Ezekiel 16

Love and despair.

This is a bitter attack in words that God has put in Ezekiel’s mouth. And we today are probably more deserving of it.

Also, as unsparing as it is, there is a depth of love in there.

Were doing a series of analogies to illustrate how God sees the Israelites.

This one is of a prostitute. God talks about the rescue of Israel from Egypt like saving a baby abandoned in a field, and the glory of Solomon and David as like giving the abandoned child all the advantages in life.

Then the serial rejection of God for the idols of Canaan as like becoming a prostitute.

The chapter ends though, with God promising his covenant to them anyway. Their punishment amounts to their deep humiliation when they accept God’s saving grace despite their actions. Gods love is extraordinary in the context of his awareness of human evil specifically directed towards him.

I thought, we have had more advantages lavished on us than David or Solomon ever did, and more of God’s truth revealed in Jesus than the ancient Israelites ever had, and yet we are just as faithless.

The Christians, those who aren’t completely corrupt, are like the remnant within Israel. The small group of those who ‘get it’.

Though to the extent we leave the world uninformed of God’s love by being weak and passionless, the humiliation of those who reject God surely passes somewhat to those who don’t effectively preach him.

It’s not without consequence, cheap grace, and God is saying it will be revisited on us as deep painful shame.

We are doing people a service if they at least know what we are telling them about God. Even if they reject it, they own their own rejection.

And God here seems to hold out some hope of them finding his love, even through the pain of facing their evil towards him.

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Ezekiel 14

I’ve taken ages to read this chapter! I’ve had a lot of ideas and projects in my head. Every time I start to read it, my mind flies off somewhere else.

It’s about God’s toughness, it’s about calling out what needs to be called out.

Israelite leaders have assimilated to life in Babylon. Then Ezekiel turns up with his year long art installation about the judgement of Jerusalem. Clearly it can’t be ignored, so they come to him to see what he has to say.

They get no word of Jerusalem or prophesy from the Lord other than the condemnation of their own hypocrisy and idolatry.

I read about Greta Thunberg, the 17 year old climate change activist who lead a protest outside the white house, but when invited to speak to the president refused, because she doesn’t speak to people who don’t accept the science.

That’s where Ezekiel is at here. And if he does prophesy to them, he’ll be complicit in their idolatry.

Then there is a lacerating image of the four judgements God is bringing on Jerusalem: sword, plague, wild beasts and famine.

Noah Daniel and Job would barely get out with their own life from any one of these, let alone save anyone else, let alone all four judgements at once.

Yet when Ezekiel and the others already in Babylon see the new exiles, the ones who do get out, they will understand. They will understand that God’s is in control.

I have a somewhat careering sense all of the plans and projects around. My family faces end of year stress. Years can be a marker of challenges and lack of progress, as much as opportunity. I have a to do list that feels well beyond me.

But things could be a lot, a lot worse and God could still be in control. I need to let the word of the Lord determine what first things will come first.

Ezekiel 7

This is about the most stereotypical old testament prophet chapter I’ve read. God is giving Ezekiel a word, and it is “the end is nigh” a number of times along with “Doom” and “distaster” and “the day is here”.

It’s where all those cliches come from. But I don’t want to make light of it. It is the most extreme language available.

Literally no words are going to make any difference, God’s frustration is palpable.

He would rather love them I guess. He’ chose Israel above all other nations, but they have not honoured God. Nothing has, or will, change them.

I came to this from a news item about a judge giving the victims of accused sex-trafficker billionaire Jeffrey Epstein a day in court to tell their stories, even though he killed himself before the trial.

This chapter talks vividly about the valuelessness of the wealth and jewels of Jerusalem’s elite when judgement comes. They’ll be throwing it on the streets like it’s nothing.

What did Epstein think about his wealth as he slipped away in his cell? Makes you shiver to think of a life of such opportunity, disgusting abuse and emptiness.

Ezekiel’s audience have already escaped, they are on the sidelines. They’ve been feeling wobegone, but they are actually the lucky ones.

They are to channel their survivor-guilt into response to God. The line that caps the chapter brings that into focus: “Then they will know that I am the Lord.

