Job 28

A stand alone poem about wisdom. No one is quite sure if it’s Job’s or the narrators voice. It’s one of the passages that instantly conjures up an anthem I sang as a choirboy, though listening back to it theres a reason I can never remember more than the opening and closing sections, they’re the catchiest bits.

It starts relating about what man finds precious, and the lengths he goes to to obtain it: gold, silver, precious stones.

Hidden in obscure places, yet man finds the places and uses all his energy and ingenuity to extract these things.

Yet nowhere in earth is wisdom found, and it is of greater value than all the precious wealth we mine.

Death and destruction have heard a rumour of wisdom… Maybe this is a hint at the silver lining in what Job has been through, and validates his position of being more authoritative than his friends because he has less certainty, is more aware of how much we don’t know.

God knows where it is and what it is. It was in the beginning, and part of the creative process. This he says to us: wisdom is to fear the Lord and to depart from evil.

Maybe this is the most basic revelation to man, knowable without the specifics of the light of Christ, or the salvation stories of Israel. Any human is capable of rejecting or acknowledging their innate awareness of God, and moving away from their evil urges.

I’m not turning this into a universalist creed. If you are being presented with committing to Jesus’claim to be God’s son and you choose instead to believe in a God of your own making and entirely conveniently defined according to your preferences, at a certain point you are rejecting the revelation and the promptings of the spirit.

And if wisdom includes departing from evil, it implicitly accepts original sin, that evil is in us all.

What is this? I think I need help. This is the most precious thing anywhere. But how does it relate to the rest of my belief system? Where is Jesus? Where is Jehovah?

Sheesh! Read the commentary, not much help.

I think I’ll hold that thought. I’m very tired after a long weekend and much to think about. Day off tomorrow on lieu of weekend. Unscramble brain.

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Job 23

Ooops, I was super tired yesterday and wrote about 24, skipped 23.

23 is a more direct response to Eliphaz’s demand that Job start listening to the Lord’s instruction and reproof.

He says bring it on, it will show that I have paid plenty of attention to His words. He wants to find God, he’s searching for God, not avoiding him. But he is nowhere to be found.

A poignancy comes from Job feeling frustrated, almost betrayed, by God. He describes him as covered in darkness, and says defiantly that his silence won’t stop him speaking.

This flows nicely into 24, whee he seems to share a lot of his friends attitudes about the nature of God and his attitude to sin, but vents his impatience with waiting for God’s justice.

It’s good. Even negative passion is passion. One of my wife Kelly’s enduring strengths is that she doesn’t put up with putting up. She kicks against the dry times, the boring times. And that’s what I think Job is doing in these chapters.

Each time is Job’s turn now, he demands that God speak. The Messiah is the perfect bridge: if God hadn’t promissed him, human would have had to invent him.

Psalm 72

The king is dead, king live the king!

A psalm about king Solomon, but more about the ideal, the role of kingship than any human could achieve. Setting out God’s ideal of kingship, it naturally anticipates and describes the Messiah.

They don’t know if David wrote it about his son, or Solomon himself did. David ‘son of Jesse’ scores a mention at the end, to wrap up book two, which is described as a collection of his prayers. Strikingly in a psalm all about kingship, he’s not called ‘king David’ the prayers haven’t been about his glory, but Gods.

So what is the ideal king like? He has the justice and righteousness of God, his government is dependable and for the benefit of the people.

He defends the poor and afflicted. Care for the weak is a thread everywhere in the Bible, is just so pervasive. I keep getting jolted every time Donald Trump treats aid as a transaction or a bargaining chip. If he doesn’t think it’s buying any benefit for the US, he cuts it: it’s never motivated by the need of the recipients.

There is breadth, length of rule and abundance of prosperity beyond what any earthly king could dream.

I loved the evocative description of soft rain falling on fields of mown grass to describe abundance and blessing. I associate the psalm with that smell memory now.

Then it runs though the same qualities again, but turned up further:

The king treats as precious every drop of blood of the poor, needy and afflicted.

He’ll be in glorious reign for ever, rule every nation.

Crops will be so abundant they sway on tops of every mountain as well as in the fields .

Then it ends with a burst of praise to God directly.

Then the bit about it being the conclusion of the prayers of David.

