Isaiah 40

One of the most encouraging chapters in the Bible. After a few chapters of prose, interacting with the king and the military threats and politics of the day, where there is so much fear and desperation, Isaiah takes our vision up above it all to see what is really going on.

God is unspeakably mighty, except maybe no one ever did speak words that come closer to describing it!

Mountains are like dust, the seas are to him like water cupped in his hand. He sits above the earth, spreading out the heavens is like pitching a tent, people like grass hoppers.

He has a flock, that’s us. He cares to the point of self sacrifice about us, leading us tenderly, gathering us.

We have plugged into the solid true power, anything else is a bet on delusion. We’re up there soaring with him, powered with his power.

I want to live carelessly. Without care, courageous and brave. God has taught me about the grandeur in the smallest things, the eternal truths that inform reach moment. That time is measured by how well it is used, not how long it is or how quickly tasks get done.

A lifetime is not a monument of personal achievements you can look back on and polish and say “bow to the idol of what Paul achieved” (or “my idol is so lame, no one must see it”)

A lifetime is an opportunity, a location in space and time, for understanding and reflecting a wonderful truth: the universe has endless goodness and love at its centre, “God”.

Every kindness, every empathetic moment, every chance you have to bring joy where there was sadness, fairness where there was injustice, compassion even if you can’t fix everything, makes the universe a little closer to how it is supposed to be.

This is like waking up, spiritually. Moving hearts, even just your own in this materialistic world, is bigger than moving mountains.

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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.

Exodus 35

Most of the remaining chapters of exodus detail the building of the tabernacle. God designed it in detail on the mountain for Moses’ ears, and even choose his supervising craftsmen. Now everyone who remains after the traumatic golden calf affair gets to start again working together on the tent where God will meet with them. It’s like taking Moses’ personal faith and extending it to the whole nation, since he already meets with God in a tent.

There’s an obvious excitement and joy in doing fine work for the lord. Giving and making.

My church is very good in this, a doing church.

2 Samuel 8

Davids military victories, and his stable organised government.

David’s military victories are hard reading for a lefty peacenik like me. But my dad fought in war, I do get war. It’s not god’s plan. 

In the new Jerusalem wars will cease, god will shatter the spear. They spring from the evil in our hearts. It’s like “choose your evil”. Believers get caught in them, some standing against, some joining in. But there are ways to do war. 

David’s cruel treatment of Moab, randomly killing many, was not racism, his great grandmother was Ruth the Moabite. They must have represented a major threat.

Given the headlines right now about Syria, David’s body count there makes my heart stop. How long will this go on?

But they lived in a bloody, kill or be killed region. He is sharp and effective, does it once and does it right. 

His decisive victories, done in a spirit of subjugation to God’s will, bought to an end conflicts that have been going on for the whole time Israel has been in the promised land. 

This campaign would not have been needed if the people had followed god’s commands about taking the promised land when they moved in.

And he’s not one of those rulers who are good at military stuff so make war for the heck of it.  

He makes peace if neighbours offer peace. He’s about good rule. His adminstration is fair, prosperous and organised. 

Daniel 8

What does an average Joe like me draw from such passages?

It is a vision of the near and distant future. In the near future the power of the Italian enmore will give way to the Greek empire, that meaning of the vision of a goat and ran in conflict is given very clearly.

But there is a longer vision, 2300 nights, where worse powers will reign and atrocities will occur. The meaning of that is sealed up and hidden. Naturally this has not stopped various commentators going crazy adding up dates and so forth.

But the message I think is that god stays in control even though his plans may seem to take a very long time. He is in control during our lifetime and after it.

We know from a young age that life pre exists us and carries on after people die. But equally everything we know is defined by the span of years of our existence.

Overriding our concern about climate change, the direction of society, the rise of extreme Islam should be the sense of the fathers control.

Psalm 29

The voice of god.

What a voice!  It’s huge, the creator voice. People say they can’t believe Jesus and the gospels, because how could he turn water into wine or raise the dead?  By speaking with this voice.

