1 Chronicles 21

The story of the census David took of the people and the punishment that came of it.

I remember the story from Samuel. It happens when David is very old. They have left out not only the Bathsheba/lust/murder incident, but many messy family dramas and a whole civil war, it’s really a ‘glory days’ book.

But this incident is a tragedy none the less.

In this telling, David’s urge to count the people is attributed to Satan. Clearly it’s meant to be seen as evil, but I still have to visit the commentary to understand why it is bad.

Counting implied ownership in the ancient world. It’s like David is saying they are his people, not God’s. And I get that.

David is about to die, and thinking about legacy, he wants to die knowing how big and powerful Israel has become, what a great king he’s been.

At the start of his reign, it was very much God is king, David the servant. It might seem like a subtle sin, but it is pride, the start of so much evil.

His sin is inevitable, his response is rare, and shows his godliness.

David’s pride evaporates when the prophet condemns him, he is repentant.

There is a basis in the old law for this being a sin that by justice should be punished with death. In Exodus, the counting of the people was accompanied by payment to God of a ransom for their life, acknowledging this idea that they are God’s to number. David hasn’t done that, and its a law he should know.

He gets from God a choice of punishment and to his credit he chooses the one which is most random, disease. His other two options, war and famine, disproportionately hit the poor and shield the rich. It’s the option most likely to hit him personally.

God loves those who die of the disease, I think he’s showing David they are his people. We believe death has no sting, that we go to a new more perfect earth. But pain is left behind.

Jesus told the parable of the rich fool who spends what turns out to be his last day on earth counting his wealth. His death is random, he’s not struck down because he counted his money. However, the fact that he could be struck at any time, the fact of death, whether today, tomorrow, or many years later, makes counting your wealth, indulging in greed and pride, a meaningless pastime, a wasted life.

What is the point of feeling like the great successful king and treating the people as your people, God is saying. None of it is actually in your control, you are not king.

David has the double pain not only of losing people to a plague, but of knowing that their years being cut short is highlighting the foolishness of his pride.

The place of his repentance and offering of a sacrifice to God to prevent further destruction is majorly significant.  God tells him to offer a sacrifice at this threshing floor, like a mill.  Its a place of transformation, crushing the wheat, throwing away what is not needed, producing flour for bread.

The commentary says its the first time God has named a geographical place for sacrifices.  Up til now, its been in the tabernacle, of no fixed address.  This location becomes the site of the temple, and also the site of Calvary.  The great preacher, Charles Spurgeon goes mental about it.

As an origin story for post-exile Jews, re-establishing the temple – the target market for chronicles – it is a key part of the book.

I love that each person’s story of God is linked to a time and a place. I think its increasingly important to view the church as an Australian church, Australia as a spiritual place, and within that, our localities as spiritual places. The different churches should unite in that, letting the ties to other countries, histories and traditions, which can divide the church, fade.

But also in this story, God’s love and justice are mysteriously on display. David’s weakness is a vehicle for God’s love and transformation beyond what even the original readers of Chronicles could imagine.

 

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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.

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”. Joshua asks him who’s side he’s on, and the warrior angel says ‘neither’.  Its a fascinating message from God about the meaning of the enterprise, and all we really get about the fairness of it.

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.