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.

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Malachi 4

Last chapter of the old testament. It’s not completely bleak, more like 85%. But the idea is that the people of God blew it. Adam blew it. They were made great, bought low, pruned and replanted, turned over new leaf after new leaf. Still they do not revere god in the main, just a few do. Their religion is hollow, grudging and insincere. Messiah needed.

It talks again of the day, when the fire will burn, or the sun will shine and heal, depending on your heart.

There is an encouragement again to keep the law. Then the last verses speak of Elijah coming. Presumably is some sort of Messiah prediction, or John the Baptist, who was like an Elijah.

The unsettling gentle / terrible shifts that have characterised this book continue to the last verse. On that day there will be tender healing between parent and child … heavenly or earthly, these are the ones who have kept faithful. For the rest complete destruction.

It’s easy to forget that this is in the teaching if Jesus too. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. It’s good for some, but a terrible downfall for others. He will separate the sheep and the goats.

There is an urgency, a vividness to the message which is also hard to remember as our brief span on earth starts to feel long in the living of it.

Esther 10

A three verse wrap up of the career of Mordecai. He stayed in his position, was the premier Jew and greatly respected as number two to the king. Presumably he had less ego than Haman.

He and Esther are both great examples of serving God in your life, knowing your opportunities.

I’m feeling miserable before God today, like a fraud and a sinner. I need to humbly claim his forgiveness yet again and seek to live a useful self disciplined but effective life for him.

Daniel 9

Daniel reads the scriptures. Here he is reading Jeremiah. He concludes that the exile will last 70 years.

He is moved to great penitence. He sees the exile as punishment for Israel’s unfaithfulness. He pleads in prayer, beautifully confessing his individual and corporate sin. He asks God to act and reminds god of the offence of the desolation of the temple.

The answer, the prophesy of the seventy times seven, has apparently driven everyone crazy for years. But suffice to say the angel Gabriel says it will be much more complicated and take much longer and involve far worse than has already happened to the Israelites.

It’s a paradigm shift and not a comfortable one, as the whole book has been. On the one hand is comfort that God is in control. On the other hand it’s a warning that God is not tame and that what Israel had will never be again.

Daniel 7

All human power, no matter how great, has a season. This is a huge theme of Daniel, God’s encouragement to a people in exile.

The Kings dream in the 2nd chapter, an idol with feet of clay that was smashed, was about the fall of kingdoms over time.

Now in Daniels dream the kingdoms are beasts the last of which is the most threatening and profane. But the appearance of the ancient of days, god the father brings their flesh-eating destruction to an end.

This is where those God cliches come from. White robes and hair, sitting on a throne throwing the beasts into a lake of fire. Temporal gone, eternal victorious for those who wait.

Human power is temporal and at god’s discretion. God’s power is and was forever.

Then the man appears, who is given dominion for ever. Daniel interprets the person as the holy people of god, but it is stunningly like Christ and Jesus will claim the name son of man for himself. From the clouds, worshipped by everyone, everywhere. We aren’t talking just about a return of the Israelites from exile, but a whole new kingdom.

It’s hard to remember how startling this is. Up to now so much of the blessing of God has been described in concrete terms. The lost garden of Eden is described as a geographical location in earth. Then the promised land is lost and found, god is in the portable tent until a temple is built.

Then that becomes his physical location on earth. The literal sacrifice system wins god’s favor, but the Israelites have little concept of heaven, just a shadowy notion of the afterlife.

It all must be smashed for this message. This vision of God’s kingdom is other worldly, and the promises persist even though the temple has been lost to Daniel. This god of justice is on a scale of the creator God from the start and from psalm 8.

The vision ought to be encouraging, since it says that the oppressive kingdoms will be replaced by God’s eternal kingdom. But Daniel finds it deeply disturbing.

Perhaps a problem is that it includes a slow time scale… Lots of kings before the triumph of God. When the Jews returned from exile they would have thought it was the fulfillment of this vision, but God is saying it will take more than a few years.

Psalm 30

Joy in the morning

Very happy joyous song, with a series of images of bad turning to good, of times of feeling deserted by the Lord turning to generous blessing and favour.

Starts with a personal section, maybe it was an illness or a dangerous situation that ended: Lifted, healed, rescued from dead, spared from the pit.

Then preachin’ it: encouraging “you people” to praise the same love of God, expressed generally: A moment of anger followed by a lifetime of favour, weeping at night followed by joy in the morning.  

Then a longer and more specific personal section focuses in on the emotional guts of the psalm, not being able to find God.  

