Isaiah 8

Judgement, protection, response.

Prophesy runs strong in Isaiah’s family. His wife is a prophet, his children are walking prophesies. He has “a remnant will return” already, and now he has “fast plunderers, running prey”. And while not his, he spoke of a child “God with us” in the last chapter.

These three living words of God are entwined into a prophesy in this chapter, of the Assyrian attack that will destroy the northern kingdom, and nearly engulf the southern too. He compares the invasion to a flooding river. These are the fast plunderers, Israel is the running prey.

He mentions Judah, the northern kingdom being Immanuel’s, ie: God will be with them in the near flood. It’s like a Noah’s Ark story. 

But the remnant reminds them that God will be with them through their own invasion, to return to Jerusalem literally, and of course to be key to the plan for his salvation of all nations.

The chapter ends with Isaiah telling himself and any disciples who will listen to internalise their faith, bind up the testimony, seal the teaching in their hearts and wait for him, so they can resist the conspiracy theorists who say god has abandoned them when it all seems to have gone to pot, and resist the temptation to turn to occult God’s instead.

This is really the whole role of the prophets, to enlarge the truth of God’s saving nature and plans beyond the literal success or failure of the Israelite nation(s).

My response to learning this is still to bind God up in my heart.

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Numbers 34

This is the business end of numbers where God tells Moses what will be the borders of the promised land, and tribal representatives are appointed to go with Joshua, Moses’ replacement as leader, and the high priest to claim it and set the tribal boundaries.

Its sort of pragmatic and sort of weird.  Moses converses with God.  We’d possibly call him crazy today.  They got to be a nation that didn’t have land – a slave nation within Egypt.   Directed by God, they’ve arrived at this occupied, relatively random land, which they are to claim by driving out or killing everyone living there… complete annihilation of the existing culture and existence. I feel disloyal to God saying that, or should I say untrusting of his justice.

Its a formative moment in history – no land, no nation, no nation no messiah, no messiah no christianity.  Love it or hate it, Christianity is the biggest religion, a third of the planet. Judasim not far behind. Its a big deal moment.

Speak to me, father.

Judges 21

In the aftermath of the civil war, there is a real risk that Benjamins tribe will die out all together. There is a remnant. 

The people arrange for them to get brides. This is done by the most horrific of means, more slaughter, kidnapping. I was reminded very much of boko haram’s virgin stealing in the modern day.

The final chapters of judges have shown the utter failure of God to make a people of the law. Its in a way the story of two priests. First we had the Levite who was a mercenary, then the Levite who left his bride to be ravished and then stirred up a war over it.

In exodus, Sodom and Gomorrah was the symbol of how far man fell from the garden. We see a similar story play out in Israel, to show that god’s chosen people, in his chosen land have fallen further. 

I have grown to accept the decreasing influence of the church in my world in my lifetime. God has not left Israel because of it sin, nor will he leave us. 

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.

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.

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.

 

Zechariah 2

A season when things happen. The old testament has this sense of a plan that seems random from the outside. From the moment Abraham happens to walk one way and not another and sees a burning bush, the story of God’s intervention with the world just happens to god’s agenda, in his time.

This chapter has a sense of things all coming in a rush, and many of the plans of God on show.

A man is despatched to measure the size of the literal Jerusalem, but an angel rushes to tell of a cosmic Jerusalem that has walls of God’s fire and contains people of all nations.

It tells of the Messiah, of God sending god to live among us.

There is retribution coming for the nations who plundered Jerusalem, and justice for his people. But also salvation for all. It is a mighty vision of God’s power, and the season for it is now. “Be still”, it concludes, for god has roused himself from his holy dwelling.

A good response to the power of God.

Ezra 2

All the 42000 people who were returned to Jerusalem. You have to feel for the 600 or so who made the trek but couldn’t establish their family records.

Though they have been exiles, some are obviously wealthy, not your average refugees. 7000 slaves come with the group. They give offerings for the rebuilding of the temple. I don’t know how much the sum is relatively, but they carry a reasonable amount for that job with them.

I love how musicians are a separate group. It’s so defining of a culture and a religion.

The picture is of a people who’s sense of being a people under God is very important to them. They don’t have to think twice when told they can return to Jerusalem, despite success where they were.

Nehemiah 9

The celebrations of the return to Jerusalem of exiles continues with a vast confession prayer. Part of it is remembering god’s goodness, and many significant moments in Israel’s history are recited. Then the related failure of the people to obey God, and his constant mercy.

They are aware that God has blessed them even in exile, and are clear that they are to blame for it by ignoring and killing the prophets. They do bring the fact that the city is still under foreign rule to him, and set the stage for a deal, a promise that will be made in chapter 10.

The history of Israel is one of God’s mercy and their failure.

I am feeling depressed at the moment, a bit stuck on the treadmill, sad about church because I am disappointed with our minister at the moment. Not really connecting with this right now, but I shall carry on in faith and pray for mercy.

Psalm 25

When “Waiting” is not just passing time.

Its a deliverance song like so many of them, but the emphasis very much on the writers relationship with God and the writers internal desire to have God transform him. The enemies make an appearance but they are not the emotional focus. The psalm should be called “deeper and deeper into god” because it takes each thought about God as a starting point for further expanded thoughts on the goodness of God.

1-3 has the familiar “I’m the worthy one, smight the unworthy” form.  But the kingdom heartedness and the relative temperance of the language already subverts the revenge cliché with shafts of grace. The worthiness comes from trusting God and waiting for God, two very passive “good” qualities, which set up the gracious theme.  And the evil trait of the enemies is “wanton treachery”, a depersonalised slight that is a crime against God’s revelation most of all. He calls for justice in shaming: may the proper people be ashamed. It’s a justice with the advancement of God’s kingdom at heart, and not a harsh justice.  

Then the revenge theme is left alone altogether for a few verses with a section that expands on the idea of waiting for God as a personal spiritual journey.

“Waiting” is understanding God’s mind, his paths, being led by truth and learning from it.

He expresses regret over past sins, appealing to God’s character of solid love and mercy, generally and also specifically to him. It’s all God. He doesn’t even suggest “I’ll be good, so treat me right”. It’s all “you are good”. All we can give God is acknowledgement.

He expands further on the goodness and teaching of God. God leads, shows his path, we are sinners he forgives, the humble will learn goodness and see the godly way forward.

He speaks again of his great guilt, and the need to fear God. Fearing God is to trust his guidance, friendship and providence,  keep your eyes on him even when you’re feet are stuck in a net.

This last image for me introduces an unexpected note of urgency into the song.  Until now the enemies have be vague. Does the writer mean to say that all the while he’s been expanding and expanding on God’s mercy, it’s been an emergency?

It’s verse 15, for me is the defining image of the song.  Reminds me of judee sills ” ridge rider”, his eyes on the horizon and his boots on the ground “

He then prays the prayer I would have prayed straight away in an emergency ” help, I’m all alone and things are terrible – many violent people hate me – deliver me!” Even so, his own struggle with godliness is more in the foreground than the immediate external threats.

How rich it is when he returns to his theme to conclude “may integrity and uprightness  preserve me as I wait for you.”

He then prays that the whole of Israel will be delivered in the same way.
How true it is that when you feel pressured and panicky, and desperate for gods guidance, what seems like external issues is so often actually an internal struggle not to trust God. You pray for guidance like a shaft of wisdom to beam down and mcgyuver a specfic problem, but God’s answer is to be still and contemplate his goodness.