Ezekiel 9

I saw the documentary amazing Grace – legendary 1972 footage of Aretha Franklin singing gospel in church. It’s an overwhelming tribute to her talent and her faith that keeps rolling round in my head.

I started to Google about her personal faith, but of course I’d seen it, heard it and felt it. She says not an audible spoken word in the whole movie, but her singing is like Jacob’s ladder to heaven.

How drab did Ezekiel 9 appear, all this Doom and gloom, talking about the indiscriminate destruction of the faithless in Israel.

I want the lovin’stuff… “How I got over” not how I went under!

But it’s all connected.

Ezekiel got off to a thrilling start when the glory of the Lord appeared to him next to a river in Babylon. This chapter reveals the ghastly truth implied by that rolling splendor, God is no longer in the temple.

Israel is becoming the unchosen. In this chapter the creatures holding up God’s throne in Ezekiel’s vision are revealed as cherubim. The things with wings covering the ark of the covenant. As a priest, Ezekiel would never have seen those, even they didn’t enter the holy of holies, only the high priest, once a year.

Yet here they were, rolling around the world at large. And the temple is full of people worshipping idols. Ezekiel sees God’s messengers slay first them, then people through the whole city.

The war that fulfilled the prophesy of Israel’s judgement was just another banal war. The New York Times estimated that in the past 3000 years there have been about 200 without war, if you define it as a conflict in which at least 1000 people die.

That says all you need to know about human nature.

A few, the remnant of the Jews, are marked in Ezekiel’s vision literally with the sign of the cross, a letter ‘t’ in ancient script. They escape.

Another messenger comes to Ezekiel, who is in deep sadness and distress about the vision, and comforts him about the few with the mark.

But the scene I watched of Aretha singing in that scruffy looking church in a converted cinema, full of the spirit. The sense of the spirit myself and my brother felt sitting in that cinema watching it, is because God lives in people’s hearts after Jesus, after Pentecost.

The glory is still rolling (and rocking?) and the wars are still happening.

The joy of her singing triumphed over the pain that inspired the civil rights movement and her own often pretty scummy life.

So I’m thinking about the connection of it all, and about how you have to have the prophets.

Ezekiel 6

Hope has to die before idols will lose their grip.

This is a prophesy against mountains, those most symbolic places to meet God, where the 10 commandments came, where Jerusalem stood, where Jesus was revealed as the Messiah to his followers and where he died.

So lost is Israel that every mountain and hill has idols, God-replacements, on it. The hubris! What a slap at Jehovah!

The prophesy is that only the few who are exiled after the destruction of Jerusalem will live to regret and repent of the idol worship.

A strange thing is that this prophesy is already being preached to exiles. Ezekiel is among some early Israelite exiles already transported away to Babylon.

We haven’t had the response of the people quoted yet, but God has predicted it: he says they will be stubborn and malicious.

And it’s because Jerusalem hasn’t fallen yet. While the old, corrupt, City they call home, condemned as it is by prophet after prophet, still struggles against a seige with an inevitable outcome, hope will not die that they might be returned to it.

Such is the depth of our wrongheadedness.

There’s a rather haunting prediction in this chapter of the bones of dead bodies of Israelites at the foot of the useless Asherah poles they hoped in.

So part of our time on the planet will be spent trying to break the tenacity of God replacements, preferably before God has to destroy all hope in them.

Some of the challenges as middle age ticks away is letting go of abilities, achievements, the home as you know it, maybe; relevance, children, at least the relationships as you’ve known them…

There’s a mountain of achievement you’ve climbed, peaked, and the trip down the other side has much uncertainty and confusion. You need to remember that success was the wrong mountain for hope.

Then there’s alcohol, unhealthy eating, low energy levels and an ever more creaky body tempting you with laziness…

Don’t want to trivialise Ezekiel’s message, but next time I’m lying on the sofa with a piece of pizza and contemplating a 3rd glass of cheap red, I’ll say a little prayer…

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!

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.