Lou: One of our questioners writes, “God sent she-bears against the children who ridiculed Elisha (2 Kings 2:24). Just how does God come out looking good in that strange incident?”
Graham: Superficially He certainly doesn’t. He ran the risk of not looking very good in that situation. And the Devil would certainly like us to misunderstand. But if one reads the whole setting, in those days even the king of Israel was consulting Baalzebub, the god of flies (2 Kgs 1:16). There was very little reverence toward God. Elijah had just been translated to heaven. And these irreverent youths, following the example of their king, were mocking Elisha, “Hey Baldy, why don’t you go up too?” 2 Kings 2:23. When people are that irreverent, God has virtually lost communication with them. It’s that serious. But if we need she-bears, we’ll get she-bears.
Lou: Here’s a question along a little different line: “In reading about the sacrificial system, I get the impression that it was very messy, throwing blood on the Mercy Seat, throwing blood on Aaron and the other priests. Who cleaned the Mercy Seat off? Who cleaned the garments of Aaron and the other priests?”
Graham: Regarding how it was cleaned, there are many references to cleansing, water, scouring of pots, washing of garments. During the reign of Hezekiah there was even a complete housecleaning of the whole temple (2 Chr 29:15-19). But the most important implication of the question is the observation that the sacrificial system was messy. But if the system looks messy to us, how do you suppose it looked to God? The One who sees the little sparrow fall asked them to kill lambs. So yes, it was messy. It was painful. But God knew they needed it. It had to be that dramatic.
I think God hoped that they would always feel as sick as Adam must have felt when he killed that first lamb. He must have turned to God and said, “I can’t do it. It’s making me sick.” And I imagine God replying, “I hope it always makes you sick.” But it came to the place where people could kill God’s animals with hardly a thought. It was almost like a circus as they cut them up and burned them. The more, the better. Then God would bless them. So like other emergency measures, the sacrificial system was also misunderstood.
Lou: Could you comment on the role of the family and marriage in God’s overall plan for us? Also, is there special significance to our planet in having male and female, the two sexes?
Graham: Yes, I think God deliberately designed things this way; the sexes, the family, sharing with us the power to create little people in our own image. This whole process teaches us how difficult it is to bring children up safely and yet set them free. How can we keep them from hurting themselves when they’re little? Anyone who has had children, anyone who has been a teacher of little children, ought to be able to read the Bible very sympathetically. I think God gave marriage and the family as a very eloquent demonstration. Right there in Eden the family, the sexes, and the Sabbath became emergency measures. Some emergency measures can be very pleasant, you know.
Lou: Here’s another question: “Why would God choose circumcision as an emergency measure?”
Graham: I think it’s somewhat related to the previous question. If you don’t acknowledge that God is the Creator, then the mystery of life and reproduction may become the object of your worship. And that’s what happened with the fertility cults. One of the prevailing weaknesses of the Israelites was the temptation to go up into the mountains, and participate with the cult prostitutes. So an explanation that appeals to me is that God gave them circumcision to hold them back from such participation.
Suppose a young Israelite has followed his eyes up into the mountains and he’s there with a cult prostitute. At the last moment she looks down and says, “I see you are a Jew.” And the young man says, “I can’t do this,” and hurries home. I could see God doing something like that. Because that part of their bodies was very much involved in their greatest sins (Num 25:1-18), I think God chose something that would remind them of their identity.