Jeremiah 23

Lest we fear that the talk in the last chapters of God running out of patience with the house of David contradicts the other prophets, here is a messianic message.

David’s house will re-sprout.

Jeremiah groups the leaders of Israel together as “shepherds” -Kings, religious leaders, prominent citizens and government officials, all shepherds. David’s profession before he was king.

They’ve had bad ones, they’ll have good ones again.

He speaks of the gathering of the dispersed Jews. This will be a redemption that surpasses the escape from Egypt. And it will come from the line of David…

But for now… Jeremiah complains about bad practitioners of his own profession, bad prophets. They make him nauseated, is viscerally disturbing and mentally incomprehensible to him how describe and abusive of their power they are being.

And their message? One of comfort, sweetness, telling them everything will be ok. Telling them to follow their heart and find peace.

Sounds like a lot of churches I know. Sounds like me when I don’t want to be a wet blanket on a positive philosophical vibe with my non Christian friends.

Speaking truthfully though Jeremiah, God compares himself to a violent whirlwind.

Then to a harvester throwing away the chaff, to a hammer shattering a rock and to fire, burning and purifying.

How little will The sweet dishonest dreams the false prophets sell mean then.

On third thoughts they also remind me of advertising and PR companies.

He speaks of how they run to spread the false messages.

He wonders how they think they can get away with it… Do they think God’s isn’t listening?

Worst of all false prophets are the fake religious ones however. God pleas with them to stop saying they are the “Oracle of the Lord”. This will earn them everlasting shame.

Now I am a professional Christian it is particularly a warning to me. The lies these people are telling are false comfort, the most tempting lie of all for Christians.

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Jeremiah 9

Starts with a lament of the staggering falsehood of the people. He says their tongues are like arrows they shoot at each other. No one can trust each other.

God asks rhetorical questions about whether he has any choice but to judge them. He says he’ll soon be lamenting empty mountains and fields, because the people will be gone.

But the extreme message is not about rubbing in how bad it will be, there is still the hope of repentance. He calls upon professional mourner women to reflect on earth the tears in heaven.

He calls on the people to love justice as God does.to boast of knowing God, not earthly riches wisdom etc. To love with their heart, not though external shows. Their hearts are just as uncircumcised as any of the surrounding nations, the denial of their special chosen status.

The lifetime patterns of working with a degree of cynicism, of playing the game, are hard to break. I mean, my Christian work place is still full of sinful people, tis the nature of mankind.

But I’ve been taking a somewhat uncircumcised heart to work, I pray that I will boast in understanding the god of steadfast righteousness, love and justice.

Jeremiah 5

Picking up the theme that the southern kingdom of Judah is no better, maybe actually worse than the northern kingdom Israel because of their hypocrisy.

In Kings, it seems like the southern is better because at least some of their Kings follow God, where none of the northern kings do. But this is about the people.

It’s a picture of people hardened by prosperity and indulgence, incapable of spiritual responses. They are completly indifferent to the poor.

It includes hypothetical dialogue by the people saying that God will never do anything.

God talks about them being ripped apart like being attacked by a lion.

So ends the condemnation of both kingdoms. and most terribly the priests and prophets who act at direction of the corrupt.

When spiritual leaders become enablers of ignoring God, things are in a bad way.

Jeremiah 3

An extension of the whore metaphor from the last chapter.

I mean it’s not entirely metaphorical because their religion involved sex practices under trees and on mountains. So it’s also a convenient literal shorthand for their faithlessness.

What’s worse than cheating? Cheating and lying about it.

In this respect Judah, the kingdom that has moments of faithfulness, is worse than Israel, which was blatantly unfaithful from day one. Judah which included Jerusalem, and at least kept up a show of the temple worship of Jehovah, was more hypocritical than Judah.

God’s truth confronts your failure to convey God’s hope.

So Jeremiah calls on Israel to return to God. He promises them shepherds to teach and guide them. They are so lost!

The ark of the covenant will become redundant – God will keep his promises. He will reunify Israel and bring all to Jerusalem, his throne, with all nations.

But the first step, the one they can never take, is to lie down in their shame. Acknowledge it, own it.

I’m struck how God despairs less easily than me. Increasingly people can grow up in Australia with no contact with religion hardly at all. It hard not to imagine they will never get it, to just live and let live. But God has hope for all, he never gives up.

I would love to do something to cast the net out to the people who know nothing of God. I’m a way too private Christian.

Isaiah 58

A life of service is a life of joy, of rich blessing.

The chapter takes fasting, a religious discipline, and looks at what God’s actually likes about it.

Merely abstaining from food if you remain quarrelsome and greedy in life means nothing.

But further, merely being humble, telling God you realise how unworthy you are, that is not what he is after, self denial as an expression of being aware of your weakness, not enough!

He wants it to signify a determination to live a life of servanthood. Of inviting the poor into your home, of pouring yourself out for the needy.

I’m stating all this very baldly. In Isaiah it is wrapped up in poetic expression. God doesn’t just like this attitude. You will be riding high in the heavens, your bones strengthened, ruins rebuilt, gloom turned to a rising light, you’ll be an unfailing stream of water, quenching the desert.

We’ve had the servant, the contrary means by which God’s victory will be won.

Now we have the life of servanthood for all believers. The discipline and self denial by which our lives will be made rich and our world will be renewed.

At a crossroads in my life, it is an important message.

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.

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.