No trust in my bow

The lands of Egypt, Jordan and Israel was part of the Exodus Tour we went on May of this year. It’s fascinating to see evidence of Egypt and Israel being interconnected so many thousand years ago. From a tiny nomadic tribe that became a nation when they made the great exodus from Egypt to the conflicted nation that still stands today. It’s amazing to consider that while great empires like that of the ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans and Ottomans have each taken their turn in holding the Israelites in some form of bondage or another…they have nearly all ceased to be the nations they once were. Even though Israel seemed to be wiped off the earth at one point, it miraculously became a nation again. How has such a tiny people group managed to survive? Is it advanced technology? Cunningly masterminded battle strategies? An infallible 5000 year plan on how to survive exile and assimilation attempts by conquering nations? All the answers are “no”.

Psalm 44 provides some answers.

With Your hand you drove out the nations and planted our ancestors; You crushed the peoples and made our ancestors flourish. It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your face, for You loved them.

I put no trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but You give us victory over our enemies, You put our adversaries to shame.

We’ve seen these verses play out in Jewish history as well:

You gave us up to be devoured like sheep and have scattered us among the nations. You have made us a reproach to our neighbors, the scorn and derision of those around us. You have made us a byword among the nations; the peoples shake their heads at us. I live in disgrace all day long, and my face is covered with shameat the taunts of those who reproach and revile me, because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge.

It was God who sustained them through millenia. Because He promised He would. And for His name’s sake alone He upholds His promise. Even when the Israelites lived in rebellion, worshipping other gods, rejecting God’s prophets and even God’s own Son, bringing God’s hand of wrath and judgement on them, God still kept His promise and sustained them. Such incredible mercy and grace.

But the lesson from Psalm 44 is for me to learn…that any kind of “greatness” I might seem to achieve is by God’s hand alone and not by my “intelligent” schemes or plans. I boast only in God. And by the same token, anything taken away from me (well, it was never mine to begin with) is out of love and discipline. With the purpose of restoring me into a right relationship with God.

To give me humble view of who I am. And the right view of who God is.

Mt Moses at Sinai

I don’t have many words for this experience…it was fun, a physical challenge, beautiful to behold, amazing to wonder at…and a little sublime.

Some background…Mount Sinai refers to a range of mountains in the Sinai peninsula…but Mount Moses, or the Holy Mountain, refers to the one Moses climbed and received the 10 Commandments on. We made about three quarters of the assent on camel back. SUPER FUN. These long legged creatures sway and march to their own beat until its keeper whistles/clicks or swats it with his stick. They have big sleepy eyes and a fuzzy head you’d love to pat until it reveals its very strong teeth. They can go for about 10 days without food or water.

Upon reaching the 7th and final teahouse along the path, we dismount and take the next 750 steps on foot. This stone stairway was built by the monks…and walking it is quite the workout. Red faced, heart pounding, gasping for air and leg muscles straining….I make it…and feast my eyes on this:

All around. It’s beautiful.

I look down and I can see the plain that the Israelites probably camped at. The Bible records some 600,000 men that came out of Egypt…but if you include the women and children, you’re now looking at nearly 2 million people. Plus flocks and herds. Moses had an enormous undertaking, leading and feeding this flock. I wonder what he thought of them. I wonder what he saw when he looked from this peak. I wonder what he felt when God wrote His commandments onto the rock of this mountain (that he climbed at the age of 80+ …on foot.)

I wonder.

Pyramids and the Sphinx

The Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx are quite the sight to see. Pictures do not capture their colossalness…if that is a word. With my back to Cairo, looking at the pyramids brings a weight of how ancient this place is. Some of these structures date back to 1000+ years before Abraham first visited Eypt. There is SO MUCH history here. What was particularly special about this visit was that we could actually climb onto the stones. Two years ago this would not have been possible. The pyramids were roped off…and only with an extra “tip” to the police guard would you be given permission to touch it. But with no government of late, there has been very little enforcement.

Back to these ancient architectural/sculptural feats….

