Proverbs 28

We’re back to a lot of advice for Kings and rulers and some more explicitly spiritual proverbs.

I love this metaphor, and the value it gives the poor:

A ruler who oppresses the poor
is like a driving rain that leaves no crops.

I have to write an article at work for an internal publication about the Salvation Army’s attitude to the upcoming federal election, … Maybe I could give this one a Guernsey.

So there, the wisdom for rulers isn’t wasted in a democracy devoted to free speech. The citizens can throw them back at them!

There is a lot about the poor, the general theme being not to underestimate them, that exploiting them is to risk losing your own wealth and status.

If it was Solomon writing, he was foretelling the issue that led to the dividing and fatal weakening of the kingdom after his death.

The godly characteristics being taught here include: right living, seeking the Lord, confessing and renouncing sin, humility and integrity.

It’s interesting that there is reference to a goodness at work in society.

I suppose St Paul referred to it when he said to respect authorities because God gives that order to us to prevent chaos.

If you belive in original sin, you would expect society to be evil. But this sort of thing comes back a few times:

When the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding;
but when the wicked perish, the righteous thrive.

There is a rump of goodness that can only be temporarily subdued. Society won’t permanently career towards evil.

The universe is on the side of truth and love, so tyrants are ill informed and on the wrong side of history:

The rich are wise in their own eyes;
one who is poor and discerning sees how deluded they are.

Evildoers do not understand what is right,
but those who seek the Lord understand it fully.

And of course we are all rulers of our own little patch, no matter how small.

But also, lots of interesting fodder for my article!

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Job 22

The log in your own eye…

The friend and commentator on Job’s situation Eliphaz speaks a third time.

Fairly or unfairly he lists a bunch of things Job has done wrong.

The crimes are ones that could be levelled against many prosperous people. Turning away some of the poor and hungry, cautiously demanding security on loans to relatives. Lacking generosity to the vulnerable.

They match rather well the behaviours that separate the sheep from the goats when Jesus teaches (when did I see you hungry, naked, homeless, Lord?) They echo the strong practical compassion theme that runs through the Torah.

Then he has a section on ‘who are you to question God?’ he gives him ironic advice, telling Job to put away his wealth, study God’s words and accept his instruction.

Well God has already seen to the wealth, and job has been pleading for God to speak to him, alternating with, it must be admitted, requests to be left alone by God, which Eliphaz has seized on as a sin.

But Eliphaz’s advice seems more relevant to himself. He is still prosperous, yet he and his friends appear to have hardened their heart to Job. Would they not also victim blame the poor and hungry if they encountered them?

Instead of chastising Job for the wealth he no longer has, perhaps they should look at their own. Rather than Job’s fate making them wonder what he did wrong, they should treat it as warning from God to humble themselves lest the same happen to them.

The moralising is not wrong. Many of his points are like things Jesus would say. But his moralising is getting in the way of his ability to accept the truth in what Job is saying, and his self reflection.

There’s lots of talking, but little dialogue because no one is actually listening to each other in their haste to make points in support of their own point of view. It’s very familiar.

If the friends accepted the injustice of Job’s situation, they could start to become as Christ to him, helping him instead of attacking him.

Using God truth to avoid doing his will in the present moment, what a classic!

I pray for wisdom today in my job interview, all I can do is give a full account of myself and hope there isn’t a better candidate (for my sake… Not a problem for them!)

Either way, it brings a little more clarity to my situation.

Psalm 70

A quick cry for help, notable for how moderate is the punishment David calls down on his enemies. They want to kill him, he wants God to bring them shame, confusion and disgrace.

He takes time out to pray that those who seek God will reloice and those in need of salvation will know his greatness.

But his pressing need is urgent rescue – its only a 7 verse Psalm and it starts and ends with that.

Salvation in these psalms does that double duty beloved of my employer, the salvation army. Salvation of body and soul. In the present physical circumstances and in the forever.

The clarity I got yesterday reading Psalm 69 worked out brilliantly. I negotiated my deadlines, satisfyingly progressed my paving (just got to do the little cut off bits on the end), and now I’m off on a sweet long weekend with friends with the mental decks cleared.

I can’t fully explain but I really need it, even the few hours of work I did yesterday before I went home, setting everything up, was almost like pain, I really couldn’t stand it.

Though at weekly prayers yesterday they read… You guessed it, Psalm 69. A reformed drug addict, ex rock musician, now a salvation army soldier spoke and played U2s ’40’. Extra resonance to ‘sing a new song’. What a gift, I was elated. Maybe I’m turning into an emotional yoyo like David!

I’ll be leaving Psalms to read Job shortly, but these things bob in and out of your lives.

They are a bit like the pop songs you grow up with, old friends, a bit of a sound track of moments in your life. They are difficult to read sequentially the way I have been, but they are great to have as a sort of playlist to revisit.

2 Chronicles 27

King Jotham, good but minor. He was a believer, and steadfast, no suggestion that he became proud or corrupt as he got older (he didn’t get that old, dead at 41).

His success is measured in military strength and prosperity.

His godly character and success are linked, it is the lesson of his reign.

But he doesn’t move the needle on the people’s corruption. He’s not the first leader to suffer that in this story.

Moses? Judges? Joseph? A large component of the people always seem to stay stubborn and rebel against Jehovah.

It’s nothing new, expect it.

