Numbers 13

An advance party of representatives from the tribes does recon in Canaan.

The are three reports in a sense.

The uncoloured one says it’s a great place to live but the people are strong and in fortified cities.

Caleb from Judah gives the pro spin: we can beat them, it will be great. The tacit message accepts that they probably can’t beat them on their own, but accounts for having God’s promise on their side.

The rest give the negative spin: the people are Giants (lie), we’ll never beat them (faithless), and the land isn’t that great anyway (lie).

So its a spiritual issue, because its not any land, it’s God’s promised land. The negative reports can’t imagine God’s help. They are defeatist and exaggerate the danger. They must have been crushing for morale and faith. They come as a killer blow after two chapters of stories of unrest and doubt.

I went to my first parish council meeting last night and it’s tempting to wonder at the organisation God’s has entrusted his great mission to.

A tiny group of people, saddled with a magnificent but crumbling building we can’t imagine (or probably even justify) keeping maintained. $350,000 needed for the belltower. Meanwhile, making tiny dents on a vast spiritual and social task that seems insurmountable.

The size of the problems vs. our resources for them – seems preposterously unequal.

Wandering in the wilderness really doesn’t work on any level without a promise and hope in it.

Numbers 10

The practicalities of leaving camp and setting up again. The Silver trumpet sounds and it’s time to go.

So they set off, 3 days and then camp in the desert of Parhan. Sounds great!

Moses calls on God for security whenever they leave ‘may God scatter his enemies. They are very dependent on God for security, totally for food. It a striking walk of faith, this whole nation.

Genesis 37

Now the story of Joseph, one of the greatest. 

It puts the brother’s behaviour in perspective knowing what a cruel bunch his brothers are, after the incident with Dinah a few chapters ago. 

Though that involved them killing a whole village from is a misguided sense of loyalty, and this involved extreme sibling rivalry.

So much comes back to Jacob’s character flaws. The brother’s are sneaky and heartless. It took Reuben, who we last saw committing quasi incest, to talk them out of actually killing him.

Joseph is comfortable at 17 bragging about being the preferred younger son. Jacob’s history repeats there.

Of course it was more than just jealousy, the family wealth was at stake. Joseph in telling his dreams about the brother’s bowing down to him was intentionally or not rubbing his brothers noses in his favoured state with their father.

It’s hard to know what to deduce about Joseph’s character from this. He’s telling the truth about his dreams about god’s future blessing on him. Was he bragging or merely honest. 

We have blessing, we aren’t to let shame about our unearned salvation mean we avoid telling others they need it. But we do. Damnation is an awkward subject with non-Christian friends. 

Was he foolish to speak of his blessedness, given his brothers history of violent greed, or simply faithful, knowing that if God has plans for him nothing they will do will forfeit them?

Joseph’s character is not clear yet. But god’s blessing is.

2 Samuel 2

David is talking to God again. David is a man of war and of action. But he is also deeply godly, though he has been though a time of personal spiritual rebellion living almost as a philistine.

It’s been years since he was anointed king. He will not seize it. He waits for God. When he becomes king it will be gods doing, not his. 

It can be tempting, if you feel you know god’s will, to push him along a bit. But you risk losing sight of where god’s will ends and your own ambition starts. Not so David!

A weak king, representing the Saul power base is given the larger part of Israel. David reminds them of the respect he always gave Saul, and tells them not to do it.

There is a long civil war, hideous, literally brother against brother, as the Saul base try to take all of the country and only becomes weaker and weaker.

David’s patience is a terrific example. To him the end does not justify the means, he stays true to his principle though it all.

David is talking to God again…

1 Samuel 22

So David goes into full fugitive mode, taking his parents away to a safe haven in another country, and returning to Israel to hide out in a cave. 

Saul in full murderous paranoid mode tracks down the priests who gave David bread in the last chapter. The lie he told them disguising his falling out with the king does not wash and the king has them killed for supporting David. 

One son of the priest escapes and makes it to David who is full of regret that his lie and contact with the priest caused the deaths of the priest’s whole family. 

A rebel army of those who have an issue with the king collect around David. A rag tag army of 400. 

It’s him or Saul. 

And Saul already knows it will be David. Samuel told him chapters ago. All this murderous rage is in defiance of God.

David thought he needed to lie to live out god’s destiny. Not so. We’ll never know what would have happened if he’d not lied to the priest, but surely god is strong enough to have protected his anointed, and David would not have had the priest’s blood on his hands. 

Saul should have known that his defiance of God was futile, but shouldn’t we all, shouldn’t we all.

God’s will is done despite our faithlessness. Our task is to accept it.

1 Samuel 14

The legalist and the true believer. The contrasting faith of father Saul and son jonathan is spelt out in parallel stories of a battle against the philistines.

Saul is the legalist. He is enlisting god in his fight. Checking the god box at every step, but talking as though it is his fight, his vengeance that will be wrought.

So he has the ark bought in as a kind of magic box… Again! He is slow and nervous consulting the priests: he’s clearly insecure, as he should be rationally because the Israelites are outnumbered and outclassed with no weapons to speak of. 

But he is judging the battle on his strength to win it, not god’s will for his people. He has the men take a vow not to eat until the victory is his, it’s a vow and test of allegiance to him, not God. And time passes he camps opposite the philistines and talks, and panics.

Jonathon sneaks off and takes a tiny band and just goes up to the enemy camp to see what God will do. He figures god will determine the outcome, and will do it as easily with a few as many. Which is what happens.

