1 Kings 14

This is how I remember kings. The chapter fast forwards though the rest of the reigns of the two kings. 

The Southern, in Jerusalem is weak. Worship of false gods is allowed to flourish, and Egyptians raid and take all the treasure and wealth of Solomon.

The northern king is stronger but actively shuns God. His son dies and his line ends.

God speaks though prophets. Jeroboam in the north tacitly acknowledges that he still fears the true God by sending his wife to speak to a prophet, in disguise. 

The blind prophet knows it is her the moment she reaches the door. He tells her of the end of their house and that she will never see her son again.

It’s a sad picture of someone childishly trying to manage God. They’ve got power by throwing God under the bus to the people, a grave sin, and then tentatively and sneakily try to check if there’s going to be a consequence. C.S. Lewis set up Aslan the lion as a picture of God in his children’s books, the point being he’s good but not tame. 

The promised land project has started a long decline. Only the prophets will hold out any hope.

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Deuteronomy 2

Moses completes his narrative of the progress of the Israelites from Egypt and talks about the conquests that lie before them.

They destroy people as vehicles of God’s judgement. When they do this they are not needlessly malicious. They are being like earthquakes, or hurricanes, or old age or sickness.  God is the creator, that status means that in bringing physical death he is not a murderer.  Most armies pray to God for victory, but this is unique.  He is using this nation as part of his plan, he is having them bring judgment on the people along the path.

Numbers 25

After the mountain top. 

We’ve had two chapters of praise for the blessedness, prosperity and might of the Israelites and the one true God by their enemies’ seer, full of God’s spirit. Now we return to the Israelites camp and the contrast could not be greater.

This is such a biblical theme. We had it after Sinai, and after Jesus’ transfiguration. 

They are weak messy and compromised by worshipping foreign Gods and breaking their strict moral code with the Moabite women.

This is a strange chapter where some of the story seems untold. A leader of the tribe of simeon brazenly brings a midianite woman to a gathering of the people. He and the woman are named, she’s the daughter of a Moabite leader, so it’s probably a political and religious alliance as well. 

They are both killed by spear in their tent by a priest, who earns eternal honour by the deed. At the same time there is reference to a plague, which takes 24000 people and is stopped by the killing. Not sure if it’s a disease born by the Moab people or judgement from God or both. 

In any event, it’s a tragic and dramatic contrast to how God sees them though the spirit in the previous chapter.

The Bible is a book full of mercy, but it is merciless in showing us how corrupt the human race can be. So much grace, so much need of it.

1 Samuel 6

 The philistines send the ark back to Israel. They know all about Israel’s God, how they escaped from Egypt, Jericho.  They get spiritual advice and put it on a cart with gold offerings.

It arrives in Israel during harvest with great celebration. But some of the men take the opportunity to look inside it and die. So the celebration with offerings turns into a slaughter (the number is very uncertain, between 50000 and 70. But even 70 is a terrible tragedy).

They organise for people for the temple to take it away.

This is the story of the ark, it is old testament in the stereotypical way: judgement and wrath. The ark is the powerful author of life God, who as I said yesterday, cannot be tamed. CS Lewis envisioned him as a lion, such a great image.

The people here tested God. The philistines knew of his reputation, but they thought they’d find out what happened if they took the ark. 

The Israelites have lost their religion and sent it into battle as a sort of superstition. Celebrating its return thought they’d find out what happens is you look inside, despite knowing full well that the old religions rules were that only the high priest was able to even enter its presence once per year. 

Don’t pick a fight with God. Don’t challenge him to see how strong he really is. We coast along on the doctrine of grace, letting our personal religion be hollowed out as society treats God as a joke.

1 Samuel 4

Eli’s end had been telegraphed the last two chapters, and here it is.

The Israelites are losing in battle with the philistines. Rather than pray for victory, claiming god’s promise that they would be a great nation they summoned the arc of the covenant. The symbol of the promise has become a magic box who’s presence gives power. It’s Steven Speilbergs arc. The irony if making it an idol is lost on them it seems.

The battle where they use it becomes the day of Eli’s end in a dramatic series of events. His sons are killed in the battle. 

Upon hearing the news of their defeat and the capture of the ark eli falls beverages and breaks his neck. 

His daughter in law, pregnant, is thrown into early labour, dies in childbirth, never having seen the baby. They call I him Ichabod: god’s glory has departed.
This is narrative of the fulfillment of the prophesy. It also shows how superstitious the Israelites have become. It paints a picture of the nation ripe for spiritual transformation.

1 Samuel 3

God speaks … In a temple no less! 

God does the old 1 2 3.. when people aren’t ready to hear him, we so often see this repetition. Like the calling of Gideon, the plagues in Egypt, or when Christ takes several stages to heal a blind person.

