Psalm 104

A Psalm praising God the creator. It follows the order of genesis, so it’s like a response in song.

It’s also reminiscent of Job – it even mentions his mythical scary water-dwelling beast, symbol of how much less we are in control than God: leviathan.

I was a bit “yada yada” despite the glorious imagery of the Lord clothing himself in light and creating the verdant earth out of the chaos of moving waters, having recently read Job which, at 40 chapters has a more powerful cumulative poetic effect and similar imagery.

But this Psalm is to be cherished as a quick access to such a relatable image of god’s glory. It reminded me somewhat of the song “how great thou art”, where the singer wanders the forest glades and can’t help bursting into praise of God.

They read it every day in Jewish services, according to Wikipedia. Apparently Bob Marley used to cite it as supporting marijuana use, which I can’t 100% see… But I was struck by the praise of God for making “wine that gladdens the heart” so I suppose it’s recognising mood altering substances as a legitimate good part of god’s creation.

That’s a bit of an issue at work because the salvation army are tea totallers. I really don’t want to do that, and I’m under no pressure to in my private life, though fair enough no drink during work hours.

It’s a legitimate life choice like vegetarianism, and I think it is part of the trust people have in the salvos, the thought of a tipsy officer is shocking to me now. Plus it makes it a safe place for recovering alcoholics.

I live a very urban life quite disconnected from nature. Though I delight in birds, my dog, and parks. Possums too.

This Psalm reserves a special place for animals, it’s a theology of them. They are evidence of god’s ongoing creation. Wild animals live and die, provided for by God, and we never see them. The sea, teeming with creatures, some vast in size, gives insight into the mind-blowing detail and scale of god’s abundant, joyous creativity..

They eat because of God, their fears and satisfaction are at his whim, they die in his time. Their existence flows from his spirit and they are sustained, renewed by his provision.

Gosh, I’ll praise God myself in a minute! Lord of life, I am because of you, you are truly amazing!

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Job 40

A commenter pointed out that Job basically had a great time with God in the past two chapters.

God continues to ask rhetorical questions the chapter, but he brings the teaching home more specifically to Job. It’s a still gentle, non attacking approach as I read it.

God pretty much asks job if he agrees, after they’ve looked at many wonders of creation and nature together, that they can’t really have the discussion job wants to have, where he lays out his case against God and God defends himself. It’s just not appropriate. God can ask the questions, not Job.

And job agrees. He covers his mouth, he has no answer to the questions God has posed. He’s speaking completely differently now, he understands he’s not as big of a deal as he thought he was, but equally that he is not forgotten. At the centre of this vast evolving tapestry of life and creation, God is patiently guiding him in love.

God says, when job understands and can share the rules of life and death, judgement, the role his wrath plays, then they will be able to discuss his case as equals.

He compares Jobs strength to a hippopotamus (most likely… A bit unclear).

This is a bit like those photos that include something for scale. Hippopotamus included for scale. Job much weaker and smaller, not a chance of controlling it. God much stronger. Made the hippo.

Again, a very clear and non judgemental way of demonstrating to job that they simply can’t have the conversation he wanted to have.

In the era of the tweet, the 42 chapter poem of Job is paced more majestically than I’m used to. But it’s certainly effective, I’ve gone on the journey.

I could see where the friends were coming from, I thought job had a point, but God has effectively shut me up without alienating me. Quite the reverse.

Job 38

The answer is blowing in the wind…

Oh gosh, he’s here. God speaks.

He asks a majestic series of rhetorical questions designed to demonstrate his awesome power and might relative to Job.

The language is stunning, a poetic highlight.

The one I always remember is ‘were you there when I laid the Earth’s foundation?’ But so many vividly expressed images, such as while God lays the cornerstone of creation ‘the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy’.

I also loved ‘Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?’

But all of it was stunning, bang bang bang, and the combined sweep puts you in your place.

