1 Chronicles 21

The story of the census David took of the people and the punishment that came of it.

I remember the story from Samuel. It happens when David is very old. They have left out not only the Bathsheba/lust/murder incident, but many messy family dramas and a whole civil war, it’s really a ‘glory days’ book.

But this incident is a tragedy none the less.

In this telling, David’s urge to count the people is attributed to Satan. Clearly it’s meant to be seen as evil, but I still have to visit the commentary to understand why it is bad.

Counting implied ownership in the ancient world. It’s like David is saying they are his people, not God’s. And I get that.

David is about to die, and thinking about legacy, he wants to die knowing how big and powerful Israel has become, what a great king he’s been.

At the start of his reign, it was very much God is king, David the servant. It might seem like a subtle sin, but it is pride, the start of so much evil.

His sin is inevitable, his response is rare, and shows his godliness.

David’s pride evaporates when the prophet condemns him, he is repentant.

There is a basis in the old law for this being a sin that by justice should be punished with death. In Exodus, the counting of the people was accompanied by payment to God of a ransom for their life, acknowledging this idea that they are God’s to number. David hasn’t done that, and its a law he should know.

He gets from God a choice of punishment and to his credit he chooses the one which is most random, disease. His other two options, war and famine, disproportionately hit the poor and shield the rich. It’s the option most likely to hit him personally.

God loves those who die of the disease, I think he’s showing David they are his people. We believe death has no sting, that we go to a new more perfect earth. But pain is left behind.

Jesus told the parable of the rich fool who spends what turns out to be his last day on earth counting his wealth. His death is random, he’s not struck down because he counted his money. However, the fact that he could be struck at any time, the fact of death, whether today, tomorrow, or many years later, makes counting your wealth, indulging in greed and pride, a meaningless pastime, a wasted life.

What is the point of feeling like the great successful king and treating the people as your people, God is saying. None of it is actually in your control, you are not king.

David has the double pain not only of losing people to a plague, but of knowing that their years being cut short is highlighting the foolishness of his pride.

The place of his repentance and offering of a sacrifice to God to prevent further destruction is majorly significant.  God tells him to offer a sacrifice at this threshing floor, like a mill.  Its a place of transformation, crushing the wheat, throwing away what is not needed, producing flour for bread.

The commentary says its the first time God has named a geographical place for sacrifices.  Up til now, its been in the tabernacle, of no fixed address.  This location becomes the site of the temple, and also the site of Calvary.  The great preacher, Charles Spurgeon goes mental about it.

As an origin story for post-exile Jews, re-establishing the temple – the target market for chronicles – it is a key part of the book.

I love that each person’s story of God is linked to a time and a place. I think its increasingly important to view the church as an Australian church, Australia as a spiritual place, and within that, our localities as spiritual places. The different churches should unite in that, letting the ties to other countries, histories and traditions, which can divide the church, fade.

But also in this story, God’s love and justice are mysteriously on display. David’s weakness is a vehicle for God’s love and transformation beyond what even the original readers of Chronicles could imagine.

 

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Jeremiah 49

Ok, Babylon will conquer all the neighbouring kingdoms. 5 prophesies in one chapter.

None are told to repent, it’s just going to happen, there’s nothing they can do.

Two will be inhabited again, the other three it seems to say will never regain their glory.

Often there are intimate pictures of suffering. The palace women running to and fro among the hedges after the king and priests have fled and deserted them. Men paralysed by fear as their camels are led away, their last nomadic security.

Some god loves, such as Damascus. Some like Edom, he talks to in terms of justice… How could you get off lightly when other far more worthy are being destroyed.

The relationship of God and Babylon is hard to understand. Impossible even. Why did he not stop them? Why describe evil as your sword of judgement?

I’ve got to this point many times before in my reading of the Bible.

Someone once described it as trying to understand a tapestry by looking at all the threads in the wrong side… Cross over to the heavenly perspective and you see a beautiful picture.

Non Christians, (those who even bother any more) mock the equation “I don’t know, I just believe”. But that’s pretty much it.

Jeremiah 39

Prophesy fulfilled – the siege of Jerusalem. Its a checklist of everything Jeremiah has been warning of.

Predictably the King and nobles run away, abandoning the people they refused to let Jeremiah tell to surrender. King Zedekiah’s last sight was his sons slaughtered, then blind he was taken to captivity, the Babylonians are typical game of thrones type conquerors.

King Jehoiakim had burned the Jeremiah’s scroll, the word of God, but God’s judgement burned the city.

And in a sweet end to the chapter, Jeremiah’s rescuer from the well he was left to die in, the ethiopian Ebed Melek is saved because of his faith. He was exceptionally brave to take on the King and all the nobles in pleading for Jeremiah, and God recognises it was the boldness of faith.

Isaiah spoke of God gathering the misfits, the unexpected, and here we’ve seen it.

The only person specifically named as saved, out of the end of the chosen people, is a gentile.

Jeremiah 25

Judgement on all, which has an end

It’s a chapter that gives a perverse sort of hope to Jerusalem in the face of the terrible judgements the book is predicting.

