Psalm 114

Is God material or spirit? He lives in our hearts, he loves creating. He operates though physical things. He saves our souls. Why do we have bodies at all? Does Jesus still have the body he ascended with? Will our souls live in a spiritual place forever or will we have resurrection bodies in a new earth?

This brief and startling Psalm, the second in a series of six used at Passover, gets to the main game: the exodus. And sent my mind off into lots of thoughts like these.

Israel was god’s nation, always foreigners in Egypt. It says they became his sanctuary when they left. Became his dwelling place.

They build a temple, a physical sanctuary, but perhaps the thing is that God just transformed the religious practices they already had by living in the people as a nation. We no longer have the practice, their temple is gone and we have many many different new ways to be religious across the world. But we do still have his presence.

I won’t have time to go on in this vein, but the psalm talks about the reaction of nature. The seas and rivers fled at the presence of God. This literally happened at the start and end of the exodus, the red sea and the Jordan.

The water shows respect, fear even, but the hills and mountains show delight, skipping around like sheep. (Mountains do look woolly in the distance).

Why flee, waters, why skip mountains? the Psalmist asks. Then recalls the miracle that involved them both, during the journey: of springs of water coming from rock.

God’s playing with the material world. The creator saying he is the master of reality, it need not be how it is, it’s how he wants it to be. A bit like the old Aboriginal stories of the creator jumping around and shaping the landscape.

And these responses of creation are in service of his rescue, the dangerous water becomes dry land, and the rock becomes life giving sustenance. Creation becomes part of god’s salvation voice.

It is described as trembling, but the commentators say not just in fear, there is a connotation of birth contractions. Creation birthing god’s people.

The meeting of their physical needs of safety and bodily nourishment is the promise of spiritual connection to the maker. Love and safety eternal.

It’s perfect poetry how, with very few and delightfully surprising words, it opens up and out into so much meaning.

The Anglican chant of it stuck with me from childhood as a choirboy, the image of the jumping mountains and coming out of the strange lands stuck in my young mind. You don’t have to know what it is about to know what it is about.

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Proverbs 28

We’re back to a lot of advice for Kings and rulers and some more explicitly spiritual proverbs.

I love this metaphor, and the value it gives the poor:

A ruler who oppresses the poor
is like a driving rain that leaves no crops.

I have to write an article at work for an internal publication about the Salvation Army’s attitude to the upcoming federal election, … Maybe I could give this one a Guernsey.

So there, the wisdom for rulers isn’t wasted in a democracy devoted to free speech. The citizens can throw them back at them!

There is a lot about the poor, the general theme being not to underestimate them, that exploiting them is to risk losing your own wealth and status.

If it was Solomon writing, he was foretelling the issue that led to the dividing and fatal weakening of the kingdom after his death.

The godly characteristics being taught here include: right living, seeking the Lord, confessing and renouncing sin, humility and integrity.

It’s interesting that there is reference to a goodness at work in society.

I suppose St Paul referred to it when he said to respect authorities because God gives that order to us to prevent chaos.

If you belive in original sin, you would expect society to be evil. But this sort of thing comes back a few times:

When the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding;
but when the wicked perish, the righteous thrive.

There is a rump of goodness that can only be temporarily subdued. Society won’t permanently career towards evil.

The universe is on the side of truth and love, so tyrants are ill informed and on the wrong side of history:

The rich are wise in their own eyes;
one who is poor and discerning sees how deluded they are.

Evildoers do not understand what is right,
but those who seek the Lord understand it fully.

And of course we are all rulers of our own little patch, no matter how small.

But also, lots of interesting fodder for my article!

Proverbs 18

On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

This is a picture of the world with the blind leading the blind, the shepherdless sheep for whom Jesus wept.

Our gossip goes deep into our attitudes. We speak and speak, incurious, determined not to let facts contradict our beliefs. Spouting opinions for the sheer entertainment of our own voices being heard.

It’s a chapter about damaging words and thought patterns. Physical illness is less the enemy of our soul than our minds:

The human spirit can endure in sickness,
but a crushed spirit who can bear?

Rich people build up their secure domestic compounds but the security those offer is illusory. In the centre of it all, the actual solid rock:

The name of the Lord is a fortified tower;
the righteous run to it and are safe.

There’s good stuff in the world, it’s not damning or abandoning of it. It’s a competition. But there is an assault of foolish ideas coming at us.

Think carefully, be a source of wisdom to the extent a human can, it starts with your heart.

I can’t always talk God in every interaction I have with my children or people at large. But I can always strive for wisdom.

Psalm 50

This psalm is by Asaph, who is mentioned in chronicles as a seer as well as a musician. He’s good at singing and cymbals, apparently.

It sent me to the commentary, I found it hard to follow. But they made it quite clear. The people of God are judged for two things: empty ritualism and hypocrisy.

