Isaiah 35

The good stuff. The redeemed, a picture of the ones God loves.

There is a highway in the desert – similar images described John the Baptist who paved the way for Jesus. It leads joyful people to Zion.

They don’t have to be strong, clever or powerful. It says fools could and will follow this highway. There are blind, deaf and lame people, seeing, hearing, leaping, praising.

The desert has become lush, blooming with crocuses.

And God says to them, his rag tag redeemed, one of my all time favourite spiritual messages in the Bible:

“Fear not”

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Isaiah 27

The third chapter trading out the promise of restoration for the Jewish nation, and extending the blessing to all nations. This is the tenderest.

It moves from a city image in the last chapter to a vineyard, watered and cared for every day, and a God who prefers peace.

The nation is called Judah to remind them of the covenant promise, and the punishment like his wrestling with God made them stronger, their fruit filling the whole world. 

So we have simultaneously a personal metaphor (Judah) and an agricultural one of abundant blessing, it keeps leading us to a Messiah figure.

The chapter ends with a promise of atonement, making right with God, so the foreign idols are crumbled like chalk, and all the faithful who were exiled are called home.

Isaiah 18

Oracle about Cush.

People agree this is about Ethiopia. It was at that time the major regional power in Africa along with Egypt. The battle for dominance of the middle East was lining up to be between two heavy weights, Assyria vs Egypt for all the other land, and in that battle Israel may have had the offer to join an alliance with the two nations.

All of which might explain the reference to “ambassadors by sea” at the start.

The chapter seems to then talk about reverse ambassadors. There is no judgement of Cush mentioned here, is more like it tells them to look and listen to what happens to Israel, to learn about God’s might, and that the example of Israel will be a message to all nations. 

Cush will eventually bring tribute to Israel. Some suggest that the Queen of Sheba may have been a queen of Ethiopia. Which means there may have already been a tradition of respect for Israel.

It’s a fairly obscure prophesy, but in the near sense it seems to be about the judgement of Israel being inevitable, and local politicking making no difference. 

In the far meaning, it seems to be about Ethiopia becoming a centre for the church in Africa, which it did. It is certainly a useful passage to look at when ideology comes up about racial inferiority. God judges his own people to bless Africa. 

We are all equal before God, and all have access to grace.

2 Kings 4

A series of miraculous events from Elisha’s life that show God’s abundant blessings.  It reads like a page from the gospels.

A widow has a jar of oil that keeps producing oil enough to pay all her debts, and save her sons being sold into slavery.

Another woman who helped Elisha has a pregnancy at an old age, and then Elisha restores the child to life after he dies, two astounding miracles.

Good food produced from bitter gourds in famine, ending with a very familiar story of one loaf feeding a multitude.

The consistency of God’s character as revealed through Elisha and Jesus is abundance, life, plenty, fruitfulness. I claw my way through on a good salary with no mortgage, but only seem to achieve adequacy – I watch all my friends get better stuff and go on holidays on facebook. I am finding in my relationships and the ministries in church an abundance.  We have a new minister who is brimming with keen-ness and preached a beautiful first sermon on Sunday.  I’d feel pretty satisfied if these stories weren’t telling me God wants to give me more than I could dare expect.

Maybe I should pray to God to show me the nature of the abundance he wants me to have.

 

2 Kings 3

Obedience for blessing – with panache

An interesting event from the next king’s reign. Jeroham another of Ahab’s sons, wasn’t as bad as him.  He stopped worshipping Baal, which seems to have ended the active persecution and killing of Jehovah’s prophets.  But he still worshipped the calf that had been established in largely political defiance of the temple in the kingdom of Judah after the civil war. The offical state religion was a false, cynical one.

The two kingdoms, Israel and Judah unite with Edom to bring Moab to heel, which is in rebellion against taxes levied by the kingdom of Israel. They take a way of attack through the desert and the troops are literally dying of thirst – very Exodus.

The godly king of Judah, Jehosophat, finds out Elisha is with them and consults him. He  has very sharp words for Jeroham, but helps them for Jehosophat’s sake.

First, strikingly, Elisha has a musician play to calm him down to a spiritual zone – maybe he was stressed after openly confronting and criticising the ungodly King.  A dangerous pastime.

God intervenes in the story at this point.  He helps the present situation, but so much more. It is a lesson, clearly for the godless king, it requires obedience and delivers in abundance – in one elegant move.

Elisha tells them to dig ditches in the dry river bed to contain the water God is sending them. That would have required very faithful leadership and quite some obedience from the exhausted men.  Jeroham would have witnessed first hand the absolute kingly faith and trust of Jehosophat to get the parched men to do the seemingly meaningless task.

