Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Semi-Random Musings (7)

Growing up in a Christian home, I was occasionally chastened for misbehavior with the words “Be sure your sin will find you out.” Or I heard other Christian parents using it. Or my irate Sunday School teacher. Or somebody. The memory’s a bit fuzzy, to be honest.

In any case, the line was very familiar, though for some reason I wrongly associated it with Saul and Samuel rather than Moses, who actually said it to the emissaries from the tribes of Reuben and Gad who had proposed to settle their people in the land beyond the Jordan. They solemnly promised to first fight alongside the other men of Israel in order to bring God’s people into their inheritance.

So Moses, knowing that he would not personally see the end of this story, told them okay, BUT:
“If you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the Lord, and be sure your sin will find you out.”
Hey, it’s always good to know where these sayings actually come from.

But I was never quite sure what that one meant exactly. Nothing good, of course. I thought it might have something to do with that other verse about sowing and reaping (which also got misused a fair bit in Christian circles, and which I now discover really has more to do remembering to do good and share with those who have taught us the word of God).

Then I thought your sin finding you out might have something to do with God bringing to light the things hidden in darkness, and therefore I would be ashamed and embarrassed to be outed in my sinfulness in front of a whole bunch of unsympathetic people. (Yeah, that passage got misused too.) Just in case, I checked between the mattress and the box spring to make sure mom hadn’t come across that scary Stephen King novel I wasn’t supposed to be reading, but all was well and good on that front.

Back then I didn’t use a concordance, or I would have known that the English phrase “will find you out” translates a single very common Hebrew word, matsa', which has a fairly broad range of meanings, despite which almost every serious Bible translation, old and more modern, has opted for an English version that suggests your sin itself will eventually catch up with you. Not God, necessarily. Not judgment in the afterlife, for good or ill. Not even that your sin will inevitably be exposed to others, though it may. Rather, that the inevitable fallout from your actions will one day end up making your life miserable in the here-and-now.

I think they’ve got that right. Cain says to God “whoever finds me [matsa'] will kill me,” and a number of other passages suggest strongly that sin itself catching up with the sinner is the right way to look at it.

In the case of Reuben and Gad, choosing land on the other side of the Jordan exposed them to attack much more easily than accepting an inheritance next to Ephraim. In fact, when Israel was in moral decline and its people were taken into captivity by a series of foreign powers, it was the Reubenites and Gaddites who were hit first. Had they failed to keep their promise to their brothers, to God and to Moses, it was not necessary for God to reach down from heaven and inflict punishment on them directly. Their choice of territory already put them at risk. All God had to do was stop actively protecting them. When they ceased to obey him, that’s precisely what occurred.

Paul tells Timothy that sin manifests in different ways, and I’m sure that’s true even today. “The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later.” Often they come to light because the sin has finally caught up to the sinner, like the liver that can’t handle the drinking habit or the sore knees that can’t cope with that extra eighty pounds. Or like the day when after years of abuse, Mrs. Smith finally gets up the nerve to leave her husband, shocking their church, who thought Mr. Smith’s eloquent public prayers were the gold standard in piety.

Or maybe it’s nothing so drastic and obvious. It may be something as simple and prosaic as the Christian father who for years makes his business his number one priority instead of his family and the Lord’s people, and finds himself all alone at the end of his life. Or the Sunday School teacher who is a chronic gossip but cannot figure out why none of her friendships ever last. Sometimes the sinner is the very last to correctly diagnose his or her problem and come to grips with its cause.

Maybe the bad choices we make will be exposed to all, maybe not, but one thing’s for sure: sin always catches up. It will find you out, with or without God’s direct and personal intervention.

*   *   *   *   *
“When a land transgresses, it has many rulers,” says the book of Proverbs.

So exactly how bad has the U.S. been then? I’m thinking its transgressions must be piled up to heaven.

In Washington, D.C. sits a beleaguered president, his hands tied, the subject of a nonsense show trial whose proximate cause is the envy and malice of a scheming election opponent in cooperation with the Deep State, the FBI and maybe even the outgoing administration. Nobody wants to let go the reins of power. Not the neocons pushing for more pointless foreign wars. Not the Senate Democrats playing hide-and-seek to avoid approving President Trump’s nominees, and definitely not the Republican Never-Trumpers refusing to play ball with any of his initiatives. Not the State of California, which has declared itself a sanctuary for illegal aliens, and most assuredly not the Ninth Circuit Court, which blocked Trump’s travel ban. Certainly not the impeachment movement, whose proponents can’t make up their minds exactly what they’d like to impeach the president for, but won’t stop trying to get it done anyway.

How many different political wills are currently playing tug-of-war for control of the Republic? I’m not sure anyone could count them all. But the wisdom of Solomon suggests something is seriously rotten here. That stench of corruption making our noses wrinkle is wafting up from somewhere much closer than Denmark.

And whatever may be rotten in the White House is the least of it.

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