They quoted the preacher Spurgeon. Always a good idea. He said of ritualism ‘what was meant to instruct became their confidence’

So true! For Israel it was the animal sacrifices. They were supposed to consider that the blood shed should have been theirs, and repent of their sin. Learn.

But its so easy to instead think that you have given God something, be it an animal or any other regular duty… Going to church, reading your Bible, taking communion.

As the psalm dramatically points out, God doesn’t need anything, he already owns the cattle on 1000 hills. We need… To acknowledge him, humbly call on him.

Ditto hypocrisy, which is dealt with in the second half of the psalm.

The set up is significant though. It starts with a huge stage, all of Earth witnessing God shining from Zion, fire and tumult announcing his presence. And he judges his people first.

You would think judgement day would be one day when we could be smug. ‘Aha – now the unbelievers are in trouble’ we might think. But our ritualism, our hypocrisy, and the call on us to repent is the judgement held up before the whole earth.

And this judgement day isn’t necessarily at the end of time, it’s just God’s judgement. It’s happening as the song is being sung. The second half of the psalm talks about God being patient, giving us time while he remains silent to repent before we are torn apart (!)

And so it remains. And how misguided, how hypocritical do we often appear to the world. The response is so often to defend ourselves, rather than to show the world what true repentance and mercy looks like.

We have no right to feel smug, our repentance is part of the hope of the whole world.

I’ve had a few things happening but today is not the day, maybe tomorrow’s Psalm I’ll talk about it.

I’m enjoying the Psalms! I’m taking them as devotional moments, meditations. I think I got impatient with them before because they seemed repetitive and the book as a whole wasn’t going anywhere. But sometimes repetition is good, like coffee. I never ask ‘what does today’s coffee add to yesterday’s coffee?’ Psalms is more of a series of coffee breaks than a journey.

Psalm 47

A jolly praise Psalm about God becoming king of all nations.

It starts with clapping: an international language, all beings praising.

It talks about God first choosing the Israelites, giving a special inheritance to the pride of Jacob.

The covenant with Abraham was to be a father to all nations. His grandson Jacob was the father of the 12 tribes, Israel’s is a story within the larger promise.

Then in this quick praise filled version of the larger story God ascends to his throne as king… Like Jesus actually did… Amid the shouts of joy of all nations, and trumpets. He reigns. All people gather. They praise, and praise some more.

It is the story of the Messiah, and our gentile ears should tingle (while we are clapping, shouting and praising) because he is the revelation of God to all of us.

I’ve been thinking about universalism in my old age, whether it’s possible everyone is saved. I don’t think that is probably true, but I feel less hard on people who do. I don’t think it makes a heap of practical difference to the life you lead or the message you preach.

It’s just a an awareness of this feeling of stories within stories, smaller blessings within larger ones. God is always managing our revelation.

Like the layers of creation stories, from being made in God’s image to the dishonest temptation to be like God by eating of the tree of Knowledge. What does that mean? If someone is an image of God but out of the garden, do you address them as being God’s? I face this problem of address regularly at work.

I’m contemplating that many more or many less people may be believers, or saved, than I would have thought. Which makes sense. I mean, how on earth would that be something I would know?

But you grow up thinking you do. You know, all Anglicans are in. Well, the evangelicals, the ones we know. Other protestants, good to go. I’m not intolerant.. as long as they believe something ( looking at you Uniting). Catholics pentecostals? Depends on the moment… Is this a conversation about theology or demographics?

For example, Abraham goes back 4000 years, but Aboriginals have lived here most likely 60000 years. What did they know of God those 56000 years? That’s a very lot of years. I’m totally with my brothers and sisters, when Captain Cook arrived, God was already here.

But equally, reading about the ‘chosen’ people in the old testament this past few years, the majority never seemed to have got it. Many spent a lot of time worshipping other Gods, or just being blatantly nominal Israelites who did religious duties, enjoyed the feasts, but behaved with total self interest, spiritually hollow. True believers always seems to have been a tiny subset.

We think the church is in decline, Australia doesn’t identify nearly as Christian as it did a generation ago. But I don’t think God is failing, perhaps nominalism is failing.

We meet each week in our sandstone cave in glebe point road, 70 of us in a population of 1000s. I don’t think God’s mission is a failure, I do what I feel led and taught to. I trust and obey.

St Paul’s image of us seeing through a glass darkly frees me from overthinking this. It’s an awareness that, yes we still don’t have the full story, but I have my story, and God is very happy to run with that.

I’m aware of my failings and challenges. I spend a lot of my time either boosting the salvation army or my beloved local church, or praying for and sharing life’s ups and downs with my family.

I share in this international vision of praise of a mighty God of love and justice, everyone’s King. But I don’t really have a clue how it literally plays out on that level, just an evolving sense of how it plays out in my little patch.

2 Chronicles 36

The last three Kings of Judah in quick succession. Their fate is already controlled by forces larger than themselves. Egypt and Babylon plot to put in puppet Kings until Babylon destroys Jerusalem and disperses the people into exile.

