Hosea 8

A chapter of “you’re gonna get it”. It’s where the phrase “sow the wind, reap the whirlwind” comes from. And that is a summary of the content.

Which gives a moral to the suffering of the Israelites that our current pandemic doesn’t have. I feel theologically numb to it. I googled and the first link was pretty good, a new York Times article Where Is God in a Pandemic?

…the overall confusion for believers is encapsulated in what is called the “inconsistent triad,” which can be summarized as follows: God is all powerful, therefore God can prevent suffering. But God does not prevent suffering. Therefore, God is either not all powerful or not all loving

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/22/opinion/coronavirus-religion.html

The answer it turns out is that the author doesn’t know God’s purpose in this pandemic. Best answer he can give. He’s still rather follow Jesus than not, and so would I. But Hosea makes a provocative contrast.

Kelly noted the other day the irony that this plague had meant that Passover was cancelled.

So we wait it out, and I don’t take it as retribution for our sins.

Hosea 7

Israel is hot like an oven… Like an overheated economy, but it’s rejection of God is overheated too. It’s described as burned by the idol worshipping culture The king gets drunk and, inflamed by the wine, joins in on it with abandon.

They are compared to a loaf that no one turned over, so burned on one side and not cooked at all on God’s side.

It’s still a thing, where your worldly side is overdone and your spiritual side is barely cooked at all.

Then they are compared to a dove. The dove is senseless and easily misled, and the comparison shows the worldliness up for hollowness. It’s not sophisticated, it’s naive.

Grace is missing. God longs to forgive them, but their sin is ever before him. This phrase turns up a lot of in the old testament, and I never thought about it much. But in this passage it spells out how it is when God can’t forget their sin.

This is the consequence of their sacrifices being empty. Ours can’t be, because Jesus is our lamb.

And grace is not unknown in the O.T. David wrote that God not only proved his sin, but also removed it from him as far as the East is from the West.

But these people are crying out to their false gods, ritually cutting themselves for gods they should know to be false, to seek a good harvest, all the while the empty sacrifices to the Lord continue.

God can’t forget their sin. Jesus’ incarnation is the ultimate expression of God’s longing to do so.

I still know what it is to be inflamed with wine and abandon God. Salvos view alcohol as a thing that can enslave us. And we are free, why do that?

Cheap grace is better than no grace, but it’s still bad.

It’s hard to know how these prophesies land for me. I read them feeling like a bystander to their connection of sin and punishment.

We have disasters of biblical proportions going off all the time at the moment. This virus pandemic in 2020 is certainly cooling the oven. But I resist drawing a simple line between sin and flu, which Jeremiah, Hosea, Ezekiel and the gang wouldn’t have hesitated to do.

Hmmm.

I continue to resist. But I need a better theology of judgement and “acts of God”.

Ezekiel 46

I don’t think I’m the only one losing patience ever so politely with Ezekiel at this point. Another Leviticus-type chapter detailing worship in the temple, different in minor ways from the mosaic law given back in the Torah.

Reading some of the commentators… A lot of explaining and unpacking of the mechanics and process being described, not a lot of why and what does it signify?

The set-up is the very pure holiness of God, as represented by the priests and the sacrifices in a part of the temple the people can’t get to. This we had in the first temple. A new element is the Prince, for whom the gate between the people and the holy bit is opened.

When he is before them and among them, they are able to see and worship as the sacrifices occur making peace with God.

Then there are laws that clarify that the inheritance of the children of the Prince is permanent. It is to reset every year of jubilee, so any of his wealth anyone else has returns to his children.

This is a bit of an odd flip on the concept of jubilee, which up till now I thought of as the cancelling of debts every 25 years. Here it extends to property rights stemming from debt, as if the bank cancelled your mortgage debt to them, but also your ownership of the house. Not such an appealing plan practically but it makes a point about being children of the Prince.

Its not hard to see messianic elements to the Prince, Isaiah’s phase “Prince of peace”, which became a title for Jesus, comes to mind. But it is hard to understand.

I’ll leave it in hold and think more.

Rennie, my son, has gone home to start school. Kelly and I have an extra week by ourselves of holiday. We see her sister Wendy today, and for a couple of days.

