Deuteronomy 23

Restrictions on citizenship, rules for cleanliness around camp, treatment of slaves and sharing been Israelites.

God wants Israel distinct, compassionate, generous. Slaves who came to them would be freed. You could eat freely from each others farms, and loans were always to be no interest.

Considering how God treats me, I pray I can be like this too.

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Leviticus 23

 

Finally a somewhat more sunny chapter, even if it is still all just legislation, rules rules rules. These are the ones about times. It sets up the sabbath, day of rest, and festivals.

Interestingly some of these are called rules forever… an acknowledgment that many of the specific levitical rules will pass away over time.  I was reminded of this hearing Ivanka Trump’s praise of her adopted practise of sabbath. These are some of the rules that have stayed.

I miss not working on sundays, I must say. It was a thing when I was young, but then theology came through that the day of rest was like heaven or something, not literal.  But I used to like the special day idea. I did get nervous and legalistic about it a bit though, I recall as a child worrying about the limits of what I should do.

I wrote a song about colour, about God making the colours and us losing them.  The creation of special moments in our existence is a very spiritual thing, a very human thing, to be cherished. I think the buzz wordy mindfulness movement is a yearning for this spirituality.

Harvest is a time to remember gods goodness. They are reminded to offer the first to god, and leave some in the field for poor and immigrants.

Festival of reconciliation, sounds like the scapegoat day.  Fasting and prayer and a communal meal.

Festival of booths. Seems to be an end of harvest one week holiday.  The booths are little huts they make and stay in for the duration, to remember the time in the wilderness and delivery from egypt.

Gotta love festivals. I was in a cathedral choir when I was young and we always sang this jolly anthem for harvest… still comes to mind.  You visit the earth and bless it, you crown the year with goodness. Simple moment of gratitude from created to creator.

 

Leviticus 22

Lots more rules about super holiness for priests.  There is an interesting blend of pragmatism and perfectionism.  The ideal is re-creation of eden, no blemishes, no contamination with things deemed unworthy.

If a priest’s daughter marries a non priest for example, she can’t come home for dinner any more because their food is offertory food, she’ll defile it. Perfectionism.

But if she is widowed or alone again, she can move back in. She’s got to eat. These little practicalities, merciful details run through it.

Apparently it was a very popular religion in the ancient world. Judaism grew and was attractive to the poor, outcasts and women – despite its sexist appearance from our perspective, it was a relatively good deal. The moral code was appealing. Its one of the reasons the romans finally destroyed the temple, it was seen as a threat to the empire.

I’m in a bit of a depressed, or at least transitional, state. Birthday. 55, Feeling like I’m facing the latter part of my life.

Father I do accept your law is good. Its hard work picking though these ancient, culturally strange texts. But you are good, I know that.

 

Exodus 22

God gives Moses the principles of a civil legal code and a code of social responsibility for caring for young girls who have affairs or of wedlock, widows and orphans.

A lot of this will set the nation apart as a fair and progressive… relatively… place. An example of how a god ordered society will work.

With Christianity more under siege than i can ever remember, it’s ironic that often the standard we are being held to remains this one. God’s. 

We need to respond by distancing ourselves from injustice, and dealing transparently with sin in our own ranks. We are again like the Israelites, strangers carving out our status in a strange world. We again need to be ambassadors for the holiness of God.

Exodus 20

The ten commandments. They are said by God directly to all the people. They freak them out and they tell Moses to go further up into the mountain and hear more. 

I was stuck by the first… It’s more a final summary of what God has been telling them since the burning bush. There are no other god’s but him. It’s the first four really, they flow as a logical consequence of what has just happened.

And i was stuck by covetousness. I mean murder, adultery, dishonour of parents. They happen.

But coveting. It’s casual and constant in a way that the others aren’t. We treat it less like sin. whole economies and societies, even theologies and careers, are built on coveting.

The easy enemy of coveting is contentment. It’s a powerful, releasing word to just say to yourself sometimes in my opinion.

2 Samuel 16

David turns the other cheek and often refuses to be political to his own disadvantage.  Now he is a vagabond again – Israel’s king, wandering about the countryside trying to survive, while being usurped by his own son Absalom.  We get some quite telling portraits of the two men in this chapter, which are great examples of the grace filled life – and its opposite.

He meets Ziba, his enemy Saul’s old servant who he left serving Jonathan’s lame surviving son, Saul’s grandson Mephibosheth. Most Kings would have had them killed long ago, but David has been kind to these former enemies who were definitely in the anti-David camp during the civil war, in memory of his love for Jonathan and his respect for the god given position of Saul, as his anointed king.

