Psalms overview

It’s us, and God.

Us at our most arrogant, berating God, daring him not to love us. At our most complacent, forgetting him over and over. Lost in love of him. Full of awe, and complaints. Suffering, humble. Aware we are nothing without the author of life. Triumphant, wicked, ashamed, repentant. Waiting for God, impatient with him.

God rarely if ever speaks first person in Psalms.

But in praise he is revealed; grand, impossibly powerful, yet tender and loving. Always reminding us to lift up the weak and vulnerable.

In memory he is revealed; faithful, just, keeper of promises. A safe refuge, the ultimate comfort. Pulling the strings of history, and knitting us in the womb. From the eternal we understand the immediate, and by the the quiet waters, we understand the eternal, and pant for it like parched deer.

In visions he is revealed; enthroned, mighty, saviour, king, priest and suffering sacrifice on our behalf.

It’s all here, it’s songs drawn together to tell the whole story of God: Father, Spirit and Messiah. Sin, forgiveness, depending on him in everyday life. It’s a mini Bible.

Solo songs, group songs loud and quiet. All of the emotions, nothing hidden from god. Songs are for catharsis, for healing. They are teaching aids, cheerleader chants, mesmerising dances, shouts of joy, cries from the heart of desperation, anger and of love.

You could spend the rest of your life dipping into Psalms, it’s the way to do it. They can get repetitive, there’s not that much literary structure in how they are arranged as far as I can see (some would passionately disagree)… But their content is structured around the consistency of eternal truths, so they fill out your understanding in every direction.

During the course of reading them it was a little like Jesus’ parable of the sower, some fell by the wayside, but some took hold of my heart. It covered some huge events like losing and getting a job, illness and death, my rising awareness of injustice around me in Australia, fears for the world and for me, big struggles with identity, pride, and how to love those closest to me. The connecting of God’s love to my life, in any circumstances, was profound. They comfort and challenge me.

Like any poetry, you can’t be too destination driven, you have to take it slow, ruminate and let them speak.

Psalms!

Book 1

1 kicking off with the word “blessed” the nourishing stream of God’s word starts to flow, will you be a tree or chaff?
2 Jesus and the father share a joke about kingdoms who invest so much hope in their plotting and planning
3 David asks god to slug his enemies… in love, no doubt. I ask him to slug my problems on a Monday morning
4 seeing the wicked, all David can do is pray that they will be blessed as he has been.
5 calling down punishment on enemies, is like uncensorsed thoughts of us
6 David’s resilience from knowing God. He won’t break no matter how low he goes
7 David’s fears for his deteriorating situation in Saul’s court moves beyond self pity to a lament over sin
8 Childlike wonder over the heavens and the largeness of God compared to man becomes a stronghold against enemies
9 David contemplating that his enemies will pass away gives rise to compassion for those who face God’s judgement
10 a psalm of yearning and personal pain about how the arrogant and ungodly thrive
11 David’s courage as he takes refuge in God rather than hide in the hills from pursuers, and trusts that death will simply bring him face to face with God.
12 about words, lying self seeking ones and the Word that is a balm and a cool drink.
13 a psalm of impatience. God, who is almost jeered into action, is better than Baal at least he exists!
14 longing for evil not to succeed, horrified by it’s power, contemplating original sin.
15 an enduring portrait of a righteous person, still heroic today, simple, easy to pray through
16 David’s contentment uses day and night as metaphors for knowing God during life and eternally, practical help and a satisfied mind.
17 telling God to smite your enemies is not always a violent wish fulfillment. It’s giving them to God. Does he control your enemies, or do they control you?
18 with God I can scale walls. A huge outpouring of love for God as the daughter of a friend of mine fights for her life
19 comparing the heavens and sweetest honey to the law, which if you think about it the content is selflessness, compassion, justice. It’s beautiful, and tells of God as the heavens do.
20 a benediction, wishing good things for the readers, and reminding them to trust God not chariots and horses.
21 celebration psalm, a sequel to yesterday’s. Psalms are moments, about what is, not what should be, it’s very important as a Christian to be like that
22 from self obsession to God obsession, the venting of misery causes an abrupt shift of tone to praise.
23 the most famous psalm knocks down our deepest fears like nine pins.
24 here’s God! Being prepared to meet, experience blessing, on a sad day for a friend with a gravely ill daughter
25 waiting for God… Going deeper into God as a response to panic and pressure
26 the King boasts of living a blameless life. A surprising picture of grace and equality before God
27 David’s seeming military pre-battle psalm is actually about submitting to God, not enlisting God to your side
28 David’s request for earthly punishment of enemies is not a crude undertaking of eternity, is an awareness of an eternal perspective to transform our minds in the present
29 a poem about the wild, chaotic, mighty voice of God ending with a blessing of peace
30 shaking not shaken.. examples of God turning suffering into dancing.
31 earthly salvation connects David to contemplating God’s. This psalm inspired Luther to protest, and has Jesus’ last words. Our times are in his hands
32 feeling the weight of sin compared to feeling forgiven, being enveloped in love, surrounded by songs.
33 psalms are moments, like pop songs. This is a praise moment, to be sung, not overthought.
34 “I will extol the Lord at all times” a praise psalm from desperate need, as I talk to a work colleague with a gravely ill baby daughter
35 bringing grievances about your enemies to God… The right starting place. Longing for justice when living with corrupt power structures.
36 kingly self talk from David… The wise guys, the operators, got it wrong. So much more on offer from casting your lot with God
37 an alphabet acronym psalm comparing righteous with unrighteous life choices, and a bit of encouragement to close. I contrasted that life is complex, things need to be reinforced sometimes daily.
38 a messy unresolved cry of doubt, self pity and guilt
39 David at the extreme of futility and angst, silent to man, inadequate before God
40 bringing problems to God starts to solve them because they lose their power. David is in such a pickle that even after realising this he ends with “don’t delay!”
41 David’s reaction to coups and betrayals by some of those closest to him. Asking for mercy, aware that you are a sinner yourself