Well Solomon did achieve a wealth and peace and power David never knew. But David’s prayers, his rule, his life has been all about the glory and eternal saving power of God.

Both their roles as king ended and had flaws, but this model of what a king should be, that they could imagine and evoke in part, but not sustain, outlasted their kingdoms, fulfilled in Jesus.

I’m obsessing on the US mid term elections, now 3 days away. I’m dying to know the result, maybe to have president Trump called to account by resurgent democrats.

It’s my vice. I trawl my phone last thing at night, first thing in the morning and at lunchtime for developments, and try to stop myself at other times. It’s quite compulsive!

I can’t stand to see power used so crassly. The rule of unapologetic lying and selfishness. It’s just such a gross example. I long to see right triumph, the weak get their due.

I need to keep talking about it to myself as a stupid obsession, because it is. All earthly kingdoms are corrupt. My energies are given me to seek first the kingdom of God.

Earthly power can be a means to that end I suppose, a bit, sometimes. But for most of us practically, it a hobby, a time waster, not the real game. Seeking the kingdom in my own little sphere means seeing the preciousness of the weak and vulnerable, living generously, modelling abundance, living out and talking the eternal power realities, the rule of Christ. The kingdom is forever AND NOW.

Psalm 67

This short psalm is a neat refinement of the themes from 66. It’s this generous wish that everyone will know God’s blessing.

It struck me as a sunshine metaphor, God’s face shining on the chosen people at the start, a reference to harvest being tangible evidence of God’s blessing at the end.

But the shining metaphor also reminds me of the moment your dad smiles, or when the judge on a reality show drops the po face and beams his approval of a contestant.

God answered this prayer request for global praise with the Messiah. The department I work in is called mission resources. I should run this through my head as I am working occasionally,

It is surprising that the ancient Israelites sat around praying that the whole world would know God’s blessing and love. They weren’t a missionary religion, they didn’t imagine the blessing as being their religion world wide, as far as I can tell.

It’s declaring the truth of their monotheism. That Jehovah is the one true creator of the whole earth, source of all that is good. The hope that God will guide all nations as he has guided them.

The happiness of praise and celebration sparks this overflow of good to all, like Christmas. I kind of don’t want to unpack my reaction more than a happy sense of optimism for the world. Despite everything, ‘he’s got the whole world in his hands’.

2 Chronicles 22

A chapter of intrigue. The next king is the youngest son, does not love God and rules just one year. It’s a story of false alliance between the North and South, that split after Solomon.

God is mentioned as judge in his death at the hands of an assassin.

His mum the princess from the evil northern kingdom, Israel, stages a northern takeover when he dies and kills everyone in the house of David.

The dead King’s sister manages to hide her nephew, the heir, as a commoner in the temple where he lives 6 years during his grandmother’s reign.

So the promise of the Messiah is barely hanging on though intrigue in a time of rampant evil. It’s Noah in the ark, Joseph in the pit, Moses in the bullrushes, all over again. It will be the baby in the manger.

God’s mighty saving power is sometimes in the smallest things.

Isaiah 59

Evil, judgement and a promised redeemer.

The evil is portrayed with spider web analogies, a web of lies, a bunch of baby eggs hatching more nasties. It describes people using the justice and political systems corruptly.

They are far from God and in darkness, groping at walls they are so blind, and howling like animals when things go wrong.

Isaiah is quite consistently one of the most Bolshie books. As in, evil is seen as government and abuse of wealth.

Then judgement is described as a scream of justice by God. And it is personalised as the poetic phrases pile on, so it comes into focus as a person.

Then the text breaks into prose to promise the Holy Spirit will be forever with Zion.

Zion which a couple of chapters ago was to include all nations and be a gathering of outcasts.

Hmm.

It’s certainly a powerful encouragement not to join the sliminess and self serving power games that are always on display in this world. God will reward the pure of heart in the long run.

And I feel this sort of survey of the final themes of Isaiah in its last chapters is reaching its mid point with the appearance of God’s salvation in personified form.

We’ve had, in:

  • 56 the salvation message extended to all nations,
  • 57 warning against idolatry,
  • 58 call to a life of servanthood,
  • 59 description of corruption & judgement by a redeemer who promises the holy spirit to Zion

Isaiah 53

This must surely be one of the most eloquent and beautiful descriptions of the heart of Christianity.

