2 Kings 4

A series of miraculous events from Elisha’s life that show God’s abundant blessings.  It reads like a page from the gospels.

A widow has a jar of oil that keeps producing oil enough to pay all her debts, and save her sons being sold into slavery.

Another woman who helped Elisha has a pregnancy at an old age, and then Elisha restores the child to life after he dies, two astounding miracles.

Good food produced from bitter gourds in famine, ending with a very familiar story of one loaf feeding a multitude.

The consistency of God’s character as revealed through Elisha and Jesus is abundance, life, plenty, fruitfulness. I claw my way through on a good salary with no mortgage, but only seem to achieve adequacy – I watch all my friends get better stuff and go on holidays on facebook. I am finding in my relationships and the ministries in church an abundance.  We have a new minister who is brimming with keen-ness and preached a beautiful first sermon on Sunday.  I’d feel pretty satisfied if these stories weren’t telling me God wants to give me more than I could dare expect.

Maybe I should pray to God to show me the nature of the abundance he wants me to have.

 

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1 Kings 17

We are introduced to the prophet Elijah. He comes to tell the king Ahab that a drought they are having is God’s will. I was struck by his opening words to the king “as the God of Israel lives…” 

Israel has a God, one God, and he is alive. Sometimes for me thinking about God is literally soothing, and reading this gave me that feeling, like cool water in a desert. 

All the other Gods -possessions, success, wealth etc are dead things. They come and go. God is mine, and after I get myself in a pickle and make other things more important, I step back from the mess of it all and behind it, he’s simply there.

Elijah has to hide then. Everything that happens affirms God’s qualities of life giving, provision and abundance. And Elijah’s status as a spokesperson for him.

God feeds Elijah in a desert, but the land continues to dry up.  He comes to town, God magically extends the last provisions of a kind widow so her family and Elijah can eat abundantly as he stays with them. Finally, his pleas bring her son back to life from death. 

God is taking hold of the failed kingdom’s narrative, and it’s all about life coming to barrenness.

Leviticus 23

 

Finally a somewhat more sunny chapter, even if it is still all just legislation, rules rules rules. These are the ones about times. It sets up the sabbath, day of rest, and festivals.

Interestingly some of these are called rules forever… an acknowledgment that many of the specific levitical rules will pass away over time.  I was reminded of this hearing Ivanka Trump’s praise of her adopted practise of sabbath. These are some of the rules that have stayed.

I miss not working on sundays, I must say. It was a thing when I was young, but then theology came through that the day of rest was like heaven or something, not literal.  But I used to like the special day idea. I did get nervous and legalistic about it a bit though, I recall as a child worrying about the limits of what I should do.

I wrote a song about colour, about God making the colours and us losing them.  The creation of special moments in our existence is a very spiritual thing, a very human thing, to be cherished. I think the buzz wordy mindfulness movement is a yearning for this spirituality.

Harvest is a time to remember gods goodness. They are reminded to offer the first to god, and leave some in the field for poor and immigrants.

Festival of reconciliation, sounds like the scapegoat day.  Fasting and prayer and a communal meal.

Festival of booths. Seems to be an end of harvest one week holiday.  The booths are little huts they make and stay in for the duration, to remember the time in the wilderness and delivery from egypt.

Gotta love festivals. I was in a cathedral choir when I was young and we always sang this jolly anthem for harvest… still comes to mind.  You visit the earth and bless it, you crown the year with goodness. Simple moment of gratitude from created to creator.

 

Leviticus 13

Lots of reasonably modern sounding public health rules about infectious skin diseases.

Commentators made a point of how leprosy spreads bodily corruption can be used as a metaphor for sin.  But the passage doesn’t seem to do that.

There is no blame attached to it here, though by Jesus’ day there seemed to be strong assumption that lepers deserved or earned their fate.  And of course Jesus turned this upside down by having more to do with lepers than the cleanest religious leaders.

But here it is a real honest to goodness diagnosis guide… I loved the bit about how a bald man is just bald and a man with receding hair just has receding hair.

The diet was a mix of symbolism and a reasonable nutritional and safety element, this seems primarily practical.

Judges 12

Jephthah really is an interesting and sad leader. This is the story of him killing thousands of his fellow Israelites, after they threatened to destroy him. How the nation has disintegrated. God is still acting though Jephthah, but he is a sinful man in a sinful time. Of course good always acts though sinful people, into sinful situations. 

The way they tell members of the tribe of ephraim to know if they should kill them is to get them to say “shiboleth” which they pronounce wrong. It’s like a Monty python skit, but deadly.

The dream of Israel, 12 tribes united as a people of God, is at a low point. This is the drift of the whole old testament, bright momentary bursts of flame in a dying fire.

He leads another 6 years, the rest of his life tossed off without comment under the 42000 countrymen dead, and after the barbaric sacrifice of guys own daughter. 

Then three more judges. Just leaders, barely of interest, just footnotes to the meta narrative of god’s grace. 

Reading though the sweep of the Bible has given me a feeling of its priorities. An awful lot of stuff is not important. Life is about the one lost sheep, not the 99 safe ones.

Daniel 10

This vision takes two chapters. We’ve seen in the last chapter how Daniel, despite his outward success as a top administrator for the king, is miserable about being displaced. Here he mourns for three weeks before the vision appears.

An angel gleaming in light comes first. It’s so vivid. I read the wikipedia article about Daniel yesterday and it took such an agnostic tone, saying Daniel didn’t actually exist, the book was a compilation of folk tales. But the event describes like a moment in someone’s life. If it wasn’t Daniel, it was someone with some name. It has a documentary feeling.

