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.

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.