2 Kings 20

Borrowed time.

I don’t know how to take Hezekiah. 

He’s a good, relatively godly king at a time when the kingship is doomed.

This tells the notable spiritual events of his reign, and it’s a strange story of the interaction of God and man, and we aren’t given neat moralising. It is what it is.

He gets sick, is told by God/Isaiah its his time. It is before he has defeated the Assyrians. He prays for more life and is given 15 years. He gets a very appropriate sign from God that the promise is real, the sun goes backwards on the sun dial for a day!

He uses the time to deal with the Assyrians – that was in the last chapter I think?

Next we have the story of him welcoming a Babylonian envoy, which was probably a political move to find alliances.

Hezekiah doesn’t seem that interested in politics but really enjoys showing them all his wealth, he’s got prosperous also in his extra time. He is a minor king, it feels lame, like he’s big noting himself when flattered that his loyalty would matter to Babylon.

Isaiah rebukes his pride with a stark prophesy that Babylon will obliterate the kingdom. His children will be enunchs in the Babylonian court. He simply reacts with relief that it will happen after his time.

Knowing the date of his death and knowing that God has ordained that the Empire will fall has made him fatalistic, predictably. It’s made him an island who takes his comfort from the present. Maybe that is why God doesn’t often tell us the date of our deaths.

I had a friend who spent a year or so on borrowed time knowing she would die from cancer. She got very good at accepting love from her friends, and letting them give her treats. 

She got good at not thinking about the inconvenience when she didn’t die on cue and their life was made messy, because she didn’t have the time to worry about it. It was a gift she gave them which they have many years to treasure. The last year or so of her life was a very beautiful thing.

The biographical note about king Hezekiah mentions that he did engineer an clever water supply that made Jerusalem virtually seige proof, so it’s not like he completly ignored the future. 

The commentary I read judged him for his pride, the bragging, which I understand. But I see a certain humility there too, because he accepted God’s judgment, he didn’t try to change it. He asked for and got a temporary stay of the judgement, and enjoyed it for what it was. 

God gave him it because he was faithful, it was an answer to a godly prayer. But the prayer didn’t alter God’s uber plan to cut down the kingdom as a part of the slow revelation of the true Messiah.

It’s both a mercy and a curse to be given the date of your death. I sort of pray that for me God will come like a theif in the night.  

I don’t know what to learn from this! It’s very interesting though, and it says something subtle about God, and our dialogue with him.

It reminds me of Jesus’ impractical compassionate healings – he would have a chance encounter with someone like the woman who was bleeding, and cure her on to the way to somewhere else, and then have to ban anyone from taking about it because he wasn’t ready to die yet. God can seemingly be distracted by his own compassion, and by our faithful prayers.

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2 Kings 5

When Elisha asked for double the spirit Elijah had, God really answered.

This part of Kings is absolute gold for finding out the character of God.

Here, God cures a leper. The mode of cure is washing, the water of the Jordan washes away the corruption of the flesh, a physical metaphor for sin being washed away.

The recipient is a military commander from a neighbouring country. He heard of Elisha because his wife was a captive from Israel taken in battle.

God’s healing is for all the world, for enemies.

Elisha refuses payment. Namaan who was cured knows the event is theological and recognises that he has found the one true God, who he promises to worship the rest of his life. God is above all other Gods and more valuable than any wealth.

He is very candid and asks forgiveness for times he anticipates helping his king in religious rituals for another God, and Elisha accepts it. It’s about what is in the heart.

This candor is contrasted with the dishonesty of Elisha’s servant who tells a lie to in fact get some payment from Namaan, and gets leprosy. A life devoted to materialism above God will corrupt your soul and destroy you, and you can’t lie to God about it.

Worst mass shooting ever in the US today.

Minds become unhinged, and this shooter had a cultural response to becoming possessed by evil that is all too familiar in the US.

As society grapples with this reality, layers of more complex evil, hypocrisy motivated by greed and power will interpret the event various ways. Fingers will be pointed, self serving spin will be exaggerated.

