Job 8

So the second friend, Bildad the Shuhite speaks.

There is a high level similarity in his message for Job, compared to Eliphaz: it’s your fault it happened, and in your power to fix it asking God mercy for your sins.

But the personalities are very different, and the instances of victim blame flow from the personality.

This is quite instructive because it encourages me to ask: what tendency in my personality tends to flavour the way I read God’s word and behave?

And maybe also: what role does personality have to play? It’s God given isn’t it? Not to be stamped out? When does my personality lead me to sin, when do I serve God in it? How do you lay your personality on the altar?

Bildad is much more naturally conservative and direct. I think of him as Moore college dude (that’s a pretty straight evangelical theological college here in Sydney).

So where Eliphaz was all double-edged compliments (you’re a loved teacher, how about you teach yourself?) and indirect insinuations, Bildad gives Job something more like a bollocking and an old man rant.

His opening salvo is to ask how much longer Job will keep going on like a blustering wind. Hurry up, your children got what they deserved, you’re running out of time to straighten up and fly right, essentially. Gosh.

Then he does a variation on the old man classic ‘kids these days, no respect’. He says job has cut himself off from the wisdom of the elders.

Though he does it so eloquently, is quite a beautiful song in itself to spiritual depth and sustenance.

He talks about various ways plants wither by being cut off from sustenance: growing in a marsh, cut and put in a jar, tangled in roots, planted among rocks. It’s reminiscent of Jesus’ parable of the sower.

He compares Job’s understanding to trying to lean on a spiders web. So vivid!

He ends each idea with a promise that if job listens to him, he’ll be rich and prosperous again, an idea I naturally treat with skepticism, probably because I’ve grown up with the story of Job as part of my cultural memory.

Eliphaz is more relational, starting with what he knows of Job, Bildad is more didactic, starting with what he knows of God. It will be interesting to see how job moderates his response.

In the meantime: my personality is a bit of a mix of those two. I’m fundamentally evangelical (but never evangelically fundamentalist…).

I’m towards the progressive side politically, which puts me at odds with some of the favourite political causes of people I’d think of as culturally evangelical.

In style my weaknesses are more like Eliphaz. I battle with a tendency to not speak up in order to keep the peace. It’s why I write so much, I think!

I’m convinced personality itself is not the issue. Honesty, genuineness, being real are all wings upon which God’s mission can soar. Hiding your personality can be as much of a constraining chain as personality flaws I’m sure.

Gotta go now… Lots of chapters to think more about this!

Advertisements

Job 4

You must have done something…

Job’s first friend Eliphaz starts to speak… Chapter 4 is only half his comments…

He’s introduced pretty amusingly saying, essentially, ‘I guess you don’t want to hear this, but I’m going to say it anyway.’ Empathy maybe isn’t his strong suit, though I suppose Job has been so extremely miserable, perhaps his tentativeness displays sensitivity.

His opening message is for Job to take some of his own medicine. He’s been a great encourager of the weak and the stumblers, can’t Job now encourage himself?

Then Eliphaz recounts a dream/vision, wonderfully vivid, from a floating spirit in the dead of night that made his hair stand on end. The message seems reasonable in its way: can man be more holy, more righteous than his creator, God?

Two quite normal godly responses in their way, if not exactly helpful. But between these two observations he slips the real killer: does God really do this to innocent people? People reap what they sow, don’t they?

The threads weave together into a knot of victim blaming: you must have done something. Or you’d get past this. Are you sure you’re so righteous?

It’s so easy for Christian teaching to lead there. We’re supposed to have faith and pray, so if we aren’t healed, don’t get rich or happy, we must have lacked faith. Still happens all the time.

And in pastor Ray’s application of it to indigenous people, yes, totally.

I think part of it is that we often can’t process injustice, either random or caused by inequality. It ruins our day. Stains the pretty picture.

We’re good at helping. A transaction where someone needs something and we can supply it. Much harder to live with problems that hang around, and can’t be helped.

Man naturally believes in God, perhaps that isn’t what we need scriptures for. Maybe this is the core message of the Bible: shit happens. Maybe it all flows from that, the fall, the redemption. Maybe heaven won’t be objectively ‘perfect’ just subjectively, because we will finally understand this truth.

Well maybe not. But the centrality of Job to the human experience is rather wonderful so far. I expected more straw man type arguments. But I relate to Eliphaz, it’s helpful. I already feel better about being depressed, which is a step closer to not being depressed. Bring on the second half of Eliphaz’s argument.

Psalm 62

I find this one very beautiful somehow. It has a very intimate tone. David is quite relaxed.

Things aren’t necessarily relaxing. It’s about the treachery of his court – there were a few successful rebellions against him. But he genuinely seems chill about whatever comes

He returns to the phrase ‘my soul finds rest in God’, it’s like the chorus line.

It has a wry, ironic, feeling. He talks of God being his fortress again, his rock, and himself ‘this leaning wall, this tottering fence’.

It’s pretty funny really, the plotters will feel like they’ve won if they do this easy thing, knock over David, but then one day will face the actual rock.

Psalms work similar to Jesus’ words at putting your head into the kingdom of God. They are great for that moment to moment, real time, seeing of the world from God’s perspective. Solid things are transient, invisible things are solid, it’s all upside down and not as it seems in the kingdom of God.

The wry feeling extends to David’s ambivalent attitude to power and wealth. Plotters are setting their heart on a prize that means little to him, he tells the people to pour out their hearts to God.

