1 Chronicles 16

The second half of the celebration of the ark of the covenant coming to Jerusalem, this box they’ve carried through the wilderness with the 10 commandments written by God the food God provided, and Moses’ staff, which turned into a snake before Pharaoh.

They appoint priests to run worship at the place it is and make music. Singing and music are key to uniting the people under Jehovah.

Then we get a big bold song about God being over all and his love being eternal. And they feed everyone, roast meat, bread and raisins.

It is a sensational day, the making of a people, a godly people, their destiny, a golden freeze frame moment.

The last verse says then they all went home, and David spent time with his family.

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1 Chronicles 4

The bald list of descendents of Judah is punctuated with a few small comments and biographical facts. The lists are so meaningless to us now that those facts become very prominent.

Jabez was a good man.

The valley where these people settled became famous for handicrafts.

I remember teachers giving advice about answering exam questions “think about the answers, don’t just write down everything you know”. But when you are preserving what you can of a shattered national culture, a heritage, that is actually the right approach.

I interviewed a woman at work who told how the broken culture of her people was preserved through unlikely magazines designed by the government to help Aboriginal people assimilate, reporting on them and emphasising ways in which they matched expectations of them living a western life. They formed a sort of written social history that is very valuable for people teaching their Aboriginal heritage.

So I do understand the value of these lists, building blocks of the identity of Christ and the Jewish nation.

But they don’t make interesting or enlightening reading particularly, taken as I am, daily devotional chunks.

Jeremiah 52

The book ends with the story of the fall of Jerusalem.

How completely the temple worship of Solomon was discarded, the temple, all other large buildings, demolished and burned. The walls bought down. The expensive bronze, gold and silver, carried away.

The religious, military and ruling elite executed and nearly 5000 of the poorer people led away into exile. That number seems shockingly low. They are called a stump, a remnant, elsewhere. There must have been so much death.

Their culture was broken with the intention of eradicating it from the earth.

The book isn’t chronological, but it’s an appropriate way to end, being reminded that God’s warnings were correct.

The siege lasted two years. That must have been so awful, it’s little wonder they wanted to throttle Jeremiah and his message of inevitable defeat. I mean, he talked about wishing he could stop himself.

It’s a relatively dispassionate history, no poetry this chapter, but they linger poignantly over the splendor of the remaining bits of Solomon’s temple, such as the two giant bronze pillars decorated with pomegranates that defined the grand entrance – plundered and taken to be melted down, no doubt.

And we get the story of the last Davidic king being allowed to live out his days peacefully in Babylon… The only ray of hope, the continuing covenant line that will lead to Jesus.

The fall of Jerusalem is a key story, a bit like the gospel, it’s repeated several times in the Bible, eg: also the last chapter of Kings, etc. The earthly Jerusalem is gone and today they still don’t have it back really. It was a way of describing heaven, God’s rule, his people, his place. This is the hardest part of its evolution from a literal city to mostly a theological idea.

Isaiah 62

Another poem about the blessing of Jerusalem, this one talking about God’s relationship with the city.

It’s been forsaken, it’s been deserted and ruined.

Now God promises to love it enthusiastically, like a husband for a young bride.

There is a little, though not as much as in the last two chapters, of language so over the top that it seems to apply to the new Jerusalem, the new city of God spoken of in revelation, the one that is the end point of history.

This one seems as much literally about Jerusalem, which was of course restored after the exile finished.

But it also seems to apply to the current era, after Jesus but before the end times. There is a reference to other nations doing the chores while God’s people are priests, which at first seems a bit gloating, like the book believers have got their come uppance.

But God’s people are actually serving, as priests, all of us, bringing God to the world.

It is a picture of the people of God, in his kingdom, ministering to the whole earth.

This idea of me sharing Jesus servanthood is one I’ll take richly from Isaiah.

Isaiah 49

Half the chapter is about Isaiah’s figure the servant of the lord. All the elements are there: he is from God, a means of judgement and salvation, despised by people yet used not only for salvation of Israel but of all nations.

Again you do the loop where it is impossible to visualise anyone but Jesus.

I considered how there have been numerous other servants of the lord, Moses fits quite close. And the kingship was designed to be humble in Moses’ law, David dancing before the ark more than Solomon in a palace. It’s a biblical pattern, a truth about God’s way, but specifically it is so Jesus.

The second half is about Israel being glorified. With all the servant talk, especially the bit about being for all the world, Israel might think “so what are we?”

But God assures them they always have a special place like the place a child has for a parent. He also describes them as like a tattoo on his hand.

It finishes with a classic old testament scene of retribution… The enemies of Israel starving to the point of canabalism while all the exiles and all the world beats a path back to the promised land to share in glory.