Here I read of the powerful simplicity of that washing in the river, the sure love of God that pares away all the dishonest layers. Glad I’ve found the true God today, its all we have.

Deuteronomy 14

The next few chapters recycle rules from Leviticus, but they are a little bit more urgent and practical, because occupation of the promised land is so imminent. And there is a bit more explanation of what they mean about God.

He are the rules about kosher food, and beyond being described as clean or unclean, the reason is described as being “because you are God’s treasured possession”

It’s clear there is not always anything inherently wrong with unclean food. For example, animals that are already dead are unclean, everything must be ritually slaughtered for purpose. But they can be cooked or sold for foreigners. It’s just about remembering how much God loves his people.

This chapter also covers tithes. They are a social welfare system, they end up supporting the priests and also widows, fatherless, and foreigners. There is a practical edge to it too, how to cope if they live too far from the temple.

It’s setting up a generous society of high prosperity and low inequality. The society of people who are treasured by God. That is my society.

Numbers Overview

Literally and thematically Numbers is stuck in the desert.

If you are wanting to get on with the bible’s plot, skip a book (or 2). The short triumphant march to claim Canaan, the promised land, becomes a lifetime of walking in circles, because the people tell God they don’t want Canaan (and BTW we hate the stinkin’ food you provide us every day!) Their wish comes true, they indeed don’t get Canaan. However, God honours his promise and plan, and their children do.

The narrative flow of the book seems to keep getting stuck too.  Its half story, half law book. Something happens, then you get a chapter of sacrifice law, something else happens, and you get rules about clothing tassles or festival times.

But its a powerful example of the life of the saved. It’s about life after slavery in Egypt (which ironically, can appear a lot more comfortable) and before the promised land, for us, heaven. Numbers is like any believer’s life on earth. Walking in circles!

God’s part is to be constant against our inconstancy, loving us despite us losing it, to move to Plan B when our rebellious spirit and selfishness stuffs up Plan A.

Our part is to learn discipline – a life learning to curb our habits and put God at the centre of our life, as he was at the centre of their camp, before them and within them.

The law starts to have the same context Jesus would give it.  They are already out of egypt, they are in a state of grace and God will keep his promise. They are working out (walking out?) the salvation they already have. 

Chapters:

Plan A – a God centric camp ready to quickly move to claim the promised land
1 600000 men ready to fight for the promised land

2 Camp organisation – God centric wheel

3 At the centre: Levites, the chosen of the chosen, set aside for God’s work

4 Rituals for how the Levites move the tabernacle – so holy

5 Sexual and practical purity in the camp

6 How to be set aside for Holiness within holiness, the Nazarite vow

God’s people, god’s presence
7 Dedication of the Tabernacle – God’s presence with Moses extended to the people

8 Levites Tabernacle duties, a life in God’s presence

9 The first passover – we still celebrate it – levites represent the saved first born

10 A life of faith. They walk how god wants, when god want, he provides all

Plan B: Losin’ it and the consequences…
11 A tale of Moses and the people. Contentment vs rising discontent

12 Aaron and wife Miriam lead a rebellion against Moses. Humility vs ambition

13 Recon on the holy land, AKA, that moment when you suspect that if there is a God, he doesn’t really know what he’s doing

14 The people lose their faith in God. Only their children will see the promised land

Hard lessons while wandering
15 Reminder of sacrifice meanings, and tassles to wear to remind them of the law

16 A sink hole for the leaders of the rebellion, a plague for the rest

17 A sign of hope amidst the plague – but I get that the people just feel traumatised

18 Aaron gets a “tick off” and refresher course in his priestly duty

19 Death vs life. Purification rituals. God is life, they must choose him

20 The end of the wandering generation: they are where they were in ch13

Back to Plan A with a new generation (who are still pretty hopeless)
21 Now making progress, the people still grumble as God punishes and saves 

22 Moab stands between them and Canaan. Moab enlists a holy man Balaam, but the real God gets to him first via a speaking donkey

