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…

1 Samuel 21

David is sort of like Jesus and not. It’s important to notice his flaws, the narrative doesn’t always flag them.

This chapter here tells two lies. He’s hiding out with some men and they need food so he gets some dedicated temple bread from the priest. 

The priest is suspicious, David is alone and somewhat desperate. But he gives him the bread when he says he is on a secret mission from the king. I don’t know how much the priest bought the lie, he needed a plausible level of deniability for supporting a person the king would view as treasonous.

David also fudges the answers about whether the men are holy enough for the bread. Have they kept themselves from women for 3 days? Probably, he essentially says. Besides the bread isn’t that holy, he spins…

Then he runs to a neighbouring country and avoids being drawn into an alliance with the king, who knows his reputation as a great warrior, by feigning madness. 

David is a true believer in Jehovah, motivated by a deep contemplation of God, but he is not perfect.

It’s good to remember that christian leaders are not flawless but neither are they invalidated by their flaws. They need to be admired for what there is of God in them, not made into God.

1 Samuel 11

Saul passes his first great test, Israel not so much.

Some bad hombres annex a group of Israelites and as part of a humiliating “peace” deal threaten to take out the right eye of every male. The Israelites beg 7 days to see if anyone will help. 

Saul galvanises his personal outrage into national leadership and rescues them and the territory, defeating the ammonites. Israel has a born leader.

Sometimes what we want, our deepest desires, and god’s will and plan overlap. Israel want to be winners, to keep all their land, to unify and be strong. God promised the land, said they are a single nation, a chosen people. That’s a fair degree of overlap.

But the gaps show in their reaction, such as wanting to put to death anyone who questioned making Saul king. Saul himself intervenes and reminds them that the victory is not his but the lord’s. 

However the subtlety is already being lost in the joy of victory. The king, the victory, are tangible. The people never seem able to completely connect, in a sacrificial way, with God.

Good for God, good for me. It’s a seductive notion. But “win win” is not the third great commandment. 

It’s easy to criticise in obvious examples like prosperity doctrine, which teaches that earthly wealth is evidence of god’s blessing. But the comfort of my existence is surely riddled with it. 

How much am I willing to put on the line for God?

Joshua 11

This chapter deals with the conquest of the north. We have a sense of desert here. It says “for it was of the lord that he hardened their hearts”. None of the kings of the north made peace with the Israelites. They were all destroyed.

Reminds me of exodus… alternating references to pharaoh have him hardening his heart or God doing it. Free will or predestination? Constantinople or Istanbul?

There is a conflicting feeling of relief when you get to the last verse, which after a long period of battle, says that Israel rested from war.

Phew, don’t have to read about killing any more! Ouch, what does that mean?

Hooray for hymns and songs.

To everything there is a season. A time to kill and a time for peace.

Guide me oh thou great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land.

I wonder if I’m coming down with the flu. My brain is not working as it generally does.

Joshua 6

The battle of Jericho. I wondered in chapter 2 if it would seem fair, but we never hear from them again. They are destroyed, that’s it.

The commander of the lords army who appeared at the end of the last chapter does not appear again, so his message is no more than Joshua is standing on holy ground. And his appearance as a warrior. It’s encouragement for Joshua, the lord is on his side.

And of course it’s a victory like no other. They march and make sound for 7 days, and then the walls come down.

Why 7 days? God often uses time and process, ritual if you will, when he deals with us. Why did Jesus cure blindness in two steps, with spittle mud, so that the blind person saw blurry people at the start? Why bread and wine?

It was their chance to repent. They knew of the red sea, they knew of the Jordan crossing, why did they not come out and talk during the strange seize?

Their time had come. I do trust gods justice, no one will be damned unfairly, and trust in time I will understand that. The bouncy spiritual makes it sound fun “Good ‘ol Joshua”, but it must have been an horrific day, corpses piled up on that holy ground.

Perhaps the angel appeared to assure Joshua of rightness as much as victory.

It’s on the verge of the anniversary of my father’s death. He died after a long and fruitful life, and it gave him freedom from his decline, so I did not curse God.

On what basis do we judge some death fair or not?

Innocence? All have sinned.

Length of life? All our lives are short. One day is like a thousand to the universe.

Love or connection? Yes some deaths hurt more than others.

Suffering? Yes and no. I sometimes think our empathy for suffering is inseparable from our personal dread of death.

I really don’t know where I am going with this. The gloom of the Orlando killings is still hanging over me this week, as it descends into political squabbling.  I keep visualising the two slaughter houses, Jericho and Pulse.

Pray for the world father, don’t let us descend into division. Show us beauty and goodness. May you have mercy.

Ezra 4

The surrounding nations presumably don’t like the regional power shift of Jerusalem becoming viable again. Their plot to stop it first involves offering to join the efforts, to hopefully make it lose its racial flavor. Then they run interference, bribing officials to frustrate and slow down progress. Finally they write directly to the king.

It is actually not hard to sympathise with the opposition. Their assessment that a strong Jerusalem would be bad for them could be entirely fair. Their letter to the king is effective because it’s not really slanderous, it tells the new king to check out the history of Jerusalem for himself, and he finds a history of trouble and shuts down the work.

The only thing that stops it being an entirely predictable and reasonable power struggle is that it is god’s plan that Jerusalem should be rebuilt. And god is love. It’s god’s long term plan of love for the world that they have inadvertently stumbled upon and blocked.

I think this is a good passage to remember when we find opposition in the world to get confidence to carry on. As the blues brothers said, we’re on a mission from God. Christians today get a seige mentality, and think of opposition as the forces of evil to be destroyed. But they are only behaving as we should expect. Beating them is not the mission directly, our response should be faith based and between us and God. A refocusing on our mission. Like how David, in times of crisis, would go into the presence of God and be restored.

 

Ezra 1

Ezra tells the same story of the return of the exiles to Jerusalem that Nehemiah tells. For Nehemiah it was the wall, for Ezra it seems like it will be the temple

I’m fascinated by Cyrus of Persia. His kingdom defeated the Babylonian kingdom and he decided to let the exiles return home. He opened up the treasure house and let them take the plundered temple artifacts, of great value, home.

Some Jews thought he was the Messiah. It’s certainly quite extraordinary. I suppose politically it’s easier to rule an empire where you are viewed as a liberator. But he seems to have had a real affinity for different religions. Wiki suggested as a zoroastrian himself, he would understand monotheism. That slightly illogical, as you would think it could also be an argument for objecting to other gods.

Whatever, it is an example of God working through history.

 

 

Daniel 1

Israel is conquered and some top young men are forced into the service of the Babylonian king.  Taken from their culture, it’s about what stays and what is ephemeral.

They undertake three years training to be servants of the king. Daniel considers the kings food and wine a defilement, and indeed it’s probably not kosher, or ancient equivalent.

So he and his mates drink only water and eat only vegetables.   They flourish and come top of the class, skills that mix learning with a fair bit of mysticism and magic. God grants them insight to know dreams.

The great meta salvation plan of God appears to have gone backwards. Yet here he is still active in Daniels life. Where will this book run with it?