John T. Willis

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Golden Calf

The narrative in Exodus 24:9-18 dealing with Moses and Aaron and Nadab and Abihu and 70 elders of the Israelites on Mount Sinai is interrupted by the long description of the plans for the tabenacle and the priestly vestments and ordination in Exodus
25-31. NOW, with Exodus 32-34, we resume the narrative. SO, Exodus 32:1ff resumes Exodus 24:18.

Exodus 32-34 falls into three chapters.
1. The sin of Aaron and the Israelites concerning the Golden Calf. Exodus 32.
2. Dialogue between Yahweh and Moses. Exodus 33.
3. The Renewal of the Covenant between Yahweh and Israel. Exodus 34.

In this blog, we will make some observations about Exodus 32. This chapter falls into three parts. We will sketch each part, then make comments.

1. Aaron and the Israelites sin by constructing and worship the Golden Calf. Exodus 32:1-6.
a. The Israelites approach Aaron, complaining that Moses had been on Mount Sinai so long that the Israelites do not know what has become of him. v. 1.
b. Aaron tells the Israelites to their golden rings. When they do this, he formed this into a mold, and cast an image of a calf. vv. 2-4a.
c. The Israelites declare that this image [these images?] is [are] your "gods" who brought you out of Egypt. Aaron builds and altar before it, and Aaron declares that this is a "festival" to Yahweh. They offered burnt offerings and sacrifices of well being, and "the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel." vv. 4b-6.
Like the stories of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:1-6 and Cain in Genesis 4:1-8, this account graphically describes "the nature of sin." Sin is a "heart problem." And sin is "progressive." Obviously, the sequence here is: (1) The people "saw" that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, and urged Aaron to make "gods" to Yahweh.
(2) Aaron instructed the Israelites to gather their gold rings. (3) Aaron formed the gold in a mold, and cast an image of a calf. (4) The Israelites declared that this image was their "gods" who brought them out of Egypt. (5) Aaron built an altar and proclaimed a festival to Yahweh. (6) The Israelites offered sacrifices; they sat down to eat and drink and rose up to revel. One step slowly but surely leads to the next, then to the next, etc. The EXTERNAL ACT of worshipping the golden calf is a SIN, but sin originated long before this when the Israelites and then Aaron made some prior decisions that led up to this religious act.

2. Yahweh tells Moses what Aaron and the Israelites had done, and Moses returns from Mount Sinai to the Israelites. Exodus 32:7-20.
a. As the "TV Channel" now changes to Mount Sinai, Yahweh tells Moses what Aaron and the Israelites had done, and Yahweh announces that he will destroy the Israelites and make Moses and his descendants a great nation. vv. 7-10.
b. But Moses boldly approaches Yahweh in prayer, beseeching him to "change his mind," and allow the Israelites to keep Yahweh's promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and his descendants. Yahweh "changes his mind." vv. 11-14.
c. Moses and Joshua began walking back down Mount Sinai. When Moses heard the Israelites "reveling," Moses became very angry and hurled "the two tablets of the covenant" to the ground, and they broke in pieces. vv. 15-20.
This is one of several texts throughout scripture teaching THE OPENNESS OF GOD. This text teaches that God is a PERSON who is NOT RIGID in his ways and decisions. Hence, from time to time, God may REVERSE his prior decision or declaration or announcement. Here is one such case. God announced that he would destroy the Israelites who brought about the golden calf, but Moses PERSUADED God to "change his mind." Some try to avoid this clear biblical affirmation, and PROPOSE [WITHOUT ANY BIBLICAL FOUNDATION WHATSOEVER] that God "knew in advance" [God's "foreknowledge"] what the Israelites, Moses, and himself would do. BUT the Bible does not indicate this at all. God "changes his mind."

