Jeremiah 44

Arguably Jeremiah has had a spectacularly unsuccessful ministry.

The last of the people not killed or taken into exile have run away to Egypt against his word, and they instantly take to idol worship against his word. His whole public teaching has blamed every calamity on idol worship, and yet he they are, idol worship.

His word is that they will die for their disobedience.

He keeps going, saying what God tells him to. Everything he’s said has come to pass. No one listens. He gets no response. It doesn’t stop him.

I think I would have done any number of things differently.

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Jeremiah 39

Prophesy fulfilled – the siege of Jerusalem. Its a checklist of everything Jeremiah has been warning of.

Predictably the King and nobles run away, abandoning the people they refused to let Jeremiah tell to surrender. King Zedekiah’s last sight was his sons slaughtered, then blind he was taken to captivity, the Babylonians are typical game of thrones type conquerors.

King Jehoiakim had burned the Jeremiah’s scroll, the word of God, but God’s judgement burned the city.

And in a sweet end to the chapter, Jeremiah’s rescuer from the well he was left to die in, the ethiopian Ebed Melek is saved because of his faith. He was exceptionally brave to take on the King and all the nobles in pleading for Jeremiah, and God recognises it was the boldness of faith.

Isaiah spoke of God gathering the misfits, the unexpected, and here we’ve seen it.

The only person specifically named as saved, out of the end of the chosen people, is a gentile.

Jeremiah 31

At last, God’s love is affirmed. He has been like the father who knows that punishment is right so has withheld his true love for them. This chapter is full of generous imagery of joy, dancing, justice for the vulnerable.

The spontenaity is because the law is in their hearts not in written form. It’s a prediction of a native outpouring of the spirit.

God is almost like a nervous host, making sure his guests, the his people returning from judgement to his place of love, are looked after in every detail – putting up a signpost to Zion, making a level path to walk on, etc.

The bit that stood out for me was the strength and obviousness of God’s steadfast love. He goes big, talks about the heavens and creation, and only when they can be cut down to size will the size of his love for his people be known.

We must not underrate evil and sin, but neither must we underrate the stronger, endless vastness of God’s love.

Jeremiah 30

The good bit? Not exactly. We’ve gone from threat of exile in the last chapter to actual exile. And here talk of the restoration of Israel.  But it’s not a cheerful chapter, its one of wrath and judgement just like all those before.

Starts with a vision of everyone feeling terror in their guts… as if the men are having babies. Then a promise of terrible judgement and destruction. The only consolation for Judah “the others I will destroy, you I will only partly destroy”. Phew!

Babylon was of course destroyed by Persia, and indeed today the Jewish nation is about the only one with a continuity of identity and faith in that region.

The prophesy definitely turns Messianic in the latter section. It speaks of a leader from among them and them truly becoming God’s people. But til then, brace yourself because it will be like a wild storm that will only make sense after the event.

Jeremiah is certainly reminding me of an aspect of God we don’t get much each week in church, the hard edged. The creator is also the destroyer by implication. The author of life is also the controller of life.

Jeremiah 22

An extended condemnation of the king who he calls Shallum here.

He was essentially a puppet king for Egypt, and sold out Israel’s wealth to them. He was in the wrong side of history, as the Babylonians defeated Egypt.

Yes, he sold out to losers; wup wah.

He was the third last king before everything was destroyed. The last two were Babylonian puppets.

Personality wise he was a capricious murderer who had multiple incestuous relationships.

So the extreme condemnation from Jeremiah is not surprising.

There is a poignant portrait of what a good king looks like at the start of the chapter:

Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.

Care for the vulnerable, righting wrongs, avoiding innocent bloodshed. This is the purpose of power.

With the world in a political cycle that favours demagogues, these words are comfort indeed. As are the ones that follow, promising that the bad stuff will pass.

2 Samuel 24

Ah the bible, you would never mistake it for hagiography. The final story of Israel’s greatest king, concluding this long pair of books about him, is unflattering and strange. Anti climactic.

He takes a census of fighting men. For some reason this is a great sin, and a God gives him a sort of multiple choice “chose your punishment.  He chooses plague.

He feels the weight of it, touchingly comparing it to punishing sheep for the sins of the shepherd. He buys a threshing floor, some sort of rural building, to offer a sacrifice and ends the plague. And the book.

Say wha?

Commentator says the census is a sin because it is about owning the army, taking pride in it.  Its a boast, a failure to give God the glory. All of his advisers and generals tell him not to do it, but he does anyway.  Its a strangely real way to end the book.

