Psalm 145

I think i recall from a talk about psalms that it ends in a blaze of praise. This psalm fits with that theory. It’s everything king David loves about God.

I’m enjoying that they are all by David at the moment, because we know him so well.

He says how God is too much for any one person to understand, he places himself in a generation to generation project to think about and share about God. You see that in all cultures. Unfortunately our inclination towards sin corrupts what we can learn by ourselves from the degrees of God’s revelation.

At church we celebrated the coming of the light to islands in the Torres Strait. When missionaries arrived, they instantly recognised the gospel as filling out their understanding of the God they had always worshipped. And they saw clearly in a way they hadn’t before that they should leave headhunting and violence behind.

Israel struggled with the idea that God’s plan for all mankind may not literally include the temple and Jerusalem.

Having talked about how much greater god is than we can comprehend, David lists what he does know of God in the second half of the psalm.

God is good, compassionate, patient, generous, eternal, faithful, mighty trustworthy, loving, caring, close, sustaining, just, righteous, a rescuer, a provider, a listener, a saviour.

The pile up leaves me a bit unemotional to read. But to gather and sing this, it would take flight. Praise is best done in groups of two or more. Praise is a triangular process, with the praisers along one side of it, all pointing to a shared third point.

Ah the corruption of man… My mind drifts to a logo design for my long imagined, never realised, praise band.

Don’t forget to pray.

Song of Songs 8

The blaze in every soul.

This is the chapter I return to the most.

I was moved, I always am, by the culminating praise of love itself:

Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot sweep it away.
If one were to give
all the wealth of one’s house for love,
it would be utterly scorned.

Followed by the wonderful ownership of her person and her sexuality by the girl: “my own vineyard is mine to give”. I love that passage, it’s one of my favorites in the whole Bible. It says it all about who and what God created us to be. About the nature of his love for us.

It’s one of two books of the Bible that never mentions God’s name. There’s so many things it barely mentions.

It only incidentally refers to marriage, but it is all about monogamy. Passion is jealous, and the giving to each other is absolute, it has no place for casual sex.

It’s not prudish, no sir-ee… but it’s prudent. It acknowledges what unique greatness is unleashed, and what is at stake, when one loves deeply and completely.

And it has more in common in some ways with God’s love than earthly relationships. How often is he described as a jealous God? We’re told to “love him with all your heart, mind and soul”.

This book is all about young love: the blaze of romantic obsession, the power of attraction, delight in the newness and overpowering nature of it all; the yearning.

It doesn’t talk about the different beauty of long marriages: that survive hardship and changes, that bring up children and learn to adapt as life throws u-turns, that forgive failure and weakness, and face getting old, undesirable and sick together.

It made me sad and conflicted. I had to force myself to read it. I’ve loved it, but I had to take it slow, in doses. It’s made me feel inadequate, second best. I haven’t been in the mood, so to speak.

What does it mean for my relationship, which is at a very different phase? It’s a bit like the crummy feeling other people’s perfect lives on Instagram can give you.

I’ve had lot of valuable thoughts about God’s love, but maybe just as valuable is remembering and rekindling some of the intensity of that first love with my life partner. It’s certainly made me think about that. Complex feelings at the intersection of spirituality and physicality.

The open ended invitation at the very end, to come away and be like a gazelle and a young stag on the spice laden mountains… Maybe the whole thing has been a remembrance? Maybe that invitation is for us who need reminding of what it is to be young.

Proverbs 19

“What would you call yourself?” “A fool”. An exchange from the evidence being given by Donald Trump’s lawyer.

A person’s own folly leads to their ruin,
yet their heart rages against the Lord.

Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death.

A hot-tempered person must pay the penalty; rescue them, and you will have to do it again

I keep having a break from blogging while I work obsessively on my music. It’s sort of related to the project, but it’s sort of weird too. I’m learning a whole new and very stimulating field of making sound work. The results never satisfy me, and I’m impatient.

I should start with a much better singer, but there’s not a lot I can do about that, and I should work in a recognisable genre, but I don’t want to throw away what I’ve done.

Am I being a fool? Probably. You have to keep your hobbies in their place.

My life has gone from unpredictable roller coaster to intricate balancing act as I try to live within my means and balance the relationships and responsibilities around me. I’m less temperamentally suited to this mode. Maybe that why I’ve had a break from this rhythm. Too many patterns.

I’m thinking a lot about the limits of ones own responsibility. I have a bad habit of wanting to solve problems that I can’t.

The chapter has some very well crafted and incisive messages. It follows the pattern of drifting from practical insight to spiritual.

I’ve been trying to think of a good message for Easter at work, I’m to write a brochure. I’m so spiritually blank. It great to write here again.

What a person desires is unfailing love;
better to be poor than a liar.

Thats a good general principle. I’ve been trying to start where the people would be at when they see the brochure. Watching Brene Brown videos. She’s great.

