Hosea 9

A chapter of firey prophesy of judgement, but done with a poetic sadness and regret.

Hosea has no “cut through”, the people are prosperous and busy. His message is of coming disaster. They won’t hear of it.

It’s interesting to see in this unfolding COVID-19 pandemic different reactions to the truth. Doctors predict the spread and the measures that can slow it enough that the hospital system won’t get overwhelmed.

You can literally see in the death rates per million of population differences in the ability of various countries to accept the truth and act on it.

And it comes down to an individual level, a personal decision to abide by the truth, or even if you aren’t convinced, a sense of responsibility to the majority to go with the program.

Hosea gets desperate at one point and writes in a double take… He starts “Give them Lord….” But then says “what will you give them?” He’s going from projecting his anger as a wish list to God, to actually seeking God’s will. He settles on low fertility, an irony because the false gods they worship are fertility Gods.

He’s saying god is in charge of fertility, and the merciful thing would be not to bring children into the destruction and dislocation that is rapidly coming to them.

We aren’t quite there yet with the virus, but a work colleague who is going on maternity leave was on a walk and told by police not to be outside, at risk of a $2000 fine the other day!

God wants good things for us, Jesus broke evil and death, so we can have abundant blessing, but that truth is not accepted over the false promises of greed and selfishness.

The “gospel” of sensible medical precautions falls on paths, stony ground, gets pecked away by birds, and some falls on fertile ground and takes root. Just like Jesus’ gospel. There are consequences.

Ezekiel 40

Visions shouldn’t have too much detail in my view, so I’m not mad on this chapter. It is the start of a series of eight about god’s vision of the temple, given to Ezekiel.

It has a nerdy amount of detail. Of course various architects and historians have tried to visualise it, demonstrating that for all it’s detail, it’s still incredibly ambiguous.

It would have looked liked like this:

Or these

The last one’s my fave.

There have been two temples in Jerusalem, Solomon’s, and the second one they built upon return to Jerusalem. The return Ezekiel has been waiting for and prophesying about all though this book.

The second temple was so disappointing that the old people who remembered Solomon’s cried when it opened.

I think that is why this vision is here, personally, to make it very clear how disappointing the second temple was to God as well.

The Bible thrives on plan B’s, second best and paradigm shifts, as I have observed before.

The plan God’s gave to Ezekiel is many times larger than Solomon’s. The one they actually built was significantly smaller.

The whole tone of the end of the old testament history: Ezra, Nehemiah, and the return to Jerusalem, is of inadequacy. The O.T. ends with a whimper. And not by accident, I don’t think.

It’s saying, I think, that there must be more than these buildings and these animal sacrifices, surely. The second temple they built was manifestly NOT the temple God’s wanted. So what is the plan? It’s setting up Jesus. God in us, our bodies as God’s temple.

My beloved, generally not whacky, Enduring Word commentary takes the Millennial view: that there will be a literal 1000 year reign of Jesus on earth when he returns, and Jesus will spend his time project-manging the construction of a third temple to this literal design.

Some Christians even want to get on with it in advance. They see God’s work for us as creating conditions where the millennium can occur. That’s why some of the visualisations above are modern-ish, with 1980s shopping mall/ public-library-style materials and finishes. This dream is still alive!

I’m going to be doubting Thomas on that one: I’ll believe it when I see it.

Modern orthodox Jews have a very wise approach to the third temple, from what I can gather from Wikipedia. They reject all this scheming and say that if God wants to do it, then God will. It’s not for us to plan.

In the meantime, in practice the mosques that are there in the likely temple site are respected, and the access rules established in negotiation with Islamic leaders are enforced by the Israeli government and police.

I can live with that. It’s kind of a perfect outcome.

Today is the first day of my holidays. No more work until February!

The idea that we live in a rather broken world, of excellent intention, randomly offering glimpses of heaven, of mediocrity and disaster, seems inescapable right now.

Bushfires have skirted around the homes of a number of people I know and love, and taken many others

We get these visions of perfection, of completed patterns in our heads, but we live with a different kind of improvisational beauty that comes from bringing Grace to ordinary moments, and comfort to pain.

I think the perfection is a distraction from our work and purpose.

Jesus with his vague itinerary, his undisriminating approach to disciple recruitment, his generally by-the-seat-of-the pants approach to the specifics of his day, showed us that perfect execution of detailed planning will not necessarily set us free. Life about getting the spiritual priorities right.

Ezekiel 19

The theologically correct response to bad leadership.

It’s a lament, a song expressing sadness over the last Kings of Israel. I think it is part prophesy, as one king had not experienced the failure of his leadership yet.

The first two are compared to lion cubs that fall into traps, and the third to a fruitful vine that, ironically is burned to uselessness by a fire lit by a staff made of is own wood.

The change of metaphor signifies that the first two Kings, Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin were not of the line of David.