3. Moses confronts Aaron and the Israelites; Yahweh punishes the sinners. Exodus 32:21-35.
a. First, Moses confronts Aaron. Moses uses psychology. "What did THIS PEOPLE do to you have your have brought so great a sin upon them?" When we sin, we try to find some one to blame anyone or anything other than ourselves. So Aaron immediately took the bait--"You know THE PEOPLE, that they are bent on evil." Then Aaron proceeded to explain that the told the people to bring gold to him, and they gave it to them, and I threw it into the fire--STOP. Up to this point, Aaron gives a correct report. But THEN--suddenly he forgets what really happened. He says: "and out came this calf!" Surprise, Surprise, Surprise. Now, who would take this seriously. AND YET, when you and I do the wrong thing, and then try to excuse ourselves, our excuses are usually laughable--just like Aaron. vv. 21-24.
b. Moses then does something that I cannot comprehend. I will simply report what the text says: The Israelites "were running wild." So Moses told the sons of Levi to come on his side, and then kill "your brother, friend, and neighbor." And they killed approximately 3,000 people on that day. I wish we had more information about what was going on at that time. But this is the story. vv. 25-29.
c. Moses rebukes the Israelites because of their great sin. Then he beseeches God to forgive their sin. God agrees to do this, but declares that he will punish the Israelites for their sin. And Yahweh sends a plague on the people because of the golden calf. vv. 30-35.

There is a great deal of material in this chapter. Much more could be said. What are YOUR thoughts? Share with others. Help me understand this passage better. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Declining Invitations, Appointments, and Responsibilities

All of us get invitations to go to dinner, to attend a movie, to watch a Rangers game, to meet a doctor for an annual checkup, to teach a class, to attend a class or a lecture or a worship service. Invitations occur all the time.

Luke 14:15-24 relates a wonderful dinner prepared for God. Here is the account:

"One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, 'Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!' Then Jesus said to him, 'Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is ready now.' But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, 'I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.' Another said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.' Another said, 'I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.' So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the hosue became angry and said to his slave, 'Go out at once into the streets and lanes to he town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.' And the slave said, 'Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room' Then the master said tot he slave, 'Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.'"

Anyone who thinks about this story for just a moment MUST chuckle or even laugh out loud. Jesus and other biblical speakers and composers and writers use a great deal of humor to communicate great truths. These excuses are so lame. Yet, we do this all the time. The truth is: I DO NOT WANT TO DO THIS--so, as very creative individuals, we make up excuses which sound good to us. It is not very hard to "see through" these excuses.

When Evelyn and I invite other people to spend an evening in our home for a meal or for conversation, it always hurts us when people "excuse" themselves for not accepting our invitation for this reason or for that reason. Of course, there are legitimate reasons why we must reject an invitation. But often, we decline an invitation because we just do not want to do this.

This also applies to my students. I love all of my students. But I am very boring, and so every now and then, this student or that student tells me or sends me a message that he or she cannot come to class that day, and then gives a "good excuse" he or she cannot come. Of course, sometimes this is legitimate, but sometimes it is not.

Children often help us get a point. Shel Silverstein posts this poem entitled "Sick."

"I cannot go to school today,"
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
"I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I'm going blind in my right eye.
My tonsils are as big as rocks,
I've counted sixteen chicken pox
And there's one more--that's seventeen,
And don't you think my face looks green?
My leg is cut--my eyes are blue--
It might be instamatic flu.
I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,
I'm sure that my left leg is broke--
My hip hurts when I move my chin,
My belly button's caving in,
My back is wrenched, my ankle's sprained,
My 'pendix pains each time it rains.
My nose is cold, my toes are numb.
I have a sliver in my thumb.
My neck is stiff, my voice is weak,
I hardly whisper when I speak.
My tongue is filling up my mouth,
I think my hair is falling out.
My elbow's bent, my spine ain't straight,
My temperature is one-o-eight.
My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear,
There is a hold inside my ear.
I have a hangnail, and my heart is--what?
What's that? What's that you say?
You say today is . . . Saturday?
G'bye, I'm going out to play!"

What is your excuse? Yep!!! This is funny. But sometimes it is also sad.

Share your ideas. Talk with your friends. Be truthful. Let me hear from you.

John Willis

The Tabernacle

As we continue our journey through the Book of Exodus, there is a very long section essentially describing The Tabernacle. This is Exodus 25-31 and 35-40. In this blog, I will deal briefly with these chapters. First, here are some introductory observations.