Fave images from a great series: Lebanon skipping like a calf, the oaks whirling, the forests stripped bare, flashing fire and thunder on the waters. An eternal throne over the flood.
Ends with a prayer, that he will lend his people this strength, and bless them with peace.  David is very good at endings, what a perfect last word. Lord, bless me with peace.

Genesis 9

Continuing god’s post flood promise, it is like a second creation, giving creation and the future of the human race to Noah’s sons. The Jewish ritual of kocher, draining the blood of animals is introduced here. Consuming the life blood makes that life accountable to god. It’s a way of respecting that God is the giver of life, by the recipient of his creation, man. A bit like saying grace.

And then the rainbow promise, the reminder to god never to destroy the world by flood again. It’s a promise to the animals as well. It’s a chapter about the magic preciousness of life.

But the stain of sin remains. Noah gets drunk, ham, the youngest son doesn’t respect him. Noah curses him. His people become the Canaanites, who the Israelites treated as inferior presumably up to the time the story was told.

Noah is not the messiah, the intervention of God has ended, and mankind carries on its sad way, that’s how I read it. God makes a promise, man makes a curse.

I fail, all the time, I lack dignity and fall victim to my appetites and I have snobby prejudices and use god’s creation disrespectfully. I still stand on the promises of God.

And so it goes

Praise him!

Genesis 8

Of all the elements of the story that strain credibility, I would think the idea of being locked up for a whole YEAR in there with all those animals hardest to imagine. And it makes it sounds like there was no light. For real?

You worry about how much feed you would need. And the poo.

Certainly, the narrative is quite dramatic in how it draws out the excruciating wait for the waters to recede. Another week!

Then the glorious promise, the world will continue to support us till the end. Never again will god turn nature on us because of our sin. (Take note, gay aids bigots!)

God makes no bones about every inclination of our hearts continuing to be evil from birth. But even so, Noah’s faithfulness in his first instinct being to sacrifice one of the precious animals as a thanks to god, the trust it shows that it has all been about the lords provision, and the spirit of thankfulness, pleases God. Noah is still evil from birth. But he trusts God and is thankful.

Dear father, Noah could have felt traumatised by the ordeal. He could have felt to a degree like he had earned his salvation by doing it tough and the labour of his own hands. But he saw the spiritual meaning behind the concrete events, and his first instinct was to acknowledge you and give thanks. He is a great example.

Genesis 5

The family line from Adam to Noah.  A joining chapter.  Yes, in the old testament, not every chapter has a neat message you can take into the day with you…

Note in the summary of creation we go back to the man and woman in God’s image again… I love the egalitarian ideal in that.

Everyone lives a very long time.  It seems ridiculous.  No one knows whether people actually did live much longer in ancient days.  Reports show up in a number of cultures, but it could be a different idea of a year or any number of things.  Or it could be literally true.

It is referenced in establishing the genealogy of Jesus, the fulfiller of the promise to strike the snake.

To google this chapter brings out a lot of whacky commentary.  I settled on Matthew Henry as usual. He always has so much to say, you feel ashamed for thinking a passage didn’t mean much.  The pattern of lives breaks with Enoch, who is so good he does not die.  And Methusala, the one who lives longest dies with the flood.  People suggest that this was a prophecy, and the length of his life is an example of God’s grace, putting off the judgement of the flood.

Anyhow, this zooms us forward through lots of time until Noah, and shows us that while man became so corrupt as to require judgement, a line that led to the faithful Enoch, who walked faithfully with God, who’s great grandchild was Noah.

John 2

Water into Wine

This is a flashback from the calling of the disciples to Jesus’ first miracle.  It follows Jesus dramatic promise to Nathaniel “Jesus’ first miracle. “Very truly I tell you,[i] you[j] will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  Changing water into wine, so glad its there, and its striking in so many ways.

