Habakkuk 2

This is a beautiful book of damning words.

It feels a bit disrespectful to go literary critic on the bible. In my tribe of christianity its all the word of God and if so, who am I to sit in judgement? But from where I sit not all of these minor prophets are equal from a literary point of view – Jonah also comes to mind as an exceptional example. None are badly written mind you, and “where I sit” includes all sorts of filters of cultural and language distance that distort the original in unexpected ways. My 20th century english-speaking perspective warms to some and is baffled by others that other times and cultures no doubt embrace.

That all said, I was struck by the economy, focus, and articulation here.

So yesterday we were left hanging with the question of how God can call a vile nation like Babylon an “amazing” and “unbelievable” solution to all the evil Habukkuk has on his heart to bring before the Lord.

I wondered if the answer would be that I’ve heard over the years… that the broken nature of the world means God has to work through evil to save any of it. No, I think God’s answer to that line of explanation of his mysterious ways would be a loving “stay in your lane”…

The answer is “do you think I don’t know? Trust me!” – or as it is put more beautifully in the final verse:

“the Lord is in his temple, let the earth fall silent before him”


That “do-you-think-I-don’t-know” is teased out with poetry that has the most God-like, searing, knowing, damning image of ourselves. Our sin does not exist without consequences in the universe God made, the teeming and balanced ecosystem of life he has brought into being from nothing.

They have taken life, shed blood for their own excessive gain. The shedding of blood is a refrain through it. There is a sense of them offending creation itself – the morality of inanimate objects – by their evil:

9 Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain,
  setting his nest on high
   to escape the clutches of ruin!
10 You have plotted the ruin of many peoples,
    shaming your own house and forfeiting your life.
11 The stones of the wall will cry out,
     and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.

Ch 2:9-10

I suppose we’ve seen it in a way with the government officials who have been in trouble over this COVID-19 disaster. They have not followed their own rules – notably a senior advisor in the UK who was the architect of their lockdown, and then when he had the disease ignored the precautions, endangering others. The officials have made sure they get priority over testing and medical equipment while they tell others to cope with shortages. Talk about “setting your nest on high”.

The passage is a diatribe, a devastating tear-down of arrogance, selfishness and cruelty; but somehow I hear notes of sadness and of peace as it plays. Of course these offences are evil, even though they seem to work. None of it will stand, there will be justice. We are all equal, naked before God.

Because the mirror on our arrogant, petty, nastiest urges is so unsparing, the love is all the more overwhelming.

Christ did not take life, did not shed blood. His was given.

Nahum 3

It can’t go on forever.

This book really pushes how little pity it is possible to have for a place. Ninevah was a place of extraordinary cruelty and greed, pride, refusal to live by any sort of moral code other than power enforced through violence for ones own benefit.

Woe to the city of blood,
    full of lies,
full of plunder,
    never without victims!

v 1

The prophet’s poem vividly describes the day it falls, and the joy of the oppressed when it does, and the book ends.

If systems are unjust, designed to thrive on the oppression of others, greedy, corrupt… they will succeed. We see that practical reality around us all the time. But not forever. This book is a belief in justice, something for the oppressed to cling to.

I have a fairly bleak outlook at the moment, and I participated in a yarn about reconciliation – with Indigenous peoples – at work yesterday. I’ve been feeling stressed since, because I fear that a negativity about the prospects of reconciliation came out of me and threw a sadness over it. I may be exaggerating. But real progress just felt impossible.

But God’s nature is to be just. And loving. I need to remember that. Everyone’s brain goes through cycles of depression and panic, but objectively my problems are barely a hill of beans in this world.

I’ve been working on finishing my album about history books of the bible. It’s also getting me down reaching that place where its not going to get much better and its still not great enough, but such is my lot. There is a line in the song about the book of Ruth “love is at the centre of it all, this universe isn’t cold or bleak at all” (oh dear, I rhyme “all” with “all”? – didn’t notice til now! Oh well).

Anyway, the thought is one to hold onto. And the fall of Ninevah, and so many cruel systems since, testifies: the defiance of decency can’t go on forever. Be patient, be decent yourself!

Ezekiel 5

Another sign / street theatre symbolising destruction. This was directly after the strange year-long seige-play in the last chapter.

Ezekiel cut off his hair and burned it or threw it to the winds. He divided it into thirds – symbolising those destroyed in Jerusalem, around the city or those scattered to exile.

God compared what will happen to the people as ‘shaving’, hence the hair. He prophesied that within the city walls parents would eat children and children would eat parents, a vivid glimpse of how desperate and grim it would be.

