Numbers 25

After the mountain top. 

We’ve had two chapters of praise for the blessedness, prosperity and might of the Israelites and the one true God by their enemies’ seer, full of God’s spirit. Now we return to the Israelites camp and the contrast could not be greater.

This is such a biblical theme. We had it after Sinai, and after Jesus’ transfiguration. 

They are weak messy and compromised by worshipping foreign Gods and breaking their strict moral code with the Moabite women.

This is a strange chapter where some of the story seems untold. A leader of the tribe of simeon brazenly brings a midianite woman to a gathering of the people. He and the woman are named, she’s the daughter of a Moabite leader, so it’s probably a political and religious alliance as well. 

They are both killed by spear in their tent by a priest, who earns eternal honour by the deed. At the same time there is reference to a plague, which takes 24000 people and is stopped by the killing. Not sure if it’s a disease born by the Moab people or judgement from God or both. 

In any event, it’s a tragic and dramatic contrast to how God sees them though the spirit in the previous chapter.

The Bible is a book full of mercy, but it is merciless in showing us how corrupt the human race can be. So much grace, so much need of it.

Numbers 12

Aaron and his wife Miriam try to consolidate their power to challenge Moses, claiming that God speaks though them too.

God gives Miriam a skin disease. Moses pleads for her and after 7 days she is healed and clean.

What’s with Aaron, Moses’ brother. He escapes punishment yet again, even though he led the calf challenge to God.  Does the high priest believe or not?  Maybe he is a good man who sometimes hears the politics of the situation louder than god’s voice. Maybe he’s identifying an unrest in the people, a swelling demand for more traditional strong leadership.

God’s tribute to Moses, given in the presence of Aaron and Miriam, is remarkable. He is more than a prophet, who are spoken to in dreams. Moses sees God’s form and hears his voice direct.

This chapter has the verse I remembered and quoted in the last chapter. He is a humble man, the most humble on the face of the earth.

Genesis 34

Jacob has not stayed with his family despite essau’s warm welcome, or gone where God told him to, bethel. He’s gone off by himself and the decision brings disaster. 

His daughter is raped. Dinah, the girl, and Jacob should have known this was a possiblity, she went wandering by herself in a foreign town with very different attitudes to sex.

The boy responsible is the favoured son of a wealthy man, and fancies he loves Dinah. Jacob doesn’t react negatively to the rape at all, which stokes the anger of her brothers. He negotiates to make it right in a way by allowing her to become the boys wife.

Jacob’s sons insist the foreign men be circumcised, but two of them revenge kill them all while they are weak and recovering. The rest plunder and pillage their stuff and take all the women and children. 
It’s an unbelievably evil episode, wrong in so many ways all related to Jacob’s poor choices and ignoring God. He seems to have no leadership of his family, they complain that their sister was treated like a prostitute, but they pervert and prostitute their religion using it as a cover for violence and greed.

Jacob’s response is to tell them how much danger they have put the whole family in by declaring war on the whole country. It’s way too late by then.  

God does not speak in this chapter, but his law is misused by violent greedy men.

The last time God spoke, he changed Jacob’s name to Israel. But significantly he is called Jacob again straight away here. He has disengaged from God. He is still struggling with God, as he was when he literally wrestled with God in human form in the last chapter.  He needs to get back to that place where he is asking for god’s blessing.

1 Samuel 16

Choosing king David. 

The least is again chosen by God. 6 older sons are presented and rejected. David’s father didn’t even bother calling the youngest boy, left it in the fields trending the sheep.

When Samuel anoints him, god’s spirit comes to him and departs Saul. It never left David again.

Thank you for choosing me to recurve the spirit father.

David sings for Saul having been fetched for his musical skill because Saul has a troubled spirit. 

Judges 15

Struggling with Samson still.

I think I get that Israel is like the French in world war two, they’ve been taken over and lost their identity and pride. Samson is like the resistance. He is a provocateur.

There is little detail about why the philistines are so bad. His vengeance seems cruel.

The story telling is great, is a very readable part of the Bible. But it has him burning all the philistines’ crops with tortured animals over a domestic dispute with his philistine wife. The philistines then burn the wife and her father, he then slaughters many of them.

His own countrymen deliver him bound to the philistines, for whom he is enemy #1. He breaks the ropes with super human strength, slaughter ensues using just the jaw bone of a donkey. He’s breaking the vow not to defile himself with dead things again, not to mention all the killing.

He judges/leads philistine governed Israel for years. Lots of violence, no liberation. He really is quite terrible. 

I’ll hold off commenting further until the next chapter, but suffice to say I’m struggling to see God in all of this. Where are you father? What are you thinking? I know you, I love you, this is not your plan for humanity.

Judges 7

In our weakness is he made strong 

Gideon is the topsy turvy hero the world needed to get god’s message that God is in charge, what it means to be blessed.

Facing battle God whittles his army down from 22000 to 300 to demonstrate that it is not going to be a victory of their own strength.