Not sure how that will go. She’s been in a rough spot in her life and marriage, and she’s a complex person at the best of times.

I’ve already started having a bit of forboding about going back, which I suppose is inevitable in a holiday scenario.

I’m doing some precessing about who I am and the way our family works. I don’t understand why I had this holiday, but I think it will cause some changes to the way I operate that will be good but maybe a bit difficult in the short term.

Together in Queenstown before Rennie returned. Like the South of France in the South of NZ.

Ezekiel 38

Leave it to heaven.

This is about Gog and Magog. Gog a leader, Magog a place.

They are easily mythologised as hostile nations. Ezekiel says they will attack the restored Israel. They return in the book of Revelation, in a final battle that is the end of opposition to God’s rule.

Islamic texts refer to them as well, as unruly attackers of civilisation. Vikings.

Ironically it’s the Islamic nations who would be seen as unruly today, by Christians affearded of attack. And the LGBTQI lobby can get pretty hostile, not entirely without cause.

Whatever; the message is that God will not be thwarted by hostile nations. God will be victorious, hostility will suffer defeat.

Another approach is not to let difference breed hostility.

Christians who aren’t afraid of multiculturalism or xenophobic, and moderate Islamic people… (pretty much all Muslims in Australia), are able to agree to differ, embrace tolerance and get along just fine.

Radical Muslims and their Christian equivalents: racists who regard the loss of Anglo Saxon dominance as an existential threat to their safety and culture, are sources of hostility.

With LGBTQI issues, I think there ought to be scope for a range of Christian attitudes, from thinking it’s a non issue to thinking queer lifestyles are not god’s plan, which don’t involve hostility. Abortion is not god’s plan, divorce is not, any heterosexual sex, even lustful thoughts, outside of marriage, is not god’s plan.

We need to leave the judgement to God. No matter how dimly we view any of those things, we need to stay Kingdom-focussed and grace focussed. Who did Jesus view as hostile, other than the chisler money-changers in the temple, the Pharisees and the Sadducees?

He wept for the people, who were like sheep in need of a shepherd, forgave the roman overlords (they don’t know what they are doing), watched the rich young ruler walk away sadly, and in his story the Samaritan was the neighbour.

Song of Songs 3

I’m finding the commenters very inadequate for this book.

For one they have a tin ear for poetry. And they treat it like an interference to the message. “Don’t panic” they seem to be saying all the time “it’s just poetry”.

Which is pretty silly because the whole thing is a poem. Did the holy spirit make a mistake choosing the literary form? And it’s an ominously dismissive way to discuss one of the few female voices we’ve yet heard in the biblical narrative.

Also they are always hastening to make the case that this is all about the importance of sex being in the context of marriage, which it really isn’t.

I can understand that is probably a pastoral priority… If I was a Christian youth trying to justify an unwise affair, this book would be my first port of call, and the pastors need to be armed with counter arguments. But that emphasis is bit of a distraction if you simply want to understand the book.

Solomon turns up in this chapter on his wedding day, the first literal reference to marriage. He’s not a great normative example. The political, moral and religious damage he did to the institution with his 1000s of wives and concubines was explicitly identified by God as his downfall. Our recent ugly fights over the meaning of marriage in the equality debates pale into insignificance in the face of his trashing of the ideal of monogamy.

And that is what this song has held high til now. Not literally marriage, but monogamy. The power and wonder of deep and unbroken love between two.

If it was written by Solomon, he’s imagining an alternate universe where he is not enslaved by meaningless lustful appetites, and marriage vows used for cynical power games. If it his pen, it’s surely a work of shame and repentance.

The girl spends the first half of the chapter seeking her beloved through the streets in the night.

The over the top obsessiveness of it easily connects restless spiritual quests.

A guy from Iran was baptised at our church a few weeks ago, very moving story. A deeply reflective guy, he could not stop looking until he found answers. So humbling and encouraging that he found them in fellowship with us!

Then Solomon. He’s in a grand procession oozing luxury. My usually helpful commentator said that there are two processions, one for the girl and one for Solomon, and she will be Solomon’s bride, but I can’t see it, and her lover was a shepherd in the previous chapters. Had she spent the night wandering the streets looking for king Solomon? It is now about a love triangle? Say wha?

