Leviticus 24

 

Oil lamps and temple bread. Oil burning is like the spirit of God, his presence… a hang over to high anglican churches which often have lamps in the holy end of the church.

The stoning of a blasphemer. Cursing god is still the unforgiveable sin in jesus teaching, but the stoning bit is gone, fortunately.

I suppose its related to how the system, the religion of Israel is a model of god’s perfect system. The wages of sin are death, jesus said.  For adam and eve, that meant leaving the garden, the presence of god. For the Israelites here it means literal ending of life.

A brutal lesson.

Exodus 36

The construction work of god’s super fancy tent is described in living detail, every measurement, every material every design feature.

Plus the adorable story that they had to command the people to stop bringing materials for the project, there was an over abundance of generosity and enthusiasm for the project. It’s a community job of pure joy.

How well god knew the human psychology when he gave them this task.

Exodus 28

The priestly garments. Emphasise quality: gold, linen, rich colours. Evokes the holiness of God. 

Also representative. The names of the 12 tribes are engraved in precious stones attached on a breast plate. The chosenness of the people.

And wisdom. The garments and paraphernalia have symbolic help with decision making built in. The sense of guidance and of truth.

 

2 Samuel 20

Another rebellion.  David slowly losing grip.

The Israelite grumbling is exploited into another rebellion by a guy called Sheba, which is quelled in this chapter.

The rebellion is quelled, but there are some long story threads woven in here.

We learn the fate of the 10 concubines who David inherited from Saul, and who were palace administrators, almost like the white house staff, and passed to Absalom when he was king – a sign the people were intended to take as that David was not coming back politically “dead”.

But he did come back, and ironically treated them as if Absalom was alive for the rest of their lives, ie: cared for them as widows, did not take them back again as his concubines.

This is all a feminist disaster, viewed through the standards women have now achieved, but of course by the standards of the time they faired better than many. They  were probably quite noble women, daughters of local kings or land owners. Their passing from man to man was probably 90% like having a new boss as much as a new sexual partner. Such was their lot, they led lives of relative safety and ease though never escaped being political pawns and their formal personal lives were prescribed.

Joab is a great general who has won many battles but he is ambitious, and he sees the political more than the spiritual perspective. He killed a brother earlier, and David and he have the dark bond that he helped David kill Uzziah – Bathsheba’s husband.

Joab has been demoted because he killed Absalom. David seems to have been worn out by Absalom’s rebellion, and part of him no longer cares if he is King.  He put Absalom’s general Amasa in charge of hunting Sheba… and Amasa took longer than needed to gather the troops.

Is Amasa disloyal?  I mean, politically putting the last rebel’s general in charge of hunting the next rebel… it makes no sense.  It was done because of grief, David for his son.

Joab takes matters into his own hand and kills Amasa, as he did his brother and Absalom. He is politically effective, ambitious, typical of a person in his position.

The rebellion is resolved without too much bloodshed because a wise woman in the town where Shea is hiding out bargains… save the town we’ll give you sheba.  Women so often have the practical, sensible role to play in this book!

Anyway, its business as usual, David stays being king but his affairs are a mess.  And its a business chapter, from a spiritual perspective, its just a working out of the human-ness and decline that Nathan the prophet declared would be David’s lot for his sin.

Maybe I’m viewing it through the lens of tiredness. Its the end of the year, the weather is hot, unpleasantly so, I just want to be on holidays.

2 Samuel 18

OK its all about how David reacts.

There is a battle, David wants to ride with them, but the grizzled, wiley general Joab says no, and strategically he has to agree, he’s too valuable a chess piece. But he asks them to be merciful to Absalom, his usurper son

The battle is in a forest, unfocussed, dangerous – 20,000 men die, “more claimed by the forest than the sword.”

And it works out that Absalom could easily have been spared, Joab had a clear choice.  But like a proper military man, he finishes him, finishes the bloodshed and the battle.  I think I know why he didn’t want David on the battlefield.

They run with news to David.  Joab carefully picks who will take the news.  We wince.

2 Samuel has hung off three decisive battles, the defeat of Saul, the end of the civil war that unified Israel, and now the defeat of the impatient heir.  The last two times, David loved his enemies so much that he killed the jubilant messenger in a rage.  Now his son is dead, Joab knows it, we know it.

The running of men to tell David is played out with considerable suspense.  But its a misdirect. David doesn’t kill anyone this time – he simply cries, he wails for his son.

The useless son who turned the people against him, who wasted his leadership skills and charisma undermining David and now contributing to the slaughter of many countrymen.

“If only I could have died in your place! Absalom, my son, my son!”

Love.

I pray for my family every day. They aren’t as bad as Absalom, but they aren’t always that great either.  My parents loved me too despite many faults, til the day they died.  This is a picture of the love of God, which David has learned at such a deep level. Crying over the one sheep who is lost.

David is a great leader, he’s been a relentless and mighty warrior, his battle will seemingly never end, as the prophet declared, for his sin. He’s the classic bold leader who always seems to win because he’s never afraid of losing. But inside he’s still that boy tending sheep, singing.  Whatever in him that ever cared about the politics is gone. The lord is his shepherd.