Which, given the original audience was probably on the verge of being conquered and dragged away into exile from the land, was very comforting hyperbole.

It’s like “you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need”.

What they want is the promise of relief from their political and military victimhood, which they will get eventually, but not soon enough, and not before things get a lot worse.

What they need is what Isaiah calls the “new thing” this global salvation plan for all mankind, hundreds of years in the future but acting retroactively and prospectively for all.

Isaiahs big task is starting to explain, and it’s not easy. Even with my perspective I still keep doing double takes. The whole Bible is an odd story!

Isaiah 21

Here prophesies are called “burdens”, which is evocative. Isiah just wakes up one day and has to unburden himself of all this stuff. It’s hard to follow. Maybe he found it hard to follow too.

At the moment his scenes are all about attacks on neighbouring countries, what are you gonna do? 

These seem to be three “out of the frying pan into the fire” prophesies. 

For Babylon, of whom Isaiah’s country lives in complete terror, he sees the Persians overrunning them. Ok, that’s more “there’s always a bigger fish” maybe.

His chaotic vision for their neighbour Edom seems to be “don’t relax” night will be followed by morning, then night again.

He sees refugees who tried to escape an attack on Arabia in a worse position, starving and dying.

The larger theme of all these burdens seems to be “it was always thus”. The bullies now will later be bullied. It’s a way of softening the blow that Israel will feel God has deserted them. Their status as chosen people meant God literally intervened in the flow of politics and military victors to elevate and protect them. 

But now the prophets are reinterpreting what it means to be his chosen people. They are entering the game of thrones, and will lose for a while.

But such is how God manages the corruption of the human race. No one group has too much power for too long, is too dominant. It’s the judgement of the tower of Babel.

Having a crazy busy week, feeling acutely the sense that I keep letting everything slip through my fingers, especially the family. I feel so ineffectual.

Pauses to pray.

2 Kings 23

The rest of Josiah’s reign. In a sense he was greater than David. Certainly he was the most godly King since David.

It simply says he loved the lord with all his heart. And he leads the people in that love.  So he actually does remove all worship of other Gods.

He celebrates Passover for the first time since time judges, pre the monarchy.

David, to give him his credit, couldn’t because the temple wasn’t set up.

There is a plan in this blessing of God’s I think. It’s setting a precedent for how the temple worship would operate post exile, though to Jesus day. It’s the true coming of monotheism to Israel. He makes a point of destroying the golden calf set up at Bethel by jeroboam, which reaches right back in tradition to the rebellion of the people in the book of exodus.

It’s a blessing to end the book on, the other end of the scale from Solomon, who squandered so much in a way.

And it really is end game after Josiah. Two of his sons become king in quick succession after he is killed in battle by the Pharaoh. The second son is a puppet king for Pharaoh, virtually his tax collector.  Yes after rediscovering Passover for the first time in many years, they are slaves of Egypt again.

2 Kings 18

OK so while the kingdom of Israel is dying, the kingdom of Judah gets the best King arguably since David. 

Hezekiah finally not only serves the lord personally but leads the people right, he takes down the sacred poles and high places of worship to other Gods.

God does not actually intervene in this chapter. The Assyrians arrive and trash talk the lord and any thought of resistance. It’s psychological warfare. Or bullying.

The chapter ends with messengers running to the king, tearing their clothes in distress and telling him all that the Assyrians have said.

I had a sleepless night tonight. Nothing in particular to worry about, just the sense of being trapped by being overcommitted at work and at home. 

Cooking for home group tonight. I’ve been thinking about a song I wrote called “don’t forget to pray” and, for all this Bible reading I do, I do often forget. 

I’ve been doing this of and on for a few years now, and it’s well and truly a habit, but it can almost be an escape. I’m a timid person in many ways, prayer leads to a more motivated appreciation of God’s will. I wonder if I’ve been avoiding that.

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 3

Solomon meets god, asks for wisdom, and displays it.

We are entering the most successful period of Israel’s history.

Moses was unable to enter the promised land.  David was unable to build the temple.

Solomon will usher in the most full realisation of all the law and descriptions in Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy of life in the promised land. But already the worship of other Gods is prevalent, even young king solomon doesn’t know better.

God speaks to him, and he asks for wisdom. God is pleased and promises him earthly triumph as well.

The famous example of him judging a dispute between 2 women for 1 live baby gives credence to his great wisdom.  I hadn’t got the idea that they were prostitutes before – when we did it at sunday school.  Which puts a strange twist on the story.

Reading back through my blog entries, I realise I often ask God for wisdom.  I have a vague memory that God eventually tells Solomon he asked for the wrong thing, but there is no hint of that here, maybe I remembered wrong.

In any event, off to a strong start…