Exodus 39

The priestly garments. Yes, they are just like God specified on the mountain. The fringe of alternating pomegranate tassels and bells is a great detail.

Moses inspects everything, this amazing collection of items lovingly made to god’s specification from freely offered materials, and blesses it. The climax of almost 10 chapters describing their effort.

Live by his word and be blessed, eh?

Genesis 45

Joseph reveals himself. He’s full of praise for God, his planning, so there are no recriminations directed at his brothers. Though as he sends them off to fetch their father and households, he tells them not to argue on the way. 

Such a happy ending. Though in the back of my mind I’m remembering that the next book is exodus, where the nation of Israel are shaves in Egypt trying desperately to leave. There has already been mention of how the Egyptians detest the Israelites. 

We still have a long long path until the Messiah comes. 

Still, this is a great lesson in how, as the old hymn says “God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year”.

I’m 54. Lots of years left, most likely. What has God for in store for me?

1 Samuel 31

The tragic end of Saul and his family. Jonathan too! That hurts.

It’s been gonna happen since Samuel predicted it in chapter 15. Saul has been raging, fighting fate, and terrified of it. 

They lose to the philistines attack. His sons killed in the battle, Saul takes his life. Several Judean towns flee and the philistines take the territory. 

So ends a book that has been an amazing political and human narrative.

What does this say about God? It’s classical, you can’t run from God. Can’t fight him. 

The words of one of Bob Dylan’s christian songs spring to mind “surrender your crown on this blood stained ground, take off your mask”

Joshua 5

Wow, Joshua is so easy to read after the minor prophets!  This chapter is about preparations to claim the promised land.

The men of generation who were in Egypt would not see the promised land because of their repeated unfaithfulness. Only their children, born in the 40 years wandering would claim it. It was easy to tell… no circumcisions had been done in the road. They do catch-up and thankfully rest for a few days to heal.

It says something about their life spans that 40 years would do it.

Manna, the magical travelling food from heaven, stops, and they eat passover from the land for the first time since leaving. How significant that would be.

There is a calm safety because the local kings heard the story of the blessed crossing of Jordan. They realise opposition is futile.

Then at the end of the chapter Joshua encounters a person who turns out to be a military angel, the “commander of the lords army”.

I keep remembering how the u.s. slaves sang about crossing the Jordan, reaching the promised land. How vivid that longing must have been to the people who sailed over the sea and arrived at that America.

All of this is about the lords plan, the lords protection, the lords time. It is our only safety.

Amos 8

Monday, what a way to start a new week, with Amos’ bleakest vision. It is a vision of summer fruit. It seems to be shown to emphasise the ephemeral nature of the good times they are having now.

Hard times will come very soon, and the people will respond by becoming worse cheats and oppressors.

Hardship will bring the whole nation to the sort of mourning of people who have lost an only son.

Even prophesy will cease, a famine of the word of God.

In an early chapter job compared the nation to a young girl, beaten and unable to get up, now he says the weak and the strong will both be equally laid low, fall and never rise again.

It unremittingly bleak.

The prophets remind us that we can’t be practically universalist. God has said he is love, but there is more here. It is urgent and vital that people respond to the understanding of God that they have.

Amos was not preaching belief in Jesus as saviour, obviously Jesus want born yet. These people did however have a word from God to acknowledge him as the one true God, and to live fairly, particularly with regard to the poor.

That was their gospel and their failure to respond to it would cause god to punish them. As a people they would survive, just. But the lifestyle of wealth and ease was going and not coming back for this generation.  The living has been delicious and abundant like summer fruit, but it has passed.

Our christian lives and message can’t just sooth people and reinforce their existing beliefs, there will be an element of confronting and challenging them. Like Jesus said, if salt loses its saltiness, what use is it?

At the start of this week, give me a heart for the lost. I find it so hard.

Malachi 3

You can’t fool God

Compared to chapter 2, the mood turns a little bit happier, but I still keep getting wrongfooted by the tone. It’s like a bad relationship, it’s the end of the old testament and God sounds tired.

The book is structured like a series of conversations between god and his people. But they are bad conversations, the ones when a relationship is under strain.

The prayers of the people sound to God like the unrealistic promises of the partner who has failed too many times.

He promises good things but even his covenants are turned to cynicism and futility, because people won’t be capable of benefiting from them.

Through all that there is hope, but only for a faithful few.

So it starts talking about the Messiah, like a ray of sun breaking through the clouds of the last chapter, but the sun can also burn… who can stand it’s heat? The dross will be burned away. Some will remain and be acceptable to God, but gods coming will be a terrible day of reckoning for many, the defrauders, the oppressors, the adulterers. Gulp. Hooray?

Then God accuses them if robbing him. “How?” they ask. By cheating on the tithe. A lavish promise follows of how abundantly overflowing the blessing will be if they test out faithful tithing. But they aren’t doing it.

He then accuses them of arrogance because they resent their religious observances when the irreligious keep prospering.

God is saying “I know you. Do you think I don’t see these things? You may be able to fool each other, even yourself, but you can’t hide your empty selfishness from me with fake religion and hypocritical respectability”

And there are some who respond, who accept the word. In the fullness of time it will be clear who they are, even if it’s not obvious now.

I keep visualising God here like Humphrey Bogart in those cynical film noirs. Femmes fatale and wise guys keep trying to put it over on him, but he always calls it out. Just when you think there is nothing but cynicism, there is exceptional tenderness for the real thing. All the more precious because it is so rare.

 

Esther 6

An interesting turn, Esther has no influence in this chapter, god works through the insomnia of the King who has his chronicles read to him when he can’t sleep and independently comes up with a plan to honor Mordecai for foiling the assassination plot.

Far from impaling Mordecai, the plot has Haman planning his day of honor, in the assumption that it is his own. So we have the hilarious reversal of Haman leading the man he most hates through the streets on a horse in a fine robe shouting about how honoured he is.

Apoplectic with rage later in the evening, Haman’s family identify the Jewish God as behind the events and freak out – Haman’s offended a God of power. Before he can think what to do he’s spirited off to Esther’s second feast.

It’s amazing what a large and obvious role good has without being identified. It’s just referred to as a power in the ethnicity “because he is Jewish…”

This chapter reinforces the warning Mordecai said to Esther, that help for the Jews could come anyway even if she was silent. How easy it was for God to engineer the reversal of fortunes.

This book is read during the Jewish feast of Purim, a holiday to celebrate these events and it’s easy to see why. The messages about faithfulness to your people and to God are woven in so strongly.

God, father, resistance is futile. You have shown me your truth though your grace, use me, left me grab the opportunities you offer.

 

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.

 

 

Esther 2

The search is on for a beautiful young virgin for the king of Persia. Scene moves to Mordecai’s house, and his notably beautiful cousin Esther. They are both displaced Jews.

Esther is taken into the King’s harem. Turns out she is really good at what you need to learn… She takes the eunuch’s advice as to what to say and how to behave. After a year of beauty school, she is the King’s chosen.

I find this a wonderfully mind blowing story about serving your purpose on earth by doing what you do do well. Esther is a born beauty queen.

Meanwhile Mordecai is all ears, obviously concerned about Esther he becomes a palace obsessive, hanging round and hearing what he can. In addition to scraps of info about Esther, he uncovers a plot to kill the king, which Esther brings to the King. The plot is foiled and Esther’s stakes go sky high.

There is still a sense of “where is god going with this?” It’s in the Bible so you bring to it the expectation that it must be about him. So god is at work in the petty and relatively unholy daily activities of those who never give him a second thought? I love it. Like the old hymn says, god is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year.