1 Chronicles 28

David was so much more involved with the temple than I ever imagined. Solomon built it, but David micro managed about every detail before he died.

He repeats, as he hands over the final instructions, that he can’t build it because he’s a soldier that shed too much blood.

He did. But God could forgive him that, I wonder if God is also leading the old man not into temptation.

The census debacle a couple of chapters ago showed David’s very human desire to be proud of his reign, to want to leave a legacy to what he achieved as Israel’s greatest king, bringing together their greatest period.

Maybe he could not have built the temple without falling into that sin, an old man’s sin.

It’s so Moses-like, leading God’s people to the edge of closure, but not being the one to claim it.

Moses’ sin, such as it was, was pretending to be God’s voice. He berated the people out of his own frustration, when God had not asked him to. Both needed to fight pomposity.

As I head towards late middle age, if not old age, it’s not what I expected to see in the passage. I have achieved remarkably little on earth, so I would have thought I was safe from pomposity.

But this blog is driven by a sense of legacy, it’s in there, in my motives. And my plan to write a song for every book, definitely. Though it’s also my identity and my pleasure in who I’ve been created to be. David was a song writer, and God didn’t seem to put any limits on that.

Intriguingly though… I wonder if he wrote crush/love songs about Bathsheba? Only the regret song, Psalm 51 made the Bible cut. But I digress.

I also have a problem with timidity, and the verse that rang out to me in the spirit was when David said to his son Solomon “Be confident and determined. Start the work and don’t let anything stop you.

I also let everything stop me. I seriously do.

So is God saying: achieve lots, and don’t achieve lots?

Perhaps the resolution of the conflict lies in the centre phrase, which I hadn’t noted till now “start the work”. Not “make sure you finish it” that is not the point.

Collaboration is a word bursting with godly potential. It’s how dreams become a journey, which is what they perhaps need to do to lead us not into temptation. In the process, they break a bit, get tarnished, they morph, perhaps you never actually reach them.

Sounding very “it’s a wonderful life”.

Do what God needs to be done. Live in God’s present, respond to it. That is closer to eternity than devoting our energy to planning our earthly memorial. As Jesus put it “store up for yourself treasure in heaven”.

So there is my dual message: be bold, seize the promptings of the spirit in the present, but don’t plan a self aggrandising future. Do and don’t do.

My job insecurity is eating me up a bit this week.

I offer that, my present, and my legacy on the altar God says is within the temple of my body, built upon the ruins of David and Solomon’s earthly monument of stone and cedar.

Woah!

Advertisements

1 Chronicles 13

Presumption.

Usually a presumptuous person gets a verbal dressing down but the person who presumes to catch the ark of the covenant from falling gets death.

It’s shocking, having been trained all my life as an evangelical Christian not to give objects power, to avoid the popish veneration of statues and so forth. Yet this covenant box, as it’s called here, has that power.

We’re also entering the repeat zone. Chronicles and Kings follow each other quite closely at times. I could just copy over my comments from before, maybe, or do the fun game where you mine the slight differences in the texts for deeper meaning.

I suppose we get the life of Jesus 4 times. It’s just how it is. The histories of the kings of Israel don’t seem as important now as they must have back then, but as we are to learn, obedience to God’s perspective is. So I’ll go through again, and have many similar thoughts again, with humility.

The issue with the ark is not the object but obedience. They’d been told how to carry it in Numbers, but they consulted each other rather than God’s word and came up with a special cart. Then, in the moment it threatened to fall from the cart, Uzziah thought better of the rule about not touching it, but he was wrong.

As I commented last time, it’s God’s right as creator to appoint the day of our death. This was his day, and if Israel had listened to the message, they may not have been destroyed. If David had listened, he may not have had murder in his biography.

Entering into the period of the kings they get a sharp message about the issue that would end the period of the kings, reverence for God’s word.

We don’t think of Fred hollows life as wasted, but there is still needless blindness caused by poverty in the world. Nor mother Theresa’s, but there are still slums in India, So who’s to say what a valuable life looks like?