I think I’ll just enjoy it as an image of scents, sensations and luxury associated with love, like the banquet the last chapter. Jesus used Solomon’s man-made glory as a byword to praise by contrast a humble flower of god’s creation, maybe a similar thing is going on here. I don’t know, but I want to believe it’s still about humble authentic love.

I’ve been working at thinking about feelings of insecurity at work. What if it’s true, and you actually aren’t as nice, clever or loveable as you thought? I’ve been entertaining that idea and trying to have it not matter. You’re there to collaborate, just bring what you bring, unapologetically, but not as if it could be worth more than anyone else’s input either. Insecurity can be a kind of ego.

Stay loving and expect to be loved because of the promise of love.

Like the girl searching for her lover, or my friend at church being baptised after considering so many religions, only true love will do, don’t give up til you find the real thing.

Proverbs 30

An  odd chapter.

Its from a different author, Agur of whom nothing is really known. The tone is instantly wilder and blunter, the consequences of foolishness more extreme than in previous chapters.

It explicitly claims to be God-inspired ecstatic utterance, and it says lots of great stuff, but much I barely comprehend as well… and its only 30 verses or so… such an exhausting book this one!

He is a good example of humility, his wisdom is not his own, it comes from God and from God’s creation. He realises how great and unknown is God – some powerful poetic images reminiscent of Job: the Lord’s hands gathering the wind and wrapping the waters in his cloak. How can we compare? He includes an intriguing reference here to God knowing the name of his son – impossible now for Christians not to think of Jesus.

He treasures God’s words, and he asks for contentment: neither to be poor nor rich. Both lead us into temptation. He wants just his daily bread, which for me illuminates the lords prayer as a petition for moderation and contentment as well as for basic needs to be met. Give us enough, not less, not more.

We’re working through issues of contentment as a family at the moment. Its a wonderful thing to pray for.

He then speaks of groups of people which displease or ignore God – in other translations they are called generations: a generation who invent their own standards of goodness and righteousness without reference to God or inherited wisdom; a generation who are violent and attacking.

I found it oddly encouraging to hear of generations so long ago going to the dogs.  We tend to think the latest generation is the one that is going to hell in a handbasket, but it has always been thus.

Sure, it not great to see wide scale foolishness, evil or ignorance. But it doesn’t mean God has lost control.  Its a generation, it will pass.

It concludes with a bunch of lists of observations from nature – generally 3 or 4.  Its a poetic device similar to our “et cetera”  or “for example”. A list with some specifics that is not exhaustive.

Its encouraging you to look to the world to learn of what is good and what is wrong. Honestly, this was the bit where I really started to loose comprehension.

He lists things that are:

  • never satisfied – including the grave and childlessness;
  • too amazing for him – including young love’s passionate eroticism, which he finds far more amazing than casual uncommitted sex
  • things that make the world unbearable – basically women, servants or employees that rise in the ranks… I really didn’t get that one, he’s finding social mobility or equality offensive?
  • things that are small yet wise, humble things in nature with impressive achievements, like ants. This kind of undermined the previous point, but was well made.
  • things that have stately bearing – such as a lion, or a greyhound. OK. As a proud Italian Greyhound owner, I can only agree!

Lastly a general warning about evil and stirring up trouble.

So a mixture of stuff that I found helpful and stuff that is hard to access for me now – culturally remote.

I got feelings of God’s size and power, and the sense that despite the randomness and evil we often see around us, God is in control.

I need it. A drumbeat of sadness still underlies the shock of the massacre in New Zealand at the hands of an Australian gunman.

Such a peaceful, tolerant society!  Chosen because they had the effrontery to make diversity work, to punish them for having compassion and love.

He’s failed, but at an insane price.

I sat in church this morning and thought about how easy it would be for someone to walk in and slaughter us if they wanted to try and break a society that would allow us to flourish.

 

 

 

Proverbs 21

The same themes. And pretty contradictory.

The important thing is our hearts, which the Lord weighs. The Lord values what is right and just, above all. Wealth obtained though lies is as insubstantial as vapour, leaving you caught in its trap.

