1 Chronicles 18

David’s victories. I turned to the commentaries because there is a lot of casual cruelty in this chapter, quite confronting.

They emphasised that the wars were an existential requirement for Israel, like Europe defeating Hitler. They bought more peace than they sacrificed.

The writer is leaving out lots of detail from the earlier accounts in Samuel and Kings to emphasise the temple. Last chapter God told David he couldn’t build it.

But this chapter scans a lifetime of his victories in fast forward to show how his reign laid the ground work for it, by bringing tremendous peace and prosperity.

Chronicles, as I mentioned earlier, is written to accompany the rebuilding of the temple hundreds of years later, after Israel’s been defeated and Jerusalem sacked.

It doesn’t tell us that much about God. David is godly, but like a godly general in world war Two, he organises killing people. His victories are strategic and security oriented, he’s not needlessly greedy for Empire. But he does it.

God does have better plans, but they are slow. It’s slow not because he is weak, but because he loves the baddies.

The direction of the Bible is to use David’s line to bless all nations, and promise a new heaven and a new earth where there is no more war, crying or pain.

And so we have this pep talk about the glory days, to encourage the defeated remnant of them to keep the thread going long enough until the birth of Jesus.

The temples gone again now he’s come. When he died, the curtain around the place where God was, ripped.

And we still aren’t there, at the new earth, yet. It’s complicated.

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1 Chronicles 11

David becomes king after Saul. There is little moment-to-moment spiritual content in this narrative – now it has finally started, though there is a spiritual meta story of God’s people.

And we do get the contrast of the new king with the old. Saul lost God, but David gets stronger and stronger because God is with him.

The guts of the chapter is devoted to bravery and warfare. It lists David’s best soldiers, the ’30’ who helped him fight the Philistines. Also the ‘3’, the creme of the creme. A story is told of them breaking enemy lines to get David a drink of water from a spring he is fond of. Rather than drink it he pours it out as an offering to their bravery.

It tells about the conquest of Jebus aka Jerusalem. It’s christened the City of David.

I was shocked at morning tea yesterday how much I’ve got used to the brutality of the Old testament when our friends, quite fairly, echoed their distaste for it.

Kelly has a great way of describing how she understands it, if you view it at a distance, holding it out so its a bit blurry, you can see the pattern, there is a plan and action of God. But close up, in focus, it’s awful.

I’ve explained it a lot in these entries, but those same rationalisations sounded lame when I tried to say them out loud. The conversation has echoed around in my head and I haven’t processed it yet. No doubt I’ll have time, launching into yet another long and bloody old testament book.

Still very stressed as the uncertainty of work and my own frustrating nature cause me anxiety. I’m being prompted to make things better I think.

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.

Isaiah 39

The end of the king Hezekiah story and the start of the rest of Isaiah. It’s Isaiah’s sad role to spend half his time prophesying about the Assyrians, who conquered the northern kingdom, and half the Babylonians, who conquered the South. 

What a time to be alive!

Hezekiah is given 15 more years to live and the rare knowledge of the time of his own death, and a sign from God that it is true. 

He is one of the most godly Kings, but he does not do much good with his extra time. 

He has a son who ends to being one of the worst Kings, and he actually invites the Babylonians in and brags about all his treasures to them, giving them all sorts of intelligence about the kingdom.

Worst of all perhaps when Isaiah tells him that the Babylonians will enslave his people, he is simply relieved that it will happen after he is dead. He’s sort of given up, maybe he’s burned out of the responsibility of being king.

In the last chapter he sang “The living, the living, he thanks you, as I do this day; the father makes known to the children your faithfulness.”

He had it right then, living in gratitude enjoying wisely and with pleasure the time you have, that is a good way to live. The number of your years is in God’s hands, your use of the time is your responsibility.

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.

