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.

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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.

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.