Ecclesiastes 10

This seemed like a series of random bits of practical advice.

The commentary tried to make a case that it was starting to bring all that had gone before to a conclusion, to a place of meaning after so much meaninglessness. But I was unconvinced.

It was one of those days or chapters that just didn’t grab me. There was little about God directly, in fact nothing.

It kept bringing to my mind 1 Corinthians type statements about wisdom which seem to contradict it “Since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

Many of Jesus’ parables challenged conventional wisdom, such as the one about the workers all being given the same generous payment for different amounts of work. I’d never call grace meaningless, but it does have an irrationality about it.

One thing that stuck me was the attitude to kingship. It was quite essentialist in a way that jarred with my 21st century sensibilities.

So it said that it was a great evil under the sun that a commoner would be in a ruling position, ‘blessed is the land whose king is of noble birth.’ When low born rule, they get drunk and sleep in, never happens to the toffs, apparently!

The writer has never heard of democracy, but really, it’s not that bad! Jesus of course was born of David’s line and of God himself. David was low born and had kingship destined for him by grace.

Commentators suggested it was a model model about ideal kingship… I guess.

There’s another bit about how the foolish display how stupid they are just by the way they walk down the street. Wisdom or script of mean girls?

It ends with a warning against gossip and laziness, a hearty recommendation of feasting and wine, plus “money is the answer for everything”. What am I supposed to be getting from this?

It’s partly me… I’m very flat at the end of holidays. Having trouble with priorities. Maybe I’m feeling betrayed because the commentary is right .. the book is getting back to a more balanced place and I don’t want to go there! I’m still in the mood for angsty bleakness…

Anyway, I don’t feel like any great revelation will open up from continuing to rabbit on. See what tomorrow brings!

Ecclesiastes 7

This is a bit of a shocking chapter at first.

Chapter 6 ends with a bleak summary of a series of observations of meaningless things, and now this is a series of thoughts, presented as proverbial wisdom. It talks appreciatively about death and has almost a suicidal vibe at times: “death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart“.

It’s feels like we’re descending deeper and deeper into darkness, and the book is getting somewhat claustrophobic. Can we get some light soon?

But strangely at the same time, it’s also quite soothing

The overarching theme, if I understand it right, is that God plans for the hard stuff to happen to us as well as the good stuff, and to not stress, but value the difficult things because they are part of God’s world and help us grow.

It’s an old man, probably old Solomon, realising that the sad times, the deaths, the frustrating times and time in mourning were when he learned more about what is really important than the sillier times.

He memorably compares the laughing of foolish people to the crackling of burning thorns, which were used as tinder in those days. It’s a sense of them being loud, bright and hot but short lived, ephemeral. Sadness touches eternity, hard life lessons that last.

It harks back to the calm of chapter three: there is a time for everything. But it’s more provocatively put, eg: ‘Frustration is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.

Perhaps he’s also regretting his vast harem of wives and concubines. I’m probably being charitable. It comes across like he’s blaming women for being a corrupting influence, but the fault really is his. His female arrangements were excessive even by the potentate standards of the day; it was his obsession and his system, much more than his women. As if lesser princesses had many options in those days other than to be political pawns?

He’s puts both his youthful zeal and creeping nostalgia into perspective.

On one hand he embraces that softening that age brings, where things don’t seem as absolute as they did when you were younger. Don’t be foolish, but don’t kill yourself with ‘over-righteousness’ either:

It is good to grasp the one
and not let go of the other.
Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.

Related to that is letting go hurts, a lovely verse… If you overhear disrespectful things about yourself, ignore them. You know you often think or say similar when you think no one will hear you. Great tip for parenting teens.

One the other hand, resist thinking everything was better in the good old days.

Sadness, mortality, abandoning plans, things ending. All these things make you step back from the giddy noise and stimulation of plans and the daily roundabout.

They hurt, but they give you pause. They can be a path back to the essential things, the eternal things. They clarify life.

As he says in conclusion:

God created mankind upright,
but they have gone in search of many schemes

It’s about letting go the schemes, and simply accepting the messy, hard bits.

Jesus didn’t want the hard things either, he prayed for them to go away. But they came, they are part of life anyway.

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 37

A sermon, a testimony, of wickness vs righteousness, by David.

Apparently it was an alphabet song, so each short stanza starts with a different letter in the original language. It’s easy to imagine even from the translation, there’s a bunch of two line verses which form matched pairs.

It’s in three rough sections:

A bunch of proverb type observations about the blessings you get by being righteous, then a similar bunch about the futility of grabbing the opportunistic advantages of evil.

Then a third section with a more preachy attitude, comparing the two, urging the audience to be righteous. There’s often a ‘but’ structure, as in ‘the wicked seem like they are succeeding, but they won’t in the long run’.

It’s wrapped in advice not to fret, at the start and returning to finish. So the context is worrying that believing in God’s law isn’t working. It’s an optimism song, the poetic equivalent of one of those ‘keep calm and carry on’ posters from world War Two.

The Psalms I’ve been reading seem to be grouped, in the last 7 we’ve had 4 praising God, from a time of comfort or more desperate times, then 3 now about persevering, the daily choices to be godly.

Looking back on life and seeing God’s greatness and saving power, and living in the present and reminding yourself to make good choices. Gaining confidence for the future.

It’s simply the Christian life in songs. Though it’s not simple, and you need at least 150 of them to keep singing yourself out of temptation.