The wisdom, point by point, encourages you down a good path. It’s the book of a thousand Facebook memes.

Job 20

Job’s third friend, Zophar, speaks a second time.

It’s an epic, sweeping but nuanced, description of the effects of evil and sin.

All three of the friends have reacted somewhat indignantly to Job rejecting their sin=punishment formula. Like the other two, he doesn’t refer to Job much directly. He depersonalises his argument.

But by painting a realistic picture of a corrupt society, full of selfishness, greed and the consequences, he makes the case that his suffering is just one of many consequences of the world’s – and by extension Job’s – fallen state.

He takes a broad view of history, and how there has always been the wicked, and they’ve always come to nothing. Death makes a mockery of their youthful pride and huge egos.

He presents a portrait of a life devoted to the hope that ill gotten material gain will give spiritual satisfaction. There’s an extended metaphor of how greed tastes good in the mouth but starves you because it’s like food that is not actually nourishing. You eat more and more in the vain hope that you will be satisfied, and it poisons you.

You leave a legacy of oppression, poverty and injustice.

In Zophar’s case, Job’s rebuke has made him disturbed, and questioning. This is his affirmation of how he thinks the world is. It feels good when threatened to re-state your old ideas to yourself.

But after all this time he makes no effort to process Job’s situation.

It’s not clear if he’s saying Job is a victim of the fallen state of the world or saying Job is one of the wicked. In truth I suppose we all contribute to and suffer from the evil of this world.

My mind is buzzing with possibilities for my job interview on Monday. It would be marvellous if I got it, but I have to be realistic. They know me, what will be will be.

I see this passage reminding me that ambition is not an end in itself.

It is vivid about the seductiveness of evil ‘evil is sweet in his mouth and he hides it under his tongue … he cannot bear to let it go’

Your will be done, make me pure.

Job 2

Having lost everything dear to him, Job is further tested by being covered in sores. We get the iconic image of him sitting in ashes, scraping his sores with pottery.

The heaven of Job is such a strange pantomime. The characters of God and Satan are like those Warner Brothers cartoons where bugs bunny goes to the afterlife.

I developed plans as a youth to write a musical of Job, where God and Satan were depicted by hand puppets in like a punch and Judy show. Its like Uz, Job’s mysterious home town, is Oz, a dreamscape of the actual world.

Ray Minniecon, the indigenous pastor at our church memorably taught it as an indigenous story. There are none of the chosen people in it, is about non Jewish spirituality. Job has abundant blessing and is righteous and known by God. Everything good and dear to him is taken away from him one day, and replaced by disease.

This is the chapter where Job’s 3 friends arrive, who will discuss his situation, and his wife who tells him to curse God and die.

It hooks you in by setting up this extreme case. I react, ‘I’ve got problems, but not compared to job’ and the majority of readers are in that boat, it instantly challenges your frustrations with life, your anger at God or the universe. The psalms give you permission to vent to God (though they ask a despairing ‘why?’ rather than actually curse God).

This chapter of Job sets up a doubt about my perspective on my problems. I may not have job security, my kids may have all sorts of issues, but at least they are alive and I’m not homeless and covered with sores, eh?

Psalm 42

I love this, I have a long history of singing it.

I was a cathedral chorister, and we did a gorgeous lush version I’ll link below. I also wrote a pop song version.

The psalmist is in exile and miserable. Longing for God. I remember I wrote my song version at a time when we weren’t happy in our church and we weren’t going much. I really felt the words, played it over and over on piano.

He expresses the longing as a thirst, like a deer desiring a brook. I love that because it’s both necessary and beautiful, the image of serene sensory comfort and deep sustenance.

It has a water theme. Instead of a brook his only sustenance is his own tears.

Then he describes his life events like being plunged beneath a waterfall or a wave breaking over him. Violent water, not sweet sustaining water.

Part of the violence is mockery over being deserted by God and he says ‘deep calls to deep’ which is rich and a bit mysterious.

For me it evokes that Jonah feeling of being plunged beneath the waves and, when all else is stripped away, even hope of survival, the depth of God’s love being there still with you during the moments you think you might drown.

He fondly remembers going to the temple, he would have been bereft to be cut off from it.

The sons of korah, author of the psalm, were temple musicians who memorably sang confusion on their enemies in a great military victory of faith during the reign of Jehoshaphat in chronicles.

But he’s aware it’s the living God, not religion, who quenches spiritual thirst. Still so true, still the one unique thing church can offer – comfortable seating, aircon, live music and friends can be got many places.

The commentator mentioned the contradiction of calling God your rock and saying he’s forgotten you in the one line. That’s the psalm right there, not so much a psalm of doubt so much as how you continue to relate to God out of deep deep misery. It aches with longing and sadness.

Feeling adrift, buffeted, abandoned and drowned by life, deep calls to deep, both anguished questioning and poignant cherishing of God.

