Hosea 6

A friend of mine who is a salvation army officer told me a story about preaching while dealing with her son discovering he was going blind. She described the experience as her own words sounding to her like “blah blah blah”.

This is a beautiful chapter.

By the way, it’s striking how much is prophesy is poetry. Very little prose. Advertising copy counts as poetry these days I suppose, but it’s not the go-to form for press conferences. Trump, funnily enough, talks in a poetic kind of way: not factually accurate, but full of resonance and emotional truth for his supporters. He is always a salesman. And God must always “sell” his message of love to us, because we have skeptical hearts.

First section is a picture and promise of god’s love. Short term, healing, restoring, reviving. Described as a three day process, that people have said parallels Easter.

Then living in god’s presence, compared to the sun rising and seasonal rains in winter and in spring.

Beautiful. Then a section on the emptiness of Israel. It is despairing. Their love for god is like morning mist or disappearing dew compared to the constancy of the seasons in the previous passages. They fall back into the prostitution of other god’s so fast.

That is why God must use the cutting words of the prophets. Priests are likened to bandits, lying in wait to trap travelers. Key verse:

I desire mercy, not sacrifice,

    and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

V6

Which leads me back to my friend, who was sufficiently spooked by the experience of preaching her hollow sermon that she stepped back from teaching for a while.

The externals are meaningless if the inside is hollow. The pandemic is exhausting my brain. And I’m still a sinner, as it turns out. But God can forgive if I stay alive to the Spirit. Stay alive.

I pray about my response, focus. Don’t obsess on information to the extent that it overwhelms my mind. Stay in the moment with the Lord and with those around me.

And lord, keep the vulnerable safe.

Hosea 4

Aboriginal people at work were explaining totems to me. You don’t eat your totem. To my friend’s mob, kangaroos were sacred. So as well as being a complex tapestry of different languages and countries, this culture saw Australia as a tapestry of different animal sanctuaries.

That blew my mind a bit. It’s abundance thinking, recognising that, as long as you don’t get greedy, the regenerative machine of God’s creation will provide enough for all forever. A practical way of ensuring God’s will is done on earth as in heaven: God gave us all these animals. If you respect that gift enough to never kill all of any one kind, you’ll have them forever. And that is personally expressed through being bought up having an empathic affinity with a particular animal.

Today’s passage is about the corruption and greed of all Israel. God won’t allow them to point fingers at each other. You’re all equally bad, the passage says.

It explains God’s choice of prostitution to make the point, because the religious practises they had adopted in defiance of God’s revelation literally involved a lot of prostitution. Their spirituality and their economy was built on it. Sacred and secular, almost everyone complicit in this deep corruption of their society.

I say almost everyone, because the prophesy will not allow the double standard of victim blaming:

“I will not punish your daughters

    when they turn to prostitution,

nor your daughters-in-law

    when they commit adultery,

because the men themselves consort with harlots”

V14

Very clear that Hosea’s story was not about “slut shaming” Gomer, wife and prostitute, but exposing the exploitative patriarchy she was born into.

I thought: our society isn’t as bad as that. There is a lot of good. We aren’t as corrupt as Israel was. And I don’t know the answer. But I’ll tell you, greed is on the up and up.

Look at toilet paper. When the history of the 2020 pandemic is told, the ridiculous toilet paper crisis in Australia may be forgotten.

But you can’t find it anywhere. Most Australians seemingly decided that the way to stock up for the possibility of 2 weeks of quarantine was to buy about a years worth of toilet paper, so the shops are currently empty of it.

This is not abundance thinking, it’s selfish greed, admittedly fuelled by panic. But the toilet paper thing seems like a prophetic symbol worthy of the old testament in a world where inequality is dramatically rising, and political movements based on xenophobia keep winning elections.

God promises that the world does have enough for everybody, if we can just be less greedy. But still, greed is rampant.

And sexual exploitation is in this weird place. It’s more harshly condemned than ever in my lifetime, via #metoo and the demarginalising of all kinds of sexual preferences. But at the same time the internet swirls with unprecedented access to it. But I suppose no weirder than the contradiction of Hosea’s marriage. Plus ca change..