I’m very sad today, I’m haunted by my failings, my procrastination, my inability to cope with things. I’m closed off, trying to live a good life, but Paul’s way. Paul’s special cart. I need to share, to offer to God my desire to cope better under my own steam.

Kelly can never understand why I try to solve everything myself, why I don’t read instruction manuals or ask for help. She’s right.

And OK, so maybe reading some of these stories again does make sense.

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.

Jeremiah 38

This gives a very vivid picture of life in Jerusalem during the siege, low on food, everyone desperate, ignoble and turning on one another.

The City leaders, who will no doubt be the most likely to be killed by the invaders, want to lead the people down with the ship. Their identity tied up in their status, they will sacrifice every last pleb to protect it.

Jeremiah is telling them to save themselves by surrendering. He knows defeat is inevitable.

The leaders acuse Jeremiah of cowardice and sedition, and decide to let him die by putting him in an empty well.

The king is wonderfully weak. He goes along with the leaders. A brave eunuch says he can’t let Jeremiah die, he goes along with that.  He’s a reed blown in the wind.

The eunuch is the star of the story, we get the details that he takes 30 men to protect the task, and gives Jeremiah rags so he won’t get rope burns as they raise him from the well.

Chapter ends with king and J having a pathetic conversation. King is scared to surrender as he will have to face anger of others who escape.

Jeremiah tries to talk him round by saying how the wrath of his wives will be worse if he doesn’t.

King can’t decide between the most self serving of these two cowardly options and commits Jeremiah to a childish lie so no one will know they’ve been talking!

Though all the madness, Jeremiah sticks to God’s message, even when faced with death, and the only people who cover themselves with glory are those who acknowledge his sincerity.

Don’t let crisis distract you, charge ahead with what is right.

Jeremiah 28

Last chapters talked about the populist prophets, who told the people a prediction of Jewish victory against Babylon. Jeremiah in contrast had a physical teaching aid, a wooden yoke he wore to teach that Babylon was being given victory over Israel as a judgment.

This is a close up view of that conflict.

Hanaiah speaks the false prophesy in the company of Jeremiah in public. He grabs and snaps Jeremiah’s symbolic yoke.

Jeremiah responds with wistfulness more than anything else. He wishes it were true.

Later God gives him a portent of Hanaiah’s death and Jeremiah goes to him to tell him the damage the false hope does for the people. He says by breaking the wood yoke, he’s made one of iron for them.

This is the problem with populism, false hope leading to bad decision making.

Around the world, false prophets have been denying climate change, holding back decisions to do something about it. However I read a report last week that the US military are tacitly confirming it by relocating bases that will soon be subject to flooding.

Denial often makes problems worse. Ditto soft selling the gospel, how is that a favour to people?

Jeremiah 7

Jeremiah is to live out the prophet of doom cliche.

God didn’t actually tell him him to wear a sandwich board saying “the end is nigh”. But he does tell him to stand at the gate of the temple announcing judgement on the people as they enter.

The theme again is their religious and moral hypocrisy. The Northern Israel kingdom has already fallen, but the temple in the South is the tangible place of God’s presence, and the people need to know that won’t protect them.

So his message is about Shiloh, the first place of worship in the premises land, where the 12 tribes were divided up. That was in the north and has now fallen and been abandoned by God. Just because somewhere once had God’s presence, doesn’t mean it always will.

The message continues that it is not about the people acknowledging God’s place or rituals. It’s about heartfelt obedience over time: walking in God’s way.

God then tells Jeremiah that he fully expects the people won’t listen to what he is saying, and that he is not to beg for mercy for them. He is to publicly morn them by cutting his hair.

The chapter ends ominously with God saying that the place where worship of the other Gods occurs, including where the child sacrifices are offered, will become known as the valley of slaughter, and there will be no one to bury the bodies piled up there as they are pecked by birds.

God still calls us to a life of sincere and consistent obedience. And we still prefer to rely on tokens of self righteousness rather than our calling: being good parents, working hard, maybe going to church or volunteering.

