Exodus 16

Mana and quail. The lord provides. Manna, slightly sweet honey flakes, every morning for breakfast, quail, take away chicken, for dinner. For 40 years. With a cloud to guide them by day and fire by night.

I believe it. The phrase “the lord provides” just instantly filled me with comfort. And I’ve been going over 50 years. 

It’s poignant though, after a week with three deaths in it. I’ve been feeling spiritually numb. I’ll go to my uncles funeral today, it will be a great Christian celebration of a long Christian life, the least complex, in a way, of the deaths.

Thinking a lot about my family, all my children seem damaged and in pain. 

It’s a promise, a comfort, but also something of a plea. The lord provides.

2 Samuel 19

Private grief, public face.

David’s grief over his usurper son Absalom is overwhelming him. David escaped his rebellion to a foreign land, he’s “won”, but because victory meant the loss of his son, David is in a massive depression. 

It’s created a power vacuum. New king dead, Old king AWOL. David’s general Joab, who I sort of love, gives him a general-Patton-like reality slap and pep talk.

It’s all very well to love your enemies, but they’ve just saved many lives, all of those of David’s friends and supporters – David should spare a bit of love for the living and loyal!  For the good of the nation he has to get out there and be king! 

If not there will probably be another civil war. There is simmering tension between Judah and Israel always. David was Judah’s king before the civil war united the nation, so that is his base.

David man’s up. He channels his grief into mercy. This is the most beautiful thing in the chapter. We get a series of anecdotes of David letting bygones be bygones with enemies because he doesn’t want more death. 

Shimei, who was hilariously belligerent, now asks and receives mercy; Saul’s lame grandson Mesthispotheth gives a feeble explanation for why he ran off to the usurpers side, no worries. Another 80 year old leader is torn because not coming on the victory march with David will cause offence, but he’s old and tired. Take it easy, David says. 

David does two returns, the symbolic crossing the Jordan into Judah, echoing the people coming to the promised land, and then the journey to Jerusalem, entering Israel, foreshadowing Jesus’ journey to Calvary. 

The Judeans and Israelites both love him again, but like squabbling siblings, get a bit fierce about who loves him more. Seeds of future struggle there. 

David is fulfilling the role of king out of duty, but in his heart, god is king and he is clearly full of regret and grief. He doesn’t seem to have an ounce of pride. From all that flows a river of mercy.

Help me to make you king and swallow my pride, father.

1 Samuel 28

The philistines prepare to attack the Israelites, with David, convincingly a traitor, bizarrely as the philistine king’s bodyguard.  Saul facing the enemy encampment is deserted by God and terrified.

He has banned and purged all witches and mediums. But in desperation he consults one anyway.  She summons up the spirit of Samuel.  Its all very dramatic, but spirit Samuel doesn’t say anything at all remarkable or new in this scene: Saul is stuffed. He will die. He confirms Saul’s dread.

The portrait of the witch is sympathetic.  She forces him to take some food despite his refusal, she goes above and beyond in generosity.

God is supernatural after all.  She may have been faking Samuel’s appearance, but it may have been real, doesn’t really matter. As so often the message from the other side is the same as the message on this side.  The wise men found Jesus by astrology. It works, and sometimes its the only religion people know.

I think issue with mediums is not always that they are fake, its that its an unnecessary way to approach the supernatural that avoids god’s spirit.  Like a back door to the spiritual for people avoiding God.  God is in our hearts, just pray! I’m sure the devil is happy to talk with people attracted to him, but his overriding aim is your destruction.

Saul is in denial.  When confronted, we’ve seen him acknowledge David’s state of grace and bless it, but rebellion against God’s choice keeps overwhelming him.

It is tempting to see it as unfair that God deserted him even though he so desperate for spiritual guidance. But I don’t think God deserted him.

He’s literally living the old “two ways to live” pamphlet they used to hand out: he’s clinging to his kingship, and denying God’s. It’s not that he doesn’t know God’s will, he just doesn’t like it. So he keeps asking, like there might be a different answer if he asks a different way.

Its a good idea when tempted to pray “why won’t you answer me God?” to ask yourself if in truth he already has.

Two great sinners, David and Saul.  Only one has truth in his heart.

 

 

1 Samuel 19

Saul starts to openly chase David to kill him. A thrilling chapter full of incident and close escapes. 

David is true, Saul is jealous and tortured by David’s love of God and success. David runs away to Samuel when it’s clear the palace is no longer safe. 

We know from the Psalms his thought processes. When he is under greatest pressure threat and danger David slows down and gets lost in the presence of God. He is counter intuitive.

So he and Samuel stay “prophesying”, ie: speaking the truth about God, while 3 successive groups of messengers from Saul come to seek him. The messengers all forget Saul’s mission and join in the spiritual experience. 

Finally Saul himself comes personally, and he too is overwhelmed by the spirit, removes the vestments of kingship, and joins in.

Extraordinary. We have Israel’s future king David, his sworn enemy the crazy jealous current king Saul, both full of the Spirit joining in acknowledging the true king, God. Only in Israel.

