them in the wilderness.’ “Please, Lord, prove that your power is as great as you have claimed. For you said, ‘The Lord is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. But he does not excuse the guilty. He lays the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.’
In keeping with your magnificent, unfailing love, please pardon the sins of this people, just as you have forgiven them ever since they left Egypt.”
 Then the Lord said, “I will pardon them as you have requested.
(Numbers 14:13-20, NLT)

Moses talks God down, calms his anger. Moses reasons with God! I imagine it as Moses saying 'Now calm down, Lord, that's not going to help. Killing these people will make others doubt your power. And you love us really.'
This is a passage I go to when thinking about God's plan and the effectiveness of prayer. Moses seems to change God's mind and in doing so saves the Israelites. This suggests that God's plans are open to change, if we can present a good, reasoned response to him. And I like this. Ultimately I believe that God has a plan and it is the best for me. But having some room for discussion, for arguing your cause makes God (the Father) a much more approachable, accessible person* for me.

(*Ok, 'person' isn't the right term, but you know what I mean.)

And there is another passage that makes God seem accessible, and that is in Job. After the events and discussions of the first 37 chapters, God suddenly speaks to Job.
“Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words?
 Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.
 “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much.
 Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line?
 What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?
Who kept the sea inside its boundaries as it burst from the womb,

and as I clothed it with clouds and wrapped it in thick darkness?
For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores. I said, ‘This far and no farther will you come. Here your proud waves must stop!’
(Job 38:2-11, NLT)
This continues for the whole of Chapter 38 and 39, in total God asks 53 questions of Job. I always read this section with God's voice dripping with sarcasm. God even says
But of course you know all this! For you were born before it was all created, and you are so very experienced!
(Job 38:21)
BURN! I really like the image of a sarcastic God. I'm quite a sarcastic person, and as we are told we are made in God's image, it helps me to relate to someone so difficult to even begin to imagine. These two passages are when I see God the Father most closely resemble humanity.

Throughout the Bible we see a Loving, Angry, Caring, Sarcastic, Passionate, Poetic God. We see the full range of emotions, and this helps me to remember that God isn't some abstract word, but is someone relatable. Someone who gets angry at me; someone who is passionate about me; someone who ultimately loves me, no matter what?

I'd like to hear from you - please comment on here, on Facebook or on Twitter.
What passages most help you relate to God?


  1. The first quote could be approached differently, in that by being so forthright God was encouraging Moses to 'think things through out loud', so he can then say '(yep Moses, you got it) I will go with your request.' As Moses points out, God made promises, and (as God was sure to make clear when sending Moses out at the beginning of Exodus) he is the God of Moses' forefathers, he is the God of those promises, he knows he made those promises and they haven't changed.

    Yet your assessment is equally valid. Your understanding addresses 'open theism'. It is an interesting approach. See Greg Boyd whose theology is based upon it, if you haven't already.

    The scripture is definitely a challenge to our interaction with God, and I like your assessment of this!

    I love the response from God within Job, it is simply 'face it, you have no idea.'

    I like a quote from N.T. Wright who speaks about the author's part in scripture, but I think it can be broadened to our general role in God's work,'God wants to catch people up in the work that he is doing. He doesn't want to do it by passing us; he wants us to be involved in his work. And as we are involved, so we ourselves are being remade.'

    Thanks for an interesting post :-)


  2. Liam,

    Thanks for your comment. I have also read it that way in the past, God was testing Moses, and would like to have seen what God would have done if Moses hadn't 'got it' and argued in defense of them.

    I'll have to check out Boyd, I've not come across him.