It’s like a day in the life of God. You zoom through the vastness and complexity of creation, and being creator. From fine tuning the constellations to teaching ibises; the storehouses of snow, the womb of ice; making sure both Lion cubs and baby Ravens have dinner; irrigating desserts, visiting the springs of the sea, the gates of darkness and death.

I read a great science blog entry about the storehouses of snow, suggesting its referring not only to the amount but the variety – no two snowflakes are alike – literally boundless creativity of pattern and variation.

It’s intended to overwhelm and it does, magnificently for a believer, who has heard that God is love. What it would do to a serious atheist, who’s god is their own understanding, I don’t know. I’d love to ask!

It’s clear creation is not tame. It’s a balancing act. For every light, there is a dark. For every lion fed, there is a creature gone. Evil is part of it, glory, beauty, fear and death.

And loud and clear, God is saying ‘this is not going to make sense to you’. It does actually make sense, to God, but not to me.

And our response? We can’t go and find another God we prefer. God is a monotheist.

The effect of any response other than respect is described in verse one: ‘who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?

Thank you, father for sending your son, the very image of you, to die for us. Die… for us!

Job 36

Elihu speaks another chapter, beginning by implicitly apologising for going on so long, and promising to get to the point. A commentary pointed out that he then goes on to speak for a few chapters more…

His character comes even more into focus: young, quite arrogant, but full of the holy spirit, so has these powerful visions of God along the way.

Just saying… if I was responsible for writing the Bible I don’t think I’d lightly include characters who claim to speak for God but are a mixture of insight and misguidedness. Talk about confusing!

But it’s telling us exactly what will happen in our life. Our experiences will prompt doubts about God. From our friends or pulpits we’ll get a mixture of wisdom and foolishness.

God is portrayed as distant and uninvolved for most of the narrative, but the irony is that if you accept this as God’s word, inspired by God, its understanding of our foibles is incredibly intimate, loving and patient. If it’s by him, our creator knows us so well!

He knows how ridiculous we are, and he loves us anyway! I feel a bit ridiculous, fretting away for months now about my work situation. There’s so much else in the world.

Our Aboriginal pastor Ray Minniecon preached his perspective on Christmas last week, one of the few sermons I’ve listened to twice. It’s rattling around in my A.D.D head.

He took the Isaiah passage ‘unto is a son is given’ and Jesus’ sermon in his home synagogue on proclaiming the ‘year of the Lord’s favour’, and talked about comparitive plans for world domination. The oppressive regimes of Isaiah and Jesus’ time, and for him the Australia he was born into.

He talked about the power of proclamation, such as when James Cook planted his land rights flag on Australian soil and with a word made all Aboriginal people subjects of the English crown.

The politics of Christmas is a different plan for world domination, a proclamation of good news for the poor, sight for the blind and freedom for prisoners and the oppressed.

The little baby in the manger is the perfect image of God, which gives him power and value like the image on currency gives it value.

Elihu ends by describing a coming storm from which the spirit of God speaks, starting to set up the climax of the book.

What am I saying? I’m thinking about perspective. On my problems and the world’s, and the power of the almighty.

Job 26

Job will now speak for 6 chapters or so. First order of business is responding to Bildad, and in a way wrapping up everything the friends have had to say.

They’ve really moved not at all from the first response. All their talk has added up to nothing. Job sarcasticaly points that out.

They’ve said Job have to understand that mankind are worms and maggots compared to God. He knows, but what use is that?

He emphasises how much more aware he is of man’s inequality to the awesome power of God.

The reference to the power of the sea and God crushing the snake invites comparisons to God’s promise of retribution on the serpent in Genesis. But also, commentry says, it could be talking about Canaanite mythical sea creatures.

There is a theme running though Job not obvious to modern readers of asserting monotheism over folk gods. For instance, here the sea has the definite article, but the word for sea without it is the name of the sea God. Ie: calling it ‘the sea’ rather than ‘Sea’ makes it part of the created order, not a God itself.

My fave verse is the last, that as much as we understand of God’s power, it is but a whisper on the edges of his actual power.