Book 2

42 like a deer panting for water, this aches with longing and sadness “deep calls to deep” – deep misery, deep love of God
43 the delicate matter of challenging God to vindicate you via a vis your enemies, based on his revealed character.
44 Understanding frustration to God. When God seems “asleep”… It can actually be a time of mercy
45 an idealised bride and groom is like the Messiah and the chosen people, a giddy happy wedding day psalm about heaven
46 God’s presence in the chaos of life… Though mountains shake and crumble, be still and remember your creator
47 proclaiming God king of all nations. Is this a universalist theology, was it on hold until Jesus sent out missionaries? I speculate at length
48 the glory of knowing we are saved, now. It throws evil into chaos. It bought peace for a generation of Israel, and can buy peace for ours
49 highlight of old testament revelation: eternal life through God’s is worth more than all the wealth of the world. It’s old news, theologically, to us, yet money still has us in an iron grip.
50 A two pronged critique aimed at believers. Don’t hope in your rituals to earn God’s approval or grace. And your hypocrisy serves to deny God’s grace to his people, it is most publically judged

– David: sinner, outcast, King 51-72

51 Penitence. Acknowledging the whole ugliness to God means experiencing the whole beauty of forgiveness and renewal
52 a moral exploration David comparing himself to Doeg, an opportuniatic henchman of Saul. How is he different? Another penitential psalm of sorts.
53 Preparing for battle David observes corruption on both sides. Handing God your fear, giving him the result is the key.
54 Prayer that starts as a scream of emotion, and the process of saying it starts to unpack it. David pursued by Saul
55 now king David, surrounded by political betrayers, he’d like to escape to an empty desert, but casts his problems on the Lord
56 psalms of David’s problems, this self talk leads from physical aid to the assurance of his salvation. I go the other direction, from heaven to job seeking prayers.
57 A night in a cave to a glorious morning, David feels the protection then sings for joy
58 one of those bloodthirsty psalms, I compare a sincere love of justice with jealousy of winners, or vindictiveness. It has its place, were allowed to enjoy it
59 David’s reaction to first being hunted by Saul. First finding safety, then vindication, then in the morning, love of God.
60 going into battle aware of God’s size and his ownership of the outcome… The nations are his shoe rack, his hand basin. That’s how big he is!
61 David in anguish, stuck in a loop, up all night, praying the same thing over and over and asking “how long, how long”. Thinking of him, and of me, I thank God for his patience.
62 In the face of palace intrigue, David finds strength in his weakness – describes himself as a tottering fence – knock me over, have it all, the rock is my calm, the two great commandments my law
63 David lost in the desert, parched, gets quite trippy, lost in God’s love
64 David’s psalm about treachery makes me happy I have so little in my life
65 praising God’s blessing, what he does more than who he is, but using the spreading fingers of sustenance, the rivers, and the abundance of the harvest, to celebrate God’s character.
66 In praise of God’s salvation, via Jews, abundantly for all nations. Reading it on the day of a vile anti semitic attack in the U.S.
67 Even “the chosen people” praise the god of all nations, assigning the truth of their monotheism. It’s like sunshine, the world is under control
68 Grand processional psalm for the arrival of the ark in Jerusalem. Zooms through great moments in their history, calls blessing on the city
69 an emotional journey though despair. David is a suffering king here, his emotional nature made him a figure of fun. There are messianic echoes, but adding to it is his sense of his own sin.
70 This psalm escapes the complexity that engulfed 69. Pleas for help beginning and end sandwich practical and eternal salvation
71 My life is easy compared to David’s hunted one. I toy with the idea that my faith is a huge example of confirmation bias, and conclude that I don’t care.
72 A beautiful and poignant picture of an ideal king, who gives glory to God. Rich in the gentle and abundant love shown by caring for the poor and vulnerable

