Isaiah 40

One of the most encouraging chapters in the Bible. After a few chapters of prose, interacting with the king and the military threats and politics of the day, where there is so much fear and desperation, Isaiah takes our vision up above it all to see what is really going on.

God is unspeakably mighty, except maybe no one ever did speak words that come closer to describing it!

Mountains are like dust, the seas are to him like water cupped in his hand. He sits above the earth, spreading out the heavens is like pitching a tent, people like grass hoppers.

He has a flock, that’s us. He cares to the point of self sacrifice about us, leading us tenderly, gathering us.

We have plugged into the solid true power, anything else is a bet on delusion. We’re up there soaring with him, powered with his power.

I want to live carelessly. Without care, courageous and brave. God has taught me about the grandeur in the smallest things, the eternal truths that inform reach moment. That time is measured by how well it is used, not how long it is or how quickly tasks get done.

A lifetime is not a monument of personal achievements you can look back on and polish and say “bow to the idol of what Paul achieved” (or “my idol is so lame, no one must see it”)

A lifetime is an opportunity, a location in space and time, for understanding and reflecting a wonderful truth: the universe has endless goodness and love at its centre, “God”.

Every kindness, every empathetic moment, every chance you have to bring joy where there was sadness, fairness where there was injustice, compassion even if you can’t fix everything, makes the universe a little closer to how it is supposed to be.

This is like waking up, spiritually. Moving hearts, even just your own in this materialistic world, is bigger than moving mountains.

Advertisements

Isaiah 39

The end of the king Hezekiah story and the start of the rest of Isaiah. It’s Isaiah’s sad role to spend half his time prophesying about the Assyrians, who conquered the northern kingdom, and half the Babylonians, who conquered the South. 

What a time to be alive!

Hezekiah is given 15 more years to live and the rare knowledge of the time of his own death, and a sign from God that it is true. 

He is one of the most godly Kings, but he does not do much good with his extra time. 

He has a son who ends to being one of the worst Kings, and he actually invites the Babylonians in and brags about all his treasures to them, giving them all sorts of intelligence about the kingdom.

Worst of all perhaps when Isaiah tells him that the Babylonians will enslave his people, he is simply relieved that it will happen after he is dead. He’s sort of given up, maybe he’s burned out of the responsibility of being king.

In the last chapter he sang “The living, the living, he thanks you, as I do this day; the father makes known to the children your faithfulness.”

He had it right then, living in gratitude enjoying wisely and with pleasure the time you have, that is a good way to live. The number of your years is in God’s hands, your use of the time is your responsibility.

Isaiah 38

King Hezekiah has his life extended. Isaiah announces it during a sickness. He won’t die, he’ll get an extra 15 years.

It’s matched with a promise that the Assyrians won’t attack during that time.

The King writes a poem talking about his bitter dread of death, and his praise of God for extending his life.

The theology of afterlife wasn’t as set in the old testament as the new. They had Sheol, this sort of grey neverland, not hell but not heaven either. 

David wrote that he would dwell in the house of the lord forever, feasting. He seems to have had a sense of eternal blessing, but the full notion of heaven didn’t come till Jesus.

I’ve probably got about 35 years unless I go early. I already think about whether I’ll be able to finish a song for every book in the Bible. If I push it too far, they may be very poor songs, you know if I’m 90 and have altziemers.

And I pray that I will say everything I want to to my kids, and that Kelly and I will have more time together to enjoy each other, not always harried.

This is a good reminder about getting your house in order.

Isaiah 29

Plan and meta plan. Disaster and recovery.

You think you have it bad, you forget God

Then God acts, and you wish you had it bad like you had it before, because now you realise you are on the wrong side of the universe.

And in that broken state, grace and mercy glimmer and become possible.

So it starts talking about a siege of Jerusalem, and then all the seiges.

Then how blind they are that they can’t see it is all God’s judgement.

He uses metaphors of double incomprehension.

So he says their concern about the seiges is like a hungry man dreaming of eating, and when they realise it’s God’s judgement will be like them waking up and realising they actually are hungry.