Sigh!

Jeremiah 48

Judgement against Moab. Moab were Israel’s enemies, so it’s interesting to see how they are spoken of and treated, compared to all the judgements against Israel.

The judgement was bitter and absolute. But that is no different from the judgement against Israel.

As I’ve noted in the previous foreign nation judgements, idol worship or foreign gods don’t play a big part. They seem to be graded on a curve by God, according to the extent of their revelation.

But they are judged for arrogance and complacency.

One of the most unique metaphors of the chapter talks about settling for the dregs.

It’s an image of never fully cleaning out your wine jar or your coffee pot, so that the grounds or the sediment get passed on from refill to refill. They taint the whole, nothing is fresh.

It’s a spiritual metaphor, I suppose. They are spiritually stale as well as arrogant and complacent.

Recalls Jesus’ metaphor of how his gospel would blow up the Jewish legalism… New wine exploding old wine skins. That was also a judgement of sorts.

God’s love and his justice are on display. He grieves for them as well as urging the Babylonians to do a complete job of smashing them. Judgement, even of enemies, causes God pain.

He has a relationship with them, he also has a promise for them, right at the end. He will bring back the captives.

After this annexation they never really existed as a nation again, though some natives moved back to the region. Many have read this as a promise of global salvation.

So in summary, not much different from a judgement against Israel really. I’ve been thinking a bit recently about what being God’s chosen people meant.

Moab is judged for their sin but not apostasy. There is less of a call/opportunity to repent than Israel, but again the words against Israel are laced with the expectation that they won’t…

God does love our enemies. And everyone has a spirituality they can either keep alive or let go stale.

Death – the end of our years – comes to all. God knows all of us.

Isaiah 42

Complex chapter. Isaiah is like a symphony, or a film score. 

It has a bunch of themes, more and more as it goes on, and they keep returning and combining to push the story forward with ever more nuance. 

The layers get to be too many to describe, especially for a non-scholar like me. 

But like a good piece of music it has a cumulative emotional flow that unifies the complexity.

This chapter introduces the servant, beloved of the New testament writers who see it fulfilled in Jesus.

We learn that the servant will be God’s delight, will be for all nations, will be gentle in manner and in action, not breaking the “bruised reeds”, those already beaten and damaged.

Some of the themes that come back are the desserts being made flat, the world being recreated, inverted in fact so that rivers become islands. 

God as victor, a strong man; and then as (re)creator, a woman in labour. 

The emptiness of idols and Gods judgement being the actual reason for the present suffering, to which he seems to be deaf and blind. 

So in these themes, love and judgement, chaos and gentleness, time and eternity weave together.

Isaiah is taking God’s revelation to places it has not gone before. He’s witnessing first hand the trauma of literal earthly blessing of the chosen people and the specific nation of Israel failing beyond hope of return. 

Out of that pain, as is so often the case, our deaf ears can start to hear about the Messiah, and we can start to see with spiritual eyes.

And the message is comfort, courage and love.

Isaiah 22

Jerusalem is lumped in with all the other prophesies about other towns, clearly I was in the right track yesterday about it losing its specialness.

The specialness it retains its from better knowledge. It will be judged, but the people should have known better!

So the practical preparations they did to be ready for the coming seige: fix up the water supply, and enjoy normal life while they could (eat and drink, for tomorrow we die)… were wrong.

They should have repented. They should have fought tho outnumbered, in the strength of God, instead of dying by starvation in seige, and then bring captured.

The stark choice is reflected in the careers of two of the high ranking government officials at the time.

Sheba was corrupt and self serving, and used his wealth to fashion and grand tomb for himself that he would never get to use. What a perfect example of a dumb approach to eternity, relying on your own strength.

Elaim was a godly man who God gives the “keys of David” to, he is a secure place to hang your trust, a secure “peg”, like a strong coat hook.

Hang your hopes on God, not your own strength.

The painful learning that what we can see, touch, hear around us is not the most important thing. This is the lesson of the fall of Israel and the difficult writings of the prophets.

2 Kings 21

Perhaps the fatalism of the godly king Hezekiah in the last chapter was because he already knew his son would be a disaster. 

Manasseh became king at a young age and re established the pantheon of folk Gods, sacrificed his son to Moloch, set up Ashera actually in the temple, consulted wizards and mediums and shed much innocent blood to boot.

There is argument over whether these gods are Canaanite or folk Gods of Israel itself. I guess the calf at least, which they worshipped in the desert came from some folk tradition. Abraham came from a household with Gods. 

The sacrificial system is just an adaptation of the religion that was already there to monotheistic worship of jahweh. God is about substance and we’ve seen faith in him come in many forms. He meets our understanding where it is.

His son rules 2 years and is much the same.

Bad Kings are accompanied by more and more pointed prophetic reaction, this time God says he will wipe Jerusalem clean.