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Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Counting

3 Million people to see/hear Pope Francis

3 Million people to see/hear Pope Francis

This is the first census of the Israelites and based on the line, “who were able to serve in Israel’s army,” this was a census to determine their military strength. The Levites, however, since they would be responsible for the Tabernacle, were not counted; they would not participate in war. And of course, no women were counted and no children or teens under twenty.

. . . and they called the whole community together on the first day of the second month. The people registered their ancestry by their clans and families, and the men twenty years old or more were listed by name, one by one . . . All the Israelites twenty years old or more who were able to serve in Israel’s army were counted according to their families. The total number was 603,550. The ancestral tribe of the Levites, however, was not counted along with the others. [Numbers 1:18, 45-47, NIV]

So how many people were really out there in the desert? Most scholars say upwards to 3 million. That’s a lot of people in one place. That would less people than in Los Angeles proper but more people than Chicago. That would be more than Lisbon, Spain but less than Warsaw, Poland. That’s more people that live on Jamaica but less than live on Puerto Rico.

It’s a big number.

But let’s go back to the men. They listed each one by name on what? I don’t really know. Papyrus maybe, animal skins? But let’s imagine that they had 8 1/2 by 11 inch pieces of paper. That’s 4,020 sheets of paper, assuming 150 names per sheet. That’s 8 reams of paper (almost a case). I’m just saying, if they really “wrote down” all the names, 600,000 is a lot of names and a lot of ink and a lot of surfaces to write them.

The business of “census” was huge. The time to do it was huge as well. In ancient times, let’s assume it took 30 secopapyrusnds to write one person’s name (ink, dip, dip, dip), that would be about 208 days if they worked non-stop, 416 days if they worked 12 hour days which is also unlikely, but if they only worked 6 hours a day, it would have taken more than two years just to write down everyone’s name at 30 seconds per name if only one person was doing the work. Okay, that’s unlikely, so let’s assume that 12 people were doing the writing (one per clan), then maybe only half a year or so.

In any case, that’s a long time.

Just this reason alone would have made it unreasonable to count the girls, I guess. But we all know about that part, that women were property and so, they would get counted until they decided to count the sheep and the goats. And then, it would be a one potato, two potato kind of thing, not by name. Hate that, but it was the way of their world.

Why do we count? In the U.S., we count for political and social reasons, not unlike David who got into all kinds of trouble for calling an unauthorized census [2 Samuel 24]. It’s as though the numbers are the proof. How many people came to the program? How many people came to church? How many people got saved? How many people are a particular race or size or whatever. How many dollars were accumulated? We are obsessed with counting. And in the end, it’s just arithmetic. There are so many reasons, so many exclusions, so many circumstances. What do the numbers mean? They are a photograph of a moment and nothing more.

I think we need to find other ways of measuring success, other ways of measuring life.

cemeteryAnd interestingly enough, while we are preoccupied in the numbers when it comes to collecting or promoting or showing off, we seem to slide over the numbers of tragedy: 230,000 in the 2004 Japanese tsunami; 159,000 in the 2010 Haiti earthquake; over 3 million in the Chinese floods of 1931; 60 – 80 million in World War II, 16 – 30 million in World War I; up to 4 million in the Vietnam Wars and 1.2 million in the Korean War (and these are just in the 20th century). These are numbers we toss out like so much salt on a winter road.

What are you counting today?

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Painting by Chris Easley

Painting by Chris Easley

Although I know this story well of Jacob wrestling with an unknown man (an angel? who knows?), I had not paid attention to the meaning of the name, Israel (“struggles with God”). And for me, a new scenario emerges of Jacob actually struggling with himself, that part of himself who was named usurper or supplanter. His history was full of deception and trickery and this night, I believe he struggled with that self in order to emerge new.

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. . . . Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered.Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” [Genesis 32:24, 26-28, NIV]

I am a bit of a Doctor Who fan (not a serious fan, but I do enjoy watching the show on occasion). It just so happens I watched an episode reminiscent of this Jacob story in which the Doctor and his companions are challenged by a foe called the Dream Doctor who tells them they must choose between two dreams, which is real and which is a true dream? If they choose the correct plot, they will all live, but if they choose incorrectly, they will all die. It’s a mystery of course. But in the end, the Doctor figures it out and realizes that both scenarios are dreams and he destroys them both in order to live in reality (a paradox, of course). But the key to the story is the identity of the Dream Doctor who the companions don’t recognize, but who the Doctor says he knows very well, his very own dark side.

We all have this dark side and it is through our journey in faith, in Christ, that we are gradually able to bring that side forward in order to wrestle with it. Most of us tend to hide the dark side as long as possible, but truthfully, only when the dark side is brought to the light, can we be healed. As long as the dark side stays in the dark, it is safe to live on. (Oh, how Star Wars that all sounds. Sorry.)

These are my late night ramblings as I consider the meaning of Israel as a word. And if I was a true historian, there is probably more depth in it when it’s applied to the nation Israel. But I won’t go there in print. 🙂

I give thanks, instead, to the Christ who does battle for me and with me in the name of God, the Light of the World.

 

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It’s difficult to see something with new eyes or get new understanding when our memories abound with old movie images and Sunday School bible stories. Who can forget Yul Brynner’s angry, jealous, heart-hardened Pharaoh who would not let Mose’s people go?

Romans 9:17
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

I used to believe that people who were marked for despicable acts by God were literally “born and bred” for those moments. I limited my definition to the word, “raised” to be “reared” as in a child who is reared by his parents. But there are over 31 meanings for the word including “setting in motion” or “to cause” something to happen. That means someone could be “raised up” in a single moment, a single choice.

We will never know much about the childhood of Rameses or what challenges he faced as he was being trained for leadership. Perhaps he had always struggled with making decisions and his tutors put heavy constraints on him to “stick to his guns.” In any event, he came to a point in his life, when he was confronted by Moses and said, “No.” And with each “No” he uttered, the future of a people was set into motion.

I cannot assume that Rameses was particularly evil or cruel as a child, teen, or even young man. In fact, a quick trip over to Wikipedia shows that he was actually known as “Rameses the Great” and ruled for nearly 66 years. Or was it Rameses I (even that is unclear historically)?

Whichever Pharoah oppressed the Israelites and then later tried to block their “exodus,” his “raised up” moment could have happened in a heartbeat and God used that encounter to birth a nation.

I don’t believe I’ll ever be comfortable with the idea that a child is born with an evil future. Depending on the scenarios and the choices made along the way, there will be always be turning points that can bring a person to an evil day and time (or not). Does God know how a life will go? Sure, as I have written before, God is outside of linear time. And yet, a life still has more to it than a signature event or time period. Men and women who are remembered for evil may have kissed a child, planted a tree, loved a mate, or created something of a beauty as well.

If I love someone today, anyone, that moment could turn the tide the other way, for me as well as for the “other.” It is why the power is in the now. We can all be change agents for God through touch, compassion, friendship, love: koinonia.

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