The lament calls them Princes of Judah, as opposed to the third, Zedekiah, who is described as of the vine from the glory days of David and Solomon, when the southern kingdom of Judah and Israel were one.

They are all Kings that I just wrote off as pathetic when I read Kings and Chronicles. But to the Israelites who lived though the cruel 3 month reign of Jehoahaz, he was the leader, he briefly represented hope. King is a role which parallels in many ways that of God.

Sadness, singing of how far things are from right. That is a good response to the failure of human leadership.

Anger can galvanise you to action… occasionally. But it must subside to indignation and outrage to be effective, because it only harms you in the long run to live in the grip of the emotion of anger. Surely.

Lament is the start of the process of pointing the frustrations of this wrongness back to God.

They hoped in these kings in some small way, or at very least were poignantly reminded of a time when they could trust in them.

I feel it strongest when narratives won’t be neat. When dumb decisions are made. When you can see the happy ending but it won’t just fall into place, whether it’s affecting you or others. The sadness of the fall.

Ezekiel 12

This is about fearing God I suppose.

Ezekiel acts out the defeat and exile that the rest of Jerusalem will suffer, for the benefit of those already dragged away by Babylon.

They still don’t believe it’s possible. They have a saying that visions never come to pass, which he repudiates.

This vision of the destruction of Jerusalem will happen.

So fear the Lord.

We’ve already been given a spoiler of the people’s response. They don’t accept Ezekiel’s message from God. (sorry later chapters if they do).

It’s still true now that so many people appear to live their lives thinking that the gody stuff doesn’t matter.

I’m so deep in it, my temptation is get blase about what I already accept.

People sometimes persist in ignoring God even as things start to fall apart, like the exiles here… You’d think they might suspect god might keep his judgement promise.

Yes, this is serious, we only get one go at it.

Ezekiel 5

Another sign / street theatre symbolising destruction. This was directly after the strange year-long seige-play in the last chapter.

Ezekiel cut off his hair and burned it or threw it to the winds. He divided it into thirds – symbolising those destroyed in Jerusalem, around the city or those scattered to exile.

God compared what will happen to the people as ‘shaving’, hence the hair. He prophesied that within the city walls parents would eat children and children would eat parents, a vivid glimpse of how desperate and grim it would be.

This evil, done by evil people, God characterises as judgement. Part of his plan. It’s very hard too take, Lord.

The Bible, give or take, is the story of ‘people find God’ (up to Solomon), ‘people lose God’ (rest of OT) people find God. (NT). Like a romance novel.

‘People lose God’ is very long, about 20 books.

Since Genesis I’ve been toying with the idea that rebellion is an inherent part of any creation that includes autonomy, just as adolescence is part of growing up. Leaving the father and mother.

It will be interesting to see how AI pans out – will rebellion be a step? If so 1000 B-movie script writers will be lining up to say ‘I told you so’.

Perhaps we have the capacity for evil as part of our creation.

Judgement is very efficient… Rather like creation being self sustaining and replenishing, evil is self-punishing, by other evil.

God’s revelation to us of himself is both complete in every moment and progressive. Inside time and outside it.

The heavens tell the glory of God. All you need to know. So do Paul’s epistles, in a more fiddly way.

Rahab welcomed the spies to Jericho. In that moment was the gospel. The prophets and the poets witnessed the destruction of everything they knew, but though that awful history the ‘new thing’ was revealed: the god of all nations, who is the sacrifice, who lives in us, who is love. Evil not only punishes itself, but ultimately destroys itself through the transformations it can force our hearts to have to make.

So I do believe it is in God’s hands, in ways too marvelous for me to understand, as lame as that sounds. He’s got this.

Psalm 141

Tender and brutal. Who was king David? A poet and a warrior. Intensely emotional, a tough and effective mercenary. He takes us amazing places, but surely few of us can go to all of them, he’s a rare bird.

He gets that religion is about the heart. He gets that temptation draws your heart to it. You, not it, are to blame. And a rebuke and a slap for the right things are blessings from God.

Please let me recognise that one. So often when I am told off, I reflect back the hurt of the moment, the wound to my pride. Later, when I am cool enough to actually take on board the truth, so rarely do I close the loop and go and express my gratitude to the person who rebuked me.

In the flow of the psalm, this idea leads to an aside from David that those he rebuked will recognise the truth of his words once they have been thrown down from their high place and their bones scattered without a decent burial.

“You’ll wish you’d listened to me once you’re dead!” Is an impossible kind of rebuke, but one likely to startle the hearer. It sits oddly in a psalm that has been so reflective up to that point.

He returns to a more worthy tone to conclude, fixing his eyes on God, though he does still express satisfaction anticipating his enemies’ self destruction.

