Greetings from Gilead! Yes, I may not be in the legal and tangible modern state of Israel, but the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh were actually in Jordan, where I am now. The half of the tribe of Manasseh that settled east of the Jordan River was called Gildead, after one of the clans of that tribe in that area. So technically, even though I have yet to enter the modern country of Israel, I have actually reached the land of ancient Israel, even though I am actually in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in modern terms.
Now the Sabbath is about to begin in a few hours, and those who don’t do anything electronic on the Sabbath are making their preparations to relax, but I am going to write this little post about the wilderness of the Exodus. I’ve actually just finished riding my bicycle through the ancient lands of Moab, Edom, Reuben, Gad, Gilead, and Ammon as the last part of my bicycle tour from Lisbon, Portugal, to Mount Nebo in Jordan. I want to jot down some observations, not about my experiences on the ride at this point, but about some theological matters.
This post will constitute a bit of a sermon, or a drash, or drushah as it is called in Hebrew, but not of a typical type. I’ve talked a lot about the role of metaphor in those of my writings that aren’t specifically concerned with my own gallivanting around the mouth of madness. I’ve talked about it in superhero movies, mostly. But I’ve also talked about it in our lives, wondering forever what sort of metaphor the Electrochemical Girl of my book was supposed to be, for example. My thinking about metaphor, and the concept of reality as a system of metaphors, is actually rooted in ancient systems of theology. I wrote more about it in older essays that I penned as far back as 2017 or older, and I had been aware of the technique going back to the nineties. But I haven’t actually engeged the subject in a theological practice of biblical hermeneutics in a long, long time, so I think it’s time for a fresh presentation. I hope also to provide others with something of a toolset of a few biblical symbols that may help them understand the Torah better.
To begin with, I want to just give a symbolic description of Israel itself. Israel is a symbol for the human being. Specifically the human being that serves and expresses the divine. Now when man was created in the perfect world of the Garden of Eden, he was unified in his perfection, but when the world fell and separated from God, there was a kind of a shattering within man.
Likewise, Israel was once a unified kingdom, but with the rebellion of Jeroboam, Israel split into two kingdoms, the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah. Now if you look at the royal geneaologies, every single king of Israel was a bad king. Also looking at the geneaologies, out of the 21 kings of Judah, only 5 were described as good kings. When you read the geneaologies of Judah it will be like bad king, bad king, bad king, good king, bad king, bad king, bad king, good king…and so on.
What we are seeing here is that the kingdom of Israel represents the human’s flesh or animal urges, while the kingdom of Judah represents the human’s heart or mind. So that basically, your body is always going to be telling you it wants the perfect temperature, to get laid, to sleep when tired, to eat when hungry, and it’s basically going to be supplying you with urges from the material world you live in. Normally your mind is going to be complying with these urges, and just eating when hungry, getting laid when horny, and satisfying whatever desire comes upon it, but once in a while, the child of God will be inspired from above, and will deny himself in order to express the divine, doing good works, having enlightened thoughts, and devoting the self to things that are above and beyond mere gratification of the self. When you put your own urges and benefit aside to serve God and man in nobility, you are basically being inspired by the good king.
Now in addition to two kingdoms that represent the dual aspects of the self, flesh and spirit, there were a variety of foreign tribes within the territory of Israel, such as the Jebusites, the Phillistines, etc., and there were foreign tribes around Israel always attacking, such as the Amorites, Ammonites, etc. These represent the various spirits of the world around us, be they personal spirits such as demons or whatever, or just general spirits such as desires for worldly things. The northern Kingdom of Israel had all bad kings because it was more or less always influenced by the surrounding tribes that it was trying to live in harmony with. That is, your body will try to act like the world because it is being influenced by the spirits of the world. This is not limited to personal spirits such as demons, but also general spirits such as anger, etc.
So a child of God is kind of a mess. His body is always leading him away from God due to the influences of the spirits of this world, while his mind is usually just going along with all that except for once in a while he will be inspired to transcend all that and behave as a true servcant of God. That’s the situation described by the kingdoms of Israel and Judah being infested with Phillistines and Canaanites and being attacked from without by Amorites and Ammonites.
