Zephaniah overview

The first chapter is about the day of the lord, the coming judgement that will disrupt everything. The second, reasons why God will judge various neighbouring countries. Chapter three: why Jerusalem too is being harshly judged. Plus hope: judgement will be a purifying process. Gathering the humble remnant of those faithful to God will be the catalyst for God’s love and mercy to bless all nations.

It is like a neat three chapter template of prophesy. It is the last prophesy book I will read in this trip though the Bible, so the elements are familiar to me.

I linked the day of the lord to losing my job, just for the sense of facing harsh realities. I don’t think there is a direct cause and effect between my sin and losing my job, but it really is the same through the prophets.

Despite the seemingly simple narrative of literal this-for-that sin and punishment, I don’t that is what these are. They are more an urgent but universal message of the theology of evil, consequences and the eternal demands of justice. I think the ‘day of the lord’ is a way of explaining God’s timing, of bridging temporal and eternal perspectives. It is a deadline, for the patience of the oppressed and the repentance of the oppressors.

I linked the list of judgements on other nations, AND the chosen nation of Israel to rejecting the idea that God is political, is on anyone’s side. There is an equality to both the hubris and consequences of evil and the hope of purifying grace.

I linked the discussion of the chosen people of Israel to recent tensions over race. To the challenge, to the parts of us that are humble, that are witnesses to Christ’s spiritually transforming salvation, to be the presence of God in an evil world.

So I experienced Zephaniah as a series of triggers as personal events, and public pain unfolded. To remember the calm of eternity and the urgency of time. God’s eternal truth: there will be justice, there will be love. Bought into moments seemingly of chaos. A disrupting noise to compete with, cut through, the daily noise. An urgent message, to focus on what is lasting.

1 Zephaniah predicts the day of the Lord, when everything will be swept away. A familiar prophetic vision, but more absolute than I am used to.

2 Judgement is called out on Israel’s neighbours. But God doesn’t side with Jerusalem either. God is not political.

3 On Jerusalem: judgement for the hollow, idolatrous leadership, and hope, for the humble remnant who honour God

Habakkuk overview

A pretty classic human to God interaction here. Habakkuk is a prophet, so the conversation is actually a revelation of God to him for the benefit of the nation of Israel, and by extension the entire family of believers through the ages.

Habakkuk asks God about evil – God mentions that the present evil will soon be swallowed up by a larger evil, Babylon. So Habakkuk asks God how seemingly using evil to judge evil could be consistent with Yaweh’s holy character.

God reveals that evil matters so deeply, more deeply than Habukkuk can imagine, and justice will come.

Habukkuk accepts and believes, singing a song of praise to the victory that will come and undertaking to rejoice through the hard times that precede it.

As simple as this is, it says that our faith requires us to let God pull down the shutters on a host of complex questions about why there is evil, and how holiness can come through evil. Jesus would answer that to an extent, but there’s no denying that big questions do remain for believers. God tells us here to substitute faith for further enquiry about that.

And Habukkuk’s response, to trust and to praise God whatever befalls us, is easier said than done. St Paul puts it that Christians are to appear like fools to their culture. Its irrational.

That said, I was contemplating the other day the well researched default to optimism of human minds. A normal psychology ignores the balance of evidence to remain positive. To realistically appraise the facts of life and live in existential angst indicates a statistically abnormal psychology.

I wondered if there is an innate sense of God programmed into that response. The response that has parents say to children, when facing death and the depths of disaster “its going to be alright”.

Reading this book I was relieved and reminded that my christian faith is still the most persuasive option going, and I feel that God has revealed himself to me.

Despite misgivings in the moment sometimes (how often have I been bleak about my career/family’s future/the world in these pages?) … despite all that, I have no trouble believing in the Father, the mighty Lord of creation, the sacrificial love and grace given to me through the Son and the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit. It’s going to be alright.

1 Habakkuk complains about the evil around him. When God responds that Babylon will fix it, H. asks God to account for how his character of holiness is compatible with the cycle of evil

2 God promises justice – no evil will go unpunished, that he is more aware than any of the consequences of evil in creation

3 H. responds to this revelation with a song of praise to a victorious God, before whom mountains quake, and says that no matter how bad things get, he will praise God

Nahum overview

A very specific prophesy promising that God will judge the cruelty and evil of the Assyrian empire when the capital, Nineveh, falls.

