Isaiah 37

King Hezekiah consults Isaiah about the Assyrian threat. Isaiah knows God’s mind, that the Assyrians won’t take Jerusalem. Indeed he knows the specific fate of the Assyrian envoy: he’ll die at his son’s hands.

He also knows a great pruning of Israel is coming from which only a shadow will survive, which he also refers to in his poetic response. And he is aware that even the Assyrians’ victories are God given, for all their arrogance.

We get a great affirmation of Jehovah above idols of wood and stone. There is an image of the people born in other countries being like weak doomed grass that takes root on the roof, which I found very poignant.

The story set me thinking about the relationship between knowing God’s mind and prayer.

The people and the king pray that God will hear the taunts of Assyria and act. Hezekiah is answered in those terms “God has heard your prayer”.  But Isaiah knows God’s mind all along.

People tear their clothes in fear and despair when they hear of the Assyrian threat because they know it might be God’s judgement, or maybe because they don’t believe God is really in control of such a fierce force of evil.  They ask for help, and this time they get it in terms they asked.

When the Babylonians returned less than a generation later, not so much.

God always responds like God. A bit like Jesus’ random encounters during his ministry… A catastrophic tower collapse may be talk of the day, or he may be at a wedding with inadequate catering, see a dead fig tree or meet a sick person.

And he thinks presumably “what would Jesus do”? And his responses fit the moment and the larger plan of salvation, and teach us til today about the nature of God.  And it answers prayers then and now. It doesn’t really make a difference if its random or part of a master plan, because it all sings a consistent tune.

God is the same in the minutiae and in the grandeur, in the fleeting moment and in the millennia.

Because his truth and his character are eternal, unchanging. And he loves our faith, our prayer.

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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.

1 Kings 1

Kings starts with lots of politics over the succession to David who is old and weak.

God is only referred to late in the chapter when David finally speaks and names the God who saved him from every adversity as the source of Solomon’s entitlement to be named the true successor.

The old warrior poet hit just the right note to bring authority into the room. That David got to be an old man is a wonder of God’s power.

Then as Solomon is crowned and anointed a servant Benaniah calls down a blessing, that God will make Solomon’s throne greater than David’s.

So Kings starts on a high, with the chosen nation within God’s plan. God’s choice of king, not the oldest which human succession would appoint.

And I start at a point of self exploration. I’ve been re reading a lot of the entries of this blog to do summaries, and wondering at 55 years of age and 2 years into my job what a “next” might be, if there is one, and what are my priorities.

My expections for kings are low. I’ve been putting off reading it. I recall it as a repetitive and sad book. But I had forgotten about Solomon.

Will my spiritual journey and the arbitrary discipline for reading God’s word I have set myself connect?  Find out in the next thrilling episodes!

… And bless this undertaking, father!

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 7

My God can be terrifying God from the perspective of being one of his people. 

Here Moses describes how will root out the stronger people in the land and put in the weaker Israelites, making them strong. But if they don’t obey him, the same fate awaits them.

God is a gardener. We don’t hesitate to pull out annuals that have done flowering. Some plants we feed, others we prune, some we remove. The gardener knows that is best for the garden. The gardener’s plans are for the garden to thrive and survive and for it to be something the current garden can’t imagine being. 

We didn’t actually make the plants in our garden, or the dirt or the sun or the water. Yet we are the masters of its fate. But God made us and our world. 

Contemplating the idea that you are a creation is a shocking idea if you are used to the idea that you are god of yourself. But God has completly the right to act that way.

The process of taking the holy land is often understandably disparaged as racial cleansing. But God makes it clear here that it is not because of racial superiority that he chose the Israelites. It’s because of his plans, not their worth. 

I’m not a Jew, but I believe Jesus, who was, was also God and died for me. This is part of the story of God’s love for all mankind. It’s not racial.

He knew the number of hairs on the head of every one of the “ites” who were already in Canaan. He formed them, knew them and loved them in the womb.  Like plants in a garden, they will all eventually die, but that does not mean they are not known and loved. We love and enjoy our plants, but we didn’t make them. How much more would we if we had.

The people he desired to make way for the Israelites are in his hands. The God I see here, the one I was inspired by the last chapter to love with all my heart, is an all mighty, all powerful God of love and kindness.

Deuteronomy 3

The are lots of events in the narrative of God’s salvation that are unique. Like Jesus for instance: the aren’t lots of messiahs. Or the apostles. There are lots of disciples, followers, but only 12 apostles, just as God’s people are innumerable but the are only 12 tribes of Israel.