Book 3

– Remembering 73-80

73 Greedy selfish immoral people can seem beautiful, successful and glamorous. God promises to be sufficient.
74 When God is silent about terrible events, crying to him on others behalf is, ironically, a work of the spirit.
75 the challenge to be honest about god’s judgement.
76 Recalling the glory days of Israel, but calling on the deeper blessing of God that is larger than their rises and falls
77 Continuing the theme of remembering, the chaos of current times of compared to the wild sea and god’s protection to the escape from Egypt through the sea.
78 reviewing the whole history of god’s people, how wild and yet how patient is God
79 it’s ok to tell God things are not living up to his promises, to challenge him on the basis of his character.
80 The fall of the northern Kingdom, and a plea for it’s restoration. The answer was no, in it’s literal sense
81 sing joyfully to God. A festival Psalm to cheer myself into a new year of work despite uncertainty.
82 the “gods” of earth vs God. Jehovah is above all. Our gods are a bit broken. Maybe they are the ones we know before we know God.
83 frustration with enemies, I apply it to crafting a Christian message for modern australia.
84 singing about the loveliness of God’s dwelling place, longing to be in god’s presence
85 from a time of distress, remembering god’s mercy in the past, an extended image of blessing coming down, fruitfulness and praise reaching up
86 a pile of praise phrases as David gets lost in God. I call alignment of your mind to God “good brainwashing” because you discover your humanity, free your identity.
87 about Zion, metaphor for salvation, the city of God I miss out on a job, but glory in this citizenship
88 the saddest Psalm, full of pain and doubt that god is listening. But full of faith as well
89 misery wrapped both ends in praise. Clinging to God’s eternal truth when it seems impossible

Book 4

90 numbering our days. Moses’ Psalm about our sense of eternity giving our lives a span and a context animals never have
91 A warm cocoon of god’s love and protection, worn by soldiers, made complete by the truth about eternity
92 Praise Psalm about god’s faithfulness over the long game: we are trees. The grass may seem to have more spectacular growth short term, but we see it come and go.

– Enthronement Psalms 93-100

93 A vision of God in heaven, enlarging their understanding of God’s geographical rule and timelessness.
94 God’s two responses to evil, discipline or destruction. Discipline is better
95 Venite, do not harden your hearts, a praise Psalm with a sting in the tail, waiting for Jesus.
96 A new song, for all nations, a perfect sequel to yesterday’s despair in Psalm 95. Ends with judgement that is liberation from injustice.
97 A Psalm about God’s global reign, describes the truth of his power in terms that were true at the start of the gospel sorry are engaging true today, years after being written, in ways the psalmist couldn’t have imagined.
98 A joyous Psalm, all is creation singing for joy, trees clapping etc, another (!) New song
99 God enthroned, and memories of his great deeds through Moses, Jacob, Aaron and Samuel.
100 About being god’s sheep, he owns us, he’s good, he’s faithful. Don’t think of praise as unrealistic, think of it as a moment of joy to carry you through the contradictions.
101 David’s high standards for his kingship. He didn’t keep them, but he was about the best they ever had. It is about the value of absolute in a compromised world, as long as you are humble about it
102 The smashed, exiled Israel is compared to a lonely vulnerable bird, but then prophesy is recalled to find encouragement
103 An airy, spacious praise song, the size of God, the distance he’s rejoice our sin from us, the eternal blessing and abundance
104 A celebration of God’s teeming endlessly varied creation, like a response to genesis
105 Promises made, premises kept. A review of Israel’s history.
106 God’s promises defy our lack of consistency. The history again, focusing on the people rather than God.

Book 5

107 Four examples of God’s saving power, grandly written, Isaiah like messianic passages of blessing and judgement
108 a join of Psalm 58 and 60, both about God being big and the key word: steadfast.
109 Very strong curses prayed about enemies. It the right thing to do with them. The well of anger in your heart, laid on the altar, stops owning you.
110 Amazing comparison of David’s military machine to the kingdom god will establish though the world with the Messiah, king and priest forever.

