1 Kings 5

Solomon starts his great task of building the temple. The general theme is of great quality, spare no expense materials and excellent organisation. 

The relationship with the neighbours to the north who supply the timbers is striking. Their ruler Hiram is a friend of David’s. He rejoices that they are building the temple and puts it in a godly context. David’s influence on this gentile leader is evident.

Compared to the building of the tabernacle however, I’m missing God. Moses talked to God so intimately. So far this seems like a well oiled, professional show, but a step removed from God.

The manpower required is impressive, you can see why they didn’t do it when at war.  They use conscripted workers. One of the commentators suggested they were enslaved Canaanites, or perhaps they were Israelites I don’t know. But it feels slavey. 

Doesn’t feel like the egalitarian society sketched out in the Torah. As king, Solomon is supposed to have the law next to him at all times, and be one of the people. Deuteronomy 17 again.  They came from slaves, and now they are making slaves, it feels a bit off.

It all feels a bit too glam for Israel.  

I’ve had a burst of energy, perhaps it’s spring despite struggling with a cold. Feeling upbeat at work. Trying to remember to pray as well as do these readings. I pray a lot for the family.

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Deuteronomy 24

I can’t say Moses or whoever edited him has a strong sense of organisation. This is such a mixed bag of rules:

– not remarrying a spouse you have divorced

– absenting newly married couples from military service for a year, a mercy for the wife particularly.

– ban against taking someone’s livelihood as security on a debt

– ban on enslaving fellow countrymen

– obedience to the levites instructions for skin diseases

– kindness in enforcement of debts to the poor.

– bring a considerate employer, not exploiting those desperate to work

– not holding a whole family guilty for the crime of one

– kind treatment of the weak and vulnerable, remembering you were all slaves

– deliberately leaving some of the harvest for the fatherless, widows and foreigners.

Looking at it summarised, there is such a strong theme of Social justice, of caring for the weak. 

And these rules were indeed followed by righteous people we will meet as the Bible proceeds. It’s love, God’s love, in action for real. I have more opportunities to do this than I take up. 

I need to recognise how important this is.

Deuteronomy 22

More misc laws, with the theme of community. You are bound to care about other people’s property, so if you find lost property, you need to try and return it.

There is an odd ban against transvestism that uses a condemnatory word that is usually reserved for pagan temple practises… Scholars think that is what that is about. 

Some more sharing and caring community rules… Make fences on balconies, don’t take a greedy share of the wild bird life to eat. 

Then a bunch of “anti mismatch” rules that seem metaphorical about not adding the local culture. 

Then some rules about marriage relationships that are horribly harsh by today’s standards, but have a certain rough justice to them in a society where women would have otherwise had very few rights. It’s a society where which already pretty much discarded women who weren’t virgins at marriage… From that starting point this makes sure there is some fairness.

So to a remarkable degree of detail we have a model society of the time which is to care for every member like one large family, and is to keep itself distinct. Is the larger themes of God’s plan for Israel, down to a level of detail.

Deuteronomy 19

The word for this chapter is “just”. They are to have a just society. Previous chapters could have the words “God fearing” “humble” “caring”. 

This is about the refuges cities. We’ve heard of them before but the reason is drawn out more, that it is about stopping the shedding of innocent blood. The measures discourage escalation of revenge killings between tribes and families.

Then detailing that the legal system is to represent a genuine quest for truth, with multiple witnesses and thorough investigations of facts.

It’s so familiar these ancient texts. Despite lots that is culturally remote, the core of what we still regard as an ideal society is being laid out in God’s word here. No wonder there were times when Israel fell in love with the law.

Deuteronomy 14

The next few chapters recycle rules from Leviticus, but they are a little bit more urgent and practical, because occupation of the promised land is so imminent. And there is a bit more explanation of what they mean about God.

He are the rules about kosher food, and beyond being described as clean or unclean, the reason is described as being “because you are God’s treasured possession”

It’s clear there is not always anything inherently wrong with unclean food. For example, animals that are already dead are unclean, everything must be ritually slaughtered for purpose. But they can be cooked or sold for foreigners. It’s just about remembering how much God loves his people.

