1 Chronicles 5

Stories about the tribes settlement of the holy land, lots of facts and bits of narrative.

Positive examples of God’s intervention are mentioned, such and such a tribe won a war because God was on their side, rather than negative, judgement. Which sort of gives the impression that mostly God was not intervening, but I doubt that is intentional. It has a largely pragmatic tone. Spin free!

I also had a sense of history repeating, with the mention of historic conquests and exiles. One is aware that come the end of chronicles 2, the fall of Jerusalem will be the climax.

It feels like a warm up to modern reader, I have a sense of ‘let’s get on with it’.

I’m in turmoil, stuggling with my own failings, particularly procrastination, my inability to get onto stressful things is frustrating the hell out of me. And thrown me into constant anxiety the last few days.

The insecurity of my position is eating me up somewhat too. The 6 month contract will be up in August, and they are saying they are going to give me another 3 months, but beyond that is very uncertain. Another stressful Christmas!

To prayer!

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1 Chronicles 4

The bald list of descendents of Judah is punctuated with a few small comments and biographical facts. The lists are so meaningless to us now that those facts become very prominent.

Jabez was a good man.

The valley where these people settled became famous for handicrafts.

I remember teachers giving advice about answering exam questions “think about the answers, don’t just write down everything you know”. But when you are preserving what you can of a shattered national culture, a heritage, that is actually the right approach.

I interviewed a woman at work who told how the broken culture of her people was preserved through unlikely magazines designed by the government to help Aboriginal people assimilate, reporting on them and emphasising ways in which they matched expectations of them living a western life. They formed a sort of written social history that is very valuable for people teaching their Aboriginal heritage.

Soi fully understand the value of these lists, building blocks of the identity of Christ and the Jewish nation.

But they don’t make interesting or enlightening reading particularly, taken as I am, daily devotional chunks.

1 Chronicles 3

We get to David’s sons, the princes of Israel.

Then a list of all the kings of his line.

I’ve already seen in a number of places how one of the royal line, Jehoiachin, survived in Babylonian exile after the fall of Jerusalem. This genaeology fills in the post-exile line, up presumably to the time of Ezra when they were rebuilding Jerusalem.

I suppose they could have made another Davidic king, but maybe they had lost the taste for them by then.

So that’s three chapters of lists of names…

1 Chronicles 1

A list chapter, I looked at the commentary daring them to find anything to say about it, they found plenty.

One quote compared it to the emotional effect of a walk though a graveyard, a blur of old names, provoking thoughts of your own identity and mortality.

It dates from Ezra’s time, when the exiled Israelites were allowed to return home and set about restoring their broken culture.

So the lineages were very important to remind themselves of their grand history, plus the religion relied on tribal groups, so it’s vital work for that context.

It also emphasises the connectedness of humanity under the hand of God. Their captors, their enemies, their friends brothers and sisters, all branches of the lines of Adam, Abraham, Noah and the patriarchs. God blessed many nations other than theirs, his plans are both broad and specific. He’s always there, working though it all.

So there’s a lot in a list. The names of past forbears tell you where you came from, yet the fact that they are forgotten tells you about where you most likely be going to as well. Their lives meant no more or less than yours.

It gives you perspective. Grounds us in time and God in eternity.

Jeremiah Overview

This is THE book of judgement. There are a few moments of exultant Messianic promises, but it doesn’t take glorious bonkers flight like Isaiah, so don’t hang out for it.

This is gritty and grim, with the historical events of the fall of Jerusalem during Jeremiah’s lifetime as its backdrop. This central tragedy shapes the material. Its not chronological, its an anthology of responses to and consequences of the immovable central fact of destruction sent by God.

Jeremiah struggles with self loathing, the powers that be try to kill him or control him, the people as a whole never listen. But through it all like tourettes, he keeps speaking and doing street theatre illustrating the truth about justice and judgement that ‘burns in his bones’.

We learn that judgement is universal, it comes to the winners (Babylon) and the losers (all other nations in the region). It comes to enemies and friends, God’s chosen and his not chosen.

God uses our evil to bring his judgement, and he is equal parts sad but determined to carry through in each case. From our perspective that is a hard and basically incomprehensible idea, and I struggle. Though I don’t get to wishing I’d never been concieved, like Jeremiah.

We learn that the only response God wants is to accept it, and keep trusting his revealed character despite it.

People are judged according to their light. The Israelites, who have had the most of God’s nature revealed, receive the harshest rhetoric.

They have not loved God: he extensively compares them to adulterers. And they have not loved their neighbour: they are greedy and harsh to the vulnerable, nothing like the radical model of a generous society set out in Moses’ law.

