Monthly Archives: January 2014

a little revelation

Well. I’ve finished reading the book of Matthew again. I read it with a fine toothed comb this time, so it took a while. I’m all set to read the other gospels next.

I feel at this point I must make an apology to Jews everywhere.  Jesus? or Matthew? or whoever wrote this- was possibly the worst student of the Torah of all time.  Only surpassed in his worseness by millions of Christians who followed him.

Jesus is not the Messiah.

Certainly not the Messiah as the Messiah is described in the passages Matthew tries to claim are predictive of Jesus.

So much for that.

El the Bull

For the Canaanites, Ēl or Il was the supreme God, the father of mankind and all creatures.[16] His sons were HadadYam, and Mot… Though Ugarit had a large temple dedicated to Dagon and another to Hadad, there was no temple dedicated to Ēl.

Ēl is called again and again Tôru ‘Ēl (“Bull Ēl” or “the bull God”). He is bātnyu binwāti (“Creator of creatures”), ’abū banī ’ili (“father of the Gods”), and ‘abū ‘adami (“father of man”). He is qāniyunu ‘ôlam (“creator eternal”), the epithet ‘ôlam appearing in Hebrew form in the Hebrew name of God’ēl ‘ôlam “God Eternal” in Genesis 21.33. He is ḥātikuka (“your patriarch”). Ēl is the grey-bearded ancient one, full of wisdom, malku (“King”), ’abū šamīma (“Father of years”), ’El gibbōr (“Ēl the warrior”). He is also named lṭpn of unknown meaning, variously rendered as Latpan, Latipan, or Lutpani (“shroud-face” by Strong’s Hebrew Concordance).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_(deity)

Hebrew belongs to the Canaanite group of languages. In turn, the Canaanite languages are a branch of the Northwest Semitic family of languages.[13]

Archaic Biblical Hebrew from the 10th to the 6th century BCE, corresponding to the Monarchic Period until the Babylonian Exile and represented by certain texts in the Hebrew Bible (Tanach), notably the Song of Moses (Exodus 15) and the Song of Deborah (Judges 5). Also called Old Hebrew or Paleo-Hebrew. It was written in a form of the Canaanite script.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_language

“Aaron! What have you done?” Moses staggered into the tent.  His eyes were on fire.

Aaron jumped, as if he was seeing the dead.  “Moses-!”

“You made an image! Why, Aaron?”

“What do you mean?  We didn’t know what happened to you!  You know how the people are! They were starting to panic. They were starting to pack up and leave- a few families at a time, under cover of darkness.  They were saying that God must have killed you and that they were going to be next. I had them bring me their gold earrings- and other jewelry- and I just threw it into the fire- and out popped this calf.  And they stopped panicking and stayed.”

“I knew you would come back!”  Aaron added loyally.

Moses groaned and collapsed onto a pile of tent cloth. He covered his face in his hands and his shoulders shock like he was weeping, though there was no sound.

“He’s going to kill us all.” he told his brother.

“What do you mean?” Aaron asked.  The open flap of the tent framed the Mountain- still smoking and burning.   Moses had been well educated when he lived at the Court of Egypt. He had once described to Aaron the volcanoes on the Northern shores and islands of the Mediterranean.  The Mountain reminded Aaron of those stories.  But this was no volcano. There was no fire.  The Mountain shone with a light that could burn without consuming. Darkness rose from it instead of smoke. Even in the day.

Moses’ distress was frightening Aaron.

“The image…” Moses said through his hands.

Aaron knelt in front of his brother, peering as if trying to draw the problem, like a magnet does, from his brother’s heart to his own.

“What’s wrong with the image?”

“Its a bull- a bull-calf.”

“That’s how we’ve always portrayed El Shaddai. It’s… so flattering. Bulls are powerful creatures, and the metaphor-”

“That isn’t how He looks.” Moses’ shoulders had stopped shaking. They were slumped now in utter exhaustion. “I’ve seen him, Aaron. You saw Him. The elders all saw Him”

“But no one ever, in their right mind, believed that the image is supposed to be what He actually looks like! That’s not why people make images of their gods!”

“He’s not going to believe that, Aaron. He thinks we’re idiots.”

Moses was roused to temporary, muffled eloquence. He sometimes was around his brother.  No one else, though.

“He’s going to be insulted if we let Him think that the people think He’s an animal-spirit.  And He’s going to be insulted if we try to convince Him that He was wrong in his opinion of us. Because that would mean that He was wrong about us and that He’s the imbecile for not noticing. And either way He’s going to kill.  Kill us all.”