If Trump goes, for instance, I will be satisfied, particularly if it’s dished out with some of the pain and humiliation he visits on those around him too powerless to object. David goes there, some have suggested this might be about his relationship with king Saul. But he knows his thoughts should really be fixed on God and his own holiness.

He knows it is by the grace of God, not his doing, that He can slip by unscathed as others mess up.

We live in a distracting age, may I remember that too.

Song of Songs 3

I’m finding the commenters very inadequate for this book.

For one they have a tin ear for poetry. And they treat it like an interference to the message. “Don’t panic” they seem to be saying all the time “it’s just poetry”.

Which is pretty silly because the whole thing is a poem. Did the holy spirit make a mistake choosing the literary form? And it’s an ominously dismissive way to discuss one of the few female voices we’ve yet heard in the biblical narrative.

Also they are always hastening to make the case that this is all about the importance of sex being in the context of marriage, which it really isn’t.

I can understand that is probably a pastoral priority… If I was a Christian youth trying to justify an unwise affair, this book would be my first port of call, and the pastors need to be armed with counter arguments. But that emphasis is bit of a distraction if you simply want to understand the book.

Solomon turns up in this chapter on his wedding day, the first literal reference to marriage. He’s not a great normative example. The political, moral and religious damage he did to the institution with his 1000s of wives and concubines was explicitly identified by God as his downfall. Our recent ugly fights over the meaning of marriage in the equality debates pale into insignificance in the face of his trashing of the ideal of monogamy.

And that is what this song has held high til now. Not literally marriage, but monogamy. The power and wonder of deep and unbroken love between two.

If it was written by Solomon, he’s imagining an alternate universe where he is not enslaved by meaningless lustful appetites, and marriage vows used for cynical power games. If it his pen, it’s surely a work of shame and repentance.

The girl spends the first half of the chapter seeking her beloved through the streets in the night.

The over the top obsessiveness of it easily connects restless spiritual quests.

A guy from Iran was baptised at our church a few weeks ago, very moving story. A deeply reflective guy, he could not stop looking until he found answers. So humbling and encouraging that he found them in fellowship with us!

Then Solomon. He’s in a grand procession oozing luxury. My usually helpful commentator said that there are two processions, one for the girl and one for Solomon, and she will be Solomon’s bride, but I can’t see it, and her lover was a shepherd in the previous chapters. Had she spent the night wandering the streets looking for king Solomon? It is now about a love triangle? Say wha?

I think I’ll just enjoy it as an image of scents, sensations and luxury associated with love, like the banquet the last chapter. Jesus used Solomon’s man-made glory as a byword to praise by contrast a humble flower of god’s creation, maybe a similar thing is going on here. I don’t know, but I want to believe it’s still about humble authentic love.

I’ve been working at thinking about feelings of insecurity at work. What if it’s true, and you actually aren’t as nice, clever or loveable as you thought? I’ve been entertaining that idea and trying to have it not matter. You’re there to collaborate, just bring what you bring, unapologetically, but not as if it could be worth more than anyone else’s input either. Insecurity can be a kind of ego.

Stay loving and expect to be loved because of the promise of love.

Like the girl searching for her lover, or my friend at church being baptised after considering so many religions, only true love will do, don’t give up til you find the real thing.

Psalm 111

A straight praise Psalm. Talks of god’s goodness, provision, strength and eternal nature, and his kindness in revealing himself to us, “causing his wonders to be remembered”. That stuck out for some reason.

I think I have a massive case of overthinking. I was listening to Taylor Swift’s new song “me” yesterday and, yes it’s probably a cynical zeitgeist-driven money-making machine, but what a catchy chorus!

For me pure pop has always accessed a blissful euphoria that helps me feel, and let go a heap of complexity. These praise Psalms are like pure pop to me.

God, help me smile, help me relax and get on with the stuff I need to do.

I didn’t work worthily and vigorously yesterday like I hoped, I did stuff but it was piecemeal and poorly prioritised. Am I too hard on myself? Dunno. I’ve decided not to overthink today!

Sigh.

Proverbs 19

“What would you call yourself?” “A fool”. An exchange from the evidence being given by Donald Trump’s lawyer.

A person’s own folly leads to their ruin,
yet their heart rages against the Lord.

Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death.

A hot-tempered person must pay the penalty; rescue them, and you will have to do it again

I keep having a break from blogging while I work obsessively on my music. It’s sort of related to the project, but it’s sort of weird too. I’m learning a whole new and very stimulating field of making sound work. The results never satisfy me, and I’m impatient.

I should start with a much better singer, but there’s not a lot I can do about that, and I should work in a recognisable genre, but I don’t want to throw away what I’ve done.

Am I being a fool? Probably. You have to keep your hobbies in their place.

My life has gone from unpredictable roller coaster to intricate balancing act as I try to live within my means and balance the relationships and responsibilities around me. I’m less temperamentally suited to this mode. Maybe that why I’ve had a break from this rhythm. Too many patterns.

