Psalm 99

I’ve now realised these are called the ‘enthronement Psalms’. From 93-100.

There is speculation that the collection was used at the feast of the tabernacles, a festival where Jewish people gather and eat and/or sleep for a week in booths; tents, to celebrate harvest by mimicking the traditional sleeping arrangements for farmers, and to recall the exodus journey.

It was a joyous feast and these are certainly joyous Psalms.

This one mentions Gods rule over all nations, but mainly remembers some greats of Jewish history: Jacob, Moses, Aaron & Samuel.

I’ve been thinking a bit about Christian music recently. I had a conversation with a Swiss piano player guy about it last week at church, and he was airing old grievances about the narrow focus of so many modern songs.

To check that it wasn’t just prejudice talking, I analysed the top ten fave BBC hymns of praise, to represent traditional taste and stats of the top ten currently being sung in churches, to represent modern.

9 out of 10 of the modern group had god’s goodness/majesty as the subject matter, 5 of 10 the traditional songs were about living godly lives (eg: make me a channel of your peace) and generally a much wider range of subject matter and theme.

The Hillsong type songs are almost exclusively enthronement songs like these. And the limitations I’ve been pondering in both connect.

Gods reign is actually not that evident. The devil may have been dealt a decisive blow at Calvary but he’s still at large, evil is still in our world and in our hearts.

Jesus made it clear how to respond to this: ask for forgiveness, seek god’s kingdom.

In every one of these Psalms, god’s reign is exciting because it is one of rightness, justice and equity. Which is a clue about seeking Gods kingdom.

Also in most if not all – haven’t specifically checked – the world trembles or shakes.

The majesty is there in those modern songs, and the humbling thrill of personally experiencing god’s love.

Our role in living as citizens of God’s Kingdom by seeking justice and equity throughout the world? Not so much.

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Job 6

Job responds to the last two chapters over the next two chapters. This one addresses the friend’s arguments. Next chapter he seems to return to thinking about his situation.

First he addresses their criticisms of his language… Of course he’s been a bit salty!

He goes further and says how he’s longed for death, just so he’d die without denying God’s words. They are underestimating how little strength he has not to curse God. He has no fight in him at all.

He’s making them aware how deep their lack of empathy is.

By the way, Job is an experience, it’s so well done! I have to read it a couple of times to get my concentration in, but it’s not actually difficult. It deserves to be just read, it is the prime experience of it, a summary is so much less.

So next he assures his friends he has not got some great hidden sin, he accuses them of being fair weather friends, of just being afraid of his misfortune – which is so true, sometimes people treat misfortune like it’s contagious, or need to assert a sense of control over life by saying it’s somehow deserved.

He ends this section saying ‘look at me! It’s your ol pal speaking, I’m not lying!’ I’m certainly not prepared for how precisely – and freshly- this ancient poem pinpoints my foibles.

I have lots of opportunities to comfort those suffering various kinds of misfortune at church, at work, even at home. Job’s message is:

don’t fear me,

don’t get desensitised to my words so they mean nothing to you.

I do crave honesty, but don’t give me facile, dismissive answers.

Don’t be unreliable.

Don’t fight the truth that I am the same as you: there but for the grace of God…

Time to pray.

Psalm 53

Almost identical to psalm 14. It’s an adaptable song a bit like happy birthday, except you substitute a reference to your current problem at the end instead of a person’s name.

Last time I wrote a lot about atheism. This time I got distracted at how the goal posts keep shifting on who’s ‘good’/believers and who’s ‘bad’/unbelievers.

It seems clear when it talks about the ‘fool who says in his heart there is no God’. Atheists, or in their day practical atheists who follow religion as a custom but don’t believe it in their heart.

But its less clear when it goes on to say everyone is corrupt, emphatically: no one does good, and no one seeks God.

And indeed, ‘believers’ continue to sin. We are scarcely seeking God when we are lying, cheating, lusting, resenting, being cowards for God, are we?

Then the goal posts seem to move again and it talks about the ‘evildoers’, who are attacking them, who will be beaten by fear.

We’ve seen again and again God’s favourite and most convenient shortcut to a military victory is to fill the enemy with unfounded fear, so they retire in confusion, or worse, destroy each other.

I like how David doesn’t really argue for God. He is confident that unbelief is a self deception, which will run aground on facts.

But that response to attack requires the most faith. The Israelites had to literally do nothing but trust God. Which can be terrifying. Fear and fools on their side too.

So you have a scenario of an impending attack on Israel, and David is saying: none of us are good, none of us deserve to win. We can be fools like our attackers and not trust God, or call on him.

You may call yourself a ‘believer’, but we are basically all the same evil hearted beings. Calling on God to overcome fear, trusting him for the crisis, is the thing.

David was clearly longing for Jesus, the one uncorrupt man. We know him, but the psalm still rings true. So many Christians prefer to trust politics for the crisis, for instance.

And I’m worried about my future, and my family. Let’s see how I go.

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.

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.