Then again, bribes are an effective way to do business. The commentators say it’s simply an observation, not a moral principle. But it’s pretty confusing placing it in a book about how to be wise, alongside numerous statements that ARE moral principles. The collection is so random!

Then there is the most famous saying of this chapter… About how horrible it is living in a house with a contentious wife (or woman, could be daughter or relative). Commentator dutifully says it could apply equally to a contentious man. But why specify? There’s plenty about the evil of violence not specifically devoted to men.

Does it by implication mean that the whole of the book is addressed to men?  The options are the man’s. It’s not telling the woman not to be contentious, it’s telling the man to avoid her.

Discussing this with Kelly she mentioned this as an example of why as a woman you get used to interpreting the bible less literally than men.  How do you as a woman read a passage like that?  If you are suffering domestic violence, are you the man in that scenario? Is all this wisdom for men?

You get used to extracting the principle, reading in gender adjustments.

The bribery parts of proverbs could have a different cultural meaning in the ancient world. The commentator’s explanation, that its an amoral proverb, seems to ask more questions than it answers. This theme of wisdom is going to have to be one of those ‘leave it to heaven’ things for me.

I certainly have a softer, less absolute view of theology than I had when I was younger, though I’ve always been someone who avoids hard edges to things. Someone recently reminded me of the – apparently bogus – Winston Churchill quote “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain”. In my experience, for many Christians its the other way around. Start conservative, go liberal.

Anyhow, I’ve got to be content to pick the eyes out of proverbs and not sweat the weirder stuff. And in that vein:

There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan
    that can succeed against the Lord.

Job 7

Job questions what his existence might mean. His refusal to say there must be no God, and his rejection of his friend’s conclusion that he somehow deserved his suffering means he’s motivated to explain his situation. He struggles.

He compares it to his ‘work’. There are lots of hard jobs: slave, labourer. They have temporal cycles of effort and reward. Slaves get to rest. Labourers get paid.

Unfortunately he does not get rest in the evenings. They are uncomfortable because of the scabs and sores. Maybe he is just on a long cycle – months not days?

And there is always death, the spans of life are no more than a breath compared to eternity. He draws comfort from the idea that even if, as he expects, his season of suffering lasts until his death, it will at least end there.

This elevates his voice to the purpose of his existence. He will speak out about his situation. He gets no rest, because he gets bad visions and dreams in the night. He understands that he has been singled out for suffering.

He ends addressing God, not his friends. He asks a bunch of questions that are like a parody of psalm 8.

Psalm 8 asks God why he chose to think of mankind in all the vast stars and universe. Job asks the same question, but tells God to stop. Stop picking on him and leave him alone.

So having been emotional back in chapter 2, Job is calmer here.

He’s rejected his friend’s argument that he deserved to suffer in the last chapter.

Here he more coolly says: yes, I appear to have been given the most miserable life possible to live. I just want to die, and my only purpose for living seems to be as a voice asking God “why?”.

Which is circular, his purpose is to wonder if he has a purpose.

His prayer is that God will ignore him and focus on someone else. And allow him a good night’s sleep.

It is what it seems, God has chosen him to suffer. It’s unsatisfying, and it has bad implications for all of us.

It seems disrespectful of the honesty of this page to try and tie it up into a positive little life lesson to take into the day, so I’ll just sit with that, and see how the next call and response plays out.

Psalm 66

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!

A psalm about God’s salvation.

It makes you realise God was always preparing the world for Jesus being his salvation plan. Jesus isn’t in this Psalm, but he fits in like a light bulb in a socket.

It talks about global, national and personal salvation. It’s all to be praised.

So it tells the whole earth to shout for joy, praise God, see his wonderful deeds.

The deeds are what he’s done for Israel, the exodus.

Again it says all nations should praise God because he kept their (the Jews) feet from slipping, refined them by fire, bought them from prison into abundance.

God wasn’t just saving the Jews, he was showing the world what a saving God looks like, and showing where salvation would come from and how it works.

Then the writer tells of his own salvation, by offering sacrifices in the temple, and fulfilling his vows. It is an example for all those who fear the Lord, who don’t cherish sin in their heart. God will not withhold his love.

