Betch'a didn't know that...  91-105

One of Rome's greatest generals only suffered one defeat in his illustrious career and it happened in
a little village of the Galilee.  Vespasian was successfully subjugating various Germanic tribes when the
empire sent him to deal decisively with the brewing mess in Israel.  Before that campaign had ended
the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem and Vespasian had become the Emperor.  But, it was not before
he was almost captured in the first battle of Gamla.  It was the only blemish on his military career and
nearly cost him his life.  Astounding. 

In a very unexpected manner the 10 Plagues of Egypt actually reveal the astounding mercy of God.  I
know that sounds preposterous, but I really believe it.  If you read the order of the plagues you will
discover that God was as gentle as He could be in trying to bring Pharaoh to his senses.  You actually
get several plagues in before anyone is even horribly inconvenienced.  It is late in the series before
anyone suffers pain.  No human dies until the last plague.  Is that a progression of mercy or what?


Let me expand the last factoid:  You may think that the logic is faulty because the 9th plague is only
darkness.  But you have to remember you are dealing with Egypt and a culture that holds the Sun as an
ultimate deity.  The darkness was choking, it was all encompassing, it couldn't be defeated by just
lighting a torch or something.  The sun "died" in the minds of the Egyptians and the psychological
anguish must have been terrible.  This next-to-last plague might not have contained the physical
challenge of earlier plagues, but the mental pain must have been horrible. 

The regalia of the High Priest was amazingly colorful and artistic, but there's a lesson to be seen when
you look at the big picture of the whole package.  Yes, there were layers of blue and purple and gold
and other patterns and embroidery, but under it all the High Priest wore the simple, white base layer
of the common priest.  I think that's so cool!

Oh, and by the way, what happened when the robes of the priests wore out or got stained in such a
manner that it was no longer appropriate for service in the House of the Lord?  They got recycled.  I'm
not kidding!  There are sources that tell us that the wicks of the seven-branched candlestick were actually
made from braiding the shredded robes of the priests.  That's pretty cool, too!

No authority today can actually tell you exactly what the breastplate of the High Priest looked like.  Yes,
we may have a general understanding of 12 stones that representing the tribes being patterned on a base
of gold but we know very little else.  Were the stones placed by order of the "seniority" of the tribes?  Were
they placed on the base in the same pattern as where the tribes were camped around the tent of the Lord?
We just don't know... and it's probably a good thing for human nature might cause some of us to create a
bit of an idol or imitation or something.  Some of this is still mystery to us, and probably for a good reason. 

By the way, we also have no authoritative Jewish source that tells us how the Urim and Thummim were
used to reveal the will of the Lord.  Some have speculated that they were like dice.  Some thought that one
may have been white and the other black and "whichever one landed on top..." or something.  Others have
claimed that they acted like some kind of "magic 8-ball" kind of thing or something.  Others have taught of 
glowing or clouding... But the truth is that if you go to the Mishnah or traditionally Jewish sources you get
nothing but rabbinic speculation.  It wasn't something that the Bible fully explained and that's why it's such
a mystery in the sources.

The Most Holy place in the Sanctuary wasn't much bigger than a one car garage.  Isn't that amazing?  And
what a relief that must have been to the Hebrews when Moses came down from the mountain to announce
that the God who overwhelmed all the deities of Egypt was only asking for a little tent instead of the massive
structures that they had helped to build for the gods of Egypt.

Sometimes we are given astounding evidence of the accuracy of prophecy.  One of those amazing insights
comes from the link between Abraham and Moses.  God told Abraham that his family would be blessed but
that there would be some mocking and persecution and abuse before it was all realized.  Then, Exodus 12
reports that the children of Abraham did step out from the shadow of Egypt's persecution and mocking on 
the exact anniversary of the prophecy.  "On the self-same day..."  How amazing is that?

Daniel seems to have understood the exact nature of prophecy.  In chapter nine it sort of implies that
he was sitting by the side of the river with a pocket calculator or abacus seeking to discover when God was
going to lead His people back to freedom from exile.  Of course I'm exaggerating about the technology, but
he clearly was counting the years from II Chronicles 36 to his day.  When he did that he had an absolute
conviction that the time of deliverance was coming near.  Daniel trusted the words of God's other prophets

The Bible reveals that when it's all said and done that Satan won't be in charge of anything.  In fact, if there's
any justice in this universe he will need to pay for what he's done.  The book of Esther gives a bit of an
enacted analogy of this when you discover the fate of Haman.  He wanted to dance on Mordecai's grave
and be exalted.  In the end Haman got the fate he intended for Haman.  And, the Bible says (Malachi 4:3) that
the friends of God will ultimately walk on the ashes of the wicked... sort of dancing on their graves!

In spite of the fact that the book of Esther is completely devoid of any reference to God, it contains one of
the sweetest parallels to the ministry of Jesus to be found anywhere in the Bible.  When the friends of Esther
are at terrible risk they need someone who can approach the king on their behalf and be received and fully
accepted.  That is very much the reality that each of us face.  You and I can never approach the holy God.  But,
never fear, we have an Intermediary who is more than happy to carry our requests and appeals to the throne
room to the King.  He "ever lives to make intercession" and when He is accepted we are vicariously accepted
by the high God, too!  That's enough to keep you praising for a while...

It's easy to admire the faithful exiles who returned to the land in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah.  We honor
their dedication and commitment to rebuild the land.  Ezra 2 tells us that roughly 90,000 people heard the
call and responded.  But, I have some bad news for you.  It is estimated that more than a million Jews may
have been living in Persian and Babylon at that time and the vast majority, obviously, decided that staying
behind in the alien land was preferable to going home to the hard work of rebuilding.  (In fact, we know that
the "Babylonian Jewish Community" was the largest population of Judaism anywhere in the world, even into
the middle ages- and, that includes the land of Israel!  Many just didn't care enough, apparently.)   

Have you ever noticed that the story of "the rich young ruler" doesn't at all end the way you expect it to?  Look
it up... it actually DOESN'T end at all!  It is a story that let's us speculate as to what might have been.  Not one
of the three versions (Matthew 19, Mark 10 and Luke 18) actually tells you how the story ended.  I like that
because it allows us to speculate on various possibilities.  I'd like to believe that the one who "went away
sorrowful" had time to contemplate the big picture and that he actually came back at a later date to make his
commitment to the Lordship of Jesus.  Why not?

You know as well as I do that excellent teachers use a variety of methods to get a lesson across.  Great teachers
use questions and speculations and are, even at times, a bit facetious in order to get their pupils to discover
the truth.  In some ways I think Jesus was being that way with the previously mentioned "Rich Young Ruler" 
story.  Otherwise, why would He say, "Sell all you have and give to the poor and you earn Heaven" for his
answer to the question, "What good thing must I do?"   Do we honestly think that Jesus would have just left
it there?  If that were true we wouldn't need Him and we wouldn't need the cross.  Jesus was going for a deeper
truth, I'm quite sure of it.