1 Chronicles 19

Another battle story. There is not much of God’s in this.

David is depicted as a sensitive king who didn’t pick the fights.

His commanders are some of the great men described in earlier chapters. They make the only mention of God in the chapter when they call on his will to be done as they go into battle.

The tactics show their faithfulness and God’s hand, arguably. The attacking army got a big mercenary army to bolster their forces and surrounded them on both sides.

It ought to be a military disaster but David’s army is supremely confident and simply splits into two fronts, attacking backwards and forwards. It never seems to occur to them that they might lose, and the enemy are so spooked that both sides run away.

That is a tell tale signal of God’s hand, his favourite way of ensuring an outcome in a war is to scare one side into running away. But it’s not explicitly attributed to God.

I feel, cautiously like I might be moving in the direction of victory over my own struggles with my procrastination over things that scare me. Pray for strength and a sense of responsibility.

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Jeremiah 37

In a non chronological way we are now getting episodes in the siege that Jeremiah spent the first 30 chapters warning of.

King Zedekiah is a very mediocre monarch. Even though he was sponsored by the Babylonians, he makes an alliance with Egypt to protect Jerusalem.

The Babylonians leave mid siege to go and annihialate the Egyptians.

The pause in the siege is pathetically celebrated by the Jews as a premature “mission accomplished”.

It is when they “unfree” their slaves, renegging on a vow to God. It was discussed a few chapters ago.  Israelites with no empathy for slaves have totally lost their identity.

Of course it will prove politically disastrous after the Babylonians come back.

Meanwhile Jeremiah is beaten and thrown into a dire dungeon on a trumped up charge by angry officials, visited by the king who doesn’t know what to do and delivers his consistent message that they are doomed.

The King continues to detain him, but in a better prison at the kings palace, so at least he won’t die. It was there that Jeremiah wrote the hopeful prophesies about the Messiah and the return from exile.

So we see responses to God’s word. Zedekiahs’s officials do a simple “shoot the messenger”.

Zedekiahs’s is more nuanced. He blocks and contains it. He also make sure he knows what it is, occasionally consulting Jeremiah. Then he ignores it.

But part of him respects/fears it enough to hedge his bets and not outright kill Jeremiah.

It’s is sort of like the difference between an atheist and an agnostic.

The point being that none of the politics or conniving make a fig of difference.

Jeremiah 30

The good bit? Not exactly. We’ve gone from threat of exile in the last chapter to actual exile. And here talk of the restoration of Israel.  But it’s not a cheerful chapter, its one of wrath and judgement just like all those before.

Starts with a vision of everyone feeling terror in their guts… as if the men are having babies. Then a promise of terrible judgement and destruction. The only consolation for Judah “the others I will destroy, you I will only partly destroy”. Phew!

Babylon was of course destroyed by Persia, and indeed today the Jewish nation is about the only one with a continuity of identity and faith in that region.

The prophesy definitely turns Messianic in the latter section. It speaks of a leader from among them and them truly becoming God’s people. But til then, brace yourself because it will be like a wild storm that will only make sense after the event.

Jeremiah is certainly reminding me of an aspect of God we don’t get much each week in church, the hard edged. The creator is also the destroyer by implication. The author of life is also the controller of life.

Isaiah 43

Tough love.

A beautiful description of God’s character. It reaches back to Moses’ burning bush and escape though the sea to talk about God’s protection though trials of fire and flood.

The refrain of “fear not” from the last few chapters is repeated. So are images of the gathering of the nations, being loved and known since birth, the unique omnipotence of the one true God.

The image of a highway in a newly verdant desert comes back, which is described as a new thing God will do.

Then, right at the end we hear God has grown weary of them. The North has ignored him, and the South has kept up an empty religion.

Therefore both will be destroyed and reviled.

Bam. End of chapter. It puts everything in context.

Fear not… Because much to fear is coming.

Remember that God is in charge, fire won’t consume you, water won’t drown you…  because both are coming, etc.

The destruction coming is not only God’s judgement, it’s his love.

And he offers to have it out with them: let’s have witnesses, let’s state our cases.

So much to teach us about difficult times, but the lesson I’m taking is: stay in contact with God, yell at him if you have to. Have it out, he’s saying he can take it.

Isaiah 41

A massive “fear not” chapter.

Fear not because God is the most powerful ruler, he can win every battle.

Because he is the creator, he can make desserts bloom and move rivers, so the poor and the thirsty will be blessed.

Fear not because Jehovah is the true God. Test idols, ask them to describe what will be, how judgement works, to give you counsel that will give meaning to life. All you will get as an answer is clanging, in the wind, like bits of metal on a wind chime.

Some of my fears in no particular order are that my kids will never achieve independence before I get sick or die, North Korea will do some disaster with a nuclear bomb, my beloved faith, Christianity, will morph into a dreadful corrupt conservative dystopia like the handmaid’s tale, I’ll never address my tax problems before I get in huge trouble about it. Stuff like that. Our savings will continue to go downward, that our lifestyle is unsustainable.

Oh I’m getting fearful just thinking about them! One thing though, if I wrote about my fears a few years ago, it would be a quite different list. I have found the more I regularly read the Bible, the better I get at facing my fears.