Firstly a period of 70 years is given for the length of the exile of Israel to Babylon. It will be the destruction of life as they know it, the end of the physical dream of the promised land.  But it too will end.

And judgement will be on all. It’s compared to a cup that all the nations in the region must drink, a toxic intoxicating bitter drink they cannot refuse. First Jerusalem, and tyre Sidon, moab, Egypt etc and lastly Babylon.

Jesus spoke of the reciprocity of judgement… Judge not lest you be judged, don’t focus on the speck in your brother’s eye if you’ve a log in yours.

If we as Christians are feeling hard done by and battered by the world, we can comfort ourselves with thoughts of God’s justice.

Equally however, if we are letting our fear close down our connection with the world around us, trying to control it with earthly power, or simply retreating into our shells, God’s justice is not something we would long for.

At least we can look to learn from it, and cling to the promise that it will not be forever.

Jeremiah 10

Starts with a section about idols, and not learning from other nations.

A returning theme for a few chapters now is the use of the heavens as a substitute for God . Appealing to the heavens is an idolotrous practice.

The dead, man-made nature of an idol is compared to the living God. Idols are the dumb sum of a list of materials, the earth quakes when God speaks.

He warms to the theme, describing God stretching out the heavens, stirring the waters, choosing his people. All the while their ignorance and stupidity for choosing idols is decried.

It ends with Jeremiah calling for mercy. He recognises that it is God who makes us good, we can’t do it ourselves. He calls for justice not wrath, but asks that wrath be directed at the godless nations.

As you see from this rather cold summary, I’m still not connecting with Jeremiah that well. I have my unfair dismissal conciliation today, and am in the second week of my new job at salvation army.

The experiences have affected me in ways I can’t quite process. I’m quite anxious.

The thing that has resonated best with me from the chapter is Jeremiah asking to be treated with justice not anger.

I’ve been thinking about that a bit. I rejected a monetary settlement for my unfair dismissal claim in the hope of getting some justice instead.

At the moment for me responsibility is weighing heavier on me.

My prayer is for wisdom and clarity.

Isaiah 47

Comeuppance.

I followed obsessively and with a bit of horror the election of Donald Trump against all odds in 2016, and I’m still hooked on US politics.  It seems like a big fable of dancing with the devil.  Particularly the US christians, who are tarnishing the name of the faith in exchange for power, it seems to me.

What I’m waiting for is for  it all to fall apart, and see what the effects of going through something like that are.

This chapter of the bible is predicting the comeuppance of Babylon.  Its personified as an enchanter, living in a web of falsehoods, who thinks they will get away with living a charmed life forever.  They’ve done whatever it takes to gain power, and now think they deserve the good things they have gained, and that the evil they did to get there will have no consequences.

The prediction of is stripping away the comfort and pleasure, and an image of genuine hard work for a living. Grinding flour on a millstone.

I somehow think Trump will never lose his millions. He’s just the quintessence of a salesman, who is selling his own success.  There is no consistency other than the using of others to get more success.

Reminds me of the wizard of Oz, what an american story!  There’s nothing there, all the front is built on lies. It steers clear of darkness, but it could be such a dark story. It is.

I’m wasting my time.  I should wind back my obsession – it makes no impact on my everyday challenges here in the small circles in which I live.  The Israelites were actually conquered by the babylonians, this is a word of comfort to people in distress. I am merely an observer of the US from the outside.

I need to channel my thirst for justice into areas where I can actually have some impact.

 

Isaiah 33

I suppose this was a word of comfort to the people in terror of gathering powerful kingdoms that would overtake Jerusalem.

Like the African slaves in the confederate South, they dream of a role reversal.

When the destroyer is destroyed, and the betrayer is betrayed.

There follows a grand vision of the city as God’s City, it seems to be compared to a great ship with the wind, the breadth of God, at its sails, compared to the other nations which have run out of puff.

It’s about justice, that fly in the ointment which means God can’t just forgive everything and love everything, regardless.

Isaiah 14

In kings I remember the king making fun of the prophets as always being negative.

Here starts a correction of Isaiah not being negative, or at least, negative about Israel’s enemies rather than Israel for once.

He talks of a coming reckoning for Babylon, Assyria and Phillistia here.

Spends most time on Babylon. He talks in detail about this who will be relieved when their arrogance and wealth is broken. They think they are ascending to become Gods, but Sheol will welcome them. Lots of contrast.

These passages are probably a great encouragement to oppressed people, and are a little bit encouraging to me as even I feel a little bit oppressed by life.

Interestingly there was not a lot of talk about God, but the predicted downfall of these empires with time is taken to be justice.

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.

Deuteronomy 19

The word for this chapter is “just”. They are to have a just society. Previous chapters could have the words “God fearing” “humble” “caring”. 

This is about the refuges cities. We’ve heard of them before but the reason is drawn out more, that it is about stopping the shedding of innocent blood. The measures discourage escalation of revenge killings between tribes and families.

Then detailing that the legal system is to represent a genuine quest for truth, with multiple witnesses and thorough investigations of facts.

It’s so familiar these ancient texts. Despite lots that is culturally remote, the core of what we still regard as an ideal society is being laid out in God’s word here. No wonder there were times when Israel fell in love with the law.