Ezekiel 37

“Read the dry bones mum.”

She would read the Bible to me every night when I was a child. And when the notes ran out, she gave me the choice, and I always chose this passage.

I took it as an illustration of the same creative power by which God made the world. Metaphor seems too grand for a kid, it was a vibe. A vibe about what God is like, and what he can do.

Take a bunch of bones and knit them into bodies, take the bodies and breathe life into them. I had no trouble believing God who made everything could orchestrate the vivid scenes that this passage fired up in my mind, kids are like that.

Ezekiel does a stick trick in the second half of the passage that sort of repeats the bones vision, on a national scale. He writes “Israel” on one stick, and “Judah” on another stick, and then holds them together, like they are a single stick, a promise that the divided kingdom of the Jews will be one again.

Mum showed a judicious sense of drama and used to stop reading before she got to that bit. As sheer theatre, it’s somewhat anti-climactic after the bones vision.

It’s messianic, the Messiah is simply called king David. But the ruler of the joined sticks has the characteristics of the eternal kingship of God.

And here I am at 57, days into 2020. Zero honeymoon of new-year optimism as our bushfire season is catastrophically exacerbated by climate change, and the middle East seems destabilised, maybe headed for war.

I have a tiny role in that messianic vision of nations bought together under god’s love and grace, Jesus’ work happening now and promising a grace-filled and blessed destination for eternity.

The bones trick, people having new life, getting beating hearts and the breath of God as he washes away their idols… I see that regularly in the salvation army, and at church too. It’s beautiful.

The stick trick, I do believe, I draw great comfort from it. But it seems like a few steps back more than a few steps forward at the moment. It seems like the more amazing one right now.

Give me, and use me for, peace, life and hope in 2020 lord Jesus Christ.

Ezekiel 20

God, can’t live without him, can’t live with him.

The Israelites are aware that Ezekiel speaks prophetically, so the leaders come to enquire of God.

They get a big rebuking dose of what they ought to already know. They are being judged for their faithlessness. Their situation is actually merciful compared to leaving them in the child sacrifice worship they had adopted. Their culture needed to be disrupted.

At the end of a long, sad history lesson, ending with an emotional plea to soften and accept God’s mercy, they say the saddest thing. They tell Ezekiel he is speaking in parables. They refuse to understand.

Ezekiel is a presence of their God in exile. They know he can’t be ignored. Their hearts know they are being judged and corrected, but they ask Ezekiel for a message anyway, and when they are told what they already knew, they claim not to understand it.

So true.

I’ve been away, I’ve been using this time to organise my EP launch, of songs inspired by this blog, so it feels related.

But I’m ready, I hope, to remake this habit. I get the truth at work, at church, here. It can be so familiar I risk giving it the contempt that the Israelites did.

I need to give time to pray for my family my friends.

Psalm 129

The resilience of God’s chosen.

The Israelites define themselves by what they have survived here, more than what they have achieved. It’s bonding and powerful.

From slavery, to wandering, to splitting up and then losing the promised land, and getting it back again, they survived. And as world history rolled on, they continued to survive a lot.

It is very short, and great for chanting. “You oppressed me, you oppressed me, but I won!” Is the opening cadence.

The rest is a vivid harvest metaphor. The Israelites compare the whips of slavery to ploughing… Their oppressors ploughed their backs with deep furrows, but God cut the whipping cords and released them.

Having seen many empires pass, and survived, they can compare the oppressors to useless grass grown in the wrong place, on a roof, that will wither and be useless.

It ends with a happy picture of a proper harvest day, which is blessed work. Passers by would shout God’s blessings on the work back and forth with the reapers.

Those who ploughed the Israelites backs with whips, only to find their harvest withered, will never know that blessing.

It has that confidence, arrogance even, of faith that feels sorry for those who may seem to be the winners in life, but challenge God.

I’m feeling a little overwhelmed this week so, though I can’t claim anyone is ploughing my back, I can use a booster shot of resilience. A cheery chant to get me through.

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!

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.