I. Outline of Exodus 25-31 and 35-40. Introduction: Chapters 25-31 contain Yahweh's instructions that Moses is to build the tabernacle and its furnishings. Chapters 35-40 actually describe the construction of the tabernacle and its furnishings. HOWEVER, these chapters also contain other important details related to the tabernacle. SO, here is an outline.
A. Instructions to build the tabernacle. Exodus 25-27.
B. Instructions concerning the vestments of the priests and the ordination of the priests. Exodus 28-29.
C. Instructions to build the tabernacle. Exodus 30.
D. Directions that Bezalel and Oholiab are to build the tabernacle; the Sabbath Law. Exodus 31.
E. Preparations for building the tabernacle under the guidance of Bezalel and Oholiab. Exodus 35:1-36:7.
F. Actual building of the tabernacle. Exodus 36:8-38:31.
G. Actual making the vestments of the priests. Exodus 39:1-31.
H. Account of the Completion of the building of the tabernacle. Exodus 39:32-40:38

At this point, it is not necessary to go into all the details in these chapters. There are TWO MAIN POINTS in these chapters. Here, we will deal with each briefly.

A. Inside and Outside the Tabernacle.
1. The Tabernacle Itself. The tabernacle faces east. Here are the main components. Find a good description of the tabernacle. I would recommend The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, volume
4, page 499. Here are the components. The Bible presents these in "cubits." For us Americans, I am putting this in "feet" under the assumption that a "cubit" is 18 inches long. [This is close, although scholar will "bicker" over this].
a. The tabernacle as a whole is 45 feet long, fifteen feet wide, and fifteen feet high. The outer section is the Holy Place consisting of 20 feet long and 15 feet wide and high. The inner section is the Most Holy Place which is a square of 15 feet each.
b. In the Holy Place, there are three pieces of furniture.
1. On the north--the Table of the Bread of the Presence. 3 feet long, 18 inches wide, 2 feet high. Here 12 pieces of bread are kept for the 12 tribes of Israel.
2. On the west--the Altar of Incense. 18 inches long and wide, and 2 feet high.
3. On the south--The Lampstand.
c. In the Most Holy Place--the Ark of the Covenant. 3 and a half feet long, and 2 feet wide and high. On top of this is the Mercy Seat, and above this are two Cherubim. Each year, the high priest must sprinkle blood on the Mercy Seat on the Day of Atonement [for a complete description, see Leviticus 16].

2. Outside the Tabernacle are two furnishings.
a. The Altar of Burnt Offering [on the east]. Six feet, 8 inches long and wide each, and four and a half feet tall. Here the priests offer the animal sacrifices.
b. The Bronze Basin, where the priests are to wash their hands and feet.

B. The Purpose of the Tabernacle. The Bible teaches these important points.
1. The tabernacle is to be a "sanctuary," where Yahweh will "dwell among" the peoople of Israel--Exodus 25:8.
2. The tabernacle is to be constructed according to "the pattern of the tabernacle and of all its furniture"--Exodus 25:9; 26:30.
3. "The glory of the Lord" filled the tabernacle, "the tent of meeting," indicating Yahweh's presence among his people--Exodus 40:34-38.

All of this suggests that when God's people approach God in worship and service, this is NOT a casual matter. God's people must invest must time and money and energy in preparation for a proper place to worship God. Hence, the Hebrew Bible commits 13 chapters to make the tabernacle and the priestly preparations. This is much effort and time and thought and preparation for proper worship. Remember, as well, that this is similar in the preparation of the temple in the time of David and Solomon.

What about YOUR place of worship? YOUR preparation? YOUR forethoughts? YOUR planning to meet God in worship? Share your ideas with others. Let me know your thoughts.

John Willis

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sailing and Ships

Back to the Phoenicians, the ancient Phoenicians were the great sailors or mariners in the world of that time. The Sea Peoples came into the Mediterranean region in approximately 1200 B. C. Tyre and Sidon became strong harbors in the Mediterranean.