This evil, done by evil people, God characterises as judgement. Part of his plan. It’s very hard too take, Lord.

The Bible, give or take, is the story of ‘people find God’ (up to Solomon), ‘people lose God’ (rest of OT) people find God. (NT). Like a romance novel.

‘People lose God’ is very long, about 20 books.

Since Genesis I’ve been toying with the idea that rebellion is an inherent part of any creation that includes autonomy, just as adolescence is part of growing up. Leaving the father and mother.

It will be interesting to see how AI pans out – will rebellion be a step? If so 1000 B-movie script writers will be lining up to say ‘I told you so’.

Perhaps we have the capacity for evil as part of our creation.

Judgement is very efficient… Rather like creation being self sustaining and replenishing, evil is self-punishing, by other evil.

God’s revelation to us of himself is both complete in every moment and progressive. Inside time and outside it.

The heavens tell the glory of God. All you need to know. So do Paul’s epistles, in a more fiddly way.

Rahab welcomed the spies to Jericho. In that moment was the gospel. The prophets and the poets witnessed the destruction of everything they knew, but though that awful history the ‘new thing’ was revealed: the god of all nations, who is the sacrifice, who lives in us, who is love. Evil not only punishes itself, but ultimately destroys itself through the transformations it can force our hearts to have to make.

So I do believe it is in God’s hands, in ways too marvelous for me to understand, as lame as that sounds. He’s got this.

Psalm 109

The right place for anger

…is prayer. This is apparently the strongest of the imprecatory Psalms. Fancy word for wishing disaster for your enemies. There’s a lot of theological hand wringing about what to do with them. Glad I don’t have to decide when to sing or read them in church!

David was famous for his honour and mercy in practice. He was never harsh enough with rebellions started by his own children. And of course he rewarded Saul’s staggeringly unreasonable, mad behaviour – randomly throwing spears at him etc, with mercy on several occasions where he could have easily had vengence. There are lots of examples.

This Psalm contains a long series of curses on an enemy and his family, and the hope that his enemy will be judged by a really mean, evil person. The curses are exceptionally strong:

Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favour his fatherless children

Been re-watching some game of thrones episodes, and it’s worth remembering that a lot of the staggering cruelty and betrayal that made the series the most talked about television is simply drawn from history.

Our go-to embodiment of evil remains Hitler or possibly Pol Pot. Seems the ancient world had plenty of choices, who may have had a lower body count, but were more extravagantly sadistic.

This Psalm is written as a prayer. David takes his exceptional disgust and frustration at his enemies to God, which is what I take from this Psalm. It’s venting, and trusting god’s justice.

In a small way I’ve been lashing out a bit more than usual, a product of self doubt I think. It’s a good reminder. God is ready and willing to hear all that stuff. He knows we think it anyway. Trust God for fairness. The well of anger in your heart, laid on the altar, stops owning you.

Proverbs 30

An  odd chapter.

Its from a different author, Agur of whom nothing is really known. The tone is instantly wilder and blunter, the consequences of foolishness more extreme than in previous chapters.

It explicitly claims to be God-inspired ecstatic utterance, and it says lots of great stuff, but much I barely comprehend as well… and its only 30 verses or so… such an exhausting book this one!

He is a good example of humility, his wisdom is not his own, it comes from God and from God’s creation. He realises how great and unknown is God – some powerful poetic images reminiscent of Job: the Lord’s hands gathering the wind and wrapping the waters in his cloak. How can we compare? He includes an intriguing reference here to God knowing the name of his son – impossible now for Christians not to think of Jesus.

He treasures God’s words, and he asks for contentment: neither to be poor nor rich. Both lead us into temptation. He wants just his daily bread, which for me illuminates the lords prayer as a petition for moderation and contentment as well as for basic needs to be met. Give us enough, not less, not more.

We’re working through issues of contentment as a family at the moment. Its a wonderful thing to pray for.

He then speaks of groups of people which displease or ignore God – in other translations they are called generations: a generation who invent their own standards of goodness and righteousness without reference to God or inherited wisdom; a generation who are violent and attacking.

I found it oddly encouraging to hear of generations so long ago going to the dogs.  We tend to think the latest generation is the one that is going to hell in a handbasket, but it has always been thus.

Sure, it not great to see wide scale foolishness, evil or ignorance. But it doesn’t mean God has lost control.  Its a generation, it will pass.

It concludes with a bunch of lists of observations from nature – generally 3 or 4.  Its a poetic device similar to our “et cetera”  or “for example”. A list with some specifics that is not exhaustive.

