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.

Exodus 23

Lots more rules, but they are a bit interesting.

Starts with a section on kindness, fairness. There is an anti schadenfreude rule… Help an enemy with a problem, don’t just enjoy it.  Don’t go with the crowd, make your own judgements. A society built on love honesty and kindness.

Festivals are established. How many of gods, even Jesus few absolute behavioural commands, boil down to parties or gatherings. One festival for Passover and two for harvest (beginning and end) the rhythm of years, communal memory. Very important to God.

I like this God, hearts in the right place! 

Ends with a promises of protection for their nation in the promised land. Unfortunately I’ve already read judges, how it all panned out, one of the saddest books so far. He did protect them but they undermined him every step of the way until they were a very corrupt society that did not resemble this model at all.

We live in a world where these values still underpin us but are fading. Income inequity is accelerating. 

We are heading into Easter. Four days off, ought to be good, but the family is unhappy. Could use some grace and wisdom, feeling too harried for either.

Exodus 17

 Victory over attackers – for precisely as long as Moses’ arms are lifted to God. Water from rock.

In genesis, after god did the biggest things: creation, the flood; he interacted on an intimate level, guiding and blessing individuals and families. Nurturing family trees.

In exodus he’s present daily, every moment forming a whole nation. You wince at their disloyalty when they complain of being thirsty, however they have given God 100% of their trust. They’ve wandered into the desert with no reliance on themselves for sustenance or planning. When do we ever do that? 

I remember Larry Norman once talked about how easy it is to say you have faith in God as long as you have enough for a big Mac in your pocket.

Every physical act God does doubles as a powerful metaphor of his character for the ages. Freedom from slavery. Daily bread. 

Today water from rock. One of my favourite phrases for God is “author of life”. The abundance, essential for life, flowing from dry stone at the touch of God. After a week of death, remembering that God’s is life.

2 Samuel 21

Thrown right into an example of why you would dread being king. David administers justice for the Gibeonites, a tenant of the original occupiers of the land, which means allowing them to kill 8 Israelites. He handles it and as fairly as he can, seeing that they get a proper burial and the families are looked after. 

The story is framed a bit like an Aztec style human sacrifice. There is a famine in the land until it is done, and the doing of it brings prosperity again. 

But I think it’s a lesson in justice, justice requires death. Jesus’ death could be viewed as a human sacrifice. The blood is not purchasing of some rain and blessing from God, it’s righting a wrong. 

Then there is the story of the Israelites being the giants, relatives of Goliath. This is bridging the story of David round in a big loop from the first demonstration of his greatness, when he slew Goliath, to the decline of it. Israel is starting to slay their own giants without him.

1 Samuel 4

Eli’s end had been telegraphed the last two chapters, and here it is.

The Israelites are losing in battle with the philistines. Rather than pray for victory, claiming god’s promise that they would be a great nation they summoned the arc of the covenant. The symbol of the promise has become a magic box who’s presence gives power. It’s Steven Speilbergs arc. The irony if making it an idol is lost on them it seems.

The battle where they use it becomes the day of Eli’s end in a dramatic series of events. His sons are killed in the battle. 

Upon hearing the news of their defeat and the capture of the ark eli falls beverages and breaks his neck. 

His daughter in law, pregnant, is thrown into early labour, dies in childbirth, never having seen the baby. They call I him Ichabod: god’s glory has departed.
This is narrative of the fulfillment of the prophesy. It also shows how superstitious the Israelites have become. It paints a picture of the nation ripe for spiritual transformation.

Joshua 20

The chapter talks about the cities set aside as refuge cities.

It reminds me of the way the equity court, which started as religious courts in Britain, could soften the harshness of the common law.

This concerns the mosaic law that anyone who kills could be avenged by death at the hands of the family of the one killed. But what if the killing was not intentional: manslaughter or accidental killing?

You could go to these refuge cities and plead for shelter, and stay there until the current high priest died, whereupon you were free to return to your home without fear of recrimination.

This applied even to foreigners living among the Israelites.

The geographical selection of the cities and the roads built to them were designed to make it easy to escape vengeance if you needed to. None were more than a day’s journey from anywhere in the land, apparently.

It’s an example of God building this society on mercy and fairness. I suppose it has echos today in the idea of churches providing sanctuary.

The Psalmists would return again and again to the idea of God as their refuge.  Here is God forging the theme from the founding of the promised land. Jesus would claim to be our hope.

After all the killing that has gone into claiming the promised land, this mercy is confronting and somewhat conflicting.

But as I concluded in the chapters about the conquest of the land, killing does not mean the same to the creator. Similar feeling to the rainbow that follows Noah’s flood. We all die, but not in vain if we end our days in god’s hope.

Genesis 21

Grace and faith, test #1.

