Psalm 33

A praise Psalm. There are lots. I’ve decided not to overthink Psalms.

It’s a bit like love songs. You don’t analyse them as to what you can learn on the subject of love that has never been said before. The same thing gets said over and over.

They aren’t lessons, they’re a moment, a mood, they maybe have a catchy hook that brightens your morning, moves your feet or lifts your heart. It’s enough.

This praise song calls for musicians to crank up for a praise session. Then it says God is faithful and fair, big, powerful, forever, and he loves us! Hooray! And we’re done.

The poetic highlights that caught my eye include:

When they are saying he’s big: his breath made stars, he puts the seas in jars,

When they are saying he’s strong: an image of God looking down from heaven, watching over the world, stronger than armies, warriors and horses.

Loving: watching over us, forming our hearts, being a shield and filling us with joy.

My last day to neaten up lots of messy work projects before I go on long birthday weekend with Kelly: I can do it! Gonna sing my way into the weekend!

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Psalm 32

The upside of being forgiven.

This is a poem about your relationship to your sense of your own evil.  Believers and non believers are hardly different in this. Everyone has a sinful nature.

We all have lots of sin that we don’t know about, probably. You can tell this because you often meet people who have massive faults they are barely aware of, so it follows logically that you could have them too, even if you you’re not aware of them…

Also some sin we are aware of but forgive ourselves of. Indulgences.

Some sin that eats us up with guilt. It can make life a living hell.

But… only believers believe the cosmic promise of rightness with their creator, that the centre of the universe is love, and against all odds, despite everything, they are loved. And it’s a fantastic, light feeling. A wonderful way to be.

The psalm compares it to being surrounded by songs, unafraid of rising waters (not just a metaphorical threat these days), protected, safe, and watched out for by God’s loving eye; glad, joyous, singing and enveloped in love.

The images of being controlled by sin are vivid: it leaves you groaning and weighed down, saps your energy like a hot summer day.

It robs you of judgement and understanding.  You still answer to God, but your relationship to him is like a horse being controlled by bit in its mouth. People who accept forgiveness are more like children, who learn and actually come to understand God’s mind.

I’m tempted to default to thinking Christianity is a bargain, you pay by losing some fun and freedom, but gain by getting god.  But this psalm is a great reminder, sin sucks equally for everyone, there is no substitute for being free of it.

Psalm 31

It starts with David in one of the many tight spots he was in during his life and he prays, like people do when they are desperate.

He is out of options, he says if God won’t save him, its not going to happen: they are Jesus’ last words, ‘to you I commit my spirit’

God rescues him, and David recognises that is because God is the rock, solid; the fortress, safe, and because he does good. Not because David was good, because God was good.

That opening verse ‘deliver me in your righteousness’, read with Romans, sparked Martin Luther to be transformed by grace, sparked the Protestant church, apparently.

Luther considered that verse contradicted the church’s teaching that it was God’s holy, righteous nature that condemned us. No, it saves us.

So, rescued David goes on with life and expands that crisis perspective out to be a life attitude.

God remains the rock as you get old, grow weak, eyes fail, your influence fails and people forget about you, and start to plan for you not being around.

He recognises his all his times are in God’s hands just as he gave his spirit over to God in the moment all seemed lost.

The safe fortress of God is spacious, it’s full of good things, and promises shelter and abundance forever.

His moment of acute physical salvation intimately revealed God’s spiritual and eternal nature, of generous, unearned love safety and abundance. And that we are spiritual beings, more than the sum of our bodies.

It’s that simple but massive jump God has patiently been revealing the whole old testament: he doesn’t just save bodies, he saves souls, and they matter more.

He doesn’t just save like a mate lending a hand when you need it, saving is who God is. It’s the gospel in a Psalm.

Jeremiah quoted the phrase ‘terror on every side’ in ch 6 when Jerusalem was under siege, and twice in ch 20 when he was put in the stocks, and people obviously wanted him to fail – a phrase choice to evoke hope. Paul also quoted it, its a classic!

The response? Praise! This is David.

Praise God! What a great return to reading psalms. Yesterday I was quite stressed about my employment prospects and general situation. Less so today.