23 Balaam is supposed to bless Moab’s plan to destroy Israel. He predicts disaster.

24 As the Moab king gets more and more angry, Balaam speaks “truth to power”

25 Meanwhile the Israelites are…. sleeping with Moab temple prostitutes! Noooo!

26 Second census the new force to take Canaan. God keeps his promise, despite us!

27 Moses commissions Joshua, forward ho to canaan, their inheritance… almost

Preparing to claim the land – realisation of God’s promise
28 Dealing with sin, its real, its painful… for them, many sacrifices

29 Israelites preserved their identity through lots of festivals and shared worship

30 Rules on the vows of women… patriarchal, but perhaps relatively progressive?

31 The destruction of Moab as God warned. Except the Israelites don’t, quite. 

32 The first claim to the land doesn’t stop them all working together on the mission

33 Summary – where they’ve been and what they must do: purge the land.

34 Scoping the land, rules for who will get what. In which I feel guilt… 

35 Arrangements for the priests in canaan… quite like christians today!

36 Protecting the promised land from being lost through marriage.

2 Samuel 3

I think if David were a modern politician, I would be cynical of him. 

“I didn’t really want to be king, it just happened” 

“I don’t really want civil war to enlarge my kingship that I never sought in the first place, but here we are” 

“I made peace with my main adversary, we were good. My over-enthusiastic lieutenant killed him without my permission. I’m mourning what a great man he was”

This last one is today’s chapter. Atheists have a field day with the old testament. 

It’s full of politicians being political, war mongers mongering war, women being treated like chattels (though there are some spectacular women too). People are selfish greedy, small minded and viscous. And that’s just the ones God chooses for his plans.

David comes to us as a three dimensional figure. He’s a conflicting blend of extreme sensitivity  and powerful emotion (good and bad); and often harsh strategic military and political effectiveness.  

In this chapter people aren’t cynical when he mourns his enemy. They buy it. I buy it. He seems devastated.  

His finest moments and his sins seem to stem from the intensity of his feelings.He’s fully immersive, nothing but the moment.

The sojourn in philistine before he became king seemed to mirror his rootless and bitter sense of abandonment, he became another person. 

You sense that in his spirituality when you read the Psalms too. He has a massive capacity to emerse himself in God and tune out to all else.

Today God still works through sin, through the murk of mixed motives and cruelty, the greed and violence of inflamed passions. 

How could a god be holy who can reach into all of that? This is perhaps the hardest and most constant question the old testament, and it’s most enduring message. It is logical, easy to be cynical. But God does. 

The world is a massive crumbling mixture of love and hate, but God is all love. Go figure.

1 Samuel 9 & 10

Finding a king, Prophet as fortune teller. 

It’s a common refrain when preachers tell you about biblical prophets. They aren’t like fortune tellers. They tell the truth about the nature of God. But here Samuel is also a pretty standard fortune teller, too.

So he knows the future with some precision, and knows Saul will be chosen king. Some observations:

  • God’s “least shall be first” principle is in operation, to a degree. Saul is from Benjamin, the least tribe and he’s from the least clan in it. As he encounters Samuel and events unfold as Samuel predicted, he is filled with the spirit, which lets him see himself as king.
  • Saul physically looks like a king. He’s handsome and tall. God really is giving the people what they wanted.
  • They meet in a town where Samuel has gone to do sacrifices. I was interested that in the days before the temple, the priest traveled around.
  • Saul meets Samuel because he’s looking for some lost donkeys. It looks very star wars in my head. The lost donkeys keep returning, soon everyone’s saying to Saul “stop worrying about the donkeys”. 
  • He’s shy. When eventually he’s chosen by lot at a big national council, he can’t be found because he’s hiding in the supplies

So we are to know that god’s hand is all over it. He didn’t abandon them to their sub-optimal king plan. It’s second best, but god’s still in it. He even organises someone to find the donkeys.

He’s the god who loves despite… 

1 Samuel 7

Samuel leads the people in a new nationalism and reverence. The lord confuses the philistines and they reclaim the land they took. 

He establishes the rock Ebenezer a symbol of the help of God. is like a tangible version of the old hymn “oh god our help in ages past, our hope for years to come”.

