Habakkuk overview

A pretty classic human to God interaction here. Habakkuk is a prophet, so the conversation is actually a revelation of God to him for the benefit of the nation of Israel, and by extension the entire family of believers through the ages.

Habakkuk asks God about evil – God mentions that the present evil will soon be swallowed up by a larger evil, Babylon. So Habakkuk asks God how seemingly using evil to judge evil could be consistent with Yaweh’s holy character.

God reveals that evil matters so deeply, more deeply than Habukkuk can imagine, and justice will come.

Habukkuk accepts and believes, singing a song of praise to the victory that will come and undertaking to rejoice through the hard times that precede it.

As simple as this is, it says that our faith requires us to let God pull down the shutters on a host of complex questions about why there is evil, and how holiness can come through evil. Jesus would answer that to an extent, but there’s no denying that big questions do remain for believers. God tells us here to substitute faith for further enquiry about that.

And Habukkuk’s response, to trust and to praise God whatever befalls us, is easier said than done. St Paul puts it that Christians are to appear like fools to their culture. Its irrational.

That said, I was contemplating the other day the well researched default to optimism of human minds. A normal psychology ignores the balance of evidence to remain positive. To realistically appraise the facts of life and live in existential angst indicates a statistically abnormal psychology.

I wondered if there is an innate sense of God programmed into that response. The response that has parents say to children, when facing death and the depths of disaster “its going to be alright”.

Reading this book I was relieved and reminded that my christian faith is still the most persuasive option going, and I feel that God has revealed himself to me.

Despite misgivings in the moment sometimes (how often have I been bleak about my career/family’s future/the world in these pages?) … despite all that, I have no trouble believing in the Father, the mighty Lord of creation, the sacrificial love and grace given to me through the Son and the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit. It’s going to be alright.

1 Habakkuk complains about the evil around him. When God responds that Babylon will fix it, H. asks God to account for how his character of holiness is compatible with the cycle of evil

2 God promises justice – no evil will go unpunished, that he is more aware than any of the consequences of evil in creation

3 H. responds to this revelation with a song of praise to a victorious God, before whom mountains quake, and says that no matter how bad things get, he will praise God

Hosea 5

I’ve stumbled in writing about this chapter, which describes god’s judgement like a lion attack. There’s no where to hide from god’s judgement.

The realisation is sinking in that there is no avoiding this pandemic. I should diarise my journey through this dramatic moment in world history. For many, it is judgement day, timewise… Their time is up.

It’s a lot to process. I’m thankful that daisy is coming home from her holiday in Japan, world travel is going down to a trickle.

I’ve started the three month contract at work. The working conditions in my new team are good, positive vibe. It might be a hard time for job searching, with business shrinking all over. Well see what comes, it is the least of my worries right now.

Preserve us Father through this crisis. I keep thinking about vulnerable people I love, keep them safe.

Show us how to care for one another, increase our thoughtfulness and compassion, it’s easy to become self focussed during times of upheaval.

Reassure me of your love, father God.

Ezekiel 15

An analogy for how little use Israel is to God. Unlike a tree, a vine is no use for wood. The wood of a vine is all weak, thin and twisty. It is useless dead.

Vines have to be alive, producing, connected to the sources of life.

So with us.

Frail as summer’s flower we flourish,
Blows the wind and it is gone;
But while mortals rise and perish
God endures unchanging on

We can decouple from God and not notice the change straight away, like cut flowers.

I pray for those I know who want to decouple from God. Some are very close to me and I love them very much.

Ezekiel 5

Another sign / street theatre symbolising destruction. This was directly after the strange year-long seige-play in the last chapter.

Ezekiel cut off his hair and burned it or threw it to the winds. He divided it into thirds – symbolising those destroyed in Jerusalem, around the city or those scattered to exile.

God compared what will happen to the people as ‘shaving’, hence the hair. He prophesied that within the city walls parents would eat children and children would eat parents, a vivid glimpse of how desperate and grim it would be.

