Ezekiel 19

The theologically correct response to bad leadership.

It’s a lament, a song expressing sadness over the last Kings of Israel. I think it is part prophesy, as one king had not experienced the failure of his leadership yet.

The first two are compared to lion cubs that fall into traps, and the third to a fruitful vine that, ironically is burned to uselessness by a fire lit by a staff made of is own wood.

The change of metaphor signifies that the first two Kings, Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin were not of the line of David.

The lament calls them Princes of Judah, as opposed to the third, Zedekiah, who is described as of the vine from the glory days of David and Solomon, when the southern kingdom of Judah and Israel were one.

They are all Kings that I just wrote off as pathetic when I read Kings and Chronicles. But to the Israelites who lived though the cruel 3 month reign of Jehoahaz, he was the leader, he briefly represented hope. King is a role which parallels in many ways that of God.

Sadness, singing of how far things are from right. That is a good response to the failure of human leadership.

Anger can galvanise you to action… occasionally. But it must subside to indignation and outrage to be effective, because it only harms you in the long run to live in the grip of the emotion of anger. Surely.

Lament is the start of the process of pointing the frustrations of this wrongness back to God.

They hoped in these kings in some small way, or at very least were poignantly reminded of a time when they could trust in them.

I feel it strongest when narratives won’t be neat. When dumb decisions are made. When you can see the happy ending but it won’t just fall into place, whether it’s affecting you or others. The sadness of the fall.

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Ezekiel 13

These chapters are each a “word of the Lord” and end with “then you you know that I am Lord”, a phrase I associate with an almighty thud, like an anvil falling in a Warner brothers cartoon.

Today’s will be the exposure of false prophets, the ones who are selling comfort and peace.

Those are good things, unless they are works of the imagination that mislead people, give them false hope, are motivated by being invested in the power and wealth structures of the status quo, and lead people to act against their own best interests.

Climate change deniers come to mind, in the modern world.

In the church I suppose wishy washy theology comes to mind, people who know more than they let on about the love of Jesus, because of the gospel’s tendency to divide opinion. There are some prices too high for a positive vibe.

And I don’t say that easily, as someone who values it more than many.

A lot of the chapter is taken up with a wall metaphor. Very apt, considering they lived in a walled city under threat of siege.

God talks about the folly of whitewashing over weaknesses to gain false comfort, rather than acknowledging risk and danger, and actually making a strong wall.

As someone who has always lived in old houses in a termite prone area, I know all about walls that are held together just by paint. It’s amazing how plausible they can look, and how easily they crumble.

I got cathartic with my boss at work yesterday at our regular meeting, and it felt like such a good thing. I’m a conflict avoider, and he’s worse! He wasn’t going to raise it. But I jumped in at the end. We’ve been struggling, and the whitewash of smiley patter just hasn’t been cutting it.

I think we strengthened the wall, I hope so.

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.

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.

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.