2 Kings 2

Elijah’s ministry ends, Elisha’s starts.

The books are called Kings but should perhaps have been called Prophets.

This chapter seems like a climax of the coming of them as the leaders of the people and carriers of God’s message.

The larger kingdom has seemed like a disaster, all the kings of Israel have been God hating. But it’s given rise to the greatest leader yet. It’s a pattern of God to pull his largest victories out of seemingly his greatest setbacks.

The Old testament could be seen as a series of proto Christs. These are people who are earthly examples of the character of God, and through whom much revelation of God’s power and salvation come.

We had Joseph in Genesis, when the chosen people were just one family.

Moses led the event that made them a nation, their greatest leader, so close to God

Gideon and perhaps Deborah in the era of the judges.

David clearly, the good king, the poet of salvation.

Now Elijah/Elisha, they are almost like one continuous leader. The hope of salvation has passed from kings to prophets.

They tour groups of prophets. A pro-Jehovah religious renaissance is breaking out all over. They all recognise that this is goodbye to Elijah, God is speaking to all of them.

He does signs of Moses. Parting the sea and walking on dry land.

Goes one more, doesn’t die. The chariot of fire that takes him to heaven is the most extraordinary miracle of the Bible so far.

Unlike all the others I can’t recall anything obviously bad being recorded about Elijah. Very Christ like.

At the end of the book Elisha, carrying on alone calls on another sign of Moses, making water drinkable.

He goes to the main centre of calf worship and the visit stirs up a large crowd of unruly youths, who mock him and who he curses. Bears come and their attack breaks up the riot. (Apparently they didn’t necessarily die in a close reading of the text.)

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Numbers 34

This is the business end of numbers where God tells Moses what will be the borders of the promised land, and tribal representatives are appointed to go with Joshua, Moses’ replacement as leader, and the high priest to claim it and set the tribal boundaries.

Its sort of pragmatic and sort of weird.  Moses converses with God.  We’d possibly call him crazy today.  They got to be a nation that didn’t have land – a slave nation within Egypt.   Directed by God, they’ve arrived at this occupied, relatively random land, which they are to claim by driving out or killing everyone living there… complete annihilation of the existing culture and existence. I feel disloyal to God saying that, or should I say untrusting of his justice.

Its a formative moment in history – no land, no nation, no nation no messiah, no messiah no christianity.  Love it or hate it, Christianity is the biggest religion, a third of the planet. Judasim not far behind. Its a big deal moment.

Speak to me, father.

Numbers 32

The land they have just conquered is great for livestock… Reuben and Gad are vast herdsmen tribes and they want it, not to go into the promised land over the jordan.

Moses does a deal where they can have it if they join the fight for Canaan, but if not they will be given land within Canaan.  Either way, their lot is with the Israelites, fighting for Canaan.

He compared it to the weakness of the generation who lost their will to go to the promised land after the spies report.  Its easy to see a lesson about settling for instant gratification and not pursuing God’s plan.

As you will see from my reading of Joshua, the promised land project for me, and for many I’m sure, keeps being tainted with sentiment for the occupants of the land… its not empty. So I have a mixed reaction to the chapter.

But certainly you have this sense that God’s people are bound up with each other, the mission of one group is the mission of all, and they must not be distracted by the dazzling opportunities along the way to obeying God’s will.

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.

 

Genesis 32

Jacob has cowardly ways. He tried to sneak away from his father in law, laban. But God engineered a confrontation that allowed closure for that chapter. He tried to avoid conflict. But ethically and practically, some things are better confronted.

Now he is returning to his home country, and the anger he ran from after he cheated his older brother Essau from his father’s final blessing.

We don’t get to that meeting this chapter, but Jacob prepares by sending many advance gifts and splitting his group, so at least one half may get though.

He can’t help but take a moment as he crosses back to his homeland with enormous wealth, having left with almost nothing, to praise God for his blessing. He is a different person too, God has taught him to work for things and to confront his fear

He is terrified by reports that 400 men are coming with Essau. Left alone, arrangements in place, he wrestles all night with a mysterious man.

He has to disable Jacob’s hip to get the advantage. Still Jacob wrestles on, wont let go. The man asks to be let go because it is daybreak. But Jacob says he must bless him first.

His tenacity is for blessing. It is revealed that he had been wrestling with God.

The man changes Jacob’s name to Israel because he wrestled with humans and with God and overcame.

What a powerful experience of the intimacy of God… Wrestling down in the dirt. The guiding urge of his struggle is that he will not let God go.