Hiram king of Tyre sent cedar trees, carpenters, and masons to build a palace for David after David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites. 2 Samuel 5:11-12. Hiram also supplied Solomon with cedar and cypress by rafts floated along the Mediterranean from the Lebanon region to the Israelite coast, then inland to Jerusalem to finally build the temple. 1 Kings 5:7-12. Solomon supplied skilled sailors with Hiram to maintain a fleet on the Red Sea, and they went down to Ophir.
1 Kings 9:26-28; 10:11. Hiram supplied a fleet for Solomon from the eastern part of the Mediterrean all the way to Tarshish on the south of Spain. 1 Kings 10:22. The sailors returning from Tarshish to this area brought gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks. 2 Chronicles 9:21.

Ezekiel 27 contains a very extensive description of a magnificent ship which the skilled sailors of Tyre constructed and sailed on the high seas. Then, a terrible storm crushed the ship and it sank into the depths. Isaiah 23 has a long oracle concerning Tyre with much information about seafaring in this region.

Jonah 1 records the famous journey of Jonah from Joppa to Tarshish. A powerful storm dashed against the ship, and it would have been overthrown if Jonah had not been cast into the sea. Similarly, Psalm 104:23-32 relates an experience in which a horrific storm quakes the hearts of skilled sailors on the high seas. They cry to the Lord in their trouble, and the Lord delivered them.

The New Testament also contains significant texts about sailors and sailing. Paul's missionary journeys involve traveling on the Mediterranean. Acts 27-28 relates Paul' fated trip on his way to Rome, and only by God's grace is he and his fellow-travelers delivered. Hebrews 6:19 compares the hope of Christians with a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. James 3:4-5 compares the tongue with a rudder of a ship.

I have not had the privilege of spending much time on the high seas. I have been in ferries for several hours, but have not been on cruises. I hope you have. The oceans of the world are vast and marvelous and sometime dangerous. It is amazing to me that many human beings have learned and now master sailing and ships and boats. I hope YOU enjoy this endeavor. There are many lessons to learn from this in scripture.

Share your ideas and your thoughts. Let me hear from you.

John Willis

The Book of the Covenant--Part V

Exodus 20:18-21 and 23:20-24:18 are "book ends" or "brackets" around "The Book of the Covenant" proper in Exodus 22:22-23:19. The second "book end" or "bracket" contains three paragraphs in narrative form.

I. Yahweh promises his people Israel that Yahweh will give them the promised land of Canaan, and give them his blessings in the land. Then, Yahweh strongly requires his people to be faithful to Yahweh alone. 23:20-33.
a. Here are Yahweh's "promises." (1) I am sending an "angel" in front of you to guard you on the journey and to bring you into the land of Canaan. (2) In the land of Canaan, I will bless your bread and your water; I will take sickness away from you; no one shall miscarry or be barren in this land; I will fulfill the number of your days. (3) I will send "my terror" against the Canaanites in the land, and defeat their enemies. (4) I will send "the pestilence" in the land of Canaan among the Canaanites, but I will not drive them out in one year, but little by little until you are established in this new land. (5) I will set your borders from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates.
b. Here is Yahweh's strong requirement of his people. Follow the guidance of this "angel." Do not bow down to the gods of the Canaanites, and do not make any covenant with the Canaanites, but utterly demolish them and break their pillars in pieces. Worship Yahweh alone. This is obviously a reinforcement of the first of the ten commandments, AND the fundamental principle of all of God's instructions.

II. Yahweh tells Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu [Aaron's son], and 70 elders of Israel to worship at a distance. Then God tells Moses to declares Yahweh's words to the people and have Moses write down all the words Yahweh had spoken. The people of Israel readily agree. Moses builds an altar at the foot of Mount Horeb=Sinai, and on it he offers burnt offerings and offerings of well being. He dashed half of the blood of the animals on the people of Israel, and half of the blood on the altar. He reads the Book of the Covenant in the hearing of the blood. This blood ceremony symbolizes the covenant that Yahweh made with his people. Exodus 24:1-8.

III. Yahweh commands Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and 70 of the elders of Israel to come up to God on Mount Horeb=Sinai. They saw the God of Israel. Under his feet, there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. These people ate and drank before God. Yahweh gives Moses the tablets of stone with the law and the commandment. Moses and his assistant Joshua receive these tablets. A great cloud covers the mountain. "The glory of the Lord" settled on Mount Sinai for 6 days. On the 7th day, Yahweh called Moses out of the cloud. The appearance of "the glory of the Lord" was like a devouring fire. Moses was one this mountain 40 days and 40 nights. Exodus 24:9-18.

