Isaiah 6

There is something about the vision in this chapter that is super real to me like my soul has always known it.

There are key life moments when I have gone into an almost dissociative state, like when I got married or when the babies were born, or when my parents died.

Even sometimes when I just look at my kids and see something of my own face, or Kelly’s and realise how they are part of our love, and how much I love them and wish no pain for them, and my heart does flip flops.

I almost step out of myself and feel the moment in a timeless way, at the same time being a bit intellectually distant, realising this is one of those life defining moments. Feeling and thinking it’s profundity all in a rush.

For some reason this vision is chillingly real to me like those moments.

I’m taken back to a childhood memory of singing a similar vision in the cathedral choir, to beautiful classical music, which I rate among my most spiritual moments (Maybe it was the controlled breathing!)

It is good and terrible, full of promise, excitement pain and fear.  Those life/death moments share their intensity, are linked yet different.

I think it’s when the seraphim pronounces forgiveness by kissing Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal that it hits me the strongest. The searing pain of sin and the freedom from it in one intimate sensual image.

Also, leading up to that moment, the prophet’s response to the extravagant vision of God’s glory, a growing awareness that he doesn’t belong there.

It takes me back to some of my earliest childhood fears and dreams about God. The fear of inadequacy.

After the vision, the talk again turns to the specifics of Jerusalem’s judgement and destruction,  the remnant, the holy seed, salvation hanging on through fire.

It will end, whether the end of the world or our death comes first, and as I stand before God it will feel like that vision, as I become aware of how little I deserve God’s love, as I get the burning kiss.

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Isaiah 3

It’s a vision of pride being broken. It mentions food and water being taken away.  It teases or the consequences of that small thing, which would break or identities. 

We get a picture of all the most competent men, the military, legal, the wise business types and the community leaders all broken, pleading for sustenance, being ruled by people with none of their skill, and them debasing themselves for their favour.

And a picture of proud elegant women, all their finery and confidence stripped away, bald, sick and dirty.

It’s extreme but it’s intended to shock. We can’t keep how vulnerable we are in our heads. Disaster, failure, death, we grow up with them affecting people we read about in the news, and we hope it won’t happen to us, but if it’s going to, we can’t stop it.

Which is why spiritual understanding is the most important use of our time. Humble acknowledgment of our creator is the only thing that will last.

2 Kings 22

One last godly king before exile. Josiah may have been the godliest of all. He renovates the temple and the high priest sends him a book of the law he finds… Presumably its Deuteronomy or something. It has a profound effect on the king.

He asks for words from God and a female prophet Hudah is consulted… They make nothing of the gender, so presumably it was a common occurrence … Don’t tell the conservative ministers in our diocese!

The message is that indeed all the curses written in the law for following idols will call them, but because of Josiah’s penitence it won’t be in his lifetime.

It’s another example of God delaying judgement because of compassion. God doesn’t change his mind much as change his timing. But it was 31 years they got, of peaceful, godly rule. It aligns with a sense I’m getting that prayer is about participating in blessing.

Deuteronomy 3

The are lots of events in the narrative of God’s salvation that are unique. Like Jesus for instance: the aren’t lots of messiahs. Or the apostles. There are lots of disciples, followers, but only 12 apostles, just as God’s people are innumerable but the are only 12 tribes of Israel.

And the Israelites’ miraculous military conquest, which Moses tells the start of in this chapter, is in that category, a one off part of the salvation story. God was on their side, they embodied his timing and his judgment, like a natural disaster.  They won every fight that God sanctioned, and left to their own strength, lost every one he didn’t.

My point is we can’t now say in every war “whose side is God on” and we can’t imply it was the winners. These wars were unique, and God actually hates most war.

So Moses witnesses, before he dies, and demonstrates for Joshua the new leader, the power of God that will deliver the holy land to them. But it is for land on the Egypt side of the Jordan. He can’t cross.

So we see God’s relationship with Moses as a powerful leader, but also God’s judgment on Moses flaws and the rebellion of the people because he can only be granted the sight of the promised land from a mountain overlooking it. Others will claim it. 

One of the Bible’s most wistful moments, Moses looking at the promised land. 

