by Craig A. Smith
Every kid who’s spent time in Sunday School classes knows there’s a select group of Bible stories that get all the airtime: David whups Goliaith, the animals board the ark by twosies and Jonah gets himself swallowed by a big fish. These are the anchor stories in just about every Sunday School curriculum.
But the Bible’s full of other stories – it’s a big book, after all – that just don’t get their fair share of the limelight. Which is too bad, because they’re great stories…just maybe not the kind of tales that appeal to our media-saturated mindsets.
On the other hand, the Bible’s also got its share of stories that don’t get told very often because the stories are so…well, awkward. You could probably argue that the inclusion of these awkward moments in the Bible strongly suggests that it’s a book dedicated to telling the truth, because why would anyone make this stuff up? But implications for the reliability of the Bible aside, it’s easy to see why these awkward moments rarely find their way onto a flannel graph board.
#5. We’re Supposed To Cut Off What? (Genesis 17)
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”
Ok, sounds pretty good so far. Abram’s probably thinking to himself “I kind of like that “greatly increase your numbers” bit!
So Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.
Better still…not just lots of descendents, but multiple nations of descendents!
No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.
“Abraham,” huh? Doesn’t that mean something like “father of many?” Yeah, I like the way that sounds!
God continued: I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”
Ok, this has gone from good to awesome! I get to be fruitful and my kiddos will be kings and God’s gonna be on our side and I get the Canaanite’s land? Where do I sign?
Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come.
Sure…obviously. I mean, if you’re gonna do all that for us, God, then we’ll be happy to do our part. So, what do you want us to do?
And God said: This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.
Oh. Hmm. I wasn’t really…I mean, I was just… So…seriously?
This one’s awkward on multiple levels. On the one hand, it’s just not the kind of story that’s gonna show up in a kid’s illustrated Bible. But on the other hand, it really changes the way you think about the main character who, up to this point, has been pretty much a seriously righteous dude.
We’re talking about Noah. You remember Noah, right? All-the-earth-was-wicked-but-Noah-found-favor-in-the-eyes-of-the-Lord Noah? Great story, right up to the point where everyone gets off the ark and snow-white doves fly off over the rainbow…by the way, why do all the Sunday School pictures show this rainbow in a clear blue sky? Don’t you have to have rain to have a rainbow? But I digress…
So it’s a great story right up till the rainbow…which is exactly where everyone stops telling the story. But check out what comes next:
Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.
Wouldn’t that go great in an illustrated children’s Bible?! What could say “Jesus loves the little children” better than a picture of a drunk, naked Noah with one of his sons making fun of him while his other kids stumble around trying desperately to cover him up while not seeing way more of their father than any child should ever have to see?
So everyone knows that David killed Goliath and everyone knows that Goliath really had it coming. I mean, he killed a bunch of people and he had no sense of religious tolerance at all, always mocking the Israelite God. So the fact that young David showed him what’s what – and with a sling and a rock, no less – is a major victory for the little guy, and for the big God who was on the little guy’s side.
And David did lots of other great stuff. The only thing is, like I said earlier, the Bible’s brutally honest about everyone, even its heroes. It doesn’t pull any punches, telling it like it is even when that makes the good guys, like David, look…well, not so good.
In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.
Wait, why is David staying home? I mean, the Bible just said “in the spring…when kings go off to war”. David’s king, isn’t he? Why isn’t he going off to war with his army? Is that drums of impending doom I hear off in the distance?
One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing.
So is it an accident that David just happened to be up on the roof of his palace at the time of day when women were bathing…and thinking they were safe from prying eyes in their courtyards? Probably not. Bum bum bum…
The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”
So let me get this straight: David sits around his palace on his lazy bum while his army goes off to do his job for him, then he pulls a sleazy peeping-tom move, then he sends palace personnel to make her come to him and then he sleeps with her? And let’s not forget: he’s the king and she doesn’t have a lot of options here, so this sounds a lot like rape to me. Oh, right, and she gets pregnant, too.
And it gets worse from here. David tries to get her husband to come home from the battlefield and sleep with his wife to cover it all up, but the guy won’t do it, so David has him killed. That’s right, killed.