Jacob’s identity is changed, and his confidence is boosted.

It is a redemption story. The ride is turning from the pessimism that followed the fall.

1 Samuel 26

I wonder if Saul will be in heaven? Even yahoo answers does not know. I know it is for god to judge not me, but it’s interesting to think about his relationship with God. 

His dance with his demons is a lot like the cycle of failure and forgiveness we are all in. David treats him with grace the way God treats us.

In this chapter David continues to be pursued like a criminal by Saul with murderous intent.

God is on David’s side, and he once again is given the opportunity to kill Saul or show mercy, chooses mercy, and Saul breaks down and begs forgiveness for foolishly and needlessly pursuing David.

He realises he is a sinner, is humble and asks forgiveness. But then he seems to wake up with hatred of David in his heart. Such a tortured guy.

But aren’t we all when it comes to sin.

1 Samuel 12

Samuel’s coronation address. It’s so real, he is very old and makes no bones about having been opposed to having a king. His coronation message: god is king.

He reminds everyone of his record for honesty.

He recites the history of Israel, jumping from Moses to Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah and the most recent (last chapter) delivery from the ammonites. This underscores his theme that the peoples faithfullness to God is their salvation, not the status of their leaders.

Then he performs a miracle, calling down thunder and rain at will. It is the harvest season and the weather is clear which makes it a very freakish weather event. He explicitly makes it a demonstration of their sin in wanting a king other than God.

It works and the people ask for his intervention to stop God killing them on the spot.

He says that is not going to happen today, but pleads with them to serve God with all their hearts. Having a king will make no difference to the judgement that will come if they are not faithful. Both they and their king will be swept away.

That’s some coronation speech. 

The kingship winds up having more lows than highs, too. It follows the same depressing trajectory as judges but on a grander scale.

We are all caught in a circle of sin and rebellion. This pattern where we promise to be faithful to God but fail over and over.  God has much more right than us to be cynical of it.

But one response to our own cynicism is to delegate out our responsibility. To trust an earthly king in the form of an ideology, a charismatic leader, a movement. Like Israel’s king, we can have them but they can’t supplant God. They won’t save us. We must be faithful in God as our king.

Zechariah 8

God’s favor.

This a chapter is about the magnitude of God’s blessing. This 70 year process by which the Jews are knocked out of Jerusalem and it is destroyed, and then put back into it and Jerusalem rebuilt shows how much god is in control of history.

It’s a series of statements each with the refrain that it is a word from God, about blessing. The place will be a thriving metropolis again. Crops will grow abundantly, fasts will become times of celebration.

It climaxes with the last verse: 10 people at once will try to grab onto the hem of a Jew’s coat and want to hang with them because they’ve heard God is with them. They’ll be hot stuff, the ants pants, the bees knees.

We have this favor, we are blessed. We are the luckiest people on earth. But Christians are falling into something of a seige mentality as society changes around them. We are not the dominant unchallenged majority and it’s tempting to feel defensive, under attack.

We need to forget about all that and remember how great Christianity is. We’re saved. We know love. Our faith should not be a walled city at war with the world or hiding away from it, an enclave of a threatened culture.  It is a light on the hill, a beacon, an incredibly attractive advertisement for the love of God.

Father, never catch me apologising for being a Christian.

Nehemiah 8

The celebration of the finishing of the wall creates various overwhelming emotions in the people. They are rediscovering their identity, having been away from Jerusalem and Jewish culture.

They start to weep as the law is read by Ezra the priest. Other priests are on hand to explain it. I like that detail, its no meaningless ritual. It’s like the spiritual version is an adopted child meeting their birth parents, they are overwhelmed.

They need to be reminded that it’s a celebration, a festival. That unleashes 7 days of joy. They pick up on a tradition of sleeping in makeshift houses, and all do that.

Every day more of the law is read, it’s a major love affair with their identity as god’s chosen people, with the word of God.

This is a timely word for me. I wax and wane on my personal devotion to reading the word here. It’s a good reminder to treasure it. It is my identity, loved by God, given his word.

Nehemiah 5

Reeling as we are at the moment with revelations about the betrayal of children by religious leaders, and the ascendency of a brutish egomaniac like Donald Trump, it’s easy to forget what truly inspiring leadership looks like. Unless you read Nehemiah 5. He sets the example. When he eventually made governor, he shares the perks of office liberally with the poor. He shames the business operators who are trying to profit from their community in a way that weakens it. They have nothing to say, they fall into line. And it is all inspired by his personal love of God. Looking at cultivating a sense of mission in life, this is most inspiring.