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.

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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.

Isaiah 52

We’re entering the most detailed servant/Messiah chapters. It’s the “new thing” the book has been building to with its layers of imagery.

It is double prophetic from Isaiah’s time. He’s writing (if it is him, which some doubt) before the people have been conquered and sent into exile, about the time when they shall be returned from exile.

But then it’s also triple prophetic, because it’s about so much more than the return from the exile they aren’t even in yet, because by describing the Messiah he’s talking about God’s eternal salvation plan for the whole world.

This chapter starts with hype about the salvation/ return from exile.

Jerusalem is to “awake awake”.

That is be aware that they are God’s people, and that he loves them. They actually have become cynical about God, and have no respect for him. Understandably perhaps because Egypt, then Assyria, then Babylon owned them.

There is a play on worthlessness. They feel worthless because they got conquered and the conquerors paid no price for destroying the chosen people. But God is also going to save them at no cost to them, for free. We’ll find later is because he’ll pay the price.

He talks about the messengers of this good news having “beautiful feet”. I love this, it’s God’s news, but we are the physical bearers of it. We have time and a physical being, and God finds it beautiful when we use our body and time to share the blessing we have.

Then they are to “depart depart”.

Leave the place of exile, of sin, and come to a place of holiness, of being cleaned and blessed by God and useful to him.

Then after the hype, in the last few verses, we get to the servant, the means of this salvation.

He’s king of kings… Wiser, more exalted than earthly Kings. They shut up when they see him.

He’s the mistreated servant, beaten beyond.  recognition. Remember sometime had to pay a price?

He is an unprecedented occurrence, and the incomprehensible made clear.

Isaiah is coming together!

Isaiah 51

A chapter of comfort. God’s voice.

He refers to his strength, his history, describes himself as the rock from which they are hewn. And promises comfort.

There is a section on listening, because God is acting, making things right and saving them.

Listen to him above all else because he will outlast the other voices … It returns to the “worn out clothes” metaphor from the last chapter. There is a repeated refrain that his salvation lasts forever.

Then a section with a repeated call to wake up, to respond with faith in the permanent, saving God who brings comfort; rather than with fear of the oppressors, who will pass away.

God’s promises, his strength, his salvation, our response of faith. All of that should give us a long term perspective on our present situation.

The Israelites had aggressive invaders at the gates. I’m waking up on new year’s Day, on holiday during a long lazy summer.

I’m marking the years, feeling optimism, wariness and a sense of life passing. The “wake up and listen” bits of the message are certainly resonating. I’m currently pretty comfortable!

The distractions will start up again soon. May I remember that whatever the year holds, it will pass. I will be here again, between the hours, remembering that God’s salvation is eternal, and I pray, having lived the intervening days from that perspective.

Isaiah 49

Half the chapter is about Isaiah’s figure the servant of the lord. All the elements are there: he is from God, a means of judgement and salvation, despised by people yet used not only for salvation of Israel but of all nations.

Again you do the loop where it is impossible to visualise anyone but Jesus.

I considered how there have been numerous other servants of the lord, Moses fits quite close. And the kingship was designed to be humble in Moses’ law, David dancing before the ark more than Solomon in a palace. It’s a biblical pattern, a truth about God’s way, but specifically it is so Jesus.

The second half is about Israel being glorified. With all the servant talk, especially the bit about being for all the world, Israel might think “so what are we?”

But God assures them they always have a special place like the place a child has for a parent. He also describes them as like a tattoo on his hand.

It finishes with a classic old testament scene of retribution… The enemies of Israel starving to the point of canabalism while all the exiles and all the world beats a path back to the promised land to share in glory.

Which, given the original audience was probably on the verge of being conquered and dragged away into exile from the land, was very comforting hyperbole.

It’s like “you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need”.

What they want is the promise of relief from their political and military victimhood, which they will get eventually, but not soon enough, and not before things get a lot worse.

What they need is what Isaiah calls the “new thing” this global salvation plan for all mankind, hundreds of years in the future but acting retroactively and prospectively for all.

Isaiahs big task is starting to explain, and it’s not easy. Even with my perspective I still keep doing double takes. The whole Bible is an odd story!

Isaiah 7

A story of the options of trusting or not trusting God when you are scared, and how many steps ahead God really is.

Isaiah lived in the smaller Southern Israelite kingdom of Judah. They faced an attack by an alliance of the Northern kingdom, Israel, and Syria. The king and the general population were in mortal terror.

Isaiah meets the king, Ahaz, and through Isaiah God says he’s got it sorted.

The threat is all smoke and no fire. Ahaz is given a promise… The child of a woman who conceives and gives and gives birth will not be yet eating solid food before the threat is disposed of. Max 2 years, problem solved.

But the king does not trust God. In the end he makes an alliance with Assyria, giving them most of the kingdom’s treasure for protection.

They prove to be an unreliable partner, and eventually Judah is attacked by both them and Egypt at the same time, a far worse result than the original attack the alliance was designed to avoid.

The simple lesson is “trust God”.

You can sometimes still get good stuff by trusting yourself, like love, wealth, good times.

But God is mightier, stronger, more able to bless, and ultimately loves you more than you could love yourself, so you are better off trusting him.

The twist is that Isaiah knew the king would not trust God. To his meeting he bought his son, whose name “a remnant will survive” pointed to the outcome, and the ultimate fate of Judah.

Furthermore, remember the sign about God saving them by the time a child was eating solid food? It has a familiar cadence that jumps out at you in the text “a virgin will give birth to a son, and he shall be called ‘Immanuel'” ( God with us)…

That prophesy had a near and far meaning, being quoted when Jesus was born.

Because God is always several jumps ahead of our fear and our plans. And his salvation is eternal.