Reading boring books of the bible

Here’s a good article about reading the boring parts of the bible.

https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/bible-study/6-tricks-to-make-it-through-the-bible-s-boring-books.html

To which I’d add these points of emphasis:

1. Pay attention to God – its all about God revealing himself, Not everything that happens is holy because its in the bible. People sometimes claim to be good, but they are acting on their own? So always ask ‘Has God spoken? What is God’s role? What is being revealed of his character?’

Because boredom can arise  from reading long complex bits of writing that seem irrelevant.  Focusing on God, who is unchanging, can anchor you in a sea of confronting cultural and historical distance, and start to bring it back to something relevant and shared with the writer of the passage.

2. Also use commentaries for the really weird bits, and don’t be impatient.  Slow down when sometimes you get the urge to speed up. There is often more gold in there than you first think.  I’m looking at you, Ezekiel and Daniel. Often I’ve thought something was irredeemably stupid, and a little bit of commentary makes it pretty mind boggling.

3. Say to God your feelings, no matter how ‘wrong’.  Say the thing you think God doesn’t want to hear. If you find a passage boring, repetitive, needlessly violent or bizarre, say that to God and pursue the line of thought.

Because God is real, loving, slow to anger and wants the best for me, I’ve found this braveness in talking to him has generally opened up insight and blessing.  It means you wrestle honestly with the boring bits, and they actually can come to life in surprising ways.

4. The bible is reflecting you in unpleasant ways, because much about us is unpleasant to God. Its changing you in ways that you will fight and want to hold onto.  Its aligning your mind with God’s, and the ‘boredom’ may be your sinful nature rejecting God’s grace and teaching. Sometimes I stop for a bit, or carry on in pure stubbornness, passionless. I got that way last time I read Psalms actually, which I’m going back to finish next.

5. But also, boredom is just part of life, so sometimes its just part of the deal. The bible has bona fide boring bits, it just does. Accept it, and as the article says, skim the genealogies.

I say this having just finished 1 & 2 Chronicles, which were surprisingly less boring than I expected.  I was going to read Ezekiel next, but as I say I’ve decided to divert to Psalms. Time for some pithy poetry and ambiguity! Songs for all occasions.

2 Chronicles overview

So, is Chronicles ‘boring’ because of its tough lessons about the hard parts of christian life: obedience and practical holy living? Or because its a selection of the same stories as we already had in Kings told slower and with a lot more ceremonial detail?

Well, a bit of both, but I must say a lot more of the former than I expected.

I was also quite struck however, by what it doesn’t have:

– There is very little about the common people. Everyone who isn’t a king is a bit player, including two remarkable sounding female spiritual leaders.

– Nothing about the prophets, or the North specifically. In contrast Kings has the rise of the prophets as a narrative in its own right. Elisha and Elijah and their party represent a grass roots insurgency against the kingship in the North. In Chronicles, the north is kind of an evil no go zone. Admittedly the book has a laser focus on celebrating the temple and the Kings who tried to obey God, and the North offered neither.

– There is not much of God’s meta plan of salvation, the Messiah etc, as far as I can see. The animated youtube summary from Bible Project lists it as a theme, but in my reading of it, shall we say, its a subtle one.

I mean, it ends saying the return from exile ‘fulfilled the words of Jeremiah’ – not much of a sense of further expectation there. I think you have to read it in context with Ezra and Nehemiah, the post exile books, to get a sense of how unsatisfying that post exile world turned out to be, how much more was jumping out of those words of Jeremiah.

– No sense of life after death, which admittedly is sort of true of the whole OT, but very much here. I noted again and again as I read through how much this reflects that old testament emphasis on earthly rewards and punishments.

God is ever present though, every day brings a challenge of whether we will love and trust him.

The Kings who tried to love God, the faithful Kings, get 3 times the space of the faithless ones. The author just isn’t that interested in evil, compared to the practicalities of holiness.

When the book soars it is in the proper observance of worship and the diligent ordering of affairs:

– Solomon’s magnificent praise of God, and the overwhelming presence of God in smoke, fire and voice, at the dedication of the temple.