He probably revisited as he looked out the day he pretended to be God.  As a prophet he was to speak God’s truth, but he took the opportunity of God giving them water to make it like his agency was part of the miracle, and he gave them a piece of his mind, not God’s.

Numbers 28

A lotta lotta animal sacrifices.

This seems like a dry series of rules.

They do 2 lambs a day, morning and evening.

2 extra on Sabbath.

A feast each month/new moon.

More for Passover

More for harvest.

I read my favourite commentator. He didn’t get a lot of meat from it (no pun intended)

He said the sunrise and sunset sacrifices are a good reminder to us to acknowledge God each day.

He made the point that they added a goat for atonement to the harvest, which was largely a celebration of thankfulness. There is always a place for remembering that God forgives sin.
I was also struck by how tightly communal their life was. A national leaders meeting/feast each month. That’s a lot of communication.

I also found myself wondering about whether they would give too much to God. What if they run out of sheep to feed their families? We were they getting flour from for the grain offering? It must have been a very precious commodity. I found myself wondering whether the invisible God and often victimless sin actually was worth risking their food supply. The “faithless” generation, it seems, eventually got more faith than me…

What it says about God is grace is not cheap. Sin is real. Approximating/symbolising it’s cost for an ancient nation of herdsmen requires a lotta lotta animals.

Numbers 20

A turning point chapter of generational change. Many years of wandering have passed and the Israelites have made no actual progress to the promised land. They are back where they were in chapter 13.

It’s the place they believed the crushing report from the holy land spies and rejected the promise of it.

It’s a great symbol of a life spent in movement but not progress.

Miriam dies, the prophetess who sang after they crossed the Red sea. Aaron dies, and the priesthood passes seamlessly to his son.

Moses losses patience. We see pride and anger in this most humble of men.

The people grumble about water, and God wants to provide it from a rock, as he did in Exodus when he had Moses strike the rock with his staff. But this time, God wants Moses just to ask the water to come out.

In fact when Moses gathers the people he gives them an earful. God didn’t ask for this. Moses sort of whinges that he and God have to fix the problem yet again. And he strikes the rock twice, when he wasn’t supposed to strike it at all. He was supposed to be involved less this time, but Moses instead does more.

God provides the water because the people need it. But he is disappointed in Moses, acting like he has a part in God’s blessing, and taking a combative tone that was detracting from the generosity of it. He’s trying to take the limelight from God.

The commentator I read pointed out that water from the rock is a powerful picture for Jesus.

Moses flaws are on view here. He’s had a long life with many frustrations. They are understandable. He’s been the leader of a truly boneheaded people. His time is passing. It’s time for the newer generation to start the final journey to the promised land.

But those images from this chapter, of a life of action without spiritual progress, of a frustrated spiritual leader who starts to confuse himself with God, those pictures are keepers.

Keep me humble father, and moving towards you.

Numbers 15

Huh? What happened to the narrative?

At a dramatic point where the Israelites have openly referred the whole adventure, we turn to sacrificial rules.

It’s like teaching a child: you’ve fallen off the bike, let’s go back to the start…

The types of sacrifice described are of increasing seriousness. The first are the joyful celebrations, the overflow of gratitude for God’s blessing. 

Then the unintended sins, thoughtlessness, misguided behaviours.

Then presumptuous sin. Flagrant flouting of God’s law. This is punishable by being cut off. It’s followed, shockingly by the story of a stoning of someone who refuses to follow the Sabbath.

Then physical reminders, tassles on garments are to call to mind the law of the lord.

It’s a strange arrangement, I don’t fully get the content or purpose here. But we have a god who is showing his rebellious people there is a way back from the brink. They don’t want the destruction of open rebellion. They can remember, be blessed and restore their relationship with him again.

Leviticus 27

Redeeming vows.  This whole chapter deals with vows made to God.

So if I got cancer and prayed to God “heal me, and I’ll dedicate the rest of my life to serving you”, and then I was healed, but I didn’t want to actually quit my job and go into full time christian ministry, I could make a prescribed payment to the temple for the value of my life and the vow would be regarded as kept in God’s eyes.