Psalm 1

I’m jumping back to psalms 1 – 5, because for some reason I started at 6.

I know this psalm so well, I went to a church that sang it a lot. I could still probably play it in my sleep, as I was organist there, it’s the church I learned organ at.

The abiding image is of the tree planted by water. This is the Christian who is mature, who delights in God’s word. It changes him/her, they become distinct from the unbelievers around them. A mighty, wonderful tree

In my mind it’s strong, with deep roots, lush foliage, birds in its branches, reliable, constant, making a beautiful shady spot of rest next to a lovely flowing stream, people and animals alike instantly recognise that being under this tree is a great place to stop and be happy and calm.

It’s a great image for a mature Christian, and a great start to a book of songs reflecting the nature and character of God.

This tree believer is contrasted to the insubstantial loud cynical scoffers, who’s main contribution to the world is try to throw shade on God. Starved of spiritual nutrient, they will not stand at the day of judgement, but will blow away like chaff.

This insubstantiality of body comes to us all, dust to dust, ashes to ashes. This is a very gentle and sneaky hellfire and brimstone damnation sermon, because of that central soothing image of the strong, happy and abiding tree. The lingering effect is not scary, but warmly inviting “read on, get the good stuff. Sit awhile by this stream”.

“Blessed” is the seed, the opening promise from which this whole book will flow, like the stream of God’s word which abundantly feeds the tree. The state of God’s favour, of being generously provided for and watched over by God. I was surprised that the word is used just once, because the psalm hangs off it, is all about it.

This psalm is a keeper, for sure.

Psalm 75

Praising God’s judgement.

The psalm starts and ends with praise by the author Asaph. In the middle God is quoted speaking about his judgement.

The opening praise is of God’s name and his marvellous deeds. The closing praise is more precisely his character as a God who exalts the righteous but cuts off the horns – or the strength – of the wicked.

I was struck that God is described as provoking judgement and limiting it. Because he makes the earth and all its people quake, but he also holds its pillars firm.

God is in charge of the timing, he makes the appointment. We can’t force it.

God is in charge of the content of judgement: it’s a cup of spicy wine in his hand that no one anywhere can avoid draining to the last drop. A bitter process to be gone through for those who defy God.

It’s about God’s justice, he weakens the strong, cutting away their strength, and strengthens the weak. Not our sense of fairness though, it’s the affirmation of God’s rule and power.

What does it mean to embrace, to praise God’s judgement as this psalmist has?

A big part of it of delight at leaving every aspect of it to God. We don’t have to be concerned that in the long run everything will be fair and just. And we don’t have to make it happen.

We are allowed to see God’s hand in some real world situations where evil is bought low, and consequences play out, we can praise God for that.

At the same time, understand, in fact ultimately rejoice if we can, that the bits that don’t make immediate sense are in God’s hands.

I also plan to listen to the Spirit for moments to declare God’s judgement, all of it down to the last dreg. No holding back!

This psalm talks about it being a painful, disempowering, equalising process people will go though, which didn’t necessarily sound like it will always end in destruction for the arrogant to me.

Maybe I’ll have to drink a cup of it myself on occasion, to learn about my arrogance and defiance, I don’t know.

But certainly, if the timing is right for me to be part of the voices leading a defiant person to repentance, that is another thing I must trust God about, and be bold.

I sometimes get afraid because I’m over empathetic. I think ‘oh no, the truth about God as I understand it will break you’. And I hold back.

But it’s better to be broken before you die, if it’s your pride that is breaking, than leave our godless friends to risk the shrouded, unknown judgmental process that will occur after our years on earth are done.

Father, can I praise your fair, just judgement by being bold to mention it at the right times.

Psalm 44

God sleeping while we are lambs to the slaughter. What would lead the authors of this psalm, the Sons of Jorah to say that?

Either it’s not time yet or God has other plans.

In fact the sons of Korah were involved in a great victory, that held the invaders at bay for a generation, as the commentator noted on palm 42. Maybe when this son of Korah was writing that hasn’t happened yet… The timing was wrong. Or maybe it had happened way in the past and needed to happen again.

Whatever, there are good times and bad times, as it says in Ecclesiastes.