– The joyous semi-improvised Passover celebration of Hezekiah during the siege of the North, spontaneously extended an extra week – and his impressive preparations for attack.

– The logistic masterpiece, the Passover of Josiah. Twice the size of Hezekiah’s, and the most perfect ever execution of the Levitical law, all the while knowing that Jerusalem would soon be smashed.

– Jehoshaphat’s brave and absolute faith in the face of attack.

– The word “wholeheartedly” in relation to serving God.  There is no higher praise in 2 Chronicles.

There are a number of God-given victories, but the story emphasis is very much on learning to trust God’s protection, not on celebrating it. It’s not like judges, where Deborah’s underdog victory inspires a fabulous chapter of giddy praise poetry. Here, God’s power to deliver is a given, almost tossed off. Finding faith in him to deliver is the challenge and the lesson.

The only personal detail in the lives of the kings is to illustrate how they wrestled with their flaws and obedience or how God’s punishment played out in their bodies (Ew, King Jeroham). There is little of the messy royal family detail and palace intrigue as in Samuel, for instance.

This is a book examining how leadership of obedience and faithfulness works. It is also about corporate faithfulness, how godly organisations work.

The Australian church is currently under strain, with a compromised past and a declining future. Part 2 of the story of Judah climaxes in the opening chapters describing Solomon’s glory, and declines to complete destruction from there. But it is a surprisingly optimistic story of the great leaders through that process.

Judah’s kings are challenged by God to abandon the dream of regaining their former greatness and to accept that they must adapt to an evolving, ever less influential position in their world. The ones who don’t abandon their beliefs, but maintain trust in God, obedience and clear minded diligence, are presented for emulation. Its a very relevant lesson!

For me currently, as an office holder in my local church and an employee of a church, it is a strong reminder of the value of bravery, faith, perseverance, humble repentance and careful organisation.

But it also has much to say to individual christians, because we are enoys of the Kingdom of God, we represent the King in this world, we are the priests, and we are the temple, the dwelling places of God.

And to every believer its saying trust and obey, there’s no other way!

Solomon’s temple, its magnificence, the dedication

1 Solomon’s best act, asking for wisdom. How to test what we ask for. He starts to build the temple.
2 The temple, and the seductive nature of monuments generally
3 The time of prime magnificence of the temple, built on the site of David’s repentance and destined to be destroyed in judgement
4 The interior of the temple, sacrifices of animals against the dark glint of gold, what a place!
5 dedication of the temple, bringing in the Ark. Climaxing with the presence of God in a cloud like Exodus
6 Solomon’s temple dedication prayer, makes the building look small compared to the size and breadth of Gods creation and his grace
7 God burns the temple sacrifice with fire from heaven, and speaks to Solomon about his presence there and obedience

Solomon’s reign

8 Too clever by half. Solomon’s acumen, his flaw allowing in the religions of his advantageous marriages, including building altars for them. No!
9 Queen of Sheba visits and its a catalyst for talking about the heaven-on-earth power and wealth of Israel at this time. As she says, God has delighted in them. Solomon dies.

King bios:
> Rehoboam and Abijah – Kingdom split and civil war

10 King Solomon’s son Rehoboam’s greed creates unrest, splits the kingdom
11 The people have learned nothing since the time of Exodus, the northern kingdom worships a golden calf. But unrest was festering in Solomon’s time, no doubt.
12 Rehoboam loses his religion, and the country is attacked and pillaged
13 Under Abijah a civil war at last breaks out between the north and south kingdoms. He wins, but the story is told in an oddly godless way.

> Asa: Faithful reign, sad end

14 King Asa, a faithful King. Wins a god-given military victory against the Egyptians, and demolishes idols/foreign gods. Also gets multiple chapters, a pattern for believing Kings
15 The peace of Asa’s reign, religious reforms, many faithful northerners move down to Judah
16 Pride late in life. The sad flawed end of Asa’s reign, he can’t take God’s rebuke. He refuses prayer over illness, jails prophets, oppresses the people.

