Matthew 2

The familiar events directly after Jesus’ birth. Wise men, slaughter of innocents, flight to Egypt, settling in Nazareth. Each event methodically linked to a prophesy it fulfills. Piling up an overwhelming case that Jesus is Messiah.

The interplay of agency and prophesy reminded me of exodus, where Pharaoh’s refusal to let the people go virtually alternates between “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” and”Pharaoh hardened his heart”.

The very strange visit of wise men happened in order to fulfill the prophesy, but Herod’s unspeakably cruel slaughter of the innocents was simply prophesied. Herod owns it.

The plot mechanics are very visible, but in this story Deus ex machina is literal. For me the Egypt loop has always been a tipping point. I mentioned yesterday the absence of an exodus pillar in the genealogy. How could I forget! There’s just so much in here. Like a checklist.

But Jesus’ birth is a messy disaster too. On the run, born into oppression and the worst political persecution, refugees, having to live in the boondocks. And kings of the Orient, with expensive gifts.

Like yesterday, where the royal bloodlines were blurred by grace, the promises of the conquering Messiah are undercut with humility and marginalisation.

I’m exhausted, yet stable, as I read this. We’ve had a recovering child on crutches and a big party to stage. I’ve been forgetting to enjoy life, succumbing to stress and unconfidence. Some great things have been happening this year.

God works with mess, just be trusting and obedient. Commit. Wholehearted.

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2 Chronicles 14

We get to king Asa. He is one of those who loved the Lord. Chronicles seems more focused on the southern Kings so far, and on believers. None of the northern Kings were believers, however the North gave rise to powerful prophets.

Chronicles is like the good news version of history. It also skipped most of David and Solomon’s messy domestic stories. It is a manual for nation re-building and reclaiming former piety.

Asa’s reign was a time of religious renewal, and we’re going to get a lot of detail of it, 3 chapters here compared one paragraph in Kings. He removed shrines of other Gods. All the believer Kings do this… The shrines always seem to come back between them.

It is the ancient Canaan religion, and other local religions. They were supposed to have zero tolerance for them as the chosen people.

An army from Egypt is raised against him, and he prays for and is given victory without having to engage them head to head, the Lord strikes the enemies and they turn in fear.

It’s a strategic victory, Egypt do not terrible Israel again for generations, a demonstration of God’s favour once again against that nation’s ambition.

The Israelites plunder the army and the villages, which leaves a bad taste. Previous God given victories were acknowledged by not taking plunder.

Its interesting how you get the law books setting up the ideal and the measuring stick for what follows. Its not often commented on, but if you read them in order, you are always aware that the nation of Israel never, even in its finest moments, measured up to the ideal god set for it in Deuteronomy, Leviticus, Numbers etc.

The poets and the prophets, to follow, will spell out the limitations and inconsistencies, and look forward to more. In the histories, apart from occasional words from the prophets, or God himself, the failures of God’s law and the corrupting power or triumph of evil just sits there.

2 Chronicles 8

Moving on from building the temple, this is a summary of king Solomon’s reign. It gives you some sense of the character of it.

He’s a builder, not just the temple or his palace ( which took twice as long…) But villages, towns.

He is a bold, creative entrepreneur, gets on well with neighbours. When they mention a maritime venture that nets lots of money, it’s so uncharacteristic of Israel, never a seafaring nation.

And the seeds of his downfall are sewn, with an Egyptian wife. He knows there is a conflict with their religion, she doesn’t convert to their beliefs. He makes a palace for her because the ark has been at the site of his, and he says that makes it holy.

The ark is like the physical embodiment of monotheism.

Solomon is aware his marriage is unacceptable to God.

He is wise, but in this case worldly wise. The marriage probably makes a lot of political and economic sense, but it’s compromising his holiness.

I’m feeling I could use a bit a worldly smarts this week, we are living being our means. I’m guilty of wanting it all I suppose, I like working for the Salvos, but I should be living a more humble lifestyle.

2 Chronicles 2

Building the temple, finally they get to scratch that itch after all the preparations David put in.

Solomon writes to the king of Tyre for materials, and you get his description. He says it’s to be the best temple because God is the best God.

But then he says he can’t possibly build a house for God, who even the heavens cannot contain, so really it’s just a sacrifice place.

It the right thing to say, but the tangible reality of the temple makes our brains struggle to remember that we are the temple.

Our creativity for God is so easy to fall in love with. Our buildings are done for God, but they help us fall in love with earth. With monuments.

They imply eternity, but they distract from eternity.

He conscripts foreigners in Israel to work on it in slave camps. That’s a warning red light I think, it’s not the picture of their society we got from Deuteronomy.

Eg ch 10: God “…loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.

Solomon is treating them as the Egyptians did, enslaving them to make his monuments.

I’ve read this story before, essentially Kings 2. These high notes before the sad decline have these flaws already.

I do love our sandstone church on glebe point road, but it’s built on land that there is still no treaty for, it stands for and against God.

Jeremiah 46

Jeremiah is more anthology than book. It ends with a series of prophesies about surrounding nations that don’t necessarily flow to or from anything,

Here Egypt’s judgement.

I’m struck that the God of Israel, who we now think of as god of all, is already talking like that. He knows Egypt, he has plans for Egypt, but like Israel Egypt will be judged.

Interestingly he doesn’t link it to them worshipping other Gods as he does Israel’s punishment. Because Israel is chosen, it means God has revealed himself to them more, and more is expected of them.

