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.

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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.

1 Samuel 14

The legalist and the true believer. The contrasting faith of father Saul and son jonathan is spelt out in parallel stories of a battle against the philistines.

Saul is the legalist. He is enlisting god in his fight. Checking the god box at every step, but talking as though it is his fight, his vengeance that will be wrought.

So he has the ark bought in as a kind of magic box… Again! He is slow and nervous consulting the priests: he’s clearly insecure, as he should be rationally because the Israelites are outnumbered and outclassed with no weapons to speak of. 

But he is judging the battle on his strength to win it, not god’s will for his people. He has the men take a vow not to eat until the victory is his, it’s a vow and test of allegiance to him, not God. And time passes he camps opposite the philistines and talks, and panics.

Jonathon sneaks off and takes a tiny band and just goes up to the enemy camp to see what God will do. He figures god will determine the outcome, and will do it as easily with a few as many. Which is what happens.

With sheer rat cunning jonathon beats a group of them 20 to 2. The philistines panic, they know if the Israelites reputation for occasionally miraculous victories. Noise and confusion land on the philistines and they start to kill each other. Israelites who have been hiding in hole and in the hills come out and pursue them.

It’s a mighty victory… If God. Saul reacts by threatening to kill jonathon because he accidentally broke the silly fasting vow, which was a spectacularly dumb strategy because the troops who followed it were weak with hunger. He can’t rejoice in god’s victory or share the glory with his son. He’s lost it.

But the religion is there, the whole apparatus of the priesthood is with Saul. From the outside you would think Saul was the holy one, with fasting, priests, the ark etc. All the trappings, just not actual faith in God. 

Make me reckless father, make me bold. We are starting at a new church. Give me the spirit of jonathon.

1 Samuel 13

Going though the motions. Over and over in these old testament stories it’s about how quickly religion becomes a talisman, a superstition. 

The Israelites obviously feel unguided in their role as chosen people, but god wants their hearts to be their guide, to improvise life on the theme of loving God. 

Saul is preparing for battle here and Samuel, who must be really old by now, is late to do a sacrifice before. So Saul does it. 

It’s a false move, the sacrifice is not the point the point is obedience and trust. The chapter includes Samuel’s rebuke of Saul and ends in a cliffhanger with the enemy philistines starting the attack.

Obedience sometimes requires sitting on your hands. Trust requires admitting you aren’t able to fix a problem. Doing this consistently is hard for human nature. 

But there’s no other way…