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.

Job 42

Last chapter. Job has all his blessing restored.

Job understands that he had no idea what he was talking about when he cursed the day he was born and challenged God to make a case for how his suffering was fair.

God’s presence has given him perspective on his existence and confidence that he is loved by a wonderful powerful God who is right across the details of life.

He takes back what he said, repenting of his words.

It’s still one of the hardest things, putting your victim status on the altar, giving that to God. When he repents, Job is still destitute and covered with sores.

Feeling sorry for your self, poetically disillusioned, is one of the few benefits of things going wrong. But in that we aren’t to sin, it doesn’t give us a get out of jail free card to lash out or be indulgent or selfish.

Jobs acceptance of God’s sovereignty is a remarkable, Christ-like act, like when Jesus stays silent during his trial and death, or – is it in the garden? – when he says ‘not my will but yours father’

I recall a lecturer at uni whose parody of the stupidity of Christianity was ‘i don’t know, I just believe‘. It’s exactly what job is saying, you won’t know, you just have to believe.

We need to wear that with pride and resist the temptation to tie life up with neat moral lessons like an Aesop fable, or a woman’s weekly article.

That remains the friend’s error, trying to construct a fake, watered down Christianity, that makes more sense but cuts out what God is actually saying and doing.

I’ve run my reading of Job in parallel with comments about the things in life that worry me, that I hope will turn out right.

Am I bad at giving up control? I think a lot of human mischief comes from wanting to control more than we can. We justify selfishness and lack of empathy for our need to feel in control of life’s circumstances.

We can wish, hope and pray for things to be different. Jesus cried great sobs wishing he didn’t have to drink his cup of suffering. But he stayed focussed, he drank it as from God.

I was always uncomfortable with the blessing that is restored to job. New kids to replace those he lost. Though we know from life I suppose how that eases the pain of loss without diminishing the uniqueness of the ones who die.

And though we know why it’s fair that job gets back his health, wealth and family, he doesn’t. And because of what he has had revealed of God he doesn’t need to.

The Lord gives and takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord. His first reaction got tested, tortured, questioned but ultimately, he learned not to demand God’s blessing.

2 Chronicles 6

Ok I’ve been a bit cynical about the temple as a second best effort, a stage towards God’s full revelation of himself as a god who lives in our hearts, not in buildings.

But Solomon’s dedication prayer here is very impressive. He really gets it.

God is still out there, in the highest heavens, but the cloud of his presence shows that his name is also at the temple.

It’s a place for contact, for asking for forgiveness and mercy. Solomon has built the greatest house for God he can, but he knows it can’t contain him, he’s proud of the building no doubt, but knows it’s a place to be humble before God.

And he’s generous. I criticised him a few chapters ago for using a foreign slave labour force to build it. But he invites all people, all nations to share in God’s blessing, not at all exclusive.

If the Jews ever wanted to keep God to themselves, i think it would be now. They’ve been saved from slavery, given a land, nationhood, a holy city, they are top of the economic heap, wildly prosperous, and now they have a temple for the one true God.

But no, he sees it as a blessing to all nations, God is God of the whole earth.

The theology is very tied to earthly rewards. It’s easy to think that way when you are rich and healthy.

He imagines various scenarios, like famine, war, falling into captivity, sickness. He says that will happen because of sin, and tells them to direct their prayers to the temple, and if God hears he will fix it.

Well as things develop, for the rest of the old testament, this doesn’t work, and the poets, philosophers and prophets are left to develop and write a down an understanding of God that is less neat, that includes delayed reward and God sanctioned hardship.

It’s also deeper, more wonderful, bigger than this.

But Solomon really gets repentance. He gets that it all goes back to the need to acknowledge the evil and rebellion in our own hearts, that everyone is in the same boat before God on that score.

It’s a beautiful dedication prayer. It’s Monday and I’m pumped for the week.

How many more chapters before we start to slide downhill outside the comfort zone, where everything they have believed is challenged and lost?

1 Chronicles 22

David all but builds the temple. The lavish building materials must have made depressing reading for the post exile Jews. They weren’t in a position to get 4 thousand tons of gold, 40 thousand tons of silver, and unlimited bronze. The bronze is mentioned twice.

Now we get judgement on the killing David did. He fought many many wars which are blandly noted in Samuel and Chronicles. At times he was a mercenary, this poet come killing machine. But here he mentions that it is one of the reasons God didn’t let him build the temple. He was judged after all.

I was also struck by rounding up foreigners and making them work on the temple. The good treatment of foreigners, not oppressing them because of the memory of Israel’s own slavery in Egypt, is mentioned 36 times in the books of the law. I saw it, didn’t David?

Moses didn’t get the promised land, Cain killed Able, Jacob cheated Isaac, Solomon built the temple and john the baptist pointed to Jesus. The constant deferment, moving to the second plan in the Bible. It makes sure it didn’t coalesce until Jesus.

But it’s also the result of sin.

I’m in a funk, poor focus at work. The instability is getting to me. I’ve come into a time of uncertainty, I’m no good at opportunism, I have no taste for it.