Egypt’s misplaced trust is expressed more in terms of trust in pharoah.

The battle of defeat by Babylon is vividly described, we’re cinematically taken into the minutiae, which gives you a sense of empathy for them and also the futility of men’s strength.

Babylon is compared to the Nile flooding and drowning the land. It’s both a great image of irresistible strength, and implying it is an act of God.

Egypt will come through. The is a promise that they will continue inhabit their land.

Jeremiah 43

Last chapter was a cliff hanger. Has Judah learned nothing, will they ignore Jeremiah and make the mistake of going to Egypt?

Yes. They accuse Jetemiah of trying to trap them. Off to Egypt.

When you are God, Deus ex machina plot twists are too easy.

Once the poor ragtag remnant of the chosen people have willingly returned to Egypt, symbol of Israel’s slavery before Gods salvation, Jeremiah reveals it.

He hides stones in the entrance to the royal Egyptian palace and says that they will one day be part of the Babylonian Empire. Yes it’s a Jonah style escape, no escape at all.

Babylon will follow them, Egypt offers no protection, in fact they will be worse off as absconders.

I’m trying, very unsuccessfully, to write a song about weakness, about being weak enough to trust God. The Cross is an image of weakness.

Make me weak Lord! The thing is that trusting our own strength rather than God’s is cowardly. Weakness requires courage. The judeans simply werent brave enough to stay in Judah. They had God’s word but the strength of their own judgement overrode it.

Struggling with self discipline at the moment. As Keith green said, I wanna go back to Egypt.

Isaiah 37

King Hezekiah consults Isaiah about the Assyrian threat. Isaiah knows God’s mind, that the Assyrians won’t take Jerusalem. Indeed he knows the specific fate of the Assyrian envoy: he’ll die at his son’s hands.

He also knows a great pruning of Israel is coming from which only a shadow will survive, which he also refers to in his poetic response. And he is aware that even the Assyrians’ victories are God given, for all their arrogance.

We get a great affirmation of Jehovah above idols of wood and stone. There is an image of the people born in other countries being like weak doomed grass that takes root on the roof, which I found very poignant.

The story set me thinking about the relationship between knowing God’s mind and prayer.

The people and the king pray that God will hear the taunts of Assyria and act. Hezekiah is answered in those terms “God has heard your prayer”.  But Isaiah knows God’s mind all along.

People tear their clothes in fear and despair when they hear of the Assyrian threat because they know it might be God’s judgement, or maybe because they don’t believe God is really in control of such a fierce force of evil.  They ask for help, and this time they get it in terms they asked.

When the Babylonians returned less than a generation later, not so much.

God always responds like God. A bit like Jesus’ random encounters during his ministry… A catastrophic tower collapse may be talk of the day, or he may be at a wedding with inadequate catering, see a dead fig tree or meet a sick person.

And he thinks presumably “what would Jesus do”? And his responses fit the moment and the larger plan of salvation, and teach us til today about the nature of God.  And it answers prayers then and now. It doesn’t really make a difference if its random or part of a master plan, because it all sings a consistent tune.

God is the same in the minutiae and in the grandeur, in the fleeting moment and in the millennia.

Because his truth and his character are eternal, unchanging. And he loves our faith, our prayer.

Isaiah 31

Israel is terrorised by powerful kingdoms, Assyria, Babylon, who will engulf them. They are desperately looking for solutions including an alliance with Egypt. So symbolic, the nation who enslaved them, from whom God rescued them.

One verse says it all: the power of their horses is flesh not spirit, Egypt is man not God.

They need to trust God, they need to trust God, they need to trust God.

I need to.

Continue to find what is right and do it. Don’t put my trust in salary or real estate. Spend time with those I am burdened for, my family. Share a spiritual journey with them. It’s so easy to let these other things enslave me.

Isaiah 27

The third chapter teasing out the promise of restoration for the Jewish nation, and extending the blessing to all nations. This is the tenderest.

It moves from a city image in the last chapter to a vineyard, watered and cared for every day, and a God who prefers peace.

The nation is called Judah to remind them of the covenant promise, and the punishment like his wrestling with God made them stronger, their fruit filling the whole world.

So we have simultaneously a personal metaphor (Judah) and an agricultural one of abundant blessing, it keeps leading us to a Messiah figure.

The chapter ends with a promise of atonement, making right with God, so the foreign idols are crumbled like chalk, and all the faithful who were exiled are called home.

Isaiah 18

Oracle about Cush.

People agree this is about Ethiopia. It was at that time the major regional power in Africa along with Egypt. The battle for dominance of the middle East was lining up to be between two heavy weights, Assyria vs Egypt for all the other land, and in that battle Israel may have had the offer to join an alliance with the two nations.

All of which might explain the reference to “ambassadors by sea” at the start.

The chapter seems to then talk about reverse ambassadors. There is no judgement of Cush mentioned here, is more like it tells them to look and listen to what happens to Israel, to learn about God’s might, and that the example of Israel will be a message to all nations. 

Cush will eventually bring tribute to Israel. Some suggest that the Queen of Sheba may have been a queen of Ethiopia. Which means there may have already been a tradition of respect for Israel.

It’s a fairly obscure prophesy, but in the near sense it seems to be about the judgement of Israel being inevitable, and local politicking making no difference. 

In the far meaning, it seems to be about Ethiopia becoming a centre for the church in Africa, which it did. It is certainly a useful passage to look at when ideology comes up about racial inferiority. God judges his own people to bless Africa. 

We are all equal before God, and all have access to grace.