Hosea 12

A bit of a confusing chapter as Israel, the nation, is personified (“he” did this or that) and referred to metaphorically as Jacob and Ephraim. Too many names!

It’s tracing the history of Israel to give an ultimately hopeful message, but one that includes due punishment for their deceit, and requires their repentance.

They are compared to Jacob, who did always strike me as a morally ambiguous patriarch. There is the story of him cheating Esau out of his inheritance. And his favouritism of Joseph (…Or was it his prophetic awareness of Joseph’s significance?).

And Jacob was the reason Israel wound up in Egypt in the first place, before Moses led them out.

There are abiding images of him wrestling all night with the angel of God, and having the vision of the staircase that led to God, and there receiving promises of blessings.

Israel in Hosea’s time can also be a blessed deceiver, but only by being sent away, repenting and being bought back, a pattern built into the founding of their nation. It’s unfair, from a few different perspectives, but so is all grace.

Never beyond the reach of grace, always a good time to repent.

Amen to that, as I enter day whatever of lockdown. Daisy out of quarantine today. She can leave her room properly now.

Ezekiel 23

A word from God that is a surprisingly vulgar and explicit analogy of Samaria and Jerusalem and prostitutes. Have no illusion, God understands all about the dynamics and details of that activity.

Jerusalem is worse because it courted more nations, who are depicted as the clients. So both accommodated the Assyrians, but Jerusalem also turned to the Chaldeans, Babylonians, and back to the Egyptians they came from.

These were all alliances. So it set me thinking about alliances as well as the gravity of sin. It’s who and how they got in bed with…

In message after message to the forgotten Israelites in Babylon, God is desperately saying he hasn’t abandoned them, they abandoned him. He’s allowing this out of desperation as the only way he can reach them.

Lust has a context in love, but can also be separate. God is rejecting our claim to be satisfied in a loveless life.

God wants us to respond.

From the time the Israelites were in the desert, he doesn’t force any of them to love him. He’s showing them the consequences of rejecting him while they can still choose.

The response can be shown in pretty much anything. Wordlessly touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak.

2 Chronicles 33

King Manasseh, the longest reigning (55 years) and one of the worst Kings. Apparently he sacrificed children. He converted the temple to worship of the stars, which was the Assyrian religion.

Also king Amon, too boring to mention.

I wondered why the worship of other Gods keeps coming back, what is the attraction? Some suggest it might have been economic, to encourage trade deals.

Certainly that’s how it seemed in Solomon’s time, he’d marry to make an alliance and then build an altar for the wife’s religion. That’s how Molech the child sacrifice God got on the scene.

A historian suggested that Mannaseh’s reign was economically quite prosperous, he had a better foreign policy than Hezekiah. Of course the Bible is mostly interested in his religious impact.

This bio includes his repentance, not mentioned in Kings.

There is an apocryphal “prayer of Mannasah” which is a really beautiful prayer. They have an ancient scrap from the dead sea scrolls and a later Greek version, but no complete consistent one, so it didn’t make the cut in our Bible version.

Even if it’s just a poet imagining what he would have said, rather than his actual prayer, it certainly catches an awareness of how much God can forgive;

I am not worthy to look up and see the height of heaven because of the multitude of my iniquities.
I am weighted down with many an iron fetter, so that I am rejected because of my sins, and I have no relief;
for I have provoked your wrath and have done what is evil in your sight,
setting up abominations and multiplying offences.
And now I bend the knee of my heart,
imploring you for your kindness...”

It only came later in his life, after he caused the streets to run red with the blood of prophets and their followers. But God can forgive much!

That is two Kings in a row who have had repentance in their story. It’s a powerful, wonderful move that makes a tangible difference in this world.

The transformation it can make in people makes you believe, and want to believe, in God. People find it confronting to be told to repent, it’s like a bad Christan cliche, but to witness it in others is very convincing and attractive.

In anticipation, you can worry it will make you seem weak, or be a needlessly unpleasant airing of your worst moments, which is how the church got in such a pickle.

