Exodus 31

So here are the people who will actually make all this stuff. It’s a celebration of artisanship, the spirit of God is on them. Their ability is god given. 

Then the Sabbath, the seventh day of rest that still defines our week. The seven day week appears to have been simultaneously adopted by Jews Babylonians and Greeks, and spread very early to Asia. It is a promise, a sign, of god’s attachment to the people, but harsh too… Pain of death if you don’t rest.  Jesus said the law brings death. 

Then the tablets of stone written by god’s finger. There is something about the theatrical smallness of that, from the creator of the world, I find extraordinary. I shouldn’t be surprised of course, he made butterflies as well as volcanos and planets. 

And he invented tickling. He’s the master of context. He made our sense of delight and awe. He could have turned us into robot slaves, or destroyed us of course. He went with props. 

He gave the law written in stone to show us it was important. Like giving children ice-cream with a cherry on top.

2 Samuel 7

Who’s building who’s house?

David feels bad for how he’s treating God. David lives in a fine house, the King’s palace, and God’s place is a tent, the tabernacle the Israelites carried out of Egypt across the desert. He starts to plan to build a temple.

But God, through Nathan the prophet and though directly speaking to David says, ever so gently, “you don’t build God a house, god builds you a house”.

And he promises that David’s house will continue forever. We know this refers to Jesus, who was of David’s line. It also kind of refers to Solomon, since those two kings in a row were the most blessed period Israel ever had.

David spends the rest is the chapter saying “thanks” … For everything. Contemplating how far god has bought him and how much god has blessed him. 

David has a wonderfully bold way of talking to God. He doesn’t waste a lot of time in “I’m so unworthy” more “you love me, praise you for loving me!”

Feeling unworthy today. This is encouraging. “I will dwell in the house of the lord forever”

2 Samuel 5

David is made king. He takes and establishes Jerusalem as the capital. He pushes back the philistines in two big defeats, asking God each time if it is the right thing to do, and god gives him detailed strategy which he follows. 

He is at one with God, in synch. A godly king.

But I think it’s important to remember we’ve been clearly told kingship, earthly king, is second best, not god’s plan. He takes lots more wives and concubines, has lots of offspring. But that is not god’s reward, women are his weakness, a chink in his armour.

The most sinful of us can, any time, be godly. The most godly of us must always be aware that they are sinners. 

We can be living how god wants us to live even though the whole context of our situation is not remotely ideal to God. We can be ticking all the god boxes in our situation and wrong headed as hell.

Last week they preached on mission. They said our mission is love. No matter where you find yourself, no matter how much you fail, or feel successful, love. I pray that simplifies things.

1 Samuel 7

Samuel leads the people in a new nationalism and reverence. The lord confuses the philistines and they reclaim the land they took. 

He establishes the rock Ebenezer a symbol of the help of God. is like a tangible version of the old hymn “oh god our help in ages past, our hope for years to come”.

We’re changing church at the moment and generally depressed as a family. It’s wonderful today to think about the solidity of God and trust in his forgiveness and protection. I see how people compare Jesus to Ebenezer, planted there in history solid and immovable, our help.

Judges 6

Israel is so weak. The sermon on Sunday was from Jonah and in the set up Tom who was preaching compared Israel to a show home, an example of god’s blessing. So they had no natural ability at all to be warlike, to dominate the land. God’s outrageous blessing to them meant they triumphed, nothing else, and this would show people how powerful God is. In their weakness is he made strong.

And Gideon is a one person microcosm of that principle.

In his own estimation he’s the least son of the least house of the least tribe. He’s not only unwilling, he’s completely unbelieving that God really does want him to lead the renaissance in belief.

The people are being comprehensively dominated by the ex-locals. The midianites are deliberately destroying their crops to stave them and break their economy, they are hiding out in caves.

