Job 19

The skin of my teeth.

I was with my brother at a rousing performance of Macbeth yesterday that emphasised its qualities as popular entertainment.

The are similarities with Job. Their literary quality and the number of phrases and ideas coined so perfectly that they have stayed in common usage. This chapter, where job rebukes Bildad and friends for adding to his sufferings, and urges them to examine their own lives, is the source of the phrase ‘by the skin of my teeth’.

It comes during a very Shakespearean (or was Shakespeare Jobsian?) extended metaphor about skin and flesh. God has made him skin and bones, he’s survived by the skin of his teeth, now his friends are attacking his flesh as God has, but he has the consolation that he will see God in the flesh.

My brother and I discussed the book of job, as brothers will, and he mentioned the amazing ‘I know that my redeemer lives’ verse. Talk about a spoiler alert… It’s in today’s chapter, flowing directly after the passage I’ve just described.

And it still made my hair stand up. This startling messianic revelation. ‘I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!

Why suffering? Suffering is the amazing mysterious ingredient by which God brings love with justice to the world. It has thrown Job into hope in the living God in ways his friends could not understand. God’s suffering in Christ absorbs all suffering. Job knows his will pass and his flesh will see God his redeemer.

How is that here, in this book? Its all so much to process. Prayers of praise and thanks, I think.

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Psalm 37

A sermon, a testimony, of wickness vs righteousness, by David.

Apparently it was an alphabet song, so each short stanza starts with a different letter in the original language. It’s easy to imagine even from the translation, there’s a bunch of two line verses which form matched pairs.

It’s in three rough sections:

A bunch of proverb type observations about the blessings you get by being righteous, then a similar bunch about the futility of grabbing the opportunistic advantages of evil.

Then a third section with a more preachy attitude, comparing the two, urging the audience to be righteous. There’s often a ‘but’ structure, as in ‘the wicked seem like they are succeeding, but they won’t in the long run’.

It’s wrapped in advice not to fret, at the start and returning to finish. So the context is worrying that believing in God’s law isn’t working. It’s an optimism song, the poetic equivalent of one of those ‘keep calm and carry on’ posters from world War Two.

The Psalms I’ve been reading seem to be grouped, in the last 7 we’ve had 4 praising God, from a time of comfort or more desperate times, then 3 now about persevering, the daily choices to be godly.

Looking back on life and seeing God’s greatness and saving power, and living in the present and reminding yourself to make good choices. Gaining confidence for the future.

It’s simply the Christian life in songs. Though it’s not simple, and you need at least 150 of them to keep singing yourself out of temptation.

Saw first hand the drought, the effects were everywhere as we came down inland back to Sydney on our driving weekend. I’ve had some context at work with the pastors and chaplains trying to give spiritual and physical relief. Intervening at the brink of suicide. It’s not simple.

I’m tempted to feel ‘seen one Psalm, seen ’em all’ but the temptation to despair or apathy is a visceral daily struggle. It doesn’t come naturally. We need constant reminders to praise and trust God.

1 Chronicles 19

Another battle story. There is not much of God’s in this.

David is depicted as a sensitive king who didn’t pick the fights.

His commanders are some of the great men described in earlier chapters. They make the only mention of God in the chapter when they call on his will to be done as they go into battle.

The tactics show their faithfulness and God’s hand, arguably. The attacking army got a big mercenary army to bolster their forces and surrounded them on both sides.

It ought to be a military disaster but David’s army is supremely confident and simply splits into two fronts, attacking backwards and forwards. It never seems to occur to them that they might lose, and the enemy are so spooked that both sides run away.

That is a tell tale signal of God’s hand, his favourite way of ensuring an outcome in a war is to scare one side into running away. But it’s not explicitly attributed to God.

I feel, cautiously like I might be moving in the direction of victory over my own struggles with my procrastination over things that scare me. Pray for strength and a sense of responsibility.

Jeremiah 50

2 chapters about Babylon. They are having their time of Empire, but where are they now? In history books.

There’s a description of the restored Israel and Judah (together again) where no sin or iniquity can be found because they have been pardoned. I’m thinking of the new Jerusalem in Revelation there.

The is a lot of cinematic stuff, taking you right into the experience of Babylon’s destruction, and the absolute nature of it once it’s over: all gone, desolate.

An encouraging promise to the victims into a world that would not have faintly resembled that. The reality of power would have been the exact reverse.

I love Shelley’s poem “ozymandis”

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

I get a bit too obsessed with politics… Got to learn to despair at the right works.

Jeremiah 25

Judgement on all, which has an end

It’s a chapter that gives a perverse sort of hope to Jerusalem in the face of the terrible judgements the book is predicting.

Firstly a period of 70 years is given for the length of the exile of Israel to Babylon. It will be the destruction of life as they know it, the end of the physical dream of the promised land.  But it too will end.

And judgement will be on all. It’s compared to a cup that all the nations in the region must drink, a toxic intoxicating bitter drink they cannot refuse. First Jerusalem, and tyre Sidon, moab, Egypt etc and lastly Babylon.

Jesus spoke of the reciprocity of judgement… Judge not lest you be judged, don’t focus on the speck in your brother’s eye if you’ve a log in yours.

If we as Christians are feeling hard done by and battered by the world, we can comfort ourselves with thoughts of God’s justice.