1 Samuel 29

Holiday in Philistia. 

David, sick of being hunted by mad jealous Saul, has been hiding out in the enemy country. The narrative is disturbingly lacking in editorial comment. I don’t know what it really means. But he seems to be on holiday from God, and from the expectations of being god’s anointed.

The inevitable comes and he’s called upon to fight his own people. Will he? He says so. He and the philistine king exchange all sorts of statements of trust and affection. 

We know from the last chapter though, that he has been lying to the king about how much of a traitor to Israel he’s really been. The philistines generals don’t buy it for a second. Slaughter requires quite some commitment, their instincts are good I think.. He is sent home.

The narrative doesn’t say it’s divine intervention, but I reckon it is. He must have been relieved to avoid that dilemma. The former shepherd seems like a lost sheep. God’s plan has come to a stand still. 

I love that my new church is a doing church. After the service on Sunday, we wrapped parcels for the homeless and poor people they regularly minister to . They preached on the great commission, Jesus last words to his disciples. After all they’ve been through, Jesus says “therefore, go…” …and do something. 

What should I do? I feel a bit like I’m living out my life in enemy territory, not really god’s, not really not god’s? Lying a bit to both.

Genesis 25

Abraham’s death. We are in the part of genesis that is arranged as a series of patriarchal histories, linked by genaologies.

Now we are onto stories about Isaac, stating with his sons Jacob and Isaac.

This is an example of a strange biblical theme I think of as “the one who comes after”. Rather like Jesus and John the baptist, there is a common pattern of the second one getting God’s blessing.

Starting a new week, work feels complicated almost for the first time. Let me knock some long standing priorities over so I can get some clear thinking space. Can’t seem to settle Christmas either.

So we are introduced to a complex character, Jacob. He is a thinker and a plotter, in contrast to simple Esau, who sells his birthright for a bowl of soup. It’s amazing that he did this and amazing that Jacob would ask.

The internet being what it is, when you start to Google background to this striking story, you get a bunch of recipes for the soup!

Jacob is a good example of a flawed biblical character.  By the time you have finished the first few books of the bible, I recall, you wonder how it ever got the epithet “good”.

Genesis 3

Now Adam and eve. This really isn’t a creation story.

Prayer: so tired today. Remember my sinful state, claim forgiveness and move on.

The story has so many strange elements. An evil talking snake. The sense of inevitability, given that they have free will to reject gods word. And I recall as a kid wondering why knowing good and evil was a bad thing.

There is a great banal accuracy in the nature of the temptation however. Did god really say that? Does God really want the best for you or is he just trying to stop you from being cool and experiencing everything? You know better than god! It’s so boringly familiar.

It’s not an outright lie about the fruit. It does change their perception, or at least the rebellion against God does. They realise they are naked and clothe themselves. They have shame. I suppose if you make yourself God you make yourself prone to massive insecurity, because you aren’t.

There is an element of “what just happened?” for me. So much is packed in such a simple story. It’s something the bible will do a lot.

Read it again today. Brain hurts God, just don’t get it. I mean I get the things you would be told to get in a sermon: our rebellion, separation of humans from God. But it’s such an odd way to tell it.

The two fruit trees, the garden around which god walks like an earthly being (though Adam becomes the symbol of a failed messiah). The agency of the snake to put tempting thoughts into their brain.

Though as an aside I do really like the chain of command blame game… It wasn’t me it was the woman, it wasn’t me it was the snake. That’s so human, anyone trying to build a case for gender flaws on this has descended to the same primary school play ground level of argument. God dismisses it as any tired parent would… You can all be cursed!

Then there is the tree of life. It’s like god has the antidote, but he won’t give it to them. And the question of why the trees are there in the first place. I suppose if you create a sentient creature, capable of free will, you only demonstrate that capacity by showing it can make bad choices, and can indeed be aware of and consider bad choices. So the tree and the serpent are concrete external representations of the capacities that make us human, free will. Perhaps it could have been more literally told as an Ingmar Bergman type psycho drama. But no one would have watched.

It is palpably sad. Third chapter in and we have tragedy, loss of innocence, and curses. Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Reading again the litany of nastiness Australia has done to assylum seekers today, the truth of the fall, of evil is to easy to see. Christianity is still the best explanation I have come across for the world I know. And the most hopeful. But how much doubt must this chapter have been responsible for over the years?

So to summarise and move on:

– we have an ideal of perfect relationship of God and man, a garden of plenty where we and god walk about as equals, we are not ashamed in his presence.
– a very real and recognisable temptation and disobedience, our nature demonstrated in a narrative
– the overwhelming sadness of separation and difficulty entering the world.

I still feel that temptation, shame, sadness every day. I suspect even people who refuse to believe in God feel it. It’s human nature.

In both of these creation stories, I feel the immediacy. The “days” creation was like birth, like everyone’s creation, and the Adam and eve creation was like first love, the promise of perfection that can’t be sustained because of human nature. The honeymoon is over. It’s like the stories take everyone’s birth and everyone’s first live and document those genus in poignant narratives that show us truths about God as creator and us as fallen creation.