Its encouraging you to look to the world to learn of what is good and what is wrong. Honestly, this was the bit where I really started to loose comprehension.

He lists things that are:

  • never satisfied – including the grave and childlessness;
  • too amazing for him – including young love’s passionate eroticism, which he finds far more amazing than casual uncommitted sex
  • things that make the world unbearable – basically women, servants or employees that rise in the ranks… I really didn’t get that one, he’s finding social mobility or equality offensive?
  • things that are small yet wise, humble things in nature with impressive achievements, like ants. This kind of undermined the previous point, but was well made.
  • things that have stately bearing – such as a lion, or a greyhound. OK. As a proud Italian Greyhound owner, I can only agree!

Lastly a general warning about evil and stirring up trouble.

So a mixture of stuff that I found helpful and stuff that is hard to access for me now – culturally remote.

I got feelings of God’s size and power, and the sense that despite the randomness and evil we often see around us, God is in control.

I need it. A drumbeat of sadness still underlies the shock of the massacre in New Zealand at the hands of an Australian gunman.

Such a peaceful, tolerant society!  Chosen because they had the effrontery to make diversity work, to punish them for having compassion and love.

He’s failed, but at an insane price.

I sat in church this morning and thought about how easy it would be for someone to walk in and slaughter us if they wanted to try and break a society that would allow us to flourish.




Proverbs 29

Whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe

Its a simple promise, but the only solid one we have. Reeling today after the killing and wounding of almost 100 muslim worshippers in New Zealand by a white extremist. Live streamed on social media.

The bloodthirsty hate a person of integrity
    and seek to kill the upright.

Waleed Ali, Australia’s most public muslim said on his news show that he had been at prayers in his mosque at the same time as the massacre, and conveyed what a vulnerable disconnected place you are in, lost in meditation about God. They were lambs to the slaughter. He said that he will be there next Friday too, like clockwork.

So its hard in this light not to read these wisdoms as a list of disaster, of corruption.

An angry person stirs up conflict,
    and a hot-tempered person commits many sins.

Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint;
    but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction.

The corruption of so many of our institutions has come to light of late, the church and paedophilia, the scale of the bank’s greedy self serving, the growth of hard line, polarised politics, …Michael Jackson (I mean we sort of always knew about him, but how were we so tolerant, so willfully blind?  How foolish are we?)

By justice a king gives a country stability,
    but those who are greedy for bribes tear it down.

If a ruler listens to lies,
    all his officials become wicked.

An Australian senator released a press statement blaming immigration for violence against muslims hours after the massacre.  Or you could choose not to kill them?

Deep and heartfelt, praying for wisdom – the fear of the Lord, departing from evil. Comfort for those who mourn.


Proverbs 26

This chapter is more organised than others, it even includes a few unexpected twists in the way it is constructed.

You get 11 lines about fools… About how spectacularly useless they are, and deserving of contempt, then this:

Do you see a person wise in their own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for them.

It’s so easy to see the faults in others.

Similar with laziness, having attacked for a few verses it says essentially their worst trait is having no conception of how lazy they are… Oops, maybe it’s me?

The meta theme is humility. Like other chapters that barely mention God, there are underlying themes drawing out deeper spiritual truths from conventional wisdom.

The structure of many of these is particularly memorable, funny even. They read like lines from Rowan Atkinson’s comedy creation Black Adder:

Sending a message by the hands of a fool
is like cutting off one’s feet or drinking poison

The last bunch of verses is about lies, and the meta point is about our evil hearts.

Don’t kid yourself you are doing a favour to the person you are lying to, you show you hate them by your deception. Trying to hide your evil nature is futile. It’s only dealt with by exposure, by humility, as above. Lies block grace.

I was aware of lying, in a very small way, at work yesterday. I made a job sound more complete than it was because I was a bit embarrassed about how little progress I’d made

But the breach of trust I risked was a crazy high cost to preserve a tiny bit of pride.

Trust is so much more valuable than the illusion of perfection.

Job 20

Job’s third friend, Zophar, speaks a second time.

It’s an epic, sweeping but nuanced, description of the effects of evil and sin.

All three of the friends have reacted somewhat indignantly to Job rejecting their sin=punishment formula. Like the other two, he doesn’t refer to Job much directly. He depersonalises his argument.

But by painting a realistic picture of a corrupt society, full of selfishness, greed and the consequences, he makes the case that his suffering is just one of many consequences of the world’s – and by extension Job’s – fallen state.

He takes a broad view of history, and how there has always been the wicked, and they’ve always come to nothing. Death makes a mockery of their youthful pride and huge egos.

