July 13th, 2017
Beside the rivers of Babylon
we thought about Jerusalem,
and we sat down and cried.
We hung our small harps
on the willow trees.
Our enemies had brought us here
as their prisoners,
and now they wanted us to sing
and entertain them.
They insulted us and shouted,
“Sing about Zion!”
Here in a foreign land,
how can we sing
2 Kings 23:26-27; 24:18-25:7; 25:21b
But the Lord was still furious with the people of Judah because Manasseh had done so many things to make him angry. The Lord said, “I will desert the people of Judah, just as I deserted the people of Israel. I will reject Jerusalem, even though I chose it to be mine. And I will abandon this temple built to honor me….”
Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he was appointed king of Judah, and he ruled from Jerusalem for eleven years. His mother Hamutal was the daughter of Jeremiah from Libnah. Zedekiah disobeyed the Lord, just as Jehoiakim had done. It was Zedekiah who finally rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar.
The people of Judah and Jerusalem had made the Lord so angry that he finally turned his back on them. That’s why these horrible things were happening.
In Zedekiah’s ninth year as king, on the tenth day of the tenth month, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia led his entire army to attack Jerusalem. The troops set up camp outside the city and built ramps up to the city walls.
After a year and a half, all the food in Jerusalem was gone. Then on the ninth day of the fourth month, the Babylonian troops broke through the city wall. That same night, Zedekiah and his soldiers tried to escape through the gate near the royal garden, even though they knew the enemy had the city surrounded. They headed toward the desert, but the Babylonian troops caught up with them near Jericho. They arrested Zedekiah, but his soldiers scattered in every direction.
Zedekiah was taken to Riblah, where Nebuchadnezzar put him on trial and found him guilty. Zedekiah’s sons were killed right in front of him. His eyes were then poked out, and he was put in chains and dragged off to Babylon….
The people of Judah no longer lived in their own country.
Can you think of a real life person, in our time, who God punished?
Would you ever describe any event or any suffering upon anyone as caused by God as punishment for their sins?
Would you ever speak of the outcome of any geopolitical event such as a power play, a skirmish, or a war, as the result of punishment by God on one of the players?
Do you ever read the news and think to yourself (let alone tell others) that these events are happening because God is angry with the victim or with the defeated?
When you read history, including ancient history, do you attribute a political loss or personal suffering as the result of divine punishment?
One of the reasons the Bible is difficult to read is because its authors do think in those terms.
I am Mesha, son of Chemosh, the king of Moab, the Dibonite. My father reigned over Moab for thirty years, and I reigned after my father. And I made this high-place for Chemosh in Qarcho because he delivered me from all kings, and because he has made me triumph over all enemies. Omri was the king of Israel, and he oppressed Moab for many days, for Chemosh was angry with the land. And his son reigned in his place; and he also said, “I will oppress Moab!”…
But I triumphed over him and Israel has perished. It has perished forever…
Chemosh restored the land in my days. And I built Baal Meon, and I built a water reservoir in it….
And the men of Gad lived in the land of Atarot from ancient times; and the king of Israel
built Atarot for himself, and I fought against the city and captured it. And I killed all the people of the city as a sacrifice for Chemosh and for Moab. And I brought back the fire-hearth of his uncle from there; and I brought it before the face of Chemosh in Qerioit, and I made the men of Sharon live there, as well as the men of Maharit.
And Chemosh said to me, “Go, take Nebo from Israel.” And I went in the night and fought against it from the daybreak until midday, and I took it and I killed the whole population: seven thousand male subjects and aliens, and female subjects, aliens, and servant girls. For I had devoted them to destruction for Ashtar Chemosh. And from there I took the
vessels of Yahweh, and I presented them before the face of Chemosh.
That is not in the Bible. It sounds like the Bible, though, doesn’t it? That is from the Moabite Stone. It was discovered in the 1860s in modern day Jordan. It is said to have been made in the 9th century BC. It is the first non-biblical reference to Israel and Yahweh. Also mentioned is the Israelite king, Omri.
Moab was in modern-day Jordan. The god of the Moabites was Chemosh as Yahweh was the god of Israel. According to the Moabite Stone, Mesha, the king of Moab writes that Israel had oppressed Moab for decades because (and here is my point), Chemosh allowed Israel to do it. Chemosh was angry with Moab and thus allowed Israel to oppress the people of Moab. But in Mesha’s time Chemosh showed mercy to Mesha and allowed him to defeat Israel. In honor of the victory, Mesha took vessels from Yahweh’s temple and offered them to Chemosh.
It is a mirror-image of the biblical story. We are familiar with the Bible’s point of view. Here is evidence that a rival to Israel thought about things in the same way. Mesha of Moab, like the biblical writers of 1 and 2 Kings, attributed political victory and defeat to the whims of his god.
The oppression of Moab by Israel was not because Israel was stronger, nor because Israel’s god Yahweh was stronger, but because Moab’s god, Chemosh, was angry with Moab and allowed it to happen. Later Chemosh showed mercy and allowed Mesha the king of Moab to defeat Israel. The point of the Moabite Stone is to allow Mesha to brag about his victory. He dedicates an altar to Chemosh who gave the victory to him.
In a similar way, the Bible is filled with these kinds of stories excepting of course that Yahweh is the central player, because the stories are told from Israel’s perspective. In both cases, from the point of view of the Moabite king or the biblical storytellers, defeats and victories are due to the pleasure of their own god.
It is like schoolchildren on the playground:
“Your god didn’t defeat my god. My god allowed you to defeat us, that’s all.”
And that is how gods survive.