A flash flood then comes down the river bed and collects in the ditches they have dug – the rest of the water passes through.  So the amount of water provided is in proportion to the extent of their obedience.  The more ditches they dug, the more of the water God provided they are blessed with. Very elegant.

Even more elegant, the Moabites mistake the distant ditches of water for blood and assume that the alliance hasn’t held and the kings have attacked each other.  They swoop in but are utterly routed.  The Moab king is so desperate with the loss he sacrifices his own son by burning him alive. The combined kings are so disgusted at the human sacrifice, they leave him at that point.

Jeroham and Jehsophat asked for water.  They got it …AND VICTORY! But without obedience, the blessing would have passed them by. Really reminds me of the lesson of Exodus, choosing God is choosing to participate in his blessing.  But his will will be done whether you choose him or not, and he wants so much more for us than we know to ask. Such a great lesson.

How did the king manage to remain an unbeliever after that experience!

1 Kings 10

A chapter devoted to the glory of king Solomon’s reign. The Queen of Sheba visits. His fleet, with help from king Hiram, brings wealth from all around. 

They seem to become a trade hub, particularly for horses, and Solomon’s wisdom – which the passage says God put in his mind – is sought by many foreign rulers. 

Israel becomes incredibly wealthy. Forget milk and honey, try good and silver flowing throughout the land.

The Queen of Sheba recognises and praises God and Solomon’s accomplishments as the source of his greatness.

The success and influence fulfill Deuteronomy, where it says Israel will become an example to the nations of God’s blessing. 

There are also notes of disobedience to the law. The amassing of wealth and horses was particularly prohibited of Israel’s king.  He wasn’t to personaly hold onto God’s blessing, it was for the nation as a whole.

A commentator noted that Solomon was paid 666 talents of gold per year, the only other time the number appears other than as “of the beast” in revelation, perhaps a warning about another person who will start good but ultimately become corrupt.

1 Kings 8

The dedication of the temple and placement of the ark of the covenant goes flawlessly – better than David managed to handle the notoriously dangerous thing.

God’s cloud descends on the holy place. He is in residence. Solomon give a big speech acknowledging that it was the fulfillment of a promise by God to David, and that God is actually to big to be confined by a temple.

He elaborates a fairly basic theology, that if the people are suffering any kind of problem, then praying in the direction of the temple would fix it. This was presumably before he wrote the big existential question mark that is Ecclesiastes!

He prays thanks humbly, outside the temple because though he is king, he is not a priest. Many sacrifices are offered, a multi day festival follows.

It’s a great day, The chosen people, in the promised land, fulfilling God’s will and in the presence of the Lord. Freeze frame, it don’t get better than this.

1 Kings 4

List chapter, all of Solomon’s officials, his daily provisions. The people are indeed as numerous as the sand by the sea… Not quite the choice of words of God’s promise to Abraham that they would be as numerous as the stars.

They eat and drink and have military might that gives them dominion over the entire region. That is pretty much “flowing with milk and honey” as promised, if a little less poetic.

God makes an appearance as the source of Solomon’s wisdom. His fame spreads and he’s recognised as the wisest man “of anyone”. He composes 1000 songs and 3000 proverbs.

God’s wisdom flows to material blessing.

I’m still wondering what we learn from Israel’s golden era. Do things have to go wrong for God to be needed? How do we stay focused on God in the good times? Praying for wisdom is a start.

Deuteronomy 26

When the Israelites come to the promised land there is to be a year of tithe. 

The harvest after 3 years is the first fruits, 10% is to be collected before anything else and given to God, recognising that the land, their freedom, came from him. 

Then Moses reminds the people to follow all the rules with all their heart and soul to be blessed in high honour by God.

The have been so many rules over the last 10 or so chapters, some are more beautiful than we can manage today, in terms of the way they would demolish the effects of inequality in society. Others seem completly crazy today.

But this message:  acknowledge God as the source of all we have, love him and receive his love. This lives. 

It feels like the moment for an amen.

Deuteronomy 16

The festivals chapter, I always love this (we’ve had it a couple of times by now in the Bible)

Passover, beginning and end of harvest. Everyone is to celebrate, foreigners, the needy, all in. God commands partying!

And a fair legal system.

Evangelicals have at times undermined celebrating. Harvest festivals are seen as quaint or irrelevant. But a simple connection between our gratitude, and pleasure in God’s Bounty is a great thing!