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.

 

Genesis 44

Joseph continues to seriously punk his brothers, engineering a false accusation of theft to justify demanding that Benjamin, his only full brother, stay in Egypt as his slave and not return to his homeland and father.

Enough already, this has been going on for chapters. What is going on? 

Judah’s response answers, I think. He offers and impassioned and brave defense talking about how loved the youngest brother is, how it would break their fathers heart… He even mentions the other brother who “died” IE: Joseph.

He offers himself in substitute as slave.

Back in chapter 38, the brothers as a group came up with the plan to kill Joseph. 

Reuben softened the plan by suggesting they put him down a well (the word used in my translation was”cistern”. I hope it was a well). 

It was Judah who came up with the suggestion of selling him into slavery. He said at the time it would prevent his blood being on their shoulders.

The summary of Joseph’s fate is”he died” however. And now Judah is offering to sell himself into slavery to avoid that fate for another younger, loved, brother.

He lived though the silent shame of their father’s grief over Joseph. 

He came face to face with his own callousness and hypocrisy over the birth of his own son to Tamar, who had to trick him by posing as a prostitute to conceive the heir.

He made a solemn vow to his father to protect Benjamin on the journey to Egypt to get food.

This is a man with a lot of bad mistakes behind him, repentant, pleading to offer his liberty for anothers.

That’s what Joseph is about. That’s what he has drawn out. Time for the reveal, I think.

Amos 3

The Israelites are deeply complacent.

The first section of this chapter is essentially saying “you better believe the prophets”. It uses a series of analogies that are similar to “where there is smoke there’s fire”, ie the prophets don’t wander about saying “repent”‘ just for the heck of it.

Because the they are close to God, because Israel is gods chosen, they are gods way of giving Israel a chance and a warning that their complacency needs to end.

It seems this is written at a time when Israel was relatively powerful and prosperous, and had expanded into neighbouring countries. But they have assimilated too much, and the oppression and luxury of the neighbours was sapping their spiritual strength. So judgement is coming on their neighbours and on them.

It’s not hard to draw a comparison to gods people today, is we over assimilate into the world. This is an elaboration of the point made in the first two chapters, that God doesn’t speak loudly though anaemic believers. 

It’s all very well to gather in our churches and talk about the urgency for the unsaved. But when we are out amount them, how distinctive are we? How saved do we behave?

Jonah 3

What is Jonah about? Jonah’s character is strange. It seems to be more about God, which is appropriate, given this is the Bible. Certainly the extraordinary repentance of Nineveh seems a bit tossed off.

Accepting that he must proclaim gods message Jonah does the crazy prophet thing… walking though town and shouting that the end is nigh. And it works, big time.

They all repent, the king makes a proclamation telling everyone to ask God for forgiveness, they do and God forgives them.

This is the capital of Assyria. The ruins are still there today, right outside Mosul in Iraq. The Assyrians were merciless in their treatment of the Hebrews. Jonah may even have witnessed atrocities at their hands, who knows.

And they were not gods people. The whole self definition of the Hebrews was that they were the ones god chose. It is an extreme case of love your enemies.

It makes sense of why Jonah ran when God told him to bring a chance of avoiding destruction to them. He wanted them destroyed. His sense of justice was affronted. Not them lord, they deserve your wrath not your mercy.

Being told to love his enemies, he ran. Jonah’s challenge was to love gods mercy, not just his justice.

The challenge for me is as much to remember here how important gods justice is. I’m your classic western liberal slacktivist who wouldn’t really mind if everyone had a second chance. But to people to whom life has been a lot less fair, and much more harsh, gods justice is more precious.

It is certainly an example of the topsy turvy calculations of grace.

I praise you father for your grace.

Nehemiah 13

The freeze frame blurs. Nehemiah goes away for a while and then returns to find things have fallen apart. Everything has reverted along the lines of pragmatic greed, treating the worship of the unseen deity as redundant.

The tithing system that supported full time temple workers failed, so they were back in the fields. Commerce did not cease for the Sabbath. People intermarried with non Israelites, children lost the culture. Time, money and romance: the battlegrounds of distraction from God.

This note of failure to end, this imperfection, I’ve been looking for it.  You will never get a better christian leader than Nehemiah. He had a great task that inspired the people, but in the end the people reverted to type.

He uses his authority and leadership to fix the problems he finds. His refrain:

  • “Remember me for this, my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its services”
  • Remember me for this also, my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love.
  • “Remember me with favour, my God.”

Effectively “I did my best, I did the right thing”. He knows he can only account to God for his own behaviour, he can’t save the world.

So the book that has been relentlessly positive and about the God’s people returning to him with deep joy and obedience ends with the search for lasting salvation still active. And the reputation of the OT of raising more questions than it answers is in tact. Christ is the answer.

 

 

 

Nehemiah 9

The celebrations of the return to Jerusalem of exiles continues with a vast confession prayer. Part of it is remembering god’s goodness, and many significant moments in Israel’s history are recited. Then the related failure of the people to obey God, and his constant mercy.

They are aware that God has blessed them even in exile, and are clear that they are to blame for it by ignoring and killing the prophets. They do bring the fact that the city is still under foreign rule to him, and set the stage for a deal, a promise that will be made in chapter 10.

The history of Israel is one of God’s mercy and their failure.

I am feeling depressed at the moment, a bit stuck on the treadmill, sad about church because I am disappointed with our minister at the moment. Not really connecting with this right now, but I shall carry on in faith and pray for mercy.

Daniel 4

I had forgotten this story, I used to have it as an arch book “the braggy king of Babylon”

We’ve now had four chapters of God speaking to the king. What it takes for people to hear God!  This time god takes his identity, sending him mad. Then returned it.

Startlingly the first part of the chapter is written by the king, and full of praise to God. He has heard gods voice.

I understand why the dream Daniel interpreted in chapter 2 was so bland. He has the credentials now to tell the king his identity will be stripped and not have the king kill him.

God’s messages to the king have been ever more dramatic… You would think any one would be changed by the furnace miracle in the last chapter. But god has to personally show him who is boss.

And for the Jews in exile it is schadenfreude with a kick back. If they are tempted to cheer god’s demonstration of power over the conquering king, they should be realising that they are being spoken to through adversity as well.

Luke 15

They seem to have put the chapter divisions around the themes in Luke’s reports of Jesus teaching. We’ve had two scary ones and now a wonderful one.

13 was about the stark choice of repenting or facing terrible consequences, like finding the door shut on you, the urgency of repenting… Perhaps this year is the one when the unfruitful tree will be cut down.

Then 14 was teaching about what repenting involves.. Everything. Status, family, your life, your sense of self.. You need to be willing to let it all go.

Now 15 is about the celebration, the love that awaits those who repent, how no sin is too bad, how that just makes the celebration and love greater. And the passionate concern good has for lost souls. A counterbalance to the somewhat coldly pragmatic illustration of the farmer deciding which year to cut the fruitless tree down, now God is compared to someone sweeping and checking every corner of the house for a lost coin, the shepherd risking all for the missing sheep, and carrying it home on his shoulders.. Lovely detail.