And the Israelites’ miraculous military conquest, which Moses tells the start of in this chapter, is in that category, a one off part of the salvation story. God was on their side, they embodied his timing and his judgment, like a natural disaster.  They won every fight that God sanctioned, and left to their own strength, lost every one he didn’t.

My point is we can’t now say in every war “whose side is God on” and we can’t imply it was the winners. These wars were unique, and God actually hates most war.

So Moses witnesses, before he dies, and demonstrates for Joshua the new leader, the power of God that will deliver the holy land to them. But it is for land on the Egypt side of the Jordan. He can’t cross.

So we see God’s relationship with Moses as a powerful leader, but also God’s judgment on Moses flaws and the rebellion of the people because he can only be granted the sight of the promised land from a mountain overlooking it. Others will claim it. 

One of the Bible’s most wistful moments, Moses looking at the promised land. 

He probably revisited as he looked out the day he pretended to be God.  As a prophet he was to speak God’s truth, but he took the opportunity of God giving them water to make it like his agency was part of the miracle, and he gave them a piece of his mind, not God’s.

Numbers 35

This continues a list of living arrangements for the holy land. It’s a grace filled chapter.

The priests are the chosen of the chosen. They don’t have their own land but are spread out among the people in a way that anticipates modern theology of the priesthood of all believers.

It’s God’s way of influencing: the salt that gives flavour.

And refuge cities are dotted though the land where accidental killers, manslaughterers, may shelter from legalised vengence.

Commentator mentioned how God as refuge is a theme, and how much in common the idea of a refuge City has with Jesus.

God is just there nibbling away at people, being there as part of life, being salt in conversations and somewhere to go for refuge. It’s a good picture of how he wants us to live.

Numbers 9

The first month of the second year out from Egypt the Israelites celebrate Passover, still done and transformed to the Lord’s supper for Christians.

It’s an extraordinarily long tradition. I think it should give pause to those who say the whole thing never happened.

The fate of the Egyptians is the fate of us all. There but for the grace of God. The passover is framed as what God didn’t do to the Isralites – and they symbolically gave their first born to his service in return.

Then the story tells of how life continued at the call of God. The cloud of his presence would stay over the tabernacle until it was time to move on. Could be a day, could be a year. Talk about being aware of his presence and guidance.

A number of my peers, in their 50s and early 60s are positioning themselves for retirement, changing jobs moving on. It’s quite an age for a shake up.

The Christians among us have usually lost a lot of the drive of ambition at our age, and I do believe some of them are being directed more by a desire to serve God than earlier in life. I ache to do more music. Is that a call to service? Or a phantom unfulfilled earthly ambition that I should let go? I thought of that as I accepted to be a warden at my church last week. The cloud moved and settled on warden. It’s not mine to direct.

The Israelites would wander 40 years in the desert. Exodus had a one year timeline, Leviticus was a month or so. Numbers spans something resembling life.

They start by being ready for the battle, military preparation to take the holy land. Then, guided by God, life.

2 Samuel 9

David finds and honours mephisbosheth, who is Jonathan’s son, grandson of Saul. He returns to him much of Saul’s property and treats him as a son, having him dine at his table from then on. 

We last saw mephisbosheth in the narrative when he was fleeing the royal palace as a child, his nurse dropped him and he became lame in both feet.

This kindness is unusual and unnecessary behaviour for a king, and it shows again his respect for the lord’s anointed, Saul, his love of jonathan, and of course it springs from the sincere love of God that both men had. 

It’s a powerful thing when Christians act, do. When we behave with generosity contrary to the normal self serving dictates of a position, against our own best interests, it makes our love of God real.

Pray that god gives me way to behave counter intuitively.

2 Samuel 2

David is talking to God again. David is a man of war and of action. But he is also deeply godly, though he has been though a time of personal spiritual rebellion living almost as a philistine.

It’s been years since he was anointed king. He will not seize it. He waits for God. When he becomes king it will be gods doing, not his. 

It can be tempting, if you feel you know god’s will, to push him along a bit. But you risk losing sight of where god’s will ends and your own ambition starts. Not so David!

A weak king, representing the Saul power base is given the larger part of Israel. David reminds them of the respect he always gave Saul, and tells them not to do it.

There is a long civil war, hideous, literally brother against brother, as the Saul base try to take all of the country and only becomes weaker and weaker.

David’s patience is a terrific example. To him the end does not justify the means, he stays true to his principle though it all.

David is talking to God again…