Ecclesiastes 8

It’s the same ideas again largely, and more in a jumble than other chapters. Elsewhere he talks about his mind being restless, but here I feel I experience that restlessness. Maybe he wrote this one in the middle of the night… He mentions people getting no sleep.

He talks about civil obedience, a bit Paul-like per Romans 13, including the criminal justice system. He notes there are both holy and pragmatic reasons to submit to the social order. But he also comments on how easily it can go wrong.

He turns the evocative “time for this, time for that” into ghastly sort of puppet show / nightmare life, with God pulling the strings. We don’t know the plot of our story and we don’t have choices. It may be time to live miserably under an oppressive ruler. It may be party time.

His advice is essentially, if it’s party time, enjoy it a lot. If it’s not party time, maybe it will be again, but there’s nothing you can do and don’t even try to understand it because it won’t make any sense.

How about I try to note the bits that speak to me.

I loved the opening verse about wisdom brightening and softening the hard appearance of a person’s face. One of life’s most affirming things is seeing kindness, comprehension and gentleness in a face.

We watched a documentary on ABC yesterday about disabled people getting employment, and I saw that wisdom light up the face of a wonderfully driven and focused downs syndrome woman who they tracked through getting a TAFE certificate and a job as a carer at an aged care facility. When she did her trial time with the residents, she was so switched on, and they responded so warmly, it was beautiful.

I was struck by the wisdom of the verse: “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong“.

It reminded me of the angst and opportunism that Donald Trump’s brazen shamelessness over lying, being dishonorable etc has caused. It’s almost worse for the souls of those, such as many evangelical Christians, who struck an ungodly bargain with him to advance their agenda, than it is for those he outright marginalises and bullies. But the fact that he gets rewarded for being so indecent has shaken many people’s faith in justice, and emboldened many others.

The world is increasingly riven by violence been ‘Christians’ and ‘Muslims’. Blessed are the peacemakers, DJT!

And this is notable: “I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.” Simple food and drink always tastes good, but especially so when times are hard. There is a reason all churches involve themselves in simply handing out food and drink.

Lord in this tumultuous world, help me cling into the good things, give them time, and see you brightening and softening them, giving me hope in the eternal value of goodness.

Proverbs 18

On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

This is a picture of the world with the blind leading the blind, the shepherdless sheep for whom Jesus wept.

Our gossip goes deep into our attitudes. We speak and speak, incurious, determined not to let facts contradict our beliefs. Spouting opinions for the sheer entertainment of our own voices being heard.

It’s a chapter about damaging words and thought patterns. Physical illness is less the enemy of our soul than our minds:

The human spirit can endure in sickness,
but a crushed spirit who can bear?

Rich people build up their secure domestic compounds but the security those offer is illusory. In the centre of it all, the actual solid rock:

The name of the Lord is a fortified tower;
the righteous run to it and are safe.

There’s good stuff in the world, it’s not damning or abandoning of it. It’s a competition. But there is an assault of foolish ideas coming at us.

Think carefully, be a source of wisdom to the extent a human can, it starts with your heart.

I can’t always talk God in every interaction I have with my children or people at large. But I can always strive for wisdom.

Proverbs 10

Oh that’s right, we’re in proverbs. Random two line gems of wisdom. I’d forgotten after the nine chapter introduction.

They are so random yet similar, the format is so repetitive, that I panic a bit at how to make sense of them. They seem wasted, they don’t sink in.

Just read and let the spirit lead.

This chapter doesn’t contain the saying ‘pray as if you never planned and plan as if you never prayed’ but it is a good description. Sayings of diligence and blessing are side by side.

As I read I think I really must catch up last year’s tax, big refund would be a help. And I’ve got to be more diligent and organised at work. It’s not weak to be patient and loving.

The most memorable I found was ‘hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.

So I’ll just let the wisdom flow, directly and simply into my life. Maybe this book is like the parable of the sower, throwing out handfuls of seed and seeing what takes root.