The message from Christians to Jewish people is flipped these days, the light has come And we’re saying to Jewish people, ‘come see the mighty works of his salvation’.

But there are weird hints in Romans and elsewhere that God’s plan for the nation of the chosen people are not over, and I mean, its all Jehovah. After reading the old testament for a few years straight now, I feel so close to Jewish people, and this the day after a horrific antisemitic massacre in the US.

Antisemitism is on the rise again, particularly in the US. They are claiming it is the worst attack on Jewish people ever on US soil.  And in the year leading up to the attack, antisemitic incidents are up 57% I read on the weekend.

Wow, I think I’ve been in shock, not letting it sink in. But the thought of that while reading the psalm is like being thrown into trauma.

It is a horrible dark cast over the joy of this Psalm. Though there is pain in there already. ‘you let people ride over our heads, we went through fire and water’.

And I pray for God’s abundance, his mercy on those faithful Jewish people that were senselessly shot at a baby naming ceremony.

We told about what our witness should be in the Bible, how we are to live our lives. We are to live the gospel of Christ, we are to be prepared to give an account of what Christ has done for us, just as the writer here asks the whole earth to hear the promise of saving love he knows he has from the sacrifices in the temple.

Who’s in who’s out of heaven, of God’s eternal grace? Saved by the gospel I’m to live? I have absolutely no idea, and I don’t think I’m meant to.

I skimmed Paul’s discussion of Jews and Gentiles in Romans.  There is an extended metaphor of olive tree branches being cut, new ones grafted on and then old ones re-grafted, while some are never cut. That leads to: ‘for God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all’  after which he concludes ‘how inscrutable are God’s judgments and how unsearchable his ways’. Indeed.

I trust that God’s salvation will be just, full of grace, loving and abundant. That is the God this Jewish writer wants the whole earth to shout for joy at here, and I’m convinced. Though the water, through the fire. Through the most ghastly hate, horror and pain imaginable.

Psalm 58

Justice.

It’s a series of several Psalms to the tune ‘do not destroy’. Must have been super catchy. Maybe it’s the tune David thought of yesterday in 57 at dawn, hiding in a cave, when music came into his head.

The musician instructions call these psalms ‘miktam’s. Which one interpretation had as being scratched on the wall of a cave.

His theme is justice, and maybe this is the first time in life he really experienced the lack of it. He went from being a shepherd boy to living in the palace after he killed Goliath. Then king Saul went mad with jealousy, so he’s in a cave.

If firsthand up close injustice prompted the song, it’s only natural. You worry as you read it he is being vindictive and malicious, looking to rejoice in the downfall of his enemies.

He goes over the top revelling in vivid images of their declining effect on the world – like slugs that melt away, or like like stillborn babies.

But it is right to long for justice, it is the right channel for the passionate sense of unfairness the world around us inspires.

It is a prayer. Handing it over to God is the place for it.

It’s the right reason to hate someone, not because they are winning when you are losing, but because they are winning unfairly, by cheating, at the expense of others. It’s right to hate that.

It’s the right frame for action, to decide how to live your life. Compared to vindictiveness, fighting for justice leads away from your initial hurt, teaching you to think about the hurt of others. More likely to lead to a generous life in service of others.

It’s a convenient test for your means as well as your ends.

For instance, contemplating a watershed by-election yesterday, Kelly and i discussed the amazing self belief of politicians, who start to seriously believe they are the ones who deserve to have power, so much so that a little injustice in the compromises required to get it will be worth it in the long run – still better in their hands than the other bloke’s.

No! A journey along unfair paths to an imagined ‘fair’ destination is not a life lived fighting for justice, it becomes a life ever more devoted to power for its own sake. Malcom!

There is a super grisly moment of believers dipping their feet in the blood of evil doers, but we are to take it as an image of God’s victory, one they share in.. it comes back in Revelation, a robe dipped in blood, a winepress dripping blood. Doesn’t work for me at all, can’t get past bad horror movie images.

But when you experience the victory of Gods justice, you are allowed to enjoy it. Recognise where it came from, and that it moves outward, to others.