This chapter also covers tithes. They are a social welfare system, they end up supporting the priests and also widows, fatherless, and foreigners. There is a practical edge to it too, how to cope if they live too far from the temple.

It’s setting up a generous society of high prosperity and low inequality. The society of people who are treasured by God. That is my society.

Leviticus 18

The Israelites are to be defined and set apart by their sexual morality.  Its pretty funny in a way, they are not to be like the people they left behind in Egypt, or like the people they will find in Canaan.  Basically, they are not to be like everyone ever. Sexual morality doesn’t come naturally.

But neither does endlessly rampant sexual behaviour.  Societies seems to naturally settle somewhere between a degree of sexual wildness in certain contexts, and a degree of stable self restraint.

The Israelites sex laws are a mixture of things that our current society either judges severely still, regards as taboo, or thinks nothing of. Paedophilia: severely, incest and bestiality: largely frowned on and taboo, homosexuality and adultery: meh.

We as christians are now free from all those laws, through grace, and free to follow our own rules for living right with God. In my lifetime and society, divorce has not been harshly judged, though Irish Catholics were perfectly logical to observe that it sets up a situation of serial adultery.  But that’s not mattered here.

Of late many Christians seem to be getting progressively less hot under the collar about homosexuality, but that wasn’t the case when I was young and there remains of course significant and deep divisions about it.  Society is judging christians much more harshly than when I was a kid for anti-homosexual ideas.  And don’t we hate it, it drives us nuts being on the wrong side of the mainstream even though the bible says to expect it one way or other.

Homosexuality per se I think does pretty much zero emotional damage compared to adultery and cheating. Or homophobia. The most devastating sexual experience of my life was technically chaste hetero dating, ie: kissing, holding hands… and breaking up. Killed me.

Though the gay grindr type of scene I do find confronting and crass, as I do demeaning hetero porn or promiscuity. I don’t think there is no consequences in allowing yourself and others to be lust meat, I think on some level its got to eventually spill over into other aspects of your humanity and compassion. I think of it a bit like scar tissue, a progressive deadening of sensitivity and nuance. Emotionless sex. I understand the urge, I do profoundly in my being, in fact compared to proper love with emotion gone wrong it can seem like a great idea, but I don’t believe it is, really.

Adultery is probably worse than bestiality in the societal damage it does, in my opinion, though bestiality is just, well, weird.

Incest, to a degree, and  most certainly paedophilia are easy to see as exploitative and unfair, though different societies view the limits of it differently (we are horrified by 13 year olds getting married, other societies not so much).  Incest has the public health factors mixed in too, as with much in Leviticus.

Its something I really don’t know what to think about.  I am confused and evolving. Its all always been, and mores are fluid from society to society. Though there are themes.

I did like the idea in this chapter of sex being owning each other’s nakedness, and inappropriate sex being taking that other person’s nakedness from them when it is not yours, that’s something that gets to the intimacy of sex and the hurt and betrayal that can come with it. Its romantic.

The reference to Molech, a nasty canaanite deity, is interesting too.  Historians speculate that the Molech rituals involved harsh child sacrifice, maybe as a way of killing babies from inappropriate relationships like rape, incest or affairs.  A sort of late birth control.  Perhaps more than just a simple ban on child sacrifice, Israelites are being told to love their illegitimate children, which would make sense of mentioning it in the rules about sexual morality.

There has never been a consistently monogamous society or culture on earth, research suggests.  But – it seems from Wikipedia at least – there has been very few societies in which some form of monogamy or stage of exclusive commitment to a stable relationship was not seen as an ideal, and which had no sense of jealousy, passion and betrayal coming from sexual relationships gone bad.  Ironically the gay marriage debate has produced public paeans to the ideal of monogamy such as I’ve not witnessed up to this point in my life.