I’m waking up at the large salvation army tribal event. Last night I attended a session on partnering to affect social change and fight injustice.

So they had a local panel only one of whom was a salvo. An indigenous law professor, the manager of a football club (Collingwood) a rough diamond sort of a guy who wound up on local council in the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria spoke of how they worked with the Salvos.

The international leader, the General spoke with an intensity that belied his age, of how much justice means, comparing it to new shoots from the stumps of ruined lives, taking the metaphor of God’s salvation from Isaiah. Fiery.

And then a big band played some classics from Gershwin and others, what a night!

Ooops, gotta go to brekkie, may get back to this…

Isaiah 64

This chapter and the previous have an interesting change of voice. Most of Isaiah has been him speaking God’s word, but these are both passionate prayers. Somewhat flawed human words to God, like the Psalms.

63 seemed to be from the point of view of someone who was in Jerusalem when it was about to be conquered, and this one is from exile, longing to return.

They are like a response to the promised salvation of the previous 3 chapters in a way. “You’ve promised mighty salvation, do it already!”

They share a strong confidence in God’s forgiveness, or at least a demand that he keep his promises, that is even a bit manipulative. Like arguing in 63 that their sin was sort God’s fault for creating them capable of it.

This one is quite humble, and very aware that their long term refusal to acknowledge God has carried them away like dead leaves on the wind.

It does sound a bit critical of God’s timing however. They sound kind of frustrated with him for shaking mountains back in exodus when they didn’t really want it, but not doing it now they are in exile when it would be really helpful.

There is a nice turn of image when they say their evil has melted them, then say they are clay in the hands of the potter, God.

“We don’t deserve it, but save us anyway…” Calling on his creative nature by characterising him as a potter.

It ends with a rhetorical plea – can God really stand to leave Jerusalem in ruins? Zion a wilderness? The temple burned?

“We aren’t worthy to ask for our homeland back for ourselves, we’re in no position do that! We’re simply reminding you that you might want to restore the promised land for your own glory…”

This sort of bargaining with God is what happens when you are really honest with him, show him your feelings. Like one of those moments when you say “I know that you know what I’m thinking, so let’s cut the crap”.

They want really badly not to be in exile. They know God’s promise that there is more of the story of the chosen people to come, but they know by now that they can’t promise to be perfect. So they are finding other reasons to plea with him to act: his own nature, his own glory.

I agree that some of my calm about losing my job, despite being quite depressed about it, comes from expecting God’s plan to be in character with his love and abundance, even though I really don’t deserve it.

Isaiah 60

Future’s so bright I gotta wear shades

I looked at the YouTube summary of Isaiah again, and I see that the symmetry thing is a bit of a distraction.

It’s more that this end to Isaiah pretty much takes all the themes of the Bible so far and and arranges them as Christian theology.

It all there.

Our current situation, waiting for the kingdom. Telling the good news to the wicked. Living lives of love for our fellow mankind.

The promise of a new creation.

Everything except the specific person of Jesus, who is the servant/king/redeemer.

It a terrific advancement in the progressive revelation of God’s plans and character, and very exciting to believers, because of the promise of a new creation and the triumph of the little guy (or gal).

This chapter is about the future glory of Israel, with a predominance of poetic references to brightness and light.

It commences “Arise, shine, your light has come, the glory of the lord has risen”, which sets the tone.

The coming of the lord bring the gathering of people, Jewish family reunions and non Jewish too. And the gathering of wealth and abundance.

It will be an end to violence and want, it will surpass the sun in is glory and it will last forever.

Heaven, new creation.

This is the promise of Isaiah to a people weak, exiled, being conquered, divided and failing.

Sometimes I think of the new creation as a “nice to have” – I want my rewards for being a Christian to be here now in terms of praying for a better life and more satisfying outcomes in this world.

Plus heaven too, almost as an afterthought.

The new creation is kind of the point. It’s not just a philosophy of good living.

I’m worried that I have stated to treat redundancy as a holiday. I need to stay focused on the hard work of putting myself out there on the job market.

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.

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.