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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

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.