Psalm 141

Tender and brutal. Who was king David? A poet and a warrior. Intensely emotional, a tough and effective mercenary. He takes us amazing places, but surely few of us can go to all of them, he’s a rare bird.

He gets that religion is about the heart. He gets that temptation draws your heart to it. You, not it, are to blame. And a rebuke and a slap for the right things are blessings from God.

Please let me recognise that one. So often when I am told off, I reflect back the hurt of the moment, the wound to my pride. Later, when I am cool enough to actually take on board the truth, so rarely do I close the loop and go and express my gratitude to the person who rebuked me.

In the flow of the psalm, this idea leads to an aside from David that those he rebuked will recognise the truth of his words once they have been thrown down from their high place and their bones scattered without a decent burial.

“You’ll wish you’d listened to me once you’re dead!” Is an impossible kind of rebuke, but one likely to startle the hearer. It sits oddly in a psalm that has been so reflective up to that point.

He returns to a more worthy tone to conclude, fixing his eyes on God, though he does still express satisfaction anticipating his enemies’ self destruction.

If Trump goes, for instance, I will be satisfied, particularly if it’s dished out with some of the pain and humiliation he visits on those around him too powerless to object. David goes there, some have suggested this might be about his relationship with king Saul. But he knows his thoughts should really be fixed on God and his own holiness.

He knows it is by the grace of God, not his doing, that He can slip by unscathed as others mess up.

We live in a distracting age, may I remember that too.

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Psalm 101

Absolutes in a compromised world.

Breakng the pattern of communal praise of the last 10 or so Psalms, today’s is quite a stern first person song of King David.

It comes from the early days of his reign and he is setting standards for it. He wants to be an obedient king, obedient to the love and justice of God. And he’s inheriting a no doubt corrupt and compromised court from king Saul.

He’ll have no part of anything perverse or vile, won’t listen to slanderers or liars, the proud or haughty. He’s determined to weed out, silence and cut off the blatantly wicked, the evildoers. Every morning! he adds, to give it a practical emphasis.

On the positive side he will seek out the faithful, and live among them, he’ll listen to the blameless.

Of course it didn’t work out quite that way. He eventually had to be confronted with his own deceit and evil. And his court was sometimes a hotbed of betrayal and ruthlessness.

Google started out the same way, with the motto “dont be evil”. They mention it a bit less these days. They are struggling with the ethics of artificial intelligence, which has the potential of an Orwellian future if mishandled.

David wasn’t perfect, but he was the best king they ever had. Standards make a difference, even if they are unsustainable.

David also had a huge heart for forgiveness. He forgave people against the advice of his best counselors, when it made poor political sense.

The Chinese government arent afraid to impose zero tolerance standards on their citizens, using modern technology. If you are trying to buy a train ticket, face recognition prevents you if you are behind on your taxes, that sort of thing. The towns of some Islamic minorites have become virtual surveillance prisons.

But they didn’t start at god’s love and mercy, where David did. His boldness in proposing a zero tolerance society is grounded in his humility before his maker. It includes himself.

Is it my age? Absolutes seem increasingly futile to me. Life teaches otherwise.

But a clear eyed commitment to standards, starting with me, in humility? Never too old for that.

Proverbs 25

This collection of proverbs profiles the Christian character I recognise well from childhood. I drank it in.

Unpretentious. Not brash or self promoting. Under promising and over delivering.

I’m still there pretty much, bit I have vacilated a few times during my life. I felt cheated at times because even among Christians there seems to be a recognition that being like this often doesn’t actually work.

Take:

Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence,
and do not claim a place among his great men;
it is better for him to say to you, “Come up here,”
than for him to humiliate you before his nobles.

So you wait watching nincompoops succeed through sycophancy and lies, while you, an unsung hero of substance wait for the king to say “come up here”. Others seeing your ability actively undermine you, it’s the only option they have.

To live by this proverb is to let go of the idea that the king might ever say “come up here”.

St Paul had a better take on wisdom in that extended passage where he talks about becoming fools in the world’s eyes.

And that message is here too. Because nothing is connected, you have to draw it out of the themes that repeat.

The strands lie alongside each other: a dose of quite cynical pragmatism, then an idealistic call to do what is right regardless of the consequences.

A promise of earthly prosperity followed by a gods eye perspective of eternal justice, where earthy wealth is of no substance, like dust blowing away in the wind.

These lie alongside each other in the faith based organisation I work for, it’s a daily tension. And in my family, and in my church.

Wisdom means many things in the book of proverbs. Maybe Solomon didn’t ask for quite the right thing.

2 Chronicles 19

This is about godly leadership. It’s written as an example and manual, all this detail is extra to the kings narrative, so it shows the distinct purpose of chronicles.

Jehoshaphat is sincere and has a heart for God but misguided about what he should achieve as king. A prophet redirects him.

He stops trying to make an alliance with the North, he clearly had reunification ambitions. It was once God’s aim but not any more.

He focuses on traveling about his own kingdom encouraging his subjects to godliness, a sort of itinerant preacher like Jesus.

And he sets up a system of justice which is fair and impartial. There are religious and civil branches.

It’s a resizing of ambition, letting go the glory days of Solomon’s reign, they aren’t coming back, and living a useful godly life in the new reality.

An incredibly useful leadership lesson, for churches especially. Interestingly, top of the list after preaching the word was a concern for justice.

2 Chronicles 8

Moving on from building the temple, this is a summary of king Solomon’s reign. It gives you some sense of the character of it.

He’s a builder, not just the temple or his palace ( which took twice as long…) But villages, towns.

He is a bold, creative entrepreneur, gets on well with neighbours. When they mention a maritime venture that nets lots of money, it’s so uncharacteristic of Israel, never a seafaring nation.

