January 11, 2012

Dispensation 4 – Remedial Guidance

The Dispensations are God’s contrastive way of proving that His plan for humanity is right.  Each dispensation allows man the opportunity to choose righteousness (God) on his own; outside of God’s plan.

In the first three dispensations, God pretty much gave men a free hand to choose Him over themselves.  God first gave them complete innocence with no knowledge of good and evil.  He then gave them great longevity in order to allow them to accumulate an abundance of knowledge.  Then He allowed them to have organization and unity to give them purpose in making the choice.

Not only did each of these dispensations fail, giving man a free hand to choose God over themselves without guidance resulted in men getting more evil in each successive dispensation!

I would be unjust for God to continue in the same vein.  The just thing to do would be to start giving men guidance.

What kind of guidance?

The next dispensations should include and increasingly complex methodology to guide men into making the righteous choice.

The next dispensation should contain guidance that is simple, direct, and geared toward the current situation.

Thus far, as the dispensations have progressed, men went from being individuals, to being families, to being communities.  The Third Dispensation resulted in men being grouped into nations and governments.  Therefore, in the Fourth Dispensation, God dealt with men corporately  – as nations.

As such, God would need to form a nation to represent Him and offer men the opportunity to choose Him by choosing His nation (thankfully, the Third Dispensation did not end with men be grouped into communes or God would have had to form a competing drum circle to represent Himself).

God’s official representative

In the aftermath of Babel, God chose a local man named Abram (who would eventually be renamed Abraham), and gave him a pretty impressive “Go west young man!” speech:

Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3

So God would form His representative nation from Abraham’s offspring.  God would bless Abraham and his offspring to the point that people will KNOW that they are God’s representatives.  Thus the success or failure of the Fourth Dispensation was based on whether or not the other nations choose to bless or curse Abraham and his descendants.

Abraham’s rough start

Although Abraham would become one of the most exemplary and revered men in the entire Biblical narrative, he didn’t start out that way.  Like many of his fellow post-Babel Mesopotamians, the erstwhile father of the Jews was likely an idol-worshipping gentile Bedouin before God gave him his new mission.   Some extra-Biblical sources paint a very colorful pre-“call” history of Abram, which include his father working for/with our old pal Nimrod, and Abram getting caught up in several conflicts with him.  Although the authenticity of these stories is dubious, they are still an interesting read.

What we do know from the Bible is that despite having the Architect of the Universe offering him a rather spectacular destiny, Abram was not immediately “all in”.  Instead of heading straight to the Promised Land as ordered, Abram and his sister-wife (seriously), took their dad and just moved up-river a bit.  It seems our hero was still a bit hesitant to give up his old life.

Once dad died, Abram, Sarai (soon to be renamed Sarah), and their nephew Lot finally settled in the Promised Land, and God renewed His promise to them, gave Abraham his new name, and made him one of the richest and most famous people in the world.  But Abraham still wasn’t a model citizen.  He and Lot nearly came to blows over property rights, he essentially pimped out his wife to save his own neck (twice), and he impregnated his maid when he and Sarah got impatient waiting on God to give them a son.

Yet God continued to grow Abraham’s faith until he reached the point where he was willing to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, believing that God would resurrect him.

The kids don’t do much better

Abraham’s immediate descendants had their own growth issues.  Isaac repeated his father’s strategy of hiding behind his wife’s skirt.  Abraham’s grandson Jacob was a scheming momma’s-boy who stole his brother’s inheritance.

Jacob had 12 sons – 8 with his (two) wives, (who were using children as marital currency), and 4 with the wives’ maids.  Think those kids may have turned out a bit dysfunctional?  Yep!  Among other things they were involved in a near genocide, incest, prostitution, attempted fratricide, and slave trading (I hear Quentin Tarantino is negotiating for the movie rights).

Yet these 12 great-grandsons of Abraham would father the 12 tribes of God’s chosen nation – Israel.  God did not choose because they were of such exemplary character (obviously), He actually chose them BECAUSE they were rough around the edges.  God wanted to make sure that they did not take pride in their chosen status (even though they often did), but remained humble representatives of righteousness.

The first Pharaoh makes the right choice!

Eventually, a severe famine drove the family into Egypt, a growing empire where Jacob’s favorite (and least scummy) son Joseph was prime minister.  Joseph’s skill and wisdom resulted in Egypt being the only place that had a surplus of food during the famine and the nation’s wealth increased tremendously.

When the fledgling Jewish nation wanted to settle in Egypt, it was time for the representative of a gentile nation to make a choice.  Would Pharaoh bless or curse God’s nation?

It turns out Pharaoh made the right choice!  He gave the Jews some of the best real estate in the land, an elevated position in the government, and even declared a national period of mourning when Jacob died.  True to His word, God blessed Egypt in return, as the nation became the dominant world empire for several centuries.

The second one…not so much

However a bit later, a new Pharaoh who was not familiar with Joseph (its possible that he was not even Egyptian…but that’s another story) saw the Jews as a national threat and enslaved them for over 400 years.

Despite their hardships, the Jewish nation continued to grow in population, and God tapped Charlton Heston,…er, I mean Moses to go to Pharaoh and tell him to let the Israelites go so that they could go out to the wilderness and worship Him.

Keep in mind, ALL God asked was for Israel to be released in order to make a three-day journey to worship Him.

Pharaoh had a choice to either bless or curse God’s nation.  What did he do?

1.    He got offended and refused to let the Jews go worship God

2.    He accused them of trying to shirk their slave duties by taking a three-day holiday

3.    Even though they didn’t leave (because he didn’t allow them to), Pharaoh punished them as if they did by taking away a primary resource and demanding that they produce the same amount of work as they did when they had the resource!

If Pharaoh had chosen to think contrastively, he could have asked Charlton Moses about God and his relationship with the Jewish nation, and why He wanted their worship. Maybe he could have learned about God’s promise to Abraham and about Joseph’s contribution to Egypt.

Instead, his fear of the Jews led him to think comparatively.  He saw God’s request as a threat.  He became defensive and offended.  He punished the Jews unjustly, and justified his treatment by falsely accusing the Jews of angling for a vacation.

Pharaoh justified himself over God and cursed God’s nation.  Thus the Fourth Dispensation failed like the previous three before it.

God responded to Pharaohs’ curse by cursing Egypt in return.  He unleashed the famous 10 plagues, which devastated the land, and people, forcing Pharaoh to release the Jews and give them back pay for their years of servitude.

In the next few posts, we will take a deeper look and some important aspects of the Fourth Dispensation.

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