I was cocooned in my tent at the Pine Top campground in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, reading a story from the Bible book of Ezra (1:7-11) about a time when the Jewish people began to leave Babylon after some 40 years of exile. 42,000 of them left to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem and reestablish the nation of Israel. The Bible story listed some of what the people took back with them. It says: “King Cyrus brought out the articles belonging to the temple of the Lord, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and had placed in the temple of his god.”
Then it gives an inventory – surprisingly not the altar or ark or candlesticks or pieces we would associate with Hebrew worship, but lots of gold and silver bowls and dishes: 3,400 pieces in total.
I guess they had been kept in the Babylonian temple as trophies? Maybe they had a special museum wing in their temple with collections from all the nations they had conquered. Or maybe they kept them as items of respect, one temple to another. It doesn’t appear they were being used in the Babylonian temple, and obviously they weren’t melted down to make Babylonian stuff. Apparently they sat on the shelf all those years. But even Cyrus knew they should go back home. It’s not a small thing to know what to take and what to leave.
I read the story while on a backpacking trip with David Nobles; maybe one reason the story caught my attention was because backpacking is all about knowing what to carry and what to leave behind. Backpacking in the Guadalupes means everything has to be hauled up a trail that climbs 3,000’ in elevation, and no one wants to haul something unnecessary. Everything has to earn its way into the pack.
In fact, after every backpacking trip, I go back over my gear list in detail, noting what I used and what I didn’t use, what I should take next time and what I should leave behind. There are some things I seldom use but take with me anyway, like my first aid kit.
In the context of backpacking, I am becoming more and more aggressive about what I leave behind. I know I’ll only have to suffer a couple of days if I end up needing something I left at home. But thinking about the people mentioned in Ezra, traveling from Babylon to Jerusalem, they didn’t have the luxury of “only a couple of days.” They weren’t going back to Babylon. They had to pack the most important stuff knowing they were leaving on a one-way trip.
Yet they found room for 3,400 pieces of gold and silver. And none of those were necessary for daily life; they were only for worshiping in a temple that didn’t yet exist. 3,400 gold and silver bowls and dishes must’ve required several camel loads. I wonder if there was a debate whether to carry all those dishes and bowls. Did those items have to earn their way into the baggage list, or was their inclusion a given, accepted immediately by everyone.
I remember having to make a similar decision about what to take and what to leave when I went to Europe with the Continental Singers (1974 and 1975). Our tour consisted of 2-1/2 months traveling around the USA, performing in a different town every night. In the middle of the summer we left for Europe for about three weeks. Packing for the European portion of the tour was a big ordeal. We would consider the luggage allotment per passenger (I think it was 40 lbs.) and multiply that by the total number of people. From that total we’d subtract the weight of sound equipment and musical instruments, then divide the remaining pounds by the number of people in the group, and learn how much we actually got to carry. My memory says we got about 15 lbs. each, including our 1970s-era suitcases.
Of course we had to take our clothes for performing, which left room for only 2 or 3 changes of clothes for a 3-week European tour. I think I ended up sharing a suitcase with another guy so we could include a few more pounds of underwear and socks. It was no small decision – what do I keep and what do I leave behind.
There are a couple of things with spiritual significance that I’ve kept my entire adult life. Maybe they’re my gold and silver bowls?
I still have my Thompson Chain-Reference KJV Bible on my shelf, but I haven’t opened it in years. Nowadays I prefer a translation more recent than the 17th-Century. I remember asking for this Bible one year at Christmas because my girlfriend, Carol, used one. A Thompson felt very grownup and serious, and having one seemed a step toward deeper spirituality. I don’t read it now, or even open in, but I still have it on my shelf.
I also have a tattered copy of the New American Standard translation with a black padded cover that I bought in the bookstore at Azusa Pacific College in June 1975. It was the first Bible I bought with my own money. I was at APC for Continental Singers rehearsal camp, and for me, buying that Bible was a big commitment toward a personal faith of my own (not my parents) and a personal promise to read it daily in a modern translation. Like my Thompson, I seldom open it nowadays, but it sits in a place of honor on my shelf.
Sometimes it’s hard to know what to keep and what to throw away, what to cherish and what to discard, what has emotional value and what is clutter. I know my Bibles don’t have the same significance as those dishes and bowls had for the Jewish people, but I’ve kept them with me anyway. I come from a long family line of Baptists who shy away from placing value on tangible artifacts of worship, so my collection is small. Yet, I have faithfully carried them with me, house to house, office to office, shelf to shelf, because of their provenance.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
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