Isaiah 34

The birds. There’s a creepy Alfred Hitchcock movie where the birds inexplicably take over an island.

Here is a vision vast and bleak.

It seems to lead on from the justice of the last chapter, the comforting thought that the Assyrian and Babylonian kingdoms will not last forever, will get their comeuppance.

While mentioning the neighbour Edom by name, this tells of judgement against the whole world.

It is for sin. We have a metaphor of God’s sword that generally requires sacrifice.

It is absolute, destruction is total and there are only birds left to divide the land amongst.

Sufjan Stevens likes to sing “we’re all going to die” perhaps there will be an end time tribulation, Armageddon. I hope not in my time.

But the curse of death is over us.

I’m more engaged with my church than I ever have been, so many opportunities for telling people the good news, but I am so shy of it.

God’s urgency/infinite time is doing my head in. This judgement passage is all crisis. But God will still take hundreds of years before Christ, so the crisis is not always temporal. The rich fool does not know the day or hour his life will be required of him.

Pray for wisdom. I have a sense that I am doing what i should be.  Pray for my kids!

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Isaiah 24

I think we are mercifully getting to the end of the list of condemnations of countries in Israel’s region. 

This summarises how God’s judgement will work universally. It’s a great equaliser. It points to the kind of great tribulation still to come, mentioned in revelation and Jesus’ apocryphal statements.

Kings, the wealthy, even mysterious rulers of non earth worlds.. “fallen angels?” Will be bought low by God’s judgement.

There is a theme of no escape. It recognises that alcohol is an escape, and it says even the merriness of wine will be gone and drink will be bitter.

It is followed by a just world, a rule of God without oppression.

This vision of the proper importance and order of things should inform how I act now. I should speak truth to power, fight for justice and tell of God’s love.

Isaiah 21

Here prophesies are called “burdens”, which is evocative. Isiah just wakes up one day and has to unburden himself of all this stuff. It’s hard to follow. Maybe he found it hard to follow too.

At the moment his scenes are all about attacks on neighbouring countries, what are you gonna do? 

These seem to be three “out of the frying pan into the fire” prophesies. 

For Babylon, of whom Isaiah’s country lives in complete terror, he sees the Persians overrunning them. Ok, that’s more “there’s always a bigger fish” maybe.

His chaotic vision for their neighbour Edom seems to be “don’t relax” night will be followed by morning, then night again.

He sees refugees who tried to escape an attack on Arabia in a worse position, starving and dying.

The larger theme of all these burdens seems to be “it was always thus”. The bullies now will later be bullied. It’s a way of softening the blow that Israel will feel God has deserted them. Their status as chosen people meant God literally intervened in the flow of politics and military victors to elevate and protect them. 

But now the prophets are reinterpreting what it means to be his chosen people. They are entering the game of thrones, and will lose for a while.

But such is how God manages the corruption of the human race. No one group has too much power for too long, is too dominant. It’s the judgement of the tower of Babel.

Having a crazy busy week, feeling acutely the sense that I keep letting everything slip through my fingers, especially the family. I feel so ineffectual.

Pauses to pray.

Isaiah 13

A poem about the destruction of Babylon. Babylon is the empire that will destroy Jerusalem. I think it happened after Isaiah’s time.  Probably in his lifetime Babylon only became more and more of a threat which must have made this sound like wishful thinking. But of course, its gone.

It is intensely dramatic, cinematic even. We get the sounds, the distant first glimpse of attacking armies, we cut to the terror, the dread, of the Babylonians. The heavens go dark in sympathy.

Then the destruction is described in various extreme contrasts, the splendor and pomp that will vanish and the uninhabitable wasteland that will be there instead.

It’s a jolting reminder that the power structures around us are not permanent, they aren’t the real order of things.

This is a passage about justice, not love. It is the day of the lord, he stirs up the Medes to attack the Babylonians. Love, justice and evil go round in a circle that doesn’t resolve until someone absorbs the evil.

Stressed, sad and depressed this week.

Isaiah 10

Will an axe boast that it is better than the one who wields it?

A condemnation of Israelites who opress the poor and vulnerable. They are bringing judgement. A metaphor of a nest of wealth, and God’s judgement like taking the eggs of a chicken.

A condemnation of Assyria, the axe, the rod by which God brings judgement.  They’ll become arrogant in their run of victory. But their turn will come to be judged too.

Cue the prediction of the return of the remnant.

Isiah does not follow a structured argument, he pweaves themes. Most of it is poetic in form.

It seems compiled from writing over a period of time responding to various events with writings and statements that return to, and build upon the same themes.

I’m feeling busy, a little down, lost in my list of things to do. Somewhat overworked and overwhelmed.

Trying to connect with the idea of Isaiah as someone who deals in extremes. He flicks from despair to hope. It’s all going to be destroyed. It will also be returned, better than it was.

Anything but “meh”, where I am. And where his audience often we too, no doubt.

 

 

 

2 Kings 24

Judah is the last tribe standing in the promised land, clinging to Jerusalem. 

Now the Babylonians, king Nebuchadnezzar, take over everything. All the able Israelite people are taken away to Babylon, A puppet king is installed who none the less runs a pathetic rebellion, and the last vestiges of self rule is overrun.

The point is the sin, its all clearly tied to judgement. Manassehs name is mentioned, he was a king particularly keen on occult and bloodshed. 

It’s been a simple loop really. In judges, God said the people shouldn’t have a king. But they were completly corrupt without one. And with one, it turns out. 

I live in a state of grace. Our new rector at church said he learned that sin is not like breaking the law. Its wrong if I speed in the car, but it’s not a personal attack on anyone.