And the seeds of his downfall are sewn, with an Egyptian wife. He knows there is a conflict with their religion, she doesn’t convert to their beliefs. He makes a palace for her because the ark has been at the site of his, and he says that makes it holy.

The ark is like the physical embodiment of monotheism.

Solomon is aware his marriage is unacceptable to God.

He is wise, but in this case worldly wise. The marriage probably makes a lot of political and economic sense, but it’s compromising his holiness.

I’m feeling I could use a bit a worldly smarts this week, we are living being our means. I’m guilty of wanting it all I suppose, I like working for the Salvos, but I should be living a more humble lifestyle.

1 Chronicles 28

David was so much more involved with the temple than I ever imagined. Solomon built it, but David micro managed about every detail before he died.

He repeats, as he hands over the final instructions, that he can’t build it because he’s a soldier that shed too much blood.

He did. But God could forgive him that, I wonder if God is also leading the old man not into temptation.

The census debacle a couple of chapters ago showed David’s very human desire to be proud of his reign, to want to leave a legacy to what he achieved as Israel’s greatest king, bringing together their greatest period.

Maybe he could not have built the temple without falling into that sin, an old man’s sin.

It’s so Moses-like, leading God’s people to the edge of closure, but not being the one to claim it.

Moses’ sin, such as it was, was pretending to be God’s voice. He berated the people out of his own frustration, when God had not asked him to. Both needed to fight pomposity.

As I head towards late middle age, if not old age, it’s not what I expected to see in the passage. I have achieved remarkably little on earth, so I would have thought I was safe from pomposity.

But this blog is driven by a sense of legacy, it’s in there, in my motives. And my plan to write a song for every book, definitely. Though it’s also my identity and my pleasure in who I’ve been created to be. David was a song writer, and God didn’t seem to put any limits on that.

Intriguingly though… I wonder if he wrote crush/love songs about Bathsheba? Only the regret song, Psalm 51 made the Bible cut. But I digress.

I also have a problem with timidity, and the verse that rang out to me in the spirit was when David said to his son Solomon “Be confident and determined. Start the work and don’t let anything stop you.

I also let everything stop me. I seriously do.

So is God saying: achieve lots, and don’t achieve lots?

Perhaps the resolution of the conflict lies in the centre phrase, which I hadn’t noted till now “start the work”. Not “make sure you finish it” that is not the point.

Collaboration is a word bursting with godly potential. It’s how dreams become a journey, which is what they perhaps need to do to lead us not into temptation. In the process, they break a bit, get tarnished, they morph, perhaps you never actually reach them.

Sounding very “it’s a wonderful life”.

Do what God needs to be done. Live in God’s present, respond to it. That is closer to eternity than devoting our energy to planning our earthly memorial. As Jesus put it “store up for yourself treasure in heaven”.

So there is my dual message: be bold, seize the promptings of the spirit in the present, but don’t plan a self aggrandising future. Do and don’t do.

My job insecurity is eating me up a bit this week.

I offer that, my present, and my legacy on the altar God says is within the temple of my body, built upon the ruins of David and Solomon’s earthly monument of stone and cedar.

Woah!

1 Chronicles 24

A technical chapter about how the priests, the Levites, were split into 24 groups, who would each have a week of performing the temple services, twice a year.

It’s also a list chapter, all the families of the tribe.

It’s Sunday today, and a special indigenous service to mark the start of NAIDOC week. Looking forward to that.

This church has worked out being the most enjoyable church experience of my life, it really is like my Sunday candy!

Isaiah 2

The great correction.

A poem about greatness with a returning altitude metaphor.

The things that are high, lofty – rich, honoured, successful – false, will be put into perspective when all nations see God on the highest of all mountains and worship him.

Solomon wirh all his wives and false gods established “high places”, outside Jerusalem to compete with the temple and Jehovah. And god regularly spoke to people in mountains, it’s where Moses got the commandments.

The temple in Jerusalem was built on the site of an old high place.

Hence the talk of height and competing claims on our spirituality.

But the prophet’s role is to turn everything to metaphor, and he is standing on the outside of a successful society saying how God is going to turn the social order upside down. Bring justice and judge sin.

It’s where the church is rapidly moving today, to the outside. It’s a very relevant poem.

The central tragedy for me this week in a week of a lot of sad 2 is the death of one of my wife’s school friends from alcoholism. A sickness with a spiritual aspect to it.

1 Kings 8

The dedication of the temple and placement of the ark of the covenant goes flawlessly – better than David managed to handle the notoriously dangerous thing.

God’s cloud descends on the holy place. He is in residence. Solomon give a big speech acknowledging that it was the fulfillment of a promise by God to David, and that God is actually to big to be confined by a temple.

He elaborates a fairly basic theology, that if the people are suffering any kind of problem, then praying in the direction of the temple would fix it. This was presumably before he wrote the big existential question mark that is Ecclesiastes!

He prays thanks humbly, outside the temple because though he is king, he is not a priest. Many sacrifices are offered, a multi day festival follows.

It’s a great day, The chosen people, in the promised land, fulfilling God’s will and in the presence of the Lord. Freeze frame, it don’t get better than this.

Numbers 6

The origin of the Nazarite vow. This is a way of setting apart a person as a holy man. Samson was a Nazarite. By then he was a demonstration of how corrupt the promise had become.

The themes are similar to the clean and holy notions of Leviticus: no contact with the dead, not cutting hair, etc. This was like a voluntary extra giving of a life to God bring the notion that the first born was God’s. 

I imagine if a birth was difficult or a child nearly died of an illness, a parent might pray “deliver him God and I’ll devote him to you”. 

It could only be a male.