This morning I feel the need to sever myself emotionally from the result of the US election last night. The best description of it yet I have heard is a whitelash. The white male anger has channelled though a character with a biblical sized ego and insecurity, who is his own God.

In the fear, the disappointment, anticipating all the nastiness this will unleash, I’m given this image of the two earthly kings falling before the one true king. 

God is in charge. Amen.

Ruth 1

“wherever you go, I will go, where you die, I will die and there be buried”

Some goodness.

I’ve just read judges, the period from which this story comes. Despite many great moments it is a harsh and depressing book. We zoom in here on intimate lives with much bad luck and sadness. But also great goodness. The gentleness is a relief.

Naomi is a Jewish woman in a foreign land (Moab) who loses 3 men, leaving just herself and two daughters in law. That makes her about the most weak and miserable person possible in that society.

Naomi is a believer and obviously kind and strong, because the girls both from Moab want to take the dangerous journey back to Israel… Bethlehem.

This is crazy they will be foreigners, doomed to poverty in a patriarchal society. She convinced one of the girls to stay but Ruth sings a song or says a poem where she throws her lot with Naomi and the lord. It’s very moving.

Very quickly we have a portrait of Ruth, she has shown herself to be a person of faith, and reflected how the lord has shone though Naomi. It’s the wonderful touch of grace in these sad, failing lives. Very beautiful.

Thank you for this story lord. For reminding me of grace and hope in the most sad circumstances.

Joshua 8

This is serious

The Israelite’s sin dealt with, they return to the city of Ai and destroy it. They use strategy this time, not sound as at Jerico, to take the city. But there is no doubt that it is God’s war, his plan. 12000 people die at Joshua’s army’s sword.  All the inhabitants of the city.

Afterwards, the chosen renew their covenant with God, reading the whole law (including “thou shalt not kill” presumably)

They are a people of the law.  They are really listening to God, and that’s what I want to do.

Aghast, I turned to dear Google and read some rationales for the “vindictive ethnic cleansing” as noted atheist, Christopher Hitchens called it.

But this is God, no excuses, he’s telling us what and who he is.   Killing does not mean the same to him as it does to us.  He is the creator, it is his right.  Its the plan for all of us to  die, to move from the temporal to the glorious eternal.  God thinks its better.

“Death, where is thy sting” they say when Jesus rises from the dead.  Death is the focus of so much fear and pain to us, but God says it doesn’t matter.  Or as St Francis of Assisi said in one of my all time fave hymns, addressing death as “kind and gentle”, “thou leadest home the child of God, and Christ himself the way has trod”.

Ethnic cleansing? That’s what its called when we do it to each other, yes. Killing for our own gain, or from fear or hatred.   But God is also the grim reaper, he is “death”.  There is not a race or creed excepted. However the message is its not as grim as you may think.

At Ai, that day, women and children fell with their menfolk. Why did innocent children die? To get to eternity faster.  Are they in hell?  God said he is love, god said he is just. I don’t know where they are, but it will be loving and fair.  So probably not.

Atheism makes sense in its own terms: if there is no God then the belief in God is horrific. But the horror of it falls apart if there actually is a God.  I don’t think atheists and believers can have a sensible discussion, really, as the lack of common ground is unspannable and just leads to endless circular arguments.

We are learning that the plan is very very important. God’s law is. The holiness is. The need for the chosen to stay pure and separate is.  The progressive revelation of God is.  All way more important than our span of years on this planet and the way it ends.

Our grief over death is unbearable.  All those young faces, full of fun and youthful sweetness, staring from the facebook profiles vacated by the killer’s gun in Orlando. God knows its unbearable.

At the risk of trivialising, I remember an old gag on the 80s TV show Mork and Mindy where Mork, the advanced alien played by Robin Williams, encounters nuclear power.  Mindy is nervous about it, but he couldn’t care less. He chuckles and tells her she’s acting like there isn’t an antidote to radiation. She says of course there isn’t.  He freaks… he can’t believe we are messing with that stuff without having the antidote… we are the craziest people in the galaxy.  I think God is saying we should view death as Mork viewed radiation.

With the salvation, the earthly death doesn’t matter.  Without it, we’re totally stuffed, death wins.

On that day in Ai, salvation moved closer.

 

 

Ezra 3

Joy and weeping mingled

The religious ceremonies recommence, after a 7 month settling in period. They are wary of what surrounding people will think, but are compelled to carry on anyway. The use an altar similar to the one Moses had.

The foundations of the new temple are laid, with the cry that God is good and his love endures forever, amid joy and weeping. The weeping is from those who remember the old temple. They are mourning what happened, letting good down and bring exiled, or sad because the new one will not be as grand. In the distance the sounds are not distinguishable.

Nothing more to be said about the poignancy of that. God is good, his love does endure, and life, even within his plan for it, is sometimes sucky.

Daniel 9

Daniel reads the scriptures. Here he is reading Jeremiah. He concludes that the exile will last 70 years.

