2 Chronicles 29

King Hezekiah. He is a believer. First order of business is re-establishing worship in the temple, laid out in glorious detail here, no doubt of great interest to the people who first read chronicles in Ezra and Nehemiah’s time.

I found myself slightly impatient with the animal sacrifice system, now it has been revealed that our bodies are the temple of God, and Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient for all.

It’s clunky, very messy, and complicated. But it was the only way they were given to seek God’s grace, to connect. So it’s also a beautiful thing.

Yesterday I was imagining the greatest theologians of the Bible. The Moore College of Hezekiah’s time. Or David’s, or Moses. They never would have come up with Jesus.

They came up with the Messiah, eventually. But didn’t recognise him in Jesus, not easily.

We still only know in part. There is a bunch of subjects: the afterlife, heaven, the second coming. Salvation, really, God’s grace, about which no doubt we are as close to understanding the specifics as the old testament theologians.

Yet it is by faith, by Jesus’ blood, that they were saved, even though they could not imagine him in their wildest dreams. Well, except Isaiah perhaps.

I was discussing N.T. Wright with my brother yesterday. A much respected theologian, so it’s an unsettling feeling when his view of heaven was vastly different from the heaven I had imagined for the previous 50 or so years of my existence.

But I listen to and focus on the truth and wisdom in what he is saying, and hold it in parallel with all the other possible heavens, and contemplate that we’re really just guessing at the specifics of heaven.

Our faith is called a faith because it requires faith. Have so much more than the ancients, yes, but like them we only have an inkling.

Like Hezekiah, we respond to what we know, it makes sense, it strikes us as truth, it opens our heart to the spirit of the living God. The rest we take in faith.

Jeremiah 46

Jeremiah is more anthology than book. It ends with a series of prophesies about surrounding nations that don’t necessarily flow to or from anything,

Here Egypt’s judgement.

I’m struck that the God of Israel, who we now think of as god of all, is already talking like that. He knows Egypt, he has plans for Egypt, but like Israel Egypt will be judged.

Interestingly he doesn’t link it to them worshipping other Gods as he does Israel’s punishment. Because Israel is chosen, it means God has revealed himself to them more, and more is expected of them.

Egypt’s misplaced trust is expressed more in terms of trust in pharoah.

The battle of defeat by Babylon is vividly described, we’re cinematically taken into the minutiae, which gives you a sense of empathy for them and also the futility of men’s strength.

Babylon is compared to the Nile flooding and drowning the land. It’s both a great image of irresistible strength, and implying it is an act of God.

Egypt will come through. The is a promise that they will continue inhabit their land.

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 24

Progression is holiness. God emphasises how holy he is by having layers, like the temple would be with its holy of holies. It has an outer court for gentiles, a court for women, etc.

A sacrifice is offered, blood sprinkled, then a group leave the people and go further up the mountain. Finally, Moses takes the last bit solo.

The natural display, cloud, fire etc envelopes Moses. The stage is set for more revelations.

Exodus 14

The stunning victories of God over the Egyptians. God hardens their hearts and they pursue the Israelites despite all the clear messages of the power of God above their gods.

God makes it dark, he jams the wheels of their chariots. He leads the chase a though a sea which is a wall of water for the Israelites’ and downs the Egyptians.

They are told to stop running, virtually baiting the Egyptians to come and try to get them back. But the plagues haven’t convinced the Israelites of god’s power. Keith green seized on this as a metaphor. They wanna go back to slavery, to Egypt. They are terrified when the Egyptians pursue them.

It’s worth remembering when i lose yet another argument with an atheist. You would think the Israelites would be the strongest believers ever, but they constantly question Gods power.

2 Samuel 22

It’s all God.

As the end of David’s life approaches, he’s singing to God. 

And the message is, God is everything. He lights the path, he provides it. He made David everything he ever was, every achievement, every victory, every escape from trouble, all God. 

It’s a simple message, but how many celebs with a lifetime of greatness behind them truly again this perspective? There is no pride here. 

It’s. All. God.

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.

Genesis 19

Love conquers all?

Shocking! I mean, sodom has been synonymous with homosexuality however that doesn’t start to express the infamy of this city culture.  Gay pack rape of random strangers is a long way from the culture of your average gay couple.  And clearly the Sodom mob will bonk anything, as Lot has some hope that they might take his daughters, otherwise he wouldn’t have offered them.

Lot has some residual spiritual sensitivity, as he, like abraham, recognises God’s messengers straight away. He and the angels do a little dance around the impending situation, without saying out loud that they both know full well what is brewing; the Angels propose to stay in the square (I mean, why not hey Lot?)… he persuades them to come home and enjoy his “hospitality”, (ie: protection), and after a nice family meal the men of city encircle the house and demand to rape the strangers!