Spiritually it seems to be a chicken and egg situation. a prophet tells them they are being punished by God for unfaithfulness. Yet their response to the attacks seems to be to assimilate more and more with the midianites religion of worshipping baal. Which seems like a pragmatic response to the attacks as much as a cause of them.

God gets timid Gideon to do an act of protest vandalism against Baal, which he does under cover is darkness because he is so scared.

And not without cause, when they discover their altar has been destroyed and the best bull offered to one built to Yahweh they want to kill gideon. His father saves him with impeccable logic: let Baal kill him if he’s God. He lives.

But his action unleashes a surge in support for God, and by next chapter he will have collected 20 000 men.

His story reminds me a little of Jesus, the people around Jesus were always coming up with plans to start a nationalist movement, but he stuck with his 12 and witnessed to God.

Gideon will lead Israel back in a series of stunning reversals for the invaders, however the force of the story is that it’s all about God. The victories are his.

Gideon proves God really wants him, even after the altar event, by tricks with a fleece to show supernatural intervention. God goes along. It is a hobbit story: the weakest most unlikely person being used for the most important task, to show the victory of goodness.

I spent the weekend with random parents of my son’s school friends. Among them there was so much latent, quietly dying, Christian belief. I am timid like Gideon.

I pray that i will use my time, perhaps my music, to bring people towards God. I feel that there are so many people like the Israelites who probably just need a little shove from a timid person to rekindle some love of God in them.

I feel increasingly convicted about this.

 

 

 

Joshua 3

The people of Israel cross the Jordon, finally entering the promised land.

A moment and a chapter laden with symbolism. Symbolism is a gift God gives us to help us remember and overcome our struggles to understand ideas that are not tangible or concrete.

The arc of the covenant represents his promise and his holiness. They are to follow it, they’d literally be lost without it. But it is holy, they cannot venture too close.

The Jordan is the boundary and the gate to the land. The arc enters it and it stops flowing and opens.

The repeat of the red sea miracle, the parting of the waters, recalls gods choice and salvation of the people.

We know from yesterday’s chapter that the story of the rescue from Egypt was still repeated by the inhabitants of Jericho as evidence of god’s support and power. This event would have ratcheted up the fear somewhat.

The promise has arrived.

An awesome, cinematic moment about the power and blessing on gods chosen. 

I, rarely, have had those hair on the back of the head moments in my own life. It feels good to remember that feeling. This is the God I still trust.

Aware that I have also failed despite the miracles, like the Israelites. But enjoying the feeling anyway.

Ezra 1

Ezra tells the same story of the return of the exiles to Jerusalem that Nehemiah tells. For Nehemiah it was the wall, for Ezra it seems like it will be the temple

I’m fascinated by Cyrus of Persia. His kingdom defeated the Babylonian kingdom and he decided to let the exiles return home. He opened up the treasure house and let them take the plundered temple artifacts, of great value, home.

Some Jews thought he was the Messiah. It’s certainly quite extraordinary. I suppose politically it’s easier to rule an empire where you are viewed as a liberator. But he seems to have had a real affinity for different religions. Wiki suggested as a zoroastrian himself, he would understand monotheism. That slightly illogical, as you would think it could also be an argument for objecting to other gods.

Whatever, it is an example of God working through history.

 

 

Nehemiah 8

The celebration of the finishing of the wall creates various overwhelming emotions in the people. They are rediscovering their identity, having been away from Jerusalem and Jewish culture.

They start to weep as the law is read by Ezra the priest. Other priests are on hand to explain it. I like that detail, its no meaningless ritual. It’s like the spiritual version is an adopted child meeting their birth parents, they are overwhelmed.

They need to be reminded that it’s a celebration, a festival. That unleashes 7 days of joy. They pick up on a tradition of sleeping in makeshift houses, and all do that.

Every day more of the law is read, it’s a major love affair with their identity as god’s chosen people, with the word of God.

This is a timely word for me. I wax and wane on my personal devotion to reading the word here. It’s a good reminder to treasure it. It is my identity, loved by God, given his word.

