Jeremiah 40

Jeremiah is freed.

The Babylonian soldier who frees Jeremiah sees God’s hand in it all, reminds me of the soldier at the cross. The contrast with the people’s refusal of God’s warnings of judgement is pretty stark. The soldier gives him a present and supplies and the choice of where he will go, Babylon or stay.

In a move straight from Machiavelli, the Babylonian king gives fields and properties to some of the poorest locals, and Jeremiah stays among them.

Judeans who have been outcasts in local countries, a bit like David was for a time, or Ruth, come to live around the ruins of Jerusalem, and prosper.

Indeed there has been a consistent strain of social justice through Jeremiah – God’s message is to the common folk, the vulnerable, over the heads of the rulers, telling them not to die for the cause. They are the lightest judged.

Its consistent with the vision God had for the holy land in the Torah, Isiah’s picture or the misfits and outcasts returning and Jesus’ ‘first shall be last’ vision of heaven.

The leader Gedaliah has clearly been listening to Jeremiah because he sends a message telling the exiles to live out their time in exile peacefully and to put down roots. The chapter ends suspensefully with a plot to kill him. The book is not all prophesy, it’s quite a history book at the moment.

It reminds me somewhat of the end of WALL-E when humans return to Earth.

The is a consistent beauty and continuity of the blessed land, producing wine and plenty.

The loop is closed, Joshua pushed out the Canaanites, and now the chosen people are pushed out. God was indeed on neither side, but the land remains his sacred and blessed creation.

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Jeremiah 22

An extended condemnation of the king who he calls Shallum here.

He was essentially a puppet king for Egypt, and sold out Israel’s wealth to them. He was in the wrong side of history, as the Babylonians defeated Egypt.

Yes, he sold out to losers; wup wah.

He was the third last king before everything was destroyed. The last two were Babylonian puppets.

Personality wise he was a capricious murderer who had multiple incestuous relationships.

So the extreme condemnation from Jeremiah is not surprising.

There is a poignant portrait of what a good king looks like at the start of the chapter:

Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.

Care for the vulnerable, righting wrongs, avoiding innocent bloodshed. This is the purpose of power.

With the world in a political cycle that favours demagogues, these words are comfort indeed. As are the ones that follow, promising that the bad stuff will pass.

Jeremiah 15

God makes it abundantly clear to Jeremiah that there is no way he will forgive Israel. It’s not that Jeremiah isn’t good enough, even Moses and Samuel could not persuade him to relent.

Jeremiah’s misery over his mission reaches fever pitch. He starts to sound like Job, wishing he had never been born and cataloguing all the good he has done in his life to ask what he’s done to deserve such punishment.

God promises to be kind to him eventually, but for now he must be strong like a wall. He must absorb their rejection of the message, he must absorb their attacks on him.

You know that Jeremiah will be brave, he’s in the Bible. You know how it ends. But for us it often doesn’t end that way.

We wimp out. We change the message to fit the people. Or we divorce the message from the people, from any relationship or care. How much does Jeremiah grieve for them!

Isaiah 44

The YouTube overview of Isaiah describes this bit, it’s where the perspective changes from the fear before being attacked by Babylon etc to the joy of returning from exile and reclaiming Jerusalem.

Some argue it was by a later hand, Isaiah the sequel. I am not a biblical scholar and I don’t care deeply about it, but I don’t see any problem with the idea of Isaiah writing it. He predicted the near future, the attacks, he predicted the distant future, the Messiah, why not the middle future?

It’s an affirmation of how richly he will bless Israel, how there is no other God like him and and condemnation of idols.

The idols section is wonderfully vivid, painting a picture of one piece of wood being used half to burn in a fire a cook dinner, and half to bow down to and worship. Having begged the question of its nurture and growth in the forest…

The ideas are bought together in a final burst of delight at how God forgives, nurtures, protects and supports Jerusalem. Which, if Isaiah did write it must have sounded very odd to the people living in mortal fear of having their society and City destroyed.

They had David’s Psalms however, and I recall being struck by his response to crisis: go into God’s house and wait on him. Stay calm God is in control.

Trump, North Korea, the decline of Christian dominance, Isis… Stay calm, he is the lord “who frustrates the signs of liars and makes fools of diviners, who turns wise men back and makes their knowledge foolish”

No one else like him!

Isaiah 32

It must have been frustrating to be Isaiah, it must have been frustrating to listen to Isaiah.

The things he talks about here were true about the pattern Israel would suffer.

Some of the last Kings were the best, just before Jerusalem was destroyed, there were godly Kings, Hezekiah, Josiah.

But destruction came anyway. And the Israelites had to understand that it was all part of God’s plan to pour out his spirit. And that was better by far, and also that the destruction was deserved.

It’s a complex message. There will be good times,  but don’t get complacent because also the worst. But they will actually be good in ways you can barely understand.

What do you do with a message like that?

It’s still a message Christians struggle with. God has blessed is with good times, praise be. This disaster is God’s will.  God has healed me. He is in heaven now. How can God let bad things happen? No one laughs at God in a hospital.

