Psalm 106

My unbelievable inability to stay constant.

It’s a bunch of historical psalms in a row. This is the end of book 4 of psalms… The last I’ll read for a while.

Yesterday’s talked about God’s great deeds. Today’s talks about the people’s faithless response. Or rather, temporarily faithful. They could love God… But only momentarily.

Again and again, in Egypt, during the exodus and in the promised land, they slipped into scorn for God. Tried something new, because Jehovah wasn’t working for them. Diverted from clarity by an urge for gratification either denied or supplied, dangled in front of them.

It’s written from exile, from remorse. They’ve lost the promised land. You can tell because of the anticipation of being gathered in by God, from all nations.

All they have at that point is God’s character. It’s all any of us have. His constancy, his promises.

Vs. our lack of focus, our rapid cycle always back to our own comfort, the grip of our self- obsession, greediness.

We stand or fall on the promises of God.

Remember me, Lord, when I forget myself!

Psalm 89

Truth is so counter cyclical. Indeed, it has no cycle, it just sits there being true.

Life has ups and downs that make the truth sometimes appear ridiculous. Utterly implausible.

Then it will appear to have extraordinary prescience, like prophesy. But the truth never changed, just the circumstances of our time-bound existence did.

This psalm starts on a high, beautifully extolling God’s extraordinary power, greatness and goodness.

It’s by Ethan, one of King David’s best musicians. A tough gig, as David himself was no slouch in that department. He’s probably the Ethan mentioned as David dances the ark into Jerusalem, a day certainly capable of inspiring this eloquence.

The psalm then talks about David’s special place in the plans of God. His throne will last forever, like the moon. God has uniquely blessed him, anointed him, made promises to him and given him extraordinary success that displays God’s might and favour.

Oh and by the way, the last third of the psalm reports, everything has completely gone to shit.

David’s sons have rebelled and blown it, foreign powers are picking us off, David may still technically be king, but he’s is somewhere on the run. Strongholds are in ruins, the crown has been put to shame, trodden in the dirt.

‘How long’, he pleads, like Psalm 40. What does it all mean, why do I have to give my precious years on earth to this futility!

Then slapped onto the end of the psalm with little ado, ‘praise be to God!’. It’s a praise psalm? What is this?

The tragectory is similar to the last, painfully sad Psalm, 88. A bit of light, descending to bleakness.

It’s not your usual narrative arc. You wouldn’t even call them tragedies, because In both there is a strong sense of faith. Here, the misery is wrapped both ends in praise.

They aren’t tragedies because regardless of how bad things seems here in this space and time, the truth of God’s power, his might, his all encompassing love, will stand forever. The truth seemed ridiculous when the psalm was written, but it wasn’t.

And don’t we know it now that Jesus is on the throne of David.

And the western church is on the nose. Sigh.

Amen!

That endeth book 3 of Psalms, a collection with lots of judgement and not many unalloyed joy psalms. I’ve really valued thinking about judgement, time and eternity. Our last with God, the bigness and intimacy of God.

I’m thinking Proverbs next. Will I ever emerge from the old testament! But I really want to finish the wisdom books. And I’m getting to some of the best… Song of songs and Ecclesiastes, what gems!

I’m also thinking in life, read the new testament twice or even three times as often as you read the old testament, because with O.T. being 2x or so longer than new, it’ll mean your life is equally devoted to each. The maths could be more precise, but the principle is strong, I think.

Psalm 87

A psalm about Zion, the city, the metaphor for salvation. It inspired the hymn ‘glorious things of thee are spoken’.

I took from it consolation that salvation extends to anyone who becomes a citizen of the holy city – Augustine was also inspired by this surprisingly short psalm when he wrote his most significant work, ‘The city of God’.

Feeling a bit bleak, they told me I didn’t get the manager job today, but in other news, no one got it.  They are rethinking and making an adjustment to the structure and they are saying hold on, they will probably create a new job I will be interested in… what talk is that!  Its good that they seem to want me around and are working on some plan about which they are not at liberty to divulge.  I’m grateful really… about as grateful as you can be for, so far, a handful of actually nothing. I’m feeling either keep me or let me go, but get on with it!

But I did get the citizenship of Zion, and I feel less worthy of that than I did of the manager position I applied for, yet its a better position.