Moses finally looked out through his hands at his brother. His eyes were red rimmed and bloodshot from grief and lack of sleep. Aaron stared in stunned disbelief.

It was quiet for a moment inside the tent. Outside was the sound of music and dancing. The people were holding a festival in honor of their new-found ancestral God. El the Bull. El of the Mountain.  El, who had laid low the Egyptians and brought them out of Egypt.  The people had been so afraid for so long. Afraid of the Egyptians who had enslaved them, afraid of the malevolent Sea and Desert. Afraid of El- his unpredictable rage and all-destroying power.

And now they thought there was going to be peace. That they’d found a way to make El happy.  That they didn’t have to be afraid anymore.

They were laughing.

“NO!! No! No! No!”

Aaron took Moses by the shoulders and jerked him to his feet. He shook him, screaming, and Moses hung unresisting as a rag in his hands.

“He said we weren’t supposed to make images of other gods and we didn’t!” He let go of Moses and his brother swayed weakly for a moment before collapsing backwards. Aaron’s face was streaked with tears.

“He told us not to make images at all.” Moses whispered.

“You had the book with you! He spent so much time talking about the other gods- I thought that’s what he meant-”

Aaron raised his hands towards the hidden heavens.

“It took us more than a week to make an image that size! He must have known what we were doing- how could He not? And He waited till now to tell us it was wrong? You! You waited till now to tell us!”

Moses’ shoulders had started shaking again, but he made no sound and there were no tears.

“If He knew- I certainly didn’t-” he squinted up at Aaron. “It took you a week? How long have I been gone? ”

“A month, Moses!  A month and ten days!”

It was quiet in the tent.

“He wouldn’t stop talking.” Moses said said finally.  He was picking at a thread in the cloth.  “We’re supposed to build him a- a sort of- tent temple.  I was starting to think it had been a long time.”

“What?”  Aaron was having trouble comprehending.

“There are all these- these- purple curtains and ropes, and lamps and gems.  Do you remember what he did to the Egyptians as we were leaving?”

“That they kept walking up to us with blank faces and handing us treasure?”  Aaron still was having trouble comprehending.

“I think this is what that was for. Its- its going to take every thing we have.  He went on and on about it. Oh- and Aaron- images of the cherubim.”

Aaron’s eyes were nearly bugging out of his head.

“He said we were forbidden to make images! He’s about to kill us for making an image!”

Moses was on his feet. He was screaming.

“Don’t you understand? Don’t you understand?  Nothing He says matters! Nothing!”

They were both sitting on the floor again.

“That’s what’s more important to him than whether our people live or incur his wrath and die.  Not even a temple.  A fancy tent.” Moses finished.  He was picking at a thread again. He was thinking of an Egyptian he had once buried in a shallow grave. The flight into the desert afterwards. “When He lives in a Mountain.”

“You said he lives everywhere.”  Aaron was staring off into the distance.

“Nothing I say matters”  Moses was staring off into the distance in the other direction.

The laughter and dance music outside went on.  The flicker of the firelight was blending with the flicker of the Light of the Mountain. The two lights looked happy, flickering together.

“What are we going to do?” Aaron asked finally.

“We have to appease Him.” Moses sighed.  “Call together your tribesmen.  Tell them to arm themselves. I’ll- I’ll go talk to him.”

Aaron looked over at Moses, brows knit.

“Arm- ?  Why?”

Moses stood up.  “If He starts killing the people, He wont stop.”

Aaron stared at his brother. Then his face changed. He stood.  “You can’t mean…” he breathed.

“If you can think of another way- I’ll gladly follow you.”

Aaron slowly looked at the ground.  He stared at it for a long time. He slowly looked back up at Moses.  He didn’t speak.

Moses shrugged, then turned and went out of the tent.

Slowly, Aaron went to the opening. He caught himself standing, stock-still, watching the dancers in their circles.  He put his eyes on the ground as if he had been burned by the sight and hurried towards his tribe’s tents.

He cursed in his heart, wishing that Moses could do this himself.  It was Moses’ word, after all.  But the curse and the wish were both futile.  The people loved and feared and sometimes hated Moses as they did El himself.

But the people, not even Aaron’s own tribe of Levi, would never take an order like this from a man whose father was an Egyptian. That was why Aaron had to speak for him.