One cannot but marvel at the events described in this paragraph. We can only imagine what Moses and Joshua and his associates experienced on this occasion. But the important point is that "the glory of the Lord" is there. And, as we seek to worship and serve our God, we must be struck with awe that his "glory" is splendid, majestic, marvelous, beyond human comprehension and understanding. This kind of God motivates us to bow before him and worship him and serve him. What an awesome God is HE.

How do YOU respond to this marvelous section of the Book of Exodus? Does our God inspire YOU? Motivate YOU? Transform YOUR LIFE? Share your experiences and your thoughts. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Monday, August 10, 2009

Machu Picchu

Several years ago, Evelyn and I spent some time in Peru to get a feel for the Lord's kingdom in that country. We spent a few days in Lima, then caught a small plane to Cusco up in the mountains. We spent the night there, then caught a bus further up the mountains to the ruins of Machu Picchu, "The Lost City of the Incas."

The Incas started building the site around 1430 AD and was constructed around 1462 AD, then abandoned approximately 100 years later. Invading Spaniards did not find this site. The American historian Hiram Bingham of Yale University discovered this site on 24 July 1911.

Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. Its primary buildings are the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows. These were dedicated to Inti, their sun god and greatest deity. Machu Picchu is above Urubamba Valley. From atop the clift of Machu Picchu, there is a vertical rock face of 2,100 feet rising from the Urubamba River at the foot of the cliff. The location of the city was a military secret, and its deep precipices and mountains provide excellent natural defenses. The Inca Bridge, an Inca rope bride, across the Urubamba River, provided a secret entrance for the Inca army. The buildings of Machu Picchu are made of enormous blocks of stones, and how the Incas brought these blocks here and made these buildings is still a great mystery. There were more than 100 flights of stone steps--often completely carved from a single block of granite--and a great number of water fountains that are interconnected by channels and water-drains perforated in the rock designed for the original irrigation system. The irrigation system was used to carry water from a holy spring to each of the houses in turn.

The more we learn about human history, the more amazed we become about the knowledge, ingenuity, determination, and abilities of peoples throughout history. We speak of "modern" and "ancient" peoples. AND YET, many of these "ancient" people accomplished things which we still cannot comprehend or replicate.

Who peopled such people on earth through history? Who enabled these peoples to do what they did? What amazing accomplishments these people achieved. How can anyone view such sites as the ruins of Machu Picchu fail to realize that our God is an awesome God?

I hope you will appreciate more and more the achievements and determination and foresight of peoples of years of centuries ago. Let me know how YOU respond. Tell me your stories.

John Willis

The Book of the Covenant--Part IV

The last three sections of The Book of the Covenant appear in Exodus 22:16-23:19. In this blog, we will make a few comments about each section.

Section 6--Exodus 22:16-31--Social and Religious Statutes. This section contains five ordinances, several of which are very brief.
1. If a man seduces a virgin, he must give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. If her father refuses, the man must pay an amount equal to the bride-price for virgins. 22:16-17.
2. A female sorcerer, a person who has sexual relations with an animal, or a person who offers sacrifices to any god other than Yahweh shall be put to death. 22:18-20. These instructions about "capital punishment" are similar to those already mentioned in 21:12-17.
3. Yahweh declares he will punish anyone who wrongs or oppresses a resident alien, a widow, or an orphan. 22:21-24. The Bible, Old and New Testaments, consistently declares that Yahweh loves and cares for aliens, widows, and orphans, and God's true people are to do the same. This is of primary concern for God's people.
4. If a person lends money to another person, that person is not to exact interest on that individual. As an IOU, the person who receives the loan is to retrieve the "cloak in pawn" to the person lending the money so that that person may have the cloak for protection from the cold. This must occur daily until the IOU is paid. 22:25-27.
5. God's people are to honor God in every way. (a) God's people are not to revile God or curse a leader of his people. (b) God's people are to make their offerings to God promptly, without delay. (c) God's people are to offer sacrifices to God that are whole, not mangled. 22:28-31.

