Deuteronomy 18

We’re laying the ground rules for Israelite society. Last chapter law and government, now religion.

The priests are to be supported and honoured as full time ministers. They have no land, God is their inheritance. And prophets will continue Moses’ role of speaking the words of God.

This is compared to the occult practises already rampant in the land, and there is reference to why they are so detestable, child sacrifices etc. 

They have the voice of God, they don’t need to consult the dead or search for truth by elaborate divination rituals. 

Numbers 16

This feels like the sequel to chapter 14 where the people reached a low point and wished they never left Egypt.

The leaders of the rebellion are swallowed up by the earth. So there is no doubt that Moses is not lording over them, the lord is. And a plague hits Israel.

Moses leadership is directly challenged and Egypt is called the land of milk and honey… They have lost hope in any future. The selective past is fertile land for populists. It’s #MIGA.. make Israel great again.

A sink hole and an epidemic. These are spiritualised and serve as a reminder that God is in control. I must remember, we all die. All born into sin. It’s about recognising God. Without him, even no disaster is a disaster. With him, no calamity is a calamity.

Leviticus 21

I have advice for young christians.  Don’t ever read Leviticus.  Just don’t bother.

Its not that I don’t get it on some level, this chapter is about priests super duper perfection rules.  Its an attempt to create eden, the pre-fall world, in the fallen world.

So it reads like outrageous discrimination against disabilities, no imperfections in priests – it literally is against short people.

So it reads callous: they are to not show mourning or have anything to do with the dead (some exceptions for family).

But it’s meaning the priests to be like adam, not knowing death, not knowing the curse of creation broken.

Its impossible. Why bother? is the question clamouring at me.  OK, its teaching us that we are fallen, that god is holy.  But why a system designed to fail?

The old testament is profoundly depressing.  It is impossible to read it and not conclude you are less holy than god, indeed you are not holy at all.  The story of it is told repeatedly in excruciating detail.

Humanity is corrupt.  We fail corporately, born into sin, its really not our fault, we don’t stand a chance.

Also, each individual is damned without grace. We personally fall short of God’s plan for us and deserve his wrath.  Sinners, all, through and through, every which way.

 

Leviticus 15

At the end of ch14 it said that it was the end of rules about infectious skin diseases, and I thought “well that’s a relief”.  So to genital emissions, male and female, normal and abnormal. Sigh.

There is a public health element blended with spiritual metaphors.  So we have periods of quarantine and cleaning where there are diseased emissions.  But we also have shorter and more minor times of uncleanliness for normal reproductive emissions, semen and menstruation.

I’ve been contemplating the element of equal opportunity here.  Both men and women are made unclean for God by reproductive emissions, but women are unclean longer. The rest of the day for men (and women if they get the semen on them) and 5 days for women (and men if they get the blood on them).

Thing is, men have emissions more often, multiple times a week.  So perhaps as a percentage of time being spent unclean, from a practical point of view, its about equal.

Some have argued the menstruation rule is an early recognition of women’s period pain and quite progressive in full social context… I don’t know about that.

On balance, it does blunt the misogyny accusation somewhat, particularly the parallel structure of the chapter, male and female rules alongside each other, its quite striking.

It also clear that none of it is individually blameworthy, Jesus said we are born into sin.  To me this is a recognition of that, by saying that human reproduction is not the way of producing rightness with god, only gods cleansing intervention can do that.

Rather than pointing fingers at groups: at foreigners, criminals, men, women, sick, well etc. its actually saying actually dramatically and emphatically of course you need God’s cleansing grace, all of you. None is right before God.   

 

 

 

 

Leviticus 10

Two of Aaron’s sons improvise their own sacrifice.  They take incense in their own burner into the holy of holies, and are there struck dead.

Its harsh, but their plan involved the profoundest of sins, rebellion against god, placing their own judgement higher than him. The mystery is not that they were killed, the mystery is that any of us are alive.  Death is the consequence of rejecting the author of life, of saying “I’ll author my own life thanks”.