Matthew 1

December 2015 I am switching to Matthew for the Christmas season, as is our church.

Starts with the genealogy of Jesus. One of the most unbelievable bits of the bible, if I’m honest. The old hymn “god is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year” springs to mind.  They say our lives are predetermined and freewill at the same time, but really? All those generations, perfectly even in number from Adam to Abraham to David to Jesus. 3 times 14. All those lives, marriages and family dramas.

Matthew is the Jews gospel, I recall from previous bible studies. But what a moment! Putting the whole damn book together like a mighty jigsaw puzzle, it’s all been leading to the birth of the messiah. Connecting the whole biblical record in one simple equation: 14 x 3. 42, the answer to life, the universe and everything.

OK, read up a bit, and it seems I’m right to find it all a bit too neat. It is argued the numbers have been massaged with omissions and seemingly made up names (at least, some are so obscure that this is the only place they are found). Charitably, some say it’s “symbolic”. Scholars have never figured out why this one is vastly different from Luke’s (most common theory, this is tracing the paternal line, not maternal).  The disparity was a major stumbling block for saint Augustine apparently, a big reason for him rejecting Christianity during his youth.

Fortunately my belief has never been based on historicity, my experience mirrors St Augustine’s (when he eventually came back to the fold) “restless our hearts until in Thee they find their ease”. So the literal truth or otherwise of this genaology is something I can clear up in heaven.

Actually its a doozy of a prayer he wrote:

Late have I loved Thee, O Lord; and behold,
Thou wast within and I without, and there I sought Thee.
Thou was with me when I was not with Thee.
Thou didst call, and cry, and burst my deafness.
Thou didst gleam, and glow, and dispell my blindness.
Thou didst touch me, and I burned for Thy peace.
For Thyself Thou hast made us,
And restless our hearts until in Thee they find their ease.
Late have I loved Thee, Thou Beauty ever old and ever new.

Anyway, message received, Jesus is the messiah, the anointed, the true realisation of God’s covenant with Abraham, the king in the line of David, who it has all been building up to. Let’s move on!

The birth of Jesus is told entirely through Joseph’s eyes. He gets a dream from God to tell him to believe Mary’s most unbelievable story ever to explain apparent non-virginity.

It is a fulfillment of prophecy in Isaiah.

We enter December reeling from another crazy mass shooting in the U.S.

I’m finding reading the bible every day is not working for me at the moment, I don’t understand.

Father, life is going too fast and I am having trouble focussing. I feel that my job his becoming a crutch and I am losing focus in my mission. Please give me wisdom and passion.

Psalm 26

Being certain of your own goodness.

David provides a picture of a truly good man that God will vindicate. It will be someone who is blameless, leading a life of unfaltering trust in God. Blamelessness is mindfullness and dependence on God’s character of unfailing love and trustworthiness.  So rarely can you catch the psalmists bragging to God about their goodness… when you really look at it, they are calling God to act on his promise of grace.  The form is of self justification, the substance winds up being a bold claim on justification by faith.

Then he lists some specific negatives and positives of his goodness: not being one of the hypocrites, evildoers, deceivers or wicked.  Instead he washes his hands in innocence, praises God and proclaims gods wonderful deeds, and loves the place where god’s glory dwells.  The nature of being a good man is acknowledgement of God. Maybe the deceptions and hypocricies of the wicked are in essence a refusal to acknowledge God?  

Still it hard not to think “no you haven’t” when David says he has led a blameless life.  In Psalm 51 he will deliver a painful plea for deliverance from his own sin. We know of his huge sins from the histories of his life, the bible makes no secret of it.
He has that arrogance that Christians are often accused of, the certainty of forgiveness. Great final image, the King stands on level ground, praising God along right in the middle of “the great congregation”.  His specialness is his relationship with God: God’s glory, not his own elevation.