Isaiah 26

Woah, a chapter that goes some unexpected places.

A description of God’s City, walls made of salvation, the strongest stuff there is. Gates town open to all nations. To the dead.

A height metaphor is used to talk about the proud and pompous being made low and the humble lifted up, but not reversed, made straight, made even.

Isaiah is always this two edged sword, can’t damn without hope, no hope without contrasting fate of those who do not listen. It’s always a plea.

The contrast here is with the outcome of people’s trust in their own strength, which looks like it’s going to deliver but ultimately can’t. Amusingly it is compared to a woman writhing with birth pains who ultimately delivers a fart. What a great way to think about so much of the Ted talks etc, humanism has great goals, but only humans to execute them.

The birth metaphor extends to God raising the dead in him for his City, the ground giving them up. The City of Salvation is not tied to earthly life spans, its eternal forwards and backwards.

God is solid, God is real, God produces children for his labours, true justice, true rescue, lasting comfort.

In the meantime this promise “God will keep you in perfect peace if your mind is set on him”

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2 Kings 3

Obedience for blessing – with panache

An interesting event from the next king’s reign. Jeroham another of Ahab’s sons, wasn’t as bad as him.  He stopped worshipping Baal, which seems to have ended the active persecution and killing of Jehovah’s prophets.  But he still worshipped the calf that had been established in largely political defiance of the temple in the kingdom of Judah after the civil war. The offical state religion was a false, cynical one.

The two kingdoms, Israel and Judah unite with Edom to bring Moab to heel, which is in rebellion against taxes levied by the kingdom of Israel. They take a way of attack through the desert and the troops are literally dying of thirst – very Exodus.

The godly king of Judah, Jehosophat, finds out Elisha is with them and consults him. He  has very sharp words for Jeroham, but helps them for Jehosophat’s sake.

First, strikingly, Elisha has a musician play to calm him down to a spiritual zone – maybe he was stressed after openly confronting and criticising the ungodly King.  A dangerous pastime.

God intervenes in the story at this point.  He helps the present situation, but so much more. It is a lesson, clearly for the godless king, it requires obedience and delivers in abundance – in one elegant move.

Elisha tells them to dig ditches in the dry river bed to contain the water God is sending them. That would have required very faithful leadership and quite some obedience from the exhausted men.  Jeroham would have witnessed first hand the absolute kingly faith and trust of Jehosophat to get the parched men to do the seemingly meaningless task.

A flash flood then comes down the river bed and collects in the ditches they have dug – the rest of the water passes through.  So the amount of water provided is in proportion to the extent of their obedience.  The more ditches they dug, the more of the water God provided they are blessed with. Very elegant.

Even more elegant, the Moabites mistake the distant ditches of water for blood and assume that the alliance hasn’t held and the kings have attacked each other.  They swoop in but are utterly routed.  The Moab king is so desperate with the loss he sacrifices his own son by burning him alive. The combined kings are so disgusted at the human sacrifice, they leave him at that point.

Jeroham and Jehsophat asked for water.  They got it …AND VICTORY! But without obedience, the blessing would have passed them by. Really reminds me of the lesson of Exodus, choosing God is choosing to participate in his blessing.  But his will will be done whether you choose him or not, and he wants so much more for us than we know to ask. Such a great lesson.

How did the king manage to remain an unbeliever after that experience!

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.

 

1 Samuel 16

Choosing king David. 

The least is again chosen by God. 6 older sons are presented and rejected. David’s father didn’t even bother calling the youngest boy, left it in the fields trending the sheep.

When Samuel anoints him, god’s spirit comes to him and departs Saul. It never left David again.

Thank you for choosing me to recurve the spirit father.

David sings for Saul having been fetched for his musical skill because Saul has a troubled spirit. 

Ezra 2

All the 42000 people who were returned to Jerusalem. You have to feel for the 600 or so who made the trek but couldn’t establish their family records.

Though they have been exiles, some are obviously wealthy, not your average refugees. 7000 slaves come with the group. They give offerings for the rebuilding of the temple. I don’t know how much the sum is relatively, but they carry a reasonable amount for that job with them.