I’m quite resolved to let it all flow, I don’t see any point in opposing gay marriage in fact I believe christians should support it, even those don’t think homosexuality is right in God’s eyes. Marriage is not a sacrament, ie: an ordained ritual of god’s blessing, its a social construct which periodically gets redefined. It becomes unfair not to allow it if the negative taboo falls away. It all part of a piece.

You can’t separate church and state and then join them again when it suits you.  And you can’t argue for the continuance of an alliance, however convenient, between homophobes and christians who may be sincerely not homophobic but honestly believe that condemnation of homosexuality is an essential part of christian theology. The sincere christians still have to view the death of homophobia as a good thing, and be prepared to give voice to their theology in a way that is compassionate and kind, as well as marginal to the point of being generally loathed, which is way harder than it used to be. Thats how its gonna be now.

Every time a christian who is not personally tempted by or interested in homosexuality, in fact is culturally afraid of it, finds themselves about to condemn it, they should stop and condemn their own sexual and gender sins instead. Ditto abortion.  There is way too much ignoring of logs in christians own eyes in the sexual area.  Sins you are upset or threatened by are easy to condemn, and broad to define!

And fortunately nothing about transitioning to other genders or gender fluidity, that’s all unregulated, whew!

Father, give me self control, give me wisdom.

Below: wisdom.

 

 

 

 

 

Exodus 36

The construction work of god’s super fancy tent is described in living detail, every measurement, every material every design feature.

Plus the adorable story that they had to command the people to stop bringing materials for the project, there was an over abundance of generosity and enthusiasm for the project. It’s a community job of pure joy.

How well god knew the human psychology when he gave them this task.

Exodus 29

“death where is your sting?” It says in Corinthians. Here as god elaborates on the priesthood, the sting of death is central.

We are in rebellion, we deserve to die. We are broken. An animal must die every evening and every morning for the Sins of Israel – I think this is just during the conscration of the priests, not sure.

The consecration of the priests segments the animals in a way people understand… the good bits burn deliciously for God to smell, the prime cuts are waved at God. They show love, and that he deserves the best, I suppose. The intestines are taken out of the camp and burned for sin.

It’s a vegetarian nightmare, but it’s supposed to be ghastly, sin is ghastly.

Also, they are herders, animals are to an extent their currency. On a simple level, if they are going to give back to express their understanding of and appreciation for god’s love and forgiveness, it’s going to be animals and grain.

The consecration of the priests is so fandangled. Humans are rarely so engaged in survival that have no energy for spiritual work. We do art, we entertain ourselves, we laugh, we put seemingly pointless effort into stuff that scratches our need for meaning.

God gives them the means of expressing their relationship with God.

Exodus 21

Moses begins to be given a whole bunch of practical rules, with the theme of fairness with a degree of compassion, sketching out a civilised social order for the Jews. 

The first section deals with slavery among themselves, touchy subject considering they have just come out of being a slave nation. It’s accepted as inevitable, but ways out of slavery are provided. And some limits on treatment are imposed.

A basic personal injuries code is introduced, and rules about responsibility for attacks by animals.

Some of it is quite familiar, the same instincts as our laws. Jesus and Paul spoke about the laws of the land being a gift from God of order so that society does not descend into chaos. From this we get the “Judeo-Christian ethic”. 

The rules do not imagine a heaven on earth (there is still slavery) it’s a sort of imperfect bargain of God with our own sinful natures. 

It’s a mercy, a compassion, God lets us choose to live in rebellion against him quite successfully by setting up this net of fairness and decency. 

Justice is a level of meaning in our existence that animals never know between themselves.

1 Samuel 30

Last chapter I concluded that, when you love god, it’s important to have something to do. David gets something urgent to do when he returns to the philistine town he’s been living in and finds the Amelakites have taken everyone and everything they left behind.

He turns to God, first time in three chapters. He finds a priest and consults, and gets his courage in god back.

He gets back all he has lost. He shares the spoils of the raid as one who has been given them by God, not selfishly. 

He re-contacts his old Israelite friends, sending them a gift of “spoils from their enemy”.

David is back!

I’m reminded and I pray to God again today: therefore, go, do stuff!