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 the 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!

Genesis 41

The epitome of the “old testament story”. In a stunning reversal of fortune, Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream and goes from jail to 2ic in charge of all of Egypt.

One mention of God: as the source of the dream and the interpretation. But he is directing everything.

Everyone in my immediate family is in some kind of pain. And some kind of rebellion against God. Reverse it father, reverse it!

Zechariah 10

This is written directly with God’s voice.

The opening section is about his love and care for the people, expressed as rain and crops. He continues de-programming trust in the idols and foreign religions which the Israelites had been emersed in the past 70 years.

He talks about the fate of the two kingdoms, Judah and Ephraim. Judah will be forgiven and become strong and victory will come from them. He speaks of giving the Ephraimites – who seem to have been scattered further and for longer – warrior hearts with joy for him. Sort of like self esteem, dignity. And gathering them in from the far flung regions to which they are spread, evoking the escape from Egypt of old.

God carries out his plans though weak humans. His salvation plan was all but lost by the Israelites’ splintering and unfaithfulness.

Now they have been shaken, restored, forgiven. His character in that forgiveness is to abundantly bless them, build up their identity and strength. To be true, unlike the self serving false gods. To have compassion. To gather and protect the lost. Praise be!

Zechariah 8

God’s favor.

This a chapter is about the magnitude of God’s blessing. This 70 year process by which the Jews are knocked out of Jerusalem and it is destroyed, and then put back into it and Jerusalem rebuilt shows how much god is in control of history.

It’s a series of statements each with the refrain that it is a word from God, about blessing. The place will be a thriving metropolis again. Crops will grow abundantly, fasts will become times of celebration.

It climaxes with the last verse: 10 people at once will try to grab onto the hem of a Jew’s coat and want to hang with them because they’ve heard God is with them. They’ll be hot stuff, the ants pants, the bees knees.

We have this favor, we are blessed. We are the luckiest people on earth. But Christians are falling into something of a seige mentality as society changes around them. We are not the dominant unchallenged majority and it’s tempting to feel defensive, under attack.

We need to forget about all that and remember how great Christianity is. We’re saved. We know love. Our faith should not be a walled city at war with the world or hiding away from it, an enclave of a threatened culture.  It is a light on the hill, a beacon, an incredibly attractive advertisement for the love of God.

Father, never catch me apologising for being a Christian.

Zechariah 3

Zechariah is loaded with vivid visions. And they are all about grace.

Here the high priest, a literal person called Joshua, stands before the Lord. His clothes are filthy and Satan stands at his right side to accuse him of sin.

But before anything can happen the angel of the Lord put clean clothes on him. Pops a clean turban in his head (loved visualising that). Apparently it is a distinct priestly garment. In case you missed the symbolism, the angel declares that the clean clothes are the removal of sin.

The passage is rich with meaning as a prophesy of Jesus. I like the stick theme… Israel was about to burn up all together to ashes in the fire but God grabbed it out. The priest is made clean by God, the nation is.

But these men, the priests are but symbols of greater salvation god will send. His servant the branch, and the rock with 7 eyes (implies omnipotence) will remove the sin of the nation in one day. Ends with a verse of peace and abundance, neighbours sitting together under fig and vines trees.

What a ride.

I keep being surprised how the bible hangs together. You get so used to the lazy talk of the “god of the old testament” you expect to be alienated by it. So much grace here, such love and peace. So much Messiah, Jesus is there.

Haggai 1

Its time!

The remains of the Israelites have been allowed to return to Jerusalem and started to do OK, but Haggai the prophet is stirred up to speak out about the temple.

You’ve made sure you have nice houses, he says, what about god’s?

I love his picture of wages going into a purse with a hole in it, suggesting that they will never feel like they have enough money to build the temple. Some things never change!

And the people respond. We’re in for a temple building! Its a good chapter about listening to the things that stir you up when you are complacent. You should not ignore that voice.

I’m in a sweeter spot than I was a year ago. What does god want of me?

 

 

 

Nehemiah 8

The celebration of the finishing of the wall creates various overwhelming emotions in the people. They are rediscovering their identity, having been away from Jerusalem and Jewish culture.

They start to weep as the law is read by Ezra the priest. Other priests are on hand to explain it. I like that detail, its no meaningless ritual. It’s like the spiritual version is an adopted child meeting their birth parents, they are overwhelmed.

They need to be reminded that it’s a celebration, a festival. That unleashes 7 days of joy. They pick up on a tradition of sleeping in makeshift houses, and all do that.

Every day more of the law is read, it’s a major love affair with their identity as god’s chosen people, with the word of God.

