Where to Look

The journey of the children of Israel through the wilderness and a Christian’s walk with God have a lot of similarities. They’re both traveling to a Promised Land through a wilderness where God is leading them through trials to bring them closer to Him.

But I feel like we have a bit of an upper hand that Israel didn’t. You see, we can look back and learn from Israel’s mistakes. There is one mistake in particular that had deadly consequences. In Numbers 21:4-9, we find a horrifying story.

Aarron had just died and the children of Israel were traveling from Mount Hor to Edom (Numbers 20:29). This means that they were in the fortieth year after leaving Egypt and probably the sixth month (Numbers 33:38). The sixth month, Elul, is equivalent to our August/September—not the coolest time for traveling. They’re traveling “by the way of the Red Sea” which was a rocky, sandy, sand-stormy route that lead they away from Canaan (Pulpit Commentary, 2010). No wonder they got discouraged.

But they let their discouragement get the best of them and we find them complaining and  speaking against God and Moses (Numbers 21:5). They even go so far as to despise the manna God was miraculously sending them every day. Miracles we see everyday will become normal to us and no longer seem like a miracle unless we take an active part in thanking God for them.

God’s response to Israel’s complaining was to send venomous snakes among them (Numbers 21:6). That seems like a hard punishment for such a seemingly small offense, but we have to look at this from God’s perspective. When we complain about where God has us in life, we are saying that God is doing it wrong.

It wasn’t until after the punishment was sent that Israel realized they had done wrong. How sad it is that we often don’t realize our mistakes until after God sends the consequences.

“And Moses prayed for the people” (Numbers 21:7). Remember, just two verses before, this the same people Moses is praying for here were speaking against him. It takes great humility to have compassion on difficult people instead of holding bitterness against them. Had is not been for the humility and forgiveness of Moses, I wonder if Israel would have ever made it to the Promised Land.

So God made a way of salvation for the people. Moses was required to make a snake statue on a pole and if a person was bitten, if they looked at this brass serpent, they would live (Numbers 21:8-9). This brass serpent is a symbol of Christ on the cross. In life, we can often get  focused on trying to fix our problems and avoid others (looking at our snake bites and avoiding the other snakes) instead of focusing on Christ (looking at the brass serpent). You have to look up to be saved. It’s terrifying to do that when your ankle is swollen to five times it’s size and another snake is slithering it’s way towards you. The poison in your ankle is already starting up our leg towards your heart. You don’t have much time. You have to decide. If you suck the poison out, the snake will bite you. If you kill the snake, the poison will be too far up your leg. Will you focus on your situation and try to save yourself in your own power? Or will you let go of control and trust God by looking up?

Fixing the Prison System

*This is an essay I wrote last year for a college class and I thought you all might enjoy it*

The national debt crisis has reached a critical point. According to US Debt Clock.org, on 17 November 2011 at 9:07 AM, the United States owed more than $15,002,958,100,000[,] and the number is increasing tens of thousands by the second! There are several factors contributing to our national debt, and one is the prison system.

The current system has too many inmates.

An article in All Business, published in 2010, states the following:

In 1980, there were 1.84 million people in the U.S. under some form of correctional supervision, either incarcerated in a prison or jail or being supervised in the community by probation or parole agencies. Today, nearly 30 years later, more than 7.5 million people are incarcerated or being supervised in the community. This includes more than 1.5 million prisoners and another 780,000 jail inmates. Based on a U.S. population of 303 million, this means the U.S. incarceration rate is 762 inmates per 100,000 people in the population. By comparison, the most recent available estimates indicate that there are more than 9.8 million people incarcerated worldwide. Based on a world population of 6.7 billion people, the world incarceration rate is 145 inmates per 100,000 people worldwide. No other country, including many that have higher victimization rates, appears to have a higher incarceration rate than the U.S. (Innes 1)

The shocking fact is that“[w]ith 5% of the world’s population, the United States has close to a quarter of the world’s prisoners” (Lazare 1). The United States should be the ones to be an example, but she has a higher imprisonment number than any other country!

The current system is costing us too much. The United States is spending “$60 billion a year to imprison 2.2 million people” (Warren). According to this figure, we are spending about $30,000 to feed, clothe, guard, provide cable, provide a library, and provide a weight room to one inmate! This number does not include the millions of people in community prisons.

The current system has a high turnover rate. There are too many inmates returning to state  prison: “roughly 44% ” in Pennsylvania (“Looking for Ways”). It looks like 44% of criminals are not learning their lessons!

What the United States needs to do is to go back to God’s standard of punishing crimes—Restitution. Restitution, unlike punishment laws, “remind[s] the prisoner that ultimately he is responsible to God for his actions” (Godfather). People are, eventually,  responsible to God, not the government, for their actions. Government is what God works through “for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well” (1 Peter 2:14b).

Paul states in his letter to the Romans:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. (Romans 13:1-4)

The government should be a terror to the evil! Would not that be welcome to the law enforcement? People who break the law should be terrified of being punished.

