Psalm 112

I didn’t look at the commentary yesterday and missed the background to these two Psalms.

They are a pigeon pair, each are twenty two lines long in the original, and both are alphabet acrostics, ie: in the original language, each line starts with a letter of the alphabet in order. Twice through the alphabet.

The great preacher Charles Spurgeon pithily nailed both – as he so often does – calling them the sun and moon. 111 looks directly at the glory of God, 112 sees his glory reflected in the life of believers.

I felt sad at the first couple of verses because it talked about the success of the believers’ children and how wealthy and rich their houses will become.

I’m sensitive about my children but I need to be positive and take this as a promise to trust in their value as human beings and love them for who they are. Other ways, madness lies, for me.

The wealth is relative of course. I can be worrying about making ends meet and still be very much among the richer on the planet…

And the psalm turns out not to be unrealistic about the Love God=#blessed equation, going on to say that that believing in God can make light dawn in the darkness. I took it to mean that even if a believer is in a dark time, the light of Christ will make it better.

The rest of it talks about security in God, which is a thread that links the good and the bad times for believers. It talks about not needing to fear. Even the worst news will not shake us badly because we know god’s love and steadfastness.

You have the confidence to be generous and just. None of the other things people long for will be as rewarding.

Better with God, that what I hear, and so true, better with God.

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Proverbs 20

Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.

Do not love sleep or you will grow poor; stay awake and you will have food to spare

Got me there!

There is a recurring theme of real politic… About pleasing or displeasing the king. It’s quite crawly, but true in an observational way.

A king’s wrath strikes terror like the roar of a lion; those who anger him forfeit their lives.

Most chapters have a few of these, and I tend to skip them. Obviously God encouraged the prophets to ignore this. They were sometimes public enemy number one and had generally terrible relations with the kings.

And I think I rebel generally against the wisdom that is in the “you-may-not-like-it-but-that’s-the-way-it-is” category. What does that teach us of God? Choose your battles? Be practical?

It lets in a bunch of competing priorities. You have Joshua saying “choose today who you will serve” and then proverbs saying “and keep one eye on the king”.

Though I suppose you could argue it is saying to be aware of the consequences. Accidentally or needlessly provoking the king is just foolish.

It is a trap to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider one’s vows.

Ha, can’t deny that one, I was moaning about it only yesterday.

This chapter actually upped the tempo on insightful spiritual sayings, addressing the spirit, love, guidance, being pure of heart. It places great value on reflection as the truest part of life.

The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.

Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find?

The ultimate wisdom is God, always:

A person’s steps are directed by the Lord, How then can anyone understand their own way?

 

Psalm 87

A psalm about Zion, the city, the metaphor for salvation. It inspired the hymn ‘glorious things of thee are spoken’.

I took from it consolation that salvation extends to anyone who becomes a citizen of the holy city – Augustine was also inspired by this surprisingly short psalm when he wrote his most significant work, ‘The city of God’.

Feeling a bit bleak, they told me I didn’t get the manager job today, but in other news, no one got it. They are rethinking and making an adjustment to the structure and they are saying hold on, they will probably create a new job I will be interested in… what talk is that! Its good that they seem to want me around and are working on some plan about which they are not at liberty to divulge. I’m grateful really… about as grateful as you can be for, so far, a handful of actually nothing. I’m feeling either keep me or let me go, but get on with it!

But I did get the citizenship of Zion, and I feel less worthy of that than I did of the manager position I applied for, yet its a better position.

The weather is hot, the family are miserable and the funds are low, its all a bit much. ‘Solid joys and lasting treasure, none but Zion’s children know…’

Psalm 77

If this book of Psalms, starting from psalm 73, so far has had a theme it’s remembering.

Yesterday’s was about when Israel had military glory. Today’s joins the dots.

It narrates much more fully the journey from fear and despair in the night to remembering and calling on God to be in control.

At first the night time meditation on God produces distress, classic night fears that abandonment, rejection by God will go on forever.

But then appealing to the deeds of long ago starts to calm him.

He visualises the chaos of the sea. Dark stirring water is an abiding metaphor of losing control for all Israelites it seems. Then he visualises lightning and storms, the power of God over the sea.

It ends on a specific memory of the Israelites, led by Moses and Aaron, leaving Egypt by walking through the sea stepping in the invisible footsteps of God.

This image combines God’s power with his specific love for Israel, and calms him.

The mighty blue mountains, nature’s intimidating size, and a lifetime of memories, along with time to be with my family, is calming and restoring me, praise God.

Being aware of the movement of air, or the stillness of it. The heat has been crazy, but there’s always a stream to cool your toes in.

We’ve played board games and browsed antiques and clothes. Slowed down, remembered rituals, watched bad TV and found new things.

I think the psalmist is listening, letting God speak. Creating opportunities to hear him. We bought a funny antique glitter art framed verse to put on our wall yesterday ‘quench not the Spirit’.

Speak father, in this moment of our lives’ intersection, to all our different needs.

Job 29

Aww this is a beautiful picture of Job’s lost contentment. It the first of a three chapter response by Job, so he really just starts his points.

He talks about being respected with lovely nuance. It’s a portrait of his goodness, which could be self righteous bragging in another context, except he has lost so much, it seems fair enough.

I love how he uses cream and olive oil metaphorically to reminisce about how smooth and easy his life was.

He paints a picture of going to the town square and being respected from young to old, rich and poor, for his goodness and wisdom. They all fall silent as he starts to speak, and his word silences the prattle after he’s done, as they quietly savour his wisdom.

He a champion of the poor and needy, he anticipated a long, secure, comfortable, happy personal life. Good and blessed, humble and respected.

It is the dream still for a good respectable citizen. It’s the later life entrepreneurs like Bill Gates aspire to, once they’ve been hard and mean in their youth and gotten their millions. A philanthropist. An elder. It’s what I’d love to be! I’m a bit chuffed about being a warden at my church.

He’s portraying himself as having had the wisdom discussed in the previous chapter. He feared God, he departed from evil.

But the blessings of his life were not what God promises. He’s miserable, he’s pathetic and sick. Is the wisdom still as precious? More than gold or silver? Now that it’s delivered misery?

It’s like the marriage vows… For better or worse. Turns out the majority of couples can’t live that way.

I’m praying for good things, but I must accept I may not get them. In some of my friends’ views, that proves Christianity wrong. But I’m like Job, I can’t imagine giving it up.

Gee though, this chapter seduces through time as a still potent picture of the decent, respectable life we must lay on the altar. Begone dreams of comfortable respectability! You may be my circumstances, but not my desire.

2 Chronicles 11

A sad political chapter. Israel divides along religious lines.

Everyone who wants to worship in the temple joins the two tribes who occupy the South, including all the Levite/ priest tribe.

The rest set up an alternative religion in the North.

They worship a calf, the folk religion from the wilderness years after the flight from Egypt.

There must have been festering political unrest from Solomon’s time.

It nearly erupts into civil war, but the word of a man of God averts it. It’s the only reference to God, as opposed to religion, in the chapter.

The southern king fortifies various towns anyway.

Working in a Christian organisation, it’s the case that it’s easy for politics to dominate a lot of the time. It’s important to keep connected to God, and in that balance the fairness to those who don’t necessarily believe.

We despair over the decline in the church, but even at this high point of an identity as the people of God, 9 out of 12 tribes were largely unconvinced.

Jesus had an 11 out of 12 hit rate in his followers.  The betrayal by Judas was evil, but also was used in the plan.

It’s the way it is.

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 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.)

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.