Psalm 47

A jolly praise Psalm about God becoming king of all nations.

It starts with clapping: an international language, all beings praising.

It talks about God first choosing the Israelites, giving a special inheritance to the pride of Jacob.

The covenant with Abraham was to be a father to all nations. His grandson Jacob was the father of the 12 tribes, Israel’s is a story within the larger promise.

Then in this quick praise filled version of the larger story God ascends to his throne as king… Like Jesus actually did… Amid the shouts of joy of all nations, and trumpets. He reigns. All people gather. They praise, and praise some more.

It is the story of the Messiah, and our gentile ears should tingle (while we are clapping, shouting and praising) because he is the revelation of God to all of us.

I’ve been thinking about universalism in my old age, whether it’s possible everyone is saved. I don’t think that is probably true, but I feel less hard on people who do. I don’t think it makes a heap of practical difference to the life you lead or the message you preach.

It’s just a an awareness of this feeling of stories within stories, smaller blessings within larger ones. God is always managing our revelation.

Like the layers of creation stories, from being made in God’s image to the dishonest temptation to be like God by eating of the tree of Knowledge. What does that mean? If someone is an image of God but out of the garden, do you address them as being God’s? I face this problem of address regularly at work.

I’m contemplating that many more or many less people may be believers, or saved, than I would have thought. Which makes sense. I mean, how on earth would that be something I would know?

But you grow up thinking you do. You know, all Anglicans are in. Well, the evangelicals, the ones we know. Other protestants, good to go. I’m not intolerant.. as long as they believe something ( looking at you Uniting). Catholics pentecostals? Depends on the moment… Is this a conversation about theology or demographics?

For example, Abraham goes back 4000 years, but Aboriginals have lived here most likely 60000 years. What did they know of God those 56000 years? That’s a very lot of years. I’m totally with my brothers and sisters, when Captain Cook arrived, God was already here.

But equally, reading about the ‘chosen’ people in the old testament this past few years, the majority never seemed to have got it. Many spent a lot of time worshipping other Gods, or just being blatantly nominal Israelites who did religious duties, enjoyed the feasts, but behaved with total self interest, spiritually hollow. True believers always seems to have been a tiny subset.

We think the church is in decline, Australia doesn’t identify nearly as Christian as it did a generation ago. But I don’t think God is failing, perhaps nominalism is failing.

We meet each week in our sandstone cave in glebe point road, 70 of us in a population of 1000s. I don’t think God’s mission is a failure, I do what I feel led and taught to. I trust and obey.

St Paul’s image of us seeing through a glass darkly frees me from overthinking this. It’s an awareness that, yes we still don’t have the full story, but I have my story, and God is very happy to run with that.

I’m aware of my failings and challenges. I spend a lot of my time either boosting the salvation army or my beloved local church, or praying for and sharing life’s ups and downs with my family.

I share in this international vision of praise of a mighty God of love and justice, everyone’s King. But I don’t really have a clue how it literally plays out on that level, just an evolving sense of how it plays out in my little patch.

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Psalm 40

You did it before, you can do it again.

This is a much loved and analysed Psalm, so my take on it is about the size of a pinch of salt, but I was struck by the idea that it’s all explained by the last two words “don’t delay”

In fact the more I read of David’s Psalms the more convinced I am that the best of his considerable poetic skills is his endings.

They are like a trap being sprung. In the ultimate David Psalm you get excitement and discursiveness …he writes in a fever like Paul, piling on associations, the thread of his argument zigzagging via flights of spiritual grandeur.

But then at the end it comes sharply into focus. You see what his starting point was and the rest gets context. It all falls into place.

Here, again, he’s praying in a pickle. God hasn’t saved him yet, and if he doesn’t soon, there will be nothing to save. He makes it pretty clear that all that is in the ‘don’t delay’.

The thrust of his plea to God is, you’ve saved me before, you are God, time to save me again.

But this Psalm is like self talk, or that happy situation where just asking a question answers it in the positive.

Just bringing his emergency to God, remembering how God has saved him in the past, how great and how transformative God is – putting a new song in his mouth – how much he loves God, how much God loves him and has a special plan for him. How God’s saving nature has the whole Earth’s history and future in His strong hands, hands of love…

I’m sure once David prayed his prayer, prompted by urgent desperate problems, he was emboldened and courageous, confident that he would indeed be saved without delay, as am I today reading it.