Ziba is there with a loving cart of goodies for the troops. During this low time Ziba is repaying David’s decency.

Mephibosheth? Back in Jerusalem on the side of the usurper, pining for the end of David and new glory days.  He has completely despised David’s kindness and turned on him at the first opportunity.

Was David wrong to show him mercy?  In earthly terms, yes, he doesn’t deserve it and from a practical point of view he’s a rallying point for opposition. But David views himself as accountable to God for his ethics, not man. David does grant Ziba all the property he gave to Mephibosheth for his kind loyalty.

Next they meet another supporter of Saul, part of his extended family, who single handedly and continually rains down curses, rocks and dirt on David and his men.  What he says is in some senses quite fair, if showing a pro-Saul spin.  He calls David a man of bloodshed, which he really is, and says his current usurped situation, a parallel of what he did to Saul, is God’s punishment for all the bloodshed in Saul’s house when David took the throne. That’s a little unfair, given how many opportunities to pro-actively seize the throne from Saul David ignored.  But there was much bloodshed.

One of Saul’s men wants to quickly dispatch this man, Shimei by cutting off his head, but David defends him saying this is what the Lord has told him to do: “The lord has spoken to him”.

So as they continue along the road, bedraggled and tired, probably hungry again, Shimei goes along with them shouting abuse and throwing rocks and dirt the whole way. David cops it – after all he says, his own flesh and blood is doing the same. David showed an absurd – in practical terms – amount of loyalty to Saul who was unjustly violent towards him at every opportunity, and now extends the same to Saul’s old supporter.

He does it because of God, and perceives this man as a kind of prophet, telling God’s truth. Talk about love thine enemies and turn the other cheek…

Meanwhile in Jerusalem, a different kind of behaviour is being modelled. When David evacuated he left 10 concubines to look after the palace.  His son, Absalom very publicly enters sexual relations with the women.  This is a means of politically signalling an irreconcilable break with David.  There can be no going back after that, everyone must choose to be on David’s side or Absalom’s. And all the cards are in Absalom’s hand at the moment.

Absalom did this on the advice of Ahithophel, who is an interesting character who we’ll return to next chapter.  He’s a bit of a Samson type.  God gave him a great gift of insight and wisdom, and both David and Absalom desire his advice.  But like Samson Ahithophel abuses and wastes the extraordinary gift God has given him.

This advice, about the concubines, is an astute political power play to consolidate the moment, but ethically corrupt before God. Last chapter ended with a kiss between father and son after David reached out to Absalom with a very painful process of forgiveness. Now the son is taking his father’s throne, his women, his palace, his people’s hearts.

Should David have left Absalom in exile?  His return is a disaster. But forgiveness is its own reward, before God. David is working on the struggle with his own sinful nature to live a grace filled life.

And yes, that is the thing to do.

And before I go, spare a thought for concubines.  The second class citizens of a polygamous system.

Their situation seems to range from what we would traditionally think of as mistresses – long term, possibly quite loved, non-wives – to total sex slaves.  They can’t attain the status of wife, I think, because they are foreign.  They are generally captives of war, though there were also some traditions of them being free to leave if they chose.  If allowed to be free, they would abandon any children and a life of luxury and privilege if they did – a classic asymmetric “freedom” of the disempowered.

Sometimes they would be female circumcised and/or sterilised. So, worst case scenario, they were merely another object of plunder along with gold and livestock: the best looking women of the enemy forced into a brutal, mutilated life of sex slavery. I don’t think this was completely true of the biblical Israelite concubines because they keep producing children in these stories.

I don’t know if the fact that David left 10 behind to mind the palace shows a certain level of trust and genuine relationship between him and them.

Whether or not David was good to them, they certainly would have been reminded of their vulnerable position when Absalom took over and claimed them for himself.

Sorry, long entry, quiet Saturday morning. Lots to think and pray about grace and being accountable to God.

That concept of “God sees everything” is one of the most hated and parodied by atheists and God haters.  They portray us as living in paralysing fear of an invisible and capricious bogeyman, a pathetic life.

But I’m convinced that God’s laws are good – love your neighbour as yourself even when your neighbour is not watching or there is no obvious benefit to you. Because love is an end in itself. That’s right and the best of humankind, not pathetic.

Atheists call it ethics and so do I.  They also, in the end, think its good, give or take an argument about state recognition of same sex marriage (which I personally am not against in any event).

I’m not always good at it. There is a great wisdom in this chapter about how to love your enemies, which is being prepared to hear the truth in what they say.  I pray that like David I will struggle to be always getting better at it.