> Jehosophat: Faithful reign, model christian leadership “our eyes on God”

17 Fortifies the towns, a good king
18 Bad move, he makes an alliance with the North, ignoring prophets word. They lose, God does not want the combined kingdom any more. Northern King dies.
19 J. listens, accepts God’s rebuke, and sets about preaching God and justice to his own kingdom. Great example of godly leadership
20 He wins a victory by starting with “God we do not know what to do, our eyes are on you”. The end of the reign tarnished by another attempt at alliance, but a great king.

Struggles between North and South, God’s promises and judgements

21 King Jeroam, takes the throne by blood, short reign painful death, seen as God’s judgement, but his rejection of God is punishment enough IMHO
22 Betrayal and promises, next King tries a Northern alliance but is tricked, assassinated by them and they take over, killing all Davidic kings. God’s promise of an eternal throne of David lives in one boy hidden in the temple
23 In a perfect coup, realising God’s promise, the boy is made king
24 King Joash is only faithful while under the influence of his temple mentor Jehoaida, after whose death the King turns on God, stoning the next priest
25 Another partly faithful King follows, Amaziah, who does not love God wholeheartedly. He had an early victory trusting God, but every other decision was poor.
26 Uzziah is a faithful king with a flaw, pride in old age. The emphasis of Chronicles cf Kings on display here: lots of detail about the temple, the Northern kingdom Israel doesn’t count and is pure evil, physical judgement for sin (Uzziah’s leprosy).

King Bios:
> Jotham – Faithful, but minor >Ahaz – Unfaithful reign.
Prosperity and stability reflect degree of faithfulness

27 Jotham, personally faithful to God, a reign of prosperity and stability, but does little to address the longstanding idolatry of the people.
28 Ahaz has an unproductive civil war with the north, starts to lose territory to invaders and actively promotes idolatry. I think about the limits of earthly blessing and punishment theology

> Hezekiah – Faithful reign, wholehearted obedience, blessed by God

29 Restoration of temple sacrifice worship, I muse about grace and degrees of revelation -we know more than them, but still in part.
30 Passover celebrated, joining the faithful from the South and the North, even as invasion and exile has started by Assyria in the North. A burst of joyous holy celebration.
31 Rejoicing in the detail of the restoration of Judah’s proper religious practises
32 Celebrating H.’s leadership, his diligence, obedience, repentance from pride and God’s blessing by deflecting the Assyrian attack during his reign, which God extended.

> Manasseh – Long unfaithful reign,

33 Active persecutor with a late repentance story here, not found in Kings

> Josiah – Faithful reign, apres moi le deluge…

34 Wholehearted piety and obedience while knowing the prophesy that after his reign Jerusalem would fall – the practical and immediate nature of faith, trusting the big picture to God
35 Symbolic of Josiah’s appreciation of God’s saving power despite impending exile, the most legally perfect, largest passover feast ever offered by any King in Jerusalem.
36 A wrap up with the economy of a murder mystery – the last 3 kings, invasion, exile, restoration after 70 years quickly narrated. As in Kings, man’s evil is the means to the end, the fall of Jerusalem is understood as God’s judgement.

 

2 Chronicles 36

The last three Kings of Judah in quick succession. Their fate is already controlled by forces larger than themselves. Egypt and Babylon plot to put in puppet Kings until Babylon destroys Jerusalem and disperses the people into exile.

It’s economically told. We skip the misery and death that the siege involved. In a way it’s typically upbeat.

Being written post- exile, the writer is able to quickly sketch in the return from exile after 70 years. So it ends much less bleakly than Kings and Jeremiah, which have just the barest thread of hope at the end.

But all three accounts have strongly in common that it is God’s judgement, Babylon is simply his means of judgement. It’s God’s doing, because they rebelled against him and rejected his prophets.

2 Chronicles 35

King Josiah’s greatest moment and his death.

His greatest moment is his Passover, which is twice the size and more perfectly in line with the law than Hezekiah’s. They use a rare phrase indicating that everything was done as God pleases.

It involved the logistic challenge of sacrificing and cooking one lamb per each household in one day. The planning and the flair, such as providing music, which was not strictly required, made this a stunning national barbeque.

No king, since Samuel, had done a more perfect one. It’s a representative act of one of the most loved and devout Kings.

