Hosea 14

Admit it, you’re wrong.

Your glittery idols aren’t true, human societies won’t really rescue you, at least not forever. Turn to your creator.

God wants to love us freely, to forgive us and have us flourish. Like new young shoots, like blossoms in dew, like vines or junipers, heavy with fruit in the shade of a magnificent tree.

In the end it’s about wisdom and careful insight:

Who is wise? Let them realize these things.

    Who is discerning? Let them understand.

Verse 9

In our prosperity, in our distress, God is present, is love abundant. This wealth will pass, this distress will pass, but God’s love is forever.

My sister posted this leunig cartoon to Facebook.

Business as usual? Yes, but praying for vulnerable friends, medical staff dealing with extraordinary risk and misery, the third world, people in violent, abusive families trying not to go out, worries small and large. Many things to pray for.

Ezekiel overview

The Lord is here, present. In me, now.  God had to break the paradigm of being present only in the holy of holies in the temple in Jerusalem. We’re used to it now, but imagine if we’d only ever known the temple system.

This book narrates that shift, against the backdrop of Jerusalem being destroyed, from the margins of it, in exile in Babylon.

God arrives spectacularly, a gleaming Prince atop a rolling throne, in the visions that commence the book.

Much time is spent making it clear that Jerusalem is done for, the dream is gone, and deservedly so. Very, very deserved. Because of very familiar arrogance, corruption and apathy.

The centre of gravity has shifted to the exiles, longing to get back to the action. They are now the action, they are the ones who were saved from the destruction. There is no there there in Jerusalem any more.

God is in hearts of flesh.

God is Spirit that breathes life to dry bones.

God is a prince, the Messiah.

The rolling vision of God from the start of the book inhabits a crazily detailed temple of dreams that has not been, and I think will not ever be, built in stone, on earth.

The Prince stands in the gap between God’s impossible holiness and our endemic imperfection.  A river of healing flows out from the temple of dreams across the whole earth, and we are all children of the Prince.

There is no longer a literal Jerusalem of the promised land.  The city that continues by that name has no special claim to God’s presence.

God is here, as I write and think.

I wrote my thoughts about Ezekiel mostly against the backdrop of a wonderful holiday in New Zealand, which now seems like a beautiful dream. God seemed present there, in the majestic, often starkly empty South island.

Challenges awaited ahead, when upon return I was blindsided by a very cold loss of my job, the financial security of our family. I’ve been wondering if, like Ezekiel, God is telling me to spend a year in my house, lying on my side, staring at a saucepan.

This book has a lot of pain, but trusting God’s plan when logic and experience fails can require us to see visions past the pain of loss. 

The rolling presence of God preparing Ezekiel

1 a vast vision of Gods presence in a time when the temple is destroyed, the land lost
2 preparing Ezekiel to be a prophet, a message of pain and lament, an expectation of resistance
3 overcoming Ezekiel’s negativity. Armoured within and without, called to be a watchman: deliver a message, not worry if it is acted on.

Performance art about Israel’s fall

4 Ezekiel’s wordless sermon is a performance art installation about the destruction of Jerusalem. It goes on about a year.
5 more Street theatre with glimpses of the horrible suffering of the siege of Jerusalem. I think about how evil destroys itself, the nature of judgement and learning.
6 the promised land won’t lose its symbolic allure until it is lost. Sometimes hope must die before evil will lose its grip.

Announcing the death of hope in what is lost, listeners refuse to accept

7 a chapter of unrelenting gloom and judgement. “Then they will know that I am God”
8 worshipping lies, sex, money and power, Ezekiel’s vision of the corruption of the temple is referenced by too many Christian critics today.
9 a vision of the temple without God, given over to idols and the few of the remnant that will escape the fall of the city
10 the glory of the lord leaves the temple, I compare the verse about no lamb being
snatched from the good shepherd
11 God has flipped the script. E thought he was being punished by being in exile, but he’s actually being spared judgement
12 the people are in denial about the visions of God judging Jerusalem
13 condemnation of easy prophets, who whitewash messages
14 the leaders around Ezekiel are hostile but recognise they have to give him a chance to speak. But he can’t speak into hostility