It was written as a comfort no doubt, to remind the Jews, feeling abandoned by their Lord, that God is still in control.

There is a passing reference to God’s character of being merciful, in chapter one. It also promises that he is slow to anger, but once the anger comes, once God is against you, there is no power in heaven or earth can resist the coming judgment and justice.

Did anyone in Nineveh find mercy from God? That his in God’s hands. But their victims are promised justice.

Evil will not triumph forever. This is something we still need to believe, a promise that strikes at so much of our pain and sadness.

1 God ‘s character, slow to anger. Now angry, against Nineveh.

2 the consequence of having God against you, a vision of Nineveh’s destruction

3 reminding us of how deserved Nineveh’s destruction is, how it represents justice for the victims of Assyrian cruelty

Hosea overview

Another huge gap in posting! Maybe this project to read the whole Bible is petering out?

But praise God, as I return and summarise the last chapters of Hosea today, it clicks for me what God is saying I’m a way that didn’t as I read through. Maybe it’s also about the timing things simply need, giving scriptures time to unfold for me, not prescribing the rate of consumption. A time for everything under heaven…

Hosea is very much about this unfolding of God’s character. It’s not so much the future promise of blessing, though that is there, it’s about the present appreciation of a God who is aching to love us.

Hosea’s message in a time of prosperity and arrogance, of wilful hypocrisy, was dealing with truth. The truth that self reliant running from truth will not save you. The truth that we are God’s creation, made and loved by the almighty. Our idols, our flings with other belief systems, our achievements are nothing before his love.

Love in hard times.

For Israel, hard times would quickly follow. Hosea’s words and deeds, weird and jarring to them in good times, would become a comfort as their social order was swept away.

And there now opened to me is the connection, and the beauty, that I struggled to find reading this. While losing my job in a time of pandemic. Was I being punished? Was Israel? No, we were being shown something wonderful.

The promise, laid bare in Jesus, of God’s overwhelming and empathetic love for us through – as in during and revealed by – the hard times.

1 Hosea corrupts his marriage, an outward sign of what will befall the part prosperous Northern Kingdom of Israel

2 I’m ill prepared, mourning the loss of my job, for Hosea’s message of culpability and judgement.

3 Hosea pays a fantastic sum for his own wife’s fidelity. And God paid for us in blood.

4 the choice of prostitution is metaphoric, but also a literal reminder that God saw what baal worship was about. I wonder if we still live in a society of sexual exploitation and greed…

5 Hosea compares judgement to a lion attack. As I reckon with the growing pandemic of 2020, I look for love and mercy.

6 beautiful chapter on the gentleness and seasonality of prophesy. How harsh words fit into a pattern of love from God.

7 active hypocritical rejection of God. The chapter teases out the phrase ‘my sin is ever before you

8 A chapter about reaping the whirlwind, retribution for sin. We have a pandemic in the era of grace, deeper questions

9 given the people’s obsession with fertility cults, Hosea ironically prays for low fertility in a time when disaster is coming. I discuss assaults on truth from virus reactions

10 people buck God’s authority so intensely they have an ‘anything but God’ belief system.

11 fabulous chapter of God’s unchanging compassion, even as we suffer, he shares it, like a parent bending down and scooping up a child

12 Israel’s history, especially the morally ambiguous Jacob, traced to show that we are never beyond God’s grace

13 love in difficult times. God’s compassion is shining stronger than his retribution as the book ends

14 in the end it’s about the wisdom to accept the truth of God’s love, which he is so keen to lavish on us. How sometimes that wisdom must be born of hardship

Daniel overview

It’s about scale, about the kingdoms and evil of this world having more grip, for a longer period, and with more power, than we could imagine. But also it’s point is to emphasise the larger scale of hope. That God’s presence and his plan, the now and the future, are stronger.

It’s set when things were about as bad as they could be for Israel. Daniel is a talented Israelite marked for success in Babylon, who have destroyed and pillaged Jerusalem’s temple. The assumption is that he will lose his Jewish identity and faith, as a symbol of it being vanquished in general.

So he and his other Jewish friends don’t, a model of encouragement and God’s protection. In three stories the theme recurs in the book: his refusal to eat unclean food in the palace, the fiery furnace and the lions den. God is present honouring those choices. In the fiery furnace, God walks around in human form, a striking incarnation.