We’re changing church at the moment and generally depressed as a family. It’s wonderful today to think about the solidity of God and trust in his forgiveness and protection. I see how people compare Jesus to Ebenezer, planted there in history solid and immovable, our help.

Micah 6

God defends himself in a quasi legal setting, It recalls the first chapter where he was walking among the mountains, because now he calls on them to witness his defence.  He is making the point that he is not cruel but a loving God, reciting instances in the past where he has saved them.

In response the people are overwhelmed, realising there is little they can do to match. Animal sacrifices aren’t enough, should they give their first born? But God has shown them what is good … the very thing they are bad at now … to be just, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

Then justice is promised for the cheaters, the merchants with crooked scales, and gangsters, those with wealth through violence. Sickness and failure are coming for them.

We used to sing a song at church of verse 8, about walking humbly with God. It’s a memorable summary of the obligations of a believer, like Jesus’ two great commandments, to love God and to love your fellow man.

And it comes from gratitude, not obligation, in context. People make so much of the difference between the old and new parts of the Bible, yet the life of love because of grace is laced though the old everywhere you look. This is anti legalism.

The justice promised here is more concrete than I would now expect. The Psalms and the wisdom literature push away the idea of earthly retribution “how long?”… we’ve learned to leave them to heaven. That said the order of our society, the justice system and the media is a mercy from God so there is not a sense of anarchy.

I’m stressed this week, more deadlines than time. My gloom parted somewhat a day or so ago to be replaced by practical pressure. I’m praying for a time of equilibrium. When things get pressured, I have an unhelpful response where I let things go, which makes the pressure worse. I must focus and stay on top of things.

I’m learning about the spiritual nature of blessing and praying for practical outcomes.

Daniel 10

This vision takes two chapters. We’ve seen in the last chapter how Daniel, despite his outward success as a top administrator for the king, is miserable about being displaced. Here he mourns for three weeks before the vision appears.

An angel gleaming in light comes first. It’s so vivid. I read the wikipedia article about Daniel yesterday and it took such an agnostic tone, saying Daniel didn’t actually exist, the book was a compilation of folk tales. But the event describes like a moment in someone’s life. If it wasn’t Daniel, it was someone with some name. It has a documentary feeling.

This time Daniel was walking near the Tigris with an entourage. I’d love to list mundane things the bible says people were doing when God intervenes in their lives. Abraham was with some sheep. The disciples were fishing.

The angel introduces God who is a man. The angels appearance has been extraordinary. This is just “a man”. Christ bells start ringing.

Daniel exhausted and weak as ever when the vision happens, is given time and the touch of God to recover.

But then for so exalted a vision the content starts out very ephemeral… We’re straight into local politics.

Genesis 12

I love the Bible! They say history is written by the victors, but God’s history is written by the losers.  We get to the amazing promise that God will use Abram to found a mighty nation.  Then he allows the Pharaoh to marry his wife under false pretences by lying that she is his sister, for his own material gain.  So weak and faithless!  We are in no doubt that God’s grace is the only hope for mankind, its painfully real.

Father, thank you for your grace poured out on mankind, that you do not love us becaue we deserve it, but because you are love. May I lead a life of love. 

Of course I should not belittle Abram. He listened to god’s voice. It might seem obvious, but the promise of God was not clearly fulfilled by his immediate circumstances. The land God promised was actually filled with other people. Yet he still went there, with the whole family. There must have been some who thought him mad. He raised altars to the God who no one could see, the nameless living God who spoke in his head. All the while he knew his wife was barren, which rather cast doubt on the nation that was to spring from the union. Then there was a famine.  I think my faith would have been tested.

Was it faithless to go to Egypt? Suddenly Abram seems to be planning as if god didn’t have a promise over him, virtually giving his wife to Pharaoh in return for material gain. God intervened with diseases… (His main way of speaking to the rulers of Egypt!), and they sent Abram away. The Pharaoh was very reasonable it seems to me,  God’s intervention is everywhere in this, but Abram’s weakeness is also well on display.  Father, you work through broken vessels.  I can’t run from your plans.