Exodus 5

Sometimes you have to admit you are in slavery.  

We are told to turn the other cheek, to cope. 

But if the truth is that your situation is a disaster that will destroy you, coping is dishonest, enabling a lie.

Moses makes everything much worse by confronting Pharaoh. He digs his heels in and makes life far worse, impossible, for the people. 

They hate Moses, he’s disillusioned by God. We understand why he was so unwilling to obey God’s command to speak for them.

But it’s only making real what was already there. The Israelites are in a dead end death trap. Appeasing their masters will just keep them there. 

This had to happen. In life things often have to get worse so they can get better.

It’s called faith. And praise be, God doesn’t really need it to save us. 

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.

Genesis 40

Joseph interprets other people’s dreams. It sets up his release from jail next chapter.

Again he is a truth teller, as he was with his own dreams. He accurately tells the cup bearer he will be freed and forgiven and; no fear or favour, tells the baker he will die.

These dreams are messages from God. It’s a mercy that these are other people’s dreams. It didn’t play so well when he told his brothers “I had a dream I was more important than all of you!” But these are real to the people who had them, troubling, and they want to know what they mean.

I need to be a truth teller. He had dreams, I have god’s word. Joseph would have had good reason to doubt that truth telling was a good policy. It landed him in jail in a foreign country. 

Even when his prediction came true, the cup bearer forgot him. He languishes in jail another 2 years, which must have seemed very long and would have tempted most people to doubt the life of faith had rewards.

I must speak the truth, particularly “in season” which I take as like other people’s dreams: speaking about people’s own issues when they are ready to hear. Stay faithful. 

I have an acquaintance who is dying. I am fearful of speaking the truth to her. Also I have things I want to say to my children. 

Ruth 4

Right, there is a commercial element to the custom that a widow like Naomi would be married of to the nearest relative. Her son or husband, not sure, had a small patch of land, so the benefit of marrying her would be getting the land which the relative would buy from her as a kind of dowry.

Boaz meets with the closest relative who is initially keen to get the land. But when he realises marrying Ruth might be in the bargain, he relinquishes his claim.

This seems to be from the risk of watering down his estate.The relative already has a wife and children it seems. So Ruth would be a polygamy of convenience. But If Ruth had children, they would battle his existing children from his first marriage for his estate, and he didn’t want that. So he’s happy to relinquish the land to avoid that mess.

Cue romantic ending! And now the reveal. Why is this charming and heartwarming story in the Bible? How does it advance god’s master plan for the salvation of mankind?

From the disaster period of the judges, where the covenant and blessings of God were squandered over and over by the increasingly nasty and corrupt Israelites, this beautiful seed was planted.

Ruth is the grandmother of king David. She has a son,  Obed who has a son, blah blah.

David is probably the means by which this story made it in. It contains a key fact that he, the line that would lead to Christ, is part gentile. In harry potter terms, he’s a mudblood. So this story of faith, kindness, loyalty and virtue set the stage for Israel’s greatest, most Christ like king, and starts a theme of salvation for all.

Ruth encountered the true God and that was it. She is perhaps the grandmother of us all, a believer, a child of grace.

Is this a prettied up version of grandma’s romance viewed though rose coloured glasses? Maybe, a bit, but considering the squalor that surrounds it in the last chapters of judges, it’s not like the Bible can’t face the ugly stuff. The fact remains that David’s grandmother was a widow from Moab, and there is an inherent story of tolerance and acceptance in that fact which supports a story like this.

Praise God for love, praise God for mercy to refugees from other countries, respect and dignity. Praise God for simple, absolute faith. That gives god material he can work with in ways we can’t imagine

Judges 19

I remember this chapter from reading it as a teenager. One of the most truly shocking chapters in the Bible. 

This time i see the pattern more. The decline that led here. Samson was the most faithless judge, ironically a man god made strong defined by his weaknesses.

Then the story of Dan, showing how deeply the Israelites had forgotten their nationhood and their religion.

This is rock bottom. The ultimate failure of the nation to live as god’s promised people.

A Levite travelling with his son and his sons wife/concubine chooses to push on and stay in an Israelites town in hope of hospitality. He gets none until another person originally from his region finds him. Tribal affiliation gone. 

At nightfall men in the town want to gay gang rape the son. To avoid that his host offers his virgin daughter and the concubine. They take the concubine who they rape and abuse til death. 

The sons behaviour, surrendering his partner to them, is as ignoble as the mob.

In death she is dismembered into 12 and distributed to each of the tribes to say “what have we become?”

Israel’s decline is completely and unsparingly told to us. There is no sugar coating in the “good book”. Left to our own devices our race is capable of the most horrific evil. Atheists will say religion is to blame, but I think that’s wishful thinking. Israel shows us how religion can’t fix the darkness in our hearts, but I don’t think it’s the source of it.

We need a saviour, imho.

Just read the most fantastic discussion of this chapter here: http://www.womeninthescriptures.com/2010/09/concubine-in-judges-19.html?m=1

She reminded me that genesis ends with a similarly shocking story, but there there is some divine intervention. The woman here is left with no protection. 

Judges 14

What a disappointment.

Yesterday I was all “Samson is a Christ figure/messianic”. How could I have forgotten the story. He is deeply sinful.

Set apart with vows from birth: a nazarene, he was supposed to be teetotal, and not touch dead things, not to cut his hair. God made him strong, a traditional Greek style hero. 