They keep up the form of temple worship, but it’s all about their hearts. Jeremiah/God uses a metaphor of moldable clay on a potter’s wheel compared to the fired clay of a pot that has outlived is usefulness. One can be reworked, the other only smashed.

There is a lot about Jeremiah’s personal struggles and his temptation to water down his message, as most of the other ‘prophets’ in his era did. To put it in context, he’s like the British propagandists in WW2 who said that resistance to Hitler was pointless, and it would be best for all to surrender… he was not popular, and he hated himself. Even his scribe disliked his place in history.

For a church that feels under siege culturally we should consider that maybe the message is don’t resist, judgement comes to all. Maybe God’s using atheists and haters to judge us, maybe we’re supposed to just accept it. Repentance is about battling ourselves, not our world.

I got a job working for a christian organisation while reading through, a writer for the salvation army. Is it some kind of cruel joke? I don’t think they want a Jeremiah. Or maybe they do.

I certainly feel changes happening in me, more fearless, more connected. I feel a bit like Luke in star wars, turning off the guidance computer and trusting the force. Maybe that’s what it feels like when the law is written on your heart.

His choosing and initial diatribes against Israel, Judah, Jerusalem

1 Jeremiah chosen before birth to be the evidence that God cares during Israel’s darkest hour, lips kissed by God like Isaiah, he’ll be hated and ignored. Me, jobless, in a spin
2 And into the prophesy of doom. Its tragic, beautiful, poetic. Water metaphor (drinking anything but the living water). But I wonder if my concentration will last the distance
3 The whole acknowledge-sin-and-experience-grace story. God is so much more patient than me!
4 First hand terrifying description of the destruction of Northern Kingdom Israel if they don’t repent. I’m charged with finding the slogan for our local church sign. Hmmm
5 Southern Kingdom are almost judged more harshly than the Northern, because they knew better. The people had the temple, and godly kings, but they are hypocritical
6 Jerusalem’s ‘uncircumcised ears’ they are too deaf, too soft for war. And a remnant will be saved, Jeremiah is in pain about the message he has to deliver

Jeremiah’s symbolic grieving: public proclamation, private struggles

7 Symbolic action, standing outside temple, cut hair. Focus on repentance and obedience. Prediction that idol worshipping place will be called valley of slaughter
8 Jeremiah’s despair over failure of the people to respond with even animal level of self protection. I get Salvation Army job
9 Jeremiah laments the denial of Israel’s chosen status, tears rather than judgement
10 He reminds God of his promises, asks for mercy on Israel, justice on other nations
11 God answers Jeremiah, reveals how corrupt the people are, including plotting to kill him. Pattern of hope to hopelessness is emerging.
12 Still Jeremiah argues God’s judgement is not fair. God says there are less good people than he thinks, and a remnant will be restored

2nd symbolic message, and further struggles in the making of a prophet

13 Next symbolic action: ruining a fine garment is like the corruption of the people
14 Jeremiah doubles down on confronting God with his character of love, tries “what about the innocent animals?” and “the people aren’t bad, they were taught bad” God commands him not to pray for them, assures him the bad teachers will be dealt with
15 Jeremiah’s grief for the people, and self pity for his role, reach the point where he wishes he hadn’t been born. God gently tells him to suck it up, be an emotional wall
16 God continues to tell Jeremiah to be emotionally detached so he can bring the message. Comforts him with a ‘remnant’ promise, conquest won’t be the end.

3rd symbol, smashed pot: hard, rebellious hearts fit only for destruction

17 Their problem is their heart, not Babylon . Contrasts 3 images of God’s safety: rest, a tree, a kingdom of peace with the rebellious heart which is eternally restless, deceitful above all things. He gives his to God saying “search it”.
18 Jeremiah vents calling for extra judgement on plotters who want to kill him. Is he going too far? Such intense personal anguish, he’s no detached mouthpiece of God. Sets up a clay metaphor. When it is on the wheel and goes wonky, its still fixable.
19 A message that Judah is out of time. Jeremiah smashes a pot and throws the waste on the city dump: hard clay or hearts can’t be remoulded, are fit only to be destroyed
20 Jeremiah is punished and humiliated because of his message. Keeps preaching, but privately devastated, the message burns in his bones and he wishes he’d not been born

21 The King, facing war, consults Jeremiah but rejects his message of inevitable defeat and call for personal repentance
22 Condemning the King, Jeremiah’s formula for appropriate use of power – care for the vulnerable, right wrongs, avoid innocent bloodshed.
23 the Davidic line will survive. Sharp condemnation of false prophets with weak messages.

