Hosea 12

A bit of a confusing chapter as Israel, the nation, is personified (“he” did this or that) and referred to metaphorically as Jacob and Ephraim. Too many names!

It’s tracing the history of Israel to give an ultimately hopeful message, but one that includes due punishment for their deceit, and requires their repentance.

They are compared to Jacob, who did always strike me as a morally ambiguous patriarch. There is the story of him cheating Esau out of his inheritance. And his favouritism of Joseph (…Or was it his prophetic awareness of Joseph’s significance?).

And Jacob was the reason Israel wound up in Egypt in the first place, before Moses led them out.

There are abiding images of him wrestling all night with the angel of God, and having the vision of the staircase that led to God, and there receiving promises of blessings.

Israel in Hosea’s time can also be a blessed deceiver, but only by being sent away, repenting and being bought back, a pattern built into the founding of their nation. It’s unfair, from a few different perspectives, but so is all grace.

Never beyond the reach of grace, always a good time to repent.

Amen to that, as I enter day whatever of lockdown. Daisy out of quarantine today. She can leave her room properly now.

Hosea 7

Israel is hot like an oven… Like an overheated economy, but it’s rejection of God is overheated too. It’s described as burned by the idol worshipping culture The king gets drunk and, inflamed by the wine, joins in on it with abandon.

They are compared to a loaf that no one turned over, so burned on one side and not cooked at all on God’s side.

It’s still a thing, where your worldly side is overdone and your spiritual side is barely cooked at all.

Then they are compared to a dove. The dove is senseless and easily misled, and the comparison shows the worldliness up for hollowness. It’s not sophisticated, it’s naive.

Grace is missing. God longs to forgive them, but their sin is ever before him. This phrase turns up a lot of in the old testament, and I never thought about it much. But in this passage it spells out how it is when God can’t forget their sin.

This is the consequence of their sacrifices being empty. Ours can’t be, because Jesus is our lamb.

And grace is not unknown in the O.T. David wrote that God not only proved his sin, but also removed it from him as far as the East is from the West.

But these people are crying out to their false gods, ritually cutting themselves for gods they should know to be false, to seek a good harvest, all the while the empty sacrifices to the Lord continue.

God can’t forget their sin. Jesus’ incarnation is the ultimate expression of God’s longing to do so.

I still know what it is to be inflamed with wine and abandon God. Salvos view alcohol as a thing that can enslave us. And we are free, why do that?

Cheap grace is better than no grace, but it’s still bad.

It’s hard to know how these prophesies land for me. I read them feeling like a bystander to their connection of sin and punishment.

We have disasters of biblical proportions going off all the time at the moment. This virus pandemic in 2020 is certainly cooling the oven. But I resist drawing a simple line between sin and flu, which Jeremiah, Hosea, Ezekiel and the gang wouldn’t have hesitated to do.

Hmmm.

I continue to resist. But I need a better theology of judgement and “acts of God”.

Ezekiel 39

Another prophesy about the Viking-style raiders led by Gog who will attack the restored Israel, after they are finally bought back from the exile in Babylon.

It seems like a story of grace. The Israelites took the promised land initially by a form of God-aided conquest.

Having lost it by faithlessness, it is restored again to them by grace, not by conquest.

A government decree, a change of policy as the Persians replace the Babylonians, returns the land to them. Simple as that.

And then the raiders, the hostile nations, are overcome by confusion. Boom, threat gone.

The picture is of peaceful, unprotected farms being kept safe by god’s hand. The spears, shields and arrows of the raiders become firewood for years after. Their hostility was futile.

Our ability to forget the goodness of God is epic. So of course the grace didn’t stop the Israelites bring faithless again. But Christ came into the restored nation of Israel, as prophesied.

God’s grace really is unfathomable, it’s so deep. I’m ashamed to say, given the job of writing about grace yesterday, preparing some Easter materials, I was lazy and slow, disengaged. I hope I do better today! What a privilege.

God’s love towards Israel, and by extension, god’s demonstrated love for the whole world though that Israelite Jesus, is unstoppable. It persists through endless rejections, trivialities, brutalities, amnesia and blasphemies on our part.

Those who know it have a shameless entitlement to it.

The prodigal knew his father would welcome him, on some level, though perhaps he was surprised when his father ran though the field to embrace him.

Peter, when he saw Jesus after denying him three times, jumped in the water from his fishing boat and ran to shore in wet clothes to the welcome of restored grace he knew he would get from Jesus. He also scored a fish barbeque after a night of futile work.

Behold what manner of love God has for us!

Ezekiel 35

New years Day.

I pray for my children, Rennie overnight at a new years eve party: for safety, wisdom and enlightenment, bro, and for lewes at home, for clarity, opportunities and courage. For Daisy, happiness, stability, prosperity and a few breaks. For Kelly, satisfaction, joy, peace, the husband she deserves. Myself wisdom, energy and patience.

I would like to be more carefree, but if not, that this sense of melancholy will be productive of care and empathy. Openness, rather than the glum stoicism I revert to.

For the world… A mixture of undeserved blessing and thoroughly deserved justice, based on whether I like the part of the world in question.

