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.

Advertisements

2 Kings 20

Borrowed time.

I don’t know how to take Hezekiah. 

He’s a good, relatively godly king at a time when the kingship is doomed.

This tells the notable spiritual events of his reign, and it’s a strange story of the interaction of God and man, and we aren’t given neat moralising. It is what it is.

He gets sick, is told by God/Isaiah its his time. It is before he has defeated the Assyrians. He prays for more life and is given 15 years. He gets a very appropriate sign from God that the promise is real, the sun goes backwards on the sun dial for a day!

He uses the time to deal with the Assyrians – that was in the last chapter I think?

Next we have the story of him welcoming a Babylonian envoy, which was probably a political move to find alliances.

Hezekiah doesn’t seem that interested in politics but really enjoys showing them all his wealth, he’s got prosperous also in his extra time. He is a minor king, it feels lame, like he’s big noting himself when flattered that his loyalty would matter to Babylon.

Isaiah rebukes his pride with a stark prophesy that Babylon will obliterate the kingdom. His children will be enunchs in the Babylonian court. He simply reacts with relief that it will happen after his time.

Knowing the date of his death and knowing that God has ordained that the Empire will fall has made him fatalistic, predictably. It’s made him an island who takes his comfort from the present. Maybe that is why God doesn’t often tell us the date of our deaths.

I had a friend who spent a year or so on borrowed time knowing she would die from cancer. She got very good at accepting love from her friends, and letting them give her treats. 

She got good at not thinking about the inconvenience when she didn’t die on cue and their life was made messy, because she didn’t have the time to worry about it. It was a gift she gave them which they have many years to treasure. The last year or so of her life was a very beautiful thing.

The biographical note about king Hezekiah mentions that he did engineer an clever water supply that made Jerusalem virtually seige proof, so it’s not like he completly ignored the future. 

The commentary I read judged him for his pride, the bragging, which I understand. But I see a certain humility there too, because he accepted God’s judgment, he didn’t try to change it. He asked for and got a temporary stay of the judgement, and enjoyed it for what it was. 

God gave him it because he was faithful, it was an answer to a godly prayer. But the prayer didn’t alter God’s uber plan to cut down the kingdom as a part of the slow revelation of the true Messiah.

It’s both a mercy and a curse to be given the date of your death. I sort of pray that for me God will come like a theif in the night.  

I don’t know what to learn from this! It’s very interesting though, and it says something subtle about God, and our dialogue with him.

It reminds me of Jesus’ impractical compassionate healings – he would have a chance encounter with someone like the woman who was bleeding, and cure her on to the way to somewhere else, and then have to ban anyone from taking about it because he wasn’t ready to die yet. God can seemingly be distracted by his own compassion, and by our faithful prayers.

Deuteronomy 32

Moses’ song. Like the book it contains beauty and terror. 

The greatness of God is contrasted with the lousiness of the Israelites. It’s not a sentimental song. 

Their history is one of letting him down. Their future is being given great victories over the enemies God will judge, and then being judged themselves for squandering God’s grace by following other Gods. 

It ends by predicting that God will always stay faithful to a remnant of Israel. 

The song is not really a summary of the law, it’s a picture of God’s judgment and grace. These characteristics of God sit uncomfortably together. But understanding them is vital to get the significance of Jesus. 

Then sadly, Moses climbs a mountain to glimpse the land he will not inhabit because of his own sin. Few biblical characters have more grace, yet his judgment is unblinkingly recorded.

Grace costs. God is not a softy, who papers over evil, he looks at it, and recognises is destructive power. He fixes it, absorbs it, painfully.

Deuteronomy 6

Moses gives and elaborates on the commandment that Jesus would say is the greatest and contains all the law, love the lord your God with all your heart. 

He elaborates on it in a way that does not read like a sermon, but rather a heartfelt plea. His fear is the same as previous chapters, that they will forget because they will be so prosperous and comfortable. 

The irony that God’s grace and provision will be the cause of them forgetting is not lost on him, as they occupy large flourishing cities they did not build.

He pleads with them to remember the slavery that God rescued them from, and going forward to only love that God. 

Picking though all the rules, some of which are ridiculously culturally specific, this one has a giant arrow pointing to a huge red flag as a keeper.

Daily, please father let my heart overflow with love for you, remember your goodness, from every cup of coffee to every sunset and keep you as the only lord of my life.

Numbers 28

A lotta lotta animal sacrifices.

This seems like a dry series of rules.

They do 2 lambs a day, morning and evening.

2 extra on Sabbath.

A feast each month/new moon.

More for Passover

More for harvest.

I read my favourite commentator. He didn’t get a lot of meat from it (no pun intended)

He said the sunrise and sunset sacrifices are a good reminder to us to acknowledge God each day.

He made the point that they added a goat for atonement to the harvest, which was largely a celebration of thankfulness. There is always a place for remembering that God forgives sin.
I was also struck by how tightly communal their life was. A national leaders meeting/feast each month. That’s a lot of communication.

I also found myself wondering about whether they would give too much to God. What if they run out of sheep to feed their families? We were they getting flour from for the grain offering? It must have been a very precious commodity. I found myself wondering whether the invisible God and often victimless sin actually was worth risking their food supply. The “faithless” generation, it seems, eventually got more faith than me…

What it says about God is grace is not cheap. Sin is real. Approximating/symbolising it’s cost for an ancient nation of herdsmen requires a lotta lotta animals.

Numbers 25

After the mountain top. 