This is a timely word for me. I wax and wane on my personal devotion to reading the word here. It’s a good reminder to treasure it. It is my identity, loved by God, given his word.

Psalm 30

Joy in the morning

Very happy joyous song, with a series of images of bad turning to good, of times of feeling deserted by the Lord turning to generous blessing and favour.

Starts with a personal section, maybe it was an illness or a dangerous situation that ended: Lifted, healed, rescued from dead, spared from the pit.

Then preachin’ it: encouraging “you people” to praise the same love of God, expressed generally: A moment of anger followed by a lifetime of favour, weeping at night followed by joy in the morning.  

Then a longer and more specific personal section focuses in on the emotional guts of the psalm, not being able to find God.  

My general bible understanding wants to rebel against this.  My learned response God is faithful and will never desert us.  The image of God hiding his face implies he was always there, but he allowed bad stuff to happen.  Its a picture for the old issue of “why does God allow suffering?”.  

David understands that intellectualised response, and he says he had it too. He talks about the great feeling of security when he felt blessed by God, on the holy mountain, ie: in his presence, and how that was unshakeable… except then it did get shaken, and he was dismayed, because bad stuff happened, and God didn’t fix it straight away.  So it felt like God was hiding from him.  Message: its going to happen, as humans we will feel deserted by God, once the tenth thing in a row has gone wrong.

David’s response is one of his great confident prayers where he virtually hectors and dares God.  The deal is if God deserts him how can he bare witness to his greatness?  Like “hey God, its in your own interest to save me here, it’ll be a good look for you…” Its a great testament to David’s strong faithfulness despite his period of human dismay.  His prayer is “this is not right, no way, I deserve better than his, you promised!”  

And it worked out, another series of general joyous transformation images conclude the song: wailing turned to dancing, sackcloth to joy, and David will praise God, singing from the heart forever.
There is still bad stuff in the world, and its not going to be pleasant no matter how much we tell ourselves otherwise, but be patient, in the long run God’s blessing to us will far outweigh the suffering we experience.

Psalm 23

Legendary psalm of comfort. The comfort flows from the central metaphor of the lord being a shepherd. The beautiful calm of an animal that is safe and has material needs looked after is extended quickly for us to our souls.

That phrase “refreshes my soul” puts words to a feeling that humans crave and means human society can’t seem to leave spirituality alone. That sense of a contented soul is probably one of the most underrated benefits of Christian belief. It’s so naggingly un-concrete it drives atheists mad.

You can trust the lords advice. If he says don’t lie and put others first, you can do it confident that it’s going to work out, even when the reverse seems like the only thing that will fix the situation. No more crooked webs to weave! And we don’t have to fear death.

It’s about the simplicity of being loved and having someone greater than you look after your needs. Our psychological dread and moral complexity comes from feeling like shepherdless sheep, weak and alone, trying to carve safety and order out of chaos. Having god to trust unburdens us of layers of complexity, and makes us OK with our vulnerability and mortality. The psychological and philosophical power of the metaphor is harnessed with such economy.

No wonder this psalm is so powerful. Form follows function. It’s a simple psalm about simplicity. And with each calm pastoral phrase it precisely knocks down our deepest existential fears like nine pins one after another.

I’m not the only one who thinks the feast is a clanger. I don’t feel like food is sweeter if my enemies watch me eat it and go hungry, it sounds just awkward. It sounds like crude triumphalism or schadenfreude and quite out of character with the god who in humble human form on earth told us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek before giving up his life for us.

But the truth is we are chosen for abundant blessing. We’re anointed, which is like a special relaxing welcoming treat for a guest, and a signifier of priesthood and kingship, and our cup overflows. We live our lives with this fact. Despite and during the apparent success of our enemies, a place of honour in God’s kingdom is prepared for us.

Should we punish ourselves with survivor guilt? We certainly should never feel too much like the victim, just as Jesus didn’t. In fact, it’s because of God’s ridiculous grace that we can indeed love our enemies and turn the other cheek. The worst, the very worst they can do to us is make us suffer temporary pain before despatching us to be with our creator. How much worse it is for them, cut off from the author of life. So it’s not triumphalism I suppose, it’s perspective.

The rest of the psalm is like cream in our coffee. Goodness, mercy eternal rest in God’s presence.  Thank you, thank you father for your gift of grace. May I use it wisely.

It do still stand by what I said back in psalm 20. Perhaps these aren’t designed to go together, but they do make a good set: two guidance psalms, one wishing it in advance like a benediction, the other quietly celebrating it as an ever present comfort; sandwiching a victory song and a disaster cry. Next we go to meet him on the holy hill.