By the end of the prayer the problems haven’t gone away, but the power of them has. They’ve been overwhelmed by this glimpse of heaven, by the true state of things. The ‘don’t delay’ still has an element of nervousness about the timing, but there is also I reckon a keen ‘let’s get on with it!’ confidence in there now too.

I come to it feeling very unworthy today, and having read this, very saved.

Psalm 31

It starts with David in one of the many tight spots he was in during his life and he prays, like people do when they are desperate.

He is out of options, he says if God won’t save him, its not going to happen: they are Jesus’ last words, ‘to you I commit my spirit’

God rescues him, and David recognises that is because God is the rock, solid; the fortress, safe, and because he does good. Not because David was good, because God was good.

That opening verse ‘deliver me in your righteousness’, read with Romans, sparked Martin Luther to be transformed by grace, sparked the Protestant church, apparently.

Luther considered that verse contradicted the church’s teaching that it was God’s holy, righteous nature that condemned us. No, it saves us.

So, rescued David goes on with life and expands that crisis perspective out to be a life attitude.

God remains the rock as you get old, grow weak, eyes fail, your influence fails and people forget about you, and start to plan for you not being around.

He recognises his all his times are in God’s hands just as he gave his spirit over to God in the moment all seemed lost.

The safe fortress of God is spacious, it’s full of good things, and promises shelter and abundance forever.

His moment of acute physical salvation intimately revealed God’s spiritual and eternal nature, of generous, unearned love safety and abundance. And that we are spiritual beings, more than the sum of our bodies.

It’s that simple but massive jump God has patiently been revealing the whole old testament: he doesn’t just save bodies, he saves souls, and they matter more.

He doesn’t just save like a mate lending a hand when you need it, saving is who God is. It’s the gospel in a Psalm.

Jeremiah quoted the phrase ‘terror on every side’ in ch 6 when Jerusalem was under siege, and twice in ch 20 when he was put in the stocks, and people obviously wanted him to fail – a phrase choice to evoke hope. Paul also quoted it, its a classic!

The response? Praise! This is David.

Praise God! What a great return to reading psalms. Yesterday I was quite stressed about my employment prospects and general situation. Less so today.

2 Chronicles 22

A chapter of intrigue. The next king is the youngest son, does not love God and rules just one year. It’s a story of false alliance between the North and South, that split after Solomon.

God is mentioned as judge in his death at the hands of an assassin.

His mum the princess from the evil northern kingdom, Israel, stages a northern takeover when he dies and kills everyone in the house of David.

The dead King’s sister manages to hide her nephew, the heir, as a commoner in the temple where he lives 6 years during his grandmother’s reign.

So the promise of the Messiah is barely hanging on though intrigue in a time of rampant evil. It’s Noah in the ark, Joseph in the pit, Moses in the bullrushes, all over again. It will be the baby in the manger.

God’s mighty saving power is sometimes in the smallest things.

1 Chronicles 6

The priests and musicians, what they did, where they lived, who they were.

They are the most complicated tribe, Levi, the priest tribe didn’t have a section of Israel but were scattered through.

It’s obviously very useful to have a record of this for reestablishing the temple and religious practice in Israel, which they were doing at the time this record was compiled.

A trend in the church has been to have full time music ministry people, it’s clearly not new.

I wondered what the local priests did. There wasn’t a network of temples, the was just the one. By Jesus time there was synagogues. It’s a whole history I just don’t know.

Jeremiah 39

Prophesy fulfilled – the siege of Jerusalem. Its a checklist of everything Jeremiah has been warning of.

Predictably the King and nobles run away, abandoning the people they refused to let Jeremiah tell to surrender. King Zedekiah’s last sight was his sons slaughtered, then blind he was taken to captivity, the Babylonians are typical game of thrones type conquerors.

King Jehoiakim had burned the Jeremiah’s scroll, the word of God, but God’s judgement burned the city.

And in a sweet end to the chapter, Jeremiah’s rescuer from the well he was left to die in, the ethiopian Ebed Melek is saved because of his faith. He was exceptionally brave to take on the King and all the nobles in pleading for Jeremiah, and God recognises it was the boldness of faith.

Isaiah spoke of God gathering the misfits, the unexpected, and here we’ve seen it.

The only person specifically named as saved, out of the end of the chosen people, is a gentile.

Isaiah 66

Choice of destiny

The end, the very end of the book is a vision of hell for the rebellious. The choice is to be humble, acknowledging God the creator and source of truth. Or not.

Building great edifices to God does not earn his favour…. I’ve already made the heaven and the earth, he says, I don’t need more.