Proverbs 8

A chapter of hype of wisdom. Seems like a new section, as this is not specifically addressed to the young men like the last few.

Oh so tired, I’ve been a fool not getting enough sleep.

It literally says how important wisdom is for most of it. No actual wisdom, except self referential ‘it’s wise to be wise’.

There is a section saying wisdom is the first of God’s works, before creation. So wisdom was there for it all, and presumably is in it all. We get a grand highlights reel of creation each image prefaced with ‘I was there when…’

It’s of God, it’s ancient, it’s true, it’s precious.

Let’s face it, it is God. It’s a bit like a click bait version of God packaged up to be more grabby. It’s advertising, yelling it out in the squares and cross roads: ‘be 2x more successful with this amazing life-hack Kings and Princes don’t want you to know!’

In Australia this time in January signals the end of the holiday season for most. I’m feeling focused, work is getting more stable, I feel I can get onto a list of things I have been leaving lay for a bit. Gonna be a wise year, eh!

Proverbs 2

Encouraging a son to value wisdom.

The points are:

Wisdom comes from God. If you seek it out, treat it as the treasure it is, you will have God’s mind, and discern what is good and helpful.

It will protect you from evil men and seductive women, both of whom are potentially your ruin.

It’s all put much more persuasively than that with examples.

Well I’m convinced, but I suppose I’m fairly old and wise. I do sigh some days when I hear youths say or do classically unwise things. You aren’t born knowing a lot of this stuff.

This book will remind me to be a bit more direct in passing on my view of life and God to my kids – after all that is part of the purpose of this blog. But it’s been a bit of a failure on that score so far. I’m hopeful for the future.

I’ve always had a very laissez-faire fair parenting style, good to focus on the fact that I do sometimes know better.

There’s still heaps for me to learn too, I’m sure.

I have so many child concern things I’ve put off because of the uncertain financial future, and that issue won’t resolve, so I’m feeling quite overburdened with inadequacy.

Do I give up on Salvation Army and just go find whatever random well paid job I can? Argh!

Do I book psychiatrists, buy driving lessons, mobile phone contracts, how do I juggle back to school expenses, do I support Daisy’s art career? How can I sensibly prioritise? Gotta have faith! And wisdom…

I am dubious of the approach. I feel like the attitude, the desire to be wise, is more valuable than the wisdom itself. Often the work of trying to be wise is harder than the awareness of what the wise path is.

Just being told it doesn’t make it happen.

I’m questioning their theology of the spirit, but this is the Bible, so I suppose I’m questioning my own understanding of faith and works, our will and the spirit, and so forth.

I can’t express this point in a way that isn’t fuzzy. No doubt I’ll have the odd opportunity to clarify it as I go though proverbs.

But for now, still keen, let’s proceed.

Psalm 67

This short psalm is a neat refinement of the themes from 66. It’s this generous wish that everyone will know God’s blessing.

It struck me as a sunshine metaphor, God’s face shining on the chosen people at the start, a reference to harvest being tangible evidence of God’s blessing at the end.

But the shining metaphor also reminds me of the moment your dad smiles, or when the judge on a reality show drops the po face and beams his approval of a contestant.

God answered this prayer request for global praise with the Messiah. The department I work in is called mission resources. I should run this through my head as I am working occasionally,

It is surprising that the ancient Israelites sat around praying that the whole world would know God’s blessing and love. They weren’t a missionary religion, they didn’t imagine the blessing as being their religion world wide, as far as I can tell.

It’s declaring the truth of their monotheism. That Jehovah is the one true creator of the whole earth, source of all that is good. The hope that God will guide all nations as he has guided them.

The happiness of praise and celebration sparks this overflow of good to all, like Christmas. I kind of don’t want to unpack my reaction more than a happy sense of optimism for the world. Despite everything, ‘he’s got the whole world in his hands’.

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.

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.