John 2

Water into Wine

This is a flashback from the calling of the disciples to Jesus’ first miracle.  It follows Jesus dramatic promise to Nathaniel “Jesus’ first miracle. “Very truly I tell you,[i] you[j] will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  Changing water into wine, so glad its there, and its striking in so many ways.

  • Always been amazed at such an obviously magical miracle.  Its the power of god the creator to be able to make a substance from scratch that is the product of human agency and time for maturation.  The narrative makes a point of how good it is, a subtle quality.  Its almost like God showing off… you think you are so clever… certainly an awsome demonstration of God’s power in terms of degree of difficulty.
  • Such a trivial purpose on the face of it… more grog at a wedding. So human and banal.
  • Such a story of joy, celebration and indulgence.  Such an affirmation of human character.. having parties and drinking to be merry, its what we do.
  • The strange dialogue between mother and son.  That Mary suggested Jesus do something stimulates the imagination of what it must have been like being his mother, knowing he was messiah, God.
  • His obedience to her despite expressing reluctance.  The Gospels report this strange serendipitous nature of Jesus that he will often put the situation before the mission.  He responds to random circumstances in a loving generous way that is off task, and says so, but goes ahead regardless.  This is God, not what you’d expect.
  • The generosity of the miracle: 6 jars of 30 gallons, top quality.  180 gallons, seriously?

What do I learn?  God is love, god is abundance, god has style. Our “humaness” which is often pitted against God as Humanism is a reflection of the character of God, like a rebellious child who damns his parents with echos of phrases and logic that they themselves have taught him. Praying today for a good outcome from confusing, stress inducing job interviews. No offers yet, two very different positions, quite in need of trust and calm.  Very unsettling. 

Don’t make Jesus angry…

Now a flashforward to the last weeks of Jesus’ life. John’s obvious arrangement of Jesus’ life events for meaning rather than chronology makes you pay close attention to the editing. In chapter 1 we have a potted history of the universe and mankind; the mesiah arrives, calls his team and promises we’ll see heaven opened… and we get party Jesus and now angry Jesus.

Jesus’ reason for not wanting to do the wine miracle was that its wasn’t his time. This is more what his “time” looks like, though he is still holding back to a degree.  Trying very hard to get up the noses of the poiwerful and self rightoues, corrupt religious authorities.  This action is probably what got him killed, the claim about building the temple in three days was certainly quoted at his trial.

Jesus was a nobody to them, it took a huge chaotic symbolic disrespectful gesture like this to even get them to give him the time of day. Contrast the woman at the well, marginalised reviled, so aware of her fallen status.  Jesus had her full attention just by daring to say “hello”.  I imagine he would have been ignored by the hierarchy for anything less than this chaotic open affront. But he got their attention.

His message is that the presence of God has moved. The temple is now him. And the sacrificial system is now him.  So all those high margin doves they were selling are worthless to God. They don’t get that  he is talking in metaphors.  John makes it clear that even the disciples only figured it out after the resurrection.

Jesus’ reticence is a linking point of the two stories.  Sometimes it seems like a trap, his method.  The messiah comes but is very cagey about proving his power, he speaks in metaphors, doesn’t trust the general public with clear talk about his true nature, but then makes a big deal about being rejected.

It seems unfair – could he make it easier to believe in him? I think the secrecy and distrustfulness is an act of grace. Jesus spends his ministry buying time.  He could have been killed a hundred times. Just reading the scriptures with the wrong emphasis was enough to turn his home synagogue crowd into a lynch mob. Claiming to be messiah was a recipe for a short life. He had a dangerous mission to manage the uncontrollable evil around him to die the way he did.  All of our existence still is God buying time, managing and not intervening by destroying the sin of the world to give us a chance to repent.

The two stories are mainly placed to show Jesus is heaven opened and angels descending and ascending, fulfilling the claim at the end of the first chapter.

Its a claim that recalls Jacobs ladder, the vision of a bridge in Genesis between God and man with endless access up and down.  So we are confronted right off the bat with magical Jesus: if you want to believe in a great teacher only, not a divine being, stop reading.  And we are confronted with the one who brings God to man.  If you want to believe the temple is the location of God, forget it.  The reference to Jacob’s ladder is a reminder that God never was limited to a building either before or after Jesus. He is God, he is the Way.

The chapter ends with an interesting passage on how distrustful Jesus is – he knows our black hearts.

Very troubled by my second interview for job today.  The lightness and confidence i had about the process seems to have drained away, and I feel destined to fail at every aspect of it.  This is dangerous thinking for me particularly, though I should expect it as I have had a long history of screwiness about jobs and am coming back to it from a long holiday.  My brother John is also very sick with a mysterious disease, also troubling me.  So pray for calm in both… that ladder to heaven is still open, may angels descend and ascend today.