Our egos mean we kid ourselves we get away with a lot more than we actually do. By the time we repent, the need for it is often bleeding obvious to those around us.

And from the outside, it generally seems strong, because it marks you as a person of principle, honesty, fairness and honour.

But above all it’s healing, of relationships and of self.

All of my family are in pain for different reasons at the moment, is the weekend, praying we have some moment of grace.

2 Chronicles 30

Reunification done right. This is a moving story.

Through the book there have been several attempts to reunify the nation of Israel since they split after Solomon. But they were all political or military attempts to regain the earthly glory of that time.

Now, with the northern kingdom under siege by Assyria, with people already being carted away into exile, they unify spiritually, based on their shared beliefs.

All of Judah, and a rag tag bunch of people from the north who responded to Hezekiah’s invitation gathered in Jerusalem for Passover.

I loved how they didn’t quite do it right, wrong month, couldn’t do some of the prior cleansing, but they realised God is ultimately interested in the heart.

I visualise those church services in war movies like Mrs Miniver, singing hymns in the bombed out church, faith during threat and adversity.

And it unleashed such a joy in the people, together praising God’s saving grace in a way not seen since Solomon’s time, and praying for the safety of those already taken away, that they spontaneously extended it for another week.

The King delivered huge amounts of food, meat he could probably barely afford.

An abundant feast, a burst of pure celebration of God in the hardest of times.

Gather together in what we share, God’s love. Don’t panic, celebrate.

2 Chronicles 12

Solomon’s son king Rehoboam tries out not believing in God.

It is punished in literal terms, Egypt attacks and carries off most of Solomon’s treasure like his gold shields. It is punishment and lesson. The prophet comes and interprets the theological meaning.

Rehoboam repents before Jerusalem is taken, which saves the city. But God allows the Egyptian king to occupy them in some way, to teach them what the kingship of others is like.

So the treasure goes, and Rehoboam needs protection just to walk the streets.

The story of Israel’s Kings is quite simply the story of kingship in many ways. It applies to the choices we make as to who is king of our life.

Almost no one consistently surrenders their crown to God. Why do we find obedience to God so hard?

I also ask myself, reading this in a week where another massive report of church abuse of children has been released, ‘is the church’s decline a literal punishment for all is sexual sin?’

I mean, it’s a consequence of loss of trust even without divine intervention. So it’s a question of the theological overlay we place on events.

I suppose we’re constantly tempted to think ‘shit happens’, there is not a God who claims kingship of your life.

2 Chronicles 6

Ok I’ve been a bit cynical about the temple as a second best effort, a stage towards God’s full revelation of himself as a god who lives in our hearts, not in buildings.

But Solomon’s dedication prayer here is very impressive. He really gets it.

God is still out there, in the highest heavens, but the cloud of his presence shows that his name is also at the temple.

It’s a place for contact, for asking for forgiveness and mercy. Solomon has built the greatest house for God he can, but he knows it can’t contain him, he’s proud of the building no doubt, but knows it’s a place to be humble before God.

And he’s generous. I criticised him a few chapters ago for using a foreign slave labour force to build it. But he invites all people, all nations to share in God’s blessing, not at all exclusive.

If the Jews ever wanted to keep God to themselves, i think it would be now. They’ve been saved from slavery, given a land, nationhood, a holy city, they are top of the economic heap, wildly prosperous, and now they have a temple for the one true God.

But no, he sees it as a blessing to all nations, God is God of the whole earth.

The theology is very tied to earthly rewards. It’s easy to think that way when you are rich and healthy.

He imagines various scenarios, like famine, war, falling into captivity, sickness. He says that will happen because of sin, and tells them to direct their prayers to the temple, and if God hears he will fix it.

Well as things develop, for the rest of the old testament, this doesn’t work, and the poets, philosophers and prophets are left to develop and write a down an understanding of God that is less neat, that includes delayed reward and God sanctioned hardship.

