Daniel overview

It’s about scale, about the kingdoms and evil of this world having more grip, for a longer period, and with more power, than we could imagine. But also it’s point is to emphasise the larger scale of hope. That God’s presence and his plan, the now and the future, are stronger.

It’s set when things were about as bad as they could be for Israel. Daniel is a talented Israelite marked for success in Babylon, who have destroyed and pillaged Jerusalem’s temple. The assumption is that he will lose his Jewish identity and faith, as a symbol of it being vanquished in general.

So he and his other Jewish friends don’t, a model of encouragement and God’s protection. In three stories the theme recurs in the book: his refusal to eat unclean food in the palace, the fiery furnace and the lions den. God is present honouring those choices. In the fiery furnace, God walks around in human form, a striking incarnation.

There is also the battle of earthly Kings and God. Nebuchadnezzar is depicted as a gleefully impossible narcissist until the fiery furnace experience, and then a dream and it’s fulfillment of his complete madness so he became like a beast. He accepts God’s dominion and praises God.

His son sees the writing on the wall (“your days are numbered”) at a feast devoted to desecrating the artefacts plundered from the temple, but will not acknowledge God and is assassinated that night.

So there are concrete stories of God’s presence and dominion despite Israel’s low state in the book. But dreams and visions weave through too. And they are bleak as well as exalting. The hard times of evil kingdoms will last much longer than the exile, and be far worse than Babylon.

BUT God’s victory will be total, and a “son of man” will be present with us, and then prove to be God, leading the way to glorious resurrection of the dead for all God’s people to be with God of forever.

God promises to be present now and in the future and forever, as he has been in the past; despite things seeming impossible and getting dramatically worse.

This prophetic book is not at all about Israel’s sin. It has inspiring examples of people trusting in God, and of kingly pride being broken. It’s full of promises that the oppressive rule of powerful nations and men are no match for God. It’s one of the most deeply weird, in the reading, but the most optimistic of the prophets.

I’m summarising it a long time after I read it. The are no biographical notes at all, it records simply my impressions of what the book tells me about God without relating it to my life at all. It was 2016, second year of working at Fredon constructions. Good money, secure job. Boring 9-5.

2020, two redundancies, drought, fires and global pandemic since then, I’m feeling it a lot more. I liked how I summarised it in chapter 12. Daniel just wanted Jerusalem and the temple back, but has to struggle with how inadequate that dream was andhow much worse the world could be even if it came true. But also how much bigger God’s plans and love are. I clinging to that promise right now.

God is stronger.

Events in Daniels life

1 During exile, Daniel is a jew in Babylon, in service of the King. He refuses the food on religious grounds, living on water and veggies
2. Daniel interprets the king’s dream, a career masterstroke on many levels by God
3  The burning fiery furnace – the Jewish men didn’t know God would save them, they just knew bowing to another God was wrong
4 written by the King, about his madness and hearing God’s voice.
5 the next King has words from God written on a wall at a feast, aging Daniel is bought in to read them: “your days are numbered”
6 Another King, another salvation, from the lions den

Daniel’s dreams and visions

7 Daniel has a stunning dream of the son of man and the final destruction of the evil one. He finds it disturbing
8 A vision of empires rising and falling, a long term thing that still teaches us to trust that God is in control
9 Daniel reads Jeremiah and prays movingly for return from exile, but is disturbed by a larger, confusing vision of God’s plans
10 Daniel has a gleaming vision of God in the form of a man, again talk of future politics
11 a vision of the future persecution of the Jews by two rival Kings.
12 A truly stunning conclusion to the vision of these three chapters, predicting the return from exile but also the larger heavenly plan of God to resurrect the dead to be with him forever. A revolutionary concept in old testament writing.

Ezekiel 41

Another chapter of Ezekiel relating detail from God about the design and dimensions of a temple to replace the destroyed temple of Solomon.

One commentator compared it to people who plan to build a house, and the pleasure they get from obsessing on the plans or going to the empty block of land, to pace out a dusty plot imagining where their kitchen and bedrooms will be.

For the Israelites stuck in Babylon without hope, it was no doubt a wonderful source of comfort and hope. And they did get back as promised, and build a temple. They had these plans but not the resources to execute them for the second temple.

Never having planned an overseas holiday before, a had friends warning me when to start booking things, and I realised you don’t have to just just turn up to a place and look for a car hire place and some accommodation, then get out a map and figure out what to see. In fact, it’s probably a really bad idea.

Heeding their advice, planning the itinerary and filling it in with bookings, watching the back account disappear, I started to see why people get so addicted to travel. It got exciting. I see how people use it as an escape, sitting in their dull offices planning this little heaven, this holiday.

I’ve always been turned off by feeling sad that is so short, and guilty that it’s so indulgent. I still feel that a bit, but I won’t die having never done it I suppose.

And despite the greed it can inspire, the arguable waste of resources it can represent, that part of us that imagines something better and dreams and schemes to make it happen is a connection to the divine.

Psalm 94

…. And vengence for the wicked.

This Psalm goes a step further from the visions of safety and triumphant goodness of the past few Psalms. It recognises shocking, abusive, exploitative cruelty.

As if God’s wouldn’t know about this. He who made the ear wouldn’t hear, who made the eye wouldn’t see.