1 Kings 7

A detailed description of King Solomon’s palaces, which took 13 years compared to 7 for the temple.  It wound up looking something like this:

king-solomon

Very impressive!  It mentions that he also did all the required temple basins and stuff in gold, and carefully stored all the ritual items he inherited from David.

Its one of those bits  of the bible that don’t really talk about morality or spirituality or God. Its just a description. Of a rich guys house. Like the show Cribs, or Grand Designs, Ancient World edition.

But of course, in Deuteronomy it said the King should be one of the people, not grand. And last chapter, when God did speak, he said obedience to his law was the more important thing…

Saturday, a day requiring grace because I chafe at balancing my obligations with the tantalising prospect of unstructured free time.  But it usually works out OK.

Deuteronomy 25

Law, marriage, commerce, punishment.

Limits on the number of lashes a judge can impose mean punishment is to be hard, but not destructive.

The marriage laws we’ve seen again and again, and it’s hard to relate to. This telling is illustrated with a dramatic ritual shaming of a brother who will not take on a widowed sister in law. 

The commerce laws are simple rules against cheating.

Then there is a reminder to absolutely mete out God’s judgement and destroy a local nation. As you do.

In the middle is a strikingly weird verse about cutting off the hand of a woman who intervenes in a fight between men by gabbing balls. Commentators are beside themselves to argue that is not literal and all sorts of meanings for it. I’ll wait for heaven to understand that one.

God’s people are fair, punishment fits crimes. There is moderation in the rules between Israelites. But God judgment is absolute.

Numbers 30

Numbers has got very like Leviticus at the moment. This is rules about a woman’s vow. Men may veto them – the father of a girl, and later the husband of a wife. The assumption seems to be that women will make rash promises.

It seems terribly sexist. But no doubt in other societies women’s word meant even less. The rules here are that a husband or dad is bound by the vow by passive assent… If they do nothing after they hear about it, it stands.  So the vow of a woman becomes the vow of their protector man… not challenging their patricarchal society, but there is a small means by which women may have a voice in it.

I’d look it up but so tired this morning!

I know I don’t seem very interested in the text this morning, but I’m very aware of God’s presence in my life as I go back to work this morning. I have some clarity over some things I should do.

Numbers 15

Huh? What happened to the narrative?

At a dramatic point where the Israelites have openly referred the whole adventure, we turn to sacrificial rules.

It’s like teaching a child: you’ve fallen off the bike, let’s go back to the start…

The types of sacrifice described are of increasing seriousness. The first are the joyful celebrations, the overflow of gratitude for God’s blessing. 

Then the unintended sins, thoughtlessness, misguided behaviours.

Then presumptuous sin. Flagrant flouting of God’s law. This is punishable by being cut off. It’s followed, shockingly by the story of a stoning of someone who refuses to follow the Sabbath.

Then physical reminders, tassles on garments are to call to mind the law of the lord.

It’s a strange arrangement, I don’t fully get the content or purpose here. But we have a god who is showing his rebellious people there is a way back from the brink. They don’t want the destruction of open rebellion. They can remember, be blessed and restore their relationship with him again.

Leviticus 18

The Israelites are to be defined and set apart by their sexual morality.  Its pretty funny in a way, they are not to be like the people they left behind in Egypt, or like the people they will find in Canaan.  Basically, they are not to be like everyone ever. Sexual morality doesn’t come naturally.

But neither does endlessly rampant sexual behaviour.  Societies seems to naturally settle somewhere between a degree of sexual wildness in certain contexts, and a degree of stable self restraint.

The Israelites sex laws are a mixture of things that our current society either judges severely still, regards as taboo, or thinks nothing of. Paedophilia: severely, incest and bestiality: largely frowned on and taboo, homosexuality and adultery: meh.

We as christians are now free from all those laws, through grace, and free to follow our own rules for living right with God. In my lifetime and society, divorce has not been harshly judged, though Irish Catholics were perfectly logical to observe that it sets up a situation of serial adultery.  But that’s not mattered here.

