Job 12

Job responds to Zophar. He talks about God being in control. The response goes for two chapters.

So far, I’d guess that the difference between Job’s and Zophar’s attitude to God and Job’s suffering it’s that Zophar is saying ’tis a mystery’ and Job is saying ’tis a mystery I need to try and understand!!!’

He is a bit sarcastic about his friends – he accuses them of banalities, and comments on how easy it is to pontificate from the outside of misfortune.

His many examples of God being in control, of nature, of people, shift from good things to terrible things. Yes, God is in control of all of them!

We’ll see where he takes it tomorrow.

I did marginally better at feeling positive, productive and efficient at work yesterday, but still find it extraordinarily hard. It’s hard to explain how it is.

The place is at the pointy end of a major 4 year change, the planning has taken most of the time, so now at the end, everything is in an uproar and flux. Like the moments on a reality show like the block where the clock is ticking down the last few minutes. Most of people supervising are quite distracted and I am quite forgotten.

Plus home is a bit weird too. Kelly (my wife) is sympathetic but frantically busy finishing her own assessments for her course, and she has her own sense of existential pondering in the mix too.

In a week or so at work is a mega gathering in Melbourne to launch the new unified national version of the church. Within that I, and many others I notice, are quite in limbo.

Various people get positions, and they are happy about that, but they seem fairly dangling too, as they try to figure out what the new postitions are.

I can’t really plan anything because I don’t know what the future holds, which exacerbates the usual sense of end of year tiredness and feeling overwhelmed that kicks in towards Christmas.

When I was self employed and very negative about work I used to program my time very tightly. Break my projects down to a series of hour and half hour deadlines though the day. I’m going to try that today.

Plus it’s the weekend tomorrow!

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Job 1

I’ve been dreading job for some reason. I love the book, I love the wisdom and poetry section of the Bible in general, but it feels like a big commitment.

Anyway, chapter one is a great start, and well known.

It sets up the dispute in heaven between God and Satan, an oppositional angel: job is righteous and blameless, but is it only because God gave him great wealth and success?

So God lets Satan take away Job’s blessing, to see if he will curse God.

In a series of events he loses his children and wealth.

There’s much I could say, and will no doubt. But for now, my first impression is that it taps into everyone’s fear. You don’t have to lose everything to have survivor guilt.

I spent the weekend with a dear friend, single mum whose brilliant daughter, same age as my oldest so now in her 20s, had immune encephalitis. A headache one day, a lifetime of feeding her, toileting her, very high needs.

There but for the grace of God. The random injustice of the world hangs there for all of us.

That is the subject of our exploration.

I suppose the thing is I feel it’s not top priority for me at the moment. I feel I have a pretty good handle on the ‘why does god allow suffering’ question. It sounds terribly arrogant, but 40 chapters of ‘dense Hebrew poetry’ as it’s often described, on that subject, seems a bit boring to me. Lots of scratching not much itching.

But the spirit has led me safe thus far, I plan to read the whole scriptures, so lets see how it unfolds.

Starting a new week, feeling quite upbeat after a relaxing weekend. Big improvement over last week.

2 Chronicles 32

A chapter full of God’s power, focused on leadership. But despite winning battles they are losing the war, and it’s a strangely joyless narrative compared to the passover moment last chapter.

We hear a lot about fortifying Jerusalem, including engineering a brilliant water supply tunnel through solid rock that made Jerusalem virtually siege proof.

What is tacit is that the Assyrians take most of the land outside Jerusalem.

The commentators I read quoted the Assyrian account of the same campaign, which was a fine example of spin/ fake news. They simply talk about the land they were able to seize, fudge over what happened in the capital!

In contrast to the methodical preparations inside the city wall, we get a lot of the Assyrians psychological warfare, dissing God as just another of the many man-made gods that have failed to save the other nations the Assyrians have subjugated across the region.

After the long war of words, the victory over Assyria is extraordinary, God simply and mysteriously decimates the Assyrian army overnight and they run off. It’s tossed off, anticlimactic. No drama, no song of praise.  God isn’t ready to let Jerusalem go, yet.

The narrative focus stays on Hezekiah, his brush with death and extension of life, his late life moment of pride and repentance, his tremendous wealth and prosperity.

