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.

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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.

1 Samuel 19

Saul starts to openly chase David to kill him. A thrilling chapter full of incident and close escapes. 

David is true, Saul is jealous and tortured by David’s love of God and success. David runs away to Samuel when it’s clear the palace is no longer safe. 

We know from the Psalms his thought processes. When he is under greatest pressure threat and danger David slows down and gets lost in the presence of God. He is counter intuitive.

So he and Samuel stay “prophesying”, ie: speaking the truth about God, while 3 successive groups of messengers from Saul come to seek him. The messengers all forget Saul’s mission and join in the spiritual experience. 

Finally Saul himself comes personally, and he too is overwhelmed by the spirit, removes the vestments of kingship, and joins in.

Extraordinary. We have Israel’s future king David, his sworn enemy the crazy jealous current king Saul, both full of the Spirit joining in acknowledging the true king, God. Only in Israel.

This morning I feel the need to sever myself emotionally from the result of the US election last night. The best description of it yet I have heard is a whitelash. The white male anger has channelled though a character with a biblical sized ego and insecurity, who is his own God.

In the fear, the disappointment, anticipating all the nastiness this will unleash, I’m given this image of the two earthly kings falling before the one true king. 

God is in charge. Amen.

Joshua 8

This is serious

The Israelite’s sin dealt with, they return to the city of Ai and destroy it. They use strategy this time, not sound as at Jerico, to take the city. But there is no doubt that it is God’s war, his plan. 12000 people die at Joshua’s army’s sword.  All the inhabitants of the city.

Afterwards, the chosen renew their covenant with God, reading the whole law (including “thou shalt not kill” presumably)

They are a people of the law.  They are really listening to God, and that’s what I want to do.

Aghast, I turned to dear Google and read some rationales for the “vindictive ethnic cleansing” as noted atheist, Christopher Hitchens called it.

But this is God, no excuses, he’s telling us what and who he is.   Killing does not mean the same to him as it does to us.  He is the creator, it is his right.  Its the plan for all of us to  die, to move from the temporal to the glorious eternal.  God thinks its better.

“Death, where is thy sting” they say when Jesus rises from the dead.  Death is the focus of so much fear and pain to us, but God says it doesn’t matter.  Or as St Francis of Assisi said in one of my all time fave hymns, addressing death as “kind and gentle”, “thou leadest home the child of God, and Christ himself the way has trod”.

Ethnic cleansing? That’s what its called when we do it to each other, yes. Killing for our own gain, or from fear or hatred.   But God is also the grim reaper, he is “death”.  There is not a race or creed excepted. However the message is its not as grim as you may think.

At Ai, that day, women and children fell with their menfolk. Why did innocent children die? To get to eternity faster.  Are they in hell?  God said he is love, god said he is just. I don’t know where they are, but it will be loving and fair.  So probably not.

Atheism makes sense in its own terms: if there is no God then the belief in God is horrific. But the horror of it falls apart if there actually is a God.  I don’t think atheists and believers can have a sensible discussion, really, as the lack of common ground is unspannable and just leads to endless circular arguments.

We are learning that the plan is very very important. God’s law is. The holiness is. The need for the chosen to stay pure and separate is.  The progressive revelation of God is.  All way more important than our span of years on this planet and the way it ends.

Our grief over death is unbearable.  All those young faces, full of fun and youthful sweetness, staring from the facebook profiles vacated by the killer’s gun in Orlando. God knows its unbearable.

At the risk of trivialising, I remember an old gag on the 80s TV show Mork and Mindy where Mork, the advanced alien played by Robin Williams, encounters nuclear power.  Mindy is nervous about it, but he couldn’t care less. He chuckles and tells her she’s acting like there isn’t an antidote to radiation. She says of course there isn’t.  He freaks… he can’t believe we are messing with that stuff without having the antidote… we are the craziest people in the galaxy.  I think God is saying we should view death as Mork viewed radiation.

With the salvation, the earthly death doesn’t matter.  Without it, we’re totally stuffed, death wins.

On that day in Ai, salvation moved closer.

 

 

Esther 4

Esther’s path to hero.

Her first reaction to her distress at hearing her cousin Mordecai is in sackcloth is to send him some nice clothes. Nice try, he sends them back.

She sends a slave and finds out what’s really going on, and Mordecai sends back a copy of the edict and everything, including telling her the price Haman was willing to pay to destroy the Jews.

Her response to that is to say that she would quite likely get killed for trying to do anything. The protocol is that she waits for the king to call for her. If she initiates face time, he may refuse to offer the gold sceptre, meaning he isn’t interested, and she is put to death.  It’s been a month since he called her, her influence may be on the wane.

The narrative has deftly painted the background for her fears because we know she only got the her position because Queen Vashti got proud and was deposed.

Nice try. He sends a message via her servant. She shouldn’t think that her rank will protect her alone from the wave of anti semitism. He has faith that deliverance for the Jews will come despite her, and she will regret being silent as much as speaking out. And maybe that is why she’s there in the first place? He believes this is her god given moment. Esther has to choose who she will trust, god or king. Who is really in charge here?

It’s the old bible one two three. Peter denied Jesus three times. Gideon and Moses needed three proofs before they had the courage to act, on the third day Jesus rose.

Esther send back instructions: she, her servants and the Jewish people outside the palace will have a three day simultaneous fast. Then she will break the law and go to the king, and perish if she will.

I think her need to fast and take time to summon up courage, and her need to feel the people were behind her shows how extremely hard she found it to do this, to face death in this way.

She has accepted that this is her god given moment, and she is utterly terrified of it. Of course Jesus wept when his came, too.

The conclusion of this chapter makes me shiver, and tear up. When you do something you find literally impossible, your worst nightmare, how profound is that heroism.