This evil, done by evil people, God characterises as judgement. Part of his plan. It’s very hard too take, Lord.

The Bible, give or take, is the story of ‘people find God’ (up to Solomon), ‘people lose God’ (rest of OT) people find God. (NT). Like a romance novel.

‘People lose God’ is very long, about 20 books.

Since Genesis I’ve been toying with the idea that rebellion is an inherent part of any creation that includes autonomy, just as adolescence is part of growing up. Leaving the father and mother.

It will be interesting to see how AI pans out – will rebellion be a step? If so 1000 B-movie script writers will be lining up to say ‘I told you so’.

Perhaps we have the capacity for evil as part of our creation.

Judgement is very efficient… Rather like creation being self sustaining and replenishing, evil is self-punishing, by other evil.

God’s revelation to us of himself is both complete in every moment and progressive. Inside time and outside it.

The heavens tell the glory of God. All you need to know. So do Paul’s epistles, in a more fiddly way.

Rahab welcomed the spies to Jericho. In that moment was the gospel. The prophets and the poets witnessed the destruction of everything they knew, but though that awful history the ‘new thing’ was revealed: the god of all nations, who is the sacrifice, who lives in us, who is love. Evil not only punishes itself, but ultimately destroys itself through the transformations it can force our hearts to have to make.

So I do believe it is in God’s hands, in ways too marvelous for me to understand, as lame as that sounds. He’s got this.

Psalm 149

This psalm of praise has a sharp end, calling for the praise to be a double edged sword in their hands, carrying out vengence on other nations, binding their Kings and shackling their nobles, carrying out a sentence that has been pronounced on them.

There’s bits missing here (which nations? what sentence?). These can be filled in by the exile and the prophets.

Probably Babylon is the nation they are most likely thinking of, who sacked Jerusalem and exiled Israel, and the sentence is probably some version of the prophesy that the exile would end after 70 years, as it did, when the Persian Empire defeated Babylon and freed the people.

What’s more, singing the song in its original context: praising while captive, it probably wasn’t a good survival strategy to be more specific. It’s probably deliberately vague.

It’s a salvation psalm. You have the people rejoicing in God, God delighting in them, and them anticipating his salvation.

And I do long for the Kings of the nations to be fettered. To give Kings and princes their due, I suppose someone’s got to do it. But it is more common than not that the power makes them compromised and disappointing figures, even the ones who don’t kill the kids and drive you from your homeland.

I just watched the trailer for Tom Hanks’ movie about Mr Rogers. He was a Presbyterian minister, and his kids show about being a neighbour was squarely based a biblical inspiration for his life mission.

Hollywood aren’t fools, they know how this portrait of a deeply civil and gentle man will play against a national – maybe international – discourse that is descending into crude name calling, simplistic populism and dark forces like racism.

I knew I was being co-opted, but the trailer made me cry, anyway.

May our praise be a double edged sword.

Psalm 102

The triumph of trust in God over your personal circumstances. It will all work out.

It’s personal story but also a metaphor.

The first half of the psalm details the suffering of the author, who is broken, reviled and will have a short life.

I found the metaphor where he compares himself to a single bird on a roof the most affecting. No help, exposed, vulnerable.

Half way through the Palm he starts factoring god into it, drawing comfort from knowing that time will extend, that God was before and will be after, that generations will flourish.

Also that god’s reign will extend. He will rise and show compassion to Zion.

It’s an exile Psalm, so the broken state of the author reflects their smashed nation. But he he has trust that God will restore Jerusalem, which he did. And further that all nations and rulers will revere God, which via Jesus and Christianity also happened.

He looks forward to his personal narrative of misery being transformed, becoming part of the story of god’s glorious salvation and rescue, which he is.

God laid the foundations of the earth, and is the solid thing that will remain. His compassion, hearing our groans, his releasing us from the condemnation of death, those are the lasting things.