The weather is hot, the family are miserable and the funds are low, its all a bit much. ‘Solid joys and lasting treasure, none but Zion’s children know…’

Job 29

Aww this is a beautiful picture of Job’s lost contentment. It the first of a three chapter response by Job, so he really just starts his points.

He talks about being respected with lovely nuance. It’s a portrait of his goodness, which could be self righteous bragging in another context, except he has lost so much, it seems fair enough.

I love how he uses cream and olive oil metaphorically to reminisce about how smooth and easy his life was.

He paints a picture of going to the town square and being respected from young to old, rich and poor, for his goodness and wisdom. They all fall silent as he starts to speak, and his word silences the prattle after he’s done, as they quietly savour his wisdom.

He a champion of the poor and needy, he anticipated a long, secure, comfortable, happy personal life. Good and blessed, humble and respected.

It is the dream still for a good respectable citizen. It’s the later life entrepreneurs like Bill Gates aspire to, once they’ve been hard and mean in their youth and gotten their millions. A philanthropist. An elder. It’s what I’d love to be! I’m a bit chuffed about being a warden at my church.

He’s portraying himself as having had the wisdom discussed in the previous chapter. He feared God, he departed from evil.

But the blessings of his life were not what God promises. He’s miserable, he’s pathetic and sick. Is the wisdom still as precious? More than gold or silver? Now that it’s delivered misery?

It’s like the marriage vows… For better or worse. Turns out the majority of couples can’t live that way.

I’m praying for good things, but I must accept I may not get them. In some of my friends’ views, that proves Christianity wrong. But I’m like Job, I can’t imagine giving it up.

Gee though, this chapter seduces through time as a still potent picture of the decent, respectable life we must lay on the altar. Begone dreams of comfortable respectability! You may be my circumstances, but not my desire.

Job 3

Job’s suffering may be well towards the extreme end of most people’s, but he’s not a robot. He may have given us the cliche about the ‘patience of Job’ but here we get all the emotion you would expect from anyone in his situation, except expressed with perhaps less swearing and a lot more eloquence.

He curses the day he was born like Jeremiah did, with all sorts of memorable language about darkness obliterating the day on the calendar. He envies stillborn babies their peace, envisaging them in the ground with Kings and princes, freed from concerns about their material gains or losses.

Life means nothing to him: ‘Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul, to those who long for death that does not come, who search for it more than for hidden treasure.’

In that moment he would be an advocate for both abortion and euthanasia, and they are certainly questions that still animate us today.

This is not cursing God. He curses when life came to him, every step of the process from conception to first breath, and he curses that life continues. The place he will not go is to say God got it wrong, to despise God.

I never realised that classic Christian song, I’ve sung it 100 times, ‘blessed be the name’ came from Job. Back in chapter 1, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.

I hope my kids will be alright, I hope I’ll get a job, but the are no guarantees, it’s not how God works. Jeremiah’s misery came directly from his obedience to God’s word. No promises of an easy life.

2 Chronicles 36

The last three Kings of Judah in quick succession. Their fate is already controlled by forces larger than themselves. Egypt and Babylon plot to put in puppet Kings until Babylon destroys Jerusalem and disperses the people into exile.

It’s economically told. We skip the misery and death that the siege involved. In a way it’s typically upbeat.

Being written post- exile, the writer is able to quickly sketch in the return from exile after 70 years. So it ends much less bleakly than Kings and Jeremiah, which have just the barest thread of hope at the end.

But all three accounts have strongly in common that it is God’s judgement, Babylon is simply his means of judgement. It’s God’s doing, because they rebelled against him and rejected his prophets.

2 Chronicles 23

In the last chapter, an evil woman bought to the South by a marriage alliance with North tried to kill everyone in the house of David. One heir was hidden in the temple by his aunty, wife of one of the priests. 7 years pass.

They stage a perfect coup, and the boy is made king.

God is in the background, he’s promised a great destiny for the Davidic Kings. But he’s not mentioned and doesn’t speak.

It is a religious struggle, the usurper has established a temple of Baal, which is a folk God from the north.

Levite guards kill the usurper and the Baal priest when the boy is declared king.

I find out the restructure of the salvation army section in which I work today, it may mean that it is clear I have to leave, or that there is a clear position for me to apply for.

It could be the road to uncertainty or security.

I’m nervous about it but I do have a sense of God being behind the future, so I’m quite resigned and calm about it too.

True then, true now.

1 Chronicles 23

A chapter about what the priest tribe, the levites, would do. Their role changes a bit with David because the tabernacle has entered rest, ie: come to Jerusalem and will stay forever.