Gideons timidity is a given both by God and the narrator. God says”go down to the camp, or if you are too scared, take Purah your servant with you” …”so Gideon and Purah…”

Reconnaissance shows the foreign armies are highly scared of the Israelites. They outnumber them ridiculously, but they know there is something supernatural about the Israelites and god’s favouring of them.

Gideon’s force creates a loud noise and fear of attack in the middle of the night, the sleepy larger army panic, turn on themselves and run and Israel claims much land back from them, routing them all over the place.

It is a pattern that reflects god’s patience with our lives as we fail to seize our blessed inheritance from him again and again, and he forgives us over and over.

May I  value your grace father.

Judges 5

Wow, Deborah’s victory song is a wild celebration of people power… the people are the princes of Israel when they offer themselves willingly for God.  They are strengthened by his blessing as they rise like the sun – stronger the higher they get.

Jael gets her praise here too, from Deborah. Taking down the mighty commander of the oppressing army. She vividly imagines him falling down before Jael.

She illustrates the impact of his loss through the eyes of women: his mother, a chatelain, peering out from behind lattice, wondering why he is taking so long. Her attendants speculating that he is about men’s business, dividing the spoils of war, fine clothes, 2 women each.  Well, he found two women, but not the cowering victims they were imagining!

I love that it is celebrated as a woman’s victory integral to being God’s victory. It is not a cringing recognition of their symbolic weakness – God’s might is shown through using even weak women, Deborah is feeling strong in him. God is the empowerer.  He’s raised up the people, he’s raised up Deborah, he is the source of strength, and they are celebrating strength.

Got to write some music for this one some day, its a stunner. Praise God! “May all who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength.”

I am strong like the sun, rise up with me,
I can beat this world,
drive a tent peg through its head!

Higher and higher, stronger and stronger

Crack the dark, the days first beam
drive the shadows away
rise up like the sun,
kiss the world with love

Higher and higher, stronger and stronger

 

Micah 5

A warlike seeming chapter with a striking prophesy about the Messiah coming from Bethlehem in the centre. Finding it hard to follow from a basic level whether it’s the Assyrians laying waste the judeans or the other way around. I think the latter, so it’s like their come back after exile, but of course the Messiah is the ultimate come back.

It just awesome that this was written 100s of years before Christ was born. I’m sure atheists have multiple ways of explaining it, but having accepted the existence of God, this knocks me out. It’s totally consistent with the theme of god’s interaction with humankind that the humble thing.. Bethlehem.. is the source of victory.

Esther 8

The story is over but there are three more chapters. It becomes the story of Mordecai’s career. Esther is given Haman’s estate, but she hands it to Mordecai, and he essentially gets Haman’s job. Esther pleas for the King to favor the Jews and Mordecai writes as the king a new edict that protects the Jews.

They have the right to avenge themselves on their enemies. There is great rejoicing around the cities, it’s a great day like the end of star wars.

It’s a very satisfying wrap up to the story.

It goes just that bit far for me, and I’ve read ahead and I know it goes further still. Non Jews start to fear the Jews and start to convert to Judaism.

I want to see a contrast, mercy in Mordecai where there was ruthlessness in Haman. There is only triumphalism as far as I can see.

Esther had a fairytale life, but showed bravery and selflessness to throw it all away to save her people. That is easier to admire.

And still no God, not explicitly. The thrust of the post exile bible books is god’s extraordinary power to ensure his people are restored from their punishment. But they are still not perfect. Its not enough. And of course, Jerusalem itself was not the Messiah, it wasn’t enough.

Esther 4

Esther’s path to hero.

Her first reaction to her distress at hearing her cousin Mordecai is in sackcloth is to send him some nice clothes. Nice try, he sends them back.

She sends a slave and finds out what’s really going on, and Mordecai sends back a copy of the edict and everything, including telling her the price Haman was willing to pay to destroy the Jews.

Her response to that is to say that she would quite likely get killed for trying to do anything. The protocol is that she waits for the king to call for her. If she initiates face time, he may refuse to offer the gold sceptre, meaning he isn’t interested, and she is put to death.  It’s been a month since he called her, her influence may be on the wane.

The narrative has deftly painted the background for her fears because we know she only got the her position because Queen Vashti got proud and was deposed.

Nice try. He sends a message via her servant. She shouldn’t think that her rank will protect her alone from the wave of anti semitism. He has faith that deliverance for the Jews will come despite her, and she will regret being silent as much as speaking out. And maybe that is why she’s there in the first place? He believes this is her god given moment. Esther has to choose who she will trust, god or king. Who is really in charge here?

It’s the old bible one two three. Peter denied Jesus three times. Gideon and Moses needed three proofs before they had the courage to act, on the third day Jesus rose.

Esther send back instructions: she, her servants and the Jewish people outside the palace will have a three day simultaneous fast. Then she will break the law and go to the king, and perish if she will.

I think her need to fast and take time to summon up courage, and her need to feel the people were behind her shows how extremely hard she found it to do this, to face death in this way.

She has accepted that this is her god given moment, and she is utterly terrified of it. Of course Jesus wept when his came, too.

The conclusion of this chapter makes me shiver, and tear up. When you do something you find literally impossible, your worst nightmare, how profound is that heroism.