Battered… Worshiper…? Syndrome

From Wikipedia: 

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battered_wife_syndrome)

Additionally, repeated cycles of violence and reconciliation can result in the following beliefs and attitudes:[7]

  • The abused thinks that the violence was his or her fault.
  • The abused has an inability to place the responsibility for the violence elsewhere.
  • The abused fears for their life and/or the lives of their children (if present).
  • The abused has an irrational belief that the abuser is omnipresent and omniscient.

There is a Being. Supposedly. Who has massacred almost the entire population of a planet, more or less on a whim.  Who has ordered humans to commit genocide and violence against other humans.  Who threatens violence if his demands are not complied with.  Who blames humans for what he does to them.  Whose followers claim that he knows everything and is everywhere.

Who has put the Jews through abuse that makes the Nazis look like pansies.

And we’ve been… worshiping him?

( Thank you, Commandments of Men, for putting this so succinctly and doing so sooner than me.

http://thecommandmentsofmen.blogspot.com/2013/07/syndromed.html#more )

I’m including passages instead of references- just to show that I’m not making this up.

Committing genocide/near genocide:

Gen 6:5 The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” 

Wanna know what was different about humans before and after the flood?

Nothing.

Ordering humans to commit genocide:

Deuteronomy 20:16 However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy[a] them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you.

Threatening violence/near genocide/rejection/abandonment if his demands are not complied with:

Deuteronomy 29:22 Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners who come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which the Lord has afflicted it.23 The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur—nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. It will be like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim, which the Lord overthrew in fierce anger. 24 All the nations will ask: “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

25 And the answer will be: “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt. 26 They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them. 27 Therefore the Lord’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. 28 In furious anger and in great wrath the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.”

Deuteronomy 31:16 And the Lord said to Moses: “You are going to rest with your ancestors, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. 17 And in that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. 

Blaming the victims of his rage/violence for his behavior:

Exodus 33:3 Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”

4 When the people heard these distressing words, they began to mourn and no one put on any ornaments. 5 For the Lord had said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you. Now take off your ornaments and I will decide what to do with you.’” 6 So the Israelites stripped off their ornaments at Mount Horeb.

Followers believe him to be omnipresent and omniscient:

Psalm 139:1 You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

(If you think this Psalm is comforting- consider.  In the next two sections the Psalmist states that:

5 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

And that he has this deep desire-

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.

But God, who views on the slaughter of enemies has been seen to be remarkably consistent with the Psalmist’s, also wove together those enemies in the secret places.  He also wrote all the days ordained for them in his book.   AKA- God created a certain number of beings for the express purpose of destroying them horribly.  You can argue whether he has the right to do that till you’re blue in the face- what kind of sadist exercises such a right? )

This omniscience and omnipresence is believed, despite the fact that God is frequently reduced to sending messengers to investigate things and performing tests to verify facts that he’s not sure of.  Babel, Sodom, Abraham+Issac, Job, etc.

Reference section ends now.

So here’s my problem.  This God is basically an abuser.  He fits the profile.

If there is a God- and the Old Testament stories show just the best image of him that Bronze Age people were able to create, due to their own ignorance-

then presumably, the gods of other religions are the same deal.  The best image of God that humans of a particular time and place were able to create, due to their own ignorance.

However, the Old Testament God- YHWH- does not tolerate questions in humans well and often explicitly demands the death of anyone who listens to other gods.   If he doesn’t have any minions willing to carry out such demands on hand, he resorts to claiming that they deserve to die.  All- all- only- must be for Him. Alone.

Hence shorting out the ability of humans to compare notes on their versions of God. Hence preventing them from moving past him and towards the Infinite- whatever That may be.

If somewhere, out beyond the edge of our knowledge and perception, there is a One True God- isn’t YHWH the Devil?

please don’t leave me

I will say this right at the beginning.  I’m a little buzzed tonight.

I’ve been sitting by myself in this house watching P!nk music videos and drinking coconut rum.  I think I like her.  I’ve heard a couple of her songs on the radio but never really paid attention to them before.

Maybe you have, but here’s one anyway.

A few weeks ago… or is it a month now?  not sure.    …some Christian celebrity made comments grouping LGBT folks with child molesters, saying straight sex was better than gay sex because women have better/bigger holes, and that back in his day, before civil rights, things were just dandy for black folks cause none of them ever complained about anything to HIM.

(I’m pondering this.  Are attitudes like this in white guys the reason that white girls end up with black guys?  ‘Cause this certainly makes me want to never come within ten feet of white guys- if they’re like this.)

Maybe you know who this guy is. Maybe you’re already up on this stuff.  If you don’t, I apologize.  I don’t think I can link to any of this without puking.