Entering his rest is a big biblical theme, justifies a new tag I think.

A whole bunch of them prepare food and shout praises to God every morning, evening, and extra for the new moon and feasts. Must have actually been a pretty good life in a way.

All this info would have been fascinating to the original readers, who had to set it all up again.

They say in the rest section that the temple will be in Jerusalem forever. But the new testament teaches that our bodies are the temple now, God dwells in us. So they were wrong in the physical sense. Revelation announces a new Jerusalem, which presumably doesn’t have a temple, just us.

It’s Saturday morning. It’s been a long week. Much illness and difficulty. I’m a bit numb, glad to have a day off. Happy to shout praises though.

Praise God for Saturday mornings, coffee and toast. Praise him for anti depressants. Praise him for love and promises, even though so much shows little promise. Thank him for showing me that love is something you just do anyway.

1 Chronicles 21

The story of the census David took of the people and the punishment that came of it.

I remember the story from Samuel. It happens when David is very old. They have left out not only the Bathsheba/lust/murder incident, but many messy family dramas and a whole civil war, it’s really a ‘glory days’ book.

But this incident is a tragedy none the less.

In this telling, David’s urge to count the people is attributed to Satan. Clearly it’s meant to be seen as evil, but I still have to visit the commentary to understand why it is bad.

Counting implied ownership in the ancient world. It’s like David is saying they are his people, not God’s. And I get that.

David is about to die, and thinking about legacy, he wants to die knowing how big and powerful Israel has become, what a great king he’s been.

At the start of his reign, it was very much God is king, David the servant. It might seem like a subtle sin, but it is pride, the start of so much evil.

His sin is inevitable, his response is rare, and shows his godliness.

David’s pride evaporates when the prophet condemns him, he is repentant.

There is a basis in the old law for this being a sin that by justice should be punished with death. In Exodus, the counting of the people was accompanied by payment to God of a ransom for their life, acknowledging this idea that they are God’s to number. David hasn’t done that, and its a law he should know.

He gets from God a choice of punishment and to his credit he chooses the one which is most random, disease. His other two options, war and famine, disproportionately hit the poor and shield the rich. It’s the option most likely to hit him personally.

God loves those who die of the disease, I think he’s showing David they are his people. We believe death has no sting, that we go to a new more perfect earth. But pain is left behind.

Jesus told the parable of the rich fool who spends what turns out to be his last day on earth counting his wealth. His death is random, he’s not struck down because he counted his money. However, the fact that he could be struck at any time, the fact of death, whether today, tomorrow, or many years later, makes counting your wealth, indulging in greed and pride, a meaningless pastime, a wasted life.

What is the point of feeling like the great successful king and treating the people as your people, God is saying. None of it is actually in your control, you are not king.

David has the double pain not only of losing people to a plague, but of knowing that their years being cut short is highlighting the foolishness of his pride.

The place of his repentance and offering of a sacrifice to God to prevent further destruction is majorly significant.  God tells him to offer a sacrifice at this threshing floor, like a mill.  Its a place of transformation, crushing the wheat, throwing away what is not needed, producing flour for bread.

The commentary says its the first time God has named a geographical place for sacrifices.  Up til now, its been in the tabernacle, of no fixed address.  This location becomes the site of the temple, and also the site of Calvary.  The great preacher, Charles Spurgeon goes mental about it.

As an origin story for post-exile Jews, re-establishing the temple – the target market for chronicles – it is a key part of the book.

I love that each person’s story of God is linked to a time and a place. I think its increasingly important to view the church as an Australian church, Australia as a spiritual place, and within that, our localities as spiritual places. The different churches should unite in that, letting the ties to other countries, histories and traditions, which can divide the church, fade.

But also in this story, God’s love and justice are mysteriously on display. David’s weakness is a vehicle for God’s love and transformation beyond what even the original readers of Chronicles could imagine.

 

1 Chronicles 9

In answer to the last entry, this now lists the families from Judah and Benjamin who returned to Jerusalem. Levite priests too, plus some details of where people were and what their roles were.

I don’t know what the significance of the post exile Jerusalem was in the greater story. I mean it is part of establishing that Jesus is the longed for Messiah. I suppose none of the prophesy could have been fulfilled but for that…

I remember talks from when I was young that God may have some remaining plan for Jewish people specially, some things Paul says maybe.