The value calculation is functionally discriminatory, though its pragmatically reflecting a societal fact: the elderly and women have lower economic value to an agrarian society than a fit young male, so are worth less. There is also the gracious provision for financial hardship that runs through all of Leviticus.

This was pretty useful because in ancient Israel, the priesthood was not open to anyone not in the Levite tribe, and people often made vows.

Ditto if you ended up needing an animal that was dedicated to sacrifice, you paid the value of it plus 20% to the temple, and you kept the animal but were right with God.

Ditto promises of land, houses, etc.

They make it quite clear you can’t redeem what is God’s anyway: he owns the harvest tithes and the firstborn livestock. This is totally about voluntary additional tithes

These vows were very common in their culture – we are far more circumspect in my culture, though the passion and emotion these vows demonstrate in their relationship with God is confronting to my own relative coolness. And, we do often do we hear “over my dead body”! and similar things.  I don’t know how many hats I am now due to eat.  Its so accepted that our vows are meaningless they have just become just colourful figures of speech.

Its using economic sanctions to teach the people to be careful with their speech. Don’t promise bigger than you can deliver. Words matter.

Its also a nice element of practical non-perfectionism to end the book on.  Its been all about God’s absolute inflexible standards.  Here, there is a recognition of the ups and downs of passion and regret that humans experience.  The old testament even often talks about God’s vows this way, like people can have him reconsider after he has burned with anger. Noah and Jonah bargain with God over his vows.  Prayer is like this.

Its setting the stage for the big redemption of course. There is a way out.  A debt owed to God can’t just be forgotten, but it can be paid for by another.

Leviticus 26

This chapter talks about the consequences of the Israelites’ behaviour.  The blessings that will come if they are obedient, and the progressively worse disasters that will befall them if they are not. Its pretty much the story of the next 10 or so books of the bible.

I like that the blessings are instant, and repentance is always within reach, but the curses come as a series of ever more serious consequences… slow to anger and quick to bless.

I still practically subscribe to this punishment and reward model in quite a literal way.  Its probably superstitious, theological balderdash.

If I feel guilty about something I have done and have a setback, I think its God punishing me.  I don’t think so much good things are a reward though.  I get that more the other way around: I try do the right thing because I have been blessed. And when they happen unfairly, I say “why god why”.  So every outcome is covered by my spiritualising.  Is such a simple cause and effect real?  Is god real?  If the second question’s answer is “yes”, why not the first, eh?

Anyway from this prediction the sadness and glory of the Old Testament flows.  They will have high highs of gods revelation and blessing, and low lows of his suffering for their ignorance of him.

They will take the promised land, make it great, watch it get corrupted, be thrown out of it and return. They are the chosen race – chosen to exemplify god’s character, and to provide the ancestry for god in human form.  As an earthly imprint of the heavenly pattern they were always an imperfect copy, but the messiah did come through the line.

 

Leviticus 16

The ritual of the day of atonement where the scapegoat carries away the sins of the people. Its not quite clear if Azazel, which is named owner of the goat is a fallen angel or a name for oblivion.  Either way, the sins are gone and Marvel got a great supervillan name.

I don’t know why having sacrificed animals all year, the Israelites would also need a day of atonement, but God knows we love festivals and annual rhythms… may be one reason. I do relate to this one emotionally better than the sacrifices on the altar, which seem a bit pagan and ghastly to my modern sensibility.

Other ancient religions had similar rituals at the time, and its an example of God adopting a tangible event to symbolise an intangible spiritual message, which is sort of the theme of this whole book not to mention the messiah.  The Greeks had a somewhat meaner version where they would pick on a beggar or disabled person after a natural disaster and drive them out of the community.

For christians Jesus is the ultimate scapegoat of course. For jewish people the day of atonement carries over as Yom Kippur which is the great nominal Jewish day that everyone who rarely otherwise goes to synagogue attends, like easter for christians. It is a day of abstinence and praying for forgiveness, followed by a festive meal to break the fast.  What, no chocolate eggs?

This gives me a chill because the concept is one of the great foundations of the bible, undeserved grace, punishment on another, running through the whole thing.

And I can’t get Holman Hunt’s odd image out of my mind

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