Ezekiel 10

In this chapter the glory of the Lord literally leaves the temple. The big throne thing from chapter one collects it.

It is like a cloud, it goes from the holy of holies to the threshold and then it departs altogether.

The Messenger who marked the faithful people to skip destruction in the last chapter takes coals from the big throne-with-wheels thing and spreads them about the city.

This predicts the burning of the city, which did in fact happen a few years later. The bitter pill the Israelites have to swallow is that the judgement may be executed by invaders but it comes comes from God.

The sermon on Sunday was about losing your religion. From John 29:10, how we are sheep that can’t be snatched from God.

The key thing being that faith is on our part governed by free will. Nothing external can separate us from God, but we can choose to. And nothing outside of ourselves will put the belief back into us. But we can always choose that.

Most of the Israelites have chosen to worship the sun instead of God, in his own temple. But those who have despaired at those choices are kept from destruction by God’s mark.

God, Father I can understand, mostly, the challenges before me. But I really don’t understand your plans for those who choose to reject you. You have revealed your character, and that I love. And trust.

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Proverbs 16

The most famous classic this chapter? ‘Pride comes before a fall’.

Some big topics here, the interaction of our will and God’s will, and the interaction of political power and righteousness.

For example, at first blush this sounds like a pretty verse for a poster:

In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.

But what does it actually mean? There are several such conundrums:

To humans belong the plans of the heart,
but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue.

Jesus had a habit of speaking this way too, seemingly straightforward statements that don’t tease out as easily as they seem they should.

It seems to be embracing the mysteries of predestination: we have control over our actions, and they are within God’s eternal plan.  Plus, I suppose, if you are looking at the difference between what we think about doing vs. what we end up actually saying and doing… the plan can turn on a dime, but the actions are written in eternity.

Maybe its like the difference between temptation and sin, but with a positive spin: thinking about doing the right thing vs. doing the right thing.

That’s not a king… this is a king!

The characteristics attributed to a king make one doubt that most earthly kings are kings at all: speaking justice like an oracle, detesting wrongdoing, & maintaining the throne through the value they place on righteousness, honesty and truth. The mere brightening of their face brings life – like a raincloud in spring.

There are a lot of proverbs about humility interspersed. I mean, said no earthly king virtually ever:

Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed
    than to share plunder with the proud.

Maybe that is the point. We’ve had a few proverbs about the character of the Lord just before this group: the Lord atones for sins, engineers peace, works out everything for a proper end and sees the true motives behind our actions.

The ideal of kingship could only be fulfilled by God. For us citizens, following the king’s ethic is associated with all sorts of rewards – prosperity, blessing, a fountain of life, healing.

So we have here this complex interplay of responsibility for our choices and actions,  being governed by higher authority and inspired by holy example.  Its urging us to be mindful before we act, and remember that our actions are eternal and become God’s plan for good or ill.

Proverbs 5

Still doing wisdom for young men – of course adultery is on the list. There’s a lot of it about these days, and from the tone of this, there was then too.

It mixes morality and practicality. It says a life of lusting strangers is foolish as well as wrong. Mostly foolish actually now I look again. But they bolster each other. It is giving you self-talk so you can work on your discipline.

While not an active adulterer thank God, I know all about the temptations of it. I’d hoped it might lessen, but it gets worse in some ways as you age and are tempted to wallow in mourning your youth. All young people start to look poignantly attractive to you.

The writer knows it – he wishes for guys happiness in the wife of their youth. Mind you, Solomon’s empathy on this subject is pretty hollow, if it’s him. Solomon in all his glory never has a wife of his youth like mine!

The negative reinforcement focuses on what a waste of time and energy it is, how it can ruin you, send you broke, and won’t deliver ultimately of the things that will keep you happy. It gets you to pre-visualise the end of your life and think about all that that you may have lost, thrown away for lust.

It has a sense of the aimlessness of both cheaters which I thought was really wise… Both drifting ‘She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths wander aimlessly, but she does not know it.

Mainstream society has largely thrown off the shame of sex outside marriage, but the underlying wisdom of this has held true in that most people spend the majority of their lives in monogamous relationships even so.

Cheating is still regarded immoral because few can deny the pain it causes in service of instant gratification. On the other hand there is little patience with dysfunctional relationships, hence the serial monogamy.

I do think the Christian ethic of the infinite value of every soul has a lot to contribute to expectation management in relationships. If you just toss relationships aside as they go bad, you are putting off learning to love. Chemistry is a flawed ideal for long term relationships, compared to love.

However, I also have known many relationships so bad I accepted they needed to end.

Casual sex remains almost completely irresistible to a lot of people for a while, but also for most unsustainable.