God’s truth is like a sealed book to them, and when the seal is broken they realise they can’t read.

I think this is written during the time of Hezekiah, which was like a pause before the final fall of Jerusalem. They use the time to practically prepare for the seige, like making a better water supply.

Isaiah’s message is that they desperately need to view their problems as spiritual. He describes their preparations as like clay saying to the potter “I’m the boss!” All the literal fortifications in the world won’t stop God.

It’s like a Matrix moment, they need to wake up from their dream of a life to realise they have no life, and only then can they start to learn what life is and start to find their way back.

Our pastor was taking about telling people about God this week, a subject that puts fear in my heart. I am the world’s least confronting person. It’s why I wrote this blog, all the things I find hard to say to my friends, to my family even. Maybe I need to see myself as cool like Morpheus in the matrix.

“Take the red pill.”

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 20

Borrowed time.

I don’t know how to take Hezekiah. 

He’s a good, relatively godly king at a time when the kingship is doomed.

This tells the notable spiritual events of his reign, and it’s a strange story of the interaction of God and man, and we aren’t given neat moralising. It is what it is.

He gets sick, is told by God/Isaiah its his time. It is before he has defeated the Assyrians. He prays for more life and is given 15 years. He gets a very appropriate sign from God that the promise is real, the sun goes backwards on the sun dial for a day!

He uses the time to deal with the Assyrians – that was in the last chapter I think?

Next we have the story of him welcoming a Babylonian envoy, which was probably a political move to find alliances.

Hezekiah doesn’t seem that interested in politics but really enjoys showing them all his wealth, he’s got prosperous also in his extra time. He is a minor king, it feels lame, like he’s big noting himself when flattered that his loyalty would matter to Babylon.

Isaiah rebukes his pride with a stark prophesy that Babylon will obliterate the kingdom. His children will be enunchs in the Babylonian court. He simply reacts with relief that it will happen after his time.

Knowing the date of his death and knowing that God has ordained that the Empire will fall has made him fatalistic, predictably. It’s made him an island who takes his comfort from the present. Maybe that is why God doesn’t often tell us the date of our deaths.

I had a friend who spent a year or so on borrowed time knowing she would die from cancer. She got very good at accepting love from her friends, and letting them give her treats. 

She got good at not thinking about the inconvenience when she didn’t die on cue and their life was made messy, because she didn’t have the time to worry about it. It was a gift she gave them which they have many years to treasure. The last year or so of her life was a very beautiful thing.

The biographical note about king Hezekiah mentions that he did engineer an clever water supply that made Jerusalem virtually seige proof, so it’s not like he completly ignored the future. 

The commentary I read judged him for his pride, the bragging, which I understand. But I see a certain humility there too, because he accepted God’s judgment, he didn’t try to change it. He asked for and got a temporary stay of the judgement, and enjoyed it for what it was. 

God gave him it because he was faithful, it was an answer to a godly prayer. But the prayer didn’t alter God’s uber plan to cut down the kingdom as a part of the slow revelation of the true Messiah.

It’s both a mercy and a curse to be given the date of your death. I sort of pray that for me God will come like a theif in the night.  

I don’t know what to learn from this! It’s very interesting though, and it says something subtle about God, and our dialogue with him.

It reminds me of Jesus’ impractical compassionate healings – he would have a chance encounter with someone like the woman who was bleeding, and cure her on to the way to somewhere else, and then have to ban anyone from taking about it because he wasn’t ready to die yet. God can seemingly be distracted by his own compassion, and by our faithful prayers.

2 Kings 14

The Lord doesn’t let the culture and the land completely die, but by now Israel and Judah are hopelessly weak and average kingdoms.

They break the pattern of obedient Kings being blessed and evil Kings failing and having shorter reigns.

Amaziah is king in Judah, and he loves Jehovah. But, the writer sadly notes, not like David. He doesn’t move decisively against other religions. He has a bit of a victory, but then launches into a failure civil war and his successor has to rebuild.