 

2 Samuel 23

Davids last words express his confidence in God, his satisfaction that his house is right, referring perhaps to his confidence in the afterlife, as in Psalm 23, he will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

He also compares righteousness to bright morning sun, to light, brightness after rain, which brings new growth. Ever the shepherd, eh. I was instantly reminded of one of my favourite passages in Judges, Deborah’s song “…may all who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength” There is a clarity to David, he sinned, but it was bought out into the light. He remained a strangely uncomplicated, poetic soul. 

The reference to daylight also recalled the discovery of his sin back in chapter 12, when Nathan the prophet compared David’s secret sin to the public judgement, bringing it out into daylight.

Then a list of all the mighty men he knew, who fought with and for him. Lastly Uzziah, who he had killed.  A credit roll on an amazing life.

 

Judges Overview

Evelyn Waugh wrote a wickedly funny book called “decline and fall” about a guy whose life turned a bit bad and then got much worse. We’ve been watching Breaking Bad, pretty much a standard suspense-driven gangster drug movie, set against the spiralling moral decline of the central character.  He turns bad, worse, worse and worse… you get the drift.

Judges is that kind of story.  It starts bad, the Iraelites didn’t completely conquer the promised land, and its been claimed back by Canaanites who terrorise them and infiltrate their culture and religion.

The glorious bits come at the start.  A few leaders, Judges such as Deborah and Gideon, win some great and unlikely victories against the Canaanites.  Their human weakness is scrupulously depicted to emphasise the faithfulness, love and strength of God.

But the judges get worse as the book wears on, and the nation more brutal and divided. Jephthah and Samson are deeply flawed leaders, whose God given giftedness is highlighted to show how ignorant they are of him, or shamelessly they take his blessing to boost themselves. And how he brings some good out of lives of squandered grace.

So the book ends very bleakly. The law of Deuteronomy and worship of Jehovah is hopelessly compromised and muddled, a shadow of what God intended. Society is brutal and unsafe, overrun by conquering foreign rulers, the ungodly Canaan customs and tribal warfare.

I draw lessons about the scandals and decline of the modern church and my own walk of faith, oddly encouraged at God’s preposterous steadfastness. No matter how bad things get, he’s always seen worse before. Unshockable.

Death of Joshua, failure to completely conquer Canaan
1 Book starts by listing the unconquered bits of the promised land post Joshua
2 Death of Joshua, the people do as they please, the old religions flourish

Bloody but generally good judges including Deborah and Gideon
3 Three judges in quick succession, they are warrior/assassin type judges, freeing the people from oppression. I contemplate how God’s plan B becomes his plan A. 
4 Deborah prophesies a great victory then leads it herself when the boys know better
5 Deborah’s wild victory song… rise up like the sun and kiss the world with love!
6 Gideon timid, inadequate is the perfect vehicle to show God’s strength
7 Gideon whittles down his army, and wins by confusion in the night… all to prove God’s role in the victory
8 After Gideon’s death, the people trust in anything but God, its tragic
9 Gideon’s disastrous family are grand and greedy where he was humble, and end up destroying each other and betraying the people
10 2 minor judges and some peace precede the people falling back to idolatry. They can’t stick with an abstract God

Flawed Judges, Jephthah and Samson
11 Jephthah’s tragic story where he ends up sacrificing his daughter to get a victory. He honours God on some level, but he is a deal maker, and he trusts his own abilities too much. I contemplate deal makers
12 Jephthah’s rule descends into tribal warfare, Jew killing Jew. Judges is like a dying fire with ever smaller flares of flame
13 After years of bitter civil war and foreign invasion, Samson is promised to barren parents by an angelic figure, a proto-messiah. I mourn my own failure to obey god
14 Samson, prodigiously gifted, set apart for God by vows, breaks all of them, marries the enemy, is wicked. Yet still used by God, good from bad 
15 Samson really is a quite terrible leader of Israel, violent, impulsive, disloyal and generally unpleasant. The text doesn’t editorialise, I go a bit crazy
16 The poignant denouement, Samson prays and brings down the philistine temple upon himself. The first time he mentions God. One last sacrifice after a life of wasted talent

Israel leaderless and virtually Godless, where everyone does as they please
17 Micah, not a Judge, a landowner who is so lost he worships an Ephod, a priestly item, and engages a sellout itinerant Levite to be a live-in priest – its all nothing like the Torah
18 The tribe of Dan, belatedly claiming their land, take all Micah has, and the priest switches allegiance. Fighting over useless false Gods, what have they become?
19 Exodus ended with cities of refuge being established, Judges ends with a Benjamite city where the gang rape and murder of a stray visitors is a usual nights fun. She’s dismembered and distributed to the 12 tribes as a grisly symbol of the chosen people hitting rock bottom.
20 Civil war erupts many tribes vs Benjamin, many die.
21 So many Benjamites die in the civil war, that more slaughter, kidnapping and rape is organised to give them brides so they don’t die out altogether. Israels lowest point yet. I despair for the moderns church, and marvel at God’s patience

Joshua Overview

If you want to hate God, Joshua is a great starting place. For us believers, grappling with Joshua often involves a heaping helping of of rationalisation.