This time Daniel was walking near the Tigris with an entourage. I’d love to list mundane things the bible says people were doing when God intervenes in their lives. Abraham was with some sheep. The disciples were fishing.

The angel introduces God who is a man. The angels appearance has been extraordinary. This is just “a man”. Christ bells start ringing.

Daniel exhausted and weak as ever when the vision happens, is given time and the touch of God to recover.

But then for so exalted a vision the content starts out very ephemeral… We’re straight into local politics.

Genesis 1

First chapter of Genesis. A great place to start the bible. There is nothing no definition. Just water.

It’s very womb like, it takes us to the mystery of how every life starts. Why do cells start to think?

We are being imprinted like an empty brain getting is first impressions.

Light comes first, out of the darkness, which is monumental, but also indistinct.

And God is there, the hovering spirit, the creator. God made it, God did it, it’s God made life.

Prayer/Meditation break: God was there before I knew what light was. He is in control. I’m not foolish to trust him, even though there is no pattern or poetry discernable at the moment. I seen the light!

Its a song with a refrain: God made it, and it was good.

Emphasis on WAS good, as our globe becomes exposed to higher and higher temperatures, and the activities of humankind generally seem to do as much bad as good.

I started reading Genesis as a new start book, looking for optimism.  I intend to read John’s gospel as well, both of them start with the light.  The creation story told twice.  But the arc of Genesis is not optimisitc, it is tragic.  If I remember rightly it ends with a story of numbing brutality and nastiness, the story of sodom and gomorrah.  But John’s is the messiah story, so perhaps both together will chart a path of saftety through a cruel world.

Its not the best idea to read the bible as a book to fill your needs, like a therapy book, but I think I do need that at the moment.

The vault to separate the waters, which is called sky, and comes after light but before land is hard to understand.  It is the sky as roof to the world, but how it separates the waters is difficult to conceptualise.  It seems like an understanding of the sky pre-solar system, pre knowing the earth is a ball.  Worth remembering when considering the people for whom this story is literal science rather than poetry.

The third day, land and vegetation, brings the refrain that “it was good”.

Patterns

It is the natural human state to believe in God. Every culture has independently stumbled across the idea of God and made it central to their community.   I imagine this story being told to children from the moment they could understand language to explain how the world came to be.  It still is for many children, and other cultures have variations.

I love the way the elements are introduced like a newborn would get the patterns of life.  Children would still be in this process, assimilating the patterns of life, when they heard this story, so it would make perfect sense to them, it is at their experience level.

Reading the story again takes me back to my own uncomplex state, my own creation.

Dividing the creative act into days, and definng the initial elements by simple binaries or separations: darkness, light. Water, sky. Water, land, Day, night.  It is making patterns, bringing meaning into focus: light, then types of light.  The types of light then define time: moon and stars by night, sun by day.  The patterns of binaries stack onto each other and create layered meaning.

The creation of life brings objects into focus.  They are staged in a crescendo of complexity: vegetation.  Seeds and fruit, it is good.  It conjurs up a lush visual and also a practical connection to food.  It all comes from God, it is good, we are loved and cared for by a divine being, there is meaning beyond ourselves.

Fifth day brings fish and birds.  And God didn’t just make them, he made them to make themselves so the sea would be teeming with them and the sky filled with them: abundance.  This is a blessing, goodness from God.  What a huge theme, the theme of God’s overflowing abundant blessing. It is central to his nature as a creator, he creates things that create, resources are beyond our needs.

Then animals.  The order does seems to reflect meaning for people: the crawly things, wild animals then livestock. Multiple subdivisions… each “according to their kinds”, and it is all by God and all good.

And at the apex, men and women, the ones in the image of God. The image of God is male, the image of God is female. Equality is asserted!  They rule the other animals and subdue them.  It is given to us, it exists for us. Seeds and fruit for food, green plants to feed the animals.

It is all very good, seventh day he rests.  New pattern: the week.  The seven day pattern has stuck, its really quite mind blowing.  This pattern here in this ancient text is still a pattern by which our lives are divided.  People mock creationism, saying how ridiculous it sounds to make the whole of it in 7 days, without questioning where the idea of 7 days even came from in the first place.

I noticed that when adolescents rebel against their parents there is an irony – they become more like them the more they try to make their own way.  Because the very structure of their thought processes, their language, their understanding of meaning is so strongly influenced by their parents, the way they process these new found emotions and desires is reflective of the parents they are hating on.  Likewise I think humankind can’t escape their createdness in the image of God through the very act of denying him.

This passage is a huge reason for my belief in God. It makes sense in ways I can’t bring into my conscious state, it makes sense of the natural inclination of people to believe there must be a God. How did patterns come out of chaos?  Why do we gain endless comfort from finding patterns? Why do we have a concept of good?  How are things different (why is dark not light and light not dark?)  It is all given a context and an explanation: God made it.

Prayer/Meditation: Praise God! Praise God praise God!  Have confidence in the purpose of my existence. Have confidence to present God as an answer to people who are struggling.  Its actually almost impossible not to believe in God, atheisim is a complex artifice of a mind in denial.

Return to the start, remember your creation.  I’ve written a lyric for maybe a song about the creation story being everyone’s experience.  When it says male and woman are the image of God, it strikes me that parents are the first god to a baby.

just one cell, floating in a watery night
grew my brain, grew my eyes, one day saw light

one tiny baby, waters all gave way
the sky is up, earth is down, night follows day

create me, make me
Mother god
wrapped in your succour and love endlessly

teeming through infinity, teach me, help me grow
flowers and trees, birds and bees,
teach me to know

Two sleepy people play with me at dawn,
again again, again again, a new day is born,

create me, make me
stroke my busy head to peace, sing rest to me