Sin an affront to God. A personal affront. . That is how it is treated here. We are not forgiven lightly.

2 Kings 20

Borrowed time.

I don’t know how to take Hezekiah. 

He’s a good, relatively godly king at a time when the kingship is doomed.

This tells the notable spiritual events of his reign, and it’s a strange story of the interaction of God and man, and we aren’t given neat moralising. It is what it is.

He gets sick, is told by God/Isaiah its his time. It is before he has defeated the Assyrians. He prays for more life and is given 15 years. He gets a very appropriate sign from God that the promise is real, the sun goes backwards on the sun dial for a day!

He uses the time to deal with the Assyrians – that was in the last chapter I think?

Next we have the story of him welcoming a Babylonian envoy, which was probably a political move to find alliances.

Hezekiah doesn’t seem that interested in politics but really enjoys showing them all his wealth, he’s got prosperous also in his extra time. He is a minor king, it feels lame, like he’s big noting himself when flattered that his loyalty would matter to Babylon.

Isaiah rebukes his pride with a stark prophesy that Babylon will obliterate the kingdom. His children will be enunchs in the Babylonian court. He simply reacts with relief that it will happen after his time.

Knowing the date of his death and knowing that God has ordained that the Empire will fall has made him fatalistic, predictably. It’s made him an island who takes his comfort from the present. Maybe that is why God doesn’t often tell us the date of our deaths.

I had a friend who spent a year or so on borrowed time knowing she would die from cancer. She got very good at accepting love from her friends, and letting them give her treats. 

She got good at not thinking about the inconvenience when she didn’t die on cue and their life was made messy, because she didn’t have the time to worry about it. It was a gift she gave them which they have many years to treasure. The last year or so of her life was a very beautiful thing.

The biographical note about king Hezekiah mentions that he did engineer an clever water supply that made Jerusalem virtually seige proof, so it’s not like he completly ignored the future. 

The commentary I read judged him for his pride, the bragging, which I understand. But I see a certain humility there too, because he accepted God’s judgment, he didn’t try to change it. He asked for and got a temporary stay of the judgement, and enjoyed it for what it was. 

God gave him it because he was faithful, it was an answer to a godly prayer. But the prayer didn’t alter God’s uber plan to cut down the kingdom as a part of the slow revelation of the true Messiah.

It’s both a mercy and a curse to be given the date of your death. I sort of pray that for me God will come like a theif in the night.  

I don’t know what to learn from this! It’s very interesting though, and it says something subtle about God, and our dialogue with him.

It reminds me of Jesus’ impractical compassionate healings – he would have a chance encounter with someone like the woman who was bleeding, and cure her on to the way to somewhere else, and then have to ban anyone from taking about it because he wasn’t ready to die yet. God can seemingly be distracted by his own compassion, and by our faithful prayers.

2 Kings 9

Children of  Ahab of Israel have power in both Israel and Judah. You’d think the promised land is close to being united again, however that is not God’s plan, in fact we’ve already been told that Ahab’s line will completely disappear, because he was the worst of the Kings, who introduced the Baal worship.

While they are still reigning, Elisha anoints Jehu to be King of Israel, from Jehosophat’s line, and he is instantly supported, and does relentlessly stamp out all Ahab’s line including Ahab’s corrupt wife Jezebel, who dies violently and ignominiously as predicted.

Jehu is not a Godly king mind you.  Elisha’s merely saw that he was the means by which judgment would come to Ahab’s line.

I read it all as sadness. The seeming overwhelming nature of evil.

2 Kings 7

Elisha tells the king, who came to kill him, the famine and seige of the capital will be over by morning. God scares away the army who are laying seige with a convincing soundtrack of an attacking army.  The people plunder their supplies. Boom, so easy for God.

The King planning to kill Elisha out of frustration has a sort of sneaking respect for God. But he’s too proud to repent. The guard who came with the king to kill Elisha is a more straightforward unbeliever who just thinks Elisha’s prediction that the problem will be solved in a day is ridiculous. 

Elisha also sees judgment for the guard, which the text notes came to pass. God did magic away the practical problem, but the larger problems of pride and disbelief are resistant. Ironically, though he died, it seems more likely to me that the guard found faith. 

I can’t understand the hardness of the kings heart in the context of this sightly fable-like telling of history. But I see it all the time around me still.

Praying for the world in the sadness that follows natural disasters and evil acts.

1 Kings 22

Inconvenient truths.

Ahab makes a treaty with Jehoshaphat, the southern king of Judah, to attack the enemy he let go – king Aman, who has only got stronger and now threatens his territory.

At Jehoshaphat’s request they consult prophets, the are now 400 of them (I can only guess that Elijah’s victory in the battle of the gods must have turned around the policy of exterminating them).

All predict victory, except one who after initially agreeing with the majority tells them of a vision from God that He put a lying spirit in their mouths.

The king has a recognisably Trumpian approach to truth. He didn’t even want to consult the last prophet because he often says bad things will happen.

Ahab obviously knows Aman will be gunning for him so he battles in disguise and is killed anyway. The blood from his wounds on his chariot are washed in public and dogs do lick it up, as was prophesied.

Judah meanwhile gets the second godly king in a row, Jehoshaphat after asa. But the text makes clear that they are weak…. They get rid of some of the false religious practises but not all.

1 Kings ends.

I’m getting the message that God is in charge, his truth will out.

But the meta story, the sad fate of the chosen people, seems to be the reason for the book to be in the Bible. It sets the backdrop for the prophets, who will redefine God’s saving mission.