Ezekiel 1

The Lord the creator, understands drama and contrast. This is a great bit of stage setting.

Ezekiel, a priest in exile in Babylon, is next to a river among other exiles.

I only read psalm 137 short while ago, probably written in the same settlement, “by the rivers of Babylon.. how can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

That is a song of abandonment and despair. Instead of songs of praise, their thoughts run to the prophesy that enemies of Babylon would dish out to their captors the same horrific violence against their children as the Israelites suffered from them.

This is a vision of a fiery glory of four, four-faced creatures in flame, shooting lighting, with thunderous-sounding wings that spread each time they move. Above them a heavenly vault, above that a throne on which sits a half molten metal, half fire figure of a man. Below the creatures are wheels that rise and move over the land … In any direction, that’s very important: they freely go where the Holy Spirit goes.

Into the song of despair comes a vision of the full glory of God. Father son and spirit. Turns out God isn’t stuck in the temple in Jerusalem.

It recalls.. from my time perspective.. Pentecost. The fire that transformed the disciple’s despair into passion and boldness.

And of course, exodus: God in a fiery pillar, his glory on mountains, making Moses’ face shine, the tabernacle, the portable presence of God, going where the spirit goes, transforming slaves into his chosen nation,

What is God doing in Babylon, in exile? The same thing God’s still doing in my heart, this very day: transformation.

Dragged unenthusiasticaly, somewhat kicking and screaming, into Ezekiel (Really? Another huge old testament book?) … I’ll admit I’m enchanted, praise God!

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Psalm 97

These Psalms are like a playlist of songs with the same good vibe.

This one like yesterday’s announces its content straight away. Yesterday was a new song, today the Lord reigns.

Bam, there’s your Psalm.

Like yesterday it’s global, the whole earth. It’s very grand and a bit scary, there’s so much power. But it’s good power, so also joyous and exciting.

I’ve been thinking about god’s truth.

Sometimes it’s magical the way the Bible predicts things that happened way into the future. The spirit is guiding the author’s pens to say things they surely couldn’t imagine the significance of.

But it’s also unsurprising if it’s the truth. Like witnesses in a court case (if they are reliable), you’ll get stories from lots of different angles and times. But they will inevitably agree with each other and join up into a larger narrative, because they are all merely describing a central truth. In the case of God, an eternal one. I’ve experienced it this week.

The grand vision here recalls Sinai, when Moses got the law. You can’t see God through darkness and clouds, but you tremble before the kingly throne of righteousness and justice, spitting out fire that destroys all opposition. Thunderbolt and lightning, putting all other gods to shame.

Then darkness accompanied Calvary, fire came at Pentecost, and the name of Jesus lit up the globe, and continues to do so.

So the different glimpses of truth, 1000s of years before and after this psalm was written, come together with it to tell a story of joy, light and wonder.

Verse 11 “Light shines on the righteous
and joy on the upright in heart.” was apparently used in a Jewish collection of verses to help you get to sleep. Bach used it for a wedding cantata.

A better king than anyone else: the Lord reigns. A bit scary but very wonderful and reassuring too.

Psalm 40

You did it before, you can do it again.

This is a much loved and analysed Psalm, so my take on it is about the size of a pinch of salt, but I was struck by the idea that it’s all explained by the last two words “don’t delay”

In fact the more I read of David’s Psalms the more convinced I am that the best of his considerable poetic skills is his endings.

They are like a trap being sprung. In the ultimate David Psalm you get excitement and discursiveness …he writes in a fever like Paul, piling on associations, the thread of his argument zigzagging via flights of spiritual grandeur.

But then at the end it comes sharply into focus. You see what his starting point was and the rest gets context. It all falls into place.

Here, again, he’s praying in a pickle. God hasn’t saved him yet, and if he doesn’t soon, there will be nothing to save. He makes it pretty clear that all that is in the ‘don’t delay’.

The thrust of his plea to God is, you’ve saved me before, you are God, time to save me again.

But this Psalm is like self talk, or that happy situation where just asking a question answers it in the positive.

Just bringing his emergency to God, remembering how God has saved him in the past, how great and how transformative God is – putting a new song in his mouth – how much he loves God, how much God loves him and has a special plan for him. How God’s saving nature has the whole Earth’s history and future in His strong hands, hands of love…

I’m sure once David prayed his prayer, prompted by urgent desperate problems, he was emboldened and courageous, confident that he would indeed be saved without delay, as am I today reading it.

By the end of the prayer the problems haven’t gone away, but the power of them has. They’ve been overwhelmed by this glimpse of heaven, by the true state of things. The ‘don’t delay’ still has an element of nervousness about the timing, but there is also I reckon a keen ‘let’s get on with it!’ confidence in there now too.

I come to it feeling very unworthy today, and having read this, very saved.

1 Chronicles 15

Ark done right. Listening to God, David had learned his lesson and consulted God about how to carry the ark, after the attempt in chapter 13 resulted in death from God’s anger.

It’s carried on the shoulders of Levite priests on poles. Pretty nervous priests I’m guessing, but it doesn’t go wrong again

But the message is clear, consult God, follow his word.