He presents a portrait of a life devoted to the hope that ill gotten material gain will give spiritual satisfaction. There’s an extended metaphor of how greed tastes good in the mouth but starves you because it’s like food that is not actually nourishing. You eat more and more in the vain hope that you will be satisfied, and it poisons you.

You leave a legacy of oppression, poverty and injustice.

In Zophar’s case, Job’s rebuke has made him disturbed, and questioning. This is his affirmation of how he thinks the world is. It feels good when threatened to re-state your old ideas to yourself.

But after all this time he makes no effort to process Job’s situation.

It’s not clear if he’s saying Job is a victim of the fallen state of the world or saying Job is one of the wicked. In truth I suppose we all contribute to and suffer from the evil of this world.

My mind is buzzing with possibilities for my job interview on Monday. It would be marvellous if I got it, but I have to be realistic. They know me, what will be will be.

I see this passage reminding me that ambition is not an end in itself.

It is vivid about the seductiveness of evil ‘evil is sweet in his mouth and he hides it under his tongue … he cannot bear to let it go’

Your will be done, make me pure.

Psalm 52

David was a fugitive, running from his predecessor king Saul. He got bread from Ahimelech, a priest, telling him he was on a secret mission for Saul.

Doeg, one of Saul’s herdsmen, reported the priest. David was long gone, but Saul in a rage, demanded the the priest and all his order be killed. Saul’s regular army refused to do it, but Doeg, who was not Jewish, slaughtered many priests, women and children in the place it happened.

This psalm is a meditation on Doeg. When he calls him a ‘mighty warrior’ in the first verse, it’s sarcastic. He recognises him for the lying opportunistic coward he is, getting the kings favour such a dreadful way. He inflamed Saul against David even more than he already was.

Godliness is the difference. Doeg trusted himself and succeeded by destroying others. David becomes doubly determined not to be the same, to trust and praise God.

Having fallen out with the king, I suppose becoming like Doeg represented a moral choice David had. David would never lift his hand against Saul, because he was God’s anointed. So he indeed didn’t succeed by destroying him.

David later expressed remorse for his part in the event, after all, he involved the priests with a deception. So that regret might have been driving some of his resolve. Maybe it’s another penetential Psalm, like 51, in a way.

It’s tempting, even in small ways, to suspend the rules for really shameless disgraceful people, to fight fire with fire. But our purpose here is to bear witness to God, not be God.

I face the new week with a temporary reprieve from unemployment, my contract with Salvos was going to end in November, extended to 8 January, very generous actually, paying me for the new year break.

And it will allow me time to apply for a slew of jobs in the new structure they are introducing… Some prospects, in with a chance. At the same time my 14 year old is in a world of pain, his friends pretty much ghosted him all holidays, going back to school today, very much in my prayers.

2 Chronicles 26

This story of Uzziah is a textbook entry for showing some of the emphasis and themes of chronicles compared to kings.

  1. Lots of detail about the construction and defence of Jerusalem and surrounding country, which was a pressing issue for the original audience of the book
  2. The better kings are pragmatic realists. They accept Judah for what it is, they don’t try to recreate the glory days where Israel and Judah were united as one nation under David and Solomon. Every alliance with the North brings disaster.
  3. Even the good kings are show to have flaws, more so than in Kings. There is a stronger strain of physical judgement, of the flaws leading to punishment from God. Their burial reflects their godliness – a detail I don’t recall from Kings.

King Uzziah rules wisely and loves Jehovah, but gets pride when he is older and tries to offer incense directly in the temple, instantly getting leprosy, which lasts til he dies. He’s buried separately from the other kings.

The narrative in Kings doesn’t link the leprosy to pride, and doesn’t mention the nuance of the burial.

I think I’m a bit mixed up about reward theology: good things for goodness, bad things for badness.

I reject prosperity doctrine, that God means us to be wealthy in this world. I don’t think aids is god’s punishment for sexual sin, or that failure to be healed by prayer is always because you lack enough faith.

But I do thank God when good things happen, and pray for rain. I don’t connect the rain to deservedness, or the drought to punishment. But I do think there is a connection between prayer and life events.

I’m attracted to T J Wright’s – and the Salvation Army’s – idea that heaven is now, that living a godly life will help “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.  If truth is eternal, why not start now?  In that sense I think there are rewards for godliness on earth and punishment for evil.

If you give someone a meal out of godliness, the reward is that that person gets a meal because of God.

Actually, that’s quite sensible, maybe I’m less mixed up than I thought!