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.

1 Samuel 22

So David goes into full fugitive mode, taking his parents away to a safe haven in another country, and returning to Israel to hide out in a cave. 

Saul in full murderous paranoid mode tracks down the priests who gave David bread in the last chapter. The lie he told them disguising his falling out with the king does not wash and the king has them killed for supporting David. 

One son of the priest escapes and makes it to David who is full of regret that his lie and contact with the priest caused the deaths of the priest’s whole family. 

A rebel army of those who have an issue with the king collect around David. A rag tag army of 400. 

It’s him or Saul. 

And Saul already knows it will be David. Samuel told him chapters ago. All this murderous rage is in defiance of God.

David thought he needed to lie to live out god’s destiny. Not so. We’ll never know what would have happened if he’d not lied to the priest, but surely god is strong enough to have protected his anointed, and David would not have had the priest’s blood on his hands. 

Saul should have known that his defiance of God was futile, but shouldn’t we all, shouldn’t we all.

God’s will is done despite our faithlessness. Our task is to accept it.

Esther 5

Esther sees the king, her fear that he won’t see her is unfounded, he advances the sceptre. She invites Haman and the king to banquets on two successive nights. I expected her to raise the Jewish issue straight away, but she’s got a crafty plan. She’s a politician, Esther.

Is it too post modern to view her as a feminist hero?  Certainly there are lots of feats in Esther, and they have their own story to tell. Commentators note that this is Esther’s feast, in contrast to the Kings feast which was Vashti’s downfall. Esther has taken control.

After the first Haman sees Mordecai and is all the more enraged at his non regard because he has been favored by Esther’s banquet. He thinks his stocks are ever on the rise because of the exclusive King/Queen time.

He is persuaded by his family to kill Mordecai more spectacularly than the rest of the Jews, on an impaling stick as big as his ego. A 75 foot pole is set up for the purpose.

Haman is built up to get the most spectacular schadenfreude in the Bible. You will almost feel sorry for how his fate will turn over the next few chapters. Unless that is, you forget he was planning arbitrary genocide.

Esther was almost fully assimilated into Persian culture. But the pull of her ethnicity and her god are stronger. Once you believe God is behind history its hard, in the crunch, to unbelieve. 

Esther 2

The search is on for a beautiful young virgin for the king of Persia. Scene moves to Mordecai’s house, and his notably beautiful cousin Esther. They are both displaced Jews.

Esther is taken into the King’s harem. Turns out she is really good at what you need to learn… She takes the eunuch’s advice as to what to say and how to behave. After a year of beauty school, she is the King’s chosen.

I find this a wonderfully mind blowing story about serving your purpose on earth by doing what you do do well. Esther is a born beauty queen.

Meanwhile Mordecai is all ears, obviously concerned about Esther he becomes a palace obsessive, hanging round and hearing what he can. In addition to scraps of info about Esther, he uncovers a plot to kill the king, which Esther brings to the King. The plot is foiled and Esther’s stakes go sky high.

There is still a sense of “where is god going with this?” It’s in the Bible so you bring to it the expectation that it must be about him. So god is at work in the petty and relatively unholy daily activities of those who never give him a second thought? I love it. Like the old hymn says, god is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year.

Zechariah 9

A mighty prophesy of things in the near and far future. This has some predictable and surprising elements.

It’s a picture of God as king with lightning bolts and glory. A picture of him saving and preserving Israel, but also the surrounding nations, even as they are condemned and put though a similar winnowing process as Israel has been though in the exile to Babylon.

There is a prediction of the relationship with Greece, both battles and help, which came true in the period between the testaments.

The messianic prediction are striking: a king coming in a donkey, establishing a rule to the ends of the earth. And the Jews will always have a special place, shining young and beautiful like jewels in God’s crown.

It’s all piled in there, I don’t really understand it, but I know it’s truth, the king Messiah is the one I worship.

Feeling a bit sad and frustrated this week. All this glory, but my family feels like it’s in pain. I feel like I should use my strength to help the weak, but not sure how.

Yes I need to pray now.

Zechariah 6

Apparently the visions are coming to an end, I’ll miss them.

Today we have a vision of four horsemen fanning out from God across the world. They are of different colors but we aren’t told what the colors mean. Of course four horsemen turn up in Revelation to announce the end times. Commentators talk about tribulation and judgement from these horses, and I’m not saying they are wrong, but it’s not explicit in the passage. To me its enough that its about god’s control and presence across the world.

These visions are working to encourage the newly returned Jews in Jerusalem, but not allowing a limited geographical view of God, it keeps expanding beyond the walls.

Ditto the vision of Joshua crowned as priest and king. It’s literally promising god’s blessing of a revitalised temple worship, but reaching way bigger to messianic proportions. The two trees spoken of yesterday are linked to the vision of one person, the branch, who brings harmony between the two, and will be clothed in Majesty and glory. It’s the Messiah, seen as he is for eternity, in his glorious heavenly state, not the humble man Jesus who we will meet later when he comes to earth.

Ezra 8

Ezra lists the people who came with him. Then there is a description of the sacrificial system being re-established.

When he first assembled the people, there are no temple priests or attendants, so he puts out the call and gets about 40 of the priestly clan and 220 attendants. It takes a lot of people to run the temple. But it’s essentially a slaughter house, quite a bit of work I suppose.

He sees gods hand in bringing the people to him. Rather wonderfully they fast and ask God for protection on the journey, because in Ezra’s enthusiasm to depict to the king that it is a blessed project, he said he would not need protection of a horse guard, because God would be his protection. It’s rather sweet that he confesses to momentary second thoughts… he was ashamed to ask for it after that. God indeed protects them. I like that sort of “fake it till you make” it trust thing.

He trusts 12 leading priests with the gold articles to guard. I see it is a journey of some considerable danger from bandits, given the treasure they are carrying. They make it, after 3 days rest a sacrifice is given and the letters of kingly protection go out to the region.

It is a chapter full of grace and blessing, human fear and faith, and godly guidance.

May I trust you day by day father.

I met with the minister of our church to voice my concerns about things yesterday. It was good and made me feel heard. I don’t think he is a person who changes quickly, but it started a conversation, as they say.  Will it work out? Fake it til I make it, eh?