But even once the timing aligned and the good times came, the meta story around them was the inverse of Joshua, which he refers to here.

The time when they claimed the promised land, the ascent to nationhood and greatness, has gone.

Coming is the time when they will be broken and booted out by Assyria and then Babylon.

God is not asleep, he is actively postponing judgement for most of Kings, to give the people a second chance. But his plan is judgement for the nation, it will only ever be a shadow of itself again.

And he is speaking and acting through the prophets to give a larger, different, understanding of salvation to the whole globe, not just the chosen people.

Is easy to see from our vantage point on history and hindsight that this prayer/song/plea is wrong in emphasis and perspective.

It’s rightness is that it is engagement with God. The holy spirit interprets, still does. Thank goodness God still loves misplaced passion!

It’s good to think and try to get insight, not be creatures of passion, blurting misguidedly. But to God sometimes, our best rational efforts and our rawest emotional outbursts must hardly seem different. I’m sure he prefers either to apathy.

Jeremiah 34

A prophesy during the siege of Judah. There are only a couple of fortified towns left and Jerusalem was attacked, but the Babylonian king has withdrawn for now.

Jeremiah is here to tell them it means nothing, the city will be destroyed.

The King is told he’ll die in Babylon, deposed but not a violent death.

The King has made a last minute effort to please God by setting all the Israelite slaves free. It’s a key part of the justice teaching in the Torah, exodus and all that, that they are not to enslave each other.

But the people don’t stick with the kings decree, they set the slaves free then take them back again. Poor slaves, how disappointed they must have been. That they do this while under attack shows how far from God’s law they really are.

Sword, pestilence and famine are the only law they will listen to.

Thinking about tough love, on myself and my family. Such a drag to be the Jeremiah in people’s lives.

Jeremiah 18

There have been a few object lessons in recent chapters, and here God’s right to judge Israel is compared to a potter rethrowing a pot that goes wonky.

There are parallel judgements that follow. They are always in poetic form.

First God pronounces shock at Israel’s inability to repent in the face of the barrage of dire prophesies he has given Jeremiah to say. He confirms its destruction once again.

Then Jeremiah mentions a plot to kill him. There has been one before, don’t know if this is the same or new.

He calls down judgement on the plotters and their families specifically as part of the general judgement.

God’s judgement is justified as the right of the creator, the potter. Jeremiah acknowledges that the ‘time of anger’ is God’s, and his poem is a plea for justice.

He’s not about to grab a gun and shout ‘vengence is mine saith the Lord’ as he mows everyone down like in a Hollywood movie.

He doesn’t implement the judgement, he doesn’t do the judging. He’s God’s mouthpiece. That order is maintained.

However my Christian radar sounded alarm when he wished destruction on the houses of the plotters. After all, Jesus said ‘love your enemies’, ‘turn the other cheek’.

And maybe he was taking it too far here. One thing you learn reading the old testament, even the heros get it wrong sometimes.

He was being self reflective, I think, in the last chapter when he said that the human heart is deceitful and asked God to search it.

But there is a place for asking God for justice. In fact prayer is probably THE place for venting about all the wrongs done to you.

Isaiah 30

Isaiah’s prepared them in the last chapter, telling them he needs to wake them from a dream and that is for their own good. And now he whacks them.

This is the full on bleak vision of Jerusalem’s future, their leaders useless, their young men dead, the women and children who survive stripped of all possessions finery and dignity, scabrous, homeless, with only sacks to wear.

It reads a bit like a socialist or misogynist rant again the power structures or the finery of Jerusalem’s women, but the previous chapter set the frame of his concern over their indifference to God. It’s tough love, not rage.

I was struck by the casual sexism of his reference to being ruled by women as a sign that society has gone to the dogs.

But I’m confident that is an artefact of Isaiah’s cultural bias, not the point of the passage. Against it, for example, is the positive contribution of women in kings described in instances of them having special insight into God’s word and taking proactive steps to act on their understanding.

Isaiah would have known female prophets, and in kings at least their gender is a non-issue, they are mentioned only for the truth that they speak

The passage tells me about the urgency of the Christian message, something I find hard to think about.

 

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.