He is moved to great penitence. He sees the exile as punishment for Israel’s unfaithfulness. He pleads in prayer, beautifully confessing his individual and corporate sin. He asks God to act and reminds god of the offence of the desolation of the temple.

The answer, the prophesy of the seventy times seven, has apparently driven everyone crazy for years. But suffice to say the angel Gabriel says it will be much more complicated and take much longer and involve far worse than has already happened to the Israelites.

It’s a paradigm shift and not a comfortable one, as the whole book has been. On the one hand is comfort that God is in control. On the other hand it’s a warning that God is not tame and that what Israel had will never be again.

Psalm 30

Joy in the morning

Very happy joyous song, with a series of images of bad turning to good, of times of feeling deserted by the Lord turning to generous blessing and favour.

Starts with a personal section, maybe it was an illness or a dangerous situation that ended: Lifted, healed, rescued from dead, spared from the pit.

Then preachin’ it: encouraging “you people” to praise the same love of God, expressed generally: A moment of anger followed by a lifetime of favour, weeping at night followed by joy in the morning.  

Then a longer and more specific personal section focuses in on the emotional guts of the psalm, not being able to find God.  

My general bible understanding wants to rebel against this.  My learned response God is faithful and will never desert us.  The image of God hiding his face implies he was always there, but he allowed bad stuff to happen.  Its a picture for the old issue of “why does God allow suffering?”.  

David understands that intellectualised response, and he says he had it too. He talks about the great feeling of security when he felt blessed by God, on the holy mountain, ie: in his presence, and how that was unshakeable… except then it did get shaken, and he was dismayed, because bad stuff happened, and God didn’t fix it straight away.  So it felt like God was hiding from him.  Message: its going to happen, as humans we will feel deserted by God, once the tenth thing in a row has gone wrong.

David’s response is one of his great confident prayers where he virtually hectors and dares God.  The deal is if God deserts him how can he bare witness to his greatness?  Like “hey God, its in your own interest to save me here, it’ll be a good look for you…” Its a great testament to David’s strong faithfulness despite his period of human dismay.  His prayer is “this is not right, no way, I deserve better than his, you promised!”  

And it worked out, another series of general joyous transformation images conclude the song: wailing turned to dancing, sackcloth to joy, and David will praise God, singing from the heart forever.
There is still bad stuff in the world, and its not going to be pleasant no matter how much we tell ourselves otherwise, but be patient, in the long run God’s blessing to us will far outweigh the suffering we experience.

Genesis 16

A jolt back into real politik.  Another biblical pattern, from the clear exalted mountain to the murky mess of the plain, like moses getting the law and coming down the mountain to faithless revelling, or Jesus going from the transfiguration to the faithlessness of the people and the bickering of the disciples.

And for me going from Sunday to Monday.  Bless me, keep me positive.

…that prayer was answered, I had a great Monday. The rhythm and discipline of work is making me feel so good. Plus I am good at it, and its such a powerful thing to feel competent. Part of the sense of dread I feel for my son who is 23 is that there is every possibility he may never feel that. He is in a psychological prison. Give me wisdom lord, and bless Lewes

Abram and Hagar are helping god along again. It’s a crooked web of weakness being woven here as Hagar the Egyptian slave girl is left over from the faithless deception in Egypt where Abram pretended Sarai was his sister and virtually gave her to the Pharoah. So the remnant of that unfortunate event is now enlisted as surrogate mother for the nation of Israel.  A very earthly plan for a cosmic promise.

Did Sarah not think that setting up a younger, fertile second wife in the household would drive her crazy? Hagar gets uppity, Sarai gets hurt, there is a falling out, and Hagar runs off.

A person, not a pawn

But oh the intervention of God in this one. People call the bible the “Good book”. So it’s rather shocking how bad people are without any much comment on their behaviour.  God adjusts for the mess.  He could have condemned Abram: “Abram, you have managed to turn my glorious promise into a sordid soap opera, I can’t work with this.” I did not expect God to speak to Hagar first, after all its supposed to be about the bloke and the promise that his offspring will be like stars and lead to salvation, right?  Hagar is just the meat in the sandwich, so to speak.

No! She is a person, not a piece of meat!  God speaks to her, and makes his own promise to her who has lost all, no postion or protection, a single mum alone in an unforgiving culture.

Hagar will have a son, called “God hears” because God has heard her misery.  She names God “the one who sees me” In being seen, Hagar becomes a person, not a pawn. And she has seen the one who sees her.  To god, its not about the plan, its about the collateral damage, the lost lamb. Oh the love and tenderness of that interaction!

Again, though the promise has a sting – Abrams’ promise to found a nation included it becoming a slave nation. Hagars includes trouble for Ishmael.

These promises are jarring.  Perhaps I need to just trust God over my children.  Another of my sons is brilliant at wrong footing me on who he is, and who he will become, he’s great at making me panic.

I can’t force the plan. He sees them, he hears their misery.  Give me patience to trust you Father. Shine into the murky messes, Father, with the clarity of love.