Isaiah 43

Tough love.

A beautiful description of God’s character. It reaches back to Moses’ burning bush and escape though the sea to talk about God’s protection though trials of fire and flood.

The refrain of “fear not” from the last few chapters is repeated. So are images of the gathering of the nations, being loved and known since birth, the unique omnipotence of the one true God.

The image of a highway in a newly verdant desert comes back, which is described as a new thing God will do.

Then, right at the end we hear God has grown weary of them. The North has ignored him, and the South has kept up an empty religion.

Therefore both will be destroyed and reviled.

Bam. End of chapter. It puts everything in context.

Fear not… Because much to fear is coming.

Remember that God is in charge, fire won’t consume you, water won’t drown you…  because both are coming, etc.

The destruction coming is not only God’s judgement, it’s his love.

And he offers to have it out with them: let’s have witnesses, let’s state our cases.

So much to teach us about difficult times, but the lesson I’m taking is: stay in contact with God, yell at him if you have to. Have it out, he’s saying he can take it.

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Isaiah 40

One of the most encouraging chapters in the Bible. After a few chapters of prose, interacting with the king and the military threats and politics of the day, where there is so much fear and desperation, Isaiah takes our vision up above it all to see what is really going on.

God is unspeakably mighty, except maybe no one ever did speak words that come closer to describing it!

Mountains are like dust, the seas are to him like water cupped in his hand. He sits above the earth, spreading out the heavens is like pitching a tent, people like grass hoppers.

He has a flock, that’s us. He cares to the point of self sacrifice about us, leading us tenderly, gathering us.

We have plugged into the solid true power, anything else is a bet on delusion. We’re up there soaring with him, powered with his power.

I want to live carelessly. Without care, courageous and brave. God has taught me about the grandeur in the smallest things, the eternal truths that inform reach moment. That time is measured by how well it is used, not how long it is or how quickly tasks get done.

A lifetime is not a monument of personal achievements you can look back on and polish and say “bow to the idol of what Paul achieved” (or “my idol is so lame, no one must see it”)

A lifetime is an opportunity, a location in space and time, for understanding and reflecting a wonderful truth: the universe has endless goodness and love at its centre, “God”.

Every kindness, every empathetic moment, every chance you have to bring joy where there was sadness, fairness where there was injustice, compassion even if you can’t fix everything, makes the universe a little closer to how it is supposed to be.

This is like waking up, spiritually. Moving hearts, even just your own in this materialistic world, is bigger than moving mountains.

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”

Isaiah 5

God sings a song of love lost. He compares Jerusalem and Judah to a vineyard where he planted, built walls, tended and did everything to produce good grapes, but got only bitter nuggets – wild grapes – in return.  What would anyone do with such a vineyard? Yes, give up on it and tear it down.

Then “woes”. Apparently Isaiah introduced this figure of speech to the Bible. “Woe to you who…” 

… Collect Property and destroy village life by getting ever wealthier, introducing inequality into society. It recalls the very just plan in the Torah, with years of Jubilee that were designed to keep society’s wealth flat. 

… Drinkers who spend life reveling and increase ignorance and self obsession.

… Liers and cheaters generally, who mislead the people in public life making good bad and bad good. spin merchants.

Ends by mentioning the judgement that will come from afar… Assyria and Babylon basically, who sacked Israel.

Thinking about lies, wealth and reveling actually, living in the year(s?) of Trump, the uber lying property developer, and on the end of a week where one of my wife’s school friends died of alcoholism.

I should look at my behaviours that produce bitter fruit and those that produce sweet fruit, for in me has God invested his love, I am God’s vineyard.

Give me something to show for it father!

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.

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…