I believe the pyramid shown is Cheops…the most colossal one at 496 ft high. For a period in time, these were tombs of the Pharohs who built them. It’s to showcase the power and wealth of the Pharoh, as well as to serve as a “stairway to heaven” in order to reach eternal life. One of every Egyptian’s life purposes is to prepare for death and the life (hopefully) after. They invest enormously into their tombs. While we’re still speculating how they managed to build such an immense structure with mere human power…what we do know is that contrary to previous belief, they did not use slaves to build it.

Archeologists discovered tombs near the pyramids that were for the workers of the pyramids. The ancient people believed that since Pharoh was their king and god, if he achieves salvation, then he would be the one to bring salvation to his faithful subjects. Working on Pharoh’s tomb then, would be a way for the people to show their dedication and loyalty…as well as “help” Pharoh attain eternal life. It is because of this dedication and loyalty that tombs were built near the pyramids for these workers. This way, when Pharoh resurrects, he could swing by and gather them up to heaven with him. They wouldn’t bother to build such tombs for slaves.

Now, about the Sphinx…it was actually never part of the original plan. The location of the Sphinx was the rock quarry used to cut the stones out for the pyramids. When the pyramid was complete, the Pharoh put out an order to remove the remaining hill of rock away because it was an eyesore to his magnificent pyramid. The head architect, not wanting to expend even more manpower just to cut and move rock, had an idea to carve it into a lion with the head of the Pharoh on it…to show his mighty power over the land, blah blah blah. Well, Pharoh was very pleased with the end result. And the head architect didn’t lose his head over disobeying his king. Phew.

Black Madonna and Child

This was really fascinating to me…here’s the background story:

Osiris and Set were brothers. Set was jealous of Osiris for always doing things right so he plotted to kill him. Knowing his brother’s measurements, he made a gold sarcophagus to Osiris’ exact size. He brought it out on the day Osiris wed Isis and used it to play a game with the guests. Something like the man who fits the sarcophagus wins a prize. (Silly game if you ask me…but I guess if there’s a lot of wine flowing….) Finally Osiris gives it a shot and as soon as he lays in it, which was a perfect fit, Set puts the gold lid on top and seals it with his powers. Then chucks the sarcophagus into the Nile. Meanwhile, newly wed wife Isis, still a virgin, laments for her husband and cries out to god…who conceives in her a son she names Horus. Horus grows up, learns of his uncle’s evil plot and confronts him about it. The two always battle and the battle always ends with both being seriously wounded. Somewhere in this story, Isis is able to bring Osiris back to life.

The Egyptian engraving above is found at the Philae Temple on the Isi-Island. Apparently when the Christians saw the engraving, the immediately adopted it and renamed Isis the Black Madonna. It’s very much like the more modern depictions of the Madonna and Child isn’t it?

And actually, the story of Osiris, Set and Horus also seems to contain some very similar themes to the Bible stories I grew up on:

– Cain killing Abel because his offering was accepted by God
– Mary, a virgin, conceiving by the Holy Spirit
– the spiritual battle between Christ and Satan
– the resurrection of the dead

There actually a LOT of ancient myths where goddesses conceive outside of a union with a male and that child becomes some kind of savior figure. As demonstrated here, even ancient Egyptian mythology contains themes and stories similar to Biblical ones. Some suggest the only conclusions to draw are that the Biblical accounts aren’t so original after all…or that it’s all based on pagan sources…or that all belief systems are the same. I think there’s one, more accurate conclusion…

…There is one Truth but many slightly twisted versions of it.

Where there’s the real deal, there’ll always be a copy. Considering all our origins trace back to the same source, I’m not surprised there are many stories/myths/themes similar to the ones in the Bible. I also don’t believe that the Bible coming after the ancient myths casts any shadow on its truth. It’s like how everyone has their version about something that happened to someone (and it get circulated via parchment, hieroglyphic engravings, painted frescos)…but then the actual person comes in to set the story straight and lifts the mystery.

Ephesians 3:4-5 says this: In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.

And per Jesus Himself in John 14:6, “I am the Truth.”