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.

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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 trading 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.

2 Kings 17

12 tribes in the promised land are whittled down to one.

King Hoshea presides ineffectually over the end of the northern kingdom – all of Israel except Judah.

First he becomes a puppet king under the Assyrians, who are the Empire builders of the era, then he makes a feeble attempt to betray them with an alliance with Egypt. He is imprisoned and the people are exiled.

The writer retells all the ways in which the people have earned their fate since the time of exodus. They have at best treated Jehovah as one of many gods. Worst, and often, they have openly rejected him. He’s sent many prophets but it’s made no difference.

The Assyrians send various people to occupy the land and eventually send back an Israelite priest because lion attacks are viewed as a sign of Jehovah’s displeasure. The priest teaches the new residents of Israel the way of the lord as much as he can.

I don’t have a lot to say. The story has been heading here since, well since the people first left Egypt in a way, but definately since the kingdom split.

I have Christian friends on Facebook who almost daily link to what I think of as Christian apocalypse items…. About how the world is going to hell in a handbasket. But I think it’s important to remember that God remains sovereign and his salvation is eternal.

This is one of those moments, like how the disciples must have felt after Jesus was crucified, when you wonder if God’s plans will ever work out. Yet, here we are.

There is reason to be passionate, but not to despair, to be busy but not overwhelmed.

Help me be functional father… I’m feeling  like I have more in than I can handle, but at the same time I’m aware that a have it very easy, and feeling a bit guilty too.

1 Kings 12

So here’s how the kingdom falls apart. 

Wise, experienced advisors tell Solomon’s son Rehoboam, to be a compassionate, generous leader.  His crew of dude bros’ tell him to be a nastier badass than his dad. He goes with the latter, causing all of Israel to leave except Judah, his own tribe, and the tribe of Benjamin. 

God appears, to avert civil war. He speaks through a man of God. And they listen.
The rest of the tribes follow jeroboam, who emerges from Egypt ready to lead the secession. They have no access to the temple at Jerusalem, and jeroboam sets up a version of the golden calf religion from exodus, with priests not from the levites tribe. He sets up two locations where they sacrifice to golden calves, which jeroboam describes as the Gods who bought them out of Egypt. 

In exodus, Moses had to bring God’s judgement to many followers of the calf. Now, God’s will is to let it go, at least, his judgement will not come via a civil war for now.

Kings is history, there is very little theological commentary as it goes through. I’m just describing the sweep of it for now.  The lessons are sad, and not in chapter sized chunks.

Needless to say the massive step backwards in obedience to Jehovah of the bulk of the people to the low point of the exodus story is the end of the idea that the chosen people’s society would be the model of God’s salvation. 

1 Kings 11

There is a lot of Bible left, and the dream kingdom of Solomon had to end sometime.

This chapter details Solomon’s faults, punishment and death.

His fault was marrying too many wives, 700 and 300 concubines to boot. Most were foreign and as he aged they turned him onto their own Gods. This was despite Jehovah having appeared to him twice.

God spoke to a rebel, jeroboam, through a prophet with the punishment that after Solomon’s death the kingdom would be split, with Solomon’s part being just 2 tribes. He ran to hide in Egypt until Solomon’s death, which came after 40 years.

Additionally, some of the neighbouring countries that Solomon near annihilated started to get strong again.

So Solomon dies with the kingdom set up to fall apart. The mercy God shows, keeping a remnant of the davidic kingdom is on behalf of David. We know that this is part of the meta plan of salvation, the line of David, a failure by earthly terms, but hanging on by a thread for God’s purpose.

Solomons kingdom saw the fullest flowering of the promised land promise they would ever know. It really was a blessed land flowing with abundance, admired by other nations. But they blew it by not staying faithful to Jehovah. We, humans, unaided, always will.

Exodus 14

The stunning victories of God over the Egyptians. God hardens their hearts and they pursue the Israelites despite all the clear messages of the power of God above their gods.

God makes it dark, he jams the wheels of their chariots. He leads the chase a though a sea which is a wall of water for the Israelites’ and downs the Egyptians.

They are told to stop running, virtually baiting the Egyptians to come and try to get them back. But the plagues haven’t convinced the Israelites of god’s power. Keith green seized on this as a metaphor. They wanna go back to slavery, to Egypt. They are terrified when the Egyptians pursue them.

It’s worth remembering when i lose yet another argument with an atheist. You would think the Israelites would be the strongest believers ever, but they constantly question Gods power.

Exodus 4

Don’t want to be chosen.

I remember C S Lewis’ autobiography talking about being dragged “kicking and screaming” into the kingdom.

It’s hard to demand your people’s freedom from the ruler who came up with the male infanticide policy, and threaten to kill his first born. Moses has run away from a life of unique privilege because he fears he may be killed for his rash murder of an abusive Egyptian he came upon.

He’s given magical signs to show he is speaking with power. But he still doesnt want to speak to the Pharaoh.

God says memorably “who gave human beings Thier mouths” and burns with anger at his chosen.

And puts in place a plan B, to use his brother Aaron as mouthpiece.

On the journey back to Egypt, God seems to test the family is loyal to him, even though zipporah, Moses’ wife, is not an Israelite. She gets the gist the way women seem to and circumscises her first baby son.

The people, when he arrives, worship God for sending a solution, albeit a flawed one, to their slavery and persecution.