I didn’t think it would probably be a good idea to engage my family on the LGBT thing.   Too much room for “its not loving to let people be WRONG- they’ll go to Hell”  Too many questions about why I was bringing it up.

I haven’t told them I’m… well… not a Christian anymore.  I haven’t told them other things.

But the thing about how-life-was-for-African-Americans-pre-civil rights, I thought maybe we could connect on that.  One of my Aunts married a black dude.  My little cousins are growing up to inherit what the world thinks of black people.

My extended family has always accepted them.  I thought?  And my young brothers are best friends with those cousins.  They draw comics together and work on dirt bikes.

Maybe I was being overly optimistic.  Come to think of it.  They also spent Christmas break joking ‘Oh no! That’s racist!’ whenever anyone said the word black or white.  As if racism is so unusual that anyone crying racism was a paranoid freak.

Yeah.  Hindsight.

And my sister made a comment to the effect that: at one point, yes bad things had happened, but so much time has gone by that they need to stop talking about it now- it was just complaining.

Since when does Germany get to decide when the Jews have to stop talking about the Holocaust? That they’re just complaining now?

At any rate, in a different venue, one my family has access to, I ended up posting stuff about this- about lynchings and the actual situation in the 30’s  and how awful it was that  he had said that.  How awful it was that Christians were rallying to his defense instead of calling him out.

So… it didn’t go over very well.   The extended relatives sort of flocked into the comment section and started gnawing on my corpse.   I was sent private messages from one person insinuating that I was the spirit of the anti-Christ.

Because- it seems- insulting an entire ethnic group and re-writing their history to suit your own purposes is just being a good witness for Christ.  But saying a celebrity (who might have the ability to increase your religion’s name-brand recognition), has done something wrong is insulting and mean spirited.

I didn’t try to answer them.  And I haven’t spoken to them since.  Which is easy- since I’m living away right now. 

In the Pink video(if you didn’t watch it), she turns into a crazy ax murderer and tries to kill the guy to keep him from leaving her.  I suppose I am the one who is leaving them?  Unless calling someone the Anti-Christ is some kind of code phrase for ‘we want you to stay’ that I just haven’t learned yet, I don’t think they are going to care.  They aren’t going to try and keep me.

What kind of violence would I have to do to myself to earn their approval?

I could arrange it so that I could stay.  I’m not very good at winning friends or connecting with people and my family is a dependable social group that I know intimately and is willing to help me (as long as I pretend that lynching never happened, presumably).

I could chop pieces of myself off until I fit back into the shell I used to live in.  I could spend the rest of my life saying things I do not believe- until maybe I would come to believe them again.   I could keep quiet about things that my sense of ethics demand I speak about, until, perhaps it would slowly and quietly wither away.  Maybe eventually I could forget why I cared in the first place.

But I don’t think I can.

RUM!! GOOD PEOPLE!!!  WHERE HAS THE RUM GONE?!?

Wouldn’t it be great? To be allowed to disagree without having to leave?

my personal avoidance issues

True confession: I haven’t read the Gospels in years.

I spent my childhood and teenage years reading and rereading the Bible- Old Testament and New.  Recently, I… I’m not really sure what I did. Something clicked in my mind and I started reading in a new light. I had a class where some of the optional reading material was about trauma and childhood abuse. I read all of it. And more. And More. That may have been what did it actually. Because I realized that, if the Old Testament were literally true, as I had been brought up to believe, God isn’t a tough but fair guy, who was sad about how we continually failed him and how we all deserved to die in a fire, but who let us make our own choices anyway.

God- if he were literally true, as I was raised to believe- is an abuser.

Who threatens to kill his children for the slightest disobedience. Who arranges for other people to torture them if they aren’t living up to his standards. Who literally gets them pregnant, if he feels like it.

Who can demand that a parent murder their own child.

Who can wipe out the population of a planet as ?punishment? for things he authorized in the first place.

I don’t see how being The God of Everything somehow makes permissible in Him things that in us would be crimes. Shouldn’t He be the example the ethics he demands of us?

Yet he does not.

I’ve been mucking about in the Old Testament for some time now. The world becomes more surreal the longer I do.

The context of the New Testament can change its meaning. I know that. Both Christianity and Judaism refer to the Tanach (the Jewish Bible or the Old Testament) as the Word of God. But how you interpret this older section of text determines whether you see the specifically Christian portion of the Bible as being More Word of God or as being the crackpot writings of first century Judaic malcontents.

Now my interpretation of the Old Testament has shifted away from anything I have heard of from Jews or Christians.