It sets out 2 paths. One of discipline and one of destruction. Blessed is he who is disciplined.

The behaviour that brings about the destruction of the wicked: opportunistically killing the vulnerable, is the discipline that almost overwhelmes the righteous.

The wicked will band together, take charge and seem to be winning, but have no doubt that you’ll want to be on god’s side.

I’m quite down at the moment, and I can relate to the idea that both the paths are a bit miserable. It’s not fun being disciplined.

It sounds silly in this cosmic level of things, but as a family we just keep hitting obstacles at the moment. My wife at one point had no phone plan, home internet or bank access. Plus her study portal access was out. Kids have health and employment issues.

All these expensive things happened: printer broke, dishwasher, I broke a window, couch legs broke… It went on. You know when you feel like you can’t seem to win a trick?

And it’s true that when you are feeling sorry for yourself, the triumph of evil is particularly testing.

My faith should be stronger, but it’s tested by these things.

It feels good to review it, set it out. I’ll pray.

Job 21

I feel like we are stuck in a rut at this point. The arguments of the friends are going in circles. If anything, they are becoming more entrenched in their positions, more parallel.

In the last chapter Zophar made a pretty straight forward case for materialism and greed being bad. While not denying that evil people don’t always get a comeuppance in life, he said they will not have spiritual satisfaction and death will make a mockery… You can’t take it with you.

To which job replies with bracing cynicism. The prosperous evil and the miserable good lie side by side in the grave, one having had a great time and the other having had a lousy time. How is that an argument for a moral life?

We see the wicked grow old, increase in power and prosperity, everything goes right for them and they die in peace.

Job doesnt address Zophar’s question of spiritual satisfaction directly, though he does address the superstition that their evil will be visited on later generations of their family. He says no one whose had a sweet life really cares about what happens to their family after they die.

Did someone zoom books by Camus or Neitzsche backwards through time to Job… (or were those guys less trail blazing than they thought?)

We’re half way though the book, we’ve gone from the victim and consolers being supportive and sharing, engaging over the calamities Job has suffered… to being disengaged, insensitive and entrenched in their own self referential world views based on their own narrow experiences.

I spoke to the disaster management people at work, and they will care for the victims of a flood, fire etc for years after it is in the press, after the appeals are over and after the urgent public cries for better responses have died down.

Regardless of our philosophy of suffering, we all practically face the fact that there is way more injustice and suffering in the world than we can process or affect. We deal with it by being insensitive to most of it most of the time.

And doing the NIMBY thing of howling most about stuff that directly affects us, like Job is.

So while I’m annoyed that job is stuck in a rut, it’s got to the place most of us are at, so it’s an authentic rut to get to.

God? Where are you? We’re slowly building to the appearance of God, the wisdom of mankind is running out. It’s an effective bit of literature because the absent player is being teased almost to breaking point…

Psalm 46

These psalms of the Sons of Korah are a hit parade. This is one of the best known. Almost impossible for Christians of a few generations not to hear Dambusters theme as you read it.

3 stanzas, like Psalm 42 they have the violent water and the calm water. Earth’s overwhelming flood and cataclysmic shifts. Environmentally, and as a parable of life.

Then the calm of heaven, God’s control with a soothing river, unmovable.

Then the chaos of Earth again, but the promise of peace.

There is heaven and earth, calm and chaos.

God is present in each, so here in the chaos, calm down, be still and remember his presence.

All pithily done as a song with a returning chorus. A cheer up ditty to hum though the day and rouse up group optimism when the faithful gather.

So what are my worries?

The news this morning presents urgency over the environmental clock. The world seems incapable of focus.

Politics is sort of in turmoil. The way news is consumed, via algorithms that, in the hunt for clicks, endlessly pander to everyone’s confirmation bias. Perfectly designed to undermine fundamental institutions of tolerance, majority consensus, civility. Polarised ungenerous thinking everywhere you look, into which sweeps opportunists.

Personally, the family seems incurably sad.

I don’t know if it’s daylight saving, but I am overwhelmed, too many balls in the air, ironically sapping my energy.

Prone to blank panic when I get discretionary time. What should I be doing? Why is my head so blank? Should I make a list? Maybe this is what early dementia feels like?

Economic uncertainty going into the end of the year, don’t know if I’ll have a job, we keep spending too much money.

God is with us. The mountains may be plunging into the sea, but he promises wars will cease. He’s bigger than all of it, it makes sense to him. All will be well.

Be still, know he’s there.

He’s present, he’s present, present.

2 Chronicles 17

The start of several chapters about the reign of Jehoshaphat. Compared to Kings, the book, there are only half the number of biographies, but much more detail.

He loves God, gets a lot of respect, the nation prospers. He looks after security, fortifying a number of the towns.

He’s set up as an average good king, the interesting stories will come in the next chapters.

I’m somewhat care worn. Running on without much inspiration. My musical project is going terribly.

I think I’ve perhaps been approaching music the wrong way, emphasising personal creativity rather than group music making.

Work is good but the uncertainty is nagging. It will probably go fine as in, I will probably have an ongoing role there, but we aren’t actually there yet, and the responsibility and implications for the family if it doesn’t work out are terrible.

I feel our relative poverty affects everyone every day, and there’s nothing I can easily do about it.

But you know, glad Jehoshaphat was a good king.

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.

 

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.