Well it doesn’t work that way.  We can’t, and every fibre of our being hates that we can’t. Humans hate the fact that we are created (though we love babies).  We live rebelling against it, acting like masters of our own destiny. And we all die, sooner or later. And how we hate that too.

In the leviticus narrative the aftermath is horrible too. Aaron and his remaining sons have to continue through the rituals, not stop and mourn their brothers/ sons.   Should have freeze framed at the last chapter, its suddenly all an emotionally gruelling obedience that they are called to, not a joyous one.

There is a glimmer of mercy at the end, they simply can’t feast on all the food as they are supposed to, Aaron has no stomach for it, and Moses accepts that they can not.

Plus of course, God is a god of love.  I guess that he did love Aaron’s son’s despite their pride on perhaps the one day people fully understood God’s holiness. God is the god of second chances. Paul would write “Death has been swallowed up in victory: ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law”.

We can’t understand love without understanding god’s holiness by virtue of being our creator.

 

Genesis 34

Jacob has not stayed with his family despite essau’s warm welcome, or gone where God told him to, bethel. He’s gone off by himself and the decision brings disaster. 

His daughter is raped. Dinah, the girl, and Jacob should have known this was a possiblity, she went wandering by herself in a foreign town with very different attitudes to sex.

The boy responsible is the favoured son of a wealthy man, and fancies he loves Dinah. Jacob doesn’t react negatively to the rape at all, which stokes the anger of her brothers. He negotiates to make it right in a way by allowing her to become the boys wife.

Jacob’s sons insist the foreign men be circumcised, but two of them revenge kill them all while they are weak and recovering. The rest plunder and pillage their stuff and take all the women and children. 
It’s an unbelievably evil episode, wrong in so many ways all related to Jacob’s poor choices and ignoring God. He seems to have no leadership of his family, they complain that their sister was treated like a prostitute, but they pervert and prostitute their religion using it as a cover for violence and greed.

Jacob’s response is to tell them how much danger they have put the whole family in by declaring war on the whole country. It’s way too late by then.  

God does not speak in this chapter, but his law is misused by violent greedy men.

The last time God spoke, he changed Jacob’s name to Israel. But significantly he is called Jacob again straight away here. He has disengaged from God. He is still struggling with God, as he was when he literally wrestled with God in human form in the last chapter.  He needs to get back to that place where he is asking for god’s blessing.

2 Samuel 13

The story takes a depressing turn. The old testament is the story of false starts, failed messiahs, new leaves turned with no lasting difference. 

It’s the history of god’s relationship with the race from which the Messiah will come, during which more and more of God is slowly revealed. His mighty plans ever so slowly unfold. 

But, short term, everything goes bad and people always let him down. 

God remains unshockable: our depths of cruelty, degradation & nastiness; our small, banal meaness, our flights of destructive passionate self indulgence; he’s seen it all a gazillion times before and his love never fails.

Last two chapters we had David’s sin. That ended with the promise of more strife by the prophet, and here it starts.

It’s a story set among David’s numerous children: brothers, half brothers and sisters. It involves lust, incestuous rape and revenge. At the end, David’s most gifted and promising son, Absalom, is in self imposed exile for the murder of his brother.

Throughout David is: angry, weeping bitterly, sad. He’s reaping the whirlwind for his own messy love life, I suppose. 

There’s no mention at all of God in this chapter. I don’t think it’s necessarily a moral fable, and I don’t intend to come in like Aesop and say “so the moral is …” 

It’s just messy ugly family history showing that, apart from the intervention of God in their lives these people are messed up humans just like us.

2 Samuel 10

David makes another attempt at kindness with a neighbouring country that is treated with suspicion and humiliatingly rebuffed. It sparks a war involving mercenary Syrians which the Israelites easily win.

Where is god in this? Nowhere explicit, though David’s kindness which sparked the conflict no doubt came from his love of God. 

Some people are determined to see evil and hidden agendas where there are none. It brings to mind the old English motto, Honi soit qui mal y pense: evil is to him who thinks evil. 

It’s one of the saddest things when grace is staring someone in the face and they can’t see it. 