There is also the battle of earthly Kings and God. Nebuchadnezzar is depicted as a gleefully impossible narcissist until the fiery furnace experience, and then a dream and it’s fulfillment of his complete madness so he became like a beast. He accepts God’s dominion and praises God.

His son sees the writing on the wall (“your days are numbered”) at a feast devoted to desecrating the artefacts plundered from the temple, but will not acknowledge God and is assassinated that night.

So there are concrete stories of God’s presence and dominion despite Israel’s low state in the book. But dreams and visions weave through too. And they are bleak as well as exalting. The hard times of evil kingdoms will last much longer than the exile, and be far worse than Babylon.

BUT God’s victory will be total, and a “son of man” will be present with us, and then prove to be God, leading the way to glorious resurrection of the dead for all God’s people to be with God of forever.

God promises to be present now and in the future and forever, as he has been in the past; despite things seeming impossible and getting dramatically worse.

This prophetic book is not at all about Israel’s sin. It has inspiring examples of people trusting in God, and of kingly pride being broken. It’s full of promises that the oppressive rule of powerful nations and men are no match for God. It’s one of the most deeply weird, in the reading, but the most optimistic of the prophets.

I’m summarising it a long time after I read it. The are no biographical notes at all, it records simply my impressions of what the book tells me about God without relating it to my life at all. It was 2016, second year of working at Fredon constructions. Good money, secure job. Boring 9-5.

2020, two redundancies, drought, fires and global pandemic since then, I’m feeling it a lot more. I liked how I summarised it in chapter 12. Daniel just wanted Jerusalem and the temple back, but has to struggle with how inadequate that dream was andhow much worse the world could be even if it came true. But also how much bigger God’s plans and love are. I clinging to that promise right now.

God is stronger.

Events in Daniels life

1 During exile, Daniel is a jew in Babylon, in service of the King. He refuses the food on religious grounds, living on water and veggies
2. Daniel interprets the king’s dream, a career masterstroke on many levels by God
3  The burning fiery furnace – the Jewish men didn’t know God would save them, they just knew bowing to another God was wrong
4 written by the King, about his madness and hearing God’s voice.
5 the next King has words from God written on a wall at a feast, aging Daniel is bought in to read them: “your days are numbered”
6 Another King, another salvation, from the lions den

Daniel’s dreams and visions

7 Daniel has a stunning dream of the son of man and the final destruction of the evil one. He finds it disturbing
8 A vision of empires rising and falling, a long term thing that still teaches us to trust that God is in control
9 Daniel reads Jeremiah and prays movingly for return from exile, but is disturbed by a larger, confusing vision of God’s plans
10 Daniel has a gleaming vision of God in the form of a man, again talk of future politics
11 a vision of the future persecution of the Jews by two rival Kings.
12 A truly stunning conclusion to the vision of these three chapters, predicting the return from exile but also the larger heavenly plan of God to resurrect the dead to be with him forever. A revolutionary concept in old testament writing.

Lamentations overview

The Bible’s pity party. It has to be here. Pain, suffering and the expression of it are part of the universe God made. They were in the story of the Son of God before creation, as was victory.

16 books of prophesy warned there were terrible consequences coming for disobeying God. Well here they are. Not only what happened, per Kings and Chronicles, but how awful it felt, what it was like to live through.

So it’s an acknowledgement that our lives can be really bad, and permission to tell God and the world how you feel.

Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand when he said he would suffer cruelly, and die. And then when it happened, they were bereft and hopeless. Clearly they hadn’t paid enough attention to this book.

In the centre of it, middle of chapter 3, boom: hope. Nothing around it supports the conclusion; hope blindsides the reported experience. It’s an irrational result of your understanding of God’s character.

At the end of each chapter is a reference to the enemies, who aided or enjoyed the fall of Israel. Thinking about their comeuppance is something of a comfort to the writer I’m sure, in a simple way.

But it also sets up the limits of lament. It’s still better to know God, even if things are really bad, than to be without God.

The writer never considers there may not be a God, as close as it gets is fearing what it would be like if God’s stayed angry forever, a chill for the bleak last verse.

The writer accepts that their downfall is a result of their own disobedience. It does suggest once that maybe they are being punished for the sins of their parents. But the dominant idea is that God has woven a yoke out of their own sin and placed it on them. God is, for once, not shielding them from the deserved result of their despising of him. 