Equally, people can always fear. If all this list went away, there would be another list to take its place.

I am much more clear headed than I was a few years ago.

Father help me to face my fears. You want me not to fear, but not by running away from them, but by having faith you are in control as I name and address them.


Isaiah 36

Some plot! I’ve been starting to wonder about the structure of Isaiah’s many miscellaneous poems about destruction and disaster.  The text switches to prose for this chapter.

Assyria takes the northern kingdom, and then envoys come to threaten the southern, which includes Jerusalem. We get the conversation, which is taunting saying “who do you trust?” 

They are the strongest power. They laugh at the idea Egypt night help Israel. They joke at the idea God might help them, because king Hezekiah has removed the holy places they recognise out of his devotion to Jehovah.

They deliberately speak the common tongue so that the guards around can hear the sledging and be demoralised. 

The representatives of king Hezekiah say nothing, as instructed, and return to him in a state of fear, tearing their clothing.

End of chapter!

1 Kings 14

This is how I remember kings. The chapter fast forwards though the rest of the reigns of the two kings. 

The Southern, in Jerusalem is weak. Worship of false gods is allowed to flourish, and Egyptians raid and take all the treasure and wealth of Solomon.

The northern king is stronger but actively shuns God. His son dies and his line ends.

God speaks though prophets. Jeroboam in the north tacitly acknowledges that he still fears the true God by sending his wife to speak to a prophet, in disguise. 

The blind prophet knows it is her the moment she reaches the door. He tells her of the end of their house and that she will never see her son again.

It’s a sad picture of someone childishly trying to manage God. They’ve got power by throwing God under the bus to the people, a grave sin, and then tentatively and sneakily try to check if there’s going to be a consequence. C.S. Lewis set up Aslan the lion as a picture of God in his children’s books, the point being he’s good but not tame. 

The promised land project has started a long decline. Only the prophets will hold out any hope.

Deuteronomy 20

Law about war.

The Israelites aren’t naturally warlike, but they are uniquely chosen in human history and God is promising to be on their side.

There are numerous exemptions from being part of the army, including being “faint hearted”. God likes to win with less rather than more manpower to make his God power clear.  He only wants the motivated true believers who have no distractions.

The rules are relatively merciful (given that it’s war) for towns they need to conquer that aren’t in the promised land. There must always be a peace offer first, the women and children are spared.

But the towns within Canaan are under God’s judgment, the Israelites are mere vehicles of it, and nothing is to be spared. The Israelites did not have the stomach for that and their compromise was the downfall of their society.

The rules for selecting the army show God being supportive and compassionate… If you’ve just married or just built a house, you don’t have to fight.

The rules for standard warfare show God bringing fairness to the affairs of men. If war must be, the standard operation is reasonable, much moreso than the surrounding nations would have been I’m sure.

The rules for taking the land are those of a god who is mighty, has plans beyond our understanding, of our creator and our judge.

It’s all the one God. We can love and find joy in his compassion and fairness, but we also need to fearfully respect his greatness and power over us as his creatures and trust the wisdom of his plans.

It’s who he is, he lets us like him or lump him.

Deuteronomy 7

My God can be terrifying God from the perspective of being one of his people. 

Here Moses describes how will root out the stronger people in the land and put in the weaker Israelites, making them strong. But if they don’t obey him, the same fate awaits them.

God is a gardener. We don’t hesitate to pull out annuals that have done flowering. Some plants we feed, others we prune, some we remove. The gardener knows that is best for the garden. The gardener’s plans are for the garden to thrive and survive and for it to be something the current garden can’t imagine being. 

We didn’t actually make the plants in our garden, or the dirt or the sun or the water. Yet we are the masters of its fate. But God made us and our world. 

Contemplating the idea that you are a creation is a shocking idea if you are used to the idea that you are god of yourself. But God has completly the right to act that way.

The process of taking the holy land is often understandably disparaged as racial cleansing. But God makes it clear here that it is not because of racial superiority that he chose the Israelites. It’s because of his plans, not their worth. 

I’m not a Jew, but I believe Jesus, who was, was also God and died for me. This is part of the story of God’s love for all mankind. It’s not racial.

He knew the number of hairs on the head of every one of the “ites” who were already in Canaan. He formed them, knew them and loved them in the womb.  Like plants in a garden, they will all eventually die, but that does not mean they are not known and loved. We love and enjoy our plants, but we didn’t make them. How much more would we if we had.

The people he desired to make way for the Israelites are in his hands. The God I see here, the one I was inspired by the last chapter to love with all my heart, is an all mighty, all powerful God of love and kindness.

Deuteronomy 5

Obedience. Moses recounts the drama of the fire and darkness out of which God spoke and gave the ten commandments, which he quotes in full.

I was struck by the universal, profound nature of them. Not killing, stealing, taking your neighbours property. I mean the are very very ancient rules, we haven’t progressed beyond acknowledging them as true, and regularly breaking them, in 1000s of years. They are still an accurate mirror of our ideals and weakness.

He recounts how right the reaction of the people was. They were overwhelmed at hearing God’s voice, they were afraid to see him. They backed off and let Moses complete the interaction.

He calls them to have this respect again, to the law, to the words of God. He’s reminding them that the law came from the living God who is awesome and that is why it should be obeyed.