Ezekiel 2

After a dazzling vision of God arrives last chapter God speaks and appoints Ezekiel to be a prophet.

At the end of the chapter, God will give Ezekiel his sermon, his message. A scroll of lament, mourning and woe. Not an easy script.

It’s instructive how he prepares Ezekiel for this awkward message. In contrast with the burning splendor of the vision, there is a big dose of pragmatism and expectation management.

First preparation is to fill him with the holy spirit.

I’m actually running prayers at work today, it’s a half hour session each Thursday. I remember St Paul wrote of preachers with bad motives that, well, at least the gospel was peached. So the preacher doesn’t have to be perfect, not at all. But what a great starting point to be asked to be filled with the spirit.

Then God tells him to expect the people to be stubborn and not listen; and to carry on regardless. It is enough that they will know a prophet has been among them… Low expectations.

How lame is your church sometimes? Well, sometimes it’s enough that it just there.

He tells him he’ll be surrounded by thorns, briars and scorpions, not to be afraid. Expect fear, tune out to it. Keep listening to God, more than the rising panic.

Then God hands him his poison pill message.

God understands what he is asking of us. Not many are called to be Ezekiel, but it’s on the cards. And that’s why we have the spirit.

I pray that prayers go well, fill me with the spirit.

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Psalm 78

Ok very much continuing the theme of remembering. This is a recap of the whole history of Israel from exodus to David.

It’s a song to teach young people their history and their identity.

Asaph has studied the scriptures deeply and reduced giant portions of them down to these 70 verses.

The history we get is of God’s saving deeds for Israel, his harsh judgement when they despise him and his generous provision.

He notes that when God slew them, they returned to him and tried to obey, but then the praise would devolve to empty flattery not matched in their hearts.

It’s a picture of God’s patience as time and time again he doesn’t give them what their faithless hearts demand, abandonment.

God’s mercy is partly in account of their ephemeral nature “He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return.

The selective winnowing of God’s people comes down to Judah, to David. The psalm ends with him guiding Israel with skillful hands, a bit like #76 the other day, a snapshot of the glory days.

One theory is that the book of Psalms was assembled as a sort of portable temple for the period of exile when the real one was destroyed. If so this section has been about the value of suffering, of judgement, and how it doesn’t mean God has abandoned you.

I feel a bit coddled and guilty when I read about the Israelites, because I feel like I live in a time of relatively cheap grace.

A bit like as the youngest child in my family, the parents I knew were much softer and gentler than the severe parents my eldest brother remembers.

But that jarring perspective of God’s, that we are a passing breeze – that’s why he goes easy on us, wow. The old testament is good at reminding me how loved I am, how wild yet patient God is. The cost of love.

What can I give this year?

Psalm 39

David on the edge of eternity, uncomfortable with the world and with God.

One of my favourite parts of Jeremiah was when he tried to stop prophesying doom, but the message burned in his bones. David has a near identical experience here.

He breaks his silence with other people to talk to God, and is overwhelmed by a sense of eternity, of how short our lives are. He returns through the psalm to describing our lives like a phantom, a shadow.

He’s enough aware of the futility of a Godless life to feel like a stranger who has nothing to say to the people around him. But enough aware of his own impure and rebellious nature not to be able to stand God’s correction. He asks God to stop looking at him.

Any Christian can relate how he’s feeling. But we also have so much more revealed to us.

We’re told from birth that Jesus, the Messiah, was God dying for love of us. That we are participants in eternity, God’s children in a new heaven and earth where there are no more tears. And we’re still only seeing these things through a glass darkly.

David has an intimacy with God I’ll never have, but his glass is even darker. His honesty and clarity about what he knows of God’s truth leads him to the edge of all the missing pieces Jesus has filled, and he will be as saved by Jesus’ blood as I am.

But he’s miserable as he writes this. He’s has a vision of how meaningless are most of our earthly pursuits, he’s bowed out, but it’s resulted in the intensity of his sense of inadequacy before God increasing to breaking point. And there he leaves it.

