Isaiah 41

A massive “fear not” chapter.

Fear not because God is the most powerful ruler, he can win every battle.

Because he is the creator, he can make desserts bloom and move rivers, so the poor and the thirsty will be blessed.

Fear not because Jehovah is the true God. Test idols, ask them to describe what will be, how judgement works, to give you counsel that will give meaning to life. All you will get as an answer is clanging, in the wind, like bits of metal on a wind chime.

Some of my fears in no particular order are that my kids will never achieve independence before I get sick or die, North Korea will do some disaster with a nuclear bomb, my beloved faith, Christianity, will morph into a dreadful corrupt conservative dystopia like the handmaid’s tale, I’ll never address my tax problems before I get in huge trouble about it. Stuff like that. Our savings will continue to go downward, that our lifestyle is unsustainable.

Oh I’m getting fearful just thinking about them! One thing though, if I wrote about my fears a few years ago, it would be a quite different list. I have found the more I regularly read the Bible, the better I get at facing my fears.

Equally, people can always fear. If all this list went away, there would be another list to take its place.

I am much more clear headed than I was a few years ago.

Father help me to face my fears. You want me not to fear, but not by running away from them, but by having faith you are in control as I name and address them.


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2 Kings 8

We’re shown that the King knows all about some of Elisha’s miracles and believes them.

Elisha knows the truth about everything but cannot affect everything.  He cries when he meets a foreigner named Hazeal because he knows he will become a King who will visit much suffering on Israel.

He’s watching God’s judgment and the evil of men.

The godly King in the southern Kingdom, Judah is succeeded by a King married to one of Ahab’s daughters.  He allows Ahab’s calf worship – his reign is summarised by weakening of the empire, lands are lost to rebellion, and a repeat of the promise that God preserves a “lamp” – the line of David will not be allowed to fail.

The chapter ends with the reign of the next Judah King, who we are told only lasts a year. He isn’t dead yet, but wounded by the very foreigner, now King, mentioned above who Elisha wept when he saw.

Jesus, like Elisha, could sometimes only weep.

 

1 Kings 19

Elijah left the last chapter on a high, having destroyed the false prophets, running to reach and influence the king. But he seems to lose the political advantage and is again hunted as public enemy number one by Queen Jezebel.  He loses all hope.

Tired, hungry, he staggers one day into the desert and gives up. He tells God to just let him die. And if the lack of food doesn’t get him the Queen surely will.

God gives him food for strength enough to hide properly. Then 3 displays of his power, earthquake wind and Fire. Then silence out of which he listens to Elijah’s utter loneliness and hopelessness and then promises help and victory over Ahab and Jezebel.

The help comes first. Elijah shares his mantle with Elisha, who like Jesus’ disciples unhesitatingly leaves a busy and prosperous life to follow.

It’s a passage that should restore the hope of everyone who reads it. It details how caring God is.

First he attends to the immediate physical needs, the good Shepherd, food and shelter.

Then the reminder of his power, after which the intimate solace. God listens, promises.

And the help. Is there anything more encouraging than other believers who share your sense of God’s mission?

That’s our God! I pray that me and mine may know that God. If you are desperate, it’s worth crying to him.

Deuteronomy 31

Of course having told the Israelites to choose life in the last chapter, Moses goes straight on to prepare to die.

He writes a book of the law. He creates a public ritual/celebration every 7 years to read the law. He writes a song of the law. I think he wants them to remember the law.

But more than that, he knows they will fail, through bitter experience, and it’s poignant because he loves them. He calls the law a witness to them. It’s so like a parent’s mixed emotions, torn between knowing they must journey on without him, and wanting to protect them forever, leaving only words behind.

He appoints Joshua to follow him, and tells him to be “strong and courageous”.  Courageous is one of my wife Kelly’s favourite words. It is not only a powerful idea, the act of saying the word seems to make it real, to create a space for courage.

Deuteronomy 19

The word for this chapter is “just”. They are to have a just society. Previous chapters could have the words “God fearing” “humble” “caring”. 

This is about the refuges cities. We’ve heard of them before but the reason is drawn out more, that it is about stopping the shedding of innocent blood. The measures discourage escalation of revenge killings between tribes and families.

Then detailing that the legal system is to represent a genuine quest for truth, with multiple witnesses and thorough investigations of facts.

It’s so familiar these ancient texts. Despite lots that is culturally remote, the core of what we still regard as an ideal society is being laid out in God’s word here. No wonder there were times when Israel fell in love with the law.