– Passover and novelty Psalms 111-119

111 Pure praise, which I compare to my love of pure pop. God, help me smile, help me relax and get on with the stuff I need to do.
112 this and 111 are a pair, both alphabet acrostics, “sun and moon”: one is god’s glory, the second his glory reflected in us. It’s about life being better with God
113 a Psalm for Passover, praising that God lifts up the lowly. Salvation so often works as practical and spiritual
114 ‘when Israel came out of Egypt’ Passover Psalm about physical and spiritual salvation, creation bending, dancing, to save God’s chosen people
115 A praise Psalm that makes me think about the value of praise for focusing on god’s true character, not a made up version
116 Psalm calls for humble acceptance of god’s gift of salvation, it is the service god would like us to render. I draw parallels with Australia’s history particularly failure to make a treaty with the Aboriginal people, as this Psalm was the first text preached.
117 The middle chapter of the whole Bible, very short: everybody praise god’s love. I note that statistically fewer and fewer Australians are praising God. But it remains true.
118 The rejected rock becomes the enduring cornerstone of god’s architecture, a profound truth that stays constant through many different circumstances of rejection
119 A detailed, personal appreciation of god’s law, showing how it reveals god’s character, pointing to the Messiah, but also passionate and messy, pleaing to God for help.

– Songs of ascents 120-134

120 Longing for Jerusalem, means longing for peace, resisting the malice of enemies. We can’t be complacent, because they are for war.
121 living the Christian life, eyes on the hill, feet on the ground. Each step towards loving God with all your heart is a step toward loving all people more perfectly. The two greatest commandments align
122 Jerusalem as the place of peace, imagined here by David before the temple was ever built. My holy city is evoked in context by thinking about the simple word “peace”
123 standing as slaves before God, fearing him but remembering his promises of mercy. Unique sense of unresolved tension.
124 David remembers examples of god’s saving grace in the past, and points it to god’s nature, and the salvation of all the world in the eternal plan
125 Jerusalem is a picture for being enveloped in god’s love. I wonder about god’s love and those outside the holy city
126 The lords promise to turn weeping to joy, initially for the returned exiles, then in the kingdom of the Messiah. It’s here but not complete. When lord, when?
127 Building a godly household, I settle for the praying rather than achieving this on earth
128 A promise of blessing in earth and heaven and I contemplate the role of gentleness in that
129 Israel’s identity as survivers, the confidence to feel sorry for your oppressors
130 Knowing god’s forgiveness, but desperately waiting for Gods plan in a crisis. The waiting is not resolved, but it becomes about the power of hope.
131 Humility as focus, a prayer to stop ambition controlling you like a baby
132 in praise of David’s thone and the city of God. Today the increase of that Kingdom is the increase of God in my heart
133 Unity. Compares to calming oil with finest perfume and most verdant productive rural conditions. I experience a lot of toxic discord, but pray for the calm
134 Literally in praise of the priests who keep sacrifices going though the night at the temple, I take it as symbolising resilience though the hard times
135 Reasons to praise God… Past present and future. I apply to my situation.
136 His love endures forever. Repeated many times with examples. A great mantra of the core of God’s character.
137 The people of Israel being asked to sing for their conquerors. The challenges of sanctifying raw emotion
138 God above all others. Is it him or is it his love? A positive psalm praising god’s character
139 David asks God to search him, go before him and behind, side by side in life, and all around in the universe, in the womb before he was born and after he dies
140 From asking God to smite enemies because of his own fear, to wanting God to protect the weak and vulnerable
141 David considering rebukes by God of his enemies with a mix of schadenfreude and awareness of his own dependence on grace.
142 The lord is enough (our portion) for whatever life has to offer. I consider the need to step up to some of my own problems, confident in the lord
143 the middle of the night prayer, when everything seems impossible, opens up the biggest awareness of god’s grace
144 David’s prayer in preparation for war is not “God be on our side” it’s longing for abundance of blessing and knowing he has no strength apart from god’s will.

– Five hallelujahs

145 David’s praise of God expanding beyond the borders of his kingdom. Everything he knows and loves about God.
146 God is eternal, God is good. A cheer chant for god’s gentleness towards the vulnerable.
147 Praising God who doesn’t always act as we expect, chooses some to be drawn to him and some to be hard hearted.
148 Praising God in heaven and earth. Because he is eternal, and because praise draws us to him, strengthens our bonds.
149 Recognising that praise of God inherently means recognising the limited span of rule and time of vengeance that will come upon earthly rulers.
150 praise God in the holy places… And everywhere else, everything living. Playing the loudest music you can, with singing and dancing.

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Malachi Overview

There’s that time in a relationship. Your partner or maybe your boss says “we have to talk”.

You are going to be dumped, or they have reached the end of their tether in some way. You are going to be fired. This book is sort of that talk between God and man. Yep, the old testament ends like that.

There’s lots of specific examples raised by God, of the people’s selfishness, injustice to each other and contempt for him. He finds the priests particularly toxic, because they are the people’s best hope to be taught better, but they are self serving and corrupt.

The people and the priests are so far from seeing his point of view that most of their responses are combative and belligerent. They throw God’s accusations back at him: “you haven’t loved us”, “you haven’t been fair or just to us”.

God sounds cynical, tired ‘You have wearied the Lord with your words.‘ he says at one point.

As the talk wears on, God goes from illustrating their inadequacies to saying what he’s going to do about it. Queue the searing fire and judgement. But his promise means he won’t forget them entirely still. ‘I never change’ he says, remembering the covenant.

