Moses addressed the people: “Recruit men for a campaign against Midian, to exact God’s vengeance on Midian, a thousand from each tribe of Israel to go to war.” Numbers 31:3-4 (MSG)
A week or so ago I sent my kids a compilation CD of music I was listening to 30 years ago when I was in my junior high and high school years. They loved the gift and thought that it was, to quote my youngest, “hilarious.” Both my daughters and my wife shook their heads and raised an eyebrow at the music that was all the rage when I was young.
How quickly things change. That which was fashionable and common thirty years ago (remember Devo glasses and skinny ties?) is something today’s generation can’t comprehend. My children have a hard time grasping how I could possible listen to that kind of music a few decades ago. How can we possibly imagine what anything in daily life was like thousands of years ago in another part of the world? Despite our archaeological ability to learn things about historic cultures, I’m convinced that we can’t fathom what daily life was really like in other times. I’m equally convinced that if we were able to bring a person from the time of Moses to 21st century America and let them experience our culture they would completely freak out.
Human civilization has changed dramatically in every way, and the way God has interacted and intersected with human civilization has changed with it in the same way that a parent’s interaction changes as their children develop physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. My children perceive me differently than they did when they were five. My interactions with them are much different.
There’s a lot I don’t get about the culture of Moses day and the way God interacted with human civilization in those times and cultures. I don’t understand the cultural mores, the status of women, slavery, the brutality of justice, the economics, the idolatry, the religions of sex and human sacrifice, nor the prominence of war and plundering. I can accept, however, that my 21st century brain can’t fathom what life was like for Moses any more than Moses could fathom a smartphone.
In my journey through the Old Testament I’ve learned to accept that some of my questions about the minutiae of these ancient events may never be answered. Nevertheless, I’ve equally come to appreciate that my understanding of God’s story is incomplete without a knowledge and appreciation for these early chapters.