Sarah’s distaste for Hagar flares again when Isaac is born, and Hagar is again sent away, to Abrahams distress. It’s clear that the lord looks after Hagar though.

Abraham makes an oath with the local king abimelech to live at a well he dug and not make trouble. Abimelech is aware that God is with Abraham, through the sister thing in the last chapter, probably.

He finally settles and lives there a long time.

Praying and thinking about evil today, after the terrorist attacks in Paris.

Abraham is deeply concerned when God, managing his domestic mess to a ridiculous degree, sides with Sarah’s somewhat cruel request to send away his illegitimate son and Hagar the slave.

The great patriarch appears to have an even greater matriarch in the wings, and the defence of “wasn’t the illegitimate son your idea in the first place?” doesn’t seem to be available.

Hagar is sent away with just a water skin to show for the whole experience, and we are told that the lord miraculously saves the child and he thrives, becoming an archer and getting an Egyptian wife in due course. But Abraham doesn’t know that.

All this messed-up family have to separate them from any other banal, messed-up family is chosen-ness, God’s grace dealing intimately with their situation, balancing everyone’s feelings and achieving his purposes.

Abraham responds with faith. His extraordinary faith will shortly be put to the test more spectacularly.

Grace and faith, or to put it another way, love from and to our heavenly father, its all we got.

Genesis 16

A jolt back into real politik.  Another biblical pattern, from the clear exalted mountain to the murky mess of the plain, like moses getting the law and coming down the mountain to faithless revelling, or Jesus going from the transfiguration to the faithlessness of the people and the bickering of the disciples.

And for me going from Sunday to Monday.  Bless me, keep me positive.

…that prayer was answered, I had a great Monday. The rhythm and discipline of work is making me feel so good. Plus I am good at it, and its such a powerful thing to feel competent. Part of the sense of dread I feel for my son who is 23 is that there is every possibility he may never feel that. He is in a psychological prison. Give me wisdom lord, and bless Lewes

Abram and Hagar are helping god along again. It’s a crooked web of weakness being woven here as Hagar the Egyptian slave girl is left over from the faithless deception in Egypt where Abram pretended Sarai was his sister and virtually gave her to the Pharoah. So the remnant of that unfortunate event is now enlisted as surrogate mother for the nation of Israel.  A very earthly plan for a cosmic promise.

Did Sarah not think that setting up a younger, fertile second wife in the household would drive her crazy? Hagar gets uppity, Sarai gets hurt, there is a falling out, and Hagar runs off.

A person, not a pawn

But oh the intervention of God in this one. People call the bible the “Good book”. So it’s rather shocking how bad people are without any much comment on their behaviour.  God adjusts for the mess.  He could have condemned Abram: “Abram, you have managed to turn my glorious promise into a sordid soap opera, I can’t work with this.” I did not expect God to speak to Hagar first, after all its supposed to be about the bloke and the promise that his offspring will be like stars and lead to salvation, right?  Hagar is just the meat in the sandwich, so to speak.

No! She is a person, not a piece of meat!  God speaks to her, and makes his own promise to her who has lost all, no postion or protection, a single mum alone in an unforgiving culture.

Hagar will have a son, called “God hears” because God has heard her misery.  She names God “the one who sees me” In being seen, Hagar becomes a person, not a pawn. And she has seen the one who sees her.  To god, its not about the plan, its about the collateral damage, the lost lamb. Oh the love and tenderness of that interaction!

Again, though the promise has a sting – Abrams’ promise to found a nation included it becoming a slave nation. Hagars includes trouble for Ishmael.

These promises are jarring.  Perhaps I need to just trust God over my children.  Another of my sons is brilliant at wrong footing me on who he is, and who he will become, he’s great at making me panic.

I can’t force the plan. He sees them, he hears their misery.  Give me patience to trust you Father. Shine into the murky messes, Father, with the clarity of love. 

Genesis 9

Continuing god’s post flood promise, it is like a second creation, giving creation and the future of the human race to Noah’s sons. The Jewish ritual of kocher, draining the blood of animals is introduced here. Consuming the life blood makes that life accountable to god. It’s a way of respecting that God is the giver of life, by the recipient of his creation, man. A bit like saying grace.

And then the rainbow promise, the reminder to god never to destroy the world by flood again. It’s a promise to the animals as well. It’s a chapter about the magic preciousness of life.

But the stain of sin remains. Noah gets drunk, ham, the youngest son doesn’t respect him. Noah curses him. His people become the Canaanites, who the Israelites treated as inferior presumably up to the time the story was told.

Noah is not the messiah, the intervention of God has ended, and mankind carries on its sad way, that’s how I read it. God makes a promise, man makes a curse.

I fail, all the time, I lack dignity and fall victim to my appetites and I have snobby prejudices and use god’s creation disrespectfully. I still stand on the promises of God.

And so it goes

Praise him!