It’s also deeper, more wonderful, bigger than this.

But Solomon really gets repentance. He gets that it all goes back to the need to acknowledge the evil and rebellion in our own hearts, that everyone is in the same boat before God on that score.

It’s a beautiful dedication prayer. It’s Monday and I’m pumped for the week.

How many more chapters before we start to slide downhill outside the comfort zone, where everything they have believed is challenged and lost?

2 Chronicles 3

Descriptions of the temple, emphasising its stupendous size, opulence and decoration.

I was touched again by the location of it, so featured in chronicles, on the site of David’s repentance for his error of pride in taking a census of the people.

The two great pillars at the entry are called Jakin and Boaz, names that mean “he establishes” and “in him is strength”.

I read the ultimate sequel to that moment just recently at the end of Jeremiah. It was dispassionately listing the plunder of Jerusalem by Babylon, the destruction of the temple, but got poignant when these two massive bronze pillars were melted down. Gone never to return.

Born of repentance, this glorious edifice existed to witness prophesy replacing monarchy, to point from mans glory to God’s glory, his king, his temple his splendor.

Jeremiah 13

Good for nothing.

God gets Jeremiah to act out a bit of theatre, putting on a noble priestly garment, a sash, which if he wore typical prophet attire would have apparently looked like wearing a cummerbund and a hessian sack. Quite a sight.

He went to the Euphrates, a long way, to the place the invasion would come from, and buried the sash.

Then he traveled back after a few months and dig it up. It was ruined, useless.

In my new job producing materials for churches, I find encouragement from God’s use of illustrative material. But the message is devastating.

They are good for nothing. From the chosen people to useless.

Comparisons go on to be drawn to drunks, ignorant and stupid. And the public humiliation of prostitutes.

All you can do is put it out there. You can’t force people to repent, Jeremiah should convince us of that.

But it’s also a good time to look at the hardness in my own heart. I’ve been struggling in a practical level with lollies and alcohol. I don’t have a huge problem, but do have a bit more of both than is good for me. How hard is self discipline!

Jeremiah 4

It’s the bleakest and most vivid picture of terror over the complete destruction of your society, of everything you know, that words can convey.

It’s cinematic leading the reader through a present tense eye witness description of the destruction.

Invading armies from the north are treated as synonymous with God’s wrath and judgment. It’s compared to a hot burning whirlwind.

There is too much imagery and poetry to describe in one entry per chapter. Apparently Charles Spurgeon peached a whole sermon on the image of evil thoughts being lodgers in our minds.

You see the futility of all institutions, army, king, priests and prophets. This even prompts a even a moment where he steps out from being God’s mouthpiece and accuses God of deceiving the people with promises of peace. His personal anguish is shot through it.

You see the people in makeup and finery now in terror.

It’s divided into 3: a call to repent, scenes of visceral chaos and judgement that echo genesis as a sort of anti creation, and a wail of mourning over the desolation.

It all stands in contrast to how society views my message, and how I view it. I need to brainstorm the content of the sign for our church. Hmm.

Isaiah 32

It must have been frustrating to be Isaiah, it must have been frustrating to listen to Isaiah.

The things he talks about here were true about the pattern Israel would suffer.

Some of the last Kings were the best, just before Jerusalem was destroyed, there were godly Kings, Hezekiah, Josiah.

But destruction came anyway. And the Israelites had to understand that it was all part of God’s plan to pour out his spirit. And that was better by far, and also that the destruction was deserved.

It’s a complex message. There will be good times,  but don’t get complacent because also the worst. But they will actually be good in ways you can barely understand.

What do you do with a message like that?

It’s still a message Christians struggle with. God has blessed is with good times, praise be. This disaster is God’s will.  God has healed me. He is in heaven now. How can God let bad things happen? No one laughs at God in a hospital.

I was starting to get a bit annoyed with Isaiah, but maybe I’m getting annoyed with God.

That’s why I read this I suppose, to understand.