His death was foolish, fighting Egypt on behalf of the Assyrians, when it wasn’t his battle. It’s clear he was displeasing God by being there, as the text quotes the Egyptian leader himself prophesying God’s judgement on his participation in the battle.

The Assyrian Empire was waning, Babylon we on the rise with Egypt allied, and it would signal the end for Jerusalem.

So returned to the ruined Jerusalem, temple rebuilt, reading this book, that Passover must have been an incredibly poignant climax to it. A standard to inspire and aspire to.

I had a challenging weekend. The family is indeed not happy. I did do a few things to make ren buck up, we’re making the shed into a bit of a man cave/ dude retreat for his mates, plus he found a good bargain on sneakers, shopping therapy!

I think my dissatisfaction is symbolised by my song writing project, which is going terribly. I’m forcing it, there’s no genuine feeling there. It’s an escape, not a gift. How can I say? It should be enhancing not distracting from life. I’m not enjoying my hobby. Just feeling inadequate and unable to improve, and too much in my own head.

Can’t really articulate but will pray.

2 Chronicles 34

So we get the story of King Josiah, the last believing King before Jerusalem falls. He rules 31 years, a substantial period but in the sweep of the book it is just like a staging post to the end, fall of Jerusalem. The pattern has become predictable now, a zig zag between followers of idols vs the true God.

At 20 he takes action, ridding all the idolatry. Burns the bones of the Baal etc. priests on their own altars. The violence jolted me, it reminded me of British history of the struggles between catholic and protestant, how deft you had to be not to be on the wrong side of religion.  I suppose the common folk maybe just had to try and keep up: Jehovah, Baal, Jehovah, Baal…

Amid the temple renovations we get a book and a prophesy. The book is the law, a book from the torah is unearthed, probably Deuteronomy or Leviticus or Numbers. It has that powerful mirror effect God’s word does, and the King instantly sees how much he needs God’s forgiveness.

How did it get lost? I hate to be critical, but there are some problems with the Jewish national religion God instituted.

First, just one church – the Temple, where God lives. Practically, people want to worship locally.  That might partly explain why these multiple high places keep popping up.

Second, I can’t see it involves much teaching. The books keep getting lost, and keep being rediscovered from scratch. Josiah is devastated when he hears the Law – even a devout king appears to have had little direct instruction in the word of God.

By Jesus’ time there were Synagogues, which served both needs, but they didn’t start til after the temple was destroyed, apparently in response.

I mean, I know its deeply impertinent telling God how to run his religion better. But working for a church, we do every day, in a way.  In one sense, every denomination is a human take on what God could do better. In yet another sense I suppose, each denomination is part of God’s uber plan. It’s an odd plan, that includes a lot of bizarre input from us.

It warrants thinking about the proper attitude, and God’s larger purpose.  

Josiah calls a prophet – who turns out to be female, just by-the-by (do Anglicans even read these passages?) Speaking with the voice of God, she sees the doom over Jerusalem, but the piety of the King will hold it off during his lifetime.  He becomes all the more devout.

What a strange feeling that must have been, knowing it would all be lost after his time.  We leave the meta plan in God’s hands. Josiah was ultimately saved by the blood of Christ, but he could never have imagined it.

Yet presumably what he did know of the nature of God from the law meant that he did not despair despite being told of disaster for the religious practices and nation he gave his life to fighting for.

When we read the word of God, any of it, in any time period, the eternal interacts with the temporal. We see the eternal true perspective of our current situation, and God’s character is one of love fairness and hope.

A big theme of this books seems to be practical holiness, and there is lots of inspiration.

Different human takes on God’s mighty plan. Australian, female, Salvation army General Eva Burrows meets her Catholic counterpart, Pope John Paul – That’s the Salvation Army salute shes giving him… the Orthodox guy seems quietly amused. eva-pope2

2 Chronicles 33

King Manasseh, the longest reigning (55 years) and one of the worst Kings. Apparently he sacrificed children. He converted the temple to worship of the stars, which was the Assyrian religion.

Also king Amon, too boring to mention.

I wondered why the worship of other Gods keeps coming back, what is the attraction? Some suggest it might have been economic, to encourage trade deals.