That he offers his vigin daughters is a startling indictment of both him and the city.  What is this place?  (Though its strangely remenicient of Abram in Eygpt, who pretended his wife was his sister so the Pharoah could have her).  The ancient world makes sin city Sydney look like sunday school.

I mean how much does God know the depravity of man?  The image we have of christians wagging their finger when people eat without saying grace doesn’t do his knowledge justice.  He really has known intimately since forever what utter scumbags we can be.  The citizens motives are also xenophobic, its a little nazi or KKK.  His offer of the daughters is not declined exactly.  While they do still insist that the men be bought out, they say they’ll get to Lot and his family in due course and give them worse.

I was sort of touched that the angels used blinding to control the men and get back in the house, don’t know why.  Its the least violent aspect of this vivid story, just practical and minimal to get the situation under control.

As the story unfolds, it reminds you of Abrahams haggle with God.  Are there 6 righteous people in this city?  God is determined to be merciful to them.  The 2 future son in laws think the coming destruction is just a joke.  They are first out.  And Lot’s wife looks back longingly at the riches and luxury of the city (how could she – the place where they were about to throw her daughters to the mob?) and is turned to salt.  She’s out.  Then there are three.

God’s endless emphasis on separateness, circumcision etc. makes sense now.  This is the alternative. How deeply embroiled in the culture of Sodom had Lot become? He was clearly wealthy and comfortable and just moments away from losing any sense of his own spirituality and connection with God.

Lot still can’t face the wild and does a deal with God to go to a village not the cave in the mountains. I imagine Lot is sort of soft and in love with luxury. He really doesn’t trust God will provide, and God actually adapts to his request and a whole town is spared just so Lot can avoid roughing it.

The judgement when it comes is hot coals, a natural disaster.  My feeling about it moderated when I read that. At first like Abraham I was “how could God kill all those people” but somehow then I felt “Oh that. Terrible, but it happens all the time”.  We all have a survivor guilt, as we grow up hearing about earthquakes, tsunamis, not to mention car accidents, wars, etc.  Lives are cut short every day.  We are always appalled… and then life goes on. And we are aware that we too will die.

When we object to God ending peoples lives, what are we actually asking?  That no one should ever die? Well that is a strong urge.  But its not rational in our experience.  That everyone should have a long life?  The same number of years? Why? Is that really a sensible proposal – like Logan’s run, in our utopia, everyone gets precisely 70 years, say.  And no one suffers to die.  Just get to the age and pop, you’re gone, like a chicken. Is the utopia we propose a chicken farm? That’s crazy talk.

Yet still it hurts when babies die. Where am I going with this? Don’t know, I suppose the pain of death is a universal human experience even before ours comes.  Death doesn’t tell us a clear message however.  It doesn’t necessarily tell us to love God, though it could, as he promises death will have no sting if we trust him.  It doesn’t necessarily tell us to hate God, though it could, because it is part of the world he made, and comes at his hand.  Death speak with forked tongue.

Does God have Munchausen’s syndrome: he feels good by creating disasters just to save us from them?  That is at the base of many people’s hatred of God. But he says that is not it.  He says the abilty to hate him and death are the same thing, and that they are what make us the pinnacle of creation, in his image.  That is all too mind blowing to actually think about.

However, I do take from this meandering stream of consciousness that I really don’t believe God’s judgement of death is unfair.  Something can be painful, but fair.  And poignant, ironic, frustrating.  And death can be. But I don’t really think its unfair that some people have short spans and others long.

The shock of this chapter is not over though.  Cue incest.  The girls, now living in a cave, get Lot drunk and conceive with him.

Then it says what nations they founded from this offspring.  There seems to be a halo to the covenant with Abraham.  Abraham will father the chosen nation through his old, barren wife, miraculously, that’s the big promise.  But even slave slash second wife Hagar will also found nations.  And now his brothers grandchildren via incestuos relations with his daughters will found nations.  God really is able to pour blessing into sub-par, messed up situations.  The Psalmists will eventually grizzle about this.

When I read that the children of the daughters founded nations, I start to think: Is this real?  It reads a bit like a fable, “how the rhinocerous got his skin” or something.  One of those origin stories.  And the checklist of depravity and disaster: the threat of gay pack rape (of God’s holy messengers, no less), incest, cities destroyed, people turned to salt. It reads like a sensationalist novel. Game of thrones on fast forward. The story hangs off the real, recognisable stuff. The nastiness, the weakness, is so real. Nothing at all unbelivable about the human behaviour. Knowing we are capable of this stuff, being tempted by it, is part of human existence.

