Leviticus 9

It worked! 

They have the tabernacle, they have the priests. 

They do the sacrifices: one for the priests’ sins, one for the people’s sins, a fellowship one, because they are gathering to meet God, a grain one. 

They follow the rules. It is blessed. 

The lord consumes the burnt offering with fire. The people experience his presence and fall down in worship. 

It is a picture of the kingdom. Where they have come from, from slavery, from disrespectful disobedience. They have come into blessing. It is a place of god’s love, and we are aware of the price of it, sin demands death.

Snapshot, freeze Israel. Don’t do anything. 

Exodus 39

The priestly garments. Yes, they are just like God specified on the mountain. The fringe of alternating pomegranate tassels and bells is a great detail.

Moses inspects everything, this amazing collection of items lovingly made to god’s specification from freely offered materials, and blesses it. The climax of almost 10 chapters describing their effort.

Live by his word and be blessed, eh?

Exodus 25

“I’m Christian but I’m not religious” Belief good, religion bad. It’s a common attitude. But as an exercise in practical psychology, i think it is an unachievable standard, a recipe for madness.

Here, in the longest direct communication by God so far I’m the Bible, speaking directly to Moses on a mountain, God designs the bits and pieces of a religion. 

Ark, table and lampstand.

He’s still at it. Jesus turned passover into Easter, and the supper into communion, commanding us to eat the bread and drink the wine when we meet together. Johns gospel is structured around Jesus’ transformation of a series of religious festivals.

I was fascinated in this chapter by the detail of god’s design brief. I mean, he’s the creator so you should expect him to be creative. 

And he uses natural forms. Well of course, that’s his style. The lamp stand is to be one piece like an elegant tree, sweeping from base up to flower branches and buds.
And the artisans did their best and got their best gold and made it all as good as they could and as close to god’s instructions as they could. To God perhaps it looked like kiddie art, about as accurate, fine and utterly loveable as a child’s drawings​ of their parents for mother’s day.

And they got the message that God is important, holy, worth our best, interested in us, enjoys our labour. 

And they got structures for expressing their love for him, something tangible to return to after the crushing failure of their sinful greedy natures. 

Life is a spiritual journey, our battles are spiritual. Religion gives us a symbolic landscape in which to journey and fight. 

Genesis 50

Massive happy ending, a bit of a rarity for old testament books. Joseph buries his father up in Canaan as he requested. 

He forgives his brothers again, emphasising the nature of god’s grace. They did indeed mean him harm but it was all part of the mighty plan, so who is he to hold a grudge. The brother’s do feel truly guilty for what they did.

Joseph lives a long and happy life. 

Genesis 49

Jacob gathers all the sons as he dies. And doesn’t pull any punches giving each a blessing that recalls their strengths and weaknesses in poetic form. 

The first three are strong, but Reuben the first born’s future will be constrained because of his incestuous relationship with Jacob’s concubine.

Simeon and Levi are strong but their bloodthirsty revenge for their sister Dinah back in chapter 34 still stains them. 

So he goes on though them, a clearly messianic prophesy for Judah. He will hold the “rulers scepter” until the one comes who owns it and claims the obedience of nations.

Joseph gets the greatest blessing, the best among brothers, blessed by the almighty, and rightly so. No one can call it boasting now.

And he dies. The one who walked a crooked path to his faith, who struggled with God. The embodiment of the contradictions of genesis, of humanity.

Genesis 41

The epitome of the “old testament story”. In a stunning reversal of fortune, Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream and goes from jail to 2ic in charge of all of Egypt.

One mention of God: as the source of the dream and the interpretation. But he is directing everything.

Everyone in my immediate family is in some kind of pain. And some kind of rebellion against God. Reverse it father, reverse it!

Genesis 27

Coming back to genesis after a hiatus. I realise why I had to stop for a bit, it’s depressing. Once man leaves the garden, its downhill.

Everyone here is awful. It’s a famous story about Jacob cheating his blind old father Isaac to get the oldest son’s birthright.

Everything is wrong. Isaac the father already knows God promised Jacob would be the vehicle of god’s blessing. Yet he wants to give his own blessing to essau. He attempts to hide his cantankerous willfulness from Jacob and God.