The Moabite Stone does not say why Chemosh was angry with Moab and allowed Israel to oppress them for a time. Perhaps if the Moabites produced surviving texts we would know. The only difference I can see between Moab and Israel and Chemosh and Yahweh, respectively, is that Israel and its god became famous.
I don’t know how jealous Chemosh was. I am not sure if Chemosh was as obsessed with himself as much as Yahweh was as obsessed with himself. There is no way to know, so I am only speculating. I wonder if a reason Yahweh survived and that Israel exists as a religion, and as a people, and now as a nation-state today, is because of Yahweh’s obsession with himself.
As Christianity evolved, it, too, took on the surviving characteristic of Yahwism, self-obsession.
Thou shalt have no other god before me.
Commandment number one.
This commandment is reinforced throughout the Deuteronomic History, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. As you make your way through 1 and 2 Kings, you realize that Yahweh’s self-obsession, Yahweh’s jealousy is what Israel’s history is all about. The kings get a good report card or a bad report card based on whether or not they destroyed the altars of Baal and Chemosh and other gods.
Even more than that, kings are saints or sinners depending upon their success at destroying all other places of Yahweh worship besides Jerusalem. It is not enough to worship Yahweh, or only Yahweh. You must worship Yahweh in Jerusalem.
Think about this with me. You are a good king if you destroy everyone else’s religion but your own. Even if it is the religion of your own god but done wrongly, in the wrong place. Evil and wicked kings are those kings that allow other religions to exist. Good kings destroy other religious temples and kill their leaders.
Josiah was the best king of all because he destroyed all shrines of competing gods and killed their priests. This is 2 Kings 23:24:
Josiah got rid of every disgusting person and thing in Judah and Jerusalem, including magicians, fortune-tellers, and idols. He did his best to obey every law in the book that the priest Hilkiah found in Yahweh’s temple. No other king before or after Josiah tried as hard as he did to obey the Law of Moses.
This is our sacred and holy book.
2 Kings ends with the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple and the exile of its people to Babylon. The biblical historian explains this not because Marduk, the god of Babylon caused it, but because Yahweh, the god of Israel, allowed it. Yahweh allowed it because the people were not as obsessed with Yahweh as Yahweh was of himself.
Here is a hard truth. It is because of this exclusivity that Israel survived exile. It is because of this ethic that we would never call ethical today, that Israel was able to survive. Their world collapsed but their god, Yahweh, survived.
We hear nothing about Chemosh today. Even the victor’s god, Marduk, has no trillion dollar religion associated with his name today. Yahweh lives on as does Yahweh’s son Jesus Christ, who is every bit as exclusive as Yahweh.
I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.
There is no salvation outside the church.
That also goes for Yahweh’s final prophet, Mohammad.
There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God.
That is the language of religious winners.
If you want to create a god who is a winner, who survives, create a god who is self-obsessed and demands exclusive loyalty and takes no prisoners.
There are, of course, nuances. Many Christians, Jews, and Muslims today would not understand their own faith in such exclusive terms, and thank human reason for that.
The heart and soul of these religions is their exclusivism.
It is an exclusivism that allowed them to survive but also threatens life on Earth.
The thing about evolution is that the characteristics that enable organisms to survive in one environment don’t go away when the environment changes. That is why we have problems with sugar and salt. Our ancestors craved them when they were in short supply. Now that sugar and salt is plentiful, our craving has not stopped. We have to fight against our own bodies.
The exclusivity of Israel allowed it to survive and to thrive. That deserves honor and respect. The same for Christianity and Islam. Because the god of these religions demanded exclusive loyalty, the people were zealous in their endeavors and in their ability to credit this god, whether Yahweh, Jesus, or Allah, with their successes and blame their defeats on themselves.
That is how god survives.
When worlds collapse, it is because your god is disappointed in you. Tough message but it is the only way god lives on.
At least that has been our religious history.
The environment has changed. Modern scientifically-literate people don’t think that way any longer. We don’t think that god causes political defeats or victories, except for the times we lapse into superstition. We explain things politically, naturally, personally, without the use of divine intervention.
At the beginning of the sermon, I asked…
Would you ever describe any event or any suffering upon anyone as caused by God as punishment for their sins?
I am assuming your answer is no. No one dies from cancer because god is punishing that person for not destroying another person’s religious icons.
The god of America (whoever that might be) did not cause us to be humiliated in Vietnam because we refused to destroy all other religions but our own.
That would involve quite twisted thinking. We don’t discuss the moods of gods to explain life and death. I don’t think we really would want to do so. It may feel good to thank our god for helping us through some personal struggle, but we are careful not to buy the whole package, that bad things are the result of god’s punishment.
So we evolve. Gods evolve. Our conception of god evolves. We can honor the Yahweh of Kings, the Jesus Christ of John’s Gospel, and the Allah of a particular chapter in the Qur’an, but how much further do we take it? At some point we say that is what our ancestors believed, the founders of our faith, but now that belief is deadly.
Now we need a conception of god or a conception of our world that transcends all of our inherited religions. We can no longer afford exclusivity. Our planet is too small. We need a new revelation, a new apocalypse, that is what apocalypse means.
We need a new discovery, a new invention, a new understanding of how our world can work and how we as 7 billion people on one Earth can manage and survive the collapse of our old worlds.
Unfettered capitalism cannot be our god.
War and empire building cannot be our god.
Myopic nationalism cannot be our god.
Any of the traditional deities that support any of the above cannot be our god.
We need a new god. We need a new understanding of our world that will enable our collective survival in a completely new environment. Where do you see this god being revealed?