The last time I read the gospels, years ago, I had to read them backwards- starting at the last chapter and reading one chapter at a time till I reached the first- to keep my attention from wandering. I had heard the words repeated so many times, read them so often, that they no longer registered as having meaning. Like when you write the word declare a million times.

declare

declare

declare

declare

declare

declare

declare

declare

declare

declare

declare

I decided I would stop trying to read them- just for a while- until my mind could recover from the repetition and the text could regrow its meanings for me.

I don’t know how much longer I can put off reading them again. I’m pretty sure that when I do, they are going to have meaning,

This is kind of cowardly of me, but I’m afraid.

God turned into a monster while I wasn’t looking.  What’s Jesus going to be?

I was always kind of afraid of God.  If I lose Jesus too- I’m not sure what I’ll do.

the childrens’ teeth are set on edge

Ezekiel 18 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:

“‘The parents eat sour grapes,
    and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?

3 “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. 4 For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.

“Why not?  He’s already said he’s going to kill us.” The newly made king Manasseh picked up the seal he’d been toying with, and looked over at Shebna.   “Nothing I do can make him happy now.  He’s angry with my father, not me.  I’m just the one who’s going to die for it.” He smiled bitterly.  “Or not die.  As the case may be. You all are the ones to whom he’s giving that privilege.  I’m going to be living in the lap of luxury- serving up my tender ass to the king of Babylon.” He put the seal down and looked up at the ceiling in mock rapture.  “Do you think he’s really as handsome as the images they make of him? I mean- the Assyrians had those stiff glossy beards that looked-”

Shebna could feel his face turning red.   He wasn’t young anymore and he hadn’t been for a long time. This was not to be tolerated.

“The House of David has sinned, Manasseh!   You didn’t win this kingdom for yourself- you inherited it.  You inherited its failures as well.  God is angry with us.  He will do as he pleases.  Your responsibility to your descendants and to your nation is to keep from angering Him further, and you-

“My descendants!?” Manasseh interrupted.  “By the Name- do you understand what a eunuch is?

“-you may convince him to relent.”

“And what can I possibly do that my father didn’t? My father-” his voice choked and he looked away.  His eyes were glistening.

“Hezekiah was a good king.  Maybe even a great one.  But he was not without his faults-”

“He was the greatest king we’ve ever had!  Even Isaiah thought so!”

“It is perfectly within His right to punish-”

“The violation of a rule that never existed?”

“He is within His right to do as He pleases!”  Shebna felt a twinge of long suppressed suspicion, even under his anger.  The priests had long said that they knew what the Lord required of His people.  That they had records.  But they never produced them.  He turned his irritation towards the young king.  “And it is not within your right to question! The Lord did great things, great and marvelous things, for your father’s sake.  He saved our nation-”

“So that he could destroy it himself!  How could He possibly let it be said that anyone but Him was allowed to touch His toys?  But that doesn’t mean He finds them amusing any longer. That doesn’t mean He isn’t going to throw them away.”

Manasseh put his head in his hands.

Shebna could feel his veins pulsing.  The shock was making his tongue feel woolen.

“Have you no fear of God?” He gasped.

“What has God left me to be afraid of, Shebna?  Tell me that!”

Shebna couldn’t answer.  The room was swimming around him.  When Manasseh looked up, Shebna thought he saw the face of a child.  A child who had played happily in the palace, spilling his ink and hiding behind him when ambassadors arrived and Hezekiah had to look stately.  Who had come running to him.

Manasseh caught him as he fell.  He lowered him gently to the floor, then ran to the door way, yelling.  He came running back, the tears he had forced down now flowing around his eyes.

Shebna kept trying to talk, as servants came and things were done frantically around them.

“Not like… idolaters… you are…  …sacrifice…  the king’s son… Hezekiah…”

Manasseh tried to shush him to get him to lay quiet, but the light was going out of the old man’s eyes.  The others kept trying long after Manasseh had sat back on his heels.

“You don’t want me to sacrifice my son to Baal for wealth and peace??” he asked the emptiness in Shebna’s eyes.  “But I’m just like my father.”

“How could I not?”

***

2 Kings 20:14 Then Isaiah the prophet went to King Hezekiah and asked, “What did those men say, and where did they come from?”

“From a distant land,” Hezekiah replied. “They came from Babylon.”

15 The prophet asked, “What did they see in your palace?”

“They saw everything in my palace,” Hezekiah said. “There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.”

16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord: 17 The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. 18 And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”

19 “The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?”

the fathers have eaten sour grapes

Ezekiel was sitting, listening to God and writing.  Somewhere outside, the sun was shining and the birds were singing.  But he was in Babylon.