 

 

 

2 Samuel 9

David finds and honours mephisbosheth, who is Jonathan’s son, grandson of Saul. He returns to him much of Saul’s property and treats him as a son, having him dine at his table from then on. 

We last saw mephisbosheth in the narrative when he was fleeing the royal palace as a child, his nurse dropped him and he became lame in both feet.

This kindness is unusual and unnecessary behaviour for a king, and it shows again his respect for the lord’s anointed, Saul, his love of jonathan, and of course it springs from the sincere love of God that both men had. 

It’s a powerful thing when Christians act, do. When we behave with generosity contrary to the normal self serving dictates of a position, against our own best interests, it makes our love of God real.

Pray that god gives me way to behave counter intuitively.

1 Samuel 20

Saul’s failures as a human are all focused into his hatred of David. He would be aware of Samuel’s prophesy that he would lose the kingship and guessed who was the other god had in mind to take his place. He throws a spear at his son for even asking why he hates David.

The focus here is the beautiful friendship between David and Jonathan. He helps David escape certain death at his father’s hands. The final scene where they kiss and weep together before saying farewell shows absolute trust in each other and shared love of God. 

Perhaps after I finish reading the David story I should go back and finish Psalms, as I now get how literal is all his talk of death being like a snare.

Hooray for godly friendships, eh? Help me treasure them.

Ruth 3

Wow this is a really delicate story that reflects beautifully on all in it, but requires quite a bit of cultural sensitivity to understand.

I gather underlying it is a social custom that a male relative would often marry a widow as a form of family welfare. Obviously it’s not usually a love match. Naomi may have been able to expect that. But she hasn’t sought it.

A genuine affection has grown up over the harvest between Boaz… Who is a close but not the closest relative… And Ruth, who is not the closest widow… I imagine them being decent, shy types who obviously belong together but would be agonisingly slow to act on it.

Naomi has a audacious plan to play on the custom, which has Ruth literally throwing herself at Boaz’ feet at the end of harvest celebration. There is a generosity in Naomi’s crazy plan, because by custom she could have herself tried to claim Boaz for a husband.

To the pure, all things are pure, and Ruth obeys Naomi clearly and quite uncharacteristically clearly signals her openness to marrying Boaz by lying down across his feet as he sleeps in a makeshift bed at the harvest feast barn. He wakes. Everyone aquits themselves with the utmost dignity and, and we get well within view of a happy ending by the end of the chapter.

Boaz is obviously delighted to discover that Ruth might be his wife, and touchingly refers to his insecurity about his age by thanking her for not going for younger men. He considers himself lucky!

Ruth is miserably poor and puts herself in a position where an trustworthy man could have taken advantage of her, ruined her reputation without recrimination. But the whole beautiful point is, he is not untrustworthy.

Such a tender story! It’s worthy of Jane Austen the way that commercial convenience and love conveniently intersect, and goodness has its reward as things turn romantic.

Matthew Henry made excellent point that we aren’t told ever that Ruth is beautiful or not. It’s not about her appearance. Her virtue is universally recognised in this book, and loved by Boaz.

The chapter even ends with a “path of love not straight” plot twist: there is another closer relative, who according to the custom would have first dibs on any available young widows going begging. How will it all end!

Ruth 2

Ruth and her mum Naomi are in dire straights without income and Ruth a foreigner. Undaunted Ruth goes gleaning – a sort of begging/welfare where you follow harvesters hoping to pick up the odd bit they drop. It’s a story of goodness finding kindness. The owner of the field is a relative, Boaz, who takes Ruth under his wing and makes sure she gets enough, gives her lunch, and ensues her safety – she’s vulnerable. This is because he’s heard the story of her kindness and loyalty to Naomi.

I grew up with this story and this view of the world. Be good and self effacing, and your quality will be recognised and rewarded. It’s a morality that doesn’t actually play out in life all that often, or even in the Bible. Reading it here after Joshua and judges, it’s quaint for its lack of violence and pride.

But I do still return to this as my expectation of life. I am relentlessly optimistic.

From a revelation point of view, we are in set up. These are godly people, being godly. They are modeling good behaviour, but god is offstage. I’ve forgotten where the story is heading. Bring it on!

I’ve been very sad this week that I am the only one in my family whose life seems to have worked out well so far. I feel stressed and vulnerable. Kelly, my wife’s birthday, and she’s having a quiet mid life crisis. Doesn’t know what to do. Good people don’t always end up happy.

Praying for them all a lot.