The urge is way strong, but the repetition seems to mean you have to be a little bit mad not to want after a while move on to something richer and deeper. And I mean all the other amazing stuff other than sex life has to offer, as well as richer and deeper for romance.

It ends with a warning that God is watching, knowing all. But it seemed not so much a threat as a reminder of the inevitable.

When five year olds have chocolate around their mouths, after being left alone in a room with chocolate, and they say they have no idea what happened to the chocolate …that is how our double standards, our sophisticated rationalisations over lust, look to God.

To me it has the same impatient ‘can’t we just skip the bullshit?’ tone when Adam and Eve cover themselves with leaves after listening to the devil.

It’s a great chapter, very helpful.

Job 34

Elihu continues to speak, and will for several chapters.

He seems here to be saying exactly the same argument as the friends have made thus far.

He’s highly critical of Job. He devotes a stanza to each of these concepts: God is all powerful. He is just. He knows and sees all.

So if he has seen fit to bring down misfortune on Job, it is deserved. And if Job continues to say it is unfair, then Job is unrepentant.

‘To his sin he adds rebellion’ he concludes. Everything Job says in his defence just multiplies his sin.

It’s a bit of a yawn. He’s a bit like a younger, more black and white version of the older friends. Like a kid fresh out of theological college, full of zeal but knowing more of theology than the world.

Great at loving God, more to learn about loving his neighbour.

The thing that struck me most was when he talked about the contradiction of suffering. He really knows God and talks about the spirit a lot. He understands God as the sustainer. If he withdrew his spirit, we would be nothing. I visualised it as the valley of the dry bones in Ezekiel in reverse.

That’s his reason for rejecting the idea that God would allow random suffering for good people. It’s contradictory because God is the author and sustainer of life. And he’s right, in pure logic.

But all we have to return to is that pure logic is not wisdom, the fear of the Lord is.

I’ve got to concentrate until Wednesday. I have a second interview then for the job managing my department! I’m in contention! But I have to do a 15 minute presentation on what I would do in the first 90 days running the department.

I make a pact now to quote that verse from Job about the fear of the Lord at least once in that interview. Because you can’t run a faith based organisation on logic alone!

2 Chronicles 4

Details the lavish interior materials and decoration of the temple.

I was struck by some of the new testament echos, like when Revelation spoke of christ walking among the golden lamps, which are metaphors for the churches, it would have evoked to Jews the lamps that lined the interior.

The contrast between the finery and the grisly purpose of the temple, with 1000s of animals marching to their death, also intrigued me.  The hygiene work must have been extreme.  I think it had no windows. What must have been like inside! Everything gleaming with gold filigree. Was there a stench?

It is God giving the people what they understand, an animal sacrifice religion, as religion was widely understood in their area at that time. And for starters, they got grandest version of it ever, fitting for the God above all Gods.

‘God is love’ includes god only ever blows our minds so far. God loves faith, a positive response to him. He meets faith at a place we are capable of expressing it.

I did the church warden thing of reminding people to keep up the giving the other Sunday. One of our members who is steeped in faith, but less mentally able than most, gave me her copy of the Sunday paper in response.  I didn’t say “don’t you realise I was talking about money, not newspapers. This is useless to us”. Of course not. How much more our heavenly father…

1 Chronicles 11

David becomes king after Saul. There is little moment-to-moment spiritual content in this narrative – now it has finally started, though there is a spiritual meta story of God’s people.

And we do get the contrast of the new king with the old. Saul lost God, but David gets stronger and stronger because God is with him.

The guts of the chapter is devoted to bravery and warfare. It lists David’s best soldiers, the ’30’ who helped him fight the Philistines. Also the ‘3’, the creme of the creme. A story is told of them breaking enemy lines to get David a drink of water from a spring he is fond of. Rather than drink it he pours it out as an offering to their bravery.

It tells about the conquest of Jebus aka Jerusalem. It’s christened the City of David.

I was shocked at morning tea yesterday how much I’ve got used to the brutality of the Old testament when our friends, quite fairly, echoed their distaste for it.

Kelly has a great way of describing how she understands it, if you view it at a distance, holding it out so its a bit blurry, you can see the pattern, there is a plan and action of God. But close up, in focus, it’s awful.

I’ve explained it a lot in these entries, but those same rationalisations sounded lame when I tried to say them out loud. The conversation has echoed around in my head and I haven’t processed it yet. No doubt I’ll have time, launching into yet another long and bloody old testament book.

Still very stressed as the uncertainty of work and my own frustrating nature cause me anxiety. I’m being prompted to make things better I think.

Isaiah 56

Made it to the last 10 chapters of Isaiah.  It would be nice to say that blogging the bible is never a hard slog.  Isaiah has been wonderful, but its very long, and not that structured. The themes dance around poetically.  Its a world unto itself that reading in chunks day by day doesn’t really do justice to.