And now Samuel, as a boy living in the temple, hearts good call him 3 times, thinking it’s the chief priest eli, before he is told it is God’s voice.

And this is a temple, why would anyone expect to hear him there? This is the story of Samuel being chosen to be a vehicle, a prophet. 

But the emotional centre of the story goes to eli, the chief priest, who has seen his sons betray and pervert the faith. He knows the word of the lord has left his line, he expects the word to Samuel to reflect badly on him. And he accepts it with graceful resignation. One can only imagine how his sleep went the rest of the night once he realised the lord was calling Samuel.

May I gracefully accept your judgement lord, and your challenges.

Judges 20

Civil war follows the humiliation and death of the Levites wife in the last chapter. The tribes meet and unite against Benjamin. They refuse to disavow the act. Many thousands of Israelites die.

They consult God as to how to run the attack. I think we’re are arriving at the end of judges. God has barely appeared for a while now.

Joshua 12

A list of the kings defeated (and people’s slaughtered, it seems) by Moses and Joshua to take the promised land.

I counted them, then it gave me the number at the end anyway.  33 in all, Moses 2, Joshua 31.

This is the only memorial they have. What a person Joshua must have been (there is some dispute he may not be literally one person but a hybrid, mind you).

But whoever it was, it’s something. Dispassionately doing this work of the lord, not from hatred or for gain (as in personal wealth anyway). The means of god’s judgement.

I’m not going anywhere with this. It’s a list. It’s done.

I don’t think I fully understand it, so I could apologise for it. OK with trusting tho.

Joshua 6

The battle of Jericho. I wondered in chapter 2 if it would seem fair, but we never hear from them again. They are destroyed, that’s it.

The commander of the lords army who appeared at the end of the last chapter does not appear again, so his message is no more than Joshua is standing on holy ground. And his appearance as a warrior. It’s encouragement for Joshua, the lord is on his side.

And of course it’s a victory like no other. They march and make sound for 7 days, and then the walls come down.

Why 7 days? God often uses time and process, ritual if you will, when he deals with us. Why did Jesus cure blindness in two steps, with spittle mud, so that the blind person saw blurry people at the start? Why bread and wine?

It was their chance to repent. They knew of the red sea, they knew of the Jordan crossing, why did they not come out and talk during the strange seize?

Their time had come. I do trust gods justice, no one will be damned unfairly, and trust in time I will understand that. The bouncy spiritual makes it sound fun “Good ‘ol Joshua”, but it must have been an horrific day, corpses piled up on that holy ground.

Perhaps the angel appeared to assure Joshua of rightness as much as victory.

It’s on the verge of the anniversary of my father’s death. He died after a long and fruitful life, and it gave him freedom from his decline, so I did not curse God.

On what basis do we judge some death fair or not?

Innocence? All have sinned.

Length of life? All our lives are short. One day is like a thousand to the universe.

Love or connection? Yes some deaths hurt more than others.

Suffering? Yes and no. I sometimes think our empathy for suffering is inseparable from our personal dread of death.

I really don’t know where I am going with this. The gloom of the Orlando killings is still hanging over me this week, as it descends into political squabbling.  I keep visualising the two slaughter houses, Jericho and Pulse.

Pray for the world father, don’t let us descend into division. Show us beauty and goodness. May you have mercy.

Micah 6

God defends himself in a quasi legal setting, It recalls the first chapter where he was walking among the mountains, because now he calls on them to witness his defence.  He is making the point that he is not cruel but a loving God, reciting instances in the past where he has saved them.

In response the people are overwhelmed, realising there is little they can do to match. Animal sacrifices aren’t enough, should they give their first born? But God has shown them what is good … the very thing they are bad at now … to be just, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

Then justice is promised for the cheaters, the merchants with crooked scales, and gangsters, those with wealth through violence. Sickness and failure are coming for them.

We used to sing a song at church of verse 8, about walking humbly with God. It’s a memorable summary of the obligations of a believer, like Jesus’ two great commandments, to love God and to love your fellow man.

And it comes from gratitude, not obligation, in context. People make so much of the difference between the old and new parts of the Bible, yet the life of love because of grace is laced though the old everywhere you look. This is anti legalism.

The justice promised here is more concrete than I would now expect. The Psalms and the wisdom literature push away the idea of earthly retribution “how long?”… we’ve learned to leave them to heaven. That said the order of our society, the justice system and the media is a mercy from God so there is not a sense of anarchy.

I’m stressed this week, more deadlines than time. My gloom parted somewhat a day or so ago to be replaced by practical pressure. I’m praying for a time of equilibrium. When things get pressured, I have an unhelpful response where I let things go, which makes the pressure worse. I must focus and stay on top of things.

I’m learning about the spiritual nature of blessing and praying for practical outcomes.