I’m thinking a lot about the limits of ones own responsibility. I have a bad habit of wanting to solve problems that I can’t.

The chapter has some very well crafted and incisive messages. It follows the pattern of drifting from practical insight to spiritual.

I’ve been trying to think of a good message for Easter at work, I’m to write a brochure. I’m so spiritually blank. It great to write here again.

What a person desires is unfailing love;
better to be poor than a liar.

Thats a good general principle. I’ve been trying to start where the people would be at when they see the brochure. Watching Brene Brown videos. She’s great.

The wisdom, point by point, encourages you down a good path. It’s the book of a thousand Facebook memes.

Proverbs 9

Ok I’ve had a break for a week and I’ve been a little down. Also focusing on music, though it’s too much of an escape, I need to keep it in check.

Down because of good news, really about work. It seems I will have a full time job, exactly the job I am doing now. Which will make permanent a stop gap job I went to a year ago.

The down side is that it doesn’t pay quite enough, so to carry on will require some careful belt tightening for the whole family. We only survived last year by dipping into savings.

So it’s a little sad not getting the more highly paid job that I had no expectation of getting …until they dangled it as an exciting possibility for over a month….

It will seem good soon. I’ve been praying about it, and there are many up sides.

Also it was really only yesterday that I heard it was real, is just been a quite likely outcome, so I’ve been very uncertain for some time now. The uncertainty has eaten me up a bit.

On Saturday I went to the Aboriginal service at church. The visiting pastor was quite Pentecostal. We wrote our hearts prayer requests on a sheet of paper and put them in a bowl that he and other ministers present prayed over and claimed the answer to.

I put in concern about the job and my kids, unsurprisingly. Sunday morning he was there and I thanked him, and he and his wife wound up praying over my job a second time.

Then Monday I heard about the job! And I’m ungrateful enough to feel prevarication about it. Perhaps the Lord is speaking to me, an uptight old Anglican, through this prayer bowl.

Another reason I’ve been down just this last day because I made an uncharacteristically harsh Facebook post, criticising the Anglican church and I feel a bit exposed.

They sold the archbishop’s palace an old Gothic pile that looks like Hogwarts, for $17 million and I read in the paper that they have commissioned one of Sydney’s smartest architecture firms to build a new ‘palace’ in glebe, where my church is, for $7.3 million.

I linked to the article and said ‘strikes me as obscene, and I’m in the club!’

I just thought, why not take the opportunity to make a very normal house for the archbishop? The second most extensive fancy house in glebe sold recently was $5 million, the average is $1.5m, to put it in perspective.

The comments shot back saying the new compound included a 200 seat hall that would be used for University work (it’s across the road from Sydney Uni), and extra accommodation that would be used for visiting missionaries or church dignitaries and that the article hasn’t taken all that into consideration.

The discussion was pretty civilised actually, at least.

But that was how it struck me in the moment of reading it, and I wanted to preserve that reaction. I knew if I spoke to people I would move back inside the churchy bubble where it made sense, But most of the world is outside the bubble.

I did doubt my wisdom in doing that though. I wonder if there wasn’t an element of feeling frustrated at being so long at the mercy of indecision over my job, feeling powerless. I don’t know.

Proverbs chapter 9 refers to two houses.

Wisdom’s house calls people in to food and wine, it appeals to the simple to leave their foolish ways and gain insight.

Folly also has a house, offering stolen food and drink, which promises to be more delicious, but which leads to death.

It’s easy to see it as the choice to avoid immorality, sexual as per the last few chapters, or dodgy ways to get money.

It’s also talking about whether your heart is seeking truth, moving towards God, or fighting truth, hardening your heart to God. That’s why it can talk about the way of the simple, those who go into folly’s house, as leading to death. The ultimate foolishness is rejecting God.

In the middle was a section that seemed to speak to my fears over Facebook. About not arguing with scoffers or rebuking mockers.

Basically not having pointless arguments where you dispute the views of people who hate God. It’s a dead end if it just hardens your opposition to each other.

Also describes a fair whack of Facebook. It’s just people stating their prejudices at each other and getting angry at others who don’t agree and never will. It’s not constructive.

And I wondered if I was foolish for attacking my own church in front of non Christian friends. I also got to stand up for my faith very publically. So it’s not a clear situation.

Out maybe it is, maybe I’m in folly’s house.

My pastor invited me to the pub for a drink on Thursday. I thought ‘how great’ but then I worried – is this about the Facebook post? His wife personal messaged me a contribution to the argument, so it’s in his radar. Time will tell.

So there’s my start-of-year joys and blues, wisdom and foolishness, certainty and mystery, all woven with proverbs in a long ramble.

At least now I can also start on concrete, optimistic planning elements of a new year.