2 Chronicles 24

A sadder take on this king than in Kings. At 7 he became king, having lived his childhood hidden in the temple. Under the influence of his mentor/ priest, he reigns as a lover of God for many years and rebuilds the temple.

When the old mentor/father figure/priest dies king Joash comes under the influence of the local rulers of towns in his kingdom, who don’t necessarily believe Jehovah. They reestablish the folk religions and Baal worship.

The new priest Zechariah, son of king joash’s mentor, condemns this, but the king is persuaded to turn on the priest and he is stoned to death.

In these times God’s judgement is concrete and direct. Invaders come and smash Judah as punishment for rejecting God. The rulers are killed, king Joash is wounded, and vulnerable to a court conspiracy. He’s killed and ignominiosly buried.

The king was weak, the rebuilding of the temple and reestablishing the religion, happened because the mentor priest, Jehoaida, was effectively ruling. He bent like a reed when other influences got to him.

The king was bought up in the temple. The Jesuits said ‘ give me a child until they are 7 and we’ll have them for life’ but it wasn’t true in this story and it’s not true now. The church needs to rely on much more than inheritance and culture to thrive.

2 Chronicles 19

This is about godly leadership. It’s written as an example and manual, all this detail is extra to the kings narrative, so it shows the distinct purpose of chronicles.

Jehoshaphat is sincere and has a heart for God but misguided about what he should achieve as king. A prophet redirects him.

He stops trying to make an alliance with the North, he clearly had reunification ambitions. It was once God’s aim but not any more.

He focuses on traveling about his own kingdom encouraging his subjects to godliness, a sort of itinerant preacher like Jesus.

And he sets up a system of justice which is fair and impartial. There are religious and civil branches.

It’s a resizing of ambition, letting go the glory days of Solomon’s reign, they aren’t coming back, and living a useful godly life in the new reality.

An incredibly useful leadership lesson, for churches especially. Interestingly, top of the list after preaching the word was a concern for justice.

2 Chronicles 11

A sad political chapter. Israel divides along religious lines.

Everyone who wants to worship in the temple joins the two tribes who occupy the South, including all the Levite/ priest tribe.

The rest set up an alternative religion in the North.

They worship a calf, the folk religion from the wilderness years after the flight from Egypt.

There must have been festering political unrest from Solomon’s time.

It nearly erupts into civil war, but the word of a man of God averts it. It’s the only reference to God, as opposed to religion, in the chapter.

The southern king fortifies various towns anyway.

Working in a Christian organisation, it’s the case that it’s easy for politics to dominate a lot of the time. It’s important to keep connected to God, and in that balance the fairness to those who don’t necessarily believe.

We despair over the decline in the church, but even at this high point of an identity as the people of God, 9 out of 12 tribes were largely unconvinced.

Jesus had an 11 out of 12 hit rate in his followers.  The betrayal by Judas was evil, but also was used in the plan.

It’s the way it is.

Jeremiah 29

Bit of a jump forward, many people are now in exile in Babylon. Jeremiah writes a letter to them telling them to relax, put down roots, marry, get jobs etc. It’s going to last 70 years. It’s God’s will.

He criticises more bolshe prophets who are saying it’s not God’s will and should be resisted. It might be popular, but they are lying, they haven’t had a word from God on it.

This sets me thinking about politics. I’m more towards the progressive end of things. I often find messages of resistance appealing.

In Australia we get Christians saying “resisting laws about gay marriage is God’s will” which I would regard as a futile and unjust conservative mission. Or “we need to legislate carbon emissions to fit climate change” which I do think is an appropriate thing for Christians to stand for.

Jeremiah didn’t like his message. In my favourite verse in the book so far he said it burned in his bones. I don’t conclude that we need to studiously avoid politics in our faith, but we need to be aware that it is an area for tolerance.

Isaiah 33

I suppose this was a word of comfort to the people in terror of gathering powerful kingdoms that would overtake Jerusalem.

Like the African slaves in the confederate South, they dream of a role reversal.

When the destroyer is destroyed, and the betrayer is betrayed.

There follows a grand vision of the city as God’s City, it seems to be compared to a great ship with the wind, the breadth of God, at its sails, compared to the other nations which have run out of puff.

It’s about justice, that fly in the ointment which means God can’t just forgive everything and love everything, regardless.

Isaiah 18

Oracle about Cush.

People agree this is about Ethiopia. It was at that time the major regional power in Africa along with Egypt. The battle for dominance of the middle East was lining up to be between two heavy weights, Assyria vs Egypt for all the other land, and in that battle Israel may have had the offer to join an alliance with the two nations.

All of which might explain the reference to “ambassadors by sea” at the start.

The chapter seems to then talk about reverse ambassadors. There is no judgement of Cush mentioned here, is more like it tells them to look and listen to what happens to Israel, to learn about God’s might, and that the example of Israel will be a message to all nations. 

Cush will eventually bring tribute to Israel. Some suggest that the Queen of Sheba may have been a queen of Ethiopia. Which means there may have already been a tradition of respect for Israel.

It’s a fairly obscure prophesy, but in the near sense it seems to be about the judgement of Israel being inevitable, and local politicking making no difference. 

In the far meaning, it seems to be about Ethiopia becoming a centre for the church in Africa, which it did. It is certainly a useful passage to look at when ideology comes up about racial inferiority. God judges his own people to bless Africa. 

We are all equal before God, and all have access to grace.