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.

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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!

 

2 Chronicles 22

A chapter of intrigue. The next king is the youngest son, does not love God and rules just one year. It’s a story of false alliance between the North and South, that split after Solomon.

God is mentioned as judge in his death at the hands of an assassin.

His mum the princess from the evil northern kingdom, Israel, stages a northern takeover when he dies and kills everyone in the house of David.

The dead King’s sister manages to hide her nephew, the heir, as a commoner in the temple where he lives 6 years during his grandmother’s reign.

So the promise of the Messiah is barely hanging on though intrigue in a time of rampant evil. It’s Noah in the ark, Joseph in the pit, Moses in the bullrushes, all over again. It will be the baby in the manger.

God’s mighty saving power is sometimes in the smallest things.

2 Chronicles 21

Jehoram a truly terrible king. The oldest son, he kills 7 other brothers. Makes no attempt to follow Jehovah, marries into the northern kingdom.

He only reigns 8 years, suffering military and health setbacks which are attributed to God’s punishment.

His death of a sort of prolapsed bowel disease is horrible sounding, and they note his unceremonious burial which no one regretted.

In a history designed to highlight leadership examples from Judah’s glory days, there’s nothing more than a warning here.

The offence to God is rejecting him. Jehoram commits various evil acts, but at the core is what Jesus called the unforgivable sin of rejecting the holy spirit.

1 Chronicles 18

David’s victories. I turned to the commentaries because there is a lot of casual cruelty in this chapter, quite confronting.

They emphasised that the wars were an existential requirement for Israel, like Europe defeating Hitler. They bought more peace than they sacrificed.

The writer is leaving out lots of detail from the earlier accounts in Samuel and Kings to emphasise the temple. Last chapter God told David he couldn’t build it.

But this chapter scans a lifetime of his victories in fast forward to show how his reign laid the ground work for it, by bringing tremendous peace and prosperity.

Chronicles, as I mentioned earlier, is written to accompany the rebuilding of the temple hundreds of years later, after Israel’s been defeated and Jerusalem sacked.

It doesn’t tell us that much about God. David is godly, but like a godly general in world war Two, he organises killing people. His victories are strategic and security oriented, he’s not needlessly greedy for Empire. But he does it.

God does have better plans, but they are slow. It’s slow not because he is weak, but because he loves the baddies.

The direction of the Bible is to use David’s line to bless all nations, and promise a new heaven and a new earth where there is no more war, crying or pain.

And so we have this pep talk about the glory days, to encourage the defeated remnant of them to keep the thread going long enough until the birth of Jesus.

The temples gone again now he’s come. When he died, the curtain around the place where God was, ripped.

And we still aren’t there, at the new earth, yet. It’s complicated.