So our spiritual health is patchy perhaps, but not great, not at all.

Prophesy is about being God’s presence. WWJD. We’re good for toilet paper.

Hosea 1

I always love to read about the “Street theatre” symbolic signs that prophets are asked to do.

But of all of them, surely Hosea required the deepest commitment, being told to marry a prostitute, and give his children miserable names like “not loved” and “not my people”. A commentator speculated that his son “not my people” may have indeed not been his biological son, and perhaps the child bore no family resemblance.

His third child was named “Jezreel”, which I gather would be a bit like a Chinese person calling their child “Tiananmen Square”. Jezreel was the site of a massacre that established the ruling king Jeroboham II.

Hosea’s prophetic ministry was in the northern kingdom, Israel, after the “promised land” split into two nations. The northern kingdom was generally less faithful to God, and didn’t include Jerusalem, where the temple was.

The book covers a tumultuous period from peaceful prosperity to the conquering and exile of the nation.

As the book starts, and Hosea sets out to live this symbolic life, it would have seemed to the average inhabitant of Israel like nothing is wrong. The prosperity and stability of the Solomon years, pre split, are continuing.

But spiritually, the nation is corrupt at the core. Hosea is a canary in a coal mine. And his near term prophesy rapidly came to be, with the fall of about 7 kings in his lifetime, and then the nation as a whole.

Another feature of the prophesy book genre is what I’ve called the sugar, the promises of blessing after the hardship which are some of the most exultant passages in all scripture. This chapter rushes to it.

From oblivious shallow prosperity, to the shock lifestyle message of God’s judgement, to a promise of restoration. The promise echoes the covenant with Moses, that Israel and Judah will be united again as God’s people, of immeasurable number like the sands on the seashore.

In 11 verses.

Work is still awful, about to start the third week of my 3 week’s notice of being made redundant, which, rather than being paid up front, I am serving out.

If I work from home or if I go into the office, it’s equally depressing. I have a couple of tasks to do that I would usually find enjoyable. But I feel like life has trained me not to relax into work.

It’s as if you got a mouse and electrified their food, and their exercise wheel and their sleeping corner, so that every normal activity was negatively reinforced with jabs of pain. I wander restlessly wondering what to do.

I’m embarrassed how selfish I feel, but I also resent the morality that tells me not to feel sorry for myself. So as well as not knowing what to do, I don’t know what to think.

There’s that destructive urge, like after a hurtful romantic break up, that to move on is letting them win. But you know you will rapidly get to a place where no one in your life has patience with you nurturing your hurt any more.

Sigh.

There are some days, in my grand Bible reading method, where my mood and the message in the passage seen magnificently mismatched. No word of application is coming to me. But I do feel encouraged to pray.

Ezekiel 22

This is an early exile group in Babylon, and Ezekiel is a source of God-given news about Jerusalem. It’s all bad.

This chapter has a brutal picture of a corrupt society. The powerful are depicted as a savage bunch of wild animals that tear people and social order apart to satisfy their appetites.

The priesthood is painted as whitewashing the greed and self dealing of the powerful for the own advantage, with no care for the average people.

The test of a society is it’s treatment of the vulnerable: poor, needy and foreigners. Jerusalem’s are robbed, extorted and denied justice.

We have these things called lobbyists. Persuading the government who are supposed to represent us to instead serve the interests of the coal lobby, or the stock market. Inequality is tangibly rising in so many Western democracies. More and more people are locked out of home ownership. The picture of Jerusalem might be worse in some ways, but we have some pretty big ills.

There’s a messianic word at the end about someone who could stand in the gap between Jerusalem and God’s wrath.

So we get away with it? Now Jesus is here? What is the accountability? This question fuels my addiction to U.S. politics. How long, lord, how long?

Matthew 7

Swallow your pride. God’s will be done. Switch off your worry. That was the thrust of Jesus’ sermon so far.

Today’s third part of the sermon on the mount is full of warning and promise. It’s for those who have heard or started to hear, God’s truth.

Even if you only have an inkling, some fragment of it that excites your spiritual longing; ask, seek and knock until you find more. Be seeking and doing God’s will.