I love how musicians are a separate group. It’s so defining of a culture and a religion.

The picture is of a people who’s sense of being a people under God is very important to them. They don’t have to think twice when told they can return to Jerusalem, despite success where they were.

Psalm 28

The miracle of asking God to set your mind right.

This psalm reminds me of what an earthly view of God’s punishment and blessing people in the old testament had.

David seemed to have a healthy view of the afterlife, psalm 23 after all “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.. I will dwell in God’s house forever”.

But here he seems rather uncomfortably to be saying that if God does not bring down, and stop building up, the wicked he will be treating David as if he was dead.

The Jews didn’t have just our concept of hell, they had the pit, the grave, which David refers to as a place where God is silent.  It’s not eternal punishment as such, it’s nowhere land.

In the second half of the psalm, he strikes a more positive note, praising god for delivering on his request to bring down the successful wicked people.

Did he break between writing the first and second halves of the psalm?  During which time god smote the wicked?  I’d like to think God’s answer came to David as he wrote, and is intended to come as we sing.

The punishment of the wicked is a life spent without regard for the world of the lord, trusting only in themselves: they’ll never have the richness of knowing where the good stuff comes from, or knowing the protecting love of God.

David exalts in god, the rock, his strength, his shield, and that is the help God sends. Verse 7 is the key.

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
   in him my heart trusts;
so I am helped, and my heart exults,
   and with my song I give thanks to him.

Psalms show how Christian songs, time spent meditating on or talking about God, is a reset, a prioritising, a way on earth of experiencing strength in god and victory.

Assuming David did have a healthy understanding of the afterlife, his songs are deliberately not like the classic slave songs, always longing for it. They are songs of victory right here, right now.  By humbly waiting for and listening to and remembering God’s goodness.

Psalm 24

I think I may have read or maybe just guessed this psalm is a going-to-the-temple chant. I think of it as a bit like those marching chants in u.s. war movies “I don’t know but I’ve been told” or cheerleader cheers and/or protest call and answers: “What do we want?” “When do we want it? “.

It’s about purity and meeting God. Climbing the hill, excited anticipation. Open the big door, the mighty, the true God is coming. Who is he? Mighty. Who is good enough to meet him? Gotta be pure of heart and have clean hands. “blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” Jesus said.

I’d love to write a wild chant for singing this psalm. Like bootylicious, godilicious or something.

Writing with tears today however, for the daughter of a friend, a beautiful strong girl in her early 20s. She’s asked us to pray for her, and she’s not someone for whom prayer has ever been an option before, but she’s rapidly losing her daughter to a completely baffling condition.  Pray for rikki, pray for Lisa.

Luke 12

We all have spiritual work to do. Mine is ministry to the kids. To our friends. The people at church. In thinking about using my music for spiritual work, after reading nick cave say that all music is spiritual.

Jesus is positively bipolar to highlight the importance of our spiritual work in this chapter.  Don’t worry at all about the material things of life. You won’t add an hour to your life by worrying. Lovely! Hard!

Be very very aware of being watchful for the return of the master. If you have been given much, much is expected of you. The rich fool dies while plotting his earthly treasure. So many strong messages about bad priorities.

Death is nothing to fear compared to the one who can throw you into hell. Nothing you hide will stay hidden… Your darkest hypocrisy will be shouted from the roof tops. Death is a big theme here. Very aware of the allotted time on earth and the expectation to use it well. It’s so short!

Or time on earth will involve division not peace.  The “do not worry” stands out in a chapter of lots of things pointing out what an utter disaster is trusting in your own strength and not taking god seriously.

Jesus demands absolute faith, you’ve really got to throw your lot totally with him.

In a week where I am swallowed up by my failure to cope with the practicalities of life this is overwhelming. It feels like I don’t have the luxury of choice. I am not pleasing God or Mammon. I am a total failure.  All I can do is pray.  For clarity, for sense. We should downscale. Project downscale.