Section 7--Exodus 23:1-9--Justice. Here there are four instructions, all of which emphasize the importance of being fair, loving, and caring for all people.
1. In disputed decisions, one is not to advance a false report, or be partial toward the majority or the poor. 23:1-3.
2. A person who encounters his/her enemy's ox or donkey, that person is to return it to the enemy. 23:4-5. Here is a sterling example in the OT of "love your enemy."
3. One is not to pervert justice, make a false charge, or give or receive a bribe. 23:6-8.
4. One is not to oppress the alien. 23:9.

Section 8--Exodus 23:10-19--Religious Practices. Here are three sets of instructions.
1. God's people are to keep the sabbatical year: six years they are to sow and gather their products, then let the land rest the seventh year. God's people are to keep the Sabbath each week. 23:10-13.
2. God's people are to keep three festivals each year: (a) the Feast of Unleavened Bread; (b) the Festival of Harvest; (c) the Festival of Ingathering. 23:14-17.
3. When God's people bring their sacrifices to God, they are to bring unleavened bread, they are not to let the fat remain until morning, they are to bring the choicest of the first fruits of the ground, and they are not to boild a kind in its mother's milk. 23:14-19.

This is much to consider here. Some things seem foreign to our modern society. Ponder over these things. How to you respond? Notice again that the primary concerns here are honoring God and loving others as ourselves. Let me hear from you.

John Willis

Sunday, August 09, 2009


Since the Enlightenment, many people, especially in the WESTERN WORLD, have reached the conclusion that ONLY realities which we can see, hear, feel, smell, and taste exist. Automatically, this eliminates deities or gods of all types, spirits, demons, the devil or Satan, angels, and the like. This also rules our miracles, supernatural events, mysterious personalities and occurrences, and the like.

In my humble opinion, this is a VERY NAIVE and UNREALISTIC concept. There are MANY phenomena which we cannot experience with the five senses, yet we assume they exist. One simple example is the atom. Now, without getting into a "philosophical" treatment of this general idea, I want to highlight a few biblical assertions about ANGELS.

1. The Bible, Old and New Testaments, assumes that angels exist and work in the world. Here are a VERY FEW texts.
a. Old Testament. Psalm 34:7:
"The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
and delivers them."
Psalm 103:20: "Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you might ones who do his bidding,
obedient to his spoken word."
Zechariah 3:1-5: "Then he showed me the high priest Joshua standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, 'The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you. Is not this man a brand plucked from the fire?' Now Joshua was dressed with filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, 'Take off his filthy clothes.' And to him he said, 'See, I have taken your guilt away from you, and I will cloth you with festal apparel.' And I said, 'Let them put a clean turban on his head.' So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with the apparel; and the angel of the Lord was standing by."

b. New Testament. Luke 15:10: "I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
Acts 12:6-11: "The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, 'Get up quickly.' And the chain fell off his wrists. The angel said to him, 'Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.' He did so. Then he said to him, 'Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.' Peter went out and followed him; he did not realize that what was happening with the angel's help was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. After they had passed the first and the second guard, they came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along the lane, when sudden the angel left him. Then Peter came to himself and said, 'Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all the Jewish people were expecting.'"

2. People around the world have had experiences of angels, inside and outside the USA and the Western World. In later blogs, I will share some of these experiences.

3. Just because a human being can experience other human beings "visibly" BY NO MEANS PROVES that other thinking, deciding, acting beings "invisible" to US do not exist.

We will talk about many of these matters more in depth. Right now, I want to share one of Walter Brueggemann's prayers in his volume Prayers for a Privileged People. This prayer is called "Sustained by Angels."

Maybe we have not thought much about Satan,
either in glib self-regard,
or in rejection of such silly speculation,
or in a way more urbane and benign
than to imagine such a character.

Except that as we begin our strenuous Lenten trek,
we are aware
that the power of resistance is at work in our midst,
that the force of negation is alive and well,
that our best will is contradicted
by stuff that surges
against our best selves,
that we, even we, are prone to our
several addictions that render us helpless.

