By Doug Woodall
When I first met Hal, he was a Seminary teacher. Several years later, he became an Institute of Religion instructor. We knew each other from the gym. We always said hello and talked for a few minutes. Then we discovered our daughters were friends. This got us to have some long conversations. One day I had the chance to tell Hal my greatest problem with the Bible: What am I supposed to learn from the hundreds of immoral stories?
At first, all I wanted to do was share one story and then listen to what Hal had to say. The story I picked is found in Genesis 38. Judah impregnated his daughter-in-law Tamar. My problem was I said it was the father, Jacob, instead of the son, Judah. Hal corrected me. Then he made some comments that let me know he didn’t think I knew much about the Bible.
I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover three times, so I tried to recover by telling a second story. That story is found in Numbers 31. God told Moses it was time to “avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites.” Moses raised an army of 12,000 troops. Before he sent them out, he told them to attack, kill everyone, and bring back the livestock and plunder. When Moses’ men returned, they brought back the livestock and plunder and thousands of women and children. Moses was furious. He reminded his men they were supposed to kill everyone. Then he did an about-face and said, “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.”
“Moses didn’t do that,” Hal said.
“Yes he did,” I answered.
“I’ll bet you lunch it wasn’t Moses.”
“OK. I can bring you a copy of chapter and verse.”
“It has to be from the King James. I won’t accept one of those funky Bibles.”
“Good enough,” I said.
That night I printed a copy of the story from the King James. The next time I saw Hal, he had to admit I was right. Then I didn’t see Hal for four years.
Hal was at the front of the checkout counter at the grocery store and I was at the end. I yelled, “Hal!” When Hal looked my way, I proclaimed, “You owe me lunch.”
“I do owe you lunch,” Hal said. We both laughed.
Hal had to say something to the cashier. Then he put his head down for half a minute, turned to me, and said, “Wait! Those people were evil.” He meant the Midianites deserved to be killed.
“What do you mean they were evil?” I said. “They didn’t have the Law of Moses.”
“Oh, yes they did,” Hal said. “They were a break-off group.”
I didn’t know if the Hebrews and Midianites were related, but I didn’t like where Hal was taking our conversation. “Look Hal, I don’t think it matters,” I said. “The way I see it, you’re putting a condition on our bet after the fact.“ When Hal wouldn’t answer me, I added, “I’ll tell you something else, Hal. At the end of the day, the Hebrews had 16,000 women and girls that they divided up equally among the tribes.” When Hal stayed silent, I said, “They gave thirty two virgins to God.” When Hal had his groceries and was walking away, I added, “What did God do with his virgins, Hal?” I didn’t see Hal again for three years.
Hal was at one of the TRAX stations in Sandy. My daughter told me at least one year prior he was an Institute of Religion instructor, so he must have come from the University of Utah and was headed home. I yelled, “Hal!” When he looked at me, I proclaimed, “You owe me lunch.”
“Listen,” Hal said, “you either agree Moses was a prophet of God and did what God told him to do or we don’t have anything to talk about.”
“What does that have to do with our bet?” I said.
“Was Moses a prophet of God?”
“Hal, I’m not blind. I can see what you’re doing. If I say Moses wasn’t a prophet, I lose the bet. If I say he was a prophet, I lose the bet. But I won the bet seven years ago.”
“Was Moses a prophet of God?”
“I’m not going to answer you.”
“Then we have nothing to talk about.”
When Hal was walking toward his car, I shouted, “Eight bucks, Hal. That’s all it would have cost you. Eight bucks and lunch with me. What’s so bad about that?“
To this day, I wonder why Hal didn’t pay up. He couldn’t afford it? I doubt that. He doesn’t eat lunch? Hal’s a big man. I’m sure he eats lunch every day. He thinks I’m an ass? OK, I can be an ass. Maybe he got caught in a paradox. Seminary teachers and Institute of Religion instructors say the words, “I’ll bet you,” but they probably don’t mean them. They’re not supposed to make bets.
Whatever made Hal dig in his heels, when I see him again, I’m going to yell, “Hal! You owe me lunch!“
Gay Writes is a DiverseCity Series writing group, a program of SLCC’s Community Writing Center. The group meets the 2nd and 4th Monday of every month, 6:30-8 pm, 210 E. 400 South, Ste. 8, Salt Lake.