False hypocritical religion generally makes things worse.  It may look like you are serving him with sacrifices and religious obedience, but if it is empty, you bring upon yourself the harshest judgement.

The bulk of the chapter consists of beautiful images of God’s kingdom.

Coming into being like childbirth in eden, easy and fast and without pain.

Where God comforts and jiggles you on his knee and carries you on his hip as only one who gave birth can, like everyone’s first image of God, a mother.

Where peace is like a river, broad, unstoppable and calm, with tributaries of all nations.

But shot through this is the choice – our time on earth has eternal significance. The wicked will suffer judgement. As Wham! would say: choose life.

 

Isaiah 61

It’s the passage that Jesus read in the synagogue when he staked his claim to be Messiah. The sermon got a definite reaction. They didn’t fall asleep, they tried to throw him off a cliff.

It’s a great promise that the Lord’s timing is on a cycle, it is a season, a year of favour. It ends with the blessing compared to blossoms pushing forth from mud.

It’s also political, or quasi so. Justice, release for the captives, Good news for the poor. A revolution in the sense of an upsetting of the existing order.

A theme here repeated from the last few chapters is the rebuilding of ancient ruins. That literally came true when the exiled Israelites returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the walls and temple.

NT Wright blew my mind a little this year when he described heaven as being still on earth, this earth, but remade to be perfect as it was in the time of Eden. Why not?

Revelation speaks of a new heaven and a new earth, for the former had passed away.

I really don’t know, they are all pictures. The promise is of truth and justice and love reigning eternally, as god intended creation to work.

It’s the evolution of the idea of Jubilee from the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. The idea that regularly, seasonally, all debts are cancelled, and justice, equality is bought about. Very anti-capitalist!

God’s eternal kingdom is the permanent year of Jubilee, the coming of Jesus was the arrival of the season. He is the means by which creation is fixed.

All so mind blowing, is a huge promise, one that is wonderful but also hard to envisage what will actually be like to experience.

God says “trust me”. Who else have I to trust?

Isaiah 59

Evil, judgement and a promised redeemer.

The evil is portrayed with spider web analogies, a web of lies, a bunch of baby eggs hatching more nasties. It describes people using the justice and political systems corruptly.

They are far from God and in darkness, groping at walls they are so blind, and howling like animals when things go wrong.

Isaiah is quite consistently one of the most Bolshie books. As in, evil is seen as government and abuse of wealth.

Then judgement is described as a scream of justice by God. And it is personalised as the poetic phrases pile on, so it comes into focus as a person.

Then the text breaks into prose to promise the Holy Spirit will be forever with Zion.

Zion which a couple of chapters ago was to include all nations and be a gathering of outcasts.

Hmm.

It’s certainly a powerful encouragement not to join the sliminess and self serving power games that are always on display in this world. God will reward the pure of heart in the long run.

And I feel this sort of survey of the final themes of Isaiah in its last chapters is reaching its mid point with the appearance of God’s salvation in personified form.

We’ve had, in:

  • 56 the salvation message extended to all nations,
  • 57 warning against idolatry,
  • 58 call to a life of servanthood,
  • 59 description of corruption & judgement by a redeemer who promises the holy spirit to Zion

Isaiah 53

This must surely be one of the most eloquent and beautiful descriptions of the heart of Christianity.

Lots of sheep metaphors, so affecting because sheep are so vulnerable.

This poetry links the old teaching about sacrifice for sin with the “new thing” Isaiah has started to describe. God has prepared Israel for this step by having them mindfully slaughter sacrificial sheep for generations. But the idea is still a huge leap.

To compare the mighty creator God we’ve met so far: the firey cloudy pillar guiding us through the wilderness, shaking mountains and carving his words on the rock, to a lamb; one being passively slaughtered, is almost incomprehensible.

The servant is beaten, whipped, his striped scars heal us.

Then killed. And in that paradox, the mightiest God submitting to humiliation and destruction, is my sin absorbed.

For we are also like sheep, wandering off, helpless, incapable of following instructions or caring for ourselves.

Such a complete and clear description of my beliefs, the years melt away.

Hundreds of years between Isaiah and Jesus, thousands of years between Jesus and me. All the scar tissue of my own 55 years, I am a new creation again. For me it requires no rationalisation, it is simply truth which has stood and will stand forever.

When I step back from the moment and realise what I am reading, I get a chill. The holy spirit, surely. These ancient writings, so beautiful, predicting Jesus so accurately and so meaningfully. Speaking right to my heart. Loving, saving. The voice of my God.