From lonely bird on a rooftop to participant in the universe’s greatest victory.

I’ve woken up a bit stressed about life and work. There’s a few more loose ends than I can keep in my mind at one time, so that they dance from one to the other worrisome thing I mustn’t forget. This is an encouragement.

I know more of the bigger picture than this Psalmist did, what a great example of trust. God is glorious, my problems could even get a lot worse and still not really matter. It will all work out.

Job 28

A stand alone poem about wisdom. No one is quite sure if it’s Job’s or the narrators voice. It’s one of the passages that instantly conjures up an anthem I sang as a choirboy, though listening back to it theres a reason I can never remember more than the opening and closing sections, they’re the catchiest bits.

It starts relating about what man finds precious, and the lengths he goes to to obtain it: gold, silver, precious stones.

Hidden in obscure places, yet man finds the places and uses all his energy and ingenuity to extract these things.

Yet nowhere in earth is wisdom found, and it is of greater value than all the precious wealth we mine.

Death and destruction have heard a rumour of wisdom… Maybe this is a hint at the silver lining in what Job has been through, and validates his position of being more authoritative than his friends because he has less certainty, is more aware of how much we don’t know.

God knows where it is and what it is. It was in the beginning, and part of the creative process. This he says to us: wisdom is to fear the Lord and to depart from evil.

Maybe this is the most basic revelation to man, knowable without the specifics of the light of Christ, or the salvation stories of Israel. Any human is capable of rejecting or acknowledging their innate awareness of God, and moving away from their evil urges.

I’m not turning this into a universalist creed. If you are being presented with committing to Jesus’claim to be God’s son and you choose instead to believe in a God of your own making and entirely conveniently defined according to your preferences, at a certain point you are rejecting the revelation and the promptings of the spirit.

And if wisdom includes departing from evil, it implicitly accepts original sin, that evil is in us all.

What is this? I think I need help. This is the most precious thing anywhere. But how does it relate to the rest of my belief system? Where is Jesus? Where is Jehovah?

Sheesh! Read the commentary, not much help.

I think I’ll hold that thought. I’m very tired after a long weekend and much to think about. Day off tomorrow on lieu of weekend. Unscramble brain.

Job 27

I am not that guy.

Job’s final words to his friends cycle back to the point that more is needed.

Job agrees with all the terrible things his friends say will happen to those who defy God. Things like happened to him: lose the things they loved and be thrown from God’s presence. But he is not that guy.

He loves God and is assured of his acceptability to God – as we have been in the set up in chapter one. Job will never be convinced otherwise, as any believer would not.

So missing pieces are needed to fill in the picture of God’s justice, his love, his salvation.

After the raucous rally last night to gee up the salvation army someone said ‘but where is Jesus?’ Well he’s in there. The oft repeated vision I gladly signed up for is about ‘transforming Australia one life at a time with the love of Jesus’.

But there was also a fair degree of cultural tub thumping in the mix, and also a lot more talk of of justice and salvation. Stories of transformation from the lips of people around the nation, hitherto operating in parallel, now to be administered as one.

And it’s confronting when they announce they are releasing X million dollars to set up X number of new churches. Is that how God’s kingdom works?

The first evening session was quite self deprecating in a way: we partner, we fit in around others. Then yesterday was more ‘we’re going to win the church contest!’ Rah, rah’.

The Salvation army is a bit like a piece of performance art. There is an element of instinct, stuff just happens and the meaning gets unpacked in real time. A series of iterative actions rather than the result of long reflection. Not the way I’m accustomed to a church operating. Not saying it’s wrong necessarily, but makes me think.

Apt I think, to start talking about the search for God’s wisdom.

Job 19

The skin of my teeth.

I was with my brother at a rousing performance of Macbeth yesterday that emphasised its qualities as popular entertainment.