Certainly that’s how it seemed in Solomon’s time, he’d marry to make an alliance and then build an altar for the wife’s religion. That’s how Molech the child sacrifice God got on the scene.

A historian suggested that Mannaseh’s reign was economically quite prosperous, he had a better foreign policy than Hezekiah. Of course the Bible is mostly interested in his religious impact.

This bio includes his repentance, not mentioned in Kings.

There is an apocryphal “prayer of Mannasah” which is a really beautiful prayer. They have an ancient scrap from the dead sea scrolls and a later Greek version, but no complete consistent one, so it didn’t make the cut in our Bible version.

Even if it’s just a poet imagining what he would have said, rather than his actual prayer, it certainly catches an awareness of how much God can forgive;

I am not worthy to look up and see the height of heaven because of the multitude of my iniquities.
I am weighted down with many an iron fetter, so that I am rejected because of my sins, and I have no relief;
for I have provoked your wrath and have done what is evil in your sight,
setting up abominations and multiplying offences.
And now I bend the knee of my heart,
imploring you for your kindness...”

It only came later in his life, after he caused the streets to run red with the blood of prophets and their followers. But God can forgive much!

That is two Kings in a row who have had repentance in their story. It’s a powerful, wonderful move that makes a tangible difference in this world.

The transformation it can make in people makes you believe, and want to believe, in God. People find it confronting to be told to repent, it’s like a bad Christan cliche, but to witness it in others is very convincing and attractive.

In anticipation, you can worry it will make you seem weak, or be a needlessly unpleasant airing of your worst moments, which is how the church got in such a pickle.

Our egos mean we kid ourselves we get away with a lot more than we actually do. By the time we repent, the need for it is often bleeding obvious to those around us.

And from the outside, it generally seems strong, because it marks you as a person of principle, honesty, fairness and honour.

But above all it’s healing, of relationships and of self.

All of my family are in pain for different reasons at the moment, is the weekend, praying we have some moment of grace.

2 Chronicles 32

A chapter full of God’s power, focused on leadership. But despite winning battles they are losing the war, and it’s a strangely joyless narrative compared to the passover moment last chapter.

We hear a lot about fortifying Jerusalem, including engineering a brilliant water supply tunnel through solid rock that made Jerusalem virtually siege proof.

What is tacit is that the Assyrians take most of the land outside Jerusalem.

The commentators I read quoted the Assyrian account of the same campaign, which was a fine example of spin/ fake news. They simply talk about the land they were able to seize, fudge over what happened in the capital!

In contrast to the methodical preparations inside the city wall, we get a lot of the Assyrians psychological warfare, dissing God as just another of the many man-made gods that have failed to save the other nations the Assyrians have subjugated across the region.

After the long war of words, the victory over Assyria is extraordinary, God simply and mysteriously decimates the Assyrian army overnight and they run off. It’s tossed off, anticlimactic. No drama, no song of praise.  God isn’t ready to let Jerusalem go, yet.

The narrative focus stays on Hezekiah, his brush with death and extension of life, his late life moment of pride and repentance, his tremendous wealth and prosperity.

The book has consistently been about leadership, obedience, and reward by God. This account fits that theme, but it’s not simple self aggrandising spin like the Assyrians, it’s more like sermonising.

And the slide towards defeat creates an inbuilt tension. Hezekiah is rewarded by God, however the larger judgement on the nation is closing in but they don’t want to talk about it yet.

And the post exile audience didn’t need to be told anything about the impeding exile… They’d just lived though it.

And they didn’t need to be promised miracles. They’d already been returned to Jerusalem against all odds.

It was most important to knuckle down and not repeat the cycle, to stay true to God though thick and thin.

In a way it’s not really resonating with me, but perhaps because it’s about the boring slog of an obedient life. Were called to discipline, not magic, and we’re to leave the meta story of salvation to God.

We are to work at our own path of godliness with consistent diligence, even if everyone outside the wall is cat-calling us. Living by faith sometimes means the labour of cutting a sensible tunnel through solid rock as well as sometimes being miraculously provided for.

Below:Hezekiah’s water supply… Still there!