Symbol: bad figs and good figs,

24 A prophecy from when some of the people are in exile, they are good, the ones who stayed and don’t accept God’s judgement are like bad figs, will be thrown away.
25 A period of 70 years placed on the exile. Lesson to accept God’s judgement, it will come to all eventually
26 Jeremiah goes on trial with call of death penalty for his message. He doesn’t soften it, just trusts God.

Symbol: wood yoke, accept judgement to gain God’s promise

27 Jeremiah wore a wood yoke to show God uses evil people like King Nebuchadnezzar, whom he calls his servant. Israelites must submit or suffer ‘sword, plague and famine’.
28 A populist prophet snaps the wood yoke. Jeremiah sadly says it will be replaced with iron. A soft gospel only misleads the people.
29 Flash forward to a letter to those in exile, telling them to relax, ride out the exile, put down roots and not resist God’s will
30 A wild storm and hope, a visceral vision of judgement and messianic promise to follow
31 Flash forward 2: a joyous vision of return post exile, God’s been like a father unwillingly witholding love so that lessons can be learned

Scenes from the siege of Jerusalem, the symbolic investment in its future

32 Back to Jeremiah’s persecution during siege. The king is pleading with him to shut it. He symbolically buys a field and hides the deed, a long term investment in Jerusalem.
33 Locked up in the King’s palace, Jeremiah has ‘night and day’ visions of imminent destruction and messianic blessing
34 The people’s desperation during siege. They obey then renege on the old law to set slaves free, they celebrate prematurely a short withdrawal. Jeremiah is consistent: nothing will make any difference.
35 Rechabites, a sect, are an example of obedience. God loves the attitude, not hung up on the specifics.
36 The King burns the word of God’s judgement, paragraph by paragraph, burning hope and truth.
37 Siege coming to a climax, the king’s desperate disastrous moves, Jeremiah thrown in a dungeon to die. Worst of all, Israel has lost its identity.
38 Chaos and blatant self preservation as the siege result becomes inevitable. Only Jeremiah and his rescuer who pulled him out of the well have glory.
39 the nobles and religious leaders run away at the fall of Jerusalem, the gentile who saved Jeremiah from the well is saved

Scenes post siege, the people still haven’t learned, literally return to slavery

40 Jeremiah chooses to stay with the poor stragglers around the remains of Jerusalem. The land still produces, bit peace looks shaky.
41 a violent usurper claiming to be of Davids line upsets the fragile peace in the Babylonia peoplen post conquest order
42 To avoid Babylonian reprisals the remaining Jewish inhabitants of conquered Israel want to run away to Egypt, ironically, but Jeremiah says no.
43 the conquered Israelites run away to Egypt against Jeremiah’s advice, full circle back to Moses, will they never learn, recall bad figs prophesy.
44 Back in Egypt, the people turn to worshipping idols. Jeremiah continues to prophesy that it will lead to death. So no, they will never learn.
45 Jeremiah’s scribe Baruch thought he was destined for better things, but God patiently reminds him not to scorn the gift of life.

Prophesies about other nations

46 Prophesy against Egypt. God loves them too, clearly, they will be conquered but not destroyed.
47 Against Philistine, they will be obliterated.Though they are a traditional enemy of Israel, the tone is sad, judgement is personified as an unresting sword
48 Moab is judged for spiritual staleness, for arrogance and complacency. Again a cruel to be kind quality
49 Five more in one chapter. There is really no attempt to explain God’s relationship to evil as an way of judgement, just the assertion it will ultimately reflect God’s character
50 Babylon’s judgement, a topsy turvy vision of the new, restored Jerusalem and Babylon utterly destroyed, consigned to history. Don’t be too obsessed with politics!
51 God’s use of Babylon as a hammer to break things triggers a sharp look at why I believe any of it. Spoiler: not because it makes sense.
52 Narrative of the fall of Jerusalem, its physical destruction, death of one meaning of it to allow a new meaning, hinted at by the survival of King David’s line.

Jeremiah 52

The book ends with the story of the fall of Jerusalem.

How completely the temple worship of Solomon was discarded, the temple, all other large buildings, demolished and burned. The walls bought down. The expensive bronze, gold and silver, carried away.

The religious, military and ruling elite executed and nearly 5000 of the poorer people led away into exile. That number seems shockingly low. They are called a stump, a remnant, elsewhere. There must have been so much death.

Their culture was broken with the intention of eradicating it from the earth.

The book isn’t chronological, but it’s an appropriate way to end, being reminded that God’s warnings were correct.