He has a scroll with the names of the few who still have honest hearts, the little remnant of faithfulness, who are like gold to him. I thought: this is what Jesus referred to when he talked about storing up treasure in heaven.

The coming of the Messiah is both the sun that announces the change of season and the fire that burns up all that cannot stand before him. It’s like the saving Jesus and Judgement day Jesus rolled into one.

It ends with a promise of yet a further opportunity to repent: Elijah – does it refer to Jesus or John the Baptist? No wonder the disciples kept talking about Elijah. But it turns out he meant “an Elijah”.

The abiding image for me, the takeaway if you will, is not to give God shit.

This refers to God’s dialogue with the priests. For kickbacks, they allow the people to sacrifice the sick, weak animals that are worthless to them anyway. It stops it being any kind of sacrifice, it’s become a worthless animal disposal service.

Then they don’t even sacrifice them right. When God says he will rub the dung of their offerings in their faces, it’s because there shouldn’t be any. The system is supposed to have various processes to refine the offering so that God got the best, which he described as a sweet smell. The poo was supposed to be burned off already by the time it got to the final altar in the holy-of-holies.

And so with our Christianity. We don’t sacrifice animals, but God is interested in our hearts. Don’t give him shit.

1 years after the return to Jerusalem from exile, indifference has set in. The people are giving so little really to God, they may as well close the temple and give up.

2 expanding on the corruption of the priests, comparing Levi, the patriarch of the clan. They are pushing their own agenda, their own power, not servants of God. All believers are now priests.. simple application!

3 God speaks with cynicism and tenderness, like the end of a bad relationship where promises to improve can’t be believed. Jesus, the Messiah, breaks though the gloom like the sun, but the heat may be too much.

4 I rate the last chapter of the old testament 85% bleak. Uncomfortable shifts from tender to terror persist to the last verse, the evil of mankind creates an urgency we don’t often feel.

Zechariah Overview

A complex book of wild visions for important times, when Israel was returning to their land after exile and being influenced by Assyrian or Persian culture.

But barely contained to that context, with many scenes familiar from Christ’s story, and some that are still mysterious about the role of the Jews and the apocalypse.

I took from it how precious God’s love is, despite its abundance. The cost of it.

How God calls us, moves history around us.

The terror and grace of the days of the Lord, the days when his plans become unavoidable.

The small things we do now can help shake the foundations of the universe.

1 The harsh world that exiled Israel is no more. Persia has replaced Assyria, and the world is at peace, Israel’s turn to benefit.

2 a dream of measuring the actual and future Jerusalem of God’s promises. In God’s plan and timing will come restoration for Israel, retribution for their oppressors, and ultimately a promise of saying grace for all nations.

3 More dreams. Forgiveness: high priests dirty clothes replaced with clean. Salvation: Israel as a burning stick grabbed from the fire, portents of a future greater salvation for all.

4 A dream of the first stones of the temple. Small things can become earth shakers

5 A woman in a flying basket, a flying scroll.. a dream of purification of Israel from Persian culture ready to be God’s people again

6 Four horsemen announce God’s control rather than the chaos of revelation. A vision of the king and priest turns messianic as two branches of a tree become one exams figure

7 the people want to return to rituals low fasting to please God, bit he asks them rather to live lives of genuine mercy and collision instead.

8 A promise that God’s favour will make the Jews the most loved little in the planet fullfilled in us? No place for apologies or negativity, we are the blessed

9 Predictions of the near and far future, wars with Greece and the Messiah on a donkey, framed by the might of Jehovah in lightning and thunder, judging and blessing all nations

10 Once were lost, now are found, a song of love for the two kingdoms of Israel in God’s first person voice. A promise to heal the split.

11 God as shepherd of Israel, two staffs, favour and union, were broken. They sold their blessing for silver. God speaks to himself is their salvation: being the Trinity here, Messiah is part of the conversation.

12 The day of the Lord, Jews miserably aware of how much they need forgiveness: they pierced the side of the Messiah (!?). Also the envy and the stumbling block of the world. It’s us, believers. Now it’s the day of the Lord.

13 More day of the Lord. Judgement will consume two thirds, and push the surviving third to the limit. I get survivor guilt for my cheap grace.

14 An apocalyptic battle. Is it Calvary? The end of Time? I take from it lessons about the pain and value of grace, and that even the worst day is still a day of the Lord.

Haggai Overview

Haggai’s message is about how the truth about the future should inspire and disturb priorities in the present.

It’s set late-ish in the Israelite’s story, after Babylon has smashed their land and culture, and Persia has taken over Babylon’s Empire with a more reasonable approach of letting the Israelites resettle Jerusalem and re-establish their religion.

