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 for 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.

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.

John 2

Water into Wine

This is a flashback from the calling of the disciples to Jesus’ first miracle.  It follows Jesus dramatic promise to Nathaniel “Jesus’ first miracle. “Very truly I tell you,[i] you[j] will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  Changing water into wine, so glad its there, and its striking in so many ways.

  • Always been amazed at such an obviously magical miracle.  Its the power of god the creator to be able to make a substance from scratch that is the product of human agency and time for maturation.  The narrative makes a point of how good it is, a subtle quality.  Its almost like God showing off… you think you are so clever… certainly an awsome demonstration of God’s power in terms of degree of difficulty.
  • Such a trivial purpose on the face of it… more grog at a wedding. So human and banal.
  • Such a story of joy, celebration and indulgence.  Such an affirmation of human character.. having parties and drinking to be merry, its what we do.
  • The strange dialogue between mother and son.  That Mary suggested Jesus do something stimulates the imagination of what it must have been like being his mother, knowing he was messiah, God.
  • His obedience to her despite expressing reluctance.  The Gospels report this strange serendipitous nature of Jesus that he will often put the situation before the mission.  He responds to random circumstances in a loving generous way that is off task, and says so, but goes ahead regardless.  This is God, not what you’d expect.
  • The generosity of the miracle: 6 jars of 30 gallons, top quality.  180 gallons, seriously?

What do I learn?  God is love, god is abundance, god has style. Our “humaness” which is often pitted against God as Humanism is a reflection of the character of God, like a rebellious child who damns his parents with echos of phrases and logic that they themselves have taught him. Praying today for a good outcome from confusing, stress inducing job interviews. No offers yet, two very different positions, quite in need of trust and calm.  Very unsettling. 

Don’t make Jesus angry…

Now a flashforward to the last weeks of Jesus’ life. John’s obvious arrangement of Jesus’ life events for meaning rather than chronology makes you pay close attention to the editing. In chapter 1 we have a potted history of the universe and mankind; the mesiah arrives, calls his team and promises we’ll see heaven opened… and we get party Jesus and now angry Jesus.

Jesus’ reason for not wanting to do the wine miracle was that its wasn’t his time. This is more what his “time” looks like, though he is still holding back to a degree.  Trying very hard to get up the noses of the poiwerful and self rightoues, corrupt religious authorities.  This action is probably what got him killed, the claim about building the temple in three days was certainly quoted at his trial.

Jesus was a nobody to them, it took a huge chaotic symbolic disrespectful gesture like this to even get them to give him the time of day. Contrast the woman at the well, marginalised reviled, so aware of her fallen status.  Jesus had her full attention just by daring to say “hello”.  I imagine he would have been ignored by the hierarchy for anything less than this chaotic open affront. But he got their attention.

His message is that the presence of God has moved. The temple is now him. And the sacrificial system is now him.  So all those high margin doves they were selling are worthless to God. They don’t get that  he is talking in metaphors.  John makes it clear that even the disciples only figured it out after the resurrection.

Jesus’ reticence is a linking point of the two stories.  Sometimes it seems like a trap, his method.  The messiah comes but is very cagey about proving his power, he speaks in metaphors, doesn’t trust the general public with clear talk about his true nature, but then makes a big deal about being rejected.

It seems unfair – could he make it easier to believe in him? I think the secrecy and distrustfulness is an act of grace. Jesus spends his ministry buying time.  He could have been killed a hundred times. Just reading the scriptures with the wrong emphasis was enough to turn his home synagogue crowd into a lynch mob. Claiming to be messiah was a recipe for a short life. He had a dangerous mission to manage the uncontrollable evil around him to die the way he did.  All of our existence still is God buying time, managing and not intervening by destroying the sin of the world to give us a chance to repent.

The two stories are mainly placed to show Jesus is heaven opened and angels descending and ascending, fulfilling the claim at the end of the first chapter.

Its a claim that recalls Jacobs ladder, the vision of a bridge in Genesis between God and man with endless access up and down.  So we are confronted right off the bat with magical Jesus: if you want to believe in a great teacher only, not a divine being, stop reading.  And we are confronted with the one who brings God to man.  If you want to believe the temple is the location of God, forget it.  The reference to Jacob’s ladder is a reminder that God never was limited to a building either before or after Jesus. He is God, he is the Way.

The chapter ends with an interesting passage on how distrustful Jesus is – he knows our black hearts.

Very troubled by my second interview for job today.  The lightness and confidence i had about the process seems to have drained away, and I feel destined to fail at every aspect of it.  This is dangerous thinking for me particularly, though I should expect it as I have had a long history of screwiness about jobs and am coming back to it from a long holiday.  My brother John is also very sick with a mysterious disease, also troubling me.  So pray for calm in both… that ladder to heaven is still open, may angels descend and ascend today.