We’ve had two chapters of praise for the blessedness, prosperity and might of the Israelites and the one true God by their enemies’ seer, full of God’s spirit. Now we return to the Israelites camp and the contrast could not be greater.

This is such a biblical theme. We had it after Sinai, and after Jesus’ transfiguration. 

They are weak messy and compromised by worshipping foreign Gods and breaking their strict moral code with the Moabite women.

This is a strange chapter where some of the story seems untold. A leader of the tribe of simeon brazenly brings a midianite woman to a gathering of the people. He and the woman are named, she’s the daughter of a Moabite leader, so it’s probably a political and religious alliance as well. 

They are both killed by spear in their tent by a priest, who earns eternal honour by the deed. At the same time there is reference to a plague, which takes 24000 people and is stopped by the killing. Not sure if it’s a disease born by the Moab people or judgement from God or both. 

In any event, it’s a tragic and dramatic contrast to how God sees them though the spirit in the previous chapter.

The Bible is a book full of mercy, but it is merciless in showing us how corrupt the human race can be. So much grace, so much need of it.

Leviticus 16

The ritual of the day of atonement where the scapegoat carries away the sins of the people. Its not quite clear if Azazel, which is named owner of the goat is a fallen angel or a name for oblivion.  Either way, the sins are gone and Marvel got a great supervillan name.

I don’t know why having sacrificed animals all year, the Israelites would also need a day of atonement, but God knows we love festivals and annual rhythms… may be one reason. I do relate to this one emotionally better than the sacrifices on the altar, which seem a bit pagan and ghastly to my modern sensibility.

Other ancient religions had similar rituals at the time, and its an example of God adopting a tangible event to symbolise an intangible spiritual message, which is sort of the theme of this whole book not to mention the messiah.  The Greeks had a somewhat meaner version where they would pick on a beggar or disabled person after a natural disaster and drive them out of the community.

For christians Jesus is the ultimate scapegoat of course. For jewish people the day of atonement carries over as Yom Kippur which is the great nominal Jewish day that everyone who rarely otherwise goes to synagogue attends, like easter for christians. It is a day of abstinence and praying for forgiveness, followed by a festive meal to break the fast.  What, no chocolate eggs?

This gives me a chill because the concept is one of the great foundations of the bible, undeserved grace, punishment on another, running through the whole thing.

And I can’t get Holman Hunt’s odd image out of my mind

1200px-william_holman_hunt_-_the_scapegoat

 

Leviticus 15

At the end of ch14 it said that it was the end of rules about infectious skin diseases, and I thought “well that’s a relief”.  So to genital emissions, male and female, normal and abnormal. Sigh.

There is a public health element blended with spiritual metaphors.  So we have periods of quarantine and cleaning where there are diseased emissions.  But we also have shorter and more minor times of uncleanliness for normal reproductive emissions, semen and menstruation.

I’ve been contemplating the element of equal opportunity here.  Both men and women are made unclean for God by reproductive emissions, but women are unclean longer. The rest of the day for men (and women if they get the semen on them) and 5 days for women (and men if they get the blood on them).

Thing is, men have emissions more often, multiple times a week.  So perhaps as a percentage of time being spent unclean, from a practical point of view, its about equal.

Some have argued the menstruation rule is an early recognition of women’s period pain and quite progressive in full social context… I don’t know about that.

On balance, it does blunt the misogyny accusation somewhat, particularly the parallel structure of the chapter, male and female rules alongside each other, its quite striking.

It also clear that none of it is individually blameworthy, Jesus said we are born into sin.  To me this is a recognition of that, by saying that human reproduction is not the way of producing rightness with god, only gods cleansing intervention can do that.

Rather than pointing fingers at groups: at foreigners, criminals, men, women, sick, well etc. its actually saying actually dramatically and emphatically of course you need God’s cleansing grace, all of you. None is right before God.   

 

 

 

 

Leviticus 14

More rules about skin diseases, including leprosy and other infections even mould in houses.  Its quite sophisticated to connect mould in dwellings to disease, and the instructions for fixing it make a lot of practical sense.  In england as late as the 1800s, for example, they didn’t have such a clear notion of the connection, I think.

But in this chapter, about the circumstances of disease being declared gone, not diagnosis as in the last chapter, there is more of a religious element.  So we blend practical advice with rules about recognition of god in response to being clean.  Its interesting, getting sick was not seen as a metaphor for exceptional sin, and Jesus repeated that notion in his teaching, but being cured is a metaphor for also being cured of sin.

Jesus’ healing of lepers reaches back to these rules, in fact he sent his healed lepers to the temple to be declared clean, which is a ritual very similar to the ordination of the priests, quite a life changing bond of the person to god, being anointed with oil.

That particular miracle would should have had great power and significance for the priests as evidence of Jesus’ divinity, and arguably the connection was made by god in this chapter just for that moment.

Again, heartening practical exceptions for the poor.  Reading this in the week that D S Trump announced a budget gutting services for the poor, in a world where inequality and poor-blaming seem to be on the rise.

The message of “clean and unclean” is firstly that its not individually blameworthy to be unclean – Jesus would ultimately argue that the reason for the law is to show that we are all equally unclean in God’s sight, not to weed out the failures –  everyone from priest to leper is unclean. There is no favoured group. Secondly, God makes clean. So being unclean is inevitable, like breathing, and cleansing is an act of God’s grace.

 

Exodus 40

And they all lived happily ever after. Well this old testament book ends on a high, unlike so many that seemed to chart decline and fall before the Messiah.

The tabernacle is done, and it is to the pattern God required, and his cloud of presence descends on it.

They are in a state of grace, such as we always are who believe these days.