In today’s passage God promises that Edom, Israel’s neighbor that opportunistically joined in the downfall and plunder of Judah will get the historical obscurity it deserves. With God, justice executed on a person or society deserving it is a last resort, the most horrible of judgements.

They have only just recently found archaeological evidence of Edom, it became so thoroughly obscure.

Being human,I tend to prefer justice on those I don’t respect. And grace for those I admire. God’s patient way is far more generous and fair.

It’s possible in a few ways for our family to thrive more in 2020 than last year. May God give us grace and blessing.

Historically, the thing most likely to bring about spiritual renewal is to write God off.

Between the historical corruption and naked political opportunism of much of the church, to an extent I would not have thought possible as a child; and the increasing malice towards Christianity in mainstream culture I don’t know who is doing a better job of rejecting God. Probably the church.

But maybe it heralds some sort of revival in the coming decade.

When the heavy apparatus of religion, temples, kings, priests and things, failed in Israel, the wild outsiders, the prophets came in with the beautiful magnificent revelation of god’s plan of grace.

Maybe again?

Too much to pray for!

Ezekiel 26

No patience for “ha-ha”.

God really hates schadenfreude. Malicious glee at the downfall of people or cultures you dislike.

In Ezekiel it’s described as saying “aha!”. So much faster to write especially on a phone.

I get how to read it now: Simpsons to the rescue. It’s to be read like Nelson Muntz, the resident bully in the Simpsons, the way he says “ha-ha”.

Tyre the great ancient city has passed and gone, not a trace remains. And God says here they deserved it for saying “aha” when Jerusalem fell.

Much is made of the sea and deluge.

The odd thing about judgement is that it exists because we care. The dinosaurs, I don’t think, cared that they became extinct. Animals don’t think about future animals or past animals.

Sydney has been virtually uninhabitable for days due to massive fires in deeply tinder-dry bushland. Villages have been lost. There is currently no location in Sydney with safe air, some have 10 times the safe level of toxic particles. Climate change debates have been ignited. It’s been like a preview of the city becoming a desert. Or deluged.

Nature wouldn’t mind, if only the polar regions are habitable. If most of the species, including us, become extinct. It would rebuild, problem solved, no more man made global warming.

Only we mourn deaths beyond those directly next to us, only we care. It’s our torture.

I know I’m sounding very serial killer. Very Harry Lime, Orson Welles’ character in the third man… “What did peace ever get us? The cuckoo clock”

I’ve been waiting for comeuppance impatiently since the election of Donald Trump. But he will never give anyone the satisfaction of “ha-ha”. It’s not in his nature to lose, so he never will characterise himself that way. He, like a plant, is exempt from judgement, because he, publicly at least, lacks the capacity to experience it. Drives me nuts.

The Simpsons did a great sequence with Nelson which was funny but also, to me, about the sad pointlessness of vengeance.

We are here to love, show compassion, fight for justice, be fair and ethical do god’s will and seek it. Not for “ha-ha!”. Or to avenge it.

Matthew 7

Swallow your pride. God’s will be done. Switch off your worry. That was the thrust of Jesus’ sermon so far.

Today’s third part of the sermon on the mount is full of warning and promise. It’s for those who have heard or started to hear, God’s truth.

Even if you only have an inkling, some fragment of it that excites your spiritual longing; ask, seek and knock until you find more. Be seeking and doing God’s will.

It will be much easier not to. Many don’t, most in fact. And since the first step is swallowing your pride, don’t expect them to admit it. You’ll encounter false prophets and false disciples.

You’ll need brilliant discernment. We are all sinners, only God can judge – work on your own sin rather than judging others for theirs.

But be aware and steer clear of the wolves in sheep’s clothing who are presenting as the answer but don’t want to do God’s will.

Look at their fruit… more than their theology? Words are easier to fake than actions I suppose. And think carefully. They hear gods truth but it’s like pearls being given to a pig.

At the end of the sermon the people are astonished at Jesus’authority in teaching, so it’s pretty clear for that context these “pig” teachers are their usual teachers. What an insult.

It ends with the wise man building on the rock, which is Jesus’ words. And Jesus words? Seek God’s will.

It’s arguably circular: our work is to build solid houses in rock, and store treasure in heaven based on seeking and doing God’s will. And what is god’s will? That god’s will be done.

But at the heart of it is our inability to be righteous before God, and how that plays out into our life. It’s about honesty before God, and becoming agents, not blockers, of God’s love.

I do feel burdened by worry caused by my own inability to trust God and act. I feel very called on to act, very unequal to task. Give me strength.

Matthew 1

T’was grace that bought us safe thus far…

I’m having a break from reading Ezekiel to read a bit of Matthew. The first time I have ventured into the new testament for years.

Chapter one, first chapter of the new testament. What a moment!!! Sound the trumpets, prepare the feast. The story is not over, its coming to it’s climax! Yes?

Well it is, but the transition is not as dramatic as that, in fact quite the opposite, it’s much more about establishing continuity with the old testament.