To make up for worshipping the trappings of success and power, sex or youth, and denying or failings rather than humbly recognising that we need God’s grace and building a life of obedience from there.

Jeremiah message is extreme, and repetitive. But so is our human ability to deny and ignore or creator.

Isaiah 48

The themes swirl around again.

Judah and Israel are hard and deceitful, despite holy words.

The punishment, the exile, is God’s judgement

The return from exile will be God’s blessing. It’s a refining process.

He was before all the idols, and he is doing a new thing that will surpass them.

Again we get a hint, which will be fleshed out in further chapters, of the still mysterious third person of God “from the time it came to be I have been there. And now the Lord God has sent me, and his Spirit…”

He calls Israel to listen. The chapter concludes with a reminder of the extravagant blessing in the wilderness, streams of water gushing from rock.

The last words are an encouragement or a warning “there is no peace for the wicked”.

Is it directed to the Israelites or the conquering armies?

Generally this section has made the case for God against the doubts and fears of the Israelites.

It is not a narrow question or a passive one. The case for God requires a response from us all.

Writing this on Christmas Day 2017, looking at the global phenomenon of Santa. Baby Jesus is still a more uncomfortable Christmas image, one that demands things of people that they aren’t sure they want to give.

Isaiah 39

The end of the king Hezekiah story and the start of the rest of Isaiah. It’s Isaiah’s sad role to spend half his time prophesying about the Assyrians, who conquered the northern kingdom, and half the Babylonians, who conquered the South. 

What a time to be alive!

Hezekiah is given 15 more years to live and the rare knowledge of the time of his own death, and a sign from God that it is true. 

He is one of the most godly Kings, but he does not do much good with his extra time. 

He has a son who ends to being one of the worst Kings, and he actually invites the Babylonians in and brags about all his treasures to them, giving them all sorts of intelligence about the kingdom.

Worst of all perhaps when Isaiah tells him that the Babylonians will enslave his people, he is simply relieved that it will happen after he is dead. He’s sort of given up, maybe he’s burned out of the responsibility of being king.

In the last chapter he sang “The living, the living, he thanks you, as I do this day; the father makes known to the children your faithfulness.”

He had it right then, living in gratitude enjoying wisely and with pleasure the time you have, that is a good way to live. The number of your years is in God’s hands, your use of the time is your responsibility.

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.

Isaiah 28

A condemnation of the tribe of Israel who made up most of the southern kingdom. 

Mainly a diatribe against drunkenness. I sometimes use drink to escape, and we had an old school friend of my wife’s due from alcoholism this year. Wine is so familiar but so dangerous. My older body cannot process it as well as a younger one.

They talk about that here, describing drink’s ability to impair judgement in the short term and fade ability over the long term.

Like the “2 ways to live” tract, it talks about swapping the crown of drunkenness for God’s crown, and promises that his strength will replace what wine has taken away: beauty, wisdom and determination.

Drunkenness is a symbol and a symptom of self obsession, of pride, ironically, given that it can humiliate. I’m ashamed of how much I feel I need it sometimes, I know that I perversely decide to drink too much sometimes. It makes me lazy. 

The rest of the chapter seems to be about fresh starts. He mentions how drunkenness has turned the priests into spiritual babies, and how he will have to teach again slowly, bit by bit, and maybe by strangers.

It’s about self discipline, the slow path back from the easy drift into bad habits. But bit by bit he will give us strength to change. It’s a merciful passage.

He talks about different grains requiring different forms of violence to produce, crushing wheat, beating cumin with a rod, Dill with a stick. But in all instances, it ends, it doesn’t go on forever. We all have our own way back.

And he powerfully reminds the reader of why it is worth it. God is the cornerstone, he will sweep away the refuge of lies and build a solid building in your heart. He will annul your covenant with death. 

Alcoholism, like so many self destructive behaviours, is like a pact with death. You see it so often in the lives of the rich and famous, and we saw it close up this year.

Pray for wisdom obedience and insight to see myself.