It will be much easier not to. Many don’t, most in fact. And since the first step is swallowing your pride, don’t expect them to admit it. You’ll encounter false prophets and false disciples.

You’ll need brilliant discernment. We are all sinners, only God can judge – work on your own sin rather than judging others for theirs.

But be aware and steer clear of the wolves in sheep’s clothing who are presenting as the answer but don’t want to do God’s will.

Look at their fruit… more than their theology? Words are easier to fake than actions I suppose. And think carefully. They hear gods truth but it’s like pearls being given to a pig.

At the end of the sermon the people are astonished at Jesus’authority in teaching, so it’s pretty clear for that context these “pig” teachers are their usual teachers. What an insult.

It ends with the wise man building on the rock, which is Jesus’ words. And Jesus words? Seek God’s will.

It’s arguably circular: our work is to build solid houses in rock, and store treasure in heaven based on seeking and doing God’s will. And what is god’s will? That god’s will be done.

But at the heart of it is our inability to be righteous before God, and how that plays out into our life. It’s about honesty before God, and becoming agents, not blockers, of God’s love.

I do feel burdened by worry caused by my own inability to trust God and act. I feel very called on to act, very unequal to task. Give me strength.

Ezekiel 13

These chapters are each a “word of the Lord” and end with “then you you know that I am Lord”, a phrase I associate with an almighty thud, like an anvil falling in a Warner brothers cartoon.

Today’s will be the exposure of false prophets, the ones who are selling comfort and peace.

Those are good things, unless they are works of the imagination that mislead people, give them false hope, are motivated by being invested in the power and wealth structures of the status quo, and lead people to act against their own best interests.

Climate change deniers come to mind, in the modern world.

In the church I suppose wishy washy theology comes to mind, people who know more than they let on about the love of Jesus, because of the gospel’s tendency to divide opinion. There are some prices too high for a positive vibe.

And I don’t say that easily, as someone who values it more than many.

A lot of the chapter is taken up with a wall metaphor. Very apt, considering they lived in a walled city under threat of siege.

God talks about the folly of whitewashing over weaknesses to gain false comfort, rather than acknowledging risk and danger, and actually making a strong wall.

As someone who has always lived in old houses in a termite prone area, I know all about walls that are held together just by paint. It’s amazing how plausible they can look, and how easily they crumble.

I got cathartic with my boss at work yesterday at our regular meeting, and it felt like such a good thing. I’m a conflict avoider, and he’s worse! He wasn’t going to raise it. But I jumped in at the end. We’ve been struggling, and the whitewash of smiley patter just hasn’t been cutting it.

I think we strengthened the wall, I hope so.

Ezekiel 8

Ezekiel sees visions of idolatry in the temple. It’s a condemnation of fake religion, hypocrisy. It’s when your symbols and structures of faith have no actual faith happening in them.

You expect the idolatry to be outside the church, oppositional to it, not in the centre, where God should be.

I came to it off reading an article which linked the current generational distaste for churches with trumpian evangelical politics, drawing parallels to the Protestant revolution and the French revolution.

Why People Hate Religion https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/30/opinion/trump-religion.html.

It’s way easy, of course, to blend into the mix of everything wrong with Christians everything that you don’t personally like God saying to you.

And politics is an overly simple lens – Christians are more nuanced than progressive-always-good, conservative-always-bad.

I get tired of the attitude from non Christian friends of being able to barely tolerate us feeding some poor people, as long as we never ever say anything gody. It’s about Jesus,ok?

But too many people, for too many reasons, look at the church and see a vision like Ezekiel saw in this chapter. Worshipping lies, money, sex and power.

Job 5

Very conventional wisdom. Eliphaz continues his advice to Job, and it is so familiar. He has this oblique, passive aggressive way of not directly accusing Job of being more of a sinner than he will admit, but just leaving it hanging there.

You know: God’s punishment doesn’t come from nowhere… He is a God of justice… Don’t despise God’s punishment… We should accept God’s discipline and learn from it…

I’ll be interested to see how Job defends himself, because this sort of attack is so slippery. It’s comes from a strong assumption of who Job is, but if Job says ‘what are you saying I’ve done wrong?’ Eliphaz could easily say ‘nothing!’ grrr!