But before we get to that condition, we have the events of the Exodus. See, the child of God starts out just unaware of anything, enslaved to the excesses of this world, Egypt, but then is lead on a tremendous journey toward his holy self, the promised land of Israel. After being awakened and freed from the world, the child of God must defeat a number of enemies on his journey to his true self. These enemies are all the bad spirits that you need to defeat to become who you were meant to be. And sure, we can always throw personal spirits such as demons on the table, but here we want to concentrate on the general spirits that these various hostile foreign powers represent.
So to begin with, on your journey towards mature service to God as an individuated child of God, you’re going to have to suffer through your own internal rebellions such as the rebellion of Korah and the rebellion at Meribah. You’re going to want to include yourself in the authority of divine hierarchy like Korah did, You’re going to have to cut that out.
Then the first thing you are going to want to do is think that everything hinges on obedience to commandments. That’s what Edom represents. See Jacob relied on a mediator, his mother, to get him in good with the patriarch, and you are going to have to rely on mediation to get to God as well. Esau went off trying to be obedient and do everything right, and he justy weasn’t able to get back and claim any blessing. Likewise, if you think that you have to be successful in obeying every commandment to get blessing from God, you’re never going to get blessing from God. Edom was one of the first enemies that Israel had to defeat in the desert.
Then you’re going to have to get to a point where the rank evil in the world doesn’t destroy your relationship with God. If you pretend everything is good when it isn’t, or if you let the evil of the world bring you to hate God, you will get no further. This is what is meant by the episode of the bronze serpent in the wilderness. You gotta look at that ugly snake, recognize Satan is there, and not let it destroy your relationship with God.
If you can do all that, you’re getting somewhere. But then comes one of the greatest challenges. You need to get past all those rabbis, priests, imams, yogis, pandits, who are going to lead you astray. I’m telling you, a cleric who is a good shepherd is a rare thing. The majority of them are just Balaam. That’s what the story of Balak and Balaam tells us.
Once you know not to trust the clerics to mess you up, you’re going to encounter Midian. Midian is all that wasted time in your early days. Moses sat there for 40 years doing nothing. That’s what Midian is: doing nothing, getting by day to day. You have to stop that and maintain a purposeful and divinely sinpired life aimed at getting to your true self, that promised land.
You’re going to have to defeat the Moabites as well. As a converse of Edom, which is an undue attention to obedience, Moab is an undue attention to libertarianism – that nothing really matters, God loves us as we are, so we can just do whatever the heck we want without feeling the slightest bit of guilt about anything. That’s what Moab is. Just complete libertarianism. It’s a state that a lot of people get to if they’ve never been chastened by God and suffered for the bad things they’ve done.
Once you get past all these things, you’ll be ready for some serious battle. You’ll be ready to claim yourself – the holy land. The holy land is you.
Now each one of these encounters I mentioned can be a drushah on its own, and there is much I have left out. I may come back and flesh out parts of this post and whatnot, but I hope that I have conveyed to you that these battles that Israel fought in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan, east of the Jordan River, where I am now, and where I just rode my bicycle, have symbolic meaning. And the nation of Israel itself has symbolic meaning.
This post focuses on the stories of the Torah having symbolic meaning that describe your spiritual condition and spiritual life. It’s not just a collection of gory and primitive stories about war and whatnot. It describes metaphorically the spiritual journey that we take on the way to becoming individualted servants of God. The kicker here, though, is that these stories are actual history. So the history of the universe has metaphorical spiritual value. That’s a theme I will build on elsewhere.
It really seems like a crime to close out this post claiming to have described the value of the encounters of the wilderness in this one tiny post. I can guarantee you that I will come back to this at some point to expand it rather extensively. But want to get the post up by sunset so I can relax. So I hope I have just left you with enough to get the idea that all of these encounters in the wilderness represent metaphorically the obstacles that you will encounter on your spiritual journey toward holiness.