The book has consistently been about leadership, obedience, and reward by God. This account fits that theme, but it’s not simple self aggrandising spin like the Assyrians, it’s more like sermonising.

And the slide towards defeat creates an inbuilt tension. Hezekiah is rewarded by God, however the larger judgement on the nation is closing in but they don’t want to talk about it yet.

And the post exile audience didn’t need to be told anything about the impeding exile… They’d just lived though it.

And they didn’t need to be promised miracles. They’d already been returned to Jerusalem against all odds.

It was most important to knuckle down and not repeat the cycle, to stay true to God though thick and thin.

In a way it’s not really resonating with me, but perhaps because it’s about the boring slog of an obedient life. Were called to discipline, not magic, and we’re to leave the meta story of salvation to God.

We are to work at our own path of godliness with consistent diligence, even if everyone outside the wall is cat-calling us. Living by faith sometimes means the labour of cutting a sensible tunnel through solid rock as well as sometimes being miraculously provided for.

Below:Hezekiah’s water supply… Still there!

1 Chronicles 3

We get to David’s sons, the princes of Israel.

Then a list of all the kings of his line.

I’ve already seen in a number of places how one of the royal line, Jehoiachin, survived in Babylonian exile after the fall of Jerusalem. This genaeology fills in the post-exile line, up presumably to the time of Ezra when they were rebuilding Jerusalem.

I suppose they could have made another Davidic king, but maybe they had lost the taste for them by then.

So that’s three chapters of lists of names…

Jeremiah 44

Arguably Jeremiah has had a spectacularly unsuccessful ministry.

The last of the people not killed or taken into exile have run away to Egypt against his word, and they instantly take to idol worship against his word. His whole public teaching has blamed every calamity on idol worship, and yet he they are, idol worship.

His word is that they will die for their disobedience.

He keeps going, saying what God tells him to. Everything he’s said has come to pass. No one listens. He gets no response. It doesn’t stop him.

I think I would have done any number of things differently.

Jeremiah 38

This gives a very vivid picture of life in Jerusalem during the siege, low on food, everyone desperate, ignoble and turning on one another.

The City leaders, who will no doubt be the most likely to be killed by the invaders, want to lead the people down with the ship. Their identity tied up in their status, they will sacrifice every last pleb to protect it.

Jeremiah is telling them to save themselves by surrendering. He knows defeat is inevitable.

The leaders acuse Jeremiah of cowardice and sedition, and decide to let him die by putting him in an empty well.

The king is wonderfully weak. He goes along with the leaders. A brave eunuch says he can’t let Jeremiah die, he goes along with that.  He’s a reed blown in the wind.

The eunuch is the star of the story, we get the details that he takes 30 men to protect the task, and gives Jeremiah rags so he won’t get rope burns as they raise him from the well.

Chapter ends with king and J having a pathetic conversation. King is scared to surrender as he will have to face anger of others who escape.

Jeremiah tries to talk him round by saying how the wrath of his wives will be worse if he doesn’t.

King can’t decide between the most self serving of these two cowardly options and commits Jeremiah to a childish lie so no one will know they’ve been talking!

Though all the madness, Jeremiah sticks to God’s message, even when faced with death, and the only people who cover themselves with glory are those who acknowledge his sincerity.

Don’t let crisis distract you, charge ahead with what is right.

Jeremiah 22

An extended condemnation of the king who he calls Shallum here.

He was essentially a puppet king for Egypt, and sold out Israel’s wealth to them. He was in the wrong side of history, as the Babylonians defeated Egypt.

Yes, he sold out to losers; wup wah.

He was the third last king before everything was destroyed. The last two were Babylonian puppets.

Personality wise he was a capricious murderer who had multiple incestuous relationships.

So the extreme condemnation from Jeremiah is not surprising.

There is a poignant portrait of what a good king looks like at the start of the chapter:

Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.

Care for the vulnerable, righting wrongs, avoiding innocent bloodshed. This is the purpose of power.

With the world in a political cycle that favours demagogues, these words are comfort indeed. As are the ones that follow, promising that the bad stuff will pass.

Jeremiah 20

Rock bottom

Jeremiah is put in the stocks and beaten, probably whipped, by one of the priests. His humiliation occurs in one of the most prominent parts of the city, next to the temple.

