2 Kings 21

Perhaps the fatalism of the godly king Hezekiah in the last chapter was because he already knew his son would be a disaster. 

Manasseh became king at a young age and re established the pantheon of folk Gods, sacrificed his son to Moloch, set up Ashera actually in the temple, consulted wizards and mediums and shed much innocent blood to boot.

There is argument over whether these gods are Canaanite or folk Gods of Israel itself. I guess the calf at least, which they worshipped in the desert came from some folk tradition. Abraham came from a household with Gods. 

The sacrificial system is just an adaptation of the religion that was already there to monotheistic worship of jahweh. God is about substance and we’ve seen faith in him come in many forms. He meets our understanding where it is.

His son rules 2 years and is much the same.

Bad Kings are accompanied by more and more pointed prophetic reaction, this time God says he will wipe Jerusalem clean.

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2 Kings 13

Read the chapter, read the commentary. Don’t really understand, don’t really want to. 

We are looking at Kings of the northern kingdom. They all start with J. One is the father one is the son, one has the same name as the southern kingdom’s king and seems to be used interchangeably with the son. 

In the middle Elisha dies. It’s fairly low key, he is old and gets ill, unlike Elijah before him who went up to heaven in a chariot.

The king(s) semi respect him. They see him as a man of God, but they don’t stop worshipping God the wrong way. 

This half hearted faith shows in a story about lacking boldness, where dying Elisha gets the king to symbolically claim future victories by banging arrows on the ground. The king doesn’t really get it, and doesn’t get the blessing of victory he could have got. 

Fits with the theme of Kings which is how half hearted compromised lives of faith mean richness of God’s blessing forfeited.

Good wants bold faith. The kind that says “the odds may be impossible, but God’s message is clear so I’m going ahead anyway”. 

2 Kings 3

Obedience for blessing – with panache

An interesting event from the next king’s reign. Jeroham another of Ahab’s sons, wasn’t as bad as him.  He stopped worshipping Baal, which seems to have ended the active persecution and killing of Jehovah’s prophets.  But he still worshipped the calf that had been established in largely political defiance of the temple in the kingdom of Judah after the civil war. The offical state religion was a false, cynical one.

The two kingdoms, Israel and Judah unite with Edom to bring Moab to heel, which is in rebellion against taxes levied by the kingdom of Israel. They take a way of attack through the desert and the troops are literally dying of thirst – very Exodus.

The godly king of Judah, Jehosophat, finds out Elisha is with them and consults him. He  has very sharp words for Jeroham, but helps them for Jehosophat’s sake.

First, strikingly, Elisha has a musician play to calm him down to a spiritual zone – maybe he was stressed after openly confronting and criticising the ungodly King.  A dangerous pastime.

God intervenes in the story at this point.  He helps the present situation, but so much more. It is a lesson, clearly for the godless king, it requires obedience and delivers in abundance – in one elegant move.

Elisha tells them to dig ditches in the dry river bed to contain the water God is sending them. That would have required very faithful leadership and quite some obedience from the exhausted men.  Jeroham would have witnessed first hand the absolute kingly faith and trust of Jehosophat to get the parched men to do the seemingly meaningless task.

A flash flood then comes down the river bed and collects in the ditches they have dug – the rest of the water passes through.  So the amount of water provided is in proportion to the extent of their obedience.  The more ditches they dug, the more of the water God provided they are blessed with. Very elegant.

Even more elegant, the Moabites mistake the distant ditches of water for blood and assume that the alliance hasn’t held and the kings have attacked each other.  They swoop in but are utterly routed.  The Moab king is so desperate with the loss he sacrifices his own son by burning him alive. The combined kings are so disgusted at the human sacrifice, they leave him at that point.

Jeroham and Jehsophat asked for water.  They got it …AND VICTORY! But without obedience, the blessing would have passed them by. Really reminds me of the lesson of Exodus, choosing God is choosing to participate in his blessing.  But his will will be done whether you choose him or not, and he wants so much more for us than we know to ask. Such a great lesson.

How did the king manage to remain an unbeliever after that experience!

Numbers 11

The negativity returns in complaints about how boring the manna is. They don’t like God’s catering. By the end of the chapter they will attribute a plague illness to God’s judgement on this attitude.

But before that God says “you want meat, I’ll give you meat” and more quails than they know what to do with arrive. The complainers barely start to consume the quail before the plague hits and their time has come.

One of those harsh things. Their discontent has built from a rosy and selective memory of their slavery “back in Egypt we had corn and leeks etc”

The transaction is a fascinating picture of Moses’ relationship with God. He feels the burden of representing them to god and god to them.  He’s exhausted, and god gives him a break.  He appoints 70 elders to temporarily give one off prophesy to the people… prophesy being telling the truth to the people, presumably about how ungrateful and unfaithful their attitude is being.

2 of the elders are not there at the commissioning and prophesy anyway, which seems to give the impression that they have a special blessing not being surrogates for Moses.  He dismisses concern for that.  He’s just happy that God’s truth is told, and not concerned for his own credit or glory.

They said he was a very humble man.  Remember, he had trouble speaking to the Pharaoh.  He also eschewed the wealth he was adopted into in solidarity with the people.  Not greedy, not lauding over them.