I mean, way to start with a genealogy! We’ve already had so many. I’ve found it boring in the past, but after so much reading of the OT I actually found it comforting and rich. So much more so would the original jewish readers.

3 times 14 generations between the pillars of the narrative thus far: Abraham to David, David to exile, exile to Messiah. The only thing I’m missing is a link to exodus… Maybe that will come later.

I remember in genesis saying how the narrative of god’s intervention was the slenderest thread running though so much compromise, murk and cruelty.

Yes! It’s not a story of glorious bloodlines, it’s a story of grace.

You can’t help but notice a few women singled out in the chain of father to father. And what a crew.

Tamah, widowed, rejected and forgotten, had to pose as a prostitute to have a son with her own faithless substitute husband.

Rahab, actually was a prostitute, of Jericho. Chosen by faithful response, not race. That’s a tangential, ironic even, link to exodus!

Ruth, the Moabite, widow, the least likely but faithful responder to grace. Again contradicting a racial interpretation of the chosen people. The outsider, preparing all of us for acceptance into the family of Judah.

Bathsheba, not mentioned by name but singled out to remind us that the noblest part of Jesus’ line, David and Solomon, is mired in a nasty story murder, lust and sin.

So much seeming contradiction. The ultimate perhaps is that the chapter goes on to detail that the last link in the chain, Joseph, is not Jesus’ biological father, the holy spirit is.

The least, the rejected, the weak, the humble, outsiders, sinners, the failures of the powerful. These are God’s power players and power moves in saving the world.

An inheritance of promises and mercy. Of grace.

Saviour, if of Zion’s city
I, through grace, a member am,
Let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in thy Name:
Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,
All his boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasure
None but Zion’s children know.

Thank you!

Ezekiel 18

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In Adam all die, the doctrine of original sin means we’re all going to fall short of God’s glory.

It’s a kind of curse, and heresies based on this doctrine embellish the idea of the cursed generations. Bad seeds, bad blood, karma being revisited on the children of bad people.

Grace blows apart original sin. At any time we can throw ourselves on God and ask for the renewal of our hearts.

This chapter is about how we need to take responsibility for our own response to God… to Jesus, for us. We can’t use the idea of original sin to blame Adam for our evil, and certainly not some superstitious curse.

Here sin is exemplified by a list of practical life attitudes. Personal morality: not cheating, fair with money, obedience to the true God. And community building: sharing with the disadvantaged, not being oppressive. It’s written in a mixture of poetry and prose. It’s designed for teaching.

Our sin is our’s alone, our responsibility. But more significantly it’s a freedom. We can choose to turn to God, we can do it daily, we can do it with clarity:

Rid yourselves of all the offences you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!

No need to stay cursed.

Ezekiel 11

Flip the script!

In this chapter the vision of the past 11 chapters all comes into focus.

Ezekiel is far from Israel, carted away by invaders from Babylon. He’s feeling deserted by God.

No. The foreign land is God’s sanctuary, he’s actually one of those who are marked as God’s child.

His vision of Jerusalem shows the idolatrous sun worshippers in the temple. They would agree that the likes of Ezekiel are the losers.

They describe themselves with an only semi-comprehensible metaphor of a cooking pot. The gist seems to be: we are where it’s at, we’re cooking, we’re the choice cuts, not the scraps who have been rejected.

They feel safe, protected within the city. But they are not.

So the vision is good for Ezekiel, bad for those still in the city. God has flipped the script in their near history, by marking the seemingly unlucky ones as in fact the first to be saved from the destruction of Jerusalem.

And in the meta revelation of his character, he’s talked about making our hearts his dwelling, turning hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. Great verse! He’s not in a building, he’s in our hearts. And he’s literally showing that by destroying the temple, and blessing Ezekiel, who is seemingly remote from God, with this vision showing that God is right with him.

My emotions are regrettably out of sync with this book. This chapter is the first one with any hope. I’ve been quite happy and upbeat while reading all the doom and gloom, and now there is a ray of hope in the book I’m sad.

My bank app has a very helpful summary of money in and money out that showed me we’ve been living beyond our means. I kind of knew it was true, but seeing it laid out there in black and white was a shock. I’ve already gone broke once and it was very stressful, so it made me alarmed. Bought up a lot of ongoing inadequacies.

But I have to look at the good side: things are far from dire, I can respond.

So maybe there is some sort of connection: this vision in my bank app enables me to flip the script. I’ll pray.

Psalm 143

Hear me, answer me – that’s the two halves of this psalm. They serve to step up the intensity and urgency of the prayer; put the screws on God to shuffle this prayer to the top of the priority list.

God gets a gazillion emails a day marked urgent with a read receipt.

It’s a middle of the night prayer, when everything seems impossible. At one point David asks the morning to bring a word of God’s unfailing love. Seems like there ain’t such a word coming to him now as he prays/panics into the night.

His utter lack of options for whatever problems he’s facing focuses him on having no claim to God’s grace; being totally undeserving. But also how totally reliant he is on it.

I think God probably loves it when we throw his character back at him this way. “Woah, this will certainly display your unfailing love” is a pretty positive way to react to bad news, when your own resources abandon you.