I had my own pity party while reading this book, learning that, too old and too tired to handle it, I was being made redundant in my job for the third time in my life.

It’s helping me give due to the grief I feel, even while being aware that others have suffered so much worse. It’s helping me think constructively about the differences between lament and self destructiveness, to be as honest as I can about my temptations as well as my pain to God through this time.

1 Grieving but not grievance. While lamenting loss, the author accepts it is a yoke made of their own sin
2 recoiling from the horror of what God has done, and turning to God to vent their emotion. God God God, nowhere else to turn for his creations
3 The beauty and challenge of finding hope, new every morning, at the centre of this short book. Feeling sorry for myself, because I have lost my job,  I worry at what point lament becomes hopelessness, the rejection of God
4 Observing the Israelite’s inability to care about even their own children. The only comfort is that it might end. The mention of enemies at the end of the chapter is not gloating, but an affirmation that despite everything it is still better to be with God than without God
5 the only chapter that is not an alphabet acrostic, increasing the sense of decent into chaos. The greater pattern of scripture was a paradigm shift towards a different, greater revelation of God’s grace, bigger than the restoration they plead for here

Ezekiel overview

The Lord is here, present. In me, now.  God had to break the paradigm of being present only in the holy of holies in the temple in Jerusalem. We’re used to it now, but imagine if we’d only ever known the temple system.

This book narrates that shift, against the backdrop of Jerusalem being destroyed, from the margins of it, in exile in Babylon.

God arrives spectacularly, a gleaming Prince atop a rolling throne, in the visions that commence the book.

Much time is spent making it clear that Jerusalem is done for, the dream is gone, and deservedly so. Very, very deserved. Because of very familiar arrogance, corruption and apathy.

The centre of gravity has shifted to the exiles, longing to get back to the action. They are now the action, they are the ones who were saved from the destruction. There is no there there in Jerusalem any more.

God is in hearts of flesh.

God is Spirit that breathes life to dry bones.

God is a prince, the Messiah.

The rolling vision of God from the start of the book inhabits a crazily detailed temple of dreams that has not been, and I think will not ever be, built in stone, on earth.

The Prince stands in the gap between God’s impossible holiness and our endemic imperfection.  A river of healing flows out from the temple of dreams across the whole earth, and we are all children of the Prince.

There is no longer a literal Jerusalem of the promised land.  The city that continues by that name has no special claim to God’s presence.

God is here, as I write and think.

I wrote my thoughts about Ezekiel mostly against the backdrop of a wonderful holiday in New Zealand, which now seems like a beautiful dream. God seemed present there, in the majestic, often starkly empty South island.

Challenges awaited ahead, when upon return I was blindsided by a very cold loss of my job, the financial security of our family. I’ve been wondering if, like Ezekiel, God is telling me to spend a year in my house, lying on my side, staring at a saucepan.

This book has a lot of pain, but trusting God’s plan when logic and experience fails can require us to see visions past the pain of loss. 

The rolling presence of God preparing Ezekiel

1 a vast vision of Gods presence in a time when the temple is destroyed, the land lost
2 preparing Ezekiel to be a prophet, a message of pain and lament, an expectation of resistance
3 overcoming Ezekiel’s negativity. Armoured within and without, called to be a watchman: deliver a message, not worry if it is acted on.

Performance art about Israel’s fall

4 Ezekiel’s wordless sermon is a performance art installation about the destruction of Jerusalem. It goes on about a year.
5 more Street theatre with glimpses of the horrible suffering of the siege of Jerusalem. I think about how evil destroys itself, the nature of judgement and learning.
6 the promised land won’t lose its symbolic allure until it is lost. Sometimes hope must die before evil will lose its grip.

Announcing the death of hope in what is lost, listeners refuse to accept

7 a chapter of unrelenting gloom and judgement. “Then they will know that I am God”
8 worshipping lies, sex, money and power, Ezekiel’s vision of the corruption of the temple is referenced by too many Christian critics today.
9 a vision of the temple without God, given over to idols and the few of the remnant that will escape the fall of the city
10 the glory of the lord leaves the temple, I compare the verse about no lamb being
snatched from the good shepherd
11 God has flipped the script. E thought he was being punished by being in exile, but he’s actually being spared judgement
12 the people are in denial about the visions of God judging Jerusalem
13 condemnation of easy prophets, who whitewash messages
14 the leaders around Ezekiel are hostile but recognise they have to give him a chance to speak. But he can’t speak into hostility

