1 Chronicles 23

A chapter about what the priest tribe, the levites, would do. Their role changes a bit with David because the tabernacle has entered rest, ie: come to Jerusalem and will stay forever.

Entering his rest is a big biblical theme, justifies a new tag I think.

A whole bunch of them prepare food and shout praises to God every morning, evening, and extra for the new moon and feasts. Must have actually been a pretty good life in a way.

All this info would have been fascinating to the original readers, who had to set it all up again.

They say in the rest section that the temple will be in Jerusalem forever. But the new testament teaches that our bodies are the temple now, God dwells in us. So they were wrong in the physical sense. Revelation announces a new Jerusalem, which presumably doesn’t have a temple, just us.

It’s Saturday morning. It’s been a long week. Much illness and difficulty. I’m a bit numb, glad to have a day off. Happy to shout praises though.

Praise God for Saturday mornings, coffee and toast. Praise him for anti depressants. Praise him for love and promises, even though so much shows little promise. Thank him for showing me that love is something you just do anyway.

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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.

 

Jeremiah 31

At last, God’s love is affirmed. He has been like the father who knows that punishment is right so has withheld his true love for them. This chapter is full of generous imagery of joy, dancing, justice for the vulnerable.

The spontenaity is because the law is in their hearts not in written form. It’s a prediction of a native outpouring of the spirit.

God is almost like a nervous host, making sure his guests, the his people returning from judgement to his place of love, are looked after in every detail – putting up a signpost to Zion, making a level path to walk on, etc.

The bit that stood out for me was the strength and obviousness of God’s steadfast love. He goes big, talks about the heavens and creation, and only when they can be cut down to size will the size of his love for his people be known.

We must not underrate evil and sin, but neither must we underrate the stronger, endless vastness of God’s love.

Isaiah 55

Isaiah urging the listeners/readers to honour and trust God with a series of beautiful pictures of God’s love.

It’s permanence is a big theme.

He compares it to the temporary things we pour our effort and money into. This is truly nourishing food, permanently satisfying, free of charge. It feeds our soul.

He talks about the steadfastness of God’s love for David – presumably both him and his line which would lead to Jesus. He talks about other nations recognising God.

Other themes are God’s compassion and effectiveness, which are both more than they can imagine.  They are to use the opportunity of their life to understand – seek – God. It is about individual grace and God’s larger scale plan of love.

There is a great image of God’s word being like rain or snow to water the earth and bring life. It’s not just sound, it’s sustaining and active.

They are full of fear, doubt and rebellion, but the peace God will bring is cosmic, the whole of creation will celebrate – mountains sing, trees clap.

Second day back at work. Full of sadness at my bind of needing to work, and fear I am too old and weak for it.

Irrational I’m sure. I made a few mistakes that are gnawing at me, I need to ‘fess up, fix them up and move on.

It’s resonating with me the bit about God’s thoughts being way more complex than I can understand… The bit about recognising I am dumb matches my current mood. God’s character is love, wisdom and steadfastness.

That’s why I’m safest to just do what is right by his lights in faith, when everything in me feels like lying, laziness or quitting would deliver more calm and happiness.

I’ll tell you how it goes!

 

Isaiah 50

God’s extraordinary love for us, and what he wants of us.

Intimate workings of the the messiah’s servanthood.

It starts with the question “does God really care?” A striking divorce and debt metaphor is used by God to say “prove I have abandoned you… Where are the divorce papers, where is the bill of sale?”

We left him, he never left us. Very much to the contrary.

Second question “is God’s still in charge?” Fully. The examples of his might are arguably negative experiences, drying up rivers so that fish die, making the sky black.

The Israelites no doubt felt enveloped by blackness. But the blackness is from God, the problem is that there is no one who will obey him. Enter the servant.

The servant word is not used but the ritual of servanthood, ear piercing, is referred to in verse 5.

Israel’s slaves had a moment after 6 years of service where they could leave or stay. The ear piercing indicated the choice of a life of voluntary servanthood, and such is the messiah’s relationship to God the father.

His duties are to daily learn words that will sustain the weary. He is God’s servant, his duties are for us.

Does God care? He gives his back to be whipped, his beard to be pulled out, suffers utter humiliation and disgrace.

Being God, he could back out at any time. He doesn’t have to suffer! But as a servant he sets his face like flint and bares it, trusting in God’s might through the darkness, knowing God’s is stronger than any evil.

The enemies of God are compared to clothes that will wear out. Empty suits.

So we, the weary, can choose to be sustained by his words though the darkness. Or we can take matters in our own hands which is here described as walking by the light of our own torches. That doesn’t seem unreasonable, using your own judgement, not God’s word to guide your way. But it will only lead to more torment.

God is like a loving parent in the night, coming to you when you fear the dark saying “don’t worry, you’ll get there” and behind it is the knowledge that no one loves you more or would give more for you.

This is a beautiful chapter, hard to follow without explanation. God cares and is strong enough to give himself for you without flinching at the pain of sacrifice.

