Monday, February 27, 2017

A Tale of Two Mountains

There is an interesting scene that unfolds when Israel moves into the Promised Land and starts defeating her enemies, a scene that is set up by God's command through Moses in the waning words of Deuteronomy. 

Essentially, here is the plan: when you get to the place where God, your God, is giving you, then divide into two - six tribes and six tribes. Half of Israel is to stand on one mountain, and half of Israel is to stand on another mountain. There, from your places, recite the blessings the curses God made in His covenant promise with you. 


It's weird for a couple of reasons. First, it's a stark break in message from the God who seems to be immensely concerned with unity. Most of the time, God is calling His people together. He tells them when they must all assemble for this or that festival. He explains the concept of community accountability, where if one man is found in a certain sin, the entire community must come together to stone him to death. He emphatically explains to the three tribes who took their land on the other side of the Jordan that they still have a responsibility to fight for their brothers in the Promised Land before truly settling down.

Everywhere we see Him, God is always referring to the twelve tribes as one; they do everything together. There are twelve gems in the priestly ephod, but they are placed there together. There are twelve tribes in the camp, but they all have their places around the Tabernacle. There are twelve stones in the altar, but they were all gathered by the leaders of the twelve tribes themselves. This is the only time where we see God break Israel into real units of less than twelve. 

Six. And six. 

The second reason that it's weird is that there doesn't seem to by any rhyme or reason by which the six and the six are chosen. That is, if you read the blessings of the twelve tribes in other places, or if you read the descriptions of them and the way that they are, it's difficult to see how some of these tribes carry the blessings and some of them carry the curse. There are clearly at least a few that we would easily, by our human nature, place on the other mountain. 

That is, if it were up to us, we could tell you which rabblerousers were going to be the ones to curse Israel and which saints would be the ones to save her.

Third, most of us seem to have a real theological problem with the God who curses His people, so it's hard to imagine that His people at any time and place would be so willing to stand in the affirmation of His curses. It's why we preach about Heaven and not about Hell. It's why we talk about grace and not condemnation. It's why we talk about sin only in the nature of redemption. It just seems to us that if God was as loving and everything as He says He is, then all twelve tribes should have been standing on the mountain of blessing. 

Just sayin'. 

Finally, what is most weird about this whole thing is that after each statement of either blessing or curse is recited by the six tribes, all the people were to say (and said), "Amen." 

So there's a lot of crazy stuff going on here, just inside the Promised Land. And there's a lot that we can break down in all of this, which we'll do in the coming days. 

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