I was struck by the section on the low born and the high born, how together they are a breath, but the highborn are breath with more lies.

The end really spoke to me also. God says one thing, but David hears two. It’s a profound thing to say about God’s truth, it does have this unity to it. It’s why I’m reading these ancient texts from another context.

The two things he hears are like a case study of Jesus’ two greatest commandments, about the love of God and ethics between each other being, in the end, the only important things. And even those are variants of the same word of God. The rock is a refuge and a stumbling block.

Another great start to the day! Who could panic about anything after that?

Psalm 56

I’ve lost count but this is about the 5th psalm of David in a row where he is in Struggle Street.

It’s the second specifically about the desperate moment when he had to pretend to be insane to escape the Philistines because of his fame as a warrior. The strategy of a person truly out of options.

The variation of emphasis here is how unrelenting the pressure is. The classical pattern, I noted before, he cries out, then remembers the nature of God to calm himself. Here, it takes two goes.

He cries out, says how great God is, how he’ll trust him and be saved saying ‘what can mere mortals do to me?’ But then he goes ahead and answers his rhetorical question …Actually put quite an insane amount of pressure on me!

Lurk, scheme, watch his every move, twist his words in their relentless desire to ruin and kill him. All day long, all day long, all day long. He returns to the phrase 3 times.

He checks that God is keeping a record of his tears, there is a bursting wineskin of them.

To end he returns to trusting and salvation and his rhetorical question, but it’s in the present tense, you have delivered me from death, not you will.

The end idea – ‘that I may walk in the light of life’… What is that? It’s cosmic, it’s eternal life. The opposite of walking through the valley of the shadow of death from palm 23.

The double take means he’s gone from trusting God to just rescue his body to trusting God with death, to rescue his soul. He’s desperate enough to embrace death as a real possibility. And that salvation, he’s confident, has already happened.

Unfortunately for me, raised in the wonderful theology of Jesus’ salvation – a revelation that David can only reach towards through deep prayer – the message of the psalm is also that God doesn’t necessarily promise to save you from intense pressure in life.

I have to admit I long for a nice full-time permanent job with the Salvos because I’m tired, so tired of pressure.

Sounds small potatoes in David’s context, but there I am. My contract with them ends a year, virtually to the day, when I was unceremoniously made redundant – don’t come tomorrow – at my previous job. I would really like a job that pays enough, matches my skills, and I can trust to last.

I can pray for it, but it is not necessarily the salvation God has promised. I’ve protected myself, telling myself ‘it’s just a roll of the dice’ take what comes. And I’ve already been blessed with a far less miserable life than most of the Earth’s inhabitants. My wineskin of tears is really not even a little bit full, relatively speaking.

Such are our small prayers I suppose ‘thanks for eternal salvation, now what about that job?’ God shouldn’t have told us he knows how many hairs we have on our head.

Psalm 41

I don’t really get this Psalm. It seems rather self pitying, self righteous and vindictive.

It starts refreshingly like a social justice Psalm, talking about having regard for the weak.

But it heaps so many promises of reward on people who have regard for the weak that it muddies the motives – are you to fight for the weak because it’s the right thing to do or because this Psalm promises you will be kept safe from illness and the most blessed in the land?

Then it seems like David’s prime example of ‘the weak’ is himself… the rest of the psalm is about how sick and how betrayed he feels, and how he wants healing and strength so he can repay the evil done to him. Say wha?

I’ll hit the commentaries…

Ok, it softens it a bit. They say David doesn’t think he is ‘the weak’, though they agree it’s not explicit.

The thread of his argument is that he was kind to the weak, and he was blessed, despite being a sinner. Now that he is weak, he is appalled at how some of the people are taking advantage of it. And we know from Kings that included his son and his most trusted friend and general at different times, so it probably is fair enough.

So he’s asking for mercy, which is a word that shows he is aware he doesn’t really deserve rescue from his weakened state. But he asks it so that the rightness of God’s character can be demonstrated. So more people can know God as David does.

I’d missed the reference to his own sin and needing mercy when I read it first, as well as the implication that David was the one having regard for the weak… it was him referring back to when he was strong.

It’s also in that old testament mindset where you can only imagine blessing as an earthly concept, not an eternal spiritual thing.

That does come as a bit of a surprise because the previous palm, 40, was definitely reaching beyond that paradigm. But they are not in chronological order. You can’t expect them to show a progression of thought and revelation.

So we are left with 2 responses to the weak on earth: kindness, or treating them as an opportunity to be exploited for personal advantage. And a prayer that, imperfect though we are, God will use our lives and examples to show that kindness is the right and proper path.

And in fact the bit we sometimes lose from the old testament understanding of earthly blessing is that there is no time like the present for living out God’s truth.

We can’t pray ‘thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ every week and merely offer heaven as the answer to people’s present sufferings.

Living out the truth now shows its eternal consistency: that it has been, is, and always will be the way God wants for us. In every moment.

Jesus quoted this Psalm when Judas betrayed him. “Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me“. The commentaries said to visualise being kicked by a horse.

Though to me it has echoes of a temporary reversal of the garden of Eden promise, that a man’s heel would crush the head of the serpent.

Either way, quoting David here is a message from Jesus to the disciples and for all time that he is still King, and like David the betrayal is not the end of the story, will not triumph.

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!

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.