Saw first hand the drought, the effects were everywhere as we came down inland back to Sydney on our driving weekend. I’ve had some context at work with the pastors and chaplains trying to give spiritual and physical relief. Intervening at the brink of suicide. It’s not simple.

I’m tempted to feel ‘seen one Psalm, seen ’em all’ but the temptation to despair or apathy is a visceral daily struggle. It doesn’t come naturally. We need constant reminders to praise and trust God.

2 Chronicles 24

A sadder take on this king than in Kings. At 7 he became king, having lived his childhood hidden in the temple. Under the influence of his mentor/ priest, he reigns as a lover of God for many years and rebuilds the temple.

When the old mentor/father figure/priest dies king Joash comes under the influence of the local rulers of towns in his kingdom, who don’t necessarily believe Jehovah. They reestablish the folk religions and Baal worship.

The new priest Zechariah, son of king joash’s mentor, condemns this, but the king is persuaded to turn on the priest and he is stoned to death.

In these times God’s judgement is concrete and direct. Invaders come and smash Judah as punishment for rejecting God. The rulers are killed, king Joash is wounded, and vulnerable to a court conspiracy. He’s killed and ignominiosly buried.

The king was weak, the rebuilding of the temple and reestablishing the religion, happened because the mentor priest, Jehoaida, was effectively ruling. He bent like a reed when other influences got to him.

The king was bought up in the temple. The Jesuits said ‘ give me a child until they are 7 and we’ll have them for life’ but it wasn’t true in this story and it’s not true now. The church needs to rely on much more than inheritance and culture to thrive.

2 Chronicles 15

The detail of king Asa’s reforms. The God given victory of the last chapter inspires him to carry on in thanks, and a prophet reminds him of the zero tolerance of foreign religions.

The people him him in celebrating the sacrifices to Jehovah, and stamp out idolatry, even his own grandmother changes.

He has peace for the rest of his reign, and many believing northern Israelites come and move to the South.

I react a bit cynically, because it’s just a staging point in a downward path for Israel. But I’m looking too much at the big picture.

It’s a godly life and a godly time. That’s a good thing, even if, as currently, you can see an overall pattern of decline.

Jeremiah 12

Sucks to be God’s messenger. Last chapter Jeremiah discovered there was a plot to kill him for speaking God’s word.

This chapter he argues with God’s over the fairness of his message. He asks why God people have to suffer. He’s the meat in the sandwich, but such is his calling I suppose.

God’s answer is a) there are a lot less good people than you think, and b) there will be a restoration and compassion after the invasion.

I’m now being paid to write about God’s work and his nature, it’s an extraordinary privilege for a believer. May I remain faithful and true like Jeremiah.

Numbers 21

Now the Israelites are heading towards the holy land in earnest, Moses’ adventures remind me of Joshua (I peaked ahead and read that one already).

You have the confronting military aspect of God saying “go destroy this or that city, I’ve given them to you”. But god is acting in a sinful world.  The reaction of nations they pass through is to destroy them.

This is the chapter where the old fashioned doctor logo comes from, the snake on a stick. The people grumble, poisonous snakes start killing them. They put a snake in a stick and look at it for God’s protection.

God is so kind with signs. I mean the air we breathe, agriculture, hugs, I mean everything comes from God, the whole background. When we take all that for granted he gives us communion, the cross, Jesus, churches. Physical symbols to remind us of his existence and protection.

Grief is natural, revulsion of violence is natural. To say “why God why?” when either happens, is only natural. But really he is the only hope for life and the only source of peace.

Numbers 11

The negativity returns in complaints about how boring the manna is. They don’t like God’s catering. By the end of the chapter they will attribute a plague illness to God’s judgement on this attitude.

But before that God says “you want meat, I’ll give you meat” and more quails than they know what to do with arrive. The complainers barely start to consume the quail before the plague hits and their time has come.

One of those harsh things. Their discontent has built from a rosy and selective memory of their slavery “back in Egypt we had corn and leeks etc”

The transaction is a fascinating picture of Moses’ relationship with God. He feels the burden of representing them to god and god to them.  He’s exhausted, and god gives him a break.  He appoints 70 elders to temporarily give one off prophesy to the people… prophesy being telling the truth to the people, presumably about how ungrateful and unfaithful their attitude is being.

2 of the elders are not there at the commissioning and prophesy anyway, which seems to give the impression that they have a special blessing not being surrogates for Moses.  He dismisses concern for that.  He’s just happy that God’s truth is told, and not concerned for his own credit or glory.

They said he was a very humble man.  Remember, he had trouble speaking to the Pharaoh.  He also eschewed the wealth he was adopted into in solidarity with the people.  Not greedy, not lauding over them.

This chapter is a story of small minded self absorbed faithlessness and humble, god focussed faithfulness. In the concrete and literal manner of the old testament, one is rewarded and one punished by god.

Exodus 8

Plagues are in full swing now. 

Frogs. To demonstrate the lord’s power Moses accurately commands them to die first in the houses, then in the river. But the magicians can copy and pharaoh isn’t impressed.

Gnats. The magicians can’t copy that one and say it is the “finger of God”. Pharaoh doesn’t listen.

Flies. They cover everywhere except where the Israelites are. Pharaoh finally relents… A little… Offers a compromise deal: they’ve been asking for 3 days worship time in the desert. He offers it locally. Moses sticks to the request. They do a deal. He calls off the flies. Pharaoh renigs.

It’s not just Pharaoh who is learning about God here, his power his persistence, its Moses. He must be getting much better at taking to Pharaoh. He’s learning that God never gives up.