A letter had come from their homeland, soon after they had arrived here in Babylon.  It had been brought to the ghetto that the Babylonians had assigned them to.

The Babylonians had a lot of ghettos. People from nations they had overrun lived in them, doing whatever work the Babylonians assigned them.  Sometimes they were a small sample of a larger population, most of whom were still living in their homeland.

Sometimes, they were all that was left.

In the message, God said he wanted them to settle in.  He wanted them to serve their new masters. Happily.  Just in case he decided to utterly destroy their friends and relatives who had been left behind.  Because of how evil they were.  Evil like rotten figs were evil.  Rotten figs weren’t useful to their owner. They were evil.

Ezekiel supposed it was a nice ghetto.  There were trees.  And they were allowed to plant gardens.  The Babylonians seemed to respect them.

It was better than Egypt had been.

Ezekiel tried to concentrate.  God was talking to him.  He needed to focus on writing.

He tried not to think about why God had given His message for the exiles to a prophet still in Jerusalem. Instead of to him.

He sometimes dreamed of home.  Of  the village he came from and his cousins.  Of his own garden and the vines. He wondered if anyone was taking care of them.

Sometimes God would show him visions of home.  Would show it to him one facet at a time- the elders, the women, the mountains- and explain how he was going to destroy it.  And how nothing could stop him.

There were no visions of home today. Today was, perhaps, a good day.

Other things that hadn’t happened, helping today to be a good day, were that God had not commanded him to preform bizarre yet detailed and specific pantomimes in any public area.  Or rendered him psychologically unable to speak to other humans. Or ordered him to eat food baked in shit.

Really, it was a pretty good day.

Those things had all happened to Ezekiel at one point or another. Those weren’t the most pleasant things, but if you refused Him, Ezekiel knew, you would shortly regret refusing very, very much.  And when he finally broke you, you would still have to do whatever it was he had ordered you to do in the first place.

Ezekiel considered himself pretty lucky.  God had never started ordering him to go sleep with so-and-so.  Or naming his children.

Some people had it a lot worse than he did, he knew. He appreciated that fact.

God was still talking.  He was more or less ranting at this point and sometimes Ezekiel wasn’t sure if God was still talking to him or just to Himself, but that didn’t matter.  He wrote quickly and as exactly as he could, in case Any One accused him of having misrepresented God’s Words.

He was secretly a little proud of his letters.   Proud of their shape and of their smooth flow. They weren’t chicken tracks pecked in clay like the cuneiform of these Eastern cities.  They weren’t pictures that had (somewhere at the dawn of time, no doubt) been assigned meanings- like the once-powerful Egyptians still used.  They were real letters.  He thought his people’s script was beautiful and he thought he wrote well.

Writing was a valuable skill.   It was more common among his people than among some of the other ethnic groups, but it was still not very common.

 The word of the Lord came to me:  “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:

“‘The parents eat sour grapes,
    and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?

“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel.  For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.

“Suppose there is a righteous man
    who does what is just and right.
 He does not eat at the mountain shrines
    or look to the idols of Israel.
He does not defile his neighbor’s wife
    or have sexual relations with a woman during her period.
 He does not oppress anyone,
    but returns what he took in pledge for a loan.
He does not commit robbery
    but gives his food to the hungry
    and provides clothing for the naked.
 He does not lend to them at interest
    or take a profit from them.
He withholds his hand from doing wrong
    and judges fairly between two parties.
 He follows my decrees
    and faithfully keeps my laws.
That man is righteous;
    he will surely live,
declares the Sovereign Lord.

 “Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things (though the father has done none of them):

“He eats at the mountain shrines.
He defiles his neighbor’s wife.
He oppresses the poor and needy.
He commits robbery.
He does not return what he took in pledge.
He looks to the idols.
He does detestable things.
He lends at interest and takes a profit.

Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head.

 “But suppose this son has a son who sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things:

 “He does not eat at the mountain shrines
    or look to the idols of Israel.
He does not defile his neighbor’s wife.
 He does not oppress anyone
    or require a pledge for a loan.
He does not commit robbery
    but gives his food to the hungry
    and provides clothing for the naked.
 He withholds his hand from mistreating the poor
    and takes no interest or profit from them.
He keeps my laws and follows my decrees.

He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live.  But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people.

 “Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live.  The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.

 “But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die.  None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them. Because of the righteous things they have done, they will live.  Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?

 “But if a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked person does, will they live? None of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness they are guilty of and because of the sins they have committed, they will die.