Perhaps those moments when God seems like too much, when you just want to be ‘normal’ but you can’t – are the very hardest to bring honestly to God. It’s brave enough of an example to us that David has done it, of course there is no neat answer.

Jeremiah 14

This chapter is a dialogue of struggle between Jeremiah and God. They are talking about Israel, but to each other.

Jeremiah’s bleak message for the people rips him apart. His epic struggle to obey God is a key theme of the book, and an ironic one.

His love for the people makes it so painful for him to obey God and prophesy doom and gloom for them. Yet that obedience also contrasts so extremely with their disobedience that it helps make the case for the message.

God and Jeremiah are a bit like parents of a wayward child. They are so frustrated that they can’t reach the child, they start to turn on each other.

Here Jeremiah paints to God a vivid picture of how a series of droughts are affecting not just his people but his creatures and creation. There is a strong emotional plea, manipulation even, in it.

He doesn’t promise their repentance as such, he can’t, but he goads God to act because of his character. “Are you a stranger?” he asks, “a visitor, a confused old man? Aren’t you supposed to be a mighty warrior who loves his people?” It’s quite a way to speak to God!

“Nup, not happening” God essentially replies in quite blunt terms. “And stop praying for them.”

Jeremiah tries a different tack, arguing they have been misled by false prophets. He’s implying that it’s not their fault.

God promises the false prophets and the people will perish, and gives Jeremiah a true word to take to them, of them shattered; dead and unburied in the fields of battle, starving and sick in the cities.

Despite God’s prohibition, Jeremiah prays beautifully again for them to close the chapter.

We have a message for our world, the western part of which is experimenting with all sorts of affront to God. That includes some of the “chosen”, evangelical Christians, in my view. We can pray for them all we like, but at some point God wants us to act.

Isaiah 5

God sings a song of love lost. He compares Jerusalem and Judah to a vineyard where he planted, built walls, tended and did everything to produce good grapes, but got only bitter nuggets – wild grapes – in return.  What would anyone do with such a vineyard? Yes, give up on it and tear it down.

Then “woes”. Apparently Isaiah introduced this figure of speech to the Bible. “Woe to you who…” 

… Collect Property and destroy village life by getting ever wealthier, introducing inequality into society. It recalls the very just plan in the Torah, with years of Jubilee that were designed to keep society’s wealth flat. 

… Drinkers who spend life reveling and increase ignorance and self obsession.

… Liers and cheaters generally, who mislead the people in public life making good bad and bad good. spin merchants.

Ends by mentioning the judgement that will come from afar… Assyria and Babylon basically, who sacked Israel.

Thinking about lies, wealth and reveling actually, living in the year(s?) of Trump, the uber lying property developer, and on the end of a week where one of my wife’s school friends died of alcoholism.

I should look at my behaviours that produce bitter fruit and those that produce sweet fruit, for in me has God invested his love, I am God’s vineyard.

Give me something to show for it father!

Deuteronomy 20

Law about war.

The Israelites aren’t naturally warlike, but they are uniquely chosen in human history and God is promising to be on their side.

There are numerous exemptions from being part of the army, including being “faint hearted”. God likes to win with less rather than more manpower to make his God power clear. ┬áHe only wants the motivated true believers who have no distractions.

The rules are relatively merciful (given that it’s war) for towns they need to conquer that aren’t in the promised land. There must always be a peace offer first, the women and children are spared.

But the towns within Canaan are under God’s judgment, the Israelites are mere vehicles of it, and nothing is to be spared. The Israelites did not have the stomach for that and their compromise was the downfall of their society.

The rules for selecting the army show God being supportive and compassionate… If you’ve just married or just built a house, you don’t have to fight.

The rules for standard warfare show God bringing fairness to the affairs of men. If war must be, the standard operation is reasonable, much moreso than the surrounding nations would have been I’m sure.

