Jeremiah 35

An example of obedient Israelites.

Jeremiah shows Israel very publicly in the temple the example of the rechabites.

They are a sect within Israel, similar to hippies or Amish people, they style their life as the Israelites in the wilderness, living in tents.

They have a vow of abstinence, which Jeremiah demonstrates by placing wine before them in the temple and inviting them to drink. The high profile location and Jeremiah’s status as a prophet would have added to the pressure on them, but they decline.

He praises their obedience, and promises they will always”have a man to stand before God”, which I had to look up. It’s a reward particularly relevant to obedience, of always being able to serve God.

They shame the disobedience of the rest of Israel.

I compare them in some ways also to the salvation army who I work for. A little quaint, sticking to a vow of temperance.

It’s a good example of God attitude to a sect or a denomination. He respects the obedience. It’s not a question of whether their rules a more “right” than the rest, is the passion in their hearts to subject themselves to the discipline.

And I must face that I have a bit of a problem with alcohol.

Much to think about, speaking to me today.


Isaiah 63

I can get the drift of Isaiah 63.

It starts talking of God’s judgement. Dramatically he appears from Edom, a neighbouring country in clothes red with blood which he compares to trampling the grapes in a wine press.

It’s a grisly image, jarring after 3 glorious chapters about his love and salvation. But it’s making the point that God alone can judge the world.

And it is quick to make the point that there is much more to it than judgement. God reminds us in his self description that he is “mighty to save”. He has a day of vengence but a year of Jubilee.

Then there are passages remembering his mercy and promises in the past, and praying for his forgiveness and salvation now. The author goes so far as to blame God for his sin, wondering why God made us capable of rejecting him.

It’s a huge cry of pain. It’s a message to those of his chosen people either facing ruin, as their enemies grow stronger, or feeling bereft in exile having been defeated. People full of fear and anger.

And it’s urging them, shocking them even, into staying the course with God. Channel your fear into anticipating God’s peace. Channel your betrayal into trusting God’s justice.

To tell the truth I’m feeling a bit of betrayal and fear this week having lost my job. It’s tempting to let gloomy feelings about my situation blur into sadness over my children and aspects of the world in general.

I’m tempted to escape into achievable activities, or laziness, variations of putting my head in the sand. Or full on self pity, that advances my situation not a jot.

I need to trust God and act sensibly to remedy the situation.

Pray I will stay the course with God.

Deuteronomy 24

I can’t say Moses or whoever edited him has a strong sense of organisation. This is such a mixed bag of rules:

– not remarrying a spouse you have divorced

– absenting newly married couples from military service for a year, a mercy for the wife particularly.

– ban against taking someone’s livelihood as security on a debt

– ban on enslaving fellow countrymen

– obedience to the levites instructions for skin diseases

– kindness in enforcement of debts to the poor.

– bring a considerate employer, not exploiting those desperate to work

– not holding a whole family guilty for the crime of one

– kind treatment of the weak and vulnerable, remembering you were all slaves

– deliberately leaving some of the harvest for the fatherless, widows and foreigners.

Looking at it summarised, there is such a strong theme of Social justice, of caring for the weak. 

And these rules were indeed followed by righteous people we will meet as the Bible proceeds. It’s love, God’s love, in action for real. I have more opportunities to do this than I take up. 

I need to recognise how important this is.

Numbers Overview

Literally and thematically Numbers is stuck in the desert.

If you are wanting to get on with the bible’s plot, skip a book (or 2). The short triumphant march to claim Canaan, the promised land, becomes a lifetime of walking in circles, because the people tell God they don’t want Canaan (and BTW we hate the stinkin’ food you provide us every day!) Their wish comes true, they indeed don’t get Canaan. However, God honours his promise and plan, and their children do.

The narrative flow of the book seems to keep getting stuck too.  Its half story, half law book. Something happens, then you get a chapter of sacrifice law, something else happens, and you get rules about clothing tassles or festival times.

But its a powerful example of the life of the saved. It’s about life after slavery in Egypt (which ironically, can appear a lot more comfortable) and before the promised land, for us, heaven. Numbers is like any believer’s life on earth. Walking in circles!

God’s part is to be constant against our inconstancy, loving us despite us losing it, to move to Plan B when our rebellious spirit and selfishness stuffs up Plan A.

Our part is to learn discipline – a life learning to curb our habits and put God at the centre of our life, as he was at the centre of their camp, before them and within them.

The law starts to have the same context Jesus would give it.  They are already out of egypt, they are in a state of grace and God will keep his promise. They are working out (walking out?) the salvation they already have. 


Plan A – a God centric camp ready to quickly move to claim the promised land
1 600000 men ready to fight for the promised land

2 Camp organisation – God centric wheel

3 At the centre: Levites, the chosen of the chosen, set aside for God’s work

4 Rituals for how the Levites move the tabernacle – so holy

5 Sexual and practical purity in the camp

6 How to be set aside for Holiness within holiness, the Nazarite vow

God’s people, god’s presence
7 Dedication of the Tabernacle – God’s presence with Moses extended to the people

8 Levites Tabernacle duties, a life in God’s presence

9 The first passover – we still celebrate it – levites represent the saved first born

10 A life of faith. They walk how god wants, when god want, he provides all

Plan B: Losin’ it and the consequences…
11 A tale of Moses and the people. Contentment vs rising discontent

12 Aaron and wife Miriam lead a rebellion against Moses. Humility vs ambition

13 Recon on the holy land, AKA, that moment when you suspect that if there is a God, he doesn’t really know what he’s doing