We see his pubic and private response. In public he is unmoved. He continues preaching it from the moment he is released.

Privately he is devastated. He talks about his deep desire to stop preaching, but complains that when he does the message burns in his bones.

This is my favourite part of the chapter and worth a song “burn in my bones Lord!”

He compares himself to a bride seduced under false pretences into an abusive marriage.

He really hits rock bottom with the final miserable poem about wishing he’d never been born.

The language is so extreme. He curses his father essentially for not aborting him as a fetus because if his mother’s womb had been his grave it would have been forever praised instead of cursed.

That’s someone who really wishes they hadn’t been born.

And that’s where he’s left for today. The are 30 more chapters so I’m guessing he carries on.

But it’s worth considering when you let the promptings of the holy spirit slip by, when you don’t say or do that action that would increase God’s grace in someone’s life. You aren’t the first person to ask “why me”? But the question doesn’t justify letting yourself off the hook. Unfortunately,  most likely, it is you.

Isaiah 63

I can get the drift of Isaiah 63.

It starts talking of God’s judgement. Dramatically he appears from Edom, a neighbouring country in clothes red with blood which he compares to trampling the grapes in a wine press.

It’s a grisly image, jarring after 3 glorious chapters about his love and salvation. But it’s making the point that God alone can judge the world.

And it is quick to make the point that there is much more to it than judgement. God reminds us in his self description that he is “mighty to save”. He has a day of vengence but a year of Jubilee.

Then there are passages remembering his mercy and promises in the past, and praying for his forgiveness and salvation now. The author goes so far as to blame God for his sin, wondering why God made us capable of rejecting him.

It’s a huge cry of pain. It’s a message to those of his chosen people either facing ruin, as their enemies grow stronger, or feeling bereft in exile having been defeated. People full of fear and anger.

And it’s urging them, shocking them even, into staying the course with God. Channel your fear into anticipating God’s peace. Channel your betrayal into trusting God’s justice.

To tell the truth I’m feeling a bit of betrayal and fear this week having lost my job. It’s tempting to let gloomy feelings about my situation blur into sadness over my children and aspects of the world in general.

I’m tempted to escape into achievable activities, or laziness, variations of putting my head in the sand. Or full on self pity, that advances my situation not a jot.

I need to trust God and act sensibly to remedy the situation.

Pray I will stay the course with God.

Isaiah 50

God’s extraordinary love for us, and what he wants of us.

Intimate workings of the the messiah’s servanthood.

It starts with the question “does God really care?” A striking divorce and debt metaphor is used by God to say “prove I have abandoned you… Where are the divorce papers, where is the bill of sale?”

We left him, he never left us. Very much to the contrary.

Second question “is God’s still in charge?” Fully. The examples of his might are arguably negative experiences, drying up rivers so that fish die, making the sky black.

The Israelites no doubt felt enveloped by blackness. But the blackness is from God, the problem is that there is no one who will obey him. Enter the servant.

The servant word is not used but the ritual of servanthood, ear piercing, is referred to in verse 5.

Israel’s slaves had a moment after 6 years of service where they could leave or stay. The ear piercing indicated the choice of a life of voluntary servanthood, and such is the messiah’s relationship to God the father.

His duties are to daily learn words that will sustain the weary. He is God’s servant, his duties are for us.

Does God care? He gives his back to be whipped, his beard to be pulled out, suffers utter humiliation and disgrace.

Being God, he could back out at any time. He doesn’t have to suffer! But as a servant he sets his face like flint and bares it, trusting in God’s might through the darkness, knowing God’s is stronger than any evil.

The enemies of God are compared to clothes that will wear out. Empty suits.

So we, the weary, can choose to be sustained by his words though the darkness. Or we can take matters in our own hands which is here described as walking by the light of our own torches. That doesn’t seem unreasonable, using your own judgement, not God’s word to guide your way. But it will only lead to more torment.

God is like a loving parent in the night, coming to you when you fear the dark saying “don’t worry, you’ll get there” and behind it is the knowledge that no one loves you more or would give more for you.

This is a beautiful chapter, hard to follow without explanation. God cares and is strong enough to give himself for you without flinching at the pain of sacrifice.