Isaiah 26

Woah, a chapter that goes some unexpected places.

A description of God’s City, walls made of salvation, the strongest stuff there is. Gates town open to all nations. To the dead.

A height metaphor is used to talk about the proud and pompous being made low and the humble lifted up, but not reversed, made straight, made even.

Isaiah is always this two edged sword, can’t damn without hope, no hope without contrasting fate of those who do not listen. It’s always a plea.

The contrast here is with the outcome of people’s trust in their own strength, which looks like it’s going to deliver but ultimately can’t. Amusingly it is compared to a woman writhing with birth pains who ultimately delivers a fart. What a great way to think about so much of the Ted talks etc, humanism has great goals, but only humans to execute them.

The birth metaphor extends to God raising the dead in him for his City, the ground giving them up. The City of Salvation is not tied to earthly life spans, its eternal forwards and backwards.

God is solid, God is real, God produces children for his labours, true justice, true rescue, lasting comfort.

In the meantime this promise “God will keep you in perfect peace if your mind is set on him”

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Isaiah 16

A frustrated pronouncement against Moab. It’s a small county, proud, lots of connection to Israel. He can see it being swallowed up by the big empires, he compares it to a baby bird thrown out of its nest, confused.

He pleads for it to restore it’s relationship with Israel, but knows it probably won’t. He tells the Israelites to shelter and comfort any Moabites who escape.

The church should still comfort the weak and downtrodden, even if they are philosophically opposed.

Their sin is pride, Isaiah’s sadness is being able to see how weak they are when they can’t or won’t themselves.

This quote in the commentary I read summed up the dilemma “Whenever pride is not broken by humility, it will have to be broken by justice.”

You sense that same dilemma in Jesus’ tears over Jerusalem, just before the people called for him to be crucified. It is the motivating sadness of Christianity.


2 Kings 21

Perhaps the fatalism of the godly king Hezekiah in the last chapter was because he already knew his son would be a disaster. 

Manasseh became king at a young age and re established the pantheon of folk Gods, sacrificed his son to Moloch, set up Ashera actually in the temple, consulted wizards and mediums and shed much innocent blood to boot.

There is argument over whether these gods are Canaanite or folk Gods of Israel itself. I guess the calf at least, which they worshipped in the desert came from some folk tradition. Abraham came from a household with Gods. 

The sacrificial system is just an adaptation of the religion that was already there to monotheistic worship of jahweh. God is about substance and we’ve seen faith in him come in many forms. He meets our understanding where it is.

His son rules 2 years and is much the same.

Bad Kings are accompanied by more and more pointed prophetic reaction, this time God says he will wipe Jerusalem clean.

1 Kings 12

So here’s how the kingdom falls apart. 

Wise, experienced advisors tell Solomon’s son Rehoboam, to be a compassionate, generous leader.  His crew of dude bros’ tell him to be a nastier badass than his dad. He goes with the latter, causing all of Israel to leave except Judah, his own tribe, and the tribe of Benjamin. 

God appears, to avert civil war. He speaks through a man of God. And they listen.
The rest of the tribes follow jeroboam, who emerges from Egypt ready to lead the secession. They have no access to the temple at Jerusalem, and jeroboam sets up a version of the golden calf religion from exodus, with priests not from the levites tribe. He sets up two locations where they sacrifice to golden calves, which jeroboam describes as the Gods who bought them out of Egypt. 

In exodus, Moses had to bring God’s judgement to many followers of the calf. Now, God’s will is to let it go, at least, his judgement will not come via a civil war for now.

Kings is history, there is very little theological commentary as it goes through. I’m just describing the sweep of it for now.  The lessons are sad, and not in chapter sized chunks.

Needless to say the massive step backwards in obedience to Jehovah of the bulk of the people to the low point of the exodus story is the end of the idea that the chosen people’s society would be the model of God’s salvation. 

1 Kings 2

David dies and Solomon “consolidates his reign” per the heading in my transition… Gets rid of opposition.

David tells him to live for and follow the law, and to be strong and courageous, which is what Moses said to Joshua. 

Solomon acts as a king should, he removes his disloyal brother who is still plotting to be king and clearly won’t stop. And his priest and army captain. This stabilises his reign and guarantees a period of peace. 

The thrust of it is that the right outcome, God’s, has happened. But I know in the background that God never wanted them to have kings, its a second best plan. 

I have a sense of fresh dedication to things. Perhaps it’s spring. I want to wrap up a few messy loose ends that I have allowed to roll on too long. Give me wisdom. May I be strong and courageous.

Leviticus 27

Redeeming vows.  This whole chapter deals with vows made to God.

So if I got cancer and prayed to God “heal me, and I’ll dedicate the rest of my life to serving you”, and then I was healed, but I didn’t want to actually quit my job and go into full time christian ministry, I could make a prescribed payment to the temple for the value of my life and the vow would be regarded as kept in God’s eyes.

The value calculation is functionally discriminatory, though its pragmatically reflecting a societal fact: the elderly and women have lower economic value to an agrarian society than a fit young male, so are worth less. There is also the gracious provision for financial hardship that runs through all of Leviticus.