Instead of being a moral super example to his people, he marries a Philistine. He holds a drunken bachelor feast. Attacked by a lion he wins the fight bare handed in a show of God given power, but returns to the carcass in defilement of his vow. He takes honey from the carcass, and gives it to his parents, hiding from them that he’s made them ritually unclean.

He murders 30 of the philistines as part of a bet.

All we see this chapter is a man who abuses god given grace and talent. 

The morality of the age is “whatever”. The Bible describes it “men did as they saw fit”. Samson is living that way in extreme. 

So often it seems harsh that God brings judgement. This chapter is one where you are left asking why he doesn’t judge, why he won’t intervene in Samson’s free will. 

That god acts in a sinful world, loves a sinner like me is a complex miracle. Grace seems impractical, plain wrong.

The hard verse is 4, where it is clear that god is allowing his folly, to be part of the plan to free the Israelites from oppression. God can bring good from bad. It’s hard to understand, easy to mock. 

The life of Samson has diverged so far from where God designed it to be, yet still he works with it. Plan B, C, D, E, F, G and beyond.

Judges 13

We fail, god loves us. 

The people of God descended into bitter disunity and civil war, and then 40 years overrun by philistine foreigners. 

Samson’s story starts where Christ’s does, with a prophesy before he is born. Like John the Baptist, he’s an unlikely birth, to a previously barren mother. 

As with so many of the chosen, his parents can’t believe they are special. They invite the stranger who talks about the birth to dinner. He insists on sacrificing the meat to God instead, and then the stranger shoots up to heaven in the flames of the offering, revealing himself as an angel.

Samson is a messianic figure. The Messiah is a Samson figure. 

I fail so badly. I have nothing but god’s salvation. Thank you!

Joshua 20

The chapter talks about the cities set aside as refuge cities.

It reminds me of the way the equity court, which started as religious courts in Britain, could soften the harshness of the common law.

This concerns the mosaic law that anyone who kills could be avenged by death at the hands of the family of the one killed. But what if the killing was not intentional: manslaughter or accidental killing?

You could go to these refuge cities and plead for shelter, and stay there until the current high priest died, whereupon you were free to return to your home without fear of recrimination.

This applied even to foreigners living among the Israelites.

The geographical selection of the cities and the roads built to them were designed to make it easy to escape vengeance if you needed to. None were more than a day’s journey from anywhere in the land, apparently.

It’s an example of God building this society on mercy and fairness. I suppose it has echos today in the idea of churches providing sanctuary.

The Psalmists would return again and again to the idea of God as their refuge.  Here is God forging the theme from the founding of the promised land. Jesus would claim to be our hope.

After all the killing that has gone into claiming the promised land, this mercy is confronting and somewhat conflicting.

But as I concluded in the chapters about the conquest of the land, killing does not mean the same to the creator. Similar feeling to the rainbow that follows Noah’s flood. We all die, but not in vain if we end our days in god’s hope.

Joshua 2

Joshua sends spies to Jericho, rahab the prostitute protects them in return for mercy.

Interesting/mind blowing in a few ways.

What is the spies mission? To discover the attitude of the people. They are fainthearted, terrified of the Israelites. News of god’s miraculous support of them has reached Jericho.

This is somewhat disturbing. God has promised the Jews a land that is already occupied. The people of Jericho will be destroyed because they do not obey, but you wonder at this stage of they will get the chance.

It certainly sounds like they fear God, in the sense of believe in him and understand his power. At this stage, it sounds like they are being destroyed because God didn’t choose them. It doesn’t sound fair.

Then there’s Rahab, an unlikely hero of the faith. This is a great story. Woman. Fallen woman. By trade. By faith she and her family were saved, says Hebrews. We should not limit the saving power of God, it can be found anywhere. Judge spiritually, not by stereotype.

Her understanding of the blessed status of the Israelites is not so different from anyone in the city, I would think. But she welcomed gods people, the city stood against them. Is that the difference? We’ll see how it plays out.

I feel odd, suspending my judgement of god’s fairness in a way. I just want to understand. The Psalmists do it all the time!

The story has its strange elements, but I do praise God for it.

Hebrews paints a picture of Rahab up in heaven as part of a great cloud of witnesses watching us press on and encouraging us to do the best we can with our lives in service of the king. What a God! What a saviour!

 

Micah 1

I’ve been reading a lot of minor prophets. Micah will be the last before I move on to something different.

3 chapters of judgement, 2 of comfort, 2 of salvation.

I’ve followed the chronological order according to Bible gateway. Last was Amos. Certainly the coming judgement and it’s cause declared by Micah is very similar to that of Amos. Judah, the southern kingdom, has merged religion with the Samaritans, the king worshipping their gods as well.

The prophesy of destruction from this apostasy in Michah 1 is, if anything, more urgent than in Amos. Its even closer to midnight. There is impressive imagery of God personified like a giant, trampling mountains of touching the land and it melting like wax.

Good to contemplate once again how meaningless Christianity becomes if it is no different to the surrounding culture.

I get worried about a siege mentality sometimes, as Christianity is becoming less the dominant value in western countries like mine, Christians are freaking out.

But it’s also a mistake to go the other way, which is more my personal temptation, and be OK with everything.

Last week in the sermon our rector gave a great example of those circus acts where the rider stands astride two horses at once. That’s what Judah is doing, and we can be tempted to live like that too. If the horses go different directions, disaster will ensue. Not practical to ride two horses at once.

Things are so tense in our family at the moment. My youngest, 12, is having trouble adapting to high school. Need much wisdom and clarity.