Analogies about why Israel must be judged, leading to the fall of Jerusalem

15 a vision of Israel as a dead vine. We can cut ourselves off from the author of life and bit notice straight away
16 Israel’s addiction to idols, despite being God’s chosen nation is compared to prositution.  Cheap grace comes with deep shame. 
17 A tree analogy compares the dumb moves of the last Israelite Kings to the grace of the true King, like a flourishing tree sustaining much life. 
18 About how you can have a new heart, sin is historical but also personal. We all have the choice and freedom to face it, repent of it it and accept Gods grace
19 A lament over the betrayals of Kings who led them so badly. Lament is the start of pointing our frustrations and pain back to God, not being consumed by them.
20 The leaders and people’s response to the truth Ezekiel is speaking: they won’t understand, they accuse him of speaking in parables.
21 The sword of God’s judgement terrifies us in our perpetually unresolved state, mortal and immortal. But Jesus was there too.
22 In societies of inequality, of disadvantage vs greed, like theirs, like ours, Jesus stands in the gap
23 Israel’s sin compared to prostitution. God is concerned about alliances – who we get in bed with and why. In him we find constant love, not loveless lives of self serving alliances
24 The fall of Jerusalem, 10 years into his ministry, accompanied by two signs to Ezekiel in exile in Babylon: a vision of a ruined cooking pot and the death of his wife, who he is told not to mourn.

About other nations: Tyre

25 Israel is assured neighbouring nations will be judged too. I contemplate the morality of the blame game
26 Still considering other nations, we are not here for shadenfreude, God hates that
27 the imprint of God in our brilliant creative civilisations; the curse of death in their fragility.
28 God’s deep love for Tyre – by extention all of us – how it hurts God that their arrogance blinds them to it.
29 God’s love for Egypt, Babylon and Tyre: just because their stories are not told in such detail as Israel for biblical narrative purposes, doesn’t mean they aren’t loved

About Egypt

30 Israel’s temptation to go back to Egypt. When God breaks your circumstances, look forward in trust in the will of Yahweh, not backward to the idealised comforts of your slavery.
31 God compares Egypt to a tree, magnificent but locked into time, it will fall. At Christmas, I contemplate mortality and opportunity for Grace.
32 Egypt’s weakening and fall into sheol, the neverworld of substandard eternity, where there is a consolation of sorts, of losing your pride when you realise you are one of many

Israel and Edom

33  The first confirmation of Israel’s fall arrives, and the optimistic verses of the prophets that dismissed Ezekiel’s gloom sounds like empty sweet insincere love songs.
34 sheep metaphors to talk about reasonable verses selfish lives, coming at a time of maximum lazy indulgence on my part.
35 New year’s prayer in the light of God’s justice, a terrifying prospect without also God’s grace.

Hearts of flesh, bones that live

36  promise of beating hearts of flesh, not stone. And cleansing rain to wash away our idols from our hearts
37 My favourite passage as a child. The bones trick and the stick trick, God’s transformation of people and nations

Hostile nations confused by grace

38  Gog and Magog, b rulers and£ nations. A discussion of tolerance and hostility

39 A promise of peace, rather than victory over hostile nations. A vision of living in God’s grace rather than fighting.

The City of the unbuilt temple

40 Start of a very detailed vision of a temple that was never built. Why has God given us this?
41 Giving the people the dream of a vast new temple, scenes and dreams that motivate us mark us as spiritual beings.
42 the glimpse of God’s extreme holiness in the temple ritual serves to emphasise the extreme lovingness of Jesus’ life and death
43 Good comes to the temple. Why the temple vision is given: a reminder of God’s goodness, a call to recommit, and a promise of forgiveness
44 A Prince, a Messiah, will bridge the gulf between God’s impossible holiness and our impossible obedience
45 What it means for God to have given us a plan for an unbuilt City to think about
46 bit of a weird chapter making the point that the children of the Prince (/Messiah) retain his inheritance forever.
47 the temple vision spoke to the deepest longing of the exiled Jews, this speaks of the river that does from it and speaks to the whole world’s deepest longing.
48  the city of the unbuilt temple is called the Lord is there. And God is present, right here, right now, and we are building that city

 

 

Ezekiel 43

Something happens in the dream temple this chapter, the glory of God arrives. It is in the same form as the amazing visions that opened the book: a big gleaming stack of images of God with Jesus on top. Its reappearance brings the book to a full circle.

And there is, to me, a pretty big hint of why it doesn’t really matter whether this temple is ever actually built.

Son of man, describe the temple to the people of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their sins. Let them consider its perfection

The idea of it is powerful by itself, for illustrating god’s standard to the people. The vision then talks about being accepted by God, through the sacrifices in this unbuilt temple.

The vision is a reminder of what God hates, a call to recommit to God, and a promise of acceptability by God.

Spent a lovely holiday day with two friends, mother and daughter, on a road trip to the hot springs of Rotorua.

Here’s Kelly and Ren in the soda pool… Hotter than a comfortable bath in several places, from gas bubbling up into it from… hell? I dunno! With blessing from God coming down in the form of light, obviously, too.