Haggai is a player in Nehemiah, the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

He tells the truth, based on revelation of God in the scriptures from the past: the people are rebuilding their houses and not the temple. It’s a call to reversal of their beliefs, but just re-occupation of their homeland.

Then when they are hypocritical, he tells a parable based on Levitical infection laws, saying their greedy morality will infect the house of God, and that rather the task wild infect then to revisit their own standards.

They are disappointed at the size of the new temple compared to the grandeur of Solomon’s. Again he turns to scripture, but this time to point to the future, the revelation of the Messiah and the covenant, that their temple and their Pele would be the Salvation of the world, God’s blessing poured out.

Trust his word. Obey. Don’t worry that what you are doing seems pathetic, God uses love for him, sincere faithful responses to the moment, in ways we can’t imagine.

Use what you know of God to make your contriburion to making the moment match what he has promised the future will be like.

1 is time! To build the temple. They may think they can’t afford it, but you never do think you can afford God if your priorities are wrong

2 they may think the temple is a shadow of its former self, but God will use their willingness to do what they can, their obedience, in ways they can’t imagine.

Micah Overview

It’s a bit about how God uses calamity to reconcile or sinful natures with his promises.

It alternates condemnation of how utterly self serving and corrupt Judah has become with promises of future blessing.

Bad leaders, corrupt prophets who tell lies for reward rather than truth. Compared to the remnant, the ignored but sincere few on whom the future will be built.

The empty religious practices compared to lives that display actual justice, humility and mercy.

The city of Jerusalem, which will be destroyed, compared to the new Jerusalem, to which all peoples will be invited.

God, speaking through Micah, links this series of contrasts, saying one is needed for the other. He puts himself on trial to argue why he must bring destruction on the corrupt society in order that the promise of the covenant to Abraham, of a vast outpouring of blessing, could be kept.

It’s an argument about God needing to be cruel to be kind… Or is it using the cruelty to bring about kindness? Strongly messianic, rather like a mini Isaiah. Though the scene of God arguing his own case seems rather unique to this book.

I thought a lot about the siege mentality of the modern church, responding to losing its influence by trying to wrest the power and prestige back, rather than accepting that from the remnant comes the blessing, Jerusalem has to be destroyed to be rebuilt, in a paradigm we won’t recognise. From tiny Bethlehem comes the King.

1 A prophesy to the southern kingdom, Judah. They have been worshipping Samaritan Gods. This asserts the power and might of Jehovah to melt the ground like wax if he wishes.

2 the easy part verses the narrow path, those who like the shallow populist prophets, some particularly evil and exploitative people.

3 Judah is a corrupt kingdom. They follow the shape of religion, bit the people are starving from inequality. I muse on God’s use of kingdoms.

4 let God make Christianity great again, not us. A vision of Jerusalem as God sees it, a comfort that all is not lost though the present is so uninspiring.

5 a further vision of Judah laying waste to the Assyrians.. a wonderful promise, a change of power. And it comes from Bethlehem, a wonderfully prescient vision.

6 be just, love mercy, walk humbly. It’s like God puts himself on trial to ask if he is loving

7 sweetness and sorrow longing for summer fruit when the people are like briars and thorns, lacking kindness, everyone for themselves. Micah decides to wait for God instead, queue messianic visions.

Jonah Overview

Such a great book about loving your enemies. So well told.

How good a starting place is Jonah’s attempt to escape his God-given mission?

How great an ironic picture of winding up with nothing but God is his prayer from the belly of a fish?

Then the rhetorical conclusion: aren’t you glad when I show mercy to your enemies? Your brutal oppressors? Sure I took away your umbrella, but that’s not the important thing here …is it?

I LOVE THIS BOOK. What it shows of God’s patience and mercy.

To the wicked… and to those who supposedly love him. To the proud: Jonah, and anyone prepared to be humbled: king of Nineveh.

So gentle, so funny really. Ending with God’s lesson in how to preach to the converted: just ask questions.

Its comes back to me often, it’s a really acutely clear, easy to follow yet nuanced, counterintuitive, revelation about God’s love.

1 Jonah, unwilling prophet, escaping God on a boat. A wild storm from God: he realises he must be thrown overboard, and the fish gets him.

2 prayer from a fish, from anything but God to nothing but God, praise as life ebbs away, then vomitted to dry land

3 Jonahs message saves Nineveh, the Assyrian capital He hates it, he’d rather love God’s justice than his mercy.

4 Jonah, camped out for the schadenfreude show of Israel’s enemies destroyed, instead witnesses mercy plus God kills the plant giving him shade! Ends with God rhetorically questioning his ‘right’ to anger

Amos Overview

It is a book about recalcitrance. Amos is called from nowhere to deliver a message to a complacent, greedy, prosperous, lazy populace.

Not interested.