So we pray in the Lenten season,
give us primitive freedom to
take full stock of Satan and the power of
evil still among us in our prosperity and
wealth and sophistication,
and give us primitive openness
to our ministering angels
who are present with care and gentleness
and great nourishment.

In the Lenten season, give us freedom
to reconfigure our lives
as a testing field between the force of Satan
and the food of your angels.

Enter our lives with power for newness,
deliver us from a sense of naive mastery,
and give us honest contact with our vulnerability.

Enter the deep places of our life and claim us for your purposes.
We would be more free than we are,
more bold than we dare,
more obedient than we choose.

We wait for the gift of your large gift of life
that will wrench us away from death
to the miracle of Easter joy.

Tell me your experiences of angels. What do these biblical texts affirm? Are we completely oblivious to the work of God's angels? Tell me your thoughts. Share your ideas with those around you.

We will talk more about angels in later blogs.

John Willis

The Book of the Covenant--Part III

As we continue our journey through the Book of the Covenant in the Book of Exodus, in this blog, we will make some comments on Sections 4 and 5: Exodus 21:28-22:15.

Section 4--Exodus 21:28-22:4--Instructions concerning the behavior and value of livestock. Here there are four statutes.
1. An ox may kill a human being. Several possibilities may exist. If an ox has gored a human being and killed that person, the ox must be put to death. If an ox has gored a person and its owner has been warned, if that ox kills a person, the ox and its owner shall be put to death. If a ransom is imposed on the owner, the owner must pay the fine. 21:28-32.
2. If an ox or a donkey falls into an open pit, the owner of the pit must make proper restitution to the owner of the livestock. 21:33-34.
3. If an ox gores another ox and that ox dies, the two owners will divide the price. If an ox is accustomed to gore and its owner is warned, and that ox kills another ox, the owner of the dead ox receives the entire amount of the live ox. 21:35-36.
4. There are several laws in this area pertaining to theft or robbery. If a thief steals an ox or a sheep, that thief must repay 5 oxen for each ox and 4 sheep for each sheep. If a thief who steals an ox or a sheep is caught, the thief must pay double. If a thief cannot pay the debt, the owner will sell the thief into slavery. If a farmer kills a thief attempting to steal an ox or a sheep at night, there is no punishment for the farmer. But if the farmer kills the thief during the daylight, the farmer is to be punished. 22:1-4.

Section 5--Exodus 22:5-15--Instructions concerning Restitution--Here there are five statutes guarding against excessive or unfair loss of property.
1. Individuals who harvest products in fields of another person or who allow their livestock feed in those fields or is responsible for starting a fire in those fields must pay proper restitution. 22:5-6.
2. If a person agrees to take care of a neighbor's property while that person is away, and a thief seizes some of this property, if the thief is caught, the thief must pay double; if the thief is not caught, the two must appear before a court, and the court will decide whether the person taking care of his neighbor's property is at fault or not. 22:7-8.
3. If there is a dispute as to whether this or that person is an owner of some possession, the court must decide who is guilty. The guilty person is to pay double. 22:9.
4. The court makes decisions about situations in which a person has the care of another person's livestock and the livestock dies, is injured, or is stolen.
5. If a person borrows livestock from another person and the livestock dies or is injured, the courts decide how to settle the situation. 22:14-15.

Because of our modern society in the USA, at least some of these loss seem to be strange or irrelevant. However, a little thought and reflection suggests some very important truths for our lives.
1. When a person mistreats another person, the guilty person must suffer the consequences. People are important, and when I mistreat another person, this is wrong, and must be righted.
2. When a person neglects another person, the guilty person is still responsible, and needs to suffer the consequences.
3. Possession, whether this be animals or property, is a vital part of the individual who invests time and effort and money to earn this possession. When another person violates the diligent workers, this is wrong, and must be righted.

Many of you will spend much time dealing with legal issues. These are not abstracts matters. They have to do with living people who are trying to do their best through life. We must respect one another. We must have "laws" so that each person is treated fairly.

What do you think about such laws? Tell me some of your stories. Share these with your family, your community, your friends, your church, your country.

John Willis