 “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites:  Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die.  But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life.  Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die.  Yet the Israelites  say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, people of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?

 “Therefore, you Israelites,  I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!  [Ezekiel 18:1-32]

At this point God had finished expounding, and His speech had left Him fairly glowing with satisfaction.  He seemed to have settled something in His own mind, during the rant.  His thought touched on Ezekiel and Ezekiel thought he felt a flash of affection and a sort of humor.  Ezekiel’s heart practically stopped with fear.  Then the room filled.  Light that wasn’t light.  Sound that wasn’t sound.

When Ezekiel came conscious again, he found himself slouched over his scroll and pens.  He staggered to his feet and leaned against the wall.  God was gone.  Well- and he forced himself to smile faintly- at least He had left in a good mood.  God was perfectly capable of coming and going in a manner that didn’t knock His servants unconscious or leave their minds in shambles for hours or days afterwards.  But He only used that mode when He was sullen.  He seemed to think that He was depriving them of something they desperately needed by not blinding them with His Glory- which was obviously a fit punishment for Him feeling unhappy.  Considering the other things God tended to do when He was upset, at this point, Ezekiel  preferred getting knocked around a bit. 

He realized that there was a song running through his head.  Some thing about a lioness… lion cubs… and a vine.   He knew from experience that it would keep playing, over and over, unchanged, until he wrote it down.  God had left him a little parting chore.

He looked over what he had already written.  He hadn’t been able to attend to the meaning before, focused on listening and recording so exactly.

The word of the Lord came to me:  “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:

“‘The parents eat sour grapes,
    and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?

“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel.  For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die….

“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites:  Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust?… 

Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!

God was saying that people should be judged individually and not in hereditary groups or family lines.

Ezekiel’s eyes widened.  This was hard to believe.  He went over to a chest.  When he opened it, the sharp, sweet scent of cedar wood spilled out and there, nestled inside, were his scrolls.   He tended to lavished attention on his scrolls.  They were the only things he owned that he knew (with certainty) God would not command him to hack to pieces, which he must then destroy in various horrible ways, symbolizing the ways in which God was going to kill large numbers of his people.

Words of God.

He took out several of them and unrolled them next to his new scroll.  He looked for the part he thought he was remembering.   He found it.  It was part of the formal agreement God had decided that they would make with Him; signing themselves over to him as His possessions.

(God hadn’t officially said so, but at the time had given every indication that, if they didn’t agree, they would be destroyed.  He could make another people, after all.  If they didn’t work out.)

(Thus, they had agreed to be God’s possessions)

You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.  [Deuteronomy 5:8-10]

He sat back and let silence fill the room.  There was nothing to say.

God was not only changing the terms of the everlasting commandments that He had imposed on them.  He was also insinuating an accusation against them as if the original had been their idea in the first place.

Why will you die, people of Israel?

Is my way unjust?

Ezekiel had thought there were other passages.  He pulled himself together and began looking for them.

God considered it flattering that they wrote down everything he said.  They encouraged him to see it that way.

Ezekiel found the other passages.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.”  Moses… said, “Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the Lord, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.” [Exodus 17:14-16]

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,  maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”  Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. [Exodus 34:6-8]

No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation.  For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor …to pronounce a curse on you.  [Deuteronomy 23:3-4]

He wasn’t making this up.  God really had just switched rules on them.

The long struggle between the dying Egyptian power, and the rising Mesopotamian empires seemed to be grinding towards some kind of climax. If either were to finally break the power of the other, they would need to control… well… his homeland.   It was the gateway- the channel- between them.   

The few stories he had heard of his home lately reported that their internal politics were reaching a high froth.  The public lived in a state of panic, rulers were ousted or taken as hostages by stronger states every few years, and the allegiance of Jerusalem vacillated wildly between Egypt… Mesopotamia… Egypt… Mesopotamia…

If they chose wrong, they were probably going to cease to exist as as people.  As had so many others.

And God… well. Every time they allied with one side or the other, God would start sending them death threats.  They didn’t trust Him enough.  He was going to have them all killed. He was going strip them naked and beat them almost to death, with all the nations of the world looking on, laughing at their agony and humiliation.

But ever since the time of King Hezekiah and his son Manasseh, God had been saying that He was going to destroy them.   Ever since the time of King Manasseh, He had been saying that it was because He hadn’t forgiven the nation for Manasseh’s sins. Before Manasseh, He had still been saying He would destroy them.  It just wasn’t clear why.  Hezekiah had fallen all over himself following the rules God had given them.

