2 Chronicles 32

A chapter full of God’s power, focused on leadership. But despite winning battles they are losing the war, and it’s a strangely joyless narrative compared to the passover moment last chapter.

We hear a lot about fortifying Jerusalem, including engineering a brilliant water supply tunnel through solid rock that made Jerusalem virtually siege proof.

What is tacit is that the Assyrians take most of the land outside Jerusalem.

The commentators I read quoted the Assyrian account of the same campaign, which was a fine example of spin/ fake news. They simply talk about the land they were able to seize, fudge over what happened in the capital!

In contrast to the methodical preparations inside the city wall, we get a lot of the Assyrians psychological warfare, dissing God as just another of the many man-made gods that have failed to save the other nations the Assyrians have subjugated across the region.

After the long war of words, the victory over Assyria is extraordinary, God simply and mysteriously decimates the Assyrian army overnight and they run off. It’s tossed off, anticlimactic. No drama, no song of praise.  God isn’t ready to let Jerusalem go, yet.

The narrative focus stays on Hezekiah, his brush with death and extension of life, his late life moment of pride and repentance, his tremendous wealth and prosperity.

The book has consistently been about leadership, obedience, and reward by God. This account fits that theme, but it’s not simple self aggrandising spin like the Assyrians, it’s more like sermonising.

And the slide towards defeat creates an inbuilt tension. Hezekiah is rewarded by God, however the larger judgement on the nation is closing in but they don’t want to talk about it yet.

And the post exile audience didn’t need to be told anything about the impeding exile… They’d just lived though it.

And they didn’t need to be promised miracles. They’d already been returned to Jerusalem against all odds.

It was most important to knuckle down and not repeat the cycle, to stay true to God though thick and thin.

In a way it’s not really resonating with me, but perhaps because it’s about the boring slog of an obedient life. Were called to discipline, not magic, and we’re to leave the meta story of salvation to God.

We are to work at our own path of godliness with consistent diligence, even if everyone outside the wall is cat-calling us. Living by faith sometimes means the labour of cutting a sensible tunnel through solid rock as well as sometimes being miraculously provided for.

Below:Hezekiah’s water supply… Still there!

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2 Chronicles 26

This story of Uzziah is a textbook entry for showing some of the emphasis and themes of chronicles compared to kings.

  1. Lots of detail about the construction and defence of Jerusalem and surrounding country, which was a pressing issue for the original audience of the book
  2. The better kings are pragmatic realists. They accept Judah for what it is, they don’t try to recreate the glory days where Israel and Judah were united as one nation under David and Solomon. Every alliance with the North brings disaster.
  3. Even the good kings are show to have flaws, more so than in Kings. There is a stronger strain of physical judgement, of the flaws leading to punishment from God. Their burial reflects their godliness – a detail I don’t recall from Kings.

King Uzziah rules wisely and loves Jehovah, but gets pride when he is older and tries to offer incense directly in the temple, instantly getting leprosy, which lasts til he dies. He’s buried separately from the other kings.

The narrative in Kings doesn’t link the leprosy to pride, and doesn’t mention the nuance of the burial.

I think I’m a bit mixed up about reward theology: good things for goodness, bad things for badness.

I reject prosperity doctrine, that God means us to be wealthy in this world. I don’t think aids is god’s punishment for sexual sin, or that failure to be healed by prayer is always because you lack enough faith.

But I do thank God when good things happen, and pray for rain. I don’t connect the rain to deservedness, or the drought to punishment. But I do think there is a connection between prayer and life events.

I’m attracted to T J Wright’s – and the Salvation Army’s – idea that heaven is now, that living a godly life will help “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.  If truth is eternal, why not start now?  In that sense I think there are rewards for godliness on earth and punishment for evil.

If you give someone a meal out of godliness, the reward is that that person gets a meal because of God.

Actually, that’s quite sensible, maybe I’m less mixed up than I thought!

 

2 Chronicles 15

The detail of king Asa’s reforms. The God given victory of the last chapter inspires him to carry on in thanks, and a prophet reminds him of the zero tolerance of foreign religions.

The people him him in celebrating the sacrifices to Jehovah, and stamp out idolatry, even his own grandmother changes.

He has peace for the rest of his reign, and many believing northern Israelites come and move to the South.

I react a bit cynically, because it’s just a staging point in a downward path for Israel. But I’m looking too much at the big picture.

It’s a godly life and a godly time. That’s a good thing, even if, as currently, you can see an overall pattern of decline.

