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.

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2 Kings 2

Elijah’s ministry ends, Elisha’s starts.

The books are called Kings but should perhaps have been called Prophets.

This chapter seems like a climax of the coming of them as the leaders of the people and carriers of God’s message.

The larger kingdom has seemed like a disaster, all the kings of Israel have been God hating. But it’s given rise to the greatest leader yet. It’s a pattern of God to pull his largest victories out of seemingly his greatest setbacks.

The Old testament could be seen as a series of proto Christs. These are people who are earthly examples of the character of God, and through whom much revelation of God’s power and salvation come.

We had Joseph in Genesis, when the chosen people were just one family.

Moses led the event that made them a nation, their greatest leader, so close to God

Gideon and perhaps Deborah in the era of the judges.

David clearly, the good king, the poet of salvation.

Now Elijah/Elisha, they are almost like one continuous leader. The hope of salvation has passed from kings to prophets.

They tour groups of prophets. A pro-Jehovah religious renaissance is breaking out all over. They all recognise that this is goodbye to Elijah, God is speaking to all of them.

He does signs of Moses. Parting the sea and walking on dry land.

Goes one more, doesn’t die. The chariot of fire that takes him to heaven is the most extraordinary miracle of the Bible so far.

Unlike all the others I can’t recall anything obviously bad being recorded about Elijah. Very Christ like.

At the end of the book Elisha, carrying on alone calls on another sign of Moses, making water drinkable.

He goes to the main centre of calf worship and the visit stirs up a large crowd of unruly youths, who mock him and who he curses. Bears come and their attack breaks up the riot. (Apparently they didn’t necessarily die in a close reading of the text.)

1 Kings 19

Elijah left the last chapter on a high, having destroyed the false prophets, running to reach and influence the king. But he seems to lose the political advantage and is again hunted as public enemy number one by Queen Jezebel.  He loses all hope.

Tired, hungry, he staggers one day into the desert and gives up. He tells God to just let him die. And if the lack of food doesn’t get him the Queen surely will.

God gives him food for strength enough to hide properly. Then 3 displays of his power, earthquake wind and Fire. Then silence out of which he listens to Elijah’s utter loneliness and hopelessness and then promises help and victory over Ahab and Jezebel.

The help comes first. Elijah shares his mantle with Elisha, who like Jesus’ disciples unhesitatingly leaves a busy and prosperous life to follow.

It’s a passage that should restore the hope of everyone who reads it. It details how caring God is. 

First he attends to the immediate physical needs, the good Shepherd, food and shelter. 

Then the reminder of his power, after which the intimate solace. God listens, promises. 

And the help. Is there anything more encouraging than other believers who share your sense of God’s mission? 

That’s our God! I pray that me and mine may know that God. If you are desperate, it’s worth crying to him.

Deuteronomy 31

Of course having told the Israelites to choose life in the last chapter, Moses goes straight on to prepare to die.

He writes a book of the law. He creates a public ritual/celebration every 7 years to read the law. He writes a song of the law. I think he wants them to remember the law.

But more than that, he knows they will fail, through bitter experience, and it’s poignant because he loves them. He calls the law a witness to them. It’s so like a parent’s mixed emotions, torn between knowing they must journey on without him, and wanting to protect them forever, leaving only words behind.

He appoints Joshua to follow him, and tells him to be “strong and courageous”.  Courageous is one of my wife Kelly’s favourite words. It is not only a powerful idea, the act of saying the word seems to make it real, to create a space for courage.

Numbers 17

A symbol of hope in the midst of a plague. Each of the tribes of Israel are reprsented by a budding staff. Wood that was dead starts to grow afresh.

The aren’t barriers between God’s disasters and natural disasters, God made nature and set it in motion.

The people remain terrified of death, of God, of their predicament, despite the sign of hope. 

I’ve been swamped by a feeling of meaninglessness as I attended an after may when my birthday and that of my oldest son occur. He is a challenging and quietly suffering fellow who drains things of meaning – he can’t help it. 

Open my heart to hope father. Don’t let him, or me, despair.

Genesis 32

Jacob has cowardly ways. He tried to sneak away from his father in law, laban. But God engineered a confrontation that allowed closure for that chapter. He tried to avoid conflict. But ethically and practically, some things are better confronted.

Now he is returning to his home country, and the anger he ran from after he cheated his older brother Essau from his father’s final blessing.

We don’t get to that meeting this chapter, but Jacob prepares by sending many advance gifts and splitting his group, so at least one half may get though.

He can’t help but take a moment as he crosses back to his homeland with enormous wealth, having left with almost nothing, to praise God for his blessing. He is a different person too, God has taught him to work for things and to confront his fear

He is terrified by reports that 400 men are coming with Essau. Left alone, arrangements in place, he wrestles all night with a mysterious man.

He has to disable Jacob’s hip to get the advantage. Still Jacob wrestles on, wont let go. The man asks to be let go because it is daybreak. But Jacob says he must bless him first.

His tenacity is for blessing. It is revealed that he had been wrestling with God.

The man changes Jacob’s name to Israel because he wrestled with humans and with God and overcame.

What a powerful experience of the intimacy of God… Wrestling down in the dirt. The guiding urge of his struggle is that he will not let God go.

Jacob’s identity is changed, and his confidence is boosted.

It is a redemption story. The ride is turning from the pessimism that followed the fall.

