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!

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Jeremiah 48

Judgement against Moab. Moab were Israel’s enemies, so it’s interesting to see how they are spoken of and treated, compared to all the judgements against Israel.

The judgement was bitter and absolute. But that is no different from the judgement against Israel.

As I’ve noted in the previous foreign nation judgements, idol worship or foreign gods don’t play a big part. They seem to be graded on a curve by God, according to the extent of their revelation.

But they are judged for arrogance and complacency.

One of the most unique metaphors of the chapter talks about settling for the dregs.

It’s an image of never fully cleaning out your wine jar or your coffee pot, so that the grounds or the sediment get passed on from refill to refill. They taint the whole, nothing is fresh.

It’s a spiritual metaphor, I suppose. They are spiritually stale as well as arrogant and complacent.

Recalls Jesus’ metaphor of how his gospel would blow up the Jewish legalism… New wine exploding old wine skins. That was also a judgement of sorts.

God’s love and his justice are on display. He grieves for them as well as urging the Babylonians to do a complete job of smashing them. Judgement, even of enemies, causes God pain.

He has a relationship with them, he also has a promise for them, right at the end. He will bring back the captives.

After this annexation they never really existed as a nation again, though some natives moved back to the region. Many have read this as a promise of global salvation.

So in summary, not much different from a judgement against Israel really. I’ve been thinking a bit recently about what being God’s chosen people meant.

Moab is judged for their sin but not apostasy. There is less of a call/opportunity to repent than Israel, but again the words against Israel are laced with the expectation that they won’t…

God does love our enemies. And everyone has a spirituality they can either keep alive or let go stale.

Death – the end of our years – comes to all. God knows all of us.

Jeremiah 37

In a non chronological way we are now getting episodes in the siege that Jeremiah spent the first 30 chapters warning of.

King Zedekiah is a very mediocre monarch. Even though he was sponsored by the Babylonians, he makes an alliance with Egypt to protect Jerusalem.

The Babylonians leave mid siege to go and annihialate the Egyptians.

The pause in the siege is pathetically celebrated by the Jews as a premature “mission accomplished”.

It is when they “unfree” their slaves, renegging on a vow to God. It was discussed a few chapters ago.  Israelites with no empathy for slaves have totally lost their identity.

Of course it will prove politically disastrous after the Babylonians come back.

Meanwhile Jeremiah is beaten and thrown into a dire dungeon on a trumped up charge by angry officials, visited by the king who doesn’t know what to do and delivers his consistent message that they are doomed.

The King continues to detain him, but in a better prison at the kings palace, so at least he won’t die. It was there that Jeremiah wrote the hopeful prophesies about the Messiah and the return from exile.

So we see responses to God’s word. Zedekiahs’s officials do a simple “shoot the messenger”.

Zedekiahs’s is more nuanced. He blocks and contains it. He also make sure he knows what it is, occasionally consulting Jeremiah. Then he ignores it.

But part of him respects/fears it enough to hedge his bets and not outright kill Jeremiah.

It’s is sort of like the difference between an atheist and an agnostic.

The point being that none of the politics or conniving make a fig of difference.

Jeremiah 28

Last chapters talked about the populist prophets, who told the people a prediction of Jewish victory against Babylon. Jeremiah in contrast had a physical teaching aid, a wooden yoke he wore to teach that Babylon was being given victory over Israel as a judgment.

This is a close up view of that conflict.

Hanaiah speaks the false prophesy in the company of Jeremiah in public. He grabs and snaps Jeremiah’s symbolic yoke.

Jeremiah responds with wistfulness more than anything else. He wishes it were true.

Later God gives him a portent of Hanaiah’s death and Jeremiah goes to him to tell him the damage the false hope does for the people. He says by breaking the wood yoke, he’s made one of iron for them.

This is the problem with populism, false hope leading to bad decision making.

Around the world, false prophets have been denying climate change, holding back decisions to do something about it. However I read a report last week that the US military are tacitly confirming it by relocating bases that will soon be subject to flooding.

Denial often makes problems worse. Ditto soft selling the gospel, how is that a favour to people?

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”

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.