My general bible understanding wants to rebel against this.  My learned response God is faithful and will never desert us.  The image of God hiding his face implies he was always there, but he allowed bad stuff to happen.  Its a picture for the old issue of “why does God allow suffering?”.  

David understands that intellectualised response, and he says he had it too. He talks about the great feeling of security when he felt blessed by God, on the holy mountain, ie: in his presence, and how that was unshakeable… except then it did get shaken, and he was dismayed, because bad stuff happened, and God didn’t fix it straight away.  So it felt like God was hiding from him.  Message: its going to happen, as humans we will feel deserted by God, once the tenth thing in a row has gone wrong.

David’s response is one of his great confident prayers where he virtually hectors and dares God.  The deal is if God deserts him how can he bare witness to his greatness?  Like “hey God, its in your own interest to save me here, it’ll be a good look for you…” Its a great testament to David’s strong faithfulness despite his period of human dismay.  His prayer is “this is not right, no way, I deserve better than his, you promised!”  

And it worked out, another series of general joyous transformation images conclude the song: wailing turned to dancing, sackcloth to joy, and David will praise God, singing from the heart forever.
There is still bad stuff in the world, and its not going to be pleasant no matter how much we tell ourselves otherwise, but be patient, in the long run God’s blessing to us will far outweigh the suffering we experience.

Psalm 27

With God on our side vs. being on God’s side

God’s goodness is like a rock to David.  It is the most concrete thing in his life, despite constant and very tangible threats all around.

Uber confident start. The lord is:

  • light (bringing clarity, direction, guidance)
  • salvation (bringing deliverance from enemies and fear as well as forgiveness) and
  • stronghold of life … source, protector of the soul’s existence

So he has nothing to fear and repeats that three times, which makes you think those he was addressing had plenty to fear.  Enemies will fail, stay confident, he says.  It is a psalm of confidence. Its like the St Crispians Day speech in Henry V.. a stirring rally by a leader, except the call is to rely on God’s strength not their own.

Til now it has seemed like a military psalm, but the next section seems to broaden it out because he talks about being in the tent, the tabernacle, in the presence of God and being kept safe there and being raised up above his enemies. He will be exalted above them by sacrificing to God and singing about him.  No doubt singing this very Psalm.  

As a literal military strategy, hiding in a tent and singing is unlikely to work.  He’s pushing this way past a “god is on our side” prayer before a battle in war… locking in God’s support to a human endeavour.  When he speaks of the one thing he wants god to give him: time gazing upon God’s beauty and seeking him, it is more like a love affair with God.  He doesn’t want God to lend support to his fight, he wants God’s will to supplant the fight.

He is following his heart, seeking God above all others, he asks God not to forsake him, confident that even his mum and dad would do that before God did.  The foes are identified as more than military… they are spreaders of malice and false witness.
Strong end focusses in on the theme succinctly: he is confident of the triumph of God’s goodness, so he will wait for him.  How many bad decisions do we make because of impatience with God?

Psalm 25

When “Waiting” is not just passing time.

Its a deliverance song like so many of them, but the emphasis very much on the writers relationship with God and the writers internal desire to have God transform him. The enemies make an appearance but they are not the emotional focus. The psalm should be called “deeper and deeper into god” because it takes each thought about God as a starting point for further expanded thoughts on the goodness of God.

1-3 has the familiar “I’m the worthy one, smight the unworthy” form.  But the kingdom heartedness and the relative temperance of the language already subverts the revenge cliché with shafts of grace. The worthiness comes from trusting God and waiting for God, two very passive “good” qualities, which set up the gracious theme.  And the evil trait of the enemies is “wanton treachery”, a depersonalised slight that is a crime against God’s revelation most of all. He calls for justice in shaming: may the proper people be ashamed. It’s a justice with the advancement of God’s kingdom at heart, and not a harsh justice.  

Then the revenge theme is left alone altogether for a few verses with a section that expands on the idea of waiting for God as a personal spiritual journey.

“Waiting” is understanding God’s mind, his paths, being led by truth and learning from it.

He expresses regret over past sins, appealing to God’s character of solid love and mercy, generally and also specifically to him. It’s all God. He doesn’t even suggest “I’ll be good, so treat me right”. It’s all “you are good”. All we can give God is acknowledgement.

He expands further on the goodness and teaching of God. God leads, shows his path, we are sinners he forgives, the humble will learn goodness and see the godly way forward.

He speaks again of his great guilt, and the need to fear God. Fearing God is to trust his guidance, friendship and providence,  keep your eyes on him even when you’re feet are stuck in a net.