Numbers 36

It’s like to say it came to a climactic end but I can’t… It’s a bit of business revisiting the quite liberal law that allows women to inherit land where a family only has daughters. It enters the land doesn’t thereby move out of Israel possession of they may non Israelites or even non clan.

It emphasises again the God given nature of the land and the relationship the nation has with God.

You can’t miss from this book: God chose them, God gave them the land. The did their darnedest to reject his promises, and a generation was wasted, but here they are.

Numbers 6

The origin of the Nazarite vow. This is a way of setting apart a person as a holy man. Samson was a Nazarite. By then he was a demonstration of how corrupt the promise had become.

The themes are similar to the clean and holy notions of Leviticus: no contact with the dead, not cutting hair, etc. This was like a voluntary extra giving of a life to God bring the notion that the first born was God’s. 

I imagine if a birth was difficult or a child nearly died of an illness, a parent might pray “deliver him God and I’ll devote him to you”. 

It could only be a male.

Exodus 1

Genesis ended on a high with Joseph 2ic in Egypt and his family, the kernel of the nation of Israel in a privileged position.

But Joseph’s generation passes, and as the people thrive and the regime changes, xenophobia, or more specfically the world’s first anti semitism policy takes hold.

They are enslaved and cruel policies are introduced to have the baby boys killed.

God inspires and rewards kindness on the part of midwives charged with implementing the infanticide. Israel continues to thrive.

The entire Egyptian population are encouraged to throw Israel’s male babies into the river on sight.

I love how god is in the kindness and mercy of the individual midwives’ passive protest. That is who I believe in.

Genesis 37

Now the story of Joseph, one of the greatest. 

It puts the brother’s behaviour in perspective knowing what a cruel bunch his brothers are, after the incident with Dinah a few chapters ago. 

Though that involved them killing a whole village from is a misguided sense of loyalty, and this involved extreme sibling rivalry.

So much comes back to Jacob’s character flaws. The brother’s are sneaky and heartless. It took Reuben, who we last saw committing quasi incest, to talk them out of actually killing him.

Joseph is comfortable at 17 bragging about being the preferred younger son. Jacob’s history repeats there.

Of course it was more than just jealousy, the family wealth was at stake. Joseph in telling his dreams about the brother’s bowing down to him was intentionally or not rubbing his brothers noses in his favoured state with their father.

It’s hard to know what to deduce about Joseph’s character from this. He’s telling the truth about his dreams about god’s future blessing on him. Was he bragging or merely honest. 

We have blessing, we aren’t to let shame about our unearned salvation mean we avoid telling others they need it. But we do. Damnation is an awkward subject with non-Christian friends. 

Was he foolish to speak of his blessedness, given his brothers history of violent greed, or simply faithful, knowing that if God has plans for him nothing they will do will forfeit them?

Joseph’s character is not clear yet. But god’s blessing is.

1 Samuel 25

An odd chapter. I’m flying solo on it, I haven’t read any commentaries. 

Starts with Samuel dying, very flatly reported and not referred to again. But the chapter is then about what kind of man is David. Samuel has been the voice of God, announcing god’s will. David is now on his own. 

And the episode we’re thrown into has uncomfortable echoes of his greatest sin, his desire for Bathsheba. 

In the last chapter David was noble and godly, full of grace. This chapter seems to exist to tell us not to get too carried away with him.

A greedy man, Nabal  is married to a woman, Abigail, David finds attractive. So you gotta wonder about David’s motives when he sets a test to expose what a scoundrel nabal is, and then resolves to destroy him because of it.

God has given David power, military strength and resources to be king. Not to kill selfish men with gorgeous wives.

The intervention of God in the story saves David from his own abuse of power. First Abigail comes and pleads for nabal with gifts and apologies. Her eloquent beautifully brave persuasion is the heart of the chapter. I’d marry her myself! 

David attributes her intervention to God saving all of Nabals men from slaughter.

Then in a convenient and literal Deus ex machina twist Nabal dies of a mysterious disease, which is also attributed to God. So, happy ending, David gets to marry Abigail, after she has demonstrated her worth, without a corrupting slaughter. 

Yet. But his tendency towards lust and abuse of power has been foreshadowed.

And the narrative coolly notes that David married another wife as well, and that Saul traded his first wife Michal off to another king (remember her… She engineered his escape from the palace a few chapters ago).  A reality faceslap worthy of Jane Austen, just when you were feeling all romantic. 

A woman, Abigail, is the hero and voice of God in this story, but their lives, even the daughters of kings, pretty much sucked.