The rules for taking the land are those of a god who is mighty, has plans beyond our understanding, of our creator and our judge.

It’s all the one God. We can love and find joy in his compassion and fairness, but we also need to fearfully respect his greatness and power over us as his creatures and trust the wisdom of his plans.

It’s who he is, he lets us like him or lump him.

Numbers 28

A lotta lotta animal sacrifices.

This seems like a dry series of rules.

They do 2 lambs a day, morning and evening.

2 extra on Sabbath.

A feast each month/new moon.

More for Passover

More for harvest.

I read my favourite commentator. He didn’t get a lot of meat from it (no pun intended)

He said the sunrise and sunset sacrifices are a good reminder to us to acknowledge God each day.

He made the point that they added a goat for atonement to the harvest, which was largely a celebration of thankfulness. There is always a place for remembering that God forgives sin.
I was also struck by how tightly communal their life was. A national leaders meeting/feast each month. That’s a lot of communication.

I also found myself wondering about whether they would give too much to God. What if they run out of sheep to feed their families? We were they getting flour from for the grain offering? It must have been a very precious commodity. I found myself wondering whether the invisible God and often victimless sin actually was worth risking their food supply. The “faithless” generation, it seems, eventually got more faith than me…

What it says about God is grace is not cheap. Sin is real. Approximating/symbolising it’s cost for an ancient nation of herdsmen requires a lotta lotta animals.

Numbers 18

So starting afresh after major rebellions and terrible plague. Good addresses Aaron, who with his wife had contributed to sing Moses’ leadership, rejecting the discontent of the people.

The levites are the temple serving tribe, and the priests are Aaron’s family, a subset within the levites tribe.  The responsibility for their behaviour, levites and priests all falls on Aaron.

They in turn are responsible for the sacrifices which cleanse the whole nation, and save them from death. 

God is reminding Aaron of his role. The priests are to tithe the tithes, give a tenth of the offerings they receive to God, sins they are also their wages for their service at the tabernacle.

Aaron has been a weak link and God is reminding him he is the centre and pillar of the whole system. 

I’ve increased my responsibility at church, and the first week after, I slept in and didn’t even go!  I’m glad mine isn’t as big or as life and death as Aaron’s. But it is impressing itself upon me, the seriousness of it. Mustn’t let them down.

Numbers 3

About the levites. The different clans get different holy duties. The priest tribe is a substitute for the firstborn, which are to be given to God. 

They haven’t been counted so far, in the army counts, as they do not fight. 

They count the males in the levites tribe, 22000, and the number of first born Israelite males in the rest of the tribes: 22273. So they pay the substitute price set out in Leviticus for 273 first born males.  

This keeps a debt owed to God for sparing the first born males at Passover when the Egyptian children died. By each family supporting the levites for God’s service and paying for the extra 273, notionally every firstborn has been dedicated to God.

Leviticus 7

I think we may have reached the end of the offerings. I started to think I was going batty, because it seemed to be saying the same thing over and over, but it’s actually outlined six different offerings: burnt, grain, sin, guilt, fellowship, and ordination. 

Burnt is where the whole thing is burned up, nothing left to eat. Chillingly it is the origin of the word “holocaust”. 

Sin is for Israel’s corporate sin, 

guilt for specific individual crimes, 

grain is non meat, and was a gift, a freewill offering to God (if you were well off… It was also an option for other purposes of you were poor) 

fellowship is for celebrating good things that happen, to acknowledge that God provides, 

ordination is dedication of new priests.

All have different rules about the animal, the nature of the royal etc. 

I was struck by the metaphor of cleaning. There is a lot of ritual cleansing and rules about unclean things contaminating the clean. It actually has a reasondable amount of practical science behind it, but it is a powerful metaphor for god’s holiness, one that is hard to reconcile with how loved and close to God Christians are promised to be.

Strange that the no blood thing carries on as kosher rules for Jewish people, though the sacrificial system has passed on.