Ezekiel 18

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In Adam all die, the doctrine of original sin means we’re all going to fall short of God’s glory.

It’s a kind of curse, and heresies based on this doctrine embellish the idea of the cursed generations. Bad seeds, bad blood, karma being revisited on the children of bad people.

Grace blows apart original sin. At any time we can throw ourselves on God and ask for the renewal of our hearts.

This chapter is about how we need to take responsibility for our own response to God… to Jesus, for us. We can’t use the idea of original sin to blame Adam for our evil, and certainly not some superstitious curse.

Here sin is exemplified by a list of practical life attitudes. Personal morality: not cheating, fair with money, obedience to the true God. And community building: sharing with the disadvantaged, not being oppressive. It’s written in a mixture of poetry and prose. It’s designed for teaching.

Our sin is our’s alone, our responsibility. But more significantly it’s a freedom. We can choose to turn to God, we can do it daily, we can do it with clarity:

Rid yourselves of all the offences you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!

No need to stay cursed.

Advertisements

Psalm 149

This psalm of praise has a sharp end, calling for the praise to be a double edged sword in their hands, carrying out vengence on other nations, binding their Kings and shackling their nobles, carrying out a sentence that has been pronounced on them.

There’s bits missing here (which nations? what sentence?). These can be filled in by the exile and the prophets.

Probably Babylon is the nation they are most likely thinking of, who sacked Jerusalem and exiled Israel, and the sentence is probably some version of the prophesy that the exile would end after 70 years, as it did, when the Persian Empire defeated Babylon and freed the people.

What’s more, singing the song in its original context: praising while captive, it probably wasn’t a good survival strategy to be more specific. It’s probably deliberately vague.

It’s a salvation psalm. You have the people rejoicing in God, God delighting in them, and them anticipating his salvation.

And I do long for the Kings of the nations to be fettered. To give Kings and princes their due, I suppose someone’s got to do it. But it is more common than not that the power makes them compromised and disappointing figures, even the ones who don’t kill the kids and drive you from your homeland.

I just watched the trailer for Tom Hanks’ movie about Mr Rogers. He was a Presbyterian minister, and his kids show about being a neighbour was squarely based a biblical inspiration for his life mission.

Hollywood aren’t fools, they know how this portrait of a deeply civil and gentle man will play against a national – maybe international – discourse that is descending into crude name calling, simplistic populism and dark forces like racism.

I knew I was being co-opted, but the trailer made me cry, anyway.

May our praise be a double edged sword.

Psalm 133

Another gloriously brief psalm, with two images of God’s blessing.

The first is the most luxurious image they could imagine, of getting some expensive fragrant oil and letting it dribble down your head, over your beard. Not something I’ve done, sounds a bit messy. When they talk about it reaching the collar, I get a bit of 21st century cleaning panic “will that stuff come out?”

But I can imagine the soothing feel of the slow oil, relaxing each head muscle it progressively touches, along with the scent, a signal of indulgent extravagance in a world that probably often smelled pretty bad.

Then the image of lrael’s most verdant place, mount Hermon, blessed with super heavy dew, sharing it’s blessing with Zion.

This is what unity among God’s people is like. Oops.

Don’t tell God what its actually like. Do you think he knows?

These images of blessing contrast with the toxicity of the church, my home (at times), the general stress of living, political discourse, which increasingly seems to involve socially conservative Christians defending their turf.

I’m planning a possible song called “the Christian left”, a little play on political power blocks and the biblical concept of the remnant… Who will be the last Christian left?

King David of course knew all about disunity, he had the most dysfunctional family imaginable: rape, political coups against him, being exiled by his own son. Not a happy camp.

We had a therapy-recommended family fun night on Sunday. It did really work to give us some laughs. Maybe we need a church fun night.

Plus it’s winter, and everyone has the flu.

In some senses the churches have got closer as they have got smaller. I remember the intense criticism of Hillsong by the Anglicans back in the day, and that has subsided.

Now we are living through footballer Israel Folau’s moronic religious freedom wars – he lost his contract because he tweeted about gay people going to hell.

Forget the merits or otherwise of his situation, I know a shit stirrer when I see one. Among believers as well as non believers. He even has the Hillsong guy counselling him to back off! What is his objective?

I’m not feeling the oil dribbling down my head, not one bit.

So I’ll pray, pray for unity. For the cognitive overload of dissent to be replaced with a calm focus on God’s word, his promises, his hope. Hope! Starting with me.

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!

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.