12 Jan 2009

Of Flat Taxes and Idols

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(As happened last week, this week my Sunday “religious” post is spilling over into Monday morning.)

I have nothing too profound to report today. In my reading of Exodus I came across three items that I hadn’t noticed before:

(1) In Exodus 30:11-16, God shows that He is no proponent of progressive taxation:

11 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 12 “When you take the census of the children of Israel for their number, then every man shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, that there may be no plague among them when you number them. 13 This is what everyone among those who are numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (a shekel is twenty gerahs). The half-shekel shall be an offering to the LORD. 14 Everyone included among those who are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering to the LORD. 15 The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when you give an offering to the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves. 16 And you shall take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shall appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the children of Israel before the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves.”

(2) In the famous scene where the Israelites ask Aaron to make a golden calf, it’s not so much that they all of a sudden decide to become pagans:

1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

That seemed interesting to me, that it was Moses’ unexpectedly long session with God that prompted their construction of an idol. They wouldn’t have chosen a gold object over the Lord right while He’s parting the Red Sea, for example, but if they haven’t heard from Him (or His messenger) in a while, then all bets are off.

(3) Another interesting aspect to the golden calf episode: When the Israelites start worshipping it, they say: “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

When I read that, I was flabbergasted. After all, it’s one thing to discard your old friend for a new, flashier one. But this was much worse; it would be as if you started telling stories about how your (new) friend saved your life when you were 7 years old and drowning in the pool, even though it really had been your old (and now discarded) friend who did it!

But then I realized that maybe what the Israelites were doing (in their own minds) was building something tangible to focus their praise of the true God, since their previous symbol (Moses) was AWOL. Obviously I am at the mercy of the translators, but from this particular rendition it seems that the Israelites’ sin may have been more understandable than I remember when hearing this story as a child. (Unfortunately, a lot of the “shocking” things I’m reading in the Old Testament don’t seem like such a big deal, this time around. Uh oh.)

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