Another day here, and then we head down to Wellington, the launchpad for the South Island.

The two 16 year olds are getting along fine, seem to have the ease they had in primary school, even though it’s been years.

Ren is asking some really stimulating and awkward questions about morality and religion that I find difficult to have the space, in the dynamic, to answer. It’s a pity because obviously I have a lot of thoughts about all that stuff, so I hope I get an opportunity to. But it’s really nice and comfortable and relaxing so far. And I’m loving the luxury of time. There is nowhere if rather be, no other people I’d rather be with.

Psalm 93

The next eight Psalms are sometimes called the enthronement Psalms. They are visions of God the father, the great creator, in heaven.

It seems like the Israelites had a bit of a bet both ways regarding the sovereignty of God.

Sometimes, they are his chosen, he is their God, he is in the temple in Jerusalem, there is only the vaguest notion of the afterlife, an unknowable shadowy place.

But these visions are of the one God of all creation, all nations, from eternity and to eternity. His word stands firm forever, his holiness lasts for endless days.

The are big Psalms, of a big God bigger than Israel, dealing in eternity. God can make the religion small, as small as a baby, to teach our easily boggled minds.

For the Israelites the religion he established for them followed a form and fitted a scale that was comprehensible in the context of the religions around them. Incrementally it reflected more of his true character than the other local belief systems.

But God was impatient for them to see this version of himself, as much as they were able, as much as I am able! Bring them on!

Psalm 148

The last five psalms have in common that they all start with “hallelujah” – praise the Lord. Bang bang bang bang bang, like the big finish to a fireworks display.

This is a big fun communal song about everything praising God. First half the heavens, second half the earth.

Each half ends in a “why?”

For the heavens, angels, heavenly powers, sun moon stars etc, they praise God because his decrees are eternal. From them we learn of a bigger, longer reality than our own. We get the mind-blowing physical and temporal scale of God.

The “why” at the end of it all is a bit circular. We on earth praise God because though he’s above everything there is, we are dear to him, and the connection grows stronger through our praise.

So we praise him because praise strengthens our praise. It’s a pop song, ok? You got a problem with that?

The overall effect played in my mind a bit like when you use Google Earth and start in space, zooming in on the ball of earth, past all the vast seas, wild places and daunting features of creation down down, past kingdoms, cities and villages right down to you.

And the God view and the micro view are connected and strengthened because he hears our praise.

It’s a happy vision to start the week.

I’m looking forward to working on soldiership materials (ie: the training course you take to become a salvation army soldier) and some of the notes for self denial, which is a charity appeal within the membership, not a public appeal. Goodness me, I’m deep in the weeds these days! But they will be enjoyable projects.

It’s the last week of Kelly’s internship, she’s worked two days a week in an architect office for five weeks, and we’ve really loved meeting after work and catching up. Highlight of the week. Which I will partcularly treasure as the last one. And also as she enters her last semester, it’s a positive glimpse of possibilities post graduation, which can be scary too.

There are some constructive opportunities at church too, going to have a chat with the Minister about music, is one of them.

Some things to praise God for, you know, and the heavens and the world broadly too. Lots of challenges as well.

Psalm 134

In the night kitchen. It is a children’s book by the ‘where the wild things are’ guy, very evocative about the bakers who make bread while we sleep and the child who is being read the story going to them in a dream.

This is the last psalm of ascents. I’ve loved them, this pilgrimage playlist, full of optimism for coming into the presence of God.

In a literal sense it praises the priests and temple assistants who do the night shift at the temple, and calls on God to bless them. For the pilgrims coming to Jerusalem, I imagine it fuelling images of relentless activity while others sleep, like the night kitchen. The 24/7 temple.

Maybe it was a method of expectation management… If we get there and you wind up offering your sheep at 3 in the morning, that’s ok.

Applying it to my situation, I am now a servant of God, my body is a temple where God dwells and my ministry is my obedience.

And the night shift is the less easy shift, the one while others rest, the hard yards, the one where it is dark and you can’t take warmth or illumination for granted.

I felt a little like we were doing the hard yards yesterday when a combination of upset stomach and anxiety made my son unable to do his second day of work experience. We got as far as entering the building.

May the maker of heaven and earth bless us!

Song of Songs 7

The third long description of the girl’s beauty. It was described in 4 and 6, though this flows on from 6, so it probably counts as one super long description.

Indeed in the last verse of 6 she started dancing and she continues into 7. The praise is still not so much visual as multi-sensory and emotionally evocative…

He calls her tummy a mound of wheat and her navel a glass of wine because she’s satisfying like fine food and drink to him.

Her nose gives her a strong, regal bearing, but I’m guessing isn’t literally shaped like the tower of Lebanon, looking towards Damascus.