One of the things that makes me saddest about Donald Trump is his tendency towards conspiracies, to refuse to see the good in poeple he doesn’t like. He poisons so much of what he touches.

2 Samuel 8

Davids military victories, and his stable organised government.

David’s military victories are hard reading for a lefty peacenik like me. But my dad fought in war, I do get war. It’s not god’s plan. 

In the new Jerusalem wars will cease, god will shatter the spear. They spring from the evil in our hearts. It’s like “choose your evil”. Believers get caught in them, some standing against, some joining in. But there are ways to do war. 

David’s cruel treatment of Moab, randomly killing many, was not racism, his great grandmother was Ruth the Moabite. They must have represented a major threat.

Given the headlines right now about Syria, David’s body count there makes my heart stop. How long will this go on?

But they lived in a bloody, kill or be killed region. He is sharp and effective, does it once and does it right. 

His decisive victories, done in a spirit of subjugation to God’s will, bought to an end conflicts that have been going on for the whole time Israel has been in the promised land. 

This campaign would not have been needed if the people had followed god’s commands about taking the promised land when they moved in.

And he’s not one of those rulers who are good at military stuff so make war for the heck of it.  

He makes peace if neighbours offer peace. He’s about good rule. His adminstration is fair, prosperous and organised. 

1 Samuel 27

What? David the lying murderous soldier of fortune!??!!

In this chapter David goes off and becomes a mercenary solider for the philistines, the enemy he has been defending Israel from since killing Goliath.

He lives in a philistine town with permission of the king. He spends his time attacking other enemies of the Israelites, so in practice if not appearance he remains loyal to Israel.

The worst bit, he lies to the philistine king. He tells him he’s a traitor attacking his own people, raiding towns in Judah. To prevent the lie being discovered he kills everyone in the towns he raids.

So he goes in, takes all the valuable livestock etc. Then kills every man woman and child, so no one can report to the king that he was raiding an enemy of Israel, not an enemy of the philistines.

This episode of his life lasts a year and a half.

The chapter follows the pattern I thought observed in 25. After a story of great grace and heroism, we have a story that shows David much worse.  One chapter on, one chapter off.

There’s a few theories about how to comprehend this.

He could have abandoned God. He’s bitter and cynical. He’s hunted a as a criminal in his home, after being anointed king by Samuel. He’s had chances to kill king Saul, however his respect for god’s anointed didn’t let him.  And now his life makes no sense.

He’s tired of living on the run unfairly, so he forgets God and takes matters into his own hands, doing the only thing he’s good at: war and killing. Being a coldly brilliant and effective commander.

The collateral damage, the lives he takes to cover his lies is a chilling echo of his more famous sin, organising the “accidental” death of the husband of the woman he wants.

The second interpretation I think of as the nationalist one. It’s harder for modern people to take. In this view we the reader are supposed to applaud what he does.

He’s completing the work god’s chosen people never had the stomach for, getting rid of all the original inhabitants of the promised land, and what’s more doing it smart right under the nose of his enemy.

On this view lying to an enemy is acceptable to further god’s work.  It’s all about the holiness of god’s people, no one else counts.

The narrator makes no editorial content on David’s actions. Except two things.

David makes the plan in his “own heart”, usually it mentions him finding god’s will for his actions.

Also he takes the plunder from his raids. When the Israelites were occupying the promised land they took nothing for themselves. That was a very hard and fast rule.

So I don’t believe we are being told to applaud David here. They are just telling us what he did. And it is shameful.

Thinking a lot about christian leaders recently in the context of the u.s. presidential election and closer to home. There is the tendency to admire them too much or demonise them too much.

David would later write:

Free me from the guilt of murder, of shedding a man’s blood,  O God who saves me.  Now my tongue, which was used to destroy, will be used to sing with deep delight of how right and just You are. Lord, pry open my lips  that this mouth will sing joyfully of Your greatness.

I would surrender my dearest possessions or destroy all that I prize to prove my regret, but You don’t take pleasure in sacrifices or burnt offerings.  What sacrifice I can offer You is my broken spirit because a broken spirit, O God, a heart that honestly regrets the past, You won’t detest.