Fortunately I’m getting a fellow worker, someone to supervise. That will be an improvement, keep me focused.

I really want to do a good job, and I can imagine what a better job would look like but can’t summon up the energy to do it. I’ve been in this place many times before in my life!

It’s a kind of overthinking, a kind of pride I think. Just do what you can. Be normal. People like normal!

God can redeem the mess made by our sin, build it into his plans. Ask forgivness and move on. Do what can be done today.

1 Chronicles 10

After nine chapters of genaeology, we get to historical narrative.

It’s the story of the death of king Saul, he killed himself when all was lost after his sons were killed in a battle with the Philistines.

No hint as is told in Samuel of what a beautiful soul Jonathon was.

The emphasis here is that his line ended, snuffed out in a single battle. It’s described as God’s punishment for not being faithful to the Lord particularly for looking for guidance from the spirit world.

Definately the headline version, given what a tortured soul he was, and the epic and unusual struggle between him and David.

David’s faithfulness in that story made it spiritual, made it about Saul and God, because David would not fight. He’s a big part of the reason there is no ambiguity about Saul’s sin.

1 Chronicles 9

In answer to the last entry, this now lists the families from Judah and Benjamin who returned to Jerusalem. Levite priests too, plus some details of where people were and what their roles were.

I don’t know what the significance of the post exile Jerusalem was in the greater story. I mean it is part of establishing that Jesus is the longed for Messiah. I suppose none of the prophesy could have been fulfilled but for that…

I remember talks from when I was young that God may have some remaining plan for Jewish people specially, some things Paul says maybe.

Jeremiah 40

Jeremiah is freed.

The Babylonian soldier who frees Jeremiah sees God’s hand in it all, reminds me of the soldier at the cross. The contrast with the people’s refusal of God’s warnings of judgement is pretty stark. The soldier gives him a present and supplies and the choice of where he will go, Babylon or stay.

In a move straight from Machiavelli, the Babylonian king gives fields and properties to some of the poorest locals, and Jeremiah stays among them.

Judeans who have been outcasts in local countries, a bit like David was for a time, or Ruth, come to live around the ruins of Jerusalem, and prosper.

Indeed there has been a consistent strain of social justice through Jeremiah – God’s message is to the common folk, the vulnerable, over the heads of the rulers, telling them not to die for the cause. They are the lightest judged.

Its consistent with the vision God had for the holy land in the Torah, Isiah’s picture or the misfits and outcasts returning and Jesus’ ‘first shall be last’ vision of heaven.

The leader Gedaliah has clearly been listening to Jeremiah because he sends a message telling the exiles to live out their time in exile peacefully and to put down roots. The chapter ends suspensefully with a plot to kill him. The book is not all prophesy, it’s quite a history book at the moment.

It reminds me somewhat of the end of WALL-E when humans return to Earth.

The is a consistent beauty and continuity of the blessed land, producing wine and plenty.

The loop is closed, Joshua pushed out the Canaanites, and now the chosen people are pushed out. God was indeed on neither side, but the land remains his sacred and blessed creation.

Isaiah 21

Here prophesies are called “burdens”, which is evocative. Isiah just wakes up one day and has to unburden himself of all this stuff. It’s hard to follow. Maybe he found it hard to follow too.

At the moment his scenes are all about attacks on neighbouring countries, what are you gonna do? 

These seem to be three “out of the frying pan into the fire” prophesies. 

For Babylon, of whom Isaiah’s country lives in complete terror, he sees the Persians overrunning them. Ok, that’s more “there’s always a bigger fish” maybe.

His chaotic vision for their neighbour Edom seems to be “don’t relax” night will be followed by morning, then night again.

He sees refugees who tried to escape an attack on Arabia in a worse position, starving and dying.

The larger theme of all these burdens seems to be “it was always thus”. The bullies now will later be bullied. It’s a way of softening the blow that Israel will feel God has deserted them. Their status as chosen people meant God literally intervened in the flow of politics and military victors to elevate and protect them. 

But now the prophets are reinterpreting what it means to be his chosen people. They are entering the game of thrones, and will lose for a while.

But such is how God manages the corruption of the human race. No one group has too much power for too long, is too dominant. It’s the judgement of the tower of Babel.

Having a crazy busy week, feeling acutely the sense that I keep letting everything slip through my fingers, especially the family. I feel so ineffectual.

Pauses to pray.

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.

1 Kings 2

David dies and Solomon “consolidates his reign” per the heading in my transition… Gets rid of opposition.

David tells him to live for and follow the law, and to be strong and courageous, which is what Moses said to Joshua. 

Solomon acts as a king should, he removes his disloyal brother who is still plotting to be king and clearly won’t stop. And his priest and army captain. This stabilises his reign and guarantees a period of peace. 

The thrust of it is that the right outcome, God’s, has happened. But I know in the background that God never wanted them to have kings, its a second best plan. 

I have a sense of fresh dedication to things. Perhaps it’s spring. I want to wrap up a few messy loose ends that I have allowed to roll on too long. Give me wisdom. May I be strong and courageous.