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.

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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.

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.