In God’s system of Restitution, criminals would have to pay back at least double what they stole and/or damaged. Sometimes it would be more because the amount that criminals would pay back would be determined by the crime committed. God says that “all manner of trespass, whether it be for ox, for ass, for sheep, for raiment, or for any manner of lost thing, when another challengeth to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whom the judges shall condemn, he shall pay double unto his neighbor” (Exodus 22:9). God also says that “[i]f a man shall deliver unto his neighbor money or stuff to keep, and it be stolen out of the man’s house; if the thief be found, let him pay double” (Exodus 22:7).

If the convicted cannot pay, he/she would be made to work. In God’s law, it was stated that “a thief who was unable to make restitution for a property crime could be sold into servitude for his theft” (Godfather). This is found in Exodus where it states that “if [the thief] have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft” (Exodus 22:3). The Constitution of the United States confirms this by saying “[n]either slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction” (13th Amendment, U.S. Constitution).

Jobs that criminals could do if they cannot pay restitution are cleaning and maintaining parks, cleaning roadsides and streets of debris, cleaning public restrooms, etc. If the convicted is not a threat to society, a tracking device could be placed on the person and he/she could work for a business that has volunteered to hire the convicted person. These businesses can be restaurants, malls, grocery stores, farm stores, carpenters, mines, foresters, colleges, and more. The business would treat the ciminal in work expectation and income the same as any other citizen.

Criminals would not be made comfortable. America should not be spending money to make life in prison more pleasant for people who have broken the laws of the land! Cable television would be one of the first things to go. Weight rooms would be eliminated because the inmates would be building muscles while working. A Bible and some character books are all that the convicted needs, so access to a library would not be needed. Computer and telephone access would be restricted to communication with the criminal’s family members.

The inmates would be required to pay for their care. Money would be taken out of an inmate’s income to pay for his/her food, clothes, tracking band, medical attention, etc. This would nearly eliminate the $60 million spent a year to house an inmate. Also, if an inmate will not cooperate and work, he/she should not be allowed to eat. The only exception is if the inmate is ill.

Thieves, drunkards, embezzlers, burglars, etc. would pay back at least double what they stole and/or damaged. Scripture says that “[i]f the theft be certainly found in [the thief’s] hand alive, whether it be ox, or ass, or sheep; he shall restore double” (Exodus 22:4). If the convicted cannot pay immediately, he/she would work under supervision until he/she has paid back double.

In federal prisons, “27% of all prisoners … are criminal illegal aliens and the majority (63%) of those are Mexican citizens” (Wagner). Illegal aliens would be put to work building the United States border for a specific amount of time—preferably five or more years. Only days that they spend working would count toward the five or more years. Any money, houses, cars, land, etc. that they owned would be sold and the money given to the government to pay for the transportation of the illegal aliens back to their home country after the years of servitude were done. If the illegal alien had committed a theft, he/she would work on the border until paid back double to the victim and then his/her five years or more of work for coming here illegally would start.

People who transport or are involved in illegal drugs would be put to work building the United States border or working at any other anti-drug-related job.

First Degree, Second Degree, and Voluntary murderers would be put to death. God says “[h]e that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death” (Exodus 21:12). Whereas involuntary, accidental, or murders done out of defense would not be punished by death. God puts it this way: “And if a man lie not in wait…I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee” (Exodus 21:13). These days, the place God has made as a safe heaven for innocent people is the government.

All rapists who forced their victims would be put to death. God touched on this subject when he commanded that if a man found a girl and “force[d] her, and l[ay] with her: then the man only that lay with her shall die: But unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing” (Deuteronomy 22:25).

Kidnappers would be put to death. God commanded that “he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:16).

If a person fights and injures another person badly, but he/she can still walk and are not affected seriously, then the one who injured would pay for the medical expenses and the time the wounded was not paid for work. God puts it this way: “And if men strive together, and one smite another with a stone, or with his fist, and he die not, but keepeth his bed: If he rise again, and walk abroad upon his staff, then shall he that smote him be quit: only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed” (Exodus 21:18-19).

So how is a prison system that has too many prisoners, costs too much, and has a high turnover rate fixed? Go back to God’s standard of restitution. Make prisoners work for food, clothes, and supplies. Enforce a stricter death penalty. Do not make prisoners comfortable Most of all, make potential law breakers terrified of even thinking of breaking the law!

Works Cited

Godfather, The. “A Simple Way to Reduce the Prison Population.” Godfather Politics 1 Nov. 2011. Web. 17 Nov. 2011.

Holy Bible, The. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989. Print. King James Version.

Innes, Christopher A. “The Simple Solution for Reducing Correctional Costs.” All Business 1 Feb. 2010. Web. 17 Nov. 2011.

Lazare, Daniel. “Jailing Nation: How Did Our Prison System Become Such a Nightmare?” AlterNet 20 Aug. 2007. Web. 17 Nov. 2011.

