Isaiah 34

The birds. There’s a creepy Alfred Hitchcock movie where the birds inexplicably take over an island.

Here is a vision vast and bleak.

It seems to lead on from the justice of the last chapter, the comforting thought that the Assyrian and Babylonian kingdoms will not last forever, will get their comeuppance.

While mentioning the neighbour Edom by name, this tells of judgement against the whole world.

It is for sin. We have a metaphor of God’s sword that generally requires sacrifice.

It is absolute, destruction is total and there are only birds left to divide the land amongst.

Sufjan Stevens likes to sing “we’re all going to die” perhaps there will be an end time tribulation, Armageddon. I hope not in my time.

But the curse of death is over us.

I’m more engaged with my church than I ever have been, so many opportunities for telling people the good news, but I am so shy of it.

God’s urgency/infinite time is doing my head in. This judgement passage is all crisis. But God will still take hundreds of years before Christ, so the crisis is not always temporal. The rich fool does not know the day or hour his life will be required of him.

Pray for wisdom. I have a sense that I am doing what i should be.  Pray for my kids!

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Isaiah 29

Plan and meta plan. Disaster and recovery.

You think you have it bad, you forget God

Then God acts, and you wish you had it bad like you had it before, because now you realise you are on the wrong side of the universe.

And in that broken state, grace and mercy glimmer and become possible.

So it starts talking about a siege of Jerusalem, and then all the seiges.

Then how blind they are that they can’t see it is all God’s judgement.

He uses metaphors of double incomprehension.

So he says their concern about the seiges is like a hungry man dreaming of eating, and when they realise it’s God’s judgement will be like them waking up and realising they actually are hungry.

God’s truth is like a sealed book to them, and when the seal is broken they realise they can’t read.

I think this is written during the time of Hezekiah, which was like a pause before the final fall of Jerusalem. They use the time to practically prepare for the seige, like making a better water supply.

Isaiah’s message is that they desperately need to view their problems as spiritual. He describes their preparations as like clay saying to the potter “I’m the boss!” All the literal fortifications in the world won’t stop God.

It’s like a Matrix moment, they need to wake up from their dream of a life to realise they have no life, and only then can they start to learn what life is and start to find their way back.

Our pastor was taking about telling people about God this week, a subject that puts fear in my heart. I am the world’s least confronting person. It’s why I wrote this blog, all the things I find hard to say to my friends, to my family even. Maybe I need to see myself as cool like Morpheus in the matrix.

“Take the red pill.”

2 Kings 14

The Lord doesn’t let the culture and the land completely die, but by now Israel and Judah are hopelessly weak and average kingdoms.

They break the pattern of obedient Kings being blessed and evil Kings failing and having shorter reigns.

Amaziah is king in Judah, and he loves Jehovah. But, the writer sadly notes, not like David. He doesn’t move decisively against other religions. He has a bit of a victory, but then launches into a failure civil war and his successor has to rebuild.

The king of Israel is not a follower of Jehovah but wins the civil war and God is merciful to his son, restoring some of their prosperity and land.

The theological signficance of the kingship seems to be slipping away, and we are just getting reports of the waxing and waning of ordinary politics.

It’s depressing. You forget how much God can do with even a tiny amount of faith, you start to crave a tiny bit of faith.

Give me the faith to respond in unpredictable ways to the promptings your word and spirit father, and not live a life of transparently ordinary motivations.

Deuteronomy 30

Choose life. 

Moses’ sermon is reaching a climax and that phrase could be a two word summary of the book. 

I love his description of the law not being hard to reach, it is on their lips, in their hearts and in their choices. For me this describes the experience of positive Christian living, what you say and do reflecting your heart and vice versa.

Their consequences are clear, blessings and curses. They are to choose life. 

I’m going to try it out as a phrase to reach for when I need wisdom or guidance. Choose life.

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.