Isaiah 35

The good stuff. The redeemed, a picture of the ones God loves.

There is a highway in the desert – similar images described John the Baptist who paved the way for Jesus. It leads joyful people to Zion.

They don’t have to be strong, clever or powerful. It says fools could and will follow this highway. There are blind, deaf and lame people, seeing, hearing, leaping, praising.

The desert has become lush, blooming with crocuses.

And God says to them, his rag tag redeemed, one of my all time favourite spiritual messages in the Bible:

“Fear not”

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Isaiah 25

A description of heaven. It is a picture of abundance, of justice, of comfort, where God dries every tear. 

The ruined cities are contrasted to God’s feast on a mountain. 

Death is swallowed up, absorbed, forever. So it is also a vision of the moment of victory on Calvary. 

I really love my church. It is a similar vision of feasting, justice and comfort.

I’ve been getting lousy about parish council, but it has clicked here.

Isaiah 23

Isaiah has a vision of the fate of Tyre. It’s perhaps the ultimate meditation on sheer materialism. They had no great political power, but were the merchant hub of the ancient world. David and Solomon had a fond relationship with them as the source of the timber for the temple. 

But their wealth can’t protect them. It is all God’s.

I live in a society obsessed with wealth, comfortable with social stratification based on wealth more than I can ever recall. 

Earning power is seen as the ultimate moral measure. If you earn more, you deserve for everything to be better. 

I need to inject God’s sensibility into my relations with poor people, giving them dignity and treating them as equals. If I share my relative prosperity, I am not being generous. 

The fact that I’ve been given discretion over the use of the material possessions I have does not imply that they are mine, they are God’s and my influence over anything is an example of God’s mercy.

Pray for wisdom and mindfulness. My money is not mine to waste.

2 Kings 4

A series of miraculous events from Elisha’s life that show God’s abundant blessings.  It reads like a page from the gospels.

A widow has a jar of oil that keeps producing oil enough to pay all her debts, and save her sons being sold into slavery.

Another woman who helped Elisha has a pregnancy at an old age, and then Elisha restores the child to life after he dies, two astounding miracles.

Good food produced from bitter gourds in famine, ending with a very familiar story of one loaf feeding a multitude.

The consistency of God’s character as revealed through Elisha and Jesus is abundance, life, plenty, fruitfulness. I claw my way through on a good salary with no mortgage, but only seem to achieve adequacy – I watch all my friends get better stuff and go on holidays on facebook. I am finding in my relationships and the ministries in church an abundance.  We have a new minister who is brimming with keen-ness and preached a beautiful first sermon on Sunday.  I’d feel pretty satisfied if these stories weren’t telling me God wants to give me more than I could dare expect.

Maybe I should pray to God to show me the nature of the abundance he wants me to have.

 

2 Kings 3

Obedience for blessing – with panache

An interesting event from the next king’s reign. Jeroham another of Ahab’s sons, wasn’t as bad as him.  He stopped worshipping Baal, which seems to have ended the active persecution and killing of Jehovah’s prophets.  But he still worshipped the calf that had been established in largely political defiance of the temple in the kingdom of Judah after the civil war. The offical state religion was a false, cynical one.

The two kingdoms, Israel and Judah unite with Edom to bring Moab to heel, which is in rebellion against taxes levied by the kingdom of Israel. They take a way of attack through the desert and the troops are literally dying of thirst – very Exodus.

The godly king of Judah, Jehosophat, finds out Elisha is with them and consults him. He  has very sharp words for Jeroham, but helps them for Jehosophat’s sake.

First, strikingly, Elisha has a musician play to calm him down to a spiritual zone – maybe he was stressed after openly confronting and criticising the ungodly King.  A dangerous pastime.

God intervenes in the story at this point.  He helps the present situation, but so much more. It is a lesson, clearly for the godless king, it requires obedience and delivers in abundance – in one elegant move.

Elisha tells them to dig ditches in the dry river bed to contain the water God is sending them. That would have required very faithful leadership and quite some obedience from the exhausted men.  Jeroham would have witnessed first hand the absolute kingly faith and trust of Jehosophat to get the parched men to do the seemingly meaningless task.