With sheer rat cunning jonathon beats a group of them 20 to 2. The philistines panic, they know if the Israelites reputation for occasionally miraculous victories. Noise and confusion land on the philistines and they start to kill each other. Israelites who have been hiding in hole and in the hills come out and pursue them.

It’s a mighty victory… If God. Saul reacts by threatening to kill jonathon because he accidentally broke the silly fasting vow, which was a spectacularly dumb strategy because the troops who followed it were weak with hunger. He can’t rejoice in god’s victory or share the glory with his son. He’s lost it.

But the religion is there, the whole apparatus of the priesthood is with Saul. From the outside you would think Saul was the holy one, with fasting, priests, the ark etc. All the trappings, just not actual faith in God. 

Make me reckless father, make me bold. We are starting at a new church. Give me the spirit of jonathon.

1 Samuel 12

Samuel’s coronation address. It’s so real, he is very old and makes no bones about having been opposed to having a king. His coronation message: god is king.

He reminds everyone of his record for honesty.

He recites the history of Israel, jumping from Moses to Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah and the most recent (last chapter) delivery from the ammonites. This underscores his theme that the peoples faithfullness to God is their salvation, not the status of their leaders.

Then he performs a miracle, calling down thunder and rain at will. It is the harvest season and the weather is clear which makes it a very freakish weather event. He explicitly makes it a demonstration of their sin in wanting a king other than God.

It works and the people ask for his intervention to stop God killing them on the spot.

He says that is not going to happen today, but pleads with them to serve God with all their hearts. Having a king will make no difference to the judgement that will come if they are not faithful. Both they and their king will be swept away.

That’s some coronation speech. 

The kingship winds up having more lows than highs, too. It follows the same depressing trajectory as judges but on a grander scale.

We are all caught in a circle of sin and rebellion. This pattern where we promise to be faithful to God but fail over and over.  God has much more right than us to be cynical of it.

But one response to our own cynicism is to delegate out our responsibility. To trust an earthly king in the form of an ideology, a charismatic leader, a movement. Like Israel’s king, we can have them but they can’t supplant God. They won’t save us. We must be faithful in God as our king.

1 Samuel 1

God knows us in the womb, the psalm tells us. Samuel’s chosen status is shown, as so often is the case, by birth to a barren mother. Hannah is an ordinary, upright woman. She dedicates him to service of the priests before he is conceived. It is a family marked by kindness and faithfullness. 

Samuel’s father has two wives, and is shown as loving and sympathetic. There is a nice detail where her heartfelt prayer for a child at their place of worship, through tears, lips moving, no sound, is mistaken by her husband for drunkenness. He’s still very gentle with her.

As with Ruth, showing how God works not though grand people but quiet, humble faithful kind people. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about the biblical theme of god’s strength being shown though our weakeness recently. The church as we know it is certainly an unlikely vehicle.

Judges 4

And so we get to Deborah. Thank heavens for her.

No explanation how a woman got the job, we are introduced to her as leader of the Israelites at that time. She is recognised as a prophet, speaking God’s word, and people come to her for resolving disputes.  Qualified by virtue of what people see, by her actions.

Another king is oppressing the people and she has a word about how God will give them victory, which she gives to the commander.  He does not have courage, so trusting God’s word she leads the army herself. He is freaked out by the superior military strength of iron chariots.

These turned up in Joshua too.  They were obviously the tanks of the era, a massive tactical advantage.  God said he would deliver the land in spite of them, but the people were spooked and failed to drive out the people that had them.

They’ve become a rallying badge for atheists… there is a prominent wiki called iron chariots, as they are said to symbolise God’s weakness.  But it seems pretty clear to me that they are symbolic of the people’s lack of faith, ironically.

A massive point of Joshua and Judges is that the Israelites are not military geniuses, but favoured by God.  Its all about how God gives victories. Deborah says it is shame on him that a woman will bring the victory – a woman prophetess inexperienced at warfare beats the army with all the strategic advantage.

Courage, victory, blessing and faithfulness are all conflated in Judges – God’s power is theirs if they have the faith to trust it.

And I believe that leadership of God’s people is still given to women if they have the faith to trust so, in spite of what large swathes of my church teaches!

It is also the story of Jael, another woman.  The defeated commander, Sisera, ignobly runs from the battlefield on foot and takes shelter with her. She is a woman of some prominence and politically an ally, but she is on Israel’s side and kills him – quietly hammering a tent peg into his temple as he sleeps. Chilling.  They don’t really editorialise about Jael, but she is a Jewish hero clearly.

Judges 2

Gives us an overview of what is happening. Joshua is in his last days as the book starts. The people of his generation remain faithful and grateful for what God has done for them. He does having achieved all he was promised to.

But they did not pull down the false idols. Joshua’s generation were only faithful because of a visitation by an angel and a promise before they went and claimed their lands. The root cause was still there, and its effect was insidious. 

In one generation, just the children of those who fought with Joshua, they had largely rejected God and followed the local religion.

The judges are leaders, probably tribal chieftains who God blesses. Their earthly power is legal, not inherited like monarchs. They bring the people back to God. But then the people are faithless again, over and over. 

God is angry with the people and leaves the foreigners there as a test and a curse. Good the holy, dealing with unholy humans, often does his work though a second-best plan. This pattern of the second is throughout the bible.

I think about my own children, especially my oldest, with pain. He is so struggling with life. I’ll pray for him now.