  • Always been amazed at such an obviously magical miracle.  Its the power of god the creator to be able to make a substance from scratch that is the product of human agency and time for maturation.  The narrative makes a point of how good it is, a subtle quality.  Its almost like God showing off… you think you are so clever… certainly an awsome demonstration of God’s power in terms of degree of difficulty.
  • Such a trivial purpose on the face of it… more grog at a wedding. So human and banal.
  • Such a story of joy, celebration and indulgence.  Such an affirmation of human character.. having parties and drinking to be merry, its what we do.
  • The strange dialogue between mother and son.  That Mary suggested Jesus do something stimulates the imagination of what it must have been like being his mother, knowing he was messiah, God.
  • His obedience to her despite expressing reluctance.  The Gospels report this strange serendipitous nature of Jesus that he will often put the situation before the mission.  He responds to random circumstances in a loving generous way that is off task, and says so, but goes ahead regardless.  This is God, not what you’d expect.
  • The generosity of the miracle: 6 jars of 30 gallons, top quality.  180 gallons, seriously?

What do I learn?  God is love, god is abundance, god has style. Our “humaness” which is often pitted against God as Humanism is a reflection of the character of God, like a rebellious child who damns his parents with echos of phrases and logic that they themselves have taught him. Praying today for a good outcome from confusing, stress inducing job interviews. No offers yet, two very different positions, quite in need of trust and calm.  Very unsettling. 

Don’t make Jesus angry…

Now a flashforward to the last weeks of Jesus’ life. John’s obvious arrangement of Jesus’ life events for meaning rather than chronology makes you pay close attention to the editing. In chapter 1 we have a potted history of the universe and mankind; the mesiah arrives, calls his team and promises we’ll see heaven opened… and we get party Jesus and now angry Jesus.

Jesus’ reason for not wanting to do the wine miracle was that its wasn’t his time. This is more what his “time” looks like, though he is still holding back to a degree.  Trying very hard to get up the noses of the poiwerful and self rightoues, corrupt religious authorities.  This action is probably what got him killed, the claim about building the temple in three days was certainly quoted at his trial.

Jesus was a nobody to them, it took a huge chaotic symbolic disrespectful gesture like this to even get them to give him the time of day. Contrast the woman at the well, marginalised reviled, so aware of her fallen status.  Jesus had her full attention just by daring to say “hello”.  I imagine he would have been ignored by the hierarchy for anything less than this chaotic open affront. But he got their attention.

His message is that the presence of God has moved. The temple is now him. And the sacrificial system is now him.  So all those high margin doves they were selling are worthless to God. They don’t get that  he is talking in metaphors.  John makes it clear that even the disciples only figured it out after the resurrection.

Jesus’ reticence is a linking point of the two stories.  Sometimes it seems like a trap, his method.  The messiah comes but is very cagey about proving his power, he speaks in metaphors, doesn’t trust the general public with clear talk about his true nature, but then makes a big deal about being rejected.

It seems unfair – could he make it easier to believe in him? I think the secrecy and distrustfulness is an act of grace. Jesus spends his ministry buying time.  He could have been killed a hundred times. Just reading the scriptures with the wrong emphasis was enough to turn his home synagogue crowd into a lynch mob. Claiming to be messiah was a recipe for a short life. He had a dangerous mission to manage the uncontrollable evil around him to die the way he did.  All of our existence still is God buying time, managing and not intervening by destroying the sin of the world to give us a chance to repent.

The two stories are mainly placed to show Jesus is heaven opened and angels descending and ascending, fulfilling the claim at the end of the first chapter.

Its a claim that recalls Jacobs ladder, the vision of a bridge in Genesis between God and man with endless access up and down.  So we are confronted right off the bat with magical Jesus: if you want to believe in a great teacher only, not a divine being, stop reading.  And we are confronted with the one who brings God to man.  If you want to believe the temple is the location of God, forget it.  The reference to Jacob’s ladder is a reminder that God never was limited to a building either before or after Jesus. He is God, he is the Way.

The chapter ends with an interesting passage on how distrustful Jesus is – he knows our black hearts.

Very troubled by my second interview for job today.  The lightness and confidence i had about the process seems to have drained away, and I feel destined to fail at every aspect of it.  This is dangerous thinking for me particularly, though I should expect it as I have had a long history of screwiness about jobs and am coming back to it from a long holiday.  My brother John is also very sick with a mysterious disease, also troubling me.  So pray for calm in both… that ladder to heaven is still open, may angels descend and ascend today.