Of late many Christians seem to be getting progressively less hot under the collar about homosexuality, but that wasn’t the case when I was young and there remains of course significant and deep divisions about it.  Society is judging christians much more harshly than when I was a kid for anti-homosexual ideas.  And don’t we hate it, it drives us nuts being on the wrong side of the mainstream even though the bible says to expect it one way or other.

Homosexuality per se I think does pretty much zero emotional damage compared to adultery and cheating. Or homophobia. The most devastating sexual experience of my life was technically chaste hetero dating, ie: kissing, holding hands… and breaking up. Killed me.

Though the gay grindr type of scene I do find confronting and crass, as I do demeaning hetero porn or promiscuity. I don’t think there is no consequences in allowing yourself and others to be lust meat, I think on some level its got to eventually spill over into other aspects of your humanity and compassion. I think of it a bit like scar tissue, a progressive deadening of sensitivity and nuance. Emotionless sex. I understand the urge, I do profoundly in my being, in fact compared to proper love with emotion gone wrong it can seem like a great idea, but I don’t believe it is, really.

Adultery is probably worse than bestiality in the societal damage it does, in my opinion, though bestiality is just, well, weird.

Incest, to a degree, and  most certainly paedophilia are easy to see as exploitative and unfair, though different societies view the limits of it differently (we are horrified by 13 year olds getting married, other societies not so much).  Incest has the public health factors mixed in too, as with much in Leviticus.

Its something I really don’t know what to think about.  I am confused and evolving. Its all always been, and mores are fluid from society to society. Though there are themes.

I did like the idea in this chapter of sex being owning each other’s nakedness, and inappropriate sex being taking that other person’s nakedness from them when it is not yours, that’s something that gets to the intimacy of sex and the hurt and betrayal that can come with it. Its romantic.

The reference to Molech, a nasty canaanite deity, is interesting too.  Historians speculate that the Molech rituals involved harsh child sacrifice, maybe as a way of killing babies from inappropriate relationships like rape, incest or affairs.  A sort of late birth control.  Perhaps more than just a simple ban on child sacrifice, Israelites are being told to love their illegitimate children, which would make sense of mentioning it in the rules about sexual morality.

There has never been a consistently monogamous society or culture on earth, research suggests.  But – it seems from Wikipedia at least – there has been very few societies in which some form of monogamy or stage of exclusive commitment to a stable relationship was not seen as an ideal, and which had no sense of jealousy, passion and betrayal coming from sexual relationships gone bad.  Ironically the gay marriage debate has produced public paeans to the ideal of monogamy such as I’ve not witnessed up to this point in my life.

I’m quite resolved to let it all flow, I don’t see any point in opposing gay marriage in fact I believe christians should support it, even those don’t think homosexuality is right in God’s eyes. Marriage is not a sacrament, ie: an ordained ritual of god’s blessing, its a social construct which periodically gets redefined. It becomes unfair not to allow it if the negative taboo falls away. It all part of a piece.

You can’t separate church and state and then join them again when it suits you.  And you can’t argue for the continuance of an alliance, however convenient, between homophobes and christians who may be sincerely not homophobic but honestly believe that condemnation of homosexuality is an essential part of christian theology. The sincere christians still have to view the death of homophobia as a good thing, and be prepared to give voice to their theology in a way that is compassionate and kind, as well as marginal to the point of being generally loathed, which is way harder than it used to be. Thats how its gonna be now.

Every time a christian who is not personally tempted by or interested in homosexuality, in fact is culturally afraid of it, finds themselves about to condemn it, they should stop and condemn their own sexual and gender sins instead. Ditto abortion.  There is way too much ignoring of logs in christians own eyes in the sexual area.  Sins you are upset or threatened by are easy to condemn, and broad to define!

And fortunately nothing about transitioning to other genders or gender fluidity, that’s all unregulated, whew!

Father, give me self control, give me wisdom.

Below: wisdom.