“Looking for Ways to Reduce Pa. Prison Populations.” Daily Local News 6 Nov. 011. Web. 17 Nov. 2011.

U.S. Constitution. Washington, DC: The Heritage Foundation, 2008. Print.

Wagner, P. F. “Impacts of Illegal Immigration: Crime.” The Dark Side of Illegal Immigration. N. pag. US Illegal Aliens.com. Web. 17 Nov. 2011.

Warren, Jenifer. “High Cost of Prisons Not Paying Off, Report Finds.” Common Dreams 8 June 2006. Web. 17 Nov. 2011.

Discouraging and Supporting a Spiritual Leader

In Exodus 18, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, comes to visit him and the Children of Israel. Jethro sees Moses sitting the entire day judging the people (remember these are the people who are so good at making petty issues big problems).

In verse 14, Jethro says “What is this thing that thou doest to the people? Why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even?” Then Moses answers in verse 15: “Because the people come unto me to enquire of God: When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws.” This is what a spiritual leader is supposed to do. A pastor/father is supposed to teach about God’s words.

Moses teaching the Children of Isael

Moses and the Children of Isael

He can’t do it alone. Look at verses 17-18. Jethro tells Moses that “The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone.” Jethro knew that pastors and leaders need encouragement and support. So Jethro askes Moses to set up a tree of responsibility. There were to be rulers of tens which were responsible to rulers of fifties, which were responsible to rulers of hundreds, which were responsible to rulers of thousands, which were responsible to Moses, which was responsible to God.

Move on to Numbers 11. In this chapter, Israel is complaining about not having meat (they had enough to eat, it just wasn’t what they wanted. verse 6). They actually got to the point of crying about it (verse 10)! Therefore, Moses goes and talks to God about it. Note: People in positions of leadership and responsibility should always encompass themselves in an intimate relationship with God. With all the complaining going on in the camp, Moses had gotten discouraged and, in turn, now complains to God (verses 10-13).

Notice what Moses says in verses 14-15 “I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. And if thou deal this with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favor in they sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.” When people complain about their situations (which, by the way, God has put them in) and their pastor or leader hears them complaining, it discourages them immensely.

Complaining starts with one person. Have you ever been on a walk with a bunch of children? One child will get tired and start complaining; that reminds the other children that they, too, are tired. Sooner or later everyone is complaining about being tired. This is how Israel started complaining. Maybe it could have been something as simple as someone saying: “You know, manna is nice and all, but I’m kind of getting tired of it” or “I wish we could have something else to eat”. Being dissatisfied with where God has placed you or what God has given you will eventually lead to complaining which in turn will spread across the camp/family/church and eventually discourage the leader/father/pastor.

God answers Moses’ prayer, not by killing him, but by giving him support. God always sends people to support us when we need them. God tells Moses to take 70 of the elders to the tabernacle of the congregation and to stand with them (verse 16). He promises to come down and take some of Moses’ spirit, give it to them, and they will share in the burden (verse 17). Strong’s Concordance states that ‘spirit’ in this verse means ‘wind; by resemblance breath, i.e. a sensible (or even violent) exhalation’.

When Moses does as God commands in verse 25, the 70 elders began to prophesy. But look at the last part of the verse: “they prophesied, and did not cease.” The Hebrew word for ‘cease’ is ‘yâcaph’ which means ‘to add’. These prophets did not continue to prophecy—they quit. Many people will step up to help those in positions of leadership, but will eventually step back or quit when they learn how hard it is.

Holy Spirit represented by a dove

1660 Stain Glass showing the Holy Spirit represented by a dove

Two of the elders, Eldad and Medad, allowed the spirit to grow (“remained”: ‘shâ’ar’ to ‘ swell up, be redundant’) and went out to prophesy, not just in the tabernacle, but in the camp where all the people were (verse 26). When you let the Spirit of God get a hold of you, there is no way you can keep it in, but it will ‘swell up’ and spill over.

There was a young man listening to Eldad and Medad who ran to tell Moses what was going on (verse 27). When Joshua heard about it, he told Moses to “forbid them” (verse 28). This is Moses’ reply: “Enviest thou for my sake? Would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!”. Oh people of the church! Listen to me! So many of the church’s problems could be solved when people stop looking to the church for their spiritual food and start looking to God. On several occasions I have heard people tell my dad (or complain to other people) things they didn’t like about the message, the singing, or the service in general. Many times when a person walks away from a service void of God’s spirit is because they have not opened you heart to meet with God. You are responsible for your walk with God, not your pastor.

After Moses hears of the prophesying going on in the camp, he “gat him into the camp” (verse 30). I can just see Moses speeding into the camp with his heart pounding and eyes shinning in excitement. He couldn’t wait to be in the presence of the LORD with fellow worshipers. Whenever a person is swelling with God’s spirit, it refreshes, encourages, strengths, and supports fellow believers around them. I know when Moses walked away from that unplanned, non-systematic meeting he was refreshed, strengthened, and encouraged.