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 out 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.

Isaiah 43

Tough love.

A beautiful description of God’s character. It reaches back to Moses’ burning bush and escape though the sea to talk about God’s protection though trials of fire and flood.

The refrain of “fear not” from the last few chapters is repeated. So are images of the gathering of the nations, being loved and known since birth, the unique omnipotence of the one true God.

The image of a highway in a newly verdant desert comes back, which is described as a new thing God will do.

Then, right at the end we hear God has grown weary of them. The North has ignored him, and the South has kept up an empty religion.

Therefore both will be destroyed and reviled.

Bam. End of chapter. It puts everything in context.

Fear not… Because much to fear is coming.

Remember that God is in charge, fire won’t consume you, water won’t drown you…  because both are coming, etc.

The destruction coming is not only God’s judgement, it’s his love.

And he offers to have it out with them: let’s have witnesses, let’s state our cases.

So much to teach us about difficult times, but the lesson I’m taking is: stay in contact with God, yell at him if you have to. Have it out, he’s saying he can take it.


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.


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?