Yes, it presents like a story of racial cleansing, yes, the violence seems contrary to everything God stands for, like loving your enemies and turning the other cheek.

People talk about the “God of the old testament” but Jesus was only quoting him when he said “love your neighbour as yourself”.  To question the taking of Canaan is to ask God, old or new testament, to be consistent with himself. Be consistent with yourself!

My own rationalisation, which wavers as I read through the book in detail, in summary is ‘shit happens’.  Wars happen, death happens.  The history section of the OT starts with the Israelites throwing the Canaanites out of Canaan, and it ends with the Israelites being thrown out by Babylon and Assyria.

The battles for the promised land are represented by 2 that are told in detail.

Jericho, is done God’s way. They have a chance to repent.  Then judgement by God. No glory to the Israelites, no plunder.  Except someone disobeys the last rule. The battle for Ai is done disobediently, ie: trusting in their own strength and seeking their own glory. They are defeated.

A warrior angel appears and Joshua dares ask him which side he is on. Neither side, but they are walking on holy ground. In their time, both Canaan and Israel used the valleys for child sacrifice, and the high places for ritual prostitution. Used it for their dreams of unjust wealth and jealous bloodbaths.

Providence keeps giving me experiences with indigenous Christianity at the moment.  It starts to attune you so that the references to land, to creation, stand out. As Israel’s history gets to crisis point, Isaiah has a vision of God gathering the outcasts and misfits, and bringing them through a desert that is in bloom, to a new Jerusalem, as the new creation claps its hands.

And here in Joshua, when the tribes are new to the land, it is wonderful to them and they rejoice over every inch of God’s promise. Holy ground.

The creation is a symbol that God’s promises are steadfast, outlasting our lifespans long or short.  Its also a reminder that God has inherent rights over our existence. A creator can determine their creation’s fate.

The long story of God’s recreation, of his abundance, love and salvation, really is more important than the story of whether your sin bound judgement comes today or tomorrow, in war or in peace. We fret about the manner and time of death, God frets about the fact of it.

Joshua the new Moses
1 Joshua literally takes Moses’ mantle and is told to be strong and courageous
2 They spy on Jericho, with the help of Rahab the prostitute. I delight at her salvation and doubt at the destruction of the rest 
3 Crossing the jordan, a repeat of the red sea miracle, hairs on neck moment
4 A cairn of 12 rocks to claim the land, the men camp at the edge of Jericho
5 Time for circumcision, Passover for the first time in 40 years. A warrior angel appears, says God is on neither side in the coming battle and declares it holy ground

Taking the land
6 Jericho destroyed. They had 7 days to repent. I contemplate fairness and lifespans
7 Next, defeat for Israel because of the sin of one, taking some plunder from Jericho
8 City of Ai destroyed, I twist in knots trying to understand the killing
9 Gibeonites deceive Israel into integrating rather than destroying them, a biblical plan B
10 The killing picks up pace, as does the desperation in my prayers
11 Destruction of the northern Canaanite kings. I think I’m coming down with something
12 List of Kings destroyed. I’m going a bit numb/gaga

Dividing the land between the twelve tribes
13 They start to divide the land between the tribes. Levis, like so many Jews down the ages, have no land of their own
14 Divvying up the rest of the land. Caleb the faithful spy is rewarded. I consider the racist aspects of project promised  land
15 List of lands and cities of Judah, original inhabitant comingle, weren’t wiped out
16 More lists. I compare the tolerance of ethic inhabitants in defiance of God’s word to living with sin. Pray for a hard edge
17 More land splitting
18 7 tribes to go. Ben’s land. I consider what a pivotal point this was for several of the world’s religion
19 Joshua gets a city to mark the end of land splits. They meet at the tabernacle

Promise delivered
20 Refuge cities practical “god is refuge” available to locals and foreigners… a system of mercy in a brutal book
21 48 Levite cities, incl. refuge cities. Ends on a note of mercy, and noting that God delivered on every one of his promises

Bible project

Just a shout out to this you tube channel.

Here’s a link to a playlist of all their videos in the same order as the Bible.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVpri7vfPPtKUOaqAAjEtZR4C-bO5Y_XQ

It’s a series of under-10-minute illustrated videos that give you really pithy overviews of the books of the Bible.

They’ve branched out of late and done words and themes and other Christian questions.

I’ve watched their two Isaiah videos (see the first below) twice. It’s like a drone shot of the book… You zoom up from the ground and see the whole landscape.

To find it you just search the name of any book in YouTube, or to be sure “Bible project” + book name.

Thank you Bible project, you’ve done humanity a massive favour!