That was several generations ago.

Ezekiel looked at the new Words again.

Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live.  The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child.

So they couldn’t be blamed for the sins of Manasseh?  Several times, since the days of Manasseh’s reign, they had had collective fits of utter devotion to God, throwing themselves without reservation into their agreement with him.  All that God had said was that he was still going to destroy them.  Horribly. Because of King Manasseh. 

So maybe if the people living now out did themselves in devotion, God would…? Or at least- God wouldn’t…?

It was hard to fathom why God said or did certain things.  It was hard to tell if he meant what he was saying or if he didn’t.

But maybe this change of standards was a good thing. Maybe they would find a way to survive.

He decided he wasn’t going to complain about it.

He picked up his pen again and sighed.  The song was still running through the his mind and now he attended to it in order to write it down.

His face blanched and his knuckles whitened as he listened.

The Lioness and the Vine both symbolized his homeland.  The Lioness’ two cubs represented two factions of of his nation.  Both of them were trapped- netted- dragged with hooks into cages and offered as gifts- to the kings of Egypt and Babylon, respectively.  Meanwhile, the Vine, their land…

The land God had promised them.

The land He had given them.

The sign of His oath of protection and the concern that was supposedly the reason for his strict control.

The symbolic Vine was burned to dust.  Not even a stem was left.

That was his plan for them.  Under the new rules.

Or maybe it wasn’t.  Who knew.

For a moment, Ezekiel thought that he felt afraid.  Then he realized that he didn’t.  He didn’t feel anything.

He began to write, but he was having trouble.  He looked at his hands sadly. They were betraying him. They were shaking so badly.

The beautiful letters. He was ruining them.

***

At night, the streets and houses were silent.  They weren’t quiet.  Those who slept weren’t at rest and those who were awake…  In a city the size of Jerusalem, there should have been some noise, somewhere.   But the darkness was still.

The night itself was holding its breath. Waiting.

In one of the districts of the city the houses were rich.  The curtains were heavy and soft, and people spoke in soft, polite tones, even when their words meant betrayal or the threat of death.

In the endless darkness, something moved.

Something had come in to one of the rooms. There was nothing to be seen, but the air had shifted.  Just a little.

The darkness had filled.

Two people were sleeping in the room.  One of them began to to breath differently.  Then to twitch as if being stabbed.  His limbs began moving, flailing in his sleep. His body was trying to ward off an attacker.

There was nothing there.

The convulsions got stronger and he started to moan.  His own motions became violent enough to wake him, and he clawed his way up to his knees.  He crawled over to the other sleeper. His voice was husky.

“Baruch! Baruch!”

Baruch woke.  He groped in the dark for a little lamp and lit it off the coals in the brazier.     His companion’s dark eyes were looking back at him, red rimmed and full of pain.  His face was fragile.

It had been a beautiful face, when his companion was a child.  When this began.  It had never become less beautiful.  Age and a deepening sorrow had brought another kind of beauty to blossom.

They didn’t speak.  They didn’t need to.  Baruch unrolled a clean scroll and dipped his pen.

Gasping as the words pulsed in his mind, his voice suddenly strong and clear, the first sleeper dictated to Baruch.  Baruch wrote. The sounds of their voice and pen were the only things breaking the stillness.  The darkness was electric around them.

…Restrain your voice from weeping
    and your eyes from tears,
for your work will be rewarded…

I have surely heard Ephraim’s moaning:
    ‘You disciplined me like an unruly calf,
    and I have been disciplined…’

The days are coming when I will plant the kingdoms of Israel and Judah with the offspring of people and of animals. Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant. In those days people will no longer say,

‘The parents have eaten sour grapes,
    and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’

Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge.

 The days are coming,
    when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband to them.
This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time.
I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people…

For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more…  [Jeremiah 31]

As the final words were spoken, the compulsion went out of him and the speaker gently collapsed.  Baruch frantically wrote the last few lines, then pushed the scroll aside.  He gathered his friend’s limp body in his arms and held him.

After a while Baruch spoke.

“How is it?”

His friend’s voice was weak now.

“It is good, Baruch. So good. This time.”

The dark eyes looked up at him, as if to say something else. Before it could come out, they drifted shut.   Utter exhaustion had sent him back to sleep.

Baruch sighed and leaned back against the wall, still holding his friend.  The darkness was empty and quiet.  He wasn’t sure how long it had been that way.

He could never do what his friend had done, over the course of their lives. He could not hope.

Not even now.

He had never wept for anything but his friend.