Equally however, if we are letting our fear close down our connection with the world around us, trying to control it with earthly power, or simply retreating into our shells, God’s justice is not something we would long for.

At least we can look to learn from it, and cling to the promise that it will not be forever.

Jeremiah 15

God makes it abundantly clear to Jeremiah that there is no way he will forgive Israel. It’s not that Jeremiah isn’t good enough, even Moses and Samuel could not persuade him to relent.

Jeremiah’s misery over his mission reaches fever pitch. He starts to sound like Job, wishing he had never been born and cataloguing all the good he has done in his life to ask what he’s done to deserve such punishment.

God promises to be kind to him eventually, but for now he must be strong like a wall. He must absorb their rejection of the message, he must absorb their attacks on him.

You know that Jeremiah will be brave, he’s in the Bible. You know how it ends. But for us it often doesn’t end that way.

We wimp out. We change the message to fit the people. Or we divorce the message from the people, from any relationship or care. How much does Jeremiah grieve for them!

Isaiah 44

The YouTube overview of Isaiah describes this bit, it’s where the perspective changes from the fear before being attacked by Babylon etc to the joy of returning from exile and reclaiming Jerusalem.

Some argue it was by a later hand, Isaiah the sequel. I am not a biblical scholar and I don’t care deeply about it, but I don’t see any problem with the idea of Isaiah writing it. He predicted the near future, the attacks, he predicted the distant future, the Messiah, why not the middle future?

It’s an affirmation of how richly he will bless Israel, how there is no other God like him and and condemnation of idols.

The idols section is wonderfully vivid, painting a picture of one piece of wood being used half to burn in a fire a cook dinner, and half to bow down to and worship. Having begged the question of its nurture and growth in the forest…

The ideas are bought together in a final burst of delight at how God forgives, nurtures, protects and supports Jerusalem. Which, if Isaiah did write it must have sounded very odd to the people living in mortal fear of having their society and City destroyed.

They had David’s Psalms however, and I recall being struck by his response to crisis: go into God’s house and wait on him. Stay calm God is in control.

Trump, North Korea, the decline of Christian dominance, Isis… Stay calm, he is the lord “who frustrates the signs of liars and makes fools of diviners, who turns wise men back and makes their knowledge foolish”

No one else like him!

Isaiah 40

One of the most encouraging chapters in the Bible. After a few chapters of prose, interacting with the king and the military threats and politics of the day, where there is so much fear and desperation, Isaiah takes our vision up above it all to see what is really going on.

God is unspeakably mighty, except maybe no one ever did speak words that come closer to describing it!

Mountains are like dust, the seas are to him like water cupped in his hand. He sits above the earth, spreading out the heavens is like pitching a tent, people like grass hoppers.

He has a flock, that’s us. He cares to the point of self sacrifice about us, leading us tenderly, gathering us.

We have plugged into the solid true power, anything else is a bet on delusion. We’re up there soaring with him, powered with his power.

I want to live carelessly. Without care, courageous and brave. God has taught me about the grandeur in the smallest things, the eternal truths that inform reach moment. That time is measured by how well it is used, not how long it is or how quickly tasks get done.

A lifetime is not a monument of personal achievements you can look back on and polish and say “bow to the idol of what Paul achieved” (or “my idol is so lame, no one must see it”)

A lifetime is an opportunity, a location in space and time, for understanding and reflecting a wonderful truth: the universe has endless goodness and love at its centre, “God”.

Every kindness, every empathetic moment, every chance you have to bring joy where there was sadness, fairness where there was injustice, compassion even if you can’t fix everything, makes the universe a little closer to how it is supposed to be.

This is like waking up, spiritually. Moving hearts, even just your own in this materialistic world, is bigger than moving mountains.

Isaiah 14

In kings I remember the king making fun of the prophets as always being negative.

Here starts a correction of Isaiah not being negative, or at least, negative about Israel’s enemies rather than Israel for once.

He talks of a coming reckoning for Babylon, Assyria and Phillistia here.

Spends most time on Babylon. He talks in detail about this who will be relieved when their arrogance and wealth is broken. They think they are ascending to become Gods, but Sheol will welcome them. Lots of contrast.

These passages are probably a great encouragement to oppressed people, and are a little bit encouraging to me as even I feel a little bit oppressed by life.

Interestingly there was not a lot of talk about God, but the predicted downfall of these empires with time is taken to be justice.

2 Kings 18

OK so while the kingdom of Israel is dying, the kingdom of Judah gets the best King arguably since David. 

Hezekiah finally not only serves the lord personally but leads the people right, he takes down the sacred poles and high places of worship to other Gods.

God does not actually intervene in this chapter. The Assyrians arrive and trash talk the lord and any thought of resistance. It’s psychological warfare. Or bullying.

The chapter ends with messengers running to the king, tearing their clothes in distress and telling him all that the Assyrians have said.

I had a sleepless night tonight. Nothing in particular to worry about, just the sense of being trapped by being overcommitted at work and at home. 

Cooking for home group tonight. I’ve been thinking about a song I wrote called “don’t forget to pray” and, for all this Bible reading I do, I do often forget. 

I’ve been doing this of and on for a few years now, and it’s well and truly a habit, but it can almost be an escape. I’m a timid person in many ways, prayer leads to a more motivated appreciation of God’s will. I wonder if I’ve been avoiding that.