And this is the good guy? Well, yes and no. He’s human and the Bible doesn’t gloss over the harsher realities of its heroes. You get to see them for who they really are, warts and all. But the Bible does call David a “man after God’s own heart”. How is that possible? I think it’s because when he does screw up (like here), he eventually realizes it, owns up to it, asks for forgiveness and tries to make it right to the best of his ability…unlike some other political figures I could mention…but won’t.
All of which is actually pretty cool because it means that the Bible’s not looking at its heroes through rose-colored glasses. We get the whole story, even when it’s embarrassing, which just might mean that the Bible is telling us the whole truth.
But how many illustrated Bible posters depict this little scene? And can you blame them? I mean, what would you title that? “Lazy Rapist Kills Husband After Cover-Up Fails”?
You may not know who Judah is…he’s not one of the most-talked about figures in the Bible. He was the fourth child of Jacob, who got tricked into marrying the sister of the girl he was really in love with…which is an awkward story all by itself. But Judah became the patriarch of the Israelite tribe of…you guessed it, Judah. Incidentally, after the other tribes of Israel were destroyed, the tribe of Judah was the only tribe left and their name for themselves, Yehudim, became corrupted through translation into something like Jeudim and, eventually, Jew.
But before all that, Judah was just a guy with a son named Er who died and left behind a young wife named Tamar. Now it was the custom back then to marry the poor girl off to the next oldest son, but the only viable candidate was too young to get married, so Judah told Tamar to live as a widow in her father’s house until the son was old enough. But Judah forgot all about her and didn’t send for her when the son was old enough.
Eventually, desperate, Tamar decided to…well, here’s what the Bible says:
When Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep,” she took off her widow’s clothes, covered herself with a veil to disguise herself, and then sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that, though Shelah had now grown up, she had not been given to him as his wife. When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face.
Now, of course, being a righteous man, Judah did rebuketh her for this shameful sin, right? Well, not exactly:
Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, “Come now, let me sleep with you.”
Now, of course, Tamar pulled off the veil and Judah realized how shamefully he had treated his daughter-in-law and he immediately made things right, right? Nope. She kept the veil on and set a price, which he paid and then she slept with him…and of course she got pregnant – those were some fertile women back then! – and then the townsfolk wanted to stone her to death for prostitution. And Judah was all for it – see, he still didn’t know who he had slept with that day – but when she pulled out some personal items of his that he had used to pay her for her…um, services, then he stepped up and admitted what had happened and she was spared.
So, let’s recap: man loses sons, man sends daughter-in-law away, daughter-in-law pretends to be prostitute, man sleeps with said prostitute/daughter-in-law, man gets daughter-in-law pregnant…so does that mean he fathered his own grandchildren?
#1. The Pope is the Devil? (Matthew 16)
Ok, that might be overstating it a bit, but not by much. See, the Catholic Church traces their leadership back to a guy named Peter, one of the first followers of Jesus. And the leader of the Catholic church is called the Pope, so Peter was basically the first Pope.
Now, since Peter wasn’t the only follower of Jesus, you might ask: why did Peter get to be the first Pope and not one of the other guys? Fair question, and the answer seems to be:
“But what about you?” Jesus asked his disciples. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Ok, so Peter was the first to recognize Jesus for who he was. Fair enough, and not at all awkward…unless you’re one of the other disciples who were thinking “Dang, I was gonna say that!”
But here’s the thing: right after this, Jesus started talking about being arrested and killed. Peter, probably trying to step into the leadership shoes he had just been told about, took Jesus aside and told him to stop being such a downer:
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
And Jesus said, “Yeah, you’re right…I really need to lighten up.”
Not. What he actually said was:
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Catch that? Jesus called the first Pope the Devil. He didn’t say he was listening to Satan…he said he was Satan!
Now, I’m not anti-Catholic and my point isn’t that Peter was a bad guy. I like Peter…a lot. And I know: Jesus didn’t mean Peter had little horns and a tail and a pitchfork…it was metaphorical. I get it. I’m just saying that the idea that Peter and his successors are doctrinally infallible is little hard to square with Jesus telling Peter that he’s the Devil. At the very least it’s…well, it’s awkward!