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.

Malachi 4

Last chapter of the old testament. It’s not completely bleak, more like 85%. But the idea is that the people of God blew it. Adam blew it. They were made great, bought low, pruned and replanted, turned over new leaf after new leaf. Still they do not revere god in the main, just a few do. Their religion is hollow, grudging and insincere. Messiah needed.

It talks again of the day, when the fire will burn, or the sun will shine and heal, depending on your heart.

There is an encouragement again to keep the law. Then the last verses speak of Elijah coming. Presumably is some sort of Messiah prediction, or John the Baptist, who was like an Elijah.

The unsettling gentle / terrible shifts that have characterised this book continue to the last verse. On that day there will be tender healing between parent and child … heavenly or earthly, these are the ones who have kept faithful. For the rest complete destruction.

It’s easy to forget that this is in the teaching if Jesus too. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. It’s good for some, but a terrible downfall for others. He will separate the sheep and the goats.

There is an urgency, a vividness to the message which is also hard to remember as our brief span on earth starts to feel long in the living of it.

Malachi 1

Malachi is the last book of the old testament and last chronologically. Israel has been great, then exiled, broken and scattered; and then with great rejoicing was miraculously bought back and Jerusalem and the temple rebuilt.

If the opening chapter sets the tone, this book is a downer, it’s the “but…” after the happily ever after. The honeymoon is over and cracks are appearing.

God has done big things, God has been generous in grace, but the people have been small in response. They give the diseased and the useless animals for sacrifice. God gets the left overs.  They have a show of caring about God, a show of gratitude and praise, but it’s hollow. They actually don’t care, and God says it would be more honest if they just closed the temple and gave up.

For me this is practical. How much do I give to God? I live a life that is mostly work, time wise. It feeds and clothes my family but it chews up so much of my time on earth.

Help me learn as I read this lord what is really important. May I be open to seeing my faults.

Zechariah 13

More “on that day” prophesies about the day of the Lord.
… there will be a fountain that purifies the nation (reminds me of the Cowper hymn “there is a fountain filled with blood”)
… the name of the idols will be cut off and forgotten
… false prophets will be rejected, they will be ashamed of their lying and deceit.

It’s quite sweet, because it paints a picture of the false prophets being thrown out and even pierced by their family if they reappear, but not killed. Eventually they admit that they were only ever really a farmer, and they identify the wounds on their chests as having been given by their friends.

But things get more serious in the poem that follows, where God speaks of a winnowing, how only a third of the nation will be saved, two thirds severed and scattered by the sword of the Lord.  And even for those saved it will be a hard path of being refined and purified through fire.

I always have a survivor guilt reaction to those passages, Jesus picks up the refining imagery too, as does Hebrews in the New Testament. I feel like I haven’t been through the fire, and I feel ashamed of my chronic sin, forgiven with so little effort on my part.  Still, the guys who just have scars to show for being false prophets got a pretty good deal too.