This was pretty useful because in ancient Israel, the priesthood was not open to anyone not in the Levite tribe, and people often made vows.

Ditto if you ended up needing an animal that was dedicated to sacrifice, you paid the value of it plus 20% to the temple, and you kept the animal but were right with God.

Ditto promises of land, houses, etc.

They make it quite clear you can’t redeem what is God’s anyway: he owns the harvest tithes and the firstborn livestock. This is totally about voluntary additional tithes

These vows were very common in their culture – we are far more circumspect in my culture, though the passion and emotion these vows demonstrate in their relationship with God is confronting to my own relative coolness. And, we do often do we hear “over my dead body”! and similar things.  I don’t know how many hats I am now due to eat.  Its so accepted that our vows are meaningless they have just become just colourful figures of speech.

Its using economic sanctions to teach the people to be careful with their speech. Don’t promise bigger than you can deliver. Words matter.

Its also a nice element of practical non-perfectionism to end the book on.  Its been all about God’s absolute inflexible standards.  Here, there is a recognition of the ups and downs of passion and regret that humans experience.  The old testament even often talks about God’s vows this way, like people can have him reconsider after he has burned with anger. Noah and Jonah bargain with God over his vows.  Prayer is like this.

Its setting the stage for the big redemption of course. There is a way out.  A debt owed to God can’t just be forgotten, but it can be paid for by another.

Leviticus 26

This chapter talks about the consequences of the Israelites’ behaviour.  The blessings that will come if they are obedient, and the progressively worse disasters that will befall them if they are not. Its pretty much the story of the next 10 or so books of the bible.

I like that the blessings are instant, and repentance is always within reach, but the curses come as a series of ever more serious consequences… slow to anger and quick to bless.

I still practically subscribe to this punishment and reward model in quite a literal way.  Its probably superstitious, theological balderdash.

If I feel guilty about something I have done and have a setback, I think its God punishing me.  I don’t think so much good things are a reward though.  I get that more the other way around: I try do the right thing because I have been blessed. And when they happen unfairly, I say “why god why”.  So every outcome is covered by my spiritualising.  Is such a simple cause and effect real?  Is god real?  If the second question’s answer is “yes”, why not the first, eh?

Anyway from this prediction the sadness and glory of the Old Testament flows.  They will have high highs of gods revelation and blessing, and low lows of his suffering for their ignorance of him.

They will take the promised land, make it great, watch it get corrupted, be thrown out of it and return. They are the chosen race – chosen to exemplify god’s character, and to provide the ancestry for god in human form.  As an earthly imprint of the heavenly pattern they were always an imperfect copy, but the messiah did come through the line.

 

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 10

Two of Aaron’s sons improvise their own sacrifice.  They take incense in their own burner into the holy of holies, and are there struck dead.

Its harsh, but their plan involved the profoundest of sins, rebellion against god, placing their own judgement higher than him. The mystery is not that they were killed, the mystery is that any of us are alive.  Death is the consequence of rejecting the author of life, of saying “I’ll author my own life thanks”.

Well it doesn’t work that way.  We can’t, and every fibre of our being hates that we can’t. Humans hate the fact that we are created (though we love babies).  We live rebelling against it, acting like masters of our own destiny. And we all die, sooner or later. And how we hate that too.

In the leviticus narrative the aftermath is horrible too. Aaron and his remaining sons have to continue through the rituals, not stop and mourn their brothers/ sons.   Should have freeze framed at the last chapter, its suddenly all an emotionally gruelling obedience that they are called to, not a joyous one.

There is a glimmer of mercy at the end, they simply can’t feast on all the food as they are supposed to, Aaron has no stomach for it, and Moses accepts that they can not.

Plus of course, God is a god of love.  I guess that he did love Aaron’s son’s despite their pride on perhaps the one day people fully understood God’s holiness. God is the god of second chances. Paul would write “Death has been swallowed up in victory: ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law”.

We can’t understand love without understanding god’s holiness by virtue of being our creator.

 

Leviticus 5

This is the Law right here. The one Jesus said brings death. 

You hear something unfair and don’t speak out, death. Blood must be shed. You come to realise you accidentally touched the wrong thing, death. Etc etc. Death death and death.
God has provided elaborate rituals, understanding the way we comprehend religion. He’s given them something that contemporary nations would recognise as religion, but morphed into teaching about the nature of God. 

So what is he saying?

It’s not a sin to be poor, for one thing. If all you can afford is a dove or even just a cup of flour, rather than a perfect male ram or whatever, its power to absolve sin is just as great. Modern Christianity forgets that one often still. It’s so profoundly sad watching church leaders faun on the rich and successful.

Also, God is not a man-made object. Aslan is not a tame lion.  The tent doesn’t have an object that is god at its core, it has his words. It’s where they meet God, he comes to it as a cloud from wherever he is. He can’t be looked at. We still fall victim to molding God of our own concept of what God should be like

And he is very holy. That implies him creating in us the capacity to be unholy. Still a hard concept. Our rebellion requires pain, it cuts us off from him, demands death.

God laid out these messages in simple concrete terms the people could not fail to understand.  Or could they? 

Still haven’t. Still haven’t!