He’s the meat in the sandwich between them and God. As the chapters wear on he pleads with the people to take his ever more desperate cries seriously; and with God not to be too harsh on them because they are weak and can’t take it.

Fire and locusts arrive in chapter 7, and worse in the unremittingly bleak 8. But they just turn on him.

It is about being distinctive, standing out from the morality around you. Their gospel is not Jesus, yet, but justice and fairness, and respect for Jehovah. They don’t respond, they are indistinguishable from the surrounding cultures that have no special revelation of God.

But, as the book ends in the inevitable destruction, the death that comes to us all, there’s a hope held out of a new promise of abundant blessing to all nations.

Death terminates our time on earth for all of us. Use it to respond, be prayerful and courageous no matter how lowly you are

1 Amos is an angry shepherd, telling the neighbouring countries they have tried God’s patience too long. This concrete truth telling now also exists as spiritual truth telling in our hearts

2 condemns Moab, Judah, and then at the centre, and closest to his heart, Israel. They have a lazy, greedy corruption. He compares them to a cart, bogged down in sin, going nowhere.

3 complaining about the deep complacency of the Israelites, easy application: how saved do WE behave?

4 prosperous Israelites living in Samaria will face full on judgement, they’ll turn to their false gods but they won’t help.

5 It’s like parent talk, trying everything to try and get a recalcitrant child to obey. Good just wants us to be decent

6 God wants us to be distinct from those around us. The Israelites were no different from those around them, not “grieved for the affliction of Joseph”

7 Amos’ prayer and courage. His prayer is a catalyst for God’s mercy when the people are punished with locusts and fire. Then the King blames him, and he courageously speaks the truth: he’s a nobody sent by God.

8 His bleakest vision, end of the line, they’ve wasted all their chances of repentance. I contemplate that you must disturb.

9 the inevitability of destruction, God riches the earth and it melts. A small ray of hope talks about a restored City, abundance for all nations that will not fail. We die, God’s eternal, trust him.

Joel Overview

Israel has a terrible plague of locusts. Joel brings a depth of theological study of the old testament scriptures to discuss the problem.

First he writes eloquently and at length about the plague. He did not want to seem unsympathetic, even though he has a much more complex story to tell.

On a simple level, he tells them to repent. The temple has stopped functioning with the plague, but he tells everyone to pray to God for mercy.

His scripture study uses the locust situation to launch into cosmic revelations about God.

God has an army of judgement that is like the dark cloud of locusts, but much worse.

God’s call to repentance is much broader than just the short term problem. He wants to love them, he’s slow to anger and quick to forgive, joel reminds them, quoting exodus.

And he promises prosperity, many times more than what they lost in the plague, if they will learn from the suffering to rely on him, to swallow their pride.

So having said there is a whole spiritual dimension: of judgement and forgiveness, that is so much more significant than the physical coming and ending of the plague, he then uses scripture to look further into the future of God’s blessing.

He sees the plague like army of God bringing justice to all nations. Judgement of the whole world.

And rather than a just time of prosperity, he sees all creation remade, a new Eden.

And rather than just forgiveness, he sees the spirit, poured out, living in our hearts. God dwelling with us, but in a temple.

So by looking at God’s saving promises, Joel sees hope, to encourage the sufferers of the locust plague, but also on a cosmic and global scale.

One of the ways he links the ideas is by talking about the day of the Lord. Which is coming, which will seem unendurable, like the plague, but will end with justice and creation made new, and God’s dwelling being with man. It’s all about timing, and not despairing in the present.

So allow God his time, his days. Accept his judgement, trust his justice.

When things seem impossible, trust in the day of the Lord. It’s terrible, it’s wonderful. Who can endure it? Those on whom the spirit is poured, those who use God’s judgement to rend their hearts, not just their clothes.

Is climate change a day of the Lord? Is the church, bruised and damaged by scandal and irrelevance, heading for a day of the Lord? It is in his hands.

1 A dramatically described locust attack

2 the locust attack it’s not gods preference. He wants to pour out his spirit. This passage is quoted at Pentecost.

3 a worse judgement than the locusts is coming, but also a day of justice. Rend your hearts, not your clothes, it’s all about the heart.

Song of Songs overview

This book is 100% love poetry seemingly designed for performance with a male and female couple, and a chorus of ‘daughters of Jerusalem’ and/or family and friends. There is a lot of the female voice, perhaps the highest percentage-wise of any book in the bible: she’s either speaking or being spoken of.

It’s famous for not having a clear narrative structure. But there are themes that run through, and patterns.

It’s bracketed beginning and end with a sense of a young girl contemplating love. Perhaps it’s all the memory of a girl who’s been though it, provided as advice or learning about love. About being determined to love on your own terms, without shame, deeply, wonderfully and satisfyingly.

When this theme returns in the last chapter it’s stronger: a great song of praise to the burning power of love …and a proto-feminist determination not to be exploited by it.