I wondered if we’d get the detail that Saul’s daughter disapproved of Davids joyous dancing. We did.

Palace disloyalty, and his lusts will prove his weakness.

But this day is one of his best, a day of huge significance, joy and celebration.

David has established Jerusalem, God’s capital of his promised land, and bought into it the ark that they carried through the wilderness, the artifact of their epic journey from slavery.

I’m not doing it justice. Bit of a chemical sleepiness this morning, took a drowsy headache pill. At least the sadness from earlier in the week has largely passed.

But I need to get onto some things, I motivate myself with how good it will feel. I need to be light. It feels like a step in my journey I need to take. My life has come down to battles of fear vs bravery at the moment.

Isaiah 25

A description of heaven. It is a picture of abundance, of justice, of comfort, where God dries every tear. 

The ruined cities are contrasted to God’s feast on a mountain. 

Death is swallowed up, absorbed, forever. So it is also a vision of the moment of victory on Calvary. 

I really love my church. It is a similar vision of feasting, justice and comfort.

I’ve been getting lousy about parish council, but it has clicked here.

Deuteronomy 34

We will not see his like again. The funeral cliche. But of Moses it was true. The amazing leader, the one who spoke face to face with God. Humbly, from the inevitable mountable top, he views the land he will never reach, and it’s buried in a grave that is lost. They morn for 30 days and, with Joshua as leader, move on.

Jesus said the last shall be first in his kingdom. Moses, the rescued baby, the exiled killer, the reluctant spokesman, who pleaded with God for his faithless people over and over in the desert. The most humble the most unlikely, he left no physical memorial to his own greatness, he was all about God.

 

Deuteronomy 32

Moses’ song. Like the book it contains beauty and terror. 

The greatness of God is contrasted with the lousiness of the Israelites. It’s not a sentimental song. 

Their history is one of letting him down. Their future is being given great victories over the enemies God will judge, and then being judged themselves for squandering God’s grace by following other Gods. 

It ends by predicting that God will always stay faithful to a remnant of Israel. 

The song is not really a summary of the law, it’s a picture of God’s judgment and grace. These characteristics of God sit uncomfortably together. But understanding them is vital to get the significance of Jesus. 

Then sadly, Moses climbs a mountain to glimpse the land he will not inhabit because of his own sin. Few biblical characters have more grace, yet his judgment is unblinkingly recorded.

Grace costs. God is not a softy, who papers over evil, he looks at it, and recognises is destructive power. He fixes it, absorbs it, painfully.

Deuteronomy 27

New section. We’ve had all the rules now committing to them and the transition of leadership to settle the holy land.

They take a moment of silence and the priests declare them to be God’s people. 

First thing they will do is climb two mountains. Mountains equal meeting God.

One will be for curses, one for blessings.

The curse mountain has all the law written on some of its stones, and an altar for sacrifice also piled up of its uncarved stones.

They’ll do a fellowship offering, ie: one that celebrates God’s presence rather than removing sin. And they will formally declare that rejecting God, being greedy, unfair, uncaring to the vulnerable or sexually immoral will bring God’s curse.

It is a marker, a baseline, a resolution they will be able to look back on and test their society against. When they are deep in an argument about tribal boundaries, they will look back on this moment and remember declaring before God as a nation that they would be cursed if they ever did this.

I don’t remember becoming a Christian, I don’t have a moment of dedication of my life to God. Like the Israelites who would be born in the promised land, I have the choice to accept or forget every day the faith I was handed down by my parents. I pray for my children, and my witness to them. 

Numbers 24

Lest there be any doubt….

High on a mountain, overlooking the Israelites camp, Balaam continues to tell the Moabites king that the Israelites are blessed and chosen by God and it would be futile to try and fight them.

Balaam drops his theatre of divination which is his stock in trade and goes into a transcendental spirit filled state where he sees God’s truth. He launched into another pean of praise for Israel.

Balak, the Moabites king get angry at that point, but Balaam reminds him that he said all along he would tell the truth, before he even agreed to come and give his message to the king. He didn’t mention that he had a conversion experience during the journey where his donkey persuaded him to actually do it.

The king sends balaam away, but before he goes, for good measure he gives a fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh message from God about how disastrous it will be if they challenge the Israelites. 7 messages for the 7 sacrifices they offered in the last chapter.

I absolutely love this story. Praise God for such an example of the foolishness of trying to defy him. The is grace and humour in it.

But I fear the Moab king will be to proud to listen.

Numbers 23

Ok you see here how gutsy Balaam was required to be to tell the truth to the Moab king.

He’s expected to sign off on God’s being on Moab’s side in the war. And then he can have lots of treasure.

Three times he sacrifices 7 X2 animals in seven altars. Then asks the lord for guidance, then gives the moab king beautiful extravagent poetry about how futile it is to come up against the God of the Israelites.

The Moabites king asks him why he didn’t just shut up. Why say anything? Balaam is apologetic, but has to tell the truth…

It’s really a heroic example of faith. I should bear it in mind next time I’m tempted to pull my punches talking about God.