The king of Israel is not a follower of Jehovah but wins the civil war and God is merciful to his son, restoring some of their prosperity and land.

The theological signficance of the kingship seems to be slipping away, and we are just getting reports of the waxing and waning of ordinary politics.

It’s depressing. You forget how much God can do with even a tiny amount of faith, you start to crave a tiny bit of faith.

Give me the faith to respond in unpredictable ways to the promptings your word and spirit father, and not live a life of transparently ordinary motivations.

1 Kings 6

The finished temple is glorious. It’s a labour of love and devotion for God, as good as they can make it.

It’s that awkward place where you are doing great work “for God”, and you get a certain pride in it, and you start to wonder if it’s for your own glory quite a bit too. My hobby is writing Christian songs, and it’s there all the time.

But endlessly wondering about motives is also a waste of time. St Paul said as long as Christ is proclaimed, yeah?

When God finally speaks mid chapter I think he’s thinking along similar lines. He says “about this house you are building…” And goes on to say that if they follow the law he will keep his promise and dwell among his people. How is that about the house? House not strictly needed.

For the rest of the chapter the “he” is disconcertingly Solomon, as in “he covered this in pure gold” or “he covered that in finest cedar”.

God doesn’t need their devotion to be expressed though architecture or expensive finishes, he needs it in their heart.

May the use of my time be an overflow of what is in my heart. I’ve been feeling a bit resentful about the time given to silly things at church but that is a good spirit to bring to it

Song: “Bigger than Hillsong”

1 Kings 5

Solomon starts his great task of building the temple. The general theme is of great quality, spare no expense materials and excellent organisation.

The relationship with the neighbours to the north who supply the timbers is striking. Their ruler Hiram is a friend of David’s. He rejoices that they are building the temple and puts it in a godly context. David’s influence on this gentile leader is evident.

Compared to the building of the tabernacle however, I’m missing God. Moses talked to God so intimately. So far this seems like a well oiled, professional show, but a step removed from God.

The manpower required is impressive, you can see why they didn’t do it when at war. ¬†They use conscripted workers. One of the commentators suggested they were enslaved Canaanites, or perhaps they were Israelites I don’t know. But it feels slavey.

Doesn’t feel like the egalitarian society sketched out in the Torah. As king, Solomon is supposed to have the law next to him at all times, and be one of the people. Deuteronomy 17 again. ¬†They came from slaves, and now they are making slaves, it feels a bit off.

It all feels a bit too glam for Israel.

I’ve had a burst of energy, perhaps it’s spring despite struggling with a cold. Feeling upbeat at work. Trying to remember to pray as well as do these readings. I pray a lot for the family.

Deuteronomy 1

The Torah… These multiple books about the law and the journey to Egypt… are a bit like watching CNN cover a big story. Not enough happens for 24 hour news coverage, but they can’t talk about anything else, so they get repetitious.

This book is named for the “words of Moses”. And sure enough in this chapter, he is speaking, telling the same events from his perspective. We are still in the desert, wandering, as we were in exodus, Leviticus and numbers. 

But I need to be Zen about it, if that is not heretical. 

Moses talked conversationally with God. He is a leader of great humility and clarity. His words will reveal God’s mind, as he tells his perspective of the events. 

I must not be impatient, a 21st century man surfing all the world’s knowledge on multiple screens, restlessly bored with a nano second attention span, disappointed that none of the “child celebrities – where are they now” went anywhere interesting.

God is unchanging, he is the creator, he is love, this is his mind. His mind.

So Moses fairly dispassionately talks though the flight from Egypt, the way God led them and how the people lost trust in God and wanted to be back in slavery. 

I hadn’t had the sense so much in the previous telling that they tried to regain the mission after God said only their children would see the promised land. They tried to take the land by military force without God’s help and were defeated. Stuck with the thing they wished for.

Jonah’s futility, you can’t escape God. 

So bless me father as I read this. It’s not a duty, it’s a joy to have your word. Give me the right mind to hear it, like Moses.