The siege lasted two years. That must have been so awful, it’s little wonder they wanted to throttle Jeremiah and his message of inevitable defeat. I mean, he talked about wishing he could stop himself.

It’s a relatively dispassionate history, no poetry this chapter, but they linger poignantly over the splendor of the remaining bits of Solomon’s temple, such as the two giant bronze pillars decorated with pomegranates that defined the grand entrance – plundered and taken to be melted down, no doubt.

And we get the story of the last Davidic king being allowed to live out his days peacefully in Babylon… The only ray of hope, the continuing covenant line that will lead to Jesus.

The fall of Jerusalem is a key story, a bit like the gospel, it’s repeated several times in the Bible, eg: also the last chapter of Kings, etc. The earthly Jerusalem is gone and today they still don’t have it back really. It was a way of describing heaven, God’s rule, his people, his place. This is the hardest part of its evolution from a literal city to mostly a theological idea.

Jeremiah 51

Evil vs evil. Hard chapter.

God uses Babylon as a hammer to smash things.

There is a section of the chapter that is repetitious like a petulant child “with you I break the old, with you I break the young, with you I break farmers, with you I break soldiers” etc. Bang bang bang bang. For a long time.

But the chapter is also about the utter destruction of the hammer. It’s terrifying. Who is this God?

Wave after wave of swirling poetic prophesy, Babylon was God’s golden cup, full of prosperity and overflowing, a drunken party across the nations. But now, run, save yourself, nothing will be left.

(Actually, the use of drunkenness as a metaphor is not at all simple in the Bible. Worth a look one day!)

God is above all, the creator, the ultimate power. And he prefers Judah, Israel above all.

I quickly read in “his people” ie me too. The chosen. But we are all evil.

It’s evil against evil, the Medes, who’ll be stirred up to crush Babylon, all those Babylon’s crushed. The chosen, the unchosen, God above “doing” it all.

How is God love then? Why make creation include evil?

Crisis of faith, what’s going on? Google to the rescue? (Google above all?)

Weak answers to “why create an imperfect world” – “so God’s love could be shown in Jesus?” Really? A bit Munchausen’s syndrome. Create a crisis so you get kudos for fixing it?

Best answer from Baha’i in a short search (!?!!). God made us capable of asking that question but not capable of knowing it’s answer.

There is an order of creation, levels of enlightenment. Minerals have no life. Plants have life, animals have concsiousness, but we have another level of understanding.

And God isn’t just one step above human, he’s many. We never will get it, until he wants us to. There is an answer, but we don’t know it, yet.

Still a bit lame, but the analogy with other forms of being and their inherent concsiousness worked for me.

Two ways to live: believe there is a God that we can’t fully understand, or conclude that because it doesn’t fully make sense there is no God.

The weakness and the cold despair of the second alternative relative to my experience is always what keeps me coming back to belief.

According to Wikipedia’s helpful “demographics of atheism” article, I’m not exactly brave in that conclusion. It me and between 84 – 93% of mankind, though you’d never suspect it living in Sydney’s hipster suburbs.

Jeremiah 50

2 chapters about Babylon. They are having their time of Empire, but where are they now? In history books.

There’s a description of the restored Israel and Judah (together again) where no sin or iniquity can be found because they have been pardoned. I’m thinking of the new Jerusalem in Revelation there.

The is a lot of cinematic stuff, taking you right into the experience of Babylon’s destruction, and the absolute nature of it once it’s over: all gone, desolate.

An encouraging promise to the victims into a world that would not have faintly resembled that. The reality of power would have been the exact reverse.

I love Shelley’s poem “ozymandis”

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

I get a bit too obsessed with politics… Got to learn to despair at the right works.

Jeremiah 49

Ok, Babylon will conquer all the neighbouring kingdoms. 5 prophesies in one chapter.

None are told to repent, it’s just going to happen, there’s nothing they can do.

Two will be inhabited again, the other three it seems to say will never regain their glory.

Often there are intimate pictures of suffering. The palace women running to and fro among the hedges after the king and priests have fled and deserted them. Men paralysed by fear as their camels are led away, their last nomadic security.

Some god loves, such as Damascus. Some like Edom, he talks to in terms of justice… How could you get off lightly when other far more worthy are being destroyed.

The relationship of God and Babylon is hard to understand. Impossible even. Why did he not stop them? Why describe evil as your sword of judgement?

I’ve got to this point many times before in my reading of the Bible.

Someone once described it as trying to understand a tapestry by looking at all the threads in the wrong side… Cross over to the heavenly perspective and you see a beautiful picture.

Non Christians, (those who even bother any more) mock the equation “I don’t know, I just believe”. But that’s pretty much it.