The chapters between are about an affair: love found & lost, found & lost; then found and kept. The old one two three, each cycle more intense.

There is a metaphor of the girl as a vineyard, that becomes a shared garden of love; then a village, a kingdom in spring. Then back to taking about a vineyard again in the last chapter.

Spring is announced with urgency. They go regularly to check the budding of blossoms. The boy invites her several times to run away to it. Nature is used as an escape, to evoke being wild and free and uninhibited, and then at turns the nurture of mother and family.

The contrast of the tended, walled garden, having it scents fanned out by the wind, escaping to nature; runs through.

Food, scents, ripe fruit, spices.. it’s heavy with this imagery. It’s a rich and heady feast of love!

God isn’t mentioned once. But the love is too perfect for this world. It’s embraced enthusiastically as part of the created order. The cycle of growing and maturing, leaving your parents and joining to another, and the gender equality of it all took me back to Eden, the male and female both being imprints of God’s image.

And by extension to all that is revealed about the love of God from fall to reconcilation. The way that lovers’ obsession becomes a little beautiful universe of their own, is a little picture of God’s obsession with us in the actual universe.

I’m at a tired time of life. This goaded me, almost against my will, to look afresh at the two most important relationships in my life, my God and my own beloved Kelly. It left me dreaming of running away to the spice laden mountains.

1 poetic images of young love given a biblical context which I face uncertainly, praying for passion myself.

2 their love as a banquet and running though the hills. An unattainable dream of life that drives you to think of God’s promise of perfect love

3 about searching for love and not giving up til you’ve found the real thing, which is like our spiritual life too.

4 the giving and recieving of praise of the girl by her beloved. An image of strong and equal passion

5 she plays a bit hard-to-get and instantly regrets it. Exploring the profound connections between romantic love and God’s love in scripture

6 back together, a two chapter description of the girl’s beauty and their love. Here it’s intimate, overwhelming and grand. It’s spring, a garden, a private kingdom. I get overwhelmed.

7 the girl dances, the praise of her becomes more physical until they jump into love making. Love is their universe

8 a return to the themes of the opening chapters, praise of the burning power of love and being wise about who and when you love.

Ecclesiastes overview

I thought I would enjoy this, and I did. Also, I read it mostly in a week when I was on holidays so, for better or worse, the reduced time pressure allowed more rumination than usual.

It’s the antidote to proverbs: for when you are good and diligent, and you get nowhere. For when the lazy cheaters are rewarded while your life sucks.

The book piles up examples of life not making sense, promising a lot but not delivering, and God and eternity being obscure.

By about half way through it has plumbed the depths of despair. But the unsparing honesty of the venting allows a happy ending of sorts.

You may as well enjoy the good bits of life while you can, and wisdom, once you have identified its limits, does have a role in giving us the context of god and eternity. Enriching our enjoyment of being God’s creation, within his creation, and helping us accept aging and death.

One of the bloggers I follow said she regarded the whole book as an instruction to relax, I loved that.

This book has kept me sane when God and life seem not to make sense for many years. I love that God put it in the Bible. Jesus came to earth to show us God understands and loves us on a deep level. This book reaches forward in trust to that empathy. “Remember your Creator” the teacher says in the end. I will, aware that my creator remembered me.

1 Life is a circle, no progress. I consider the pros and cons of reading this book now
2 Pleasure, achievement, success. Eternity makes all of them insubstantial. I consider authorship, structure, and the meaning of “meaningless”
3 A time for everything under heaven, how having eternity in our hearts is a mixed blessing. Great chapter!

Observations

4 Justice, work, relationships, fame. Observations of the limits of all leave the teacher deeply unsatisfied.
5 Don’t promise, don’t question, don’t dream. The often unsatisfying nature of religious and intellectual pursuits. Better to be a simple worker, flopping exhausted to bed at the end of the day
6 Wealth and fate – when wealth leaves you wishing you hadn’t been born, and how even when fate delivers good things, the randomness of it feels vulnerable

Reflections

7 We’re all going to die, happiness is inane, sex is a trap, why frustration is good for you and other happy thoughts.
8 Railing against the randomness of life, wisdom can help in good times and bad
9 Quite a focussed conclusion to the problem that wisdom doesn’t always work as nearty as it could: death is the great leveller, it’s still better to be wise.
10 Since it’s better to be wise, a series of proverbs. A retreat from some of the negativity we’ve been through.

Conclusions

11 Concludes the list of proverbs with some thematically appropriate ones about coming to terms with randomness and starts a poem about wisely enjoying life when you can
12 Finishes the poem about youth lived wisely but enjoyably by vividly, but with calm resignation, describing old age and death. His ending refrain is “remember your creator”. Then the narrator wraps it up.

I wrote this song a few years back with my daughter based on Ecc. 3:11… what a pleasure to collaborate!