Analogies about why Israel must be judged, leading to the fall of Jerusalem

15 a vision of Israel as a dead vine. We can cut ourselves off from the author of life and bit notice straight away
16 Israel’s addiction to idols, despite being God’s chosen nation is compared to prositution.  Cheap grace comes with deep shame. 
17 A tree analogy compares the dumb moves of the last Israelite Kings to the grace of the true King, like a flourishing tree sustaining much life. 
18 About how you can have a new heart, sin is historical but also personal. We all have the choice and freedom to face it, repent of it it and accept Gods grace
19 A lament over the betrayals of Kings who led them so badly. Lament is the start of pointing our frustrations and pain back to God, not being consumed by them.
20 The leaders and people’s response to the truth Ezekiel is speaking: they won’t understand, they accuse him of speaking in parables.
21 The sword of God’s judgement terrifies us in our perpetually unresolved state, mortal and immortal. But Jesus was there too.
22 In societies of inequality, of disadvantage vs greed, like theirs, like ours, Jesus stands in the gap
23 Israel’s sin compared to prostitution. God is concerned about alliances – who we get in bed with and why. In him we find constant love, not loveless lives of self serving alliances
24 The fall of Jerusalem, 10 years into his ministry, accompanied by two signs to Ezekiel in exile in Babylon: a vision of a ruined cooking pot and the death of his wife, who he is told not to mourn.

About other nations: Tyre

25 Israel is assured neighbouring nations will be judged too. I contemplate the morality of the blame game
26 Still considering other nations, we are not here for shadenfreude, God hates that
27 the imprint of God in our brilliant creative civilisations; the curse of death in their fragility.
28 God’s deep love for Tyre – by extention all of us – how it hurts God that their arrogance blinds them to it.
29 God’s love for Egypt, Babylon and Tyre: just because their stories are not told in such detail as Israel for biblical narrative purposes, doesn’t mean they aren’t loved

About Egypt

30 Israel’s temptation to go back to Egypt. When God breaks your circumstances, look forward in trust in the will of Yahweh, not backward to the idealised comforts of your slavery.
31 God compares Egypt to a tree, magnificent but locked into time, it will fall. At Christmas, I contemplate mortality and opportunity for Grace.
32 Egypt’s weakening and fall into sheol, the neverworld of substandard eternity, where there is a consolation of sorts, of losing your pride when you realise you are one of many

Israel and Edom

33  The first confirmation of Israel’s fall arrives, and the optimistic verses of the prophets that dismissed Ezekiel’s gloom sounds like empty sweet insincere love songs.
34 sheep metaphors to talk about reasonable verses selfish lives, coming at a time of maximum lazy indulgence on my part.
35 New year’s prayer in the light of God’s justice, a terrifying prospect without also God’s grace.

Hearts of flesh, bones that live

36  promise of beating hearts of flesh, not stone. And cleansing rain to wash away our idols from our hearts
37 My favourite passage as a child. The bones trick and the stick trick, God’s transformation of people and nations

Hostile nations confused by grace

38  Gog and Magog, b rulers and£ nations. A discussion of tolerance and hostility

39 A promise of peace, rather than victory over hostile nations. A vision of living in God’s grace rather than fighting.

The City of the unbuilt temple

40 Start of a very detailed vision of a temple that was never built. Why has God given us this?
41 Giving the people the dream of a vast new temple, scenes and dreams that motivate us mark us as spiritual beings.
42 the glimpse of God’s extreme holiness in the temple ritual serves to emphasise the extreme lovingness of Jesus’ life and death
43 Good comes to the temple. Why the temple vision is given: a reminder of God’s goodness, a call to recommit, and a promise of forgiveness
44 A Prince, a Messiah, will bridge the gulf between God’s impossible holiness and our impossible obedience
45 What it means for God to have given us a plan for an unbuilt City to think about
46 bit of a weird chapter making the point that the children of the Prince (/Messiah) retain his inheritance forever.
47 the temple vision spoke to the deepest longing of the exiled Jews, this speaks of the river that does from it and speaks to the whole world’s deepest longing.
48  the city of the unbuilt temple is called the Lord is there. And God is present, right here, right now, and we are building that city

 

 

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.

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 figure

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

8 A promise that God’s favour will make the Jews the most loved people 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.