And I believe in the reality of God’s intervention in the affairs of men (and women!). He is love and love really does, eventually, conquer all.  I am reading how it does. Hallelujah!

Genesis 16

A jolt back into real politik.  Another biblical pattern, from the clear exalted mountain to the murky mess of the plain, like moses getting the law and coming down the mountain to faithless revelling, or Jesus going from the transfiguration to the faithlessness of the people and the bickering of the disciples.

And for me going from Sunday to Monday.  Bless me, keep me positive.

…that prayer was answered, I had a great Monday. The rhythm and discipline of work is making me feel so good. Plus I am good at it, and its such a powerful thing to feel competent. Part of the sense of dread I feel for my son who is 23 is that there is every possibility he may never feel that. He is in a psychological prison. Give me wisdom lord, and bless Lewes

Abram and Hagar are helping god along again. It’s a crooked web of weakness being woven here as Hagar the Egyptian slave girl is left over from the faithless deception in Egypt where Abram pretended Sarai was his sister and virtually gave her to the Pharoah. So the remnant of that unfortunate event is now enlisted as surrogate mother for the nation of Israel.  A very earthly plan for a cosmic promise.

Did Sarah not think that setting up a younger, fertile second wife in the household would drive her crazy? Hagar gets uppity, Sarai gets hurt, there is a falling out, and Hagar runs off.

A person, not a pawn

But oh the intervention of God in this one. People call the bible the “Good book”. So it’s rather shocking how bad people are without any much comment on their behaviour.  God adjusts for the mess.  He could have condemned Abram: “Abram, you have managed to turn my glorious promise into a sordid soap opera, I can’t work with this.” I did not expect God to speak to Hagar first, after all its supposed to be about the bloke and the promise that his offspring will be like stars and lead to salvation, right?  Hagar is just the meat in the sandwich, so to speak.

No! She is a person, not a piece of meat!  God speaks to her, and makes his own promise to her who has lost all, no postion or protection, a single mum alone in an unforgiving culture.

Hagar will have a son, called “God hears” because God has heard her misery.  She names God “the one who sees me” In being seen, Hagar becomes a person, not a pawn. And she has seen the one who sees her.  To god, its not about the plan, its about the collateral damage, the lost lamb. Oh the love and tenderness of that interaction!

Again, though the promise has a sting – Abrams’ promise to found a nation included it becoming a slave nation. Hagars includes trouble for Ishmael.

These promises are jarring.  Perhaps I need to just trust God over my children.  Another of my sons is brilliant at wrong footing me on who he is, and who he will become, he’s great at making me panic.

I can’t force the plan. He sees them, he hears their misery.  Give me patience to trust you Father. Shine into the murky messes, Father, with the clarity of love. 

Genesis 11

The story of the tower of babel is one of my favourites. Genesis reads like my first bible story book, separated by genealogies. Creation, Noah, tower of babel.

It is a tribute to the massive energy of humans that God is impressed, even concerned, by the tower. As high as it is though, he has to come down to see it.

On balance God thinks it’s better to have that energy diluted, so he breaks communication. It is a comment on man’s propensity to sin. It reminds me of Jesus’ teaching on earthly authorities, how they are established for our protection, so we don’t kill each other in opportunistic anarchy.

God had to keep reigning in his broken creation to give us space to know him. Left to our own devices, unfettered, in dense concentrations like cities, we achieve marvels, but also have the propensity to destroy each other.

Of course as the modern world has progressed, both the height of buildings and the brokenness of communication is being challenged by our ingenuity again. I am actually incredibly inspired by suggestions that the internet is probably the greatest anti poverty tool ever invented. Google, with hubris, initially called their translation service babelfish, after Douglas Adams (and genesis).

But it’s worth also fearing, the internet hasn’t stopped the world being thrown into the greatest refugee crisis we’ve ever known. The humanist view says better understanding and communication will inevitably improve the world. This story is more cynical. John Lennon wondered if we could imagine no war, just a brotherhood of man. We can’t, it seems.

Father the sadness of the broken world is overwhelming. The reality of how much we need you makes all the silliness of our culture seem all the more shallow. Help me be a burning light for you.

And then we get carefully set out the family line of shem and of terah, all leading to Abram.  Not much to comment here, except that the lifespans are getting shorter the further away from Genesis we get.  We are in an era where they are getting longer. People will routinely start living past 100 again.  Perhaps they will eventually meet up with these biblical figures, which here are around 200.  And of course, we are looking at a family line of Gods interaction with the world.  The family line tht will see the Israelite nation founded and chosen by God, and eventually bring forth the messiah.