This chapter is a story of small minded self absorbed faithlessness and humble, god focussed faithfulness. In the concrete and literal manner of the old testament, one is rewarded and one punished by god.

Leviticus 22

Lots more rules about super holiness for priests.  There is an interesting blend of pragmatism and perfectionism.  The ideal is re-creation of eden, no blemishes, no contamination with things deemed unworthy.

If a priest’s daughter marries a non priest for example, she can’t come home for dinner any more because their food is offertory food, she’ll defile it. Perfectionism.

But if she is widowed or alone again, she can move back in. She’s got to eat. These little practicalities, merciful details run through it.

Apparently it was a very popular religion in the ancient world. Judaism grew and was attractive to the poor, outcasts and women – despite its sexist appearance from our perspective, it was a relatively good deal. The moral code was appealing. Its one of the reasons the romans finally destroyed the temple, it was seen as a threat to the empire.

I’m in a bit of a depressed, or at least transitional, state. Birthday. 55, Feeling like I’m facing the latter part of my life.

Father I do accept your law is good. Its hard work picking though these ancient, culturally strange texts. But you are good, I know that.

 

Exodus 5

Sometimes you have to admit you are in slavery.  

We are told to turn the other cheek, to cope. 

But if the truth is that your situation is a disaster that will destroy you, coping is dishonest, enabling a lie.

Moses makes everything much worse by confronting Pharaoh. He digs his heels in and makes life far worse, impossible, for the people. 

They hate Moses, he’s disillusioned by God. We understand why he was so unwilling to obey God’s command to speak for them.

But it’s only making real what was already there. The Israelites are in a dead end death trap. Appeasing their masters will just keep them there. 

This had to happen. In life things often have to get worse so they can get better.

It’s called faith. And praise be, God doesn’t really need it to save us. 

Exodus 2

Nothing to see here? Have faith!

Everyone knows the story of Moses’ birth, rescued from the river, bought up by Pharaoh’s daughter. But after that his life seems to go nowhere. 

He doesn’t use his privilege strategically. He feels for his countrymen, but expresses it as an impulsive murder of an Egyptian and has to run away. He marries a foreign girl with seemingly no intention of returning. 

The chapter ends with God, in parallel to Moses’ apparently dead end life, contemplating the suffering and chosenness of his people. 

Nothing is apparently happening, as it is often in life. But much is about to. That is what faith is for.

Exodus 1

Genesis ended on a high with Joseph 2ic in Egypt and his family, the kernel of the nation of Israel in a privileged position.

But Joseph’s generation passes, and as the people thrive and the regime changes, xenophobia, or more specfically the world’s first anti semitism policy takes hold.

They are enslaved and cruel policies are introduced to have the baby boys killed.

God inspires and rewards kindness on the part of midwives charged with implementing the infanticide. Israel continues to thrive.

The entire Egyptian population are encouraged to throw Israel’s male babies into the river on sight.

I love how god is in the kindness and mercy of the individual midwives’ passive protest. That is who I believe in.

Esther 7

Haman’s downfall is completed. Esther, offered the Kings request up to half the kingdom asks merely for her life along with her people. She has tied her fate to theirs. Haman is exposed, and then the story turns to high farce as Haman’s desperate pleas to the Queen for mercy are mistaken by the king for molestation.

The reversal of fortunes is completed: after Mordecai got the honor designed by Haman for himself, Haman got the ghastly death he designed for Mordecai: impaled on his own ridiculously huge stick.

Too neat? Too literary? Some scholars argue this book conforms to a literary genre of narrative history that dressed up history to make a good story. Herodotus uses similar devices.

On this theory, it’s like we are watching the Hollywood bio pic of Esther’s life. The basic outline is real, but the facts have been edited and organised to tell a good story.

Historically a few Kings and queens around the time fit the facts.  It’s not so much an issue of could this story have been true, is a matter of which influential Jewish Queen was it?

There is certainly no doubt that the Jewish people went from the verge of destruction to being restored in a rebuilt Jerusalem because of the good favor of successive Persian Kings. I sure think God had a hand!

And I just love the story of Esther, the woman who was heroic and saved the nation.

 

Ezra 8

Ezra lists the people who came with him. Then there is a description of the sacrificial system being re-established.

When he first assembled the people, there are no temple priests or attendants, so he puts out the call and gets about 40 of the priestly clan and 220 attendants. It takes a lot of people to run the temple. But it’s essentially a slaughter house, quite a bit of work I suppose.

He sees gods hand in bringing the people to him. Rather wonderfully they fast and ask God for protection on the journey, because in Ezra’s enthusiasm to depict to the king that it is a blessed project, he said he would not need protection of a horse guard, because God would be his protection. It’s rather sweet that he confesses to momentary second thoughts… he was ashamed to ask for it after that. God indeed protects them. I like that sort of “fake it till you make” it trust thing.

He trusts 12 leading priests with the gold articles to guard. I see it is a journey of some considerable danger from bandits, given the treasure they are carrying. They make it, after 3 days rest a sacrifice is given and the letters of kingly protection go out to the region.

It is a chapter full of grace and blessing, human fear and faith, and godly guidance.

May I trust you day by day father.

I met with the minister of our church to voice my concerns about things yesterday. It was good and made me feel heard. I don’t think he is a person who changes quickly, but it started a conversation, as they say.  Will it work out? Fake it til I make it, eh?