Lots of sheep metaphors, so affecting because sheep are so vulnerable.

This poetry links the old teaching about sacrifice for sin with the “new thing” Isaiah has started to describe. God has prepared Israel for this step by having them mindfully slaughter sacrificial sheep for generations. But the idea is still a huge leap.

To compare the mighty creator God we’ve met so far: the firey cloudy pillar guiding us through the wilderness, shaking mountains and carving his words on the rock, to a lamb; one being passively slaughtered, is almost incomprehensible.

The servant is beaten, whipped, his striped scars heal us.

Then killed. And in that paradox, the mightiest God submitting to humiliation and destruction, is my sin absorbed.

For we are also like sheep, wandering off, helpless, incapable of following instructions or caring for ourselves.

Such a complete and clear description of my beliefs, the years melt away.

Hundreds of years between Isaiah and Jesus, thousands of years between Jesus and me. All the scar tissue of my own 55 years, I am a new creation again. For me it requires no rationalisation, it is simply truth which has stood and will stand forever.

When I step back from the moment and realise what I am reading, I get a chill. The holy spirit, surely. These ancient writings, so beautiful, predicting Jesus so accurately and so meaningfully. Speaking right to my heart. Loving, saving. The voice of my God.

Isaiah 52

We’re entering the most detailed servant/Messiah chapters. It’s the “new thing” the book has been building to with its layers of imagery.

It is double prophetic from Isaiah’s time. He’s writing (if it is him, which some doubt) before the people have been conquered and sent into exile, about the time when they shall be returned from exile.

But then it’s also triple prophetic, because it’s about so much more than the return from the exile they aren’t even in yet, because by describing the Messiah he’s talking about God’s eternal salvation plan for the whole world.

This chapter starts with hype about the salvation/ return from exile.

Jerusalem is to “awake awake”.

That is be aware that they are God’s people, and that he loves them. They actually have become cynical about God, and have no respect for him. Understandably perhaps because Egypt, then Assyria, then Babylon owned them.

There is a play on worthlessness. They feel worthless because they got conquered and the conquerors paid no price for destroying the chosen people. But God is also going to save them at no cost to them, for free. We’ll find later is because he’ll pay the price.

He talks about the messengers of this good news having “beautiful feet”. I love this, it’s God’s news, but we are the physical bearers of it. We have time and a physical being, and God finds it beautiful when we use our body and time to share the blessing we have.

Then they are to “depart depart”.

Leave the place of exile, of sin, and come to a place of holiness, of being cleaned and blessed by God and useful to him.

Then after the hype, in the last few verses, we get to the servant, the means of this salvation.

He’s king of kings… Wiser, more exalted than earthly Kings. They shut up when they see him.

He’s the mistreated servant, beaten beyond.  recognition. Remember sometime had to pay a price?

He is an unprecedented occurrence, and the incomprehensible made clear.

Isaiah is coming together!

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.

Isaiah 49

Half the chapter is about Isaiah’s figure the servant of the lord. All the elements are there: he is from God, a means of judgement and salvation, despised by people yet used not only for salvation of Israel but of all nations.

Again you do the loop where it is impossible to visualise anyone but Jesus.

I considered how there have been numerous other servants of the lord, Moses fits quite close. And the kingship was designed to be humble in Moses’ law, David dancing before the ark more than Solomon in a palace. It’s a biblical pattern, a truth about God’s way, but specifically it is so Jesus.

The second half is about Israel being glorified. With all the servant talk, especially the bit about being for all the world, Israel might think “so what are we?”

But God assures them they always have a special place like the place a child has for a parent. He also describes them as like a tattoo on his hand.

It finishes with a classic old testament scene of retribution… The enemies of Israel starving to the point of canabalism while all the exiles and all the world beats a path back to the promised land to share in glory.

Which, given the original audience was probably on the verge of being conquered and dragged away into exile from the land, was very comforting hyperbole.

It’s like “you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need”.

What they want is the promise of relief from their political and military victimhood, which they will get eventually, but not soon enough, and not before things get a lot worse.

What they need is what Isaiah calls the “new thing” this global salvation plan for all mankind, hundreds of years in the future but acting retroactively and prospectively for all.

Isaiahs big task is starting to explain, and it’s not easy. Even with my perspective I still keep doing double takes. The whole Bible is an odd story!