A flash flood then comes down the river bed and collects in the ditches they have dug – the rest of the water passes through.  So the amount of water provided is in proportion to the extent of their obedience.  The more ditches they dug, the more of the water God provided they are blessed with. Very elegant.

Even more elegant, the Moabites mistake the distant ditches of water for blood and assume that the alliance hasn’t held and the kings have attacked each other.  They swoop in but are utterly routed.  The Moab king is so desperate with the loss he sacrifices his own son by burning him alive. The combined kings are so disgusted at the human sacrifice, they leave him at that point.

Jeroham and Jehsophat asked for water.  They got it …AND VICTORY! But without obedience, the blessing would have passed them by. Really reminds me of the lesson of Exodus, choosing God is choosing to participate in his blessing.  But his will will be done whether you choose him or not, and he wants so much more for us than we know to ask. Such a great lesson.

How did the king manage to remain an unbeliever after that experience!

1 Kings 17

We are introduced to the prophet Elijah. He comes to tell the king Ahab that a drought they are having is God’s will. I was struck by his opening words to the king “as the God of Israel lives…” 

Israel has a God, one God, and he is alive. Sometimes for me thinking about God is literally soothing, and reading this gave me that feeling, like cool water in a desert. 

All the other Gods -possessions, success, wealth etc are dead things. They come and go. God is mine, and after I get myself in a pickle and make other things more important, I step back from the mess of it all and behind it, he’s simply there.

Elijah has to hide then. Everything that happens affirms God’s qualities of life giving, provision and abundance. And Elijah’s status as a spokesperson for him.

God feeds Elijah in a desert, but the land continues to dry up.  He comes to town, God magically extends the last provisions of a kind widow so her family and Elijah can eat abundantly as he stays with them. Finally, his pleas bring her son back to life from death. 

God is taking hold of the failed kingdom’s narrative, and it’s all about life coming to barrenness.

1 Kings 4

List chapter, all of Solomon’s officials, his daily provisions. The people are indeed as numerous as the sand by the sea… Not quite the choice of words of God’s promise to Abraham that they would be as numerous as the stars.

They eat and drink and have military might that gives them dominion over the entire region. That is pretty much “flowing with milk and honey” as promised, if a little less poetic.

God makes an appearance as the source of Solomon’s wisdom. His fame spreads and he’s recognised as the wisest man “of anyone”. He composes 1000 songs and 3000 proverbs.

God’s wisdom flows to material blessing.

I’m still wondering what we learn from Israel’s golden era. Do things have to go wrong for God to be needed? How do we stay focused on God in the good times? Praying for wisdom is a start.

Deuteronomy 24

I can’t say Moses or whoever edited him has a strong sense of organisation. This is such a mixed bag of rules:

– not remarrying a spouse you have divorced

– absenting newly married couples from military service for a year, a mercy for the wife particularly.

– ban against taking someone’s livelihood as security on a debt

– ban on enslaving fellow countrymen

– obedience to the levites instructions for skin diseases

– kindness in enforcement of debts to the poor.

– bring a considerate employer, not exploiting those desperate to work

– not holding a whole family guilty for the crime of one

– kind treatment of the weak and vulnerable, remembering you were all slaves

– deliberately leaving some of the harvest for the fatherless, widows and foreigners.

Looking at it summarised, there is such a strong theme of Social justice, of caring for the weak. 

And these rules were indeed followed by righteous people we will meet as the Bible proceeds. It’s love, God’s love, in action for real. I have more opportunities to do this than I take up. 

I need to recognise how important this is.

Deuteronomy 23

Restrictions on citizenship, rules for cleanliness around camp, treatment of slaves and sharing been Israelites.

God wants Israel distinct, compassionate, generous. Slaves who came to them would be freed. You could eat freely from each others farms, and loans were always to be no interest.

Considering how God treats me, I pray I can be like this too.

Deuteronomy 16

The festivals chapter, I always love this (we’ve had it a couple of times by now in the Bible)

Passover, beginning and end of harvest. Everyone is to celebrate, foreigners, the needy, all in. God commands partying!

And a fair legal system.

Evangelicals have at times undermined celebrating. Harvest festivals are seen as quaint or irrelevant. But a simple connection between our gratitude, and pleasure in God’s Bounty is a great thing!