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.

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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.

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.