Reminds me of my aunty Joan, bless her, gone now and basically a wonderful person and loads of fun.

But she did have this thing of stopping to deliver little sermons. I’d just switch off as soon as it started, refusing to hear it almost on principle, and just nod and hope it would finish soon, so things could get back to being normal.

Happens with my kids too, sometimes when I try to inject Christianity into the mix. I know it’s clumsy, like a lead balloon as soon as I start talking.

It’s to do with a lack of shared experience. Failure to judge the moment, not salt in season. Just putting Christian platitudes into a random conversation, no matter how accurate and correct, in the absence of a genuine relationship, is empty.

St Paul would say love is the missing element here, Eliphaz has become a banging gong.

I think Eliphaz’s argument is ultimately self protecting too. It so tempting to divide ourselves into victims and comforters, vulnerable and strong. If we can be the advisor, the helper the fixer, the preacher, it protects us from the role of weakling, out of control, broken, foolish.

Jesus became all those things even less deservedly than Job, for us. He was deep down in the weeds, with us, alongside us, sharing it. That’s the example.

Psalm 50

This psalm is by Asaph, who is mentioned in chronicles as a seer as well as a musician. He’s good at singing and cymbals, apparently.

It sent me to the commentary, I found it hard to follow. But they made it quite clear. The people of God are judged for two things: empty ritualism and hypocrisy.

They quoted the preacher Spurgeon. Always a good idea. He said of ritualism ‘what was meant to instruct became their confidence’

So true! For Israel it was the animal sacrifices. They were supposed to consider that the blood shed should have been theirs, and repent of their sin. Learn.

But its so easy to instead think that you have given God something, be it an animal or any other regular duty… Going to church, reading your Bible, taking communion.

As the psalm dramatically points out, God doesn’t need anything, he already owns the cattle on 1000 hills. We need… To acknowledge him, humbly call on him.

Ditto hypocrisy, which is dealt with in the second half of the psalm.

The set up is significant though. It starts with a huge stage, all of Earth witnessing God shining from Zion, fire and tumult announcing his presence. And he judges his people first.

You would think judgement day would be one day when we could be smug. ‘Aha – now the unbelievers are in trouble’ we might think. But our ritualism, our hypocrisy, and the call on us to repent is the judgement held up before the whole earth.

And this judgement day isn’t necessarily at the end of time, it’s just God’s judgement. It’s happening as the song is being sung. The second half of the psalm talks about God being patient, giving us time while he remains silent to repent before we are torn apart (!)

And so it remains. And how misguided, how hypocritical do we often appear to the world. The response is so often to defend ourselves, rather than to show the world what true repentance and mercy looks like.

We have no right to feel smug, our repentance is part of the hope of the whole world.

I’ve had a few things happening but today is not the day, maybe tomorrow’s Psalm I’ll talk about it.

I’m enjoying the Psalms! I’m taking them as devotional moments, meditations. I think I got impatient with them before because they seemed repetitive and the book as a whole wasn’t going anywhere. But sometimes repetition is good, like coffee. I never ask ‘what does today’s coffee add to yesterday’s coffee?’ Psalms is more of a series of coffee breaks than a journey.

2 Chronicles 11

A sad political chapter. Israel divides along religious lines.

Everyone who wants to worship in the temple joins the two tribes who occupy the South, including all the Levite/ priest tribe.

The rest set up an alternative religion in the North.

They worship a calf, the folk religion from the wilderness years after the flight from Egypt.

There must have been festering political unrest from Solomon’s time.

It nearly erupts into civil war, but the word of a man of God averts it. It’s the only reference to God, as opposed to religion, in the chapter.

The southern king fortifies various towns anyway.

Working in a Christian organisation, it’s the case that it’s easy for politics to dominate a lot of the time. It’s important to keep connected to God, and in that balance the fairness to those who don’t necessarily believe.

We despair over the decline in the church, but even at this high point of an identity as the people of God, 9 out of 12 tribes were largely unconvinced.

Jesus had an 11 out of 12 hit rate in his followers.  The betrayal by Judas was evil, but also was used in the plan.

It’s the way it is.