The are similarities with Job. Their literary quality and the number of phrases and ideas coined so perfectly that they have stayed in common usage. This chapter, where job rebukes Bildad and friends for adding to his sufferings, and urges them to examine their own lives, is the source of the phrase ‘by the skin of my teeth’.

It comes during a very Shakespearean (or was Shakespeare Jobsian?) extended metaphor about skin and flesh. God has made him skin and bones, he’s survived by the skin of his teeth, now his friends are attacking his flesh as God has, but he has the consolation that he will see God in the flesh.

My brother and I discussed the book of job, as brothers will, and he mentioned the amazing ‘I know that my redeemer lives’ verse. Talk about a spoiler alert… It’s in today’s chapter, flowing directly after the passage I’ve just described.

And it still made my hair stand up. This startling messianic revelation. ‘I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!

Why suffering? Suffering is the amazing mysterious ingredient by which God brings love with justice to the world. It has thrown Job into hope in the living God in ways his friends could not understand. God’s suffering in Christ absorbs all suffering. Job knows his will pass and his flesh will see God his redeemer.

How is that here, in this book? Its all so much to process. Prayers of praise and thanks, I think.

Psalm 66

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!

A psalm about God’s salvation.

It makes you realise God was always preparing the world for Jesus being his salvation plan. Jesus isn’t in this Psalm, but he fits in like a light bulb in a socket.

It talks about global, national and personal salvation. It’s all to be praised.

So it tells the whole earth to shout for joy, praise God, see his wonderful deeds.

The deeds are what he’s done for Israel, the exodus.

Again it says all nations should praise God because he kept their (the Jews) feet from slipping, refined them by fire, bought them from prison into abundance.

God wasn’t just saving the Jews, he was showing the world what a saving God looks like, and showing where salvation would come from and how it works.

Then the writer tells of his own salvation, by offering sacrifices in the temple, and fulfilling his vows. It is an example for all those who fear the Lord, who don’t cherish sin in their heart. God will not withhold his love.

The message from Christians to Jewish people is flipped these days, the light has come And we’re saying to Jewish people, ‘come see the mighty works of his salvation’.

But there are weird hints in Romans and elsewhere that God’s plan for the nation of the chosen people are not over, and I mean, its all Jehovah. After reading the old testament for a few years straight now, I feel so close to Jewish people, and this the day after a horrific antisemitic massacre in the US.

Antisemitism is on the rise again, particularly in the US. They are claiming it is the worst attack on Jewish people ever on US soil.  And in the year leading up to the attack, antisemitic incidents are up 57% I read on the weekend.

Wow, I think I’ve been in shock, not letting it sink in. But the thought of that while reading the psalm is like being thrown into trauma.

It is a horrible dark cast over the joy of this Psalm. Though there is pain in there already. ‘you let people ride over our heads, we went through fire and water’.

And I pray for God’s abundance, his mercy on those faithful Jewish people that were senselessly shot at a baby naming ceremony.

We told about what our witness should be in the Bible, how we are to live our lives. We are to live the gospel of Christ, we are to be prepared to give an account of what Christ has done for us, just as the writer here asks the whole earth to hear the promise of saving love he knows he has from the sacrifices in the temple.

Who’s in who’s out of heaven, of God’s eternal grace? Saved by the gospel I’m to live? I have absolutely no idea, and I don’t think I’m meant to.

I skimmed Paul’s discussion of Jews and Gentiles in Romans.  There is an extended metaphor of olive tree branches being cut, new ones grafted on and then old ones re-grafted, while some are never cut. That leads to: ‘for God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all’  after which he concludes ‘how inscrutable are God’s judgments and how unsearchable his ways’. Indeed.

I trust that God’s salvation will be just, full of grace, loving and abundant. That is the God this Jewish writer wants the whole earth to shout for joy at here, and I’m convinced. Though the water, through the fire. Through the most ghastly hate, horror and pain imaginable.