This last image for me introduces an unexpected note of urgency into the song.  Until now the enemies have be vague. Does the writer mean to say that all the while he’s been expanding and expanding on God’s mercy, it’s been an emergency?

It’s verse 15, for me is the defining image of the song.  Reminds me of judee sills ” ridge rider”, his eyes on the horizon and his boots on the ground “

He then prays the prayer I would have prayed straight away in an emergency ” help, I’m all alone and things are terrible – many violent people hate me – deliver me!” Even so, his own struggle with godliness is more in the foreground than the immediate external threats.

How rich it is when he returns to his theme to conclude “may integrity and uprightness  preserve me as I wait for you.”

He then prays that the whole of Israel will be delivered in the same way.
How true it is that when you feel pressured and panicky, and desperate for gods guidance, what seems like external issues is so often actually an internal struggle not to trust God. You pray for guidance like a shaft of wisdom to beam down and mcgyuver a specfic problem, but God’s answer is to be still and contemplate his goodness.

Genesis 16

A jolt back into real politik.  Another biblical pattern, from the clear exalted mountain to the murky mess of the plain, like moses getting the law and coming down the mountain to faithless revelling, or Jesus going from the transfiguration to the faithlessness of the people and the bickering of the disciples.

And for me going from Sunday to Monday.  Bless me, keep me positive.

…that prayer was answered, I had a great Monday. The rhythm and discipline of work is making me feel so good. Plus I am good at it, and its such a powerful thing to feel competent. Part of the sense of dread I feel for my son who is 23 is that there is every possibility he may never feel that. He is in a psychological prison. Give me wisdom lord, and bless Lewes

Abram and Hagar are helping god along again. It’s a crooked web of weakness being woven here as Hagar the Egyptian slave girl is left over from the faithless deception in Egypt where Abram pretended Sarai was his sister and virtually gave her to the Pharoah. So the remnant of that unfortunate event is now enlisted as surrogate mother for the nation of Israel.  A very earthly plan for a cosmic promise.

Did Sarah not think that setting up a younger, fertile second wife in the household would drive her crazy? Hagar gets uppity, Sarai gets hurt, there is a falling out, and Hagar runs off.

A person, not a pawn

But oh the intervention of God in this one. People call the bible the “Good book”. So it’s rather shocking how bad people are without any much comment on their behaviour.  God adjusts for the mess.  He could have condemned Abram: “Abram, you have managed to turn my glorious promise into a sordid soap opera, I can’t work with this.” I did not expect God to speak to Hagar first, after all its supposed to be about the bloke and the promise that his offspring will be like stars and lead to salvation, right?  Hagar is just the meat in the sandwich, so to speak.

No! She is a person, not a piece of meat!  God speaks to her, and makes his own promise to her who has lost all, no postion or protection, a single mum alone in an unforgiving culture.

Hagar will have a son, called “God hears” because God has heard her misery.  She names God “the one who sees me” In being seen, Hagar becomes a person, not a pawn. And she has seen the one who sees her.  To god, its not about the plan, its about the collateral damage, the lost lamb. Oh the love and tenderness of that interaction!

Again, though the promise has a sting – Abrams’ promise to found a nation included it becoming a slave nation. Hagars includes trouble for Ishmael.

These promises are jarring.  Perhaps I need to just trust God over my children.  Another of my sons is brilliant at wrong footing me on who he is, and who he will become, he’s great at making me panic.

I can’t force the plan. He sees them, he hears their misery.  Give me patience to trust you Father. Shine into the murky messes, Father, with the clarity of love. 

Genesis 15

The promise to Abram restated and filled out. This is where his people are compared to stars in number, and that amazing statement of grace “abram believed, and it was credited to him as righteousness”.  Interestingly his belief doesn’t stop him having questions and wondering how the promise could come true.  Abrams righteousness will be a life lesson and a life experience as well as an advance deposit, like mine.  God gives him a sign of sacrifice to assure him of the promise.  He also gives him a warning that it will take generations of slavery before the land is fully theirs, which is experienced as a dread in sleep, which is a feeling I had last night, strangely.  Thinking about the kids. “a thick and dreadful darkness came over him”. When I read the word dread, I recognised the feeling I had over my children. Dread and sadness, inexplicably.

The going to egypt is such a strong thread in sciptures, Abram has already done it, Irael will do it and Jesus did it after his birth.

A stunning chapter, reminds me of the psalms, the way David gets lost in talking to God.

Help me to be a good father, show me what I should do for my kids.