Essau is not a holy or disciplined man, he can’t keep away from the local girls despite god’s command, and he impulsively sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew. Now, late in the piece its important to him again.

Rebecca and Jacob are deceitful, lying and cheating to make sure god’s plan is done rather than trusting him. They act unbelievably poorly, Jacob co-opts god into the lie!

I may not have been enjoying genesis but by golly it is true.

God faces this kind of moral soup from us every day. No one is pure. He must act in our world to save some from the quagmire in love.

2 Samuel 7

Who’s building who’s house?

David feels bad for how he’s treating God. David lives in a fine house, the King’s palace, and God’s place is a tent, the tabernacle the Israelites carried out of Egypt across the desert. He starts to plan to build a temple.

But God, through Nathan the prophet and though directly speaking to David says, ever so gently, “you don’t build God a house, god builds you a house”.

And he promises that David’s house will continue forever. We know this refers to Jesus, who was of David’s line. It also kind of refers to Solomon, since those two kings in a row were the most blessed period Israel ever had.

David spends the rest is the chapter saying “thanks” … For everything. Contemplating how far god has bought him and how much god has blessed him. 

David has a wonderfully bold way of talking to God. He doesn’t waste a lot of time in “I’m so unworthy” more “you love me, praise you for loving me!”

Feeling unworthy today. This is encouraging. “I will dwell in the house of the lord forever”

2 Samuel 6

I’m getting old testament fatigue again. Reading the whole Bible means reading a lot of old testament… In terms of words it’s a ratio of about 3:10. 

And OT is exhaustingly culturally remote. You figure out one fiendishly difficult chapter one day and then there is another the next. Boom boom boom. It’s tiring. 

If you forget the hard bits, this one is quite simple and wonderful and momentous. David is king over united Israel. He has established Jerusalem as the capital, now he brings the ark in, the presence of God.

And David dances like a crazy humble loon as it is carried in, one of the Bible’s most appealing visions of pure joy in the whole Bible. 

But it’s so uncomfortable that a person dies, and a woman is seemingly struck barren for getting the tone wrong. 

And what is with the ark anyway. I thought God wanted to teach mankind that he lives in or hearts, why this object of veneration?

I turned to a commentary. They saw it, interestingly as a parable for ministry. 

The first attempt to get the ark back was where someone died. They made a special cart for it … God commanded that it be carried. When it fell, the guy who died reached out to steady it. God said you can’t touch it. He should have let it fall.

David was angry with god’s over the death, and left the ark out of Jerusalem for a long time after that. 

The commentators compared it to Christians who try to do what God wants, but do it their own way. In their enthusiasm to just “get it done” they fixated too much on the task and forgot the larger point that this was about honouring God. Disobedience does not honour God. 

I remember a church I was at was obsessed with the idea that the old pews were restricting their ministry, and started pulling them out without getting the necessary legal council permission. I think that was a small example of this principle. God doesn’t need our special cart.

Death was a strong way of teaching that, you may think, but God is creator, life is in his hands, we’ve learned that over and over by now. 

The woman who was barren was Michal, who is the ultimate bit player in this story. She was Saul’s daughter and David’s first wife. She helped him escape Saul, and then was given seemingly into bigamy as wife to another king by Saul, then called back at a tense point in the civil war. 

She has strong ideas how a king ought to act and dancing with no kingly dignity with the people in few clothes was not one of them. 

But she was letting her sense of what is proper kill her enthusiasm for God, sort of the opposite of the first attempt with the ark. 

The commentators noted that it is merely an editorial comment, not linked to god’s judgement that she never had children. 

We’ve learned in this book in particular to pay attention to that… Things aren’t of God just because they are there, you have to have it spelled out. It’s more like the tone of journalism than sermon.

They saw it as an ironic or symbolic observation by the writer of 2 Samuel. Her personal story echoed a spiritual barrenness that had characterised Saul’s reign. she remained too caught up in the pomp of earthly kingship, and less excited by heavens king.

So we’re all set up for Israel’s most glorious period. But the warnings are there too. With joy in God ‘s times of rich blessing remember obedience and humility. 

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.