2 Chronicles 10

As soon as Solomon is gone, Israel, the northern  kingdom, rebels against the south, the house of David, and remained so until the book was written… they speculate it was one of the last chronologically in the old testament.  Only 2 tribes, Judah and Benjamin stay loyal to David’s house.

They are rebelling against greed. The old rich-get-richer thing, it seems trickle down didn’t happen in the ancient world either. Solomon’s son doubled down on the labour camps that kept all the splendour rolling at the capital, even though the temple and the palace were done, and the people got gyp.

Similar to the same story in Kings they make it a case of him listening to young advisers, not elders.  The privileged youth have been raised in wealth, and have no empathy for the common people.

That’s it, I’m over greed. It’s decided, God!

 

2 Chronicles 8

Moving on from building the temple, this is a summary of king Solomon’s reign. It gives you some sense of the character of it.

He’s a builder, not just the temple or his palace ( which took twice as long…) But villages, towns.

He is a bold, creative entrepreneur, gets on well with neighbours. When they mention a maritime venture that nets lots of money, it’s so uncharacteristic of Israel, never a seafaring nation.

And the seeds of his downfall are sewn, with an Egyptian wife. He knows there is a conflict with their religion, she doesn’t convert to their beliefs. He makes a palace for her because the ark has been at the site of his, and he says that makes it holy.

The ark is like the physical embodiment of monotheism.

Solomon is aware his marriage is unacceptable to God.

He is wise, but in this case worldly wise. The marriage probably makes a lot of political and economic sense, but it’s compromising his holiness.

I’m feeling I could use a bit a worldly smarts this week, we are living being our means. I’m guilty of wanting it all I suppose, I like working for the Salvos, but I should be living a more humble lifestyle.

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!

1 Chronicles 12

King Saul made David an enemy of Israel, and David refused to fight back. This is the story of how he got support to claim the throne.

Many soldiers joined him, even some who went possibly to spy on him ended up joining him. The story is told of the man who became commander of the elite ’30’, having a prophetic utterance, recognising God is on David’s side.

The structure of the narrative makes it clear he is a unifier: it goes through all the tribes, listing his support, starting with Benjamin, Saul’s tribe.

The momentum builds until he has a huge army, the people gather to him, and the is spontaneous feasting and joy, he’s that kind of guy in that kind of moment.

David followed God, and God’s plan unfolded around him.

I have a small sense of that at work, I get panicky if I try to think of the big picture, but I clearly know what would be the right thing to do moment to moment. David surrendered to God the big picture.

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 20

Rock bottom

Jeremiah is put in the stocks and beaten, probably whipped, by one of the priests. His humiliation occurs in one of the most prominent parts of the city, next to the temple.

We see his pubic and private response. In public he is unmoved. He continues preaching it from the moment he is released.

Privately he is devastated. He talks about his deep desire to stop preaching, but complains that when he does the message burns in his bones.

This is my favourite part of the chapter and worth a song “burn in my bones Lord!”

He compares himself to a bride seduced under false pretences into an abusive marriage.

He really hits rock bottom with the final miserable poem about wishing he’d never been born.

The language is so extreme. He curses his father essentially for not aborting him as a fetus because if his mother’s womb had been his grave it would have been forever praised instead of cursed.

That’s someone who really wishes they hadn’t been born.

And that’s where he’s left for today. The are 30 more chapters so I’m guessing he carries on.

But it’s worth considering when you let the promptings of the holy spirit slip by, when you don’t say or do that action that would increase God’s grace in someone’s life. You aren’t the first person to ask “why me”? But the question doesn’t justify letting yourself off the hook. Unfortunately,  most likely, it is you.

Jeremiah 8

Argh, I’ve slowed right down. I’m finding Jeremiah hard work.

I started a new job, as a writer for the salvation army. So now I’m sort of doing this for a living.

On the downside, it’s less pay and only a six month contract. The salvos are restructuring in a major way, so it’s quite likely to be a real six month contract too.

But in the upside it’s work, and good work. I’m enjoying the stimulation of a culture change and writing about things I care about.

Each chapter pushes despair further.

Ever more extreme predictions of disaster… This kicks off with a vision of the bones of ancestors being disinterred and treated as rubbish.

Ever more bleak about the inability of the people to respond. This chapter compares animal’s natural instinct for self preservation to the people self destructive behaviour.

And it ends with Jeremiah’s personal pain. Messenger guilt.

I’m loving the practicality of the salvation armies response. Do what you can, one life at a time.