The last 10 chapters are apparently, according to the youtube overview symmetrical.  I don’t know what that really adds, but it means the theme first up, of all nations being acceptable to god, will repeat at the very end… the second theme will be second last, the third will be third last etc.  I think the messiah is at the centrepoint, as you would expect.

The nations being acceptable to god is great news for australians!

But more specifically, it says eunuch’s are acceptable – outsiders – queer – gender fluid? This is a clear evolution from Leviticus where they were specifically excluded, along with anyone with any mark, from being in the temple. You don’t surgery your way from god’s grace, and the culture around it shifts towards acceptance the more the bible reveals the size of god’s love.

God’s house is a house of prayer for all peoples, a gathering of all outcasts.  Its generous, its broad.

There is a sting in the tail of the chapter for the chosen people, the leaders of Israel who are spoken of very unflatteringly as lazy, corrupt, etc.

In terms of how my project to trust God in doing what is right at work – which I mentioned in the last post – there has been a pretty big paradigm shift since then. They made me redundant that very day.  It was pretty brutal… if only they’d given me a bit of time to apply for other jobs while in the job, but it was “don’t come back tomorrow morning”.  Whoah!

I’ve started processing it and certainly remain trusting that it is part of a larger plan.  I love being a communicator, perhaps this is a chance to start communicating something I care about more deeply?

I don’t feel I can afford to be too ideological however, we have 5 mouths to feed – my wife is one year into a 3 year degree, my youngest son has at least 3 years of high school to complete.  My #1 way to reflect God’s love is to provide, for now, and I’m happy to do it.  The redundancy is a good chance to remind my older children – 24 and 26 – that I won’t be around forever though.

Job applications to follow.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

Isaiah 55

Isaiah urging the listeners/readers to honour and trust God with a series of beautiful pictures of God’s love.

It’s permanence is a big theme.

He compares it to the temporary things we pour our effort and money into. This is truly nourishing food, permanently satisfying, free of charge. It feeds our soul.

He talks about the steadfastness of God’s love for David – presumably both him and his line which would lead to Jesus. He talks about other nations recognising God.

Other themes are God’s compassion and effectiveness, which are both more than they can imagine.  They are to use the opportunity of their life to understand – seek – God. It is about individual grace and God’s larger scale plan of love.

There is a great image of God’s word being like rain or snow to water the earth and bring life. It’s not just sound, it’s sustaining and active.

They are full of fear, doubt and rebellion, but the peace God will bring is cosmic, the whole of creation will celebrate – mountains sing, trees clap.

Second day back at work. Full of sadness at my bind of needing to work, and fear I am too old and weak for it.

Irrational I’m sure. I made a few mistakes that are gnawing at me, I need to ‘fess up, fix them up and move on.

It’s resonating with me the bit about God’s thoughts being way more complex than I can understand… The bit about recognising I am dumb matches my current mood. God’s character is love, wisdom and steadfastness.

That’s why I’m safest to just do what is right by his lights in faith, when everything in me feels like lying, laziness or quitting would deliver more calm and happiness.

I’ll tell you how it goes!

 

Isaiah 51

A chapter of comfort. God’s voice.

He refers to his strength, his history, describes himself as the rock from which they are hewn. And promises comfort.

There is a section on listening, because God is acting, making things right and saving them.

Listen to him above all else because he will outlast the other voices … It returns to the “worn out clothes” metaphor from the last chapter. There is a repeated refrain that his salvation lasts forever.

Then a section with a repeated call to wake up, to respond with faith in the permanent, saving God who brings comfort; rather than with fear of the oppressors, who will pass away.

God’s promises, his strength, his salvation, our response of faith. All of that should give us a long term perspective on our present situation.

The Israelites had aggressive invaders at the gates. I’m waking up on new year’s Day, on holiday during a long lazy summer.

I’m marking the years, feeling optimism, wariness and a sense of life passing. The “wake up and listen” bits of the message are certainly resonating. I’m currently pretty comfortable!

The distractions will start up again soon. May I remember that whatever the year holds, it will pass. I will be here again, between the hours, remembering that God’s salvation is eternal, and I pray, having lived the intervening days from that perspective.

Isaiah 33

I suppose this was a word of comfort to the people in terror of gathering powerful kingdoms that would overtake Jerusalem.

Like the African slaves in the confederate South, they dream of a role reversal.

When the destroyer is destroyed, and the betrayer is betrayed.

There follows a grand vision of the city as God’s City, it seems to be compared to a great ship with the wind, the breadth of God, at its sails, compared to the other nations which have run out of puff.

It’s about justice, that fly in the ointment which means God can’t just forgive everything and love everything, regardless.