I was starting to get a bit annoyed with Isaiah, but maybe I’m getting annoyed with God.

That’s why I read this I suppose, to understand.

Isaiah 4

First hint of an exile scenario. God’s mercy comes in for those in the broken state from the last chapter, who have lost everything. But it is just a few. 

They are survivors, those who are left after a time of cleansing and burning. 

For those who experience grace, a rich picture connecting God’s presence and rest is given. It harks back to exodus, cloud by day, fire by night; and Jonah, a place of shade, a little booth. It draws these pictures together into a canopy over Jerusalem.

They talk often about entering into God’s rest, which is a passive and active concept, and this shows the connection, rest for his people equals God’s active presence, his care.

This concept is our go to comfort when facing death, rest in peace after all.

But only after judgment.

2 Kings 17

12 tribes in the promised land are whittled down to one.

King Hoshea presides ineffectually over the end of the northern kingdom – all of Israel except Judah.

First he becomes a puppet king under the Assyrians, who are the Empire builders of the era, then he makes a feeble attempt to betray them with an alliance with Egypt. He is imprisoned and the people are exiled.

The writer retells all the ways in which the people have earned their fate since the time of exodus. They have at best treated Jehovah as one of many gods. Worst, and often, they have openly rejected him. He’s sent many prophets but it’s made no difference.

The Assyrians send various people to occupy the land and eventually send back an Israelite priest because lion attacks are viewed as a sign of Jehovah’s displeasure. The priest teaches the new residents of Israel the way of the lord as much as he can.

I don’t have a lot to say. The story has been heading here since, well since the people first left Egypt in a way, but definately since the kingdom split.

I have Christian friends on Facebook who almost daily link to what I think of as Christian apocalypse items…. About how the world is going to hell in a handbasket. But I think it’s important to remember that God remains sovereign and his salvation is eternal.

This is one of those moments, like how the disciples must have felt after Jesus was crucified, when you wonder if God’s plans will ever work out. Yet, here we are.

There is reason to be passionate, but not to despair, to be busy but not overwhelmed.

Help me be functional father… I’m feeling  like I have more in than I can handle, but at the same time I’m aware that a have it very easy, and feeling a bit guilty too.

2 Kings 7

Elisha tells the king, who came to kill him, the famine and seige of the capital will be over by morning. God scares away the army who are laying seige with a convincing soundtrack of an attacking army.  The people plunder their supplies. Boom, so easy for God.

The King planning to kill Elisha out of frustration has a sort of sneaking respect for God. But he’s too proud to repent. The guard who came with the king to kill Elisha is a more straightforward unbeliever who just thinks Elisha’s prediction that the problem will be solved in a day is ridiculous. 

Elisha also sees judgment for the guard, which the text notes came to pass. God did magic away the practical problem, but the larger problems of pride and disbelief are resistant. Ironically, though he died, it seems more likely to me that the guard found faith. 

I can’t understand the hardness of the kings heart in the context of this sightly fable-like telling of history. But I see it all the time around me still.

Praying for the world in the sadness that follows natural disasters and evil acts.

1 Kings 19

Elijah left the last chapter on a high, having destroyed the false prophets, running to reach and influence the king. But he seems to lose the political advantage and is again hunted as public enemy number one by Queen Jezebel.  He loses all hope.

Tired, hungry, he staggers one day into the desert and gives up. He tells God to just let him die. And if the lack of food doesn’t get him the Queen surely will.

God gives him food for strength enough to hide properly. Then 3 displays of his power, earthquake wind and Fire. Then silence out of which he listens to Elijah’s utter loneliness and hopelessness and then promises help and victory over Ahab and Jezebel.

The help comes first. Elijah shares his mantle with Elisha, who like Jesus’ disciples unhesitatingly leaves a busy and prosperous life to follow.

It’s a passage that should restore the hope of everyone who reads it. It details how caring God is.

First he attends to the immediate physical needs, the good Shepherd, food and shelter.

Then the reminder of his power, after which the intimate solace. God listens, promises.

And the help. Is there anything more encouraging than other believers who share your sense of God’s mission?

That’s our God! I pray that me and mine may know that God. If you are desperate, it’s worth crying to him.

1 Kings 13

How God’s judgement comes to Rehoboam, the northern king, of Judah.

It’s a strange tale of two prophets. One comes and gives a dramatic demonstration of God’s might and condemnation of Rehoboam’s false Gods. The altar turns to ash before people’s eyes. And when the king tells him to stop his pointing hand is withered on the spot.

Enter the second prophet who deceives the first into disobeying God, after which he is killed by a lion. The second, deceptive prophet seems to have regret and understands the extent of the kings failure, speaking words of condemnation from God.

The king continues to follow his made up rebellious religion. By the second prophets words, his house is doomed.

They are strange and terrible times. God’s is acting in them however. It’s tempting to feel abandoned when things go to pot.

I feel Australia is at a time when bad feeling towards the church is crystallizing, via the gay marriage plebiscite. Everyone is polarising into a yes or a no. A lot of people are poking a lot of fun at God and religion, often with quite good cause.

But it doesn’t mean God will give up, or that we are abandoned.