14 The people lose their faith in God. Only their children will see the promised land

Hard lessons while wandering
15 Reminder of sacrifice meanings, and tassles to wear to remind them of the law

16 A sink hole for the leaders of the rebellion, a plague for the rest

17 A sign of hope amidst the plague – but I get that the people just feel traumatised

18 Aaron gets a “tick off” and refresher course in his priestly duty

19 Death vs life. Purification rituals. God is life, they must choose him

20 The end of the wandering generation: they are where they were in ch13

Back to Plan A with a new generation (who are still pretty hopeless)
21 Now making progress, the people still grumble as God punishes and saves 

22 Moab stands between them and Canaan. Moab enlists a holy man Balaam, but the real God gets to him first via a speaking donkey

23 Balaam is supposed to bless Moab’s plan to destroy Israel. He predicts disaster.

24 As the Moab king gets more and more angry, Balaam speaks “truth to power”

25 Meanwhile the Israelites are…. sleeping with Moab temple prostitutes! Noooo!

26 Second census the new force to take Canaan. God keeps his promise, despite us!

27 Moses commissions Joshua, forward ho to canaan, their inheritance… almost

Preparing to claim the land – realisation of God’s promise
28 Dealing with sin, its real, its painful… for them, many sacrifices

29 Israelites preserved their identity through lots of festivals and shared worship

30 Rules on the vows of women… patriarchal, but perhaps relatively progressive?

31 The destruction of Moab as God warned. Except the Israelites don’t, quite. 

32 The first claim to the land doesn’t stop them all working together on the mission

33 Summary – where they’ve been and what they must do: purge the land.

34 Scoping the land, rules for who will get what. In which I feel guilt… 

35 Arrangements for the priests in canaan… quite like christians today!

36 Protecting the promised land from being lost through marriage.

1 Samuel 6

 The philistines send the ark back to Israel. They know all about Israel’s God, how they escaped from Egypt, Jericho.  They get spiritual advice and put it on a cart with gold offerings.

It arrives in Israel during harvest with great celebration. But some of the men take the opportunity to look inside it and die. So the celebration with offerings turns into a slaughter (the number is very uncertain, between 50000 and 70. But even 70 is a terrible tragedy).

They organise for people for the temple to take it away.

This is the story of the ark, it is old testament in the stereotypical way: judgement and wrath. The ark is the powerful author of life God, who as I said yesterday, cannot be tamed. CS Lewis envisioned him as a lion, such a great image.

The people here tested God. The philistines knew of his reputation, but they thought they’d find out what happened if they took the ark. 

The Israelites have lost their religion and sent it into battle as a sort of superstition. Celebrating its return thought they’d find out what happens is you look inside, despite knowing full well that the old religions rules were that only the high priest was able to even enter its presence once per year. 

Don’t pick a fight with God. Don’t challenge him to see how strong he really is. We coast along on the doctrine of grace, letting our personal religion be hollowed out as society treats God as a joke.

Genesis 14

What is this chapter? Game of thrones… 9 kings form 2 alliances over a disputed plain.  The alliance including Sodom loses.  That is where Lot lives, so he loses everything.

Abram hears and rescuse him with 300 men, he will not see his relative enslaved. This also does a service to the king of Sodom.

Another king, Melchizedek turns up a bit like a fairy godmother. He is also a priest (of what, there is no temple yet, or even tabernacle?).  I wonder what the religion of the isralite nation was at this time?  And what nation was Melchizedek’s Salem? Anyway, he declares God’s hand in it all. He declares Abram blessed, and God as the one who delivered his enemies to Abram.

As a thank you for returning the goods and people that had been captured, the king of Sodom offers Abram the goods.  But Abram won’t keep any of them for himself.  He made a vow not to be enriched by the King of Sodom “not even a thread or the strap of a sandal”.

So the theme of separateness is retained.  Lot chose probably the wiser political move, but it had risks, as he found out. But Abram stayed faithful to God’s promise.  He can’t found a nation if he mingles, merges with and is beholden to with the nation already there.

PS: turns out Salem is a pre-name for Jesrusalem, duh. Melchizedek’s priestly duties would have been there. So God is already marking out the place he will be. He is used as a messiah figure, the sense of a priesthood, a person who brings God, that has always been before the Jewish system.

1 Peter 5

Advice to elders, setting out model church leaders. It’s an extension of Jesus’ good shepherd metaphor, which (assuming Peter did in fact write this book) he probably heard first hand.

Do it from the heart is the message. Being a shepherd means doing it willingly, eagerly, it’s not just a job. Have a sense of service, lead by example.

The hard thing would be to keep up doing that long term. Just about every job turns into more duty than enthusiasm, a way of getting money rather than a mission. As you come to terms with the limits of you own personal ability to change, you lead by force will rather than example.

I am probably going to start a new job soon. It’s a great moment to step back and look at this biblical model for work and leadership.

Then advice for the non elders: submit to the elders. I remember being young and the feeling that the people in charge have no idea what they are doing can be very intense. Peter is clearly sympathetic to it and takes some time to argue the case, reminding them that scriptures see humility as a virtue and telling them to take thier concern directly to god, reminding them that they have spiritual autonomy to get wise before god themselves. Also, slyly perhaps, reminding them of the ultimate advantage of youth: their time will come.

I feel young/old as I have not been wise in many ways in life, I feel I still have protential to realise and something to prove. Keeps me young…. Pray that I too will remain centred on gods will