1 Kings 4

List chapter, all of Solomon’s officials, his daily provisions. The people are indeed as numerous as the sand by the sea… Not quite the choice of words of God’s promise to Abraham that they would be as numerous as the stars.

They eat and drink and have military might that gives them dominion over the entire region. That is pretty much “flowing with milk and honey” as promised, if a little less poetic.

God makes an appearance as the source of Solomon’s wisdom. His fame spreads and he’s recognised as the wisest man “of anyone”. He composes 1000 songs and 3000 proverbs.

God’s wisdom flows to material blessing.

I’m still wondering what we learn from Israel’s golden era. Do things have to go wrong for God to be needed? How do we stay focused on God in the good times? Praying for wisdom is a start.

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Deuteronomy 30

Choose life. 

Moses’ sermon is reaching a climax and that phrase could be a two word summary of the book. 

I love his description of the law not being hard to reach, it is on their lips, in their hearts and in their choices. For me this describes the experience of positive Christian living, what you say and do reflecting your heart and vice versa.

Their consequences are clear, blessings and curses. They are to choose life. 

I’m going to try it out as a phrase to reach for when I need wisdom or guidance. Choose life.

Deuteronomy 15

There need be no poor/you will always have poor.

The lord loves us and provides enough for mankind. Society will always have inequality, but we are to actively minimise it. 

Here are the rules by which all debts were to be cancelled every 7 years. God wanted all his people to do well, not a stratified society.

Beyond that, they are told to live by the spirit of being an open-handed and generous society. So to exploit the rules by being less generous because you know the 7th year approaches is a sin. 

And servants are to be allowed the choice to be free. They are all descended from slaves, their society cannot support involuntary slavery. Think how that must have affected the life of servants every day, knowing that they could be free after 7 years.

God’s vision of society is just and generous. We were all slaves. All we have comes from him, we aren’t to hoard it or lord it.

Numbers 35

This continues a list of living arrangements for the holy land. It’s a grace filled chapter.

The priests are the chosen of the chosen. They don’t have their own land but are spread out among the people in a way that anticipates modern theology of the priesthood of all believers.

It’s God’s way of influencing: the salt that gives flavour.

And refuge cities are dotted though the land where accidental killers, manslaughterers, may shelter from legalised vengence.

Commentator mentioned how God as refuge is a theme, and how much in common the idea of a refuge City has with Jesus.

God is just there nibbling away at people, being there as part of life, being salt in conversations and somewhere to go for refuge. It’s a good picture of how he wants us to live.

Numbers 31

A few chapters ago God used a plague to bring judgement on the Israelites. But now God uses Israel to destroy the Midianites, maybe so that all the other nations along the path to canaan will know they are chosen and steer clear.

This sad story is a sequel to the scenes in 23-25 of the Moab King and Baalam the diviner/prophet who kept telling the King that God was with the Israelites and he should not try to fight them or it would be their doom.

The king seemed to have deliberately tried – with some success – to break down the Israelite’s religion with their own particular belief system that seemed to involve casual sex with attractive women.

Its hard to contemplate all those ancient lives.  Human souls as precious as anyone. What sort of lives did they have those temple prostitutes?

Were there any among those destroyed who God loved? Balaam was killed. He was a prophet for hire, but he spoke glorious words about God.  Surely there were others who knew at least moments of blessing we didn’t even hear about. That is between god and each person.  But their time on earth was over, and the Israelites dealt the blow.

The habits of war was to take all the women children and treasure as spoils for the victors, which the Israelites did, not focussing on the fact that they were being instruments of god’s judgement, not a conquering army.

They weren’t victors, they were supposed to be more like a destructive force of nature: a plague, flood, earthquake or old age. Literally an act of God. They weren’t to profit from it.

So the rest of the chapter is an awkward and unsatisfactory compromise to return the spoils to God, including the humans, some of whom are even allowed to live a bit longer, in a way that is as fair as can be in the circumstances.  Plan B, second best, God getting into the messiness of disobedience.

 

 

 

Leviticus 19

Many of these rules are beautiful.

We’ve got equality, fairness, compassion, social welfare, kindness to the disabled, anti-discrimination rules, generally against hate and superstition.

This was radical. We were reminded in the last chapter of the deity Moloch for whom children were apparently sacrificed, this God is not like that. Similarly, it might seem obvious in this chapter to tell parents not to make their daughters prostitutes, but that refers to temple practises of the local religions and was seen as a religious thing to do.  These rules are dramatically different.

Its a picture of a really great society.  Jesus blessed and adopted all this stuff for us when he quoted this chapter and said loving your neighbour one of the two greatest commandments, along with loving god. Love love love, love is all you need. And he told a parable to extend the Israelite concept of neighbour to anyone.

The latter half of the chapter is about not mixing in with the culture, fashion and practices of canaan where they will be settling. This section has the often quoted example of a dumb Leviticus rule, the one about not wearing a shirt with two types of fabric. Those rules seem a lot more arbitrary to us now.  Though the gist of not being a slave to fashion, or taking your cues entirely from the society around you is still relevant to christians.

 

Leviticus 13

Lots of reasonably modern sounding public health rules about infectious skin diseases.

Commentators made a point of how leprosy spreads bodily corruption can be used as a metaphor for sin.  But the passage doesn’t seem to do that.

There is no blame attached to it here, though by Jesus’ day there seemed to be strong assumption that lepers deserved or earned their fate.  And of course Jesus turned this upside down by having more to do with lepers than the cleanest religious leaders.

But here it is a real honest to goodness diagnosis guide… I loved the bit about how a bald man is just bald and a man with receding hair just has receding hair.

The diet was a mix of symbolism and a reasonable nutritional and safety element, this seems primarily practical.

Leviticus 11

And… dietary rules.  Rather a jarring progression from the death in the last chapter, but here we are.

There really isn’t much scientific basis to the rules, though the pork restriction, for example, it did protect them from some parasites that we don’t see much any more.  Careful cooking also can fix it.

I read the wikipedia article on the modern “leviticus diet” based on all this which appears to have been a sham scheme to sell branded supplements and viewed dubiously by nutritionalists.  Its not a bad diet, its just that a number of the restrictions don’t necessarily add to its health properties.

Its about obedience, being set apart, external and self discipline, pure and simple, I think. And of course for christians the idea of adopting a leviticus diet doesn’t really jibe with the vision of Paul where God invited him to eat all the “unclean” stuff, which he later turned into his “eat whatever, as long as you don’t offend people” advice.

Leviticus 6

Leviticus is so far working out better than I expected.  I know, I’m being condescending to God. That would probably cost me a ram or something back in the day.

The rules are, for the moment, not random and arcane, which I confess I did expect. There is a strong thread of very personal morality running though it. 

There is tenderness to the poor and the exploited. 

It’s easy to condemn sins you see as an existential threat to your world view, and which you are personally unlikely to commit. But the sins constantly referred to are not the equivalents of abortion or condemnation of gay marriage that you hear from conservative Christians. Here we have things like not defending victims of unfairness, or taking unfair economic advantage of others. The emphasis is on getting the log out of your own eye more than the splinter in others.

It is sexist though. The gender of the priests, even the gender of the animals is a big deal. 

In this chapter there are more details about different kinds of offering, but again the sins referred to are deceptions, for example lying about lost property, greed, cheating others.