It’s economically told. We skip the misery and death that the siege involved. In a way it’s typically upbeat.

Being written post- exile, the writer is able to quickly sketch in the return from exile after 70 years. So it ends much less bleakly than Kings and Jeremiah, which have just the barest thread of hope at the end.

But all three accounts have strongly in common that it is God’s judgement, Babylon is simply his means of judgement. It’s God’s doing, because they rebelled against him and rejected his prophets.

2 Chronicles 31

I suppose it was inevitable that the writer of chronicles would go bananas for a whole chapter about the obedience of king Hezekiah, expressed in the specifics of how he organised the temple. That’s why he picked up his pen.

The system really is a concrete expression of the commandment to love the Lord with all your heart. The chapter hangs off the word “wholeheartedly” in the last verse, describing Hezekiah’s obedience.

I always panic a little at the amount of effort and resources the system requires – I called it clunky a few chapters ago.

But we’re also called to put God #1, I should examine how wholehearted I am.

I like here how the sheer abundance of it is a bit chaotic. The tithing, enthusiastically obeyed, quickly produces great heaps of produce, and you sense they are playing catch-up organising storehouses and searching out the dispersed and forgotten members of the priest tribe to distribute it to.

A whole workforce is suddenly released from the fields to full time service of God. The childhoods of children as young as three are transformed, becoming focused on preparing to take on a priestly role.

The Levites tribe system of inherited full time ministry, by blood not calling, has always niggled at me. It’s strange to us now. It’s a little, in my mind, like arranged vs. love marriages. I wonder if the results are actually much different.

And I suppose for the deeper meaning of ‘priest’, descendants of Aaron, people able to come into God’s presence, it’s very appropriate. All believers are inheritors of their priesthood now.

I liked the detail that this is about the first time the people themselves destroy the poles and worship places of the other Gods, not just by order of the king. The experience of the communal Passover feast and teaching in the last chapter has won the people back to Jehovah. It’s a description of revival.

2 Chronicles 30

Reunification done right. This is a moving story.

Through the book there have been several attempts to reunify the nation of Israel since they split after Solomon. But they were all political or military attempts to regain the earthly glory of that time.

Now, with the northern kingdom under siege by Assyria, with people already being carted away into exile, they unify spiritually, based on their shared beliefs.

All of Judah, and a rag tag bunch of people from the north who responded to Hezekiah’s invitation gathered in Jerusalem for Passover.

I loved how they didn’t quite do it right, wrong month, couldn’t do some of the prior cleansing, but they realised God is ultimately interested in the heart.

I visualise those church services in war movies like Mrs Miniver, singing hymns in the bombed out church, faith during threat and adversity.

And it unleashed such a joy in the people, together praising God’s saving grace in a way not seen since Solomon’s time, and praying for the safety of those already taken away, that they spontaneously extended it for another week.

The King delivered huge amounts of food, meat he could probably barely afford.

An abundant feast, a burst of pure celebration of God in the hardest of times.

Gather together in what we share, God’s love. Don’t panic, celebrate.

2 Chronicles 27

King Jotham, good but minor. He was a believer, and steadfast, no suggestion that he became proud or corrupt as he got older (he didn’t get that old, dead at 41).

His success is measured in military strength and prosperity.

His godly character and success are linked, it is the lesson of his reign.

But he doesn’t move the needle on the people’s corruption. He’s not the first leader to suffer that in this story.

Moses? Judges? Joseph? A large component of the people always seem to stay stubborn and rebel against Jehovah.

It’s nothing new, expect it.

2 Chronicles 5

The dedication of the temple in Jerusalem.

The ark and the other bits and pieces dedicated by king David, who never got to build the temple, are bought in.

The contents of the ark seem a bit vague. Here its the stone tablets given to Moses, with the law carved in them by God hand.

But elsewhere it’s said also to have a jar of mana, the food God caused to appear on the exodus trip, and the staff of Aaron, which showed God’s power to the Pharaoh so he would let the Israelites go.

Anyway, I suppose no one dared look inside to check, it had a habit of killing those who mistreated it.

All the priests are present for the dedication of the temple, they usually served in shifts.

Music, sacrifices, and then at the height of the proceedings a cloud of God appears. He has made the temple his home, he is present.

The cloud is so rich they have to stop and leave. The glory of God filled the house of God.

This account is written for later generations of Jews who were rebuilding the temple after Jerusalem was gutted and it was destroyed. It wasn’t as grand. I should check whether the cloud appeared a second time. ( Ezra 6… No)

It’s struck me as more remote for God than we are used to. We are used to him speaking conversationally with Moses, and directly to David, or to him though prophets.

But this is a big public miracle, a sign for the people. It’s how he appeared in the days of the exodus, the pillar of cloud led them though the wilderness.

God has come home. It’s not all of him, the last thing Solomon said was that he could not be contained in a temple. But he is present.