Isaiah 43

Tough love.

A beautiful description of God’s character. It reaches back to Moses’ burning bush and escape though the sea to talk about God’s protection though trials of fire and flood.

The refrain of “fear not” from the last few chapters is repeated. So are images of the gathering of the nations, being loved and known since birth, the unique omnipotence of the one true God.

The image of a highway in a newly verdant desert comes back, which is described as a new thing God will do.

Then, right at the end we hear God has grown weary of them. The North has ignored him, and the South has kept up an empty religion.

Therefore both will be destroyed and reviled.

Bam. End of chapter. It puts everything in context.

Fear not… Because much to fear is coming.

Remember that God is in charge, fire won’t consume you, water won’t drown you…  because both are coming, etc.

The destruction coming is not only God’s judgement, it’s his love.

And he offers to have it out with them: let’s have witnesses, let’s state our cases.

So much to teach us about difficult times, but the lesson I’m taking is: stay in contact with God, yell at him if you have to. Have it out, he’s saying he can take it.

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Isaiah 2

The great correction.

A poem about greatness with a returning altitude metaphor.

The things that are high, lofty – rich, honoured, successful – false, will be put into perspective when all nations see God on the highest of all mountains and worship him.

Solomon wirh all his wives and false gods established “high places”, outside Jerusalem to compete with the temple and Jehovah. And god regularly spoke to people in mountains, it’s where Moses got the commandments.

The temple in Jerusalem was built on the site of an old high place.

Hence the talk of height and competing claims on our spirituality.

But the prophet’s role is to turn everything to metaphor, and he is standing on the outside of a successful society saying how God is going to turn the social order upside down. Bring justice and judge sin.

It’s where the church is rapidly moving today, to the outside. It’s a very relevant poem.

The central tragedy for me this week in a week of a lot of sad 2 is the death of one of my wife’s school friends from alcoholism. A sickness with a spiritual aspect to it.

2 Kings 10

Jehu the violent King continues to ensure the slaughter of every child (70!) of the bad King Ahab, and every worshipper of Baal, who he tricks with lies about claiming to love Baal.

He talks about his “zeal for the Lord” and is aware of bringing about the judgment pronounced by Elisha.

However, his dedication to Jehovah doesn’t play out in his life, he continues to allow the calf worship that Elisha & Elijah before him have strongly denounced to previous kings. During his reign various parts of the empire are stripped away by rebellions, which Elisha also saw when he wept upon meeting the foreign future king Hazael.

God’s judgment, god’s purposes, coincide with a season of power for Jehu.  But there is no real connection. For Jehu his religious talk is opportunistic. His trust is in his own, fleeting, strength.

Its a good lesson in the relationship of politics and religion: proceed with caution.

1 Kings 14

This is how I remember kings. The chapter fast forwards though the rest of the reigns of the two kings. 

The Southern, in Jerusalem is weak. Worship of false gods is allowed to flourish, and Egyptians raid and take all the treasure and wealth of Solomon.

The northern king is stronger but actively shuns God. His son dies and his line ends.

God speaks though prophets. Jeroboam in the north tacitly acknowledges that he still fears the true God by sending his wife to speak to a prophet, in disguise. 

The blind prophet knows it is her the moment she reaches the door. He tells her of the end of their house and that she will never see her son again.

It’s a sad picture of someone childishly trying to manage God. They’ve got power by throwing God under the bus to the people, a grave sin, and then tentatively and sneakily try to check if there’s going to be a consequence. C.S. Lewis set up Aslan the lion as a picture of God in his children’s books, the point being he’s good but not tame. 

The promised land project has started a long decline. Only the prophets will hold out any hope.

1 Kings 5

Solomon starts his great task of building the temple. The general theme is of great quality, spare no expense materials and excellent organisation.

The relationship with the neighbours to the north who supply the timbers is striking. Their ruler Hiram is a friend of David’s. He rejoices that they are building the temple and puts it in a godly context. David’s influence on this gentile leader is evident.

Compared to the building of the tabernacle however, I’m missing God. Moses talked to God so intimately. So far this seems like a well oiled, professional show, but a step removed from God.

The manpower required is impressive, you can see why they didn’t do it when at war.  They use conscripted workers. One of the commentators suggested they were enslaved Canaanites, or perhaps they were Israelites I don’t know. But it feels slavey.

Doesn’t feel like the egalitarian society sketched out in the Torah. As king, Solomon is supposed to have the law next to him at all times, and be one of the people. Deuteronomy 17 again.  They came from slaves, and now they are making slaves, it feels a bit off.

It all feels a bit too glam for Israel.

I’ve had a burst of energy, perhaps it’s spring despite struggling with a cold. Feeling upbeat at work. Trying to remember to pray as well as do these readings. I pray a lot for the family.

Deuteronomy 29

The responsibility of knowledge. As Jesus died in the cross he said of three Roman soldiers who carried out the execution ” forgive them father they don’t know what they are doing”.

Israel has been given God’s mind and his blessing. They know what he is doing. 

This chapter is about the covenant, the deal between God and his people.  It means so much more if they turn their back on God.

And I, I know so much more again. I have the spirit in me. Jesus said there is only one unforgivable sin, denying the holy spirit. I’ve always understood that as him as saying the unforgivable sin is refusing to be forgiven. 

Or as spiderman night put it, with great knowledge comes great responsibility. I can only pray for wisdom and courage.

Deuteronomy 18

We’re laying the ground rules for Israelite society. Last chapter law and government, now religion.

The priests are to be supported and honoured as full time ministers. They have no land, God is their inheritance. And prophets will continue Moses’ role of speaking the words of God.

This is compared to the occult practises already rampant in the land, and there is reference to why they are so detestable, child sacrifices etc. 

They have the voice of God, they don’t need to consult the dead or search for truth by elaborate divination rituals. 

Exodus 26

The tabernacle, an incredibly fancy tent designed in detail by God. Ditto yesterday really.

I found myself wondering at the Israelites ability wandering in the desert to be able to make the metal bits required, bronze & gold clasps, the embroidery, the large wood poles. 

And the logistics of moving with all those materials to hand, carrying the tent, the workshop equipment. It’s a nightmare.

I wonder how often they moved. Did they pack up and resettle every day? Surely not more than once a week?

They spent 40 years or something wandering like this. There is something powerfully symbolic about the ephemeral nature of it all. 

I wonder if the tabernacle wasn’t closer to god’s ideal for worship than the temple they would everythings make under Solomon at the height of their influence.

1 Samuel 23

Complicated time in Israel’s history, Saul and David are conducting a civil war with constant breaks for international war against the philistines.

David has learned his lesson about involving people in his fight against Saul. He takes a side quest to save a city from the philistines. he then leaves the city before Saul can come and start killing the inhabitants for associating with him. 

David’s group, on the run, is nearly encircled by Saul’s forces, but Saul is called away to yet another philistine aggression.

This while episode is about Saul’s refusal to accept god’s will if it means losing earthly power. Saul struggles to find David, but Jonathan, who shares in god’s grace with David, is mysteriously able to visit him at will. He reports that Saul knows David will inevitably be king. 

I was struck with David’s easy relationship with God. He talks conversationally with him, and also consults a priest to discern the will of God. I’m puzzled by the varying methods. But the message is clear: god is with David, every step. 

Saul praises god when a city informs on David’s whereabouts during the manhunt: both sides of a war always claim God. 

But Saul’s quest is defiant, his religion empty and self serving.