Deuteronomy 24

I can’t say Moses or whoever edited him has a strong sense of organisation. This is such a mixed bag of rules:

– not remarrying a spouse you have divorced

– absenting newly married couples from military service for a year, a mercy for the wife particularly.

– ban against taking someone’s livelihood as security on a debt

– ban on enslaving fellow countrymen

– obedience to the levites instructions for skin diseases

– kindness in enforcement of debts to the poor.

– bring a considerate employer, not exploiting those desperate to work

– not holding a whole family guilty for the crime of one

– kind treatment of the weak and vulnerable, remembering you were all slaves

– deliberately leaving some of the harvest for the fatherless, widows and foreigners.

Looking at it summarised, there is such a strong theme of Social justice, of caring for the weak. 

And these rules were indeed followed by righteous people we will meet as the Bible proceeds. It’s love, God’s love, in action for real. I have more opportunities to do this than I take up. 

I need to recognise how important this is.

Deuteronomy 12

This is a new section. The “lessons from the wilderness” reached a climax in the last two chapters. We had the reveal of the command to love God with all your heart, and a massive answer to the question “why”: because of his goodness in saving them from Egypt.

Now we start a section that looks forward more exclusively at how they will love God.  This chapter is about the places, the temple, where they must go to offer sacrifices. Also the rules about meat, not eating the blood of the animals out of respect for their God given life. 

I like how is a very practical approach to the command to love God. Canaan is literally full of other Gods. Loving God remains a series of moment to moment choices.

Deuteronomy 6

Moses gives and elaborates on the commandment that Jesus would say is the greatest and contains all the law, love the lord your God with all your heart. 

He elaborates on it in a way that does not read like a sermon, but rather a heartfelt plea. His fear is the same as previous chapters, that they will forget because they will be so prosperous and comfortable. 

The irony that God’s grace and provision will be the cause of them forgetting is not lost on him, as they occupy large flourishing cities they did not build.

He pleads with them to remember the slavery that God rescued them from, and going forward to only love that God. 

Picking though all the rules, some of which are ridiculously culturally specific, this one has a giant arrow pointing to a huge red flag as a keeper.

Daily, please father let my heart overflow with love for you, remember your goodness, from every cup of coffee to every sunset and keep you as the only lord of my life.

Leviticus 19

Many of these rules are beautiful.

We’ve got equality, fairness, compassion, social welfare, kindness to the disabled, anti-discrimination rules, generally against hate and superstition.

This was radical. We were reminded in the last chapter of the deity Moloch for whom children were apparently sacrificed, this God is not like that. Similarly, it might seem obvious in this chapter to tell parents not to make their daughters prostitutes, but that refers to temple practises of the local religions and was seen as a religious thing to do.  These rules are dramatically different.

Its a picture of a really great society.  Jesus blessed and adopted all this stuff for us when he quoted this chapter and said loving your neighbour one of the two greatest commandments, along with loving god. Love love love, love is all you need. And he told a parable to extend the Israelite concept of neighbour to anyone.

The latter half of the chapter is about not mixing in with the culture, fashion and practices of canaan where they will be settling. This section has the often quoted example of a dumb Leviticus rule, the one about not wearing a shirt with two types of fabric. Those rules seem a lot more arbitrary to us now.  Though the gist of not being a slave to fashion, or taking your cues entirely from the society around you is still relevant to christians.

 

2 Samuel 18

OK its all about how David reacts.

There is a battle, David wants to ride with them, but the grizzled, wiley general Joab says no, and strategically he has to agree, he’s too valuable a chess piece. But he asks them to be merciful to Absalom, his usurper son

The battle is in a forest, unfocussed, dangerous – 20,000 men die, “more claimed by the forest than the sword.”

And it works out that Absalom could easily have been spared, Joab had a clear choice.  But like a proper military man, he finishes him, finishes the bloodshed and the battle.  I think I know why he didn’t want David on the battlefield.

They run with news to David.  Joab carefully picks who will take the news.  We wince.

2 Samuel has hung off three decisive battles, the defeat of Saul, the end of the civil war that unified Israel, and now the defeat of the impatient heir.  The last two times, David loved his enemies so much that he killed the jubilant messenger in a rage.  Now his son is dead, Joab knows it, we know it.

The running of men to tell David is played out with considerable suspense.  But its a misdirect. David doesn’t kill anyone this time – he simply cries, he wails for his son.

The useless son who turned the people against him, who wasted his leadership skills and charisma undermining David and now contributing to the slaughter of many countrymen.

“If only I could have died in your place! Absalom, my son, my son!”

Love.

I pray for my family every day. They aren’t as bad as Absalom, but they aren’t always that great either.  My parents loved me too despite many faults, til the day they died.  This is a picture of the love of God, which David has learned at such a deep level. Crying over the one sheep who is lost.

David is a great leader, he’s been a relentless and mighty warrior, his battle will seemingly never end, as the prophet declared, for his sin. He’s the classic bold leader who always seems to win because he’s never afraid of losing. But inside he’s still that boy tending sheep, singing.  Whatever in him that ever cared about the politics is gone. The lord is his shepherd.