But compared to last chapter it gets decidedly physical. This is all about the delights of her body the sight, the feeling, the scents, the joy of being with her.

Today’s musical comparison is Ravel’s Bolero… The book is reaching its climax, so to speak, a slow build at least over these two chapters to the place where he leaps into the dance with a declaration that he’s going to climb the palm tree of her body and grab those coconuts, those bunches of grapes, her breasts, and she responds with a “yes drink deep of my wine”.

They talk of spending the night in countryside budding with spring: vineyards, pomegranates, Mandrakes and delicacy. … Her vineyard became a garden became countryside, villages, bursting with spring life.

Reminds me of that great John Donne poem about his love and he in bed as the sun rises. Other than their love ‘nothing else is’. He first tells the rising Sun to go away and bother someone else, but when it hits their room full on:

“Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.”

Love is the centre of the universe.

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.

Song of Songs 2

Won’t be able to do this one justice, so many beautiful familiar images, so many keepers.

Two basic metaphors through the chapter.

A banquet under the banner of love. Together in a close embrace, abundant and frank natural imagery: she’s lilies, he’s an apple tree. Deliciousness, intimacy, joy, love, feasting. Time stands still, the moment is suspended together.

Strengthen me with raisins,
refresh me with apples,
for I am faint with love.

Then running: he’s bounding over the hills to reach her, her lover coming to waken her, at her window all urgency because… just because winter is over and spring has come. Because there is nowhere to be in the world but with each other running though nature like stags and gazelles.

He asking her to catch the little foxes that may ruin the vineyard, just as she probably literally did. More running. This time chasing away anything that could threaten their vineyard of love.

Two contrasting metaphors: stillness and urgency, it reminds me of a stream with pools and glistening rills.

Then I think of the songs I’ve sung from this: “he bought me into his banqueting table, and his banner over me is love… My beloved is mine and I am his…” Singing it in Sunday school! How dare they!

It is a picture of perfect love, an unsustainable dream of love. It’s a love that is actually dangerous in this world… The girl warns us not to stir up love like this before we are ready. The connection of joyous physical intimacy and complete trust is the ideal of romantic love. It takes people to divine places.

But you can’t fake that, and being addicted to the divine, trying to wring it out of imperfect relationships is more than they can bare. It’s a dream that has shipwrecked countless lives. Looking for love in all the wrong places, as the song goes.

Your can’t make your partner God, no one is that great. If it is to last you learn to live with their flaws. So this uber song, song of songs, puts you in a frame of mind that the holy spirit exists to answer: being able to imagine more perfect love, but being unable to attain it.

Which is how the writers of that Sunday school song about dream sex dared.

Psalm 118

The one least likely.

Maybe it’s me warming to the familiarity of the verse, but I feel like this psalm hangs off the image of the rock that the builders rejected becoming the cornerstone of the whole structure.

I’ve referred previously to the theory that the book of Psalms was compiled for the exile. They called it a portable temple.

Then you remember, Israel, the chosen nation, was never that much of a country. They were a few slave families when chosen, and the ascent to their period of some influence was amazing.

But they were still never Egypt, Assyria or Babylon. And Solomon was the peak. By the time they were in exile they were well entitled to feel like a rejected building block.

This psalm is most obviously a song for communal singing, it mentions being on a festal procession to the altar. Lots of rhythmic repetition. It’s cheerleader material, a pep rally chant. Victory, triumph!

But in exile, it would have been a cultural memory, a lesson for children who’d never known the holy land, about how it used to be. The altar would have been smashed and desecrated, or a shadow of its former self by the time this playlist was compiled.

So it’s about how no matter how desperate things are, you are loved by God, and how great that is.

I baulked a bit when they rejoiced at how God cut down enemies… Jesus says instead “love your enemies”. But it’s not a triumphant victory brag, is a defeat song. It’s trusting very real and present enemies to God’s plans.

Working at the Salvos, the focus is very much on the rejected building blocks and visualising them as cornerstones in God’s architecture. But it’s not only the usual suspects.

I went to the funeral of a friend from my youth group yesterday, and even outwardly successful people can be rejected blocks. They mentioned his depression, I knew him as a wonderfully funny and eccentric personality, but insecure, decades ago.

Looking at his last year of Facebook posts, his depression issues were quite overwhelming. His faith, his generosity, his empathy, were remarkable and unshakeable despite his mental turmoil.

So we have the Israelites in exile, we have Jesus, the deity bleeding and dying for us, and we have every broken, flawed, person: all of us in our own way, but in the worlds eyes, some more than others. The truth stays true in every instance, despite appearances:

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.