Judges 6

Israel is so weak. The sermon on Sunday was from Jonah and in the set up Tom who was preaching compared Israel to a show home, an example of god’s blessing. So they had no natural ability at all to be warlike, to dominate the land. God’s outrageous blessing to them meant they triumphed, nothing else, and this would show people how powerful God is. In their weakness is he made strong.

And Gideon is a one person microcosm of that principle.

In his own estimation he’s the least son of the least house of the least tribe. He’s not only unwilling, he’s completely unbelieving that God really does want him to lead the renaissance in belief.

The people are being comprehensively dominated by the ex-locals. The midianites are deliberately destroying their crops to stave them and break their economy, they are hiding out in caves.

Spiritually it seems to be a chicken and egg situation. a prophet tells them they are being punished by God for unfaithfulness. Yet their response to the attacks seems to be to assimilate more and more with the midianites religion of worshipping baal. Which seems like a pragmatic response to the attacks as much as a cause of them.

God gets timid Gideon to do an act of protest vandalism against Baal, which he does under cover is darkness because he is so scared.

And not without cause, when they discover their altar has been destroyed and the best bull offered to one built to Yahweh they want to kill gideon. His father saves him with impeccable logic: let Baal kill him if he’s God. He lives.

But his action unleashes a surge in support for God, and by next chapter he will have collected 20 000 men.

His story reminds me a little of Jesus, the people around Jesus were always coming up with plans to start a nationalist movement, but he stuck with his 12 and witnessed to God.

Gideon will lead Israel back in a series of stunning reversals for the invaders, however the force of the story is that it’s all about God. The victories are his.

Gideon proves God really wants him, even after the altar event, by tricks with a fleece to show supernatural intervention. God goes along. It is a hobbit story: the weakest most unlikely person being used for the most important task, to show the victory of goodness.

I spent the weekend with random parents of my son’s school friends. Among them there was so much latent, quietly dying, Christian belief. I am timid like Gideon.

I pray that i will use my time, perhaps my music, to bring people towards God. I feel that there are so many people like the Israelites who probably just need a little shove from a timid person to rekindle some love of God in them.

I feel increasingly convicted about this.

 

 

 

Joshua 1

I get it, be strong and courageous.  Its repeated 3 times by God and echoed as the last words of the chapter by the people.

Joshua will lead the people to the promised land.  It will be exciting but tough, spiritually and practically.  He is taking over as leader.

The first thing he has to do is ask a tough favour. Separate two tribes’ men from their families, leave the families in the land east of the Jordan and march to claim the west.

The lord speaks to him, gives him Moses’ mantle, the people accept him as leader, we are away.

Courage is one of my wife’s favourite words.  It is strength without ego or aggression. We face huge stress at the moment, my son is crashing and burning big time in his first year at school.  We have been turning on each other.  Courage.

Its not just about leadership, its about making God’s word real on earth and in your own life. My own life. Courageous people don’t blame, they absorb.

Lord, give me courage and strength. 

 

Amos 7

A couple of chapters ago I was wondering how these words from the lord went down with the listeners. This chapter has the predictable answer.

First there are some striking examples of prayer in response to visions.

First utter destruction of the crop by locusts. Amos prays for the people, calling them Jacob, who was a patriarch identified by his weakness relative to his brother Esau. His argument to God is that they are too fail for such an extreme punishment. And he relents, if you are ever wondering whether it is worth praying.

Then same scenario, fire. Again Amos’ prayer is the agency by which god’s salvation is known.

The third vision is of a plumb bob, the builders tool for showing what is straight and what is crooked. I think it’s also a line of clarity, giving a sharp definition to what is in and out of the line God has defined. His people have become blurry, vagued out the difference between them and their neighbours.

Then we get to see how Amos’ message has been received. A false priest and advisor to the king sees the threat, and reacts in the time honoured template we see around us still, every day.

The truth or otherwise of the message is not considered, not an issue. It’s simply too hard to listen to, “too much for the people to bear”. Playing on the king’s fear of losing popularity – keep telling them what they want to hear. And shoot the messenger.

Amos is discredited as a power hungry conspirator trying to bring down the king… after all didn’t he say something about Jeroboam being bought to the sword?

Amos’ response is humble and gutsy. I didn’t want this, I’m just a nobody that God compelled to say these things. And by the way, your wife will be a prostitute, your children will die and you’ll all be killed or taken captive when god’s plumb line finds you crooked and the city is destroyed.

I really struggle with bravery over speaking out about God, even to my own kids. I must not let the predictable response stop me. 

Give me courage lord

Zechariah 4

Whoah, this is getting to be hard work. Fortunately Zechariah has pretty much no idea what he is seeing either. The angel is always saying “do you get it?” And he’s always “no”. Then it’s explained, but I still barely get it. I’ll guess, then research and see how close I was!

It’s a vision of the founding of the temple. The message is that laying one small foundation stone on one building may seem not much, but when it is part of the means of God’s grace it is a world event. So don’t despise the day of small things, because if it is a work of the Spirit, it’s an earth shaker!

Read a commentary, and yeah roughly there, minus much detail. The two who serve at the end of the chapter they say are prophet/king – spiritual leader; and priest – declarer of forgiveness. The roles were split at the time of Melchizedek, joined again in Christ.

So it is a huge encouragement to their work and ours on earth. Don’t be overwhelmed, live in the light service of the Lord (his yoke is easy!), and with the power of the spirit, not your own.