Ezekiel 17

Ezekiel is, I’m starting to think the prophet with the most love. The visions don’t hide the horror befalling Israel, but the end point of God’s love winning in the end is repeated more, I think, than in other major prophets. Just a theory.

This prophesy is quite precise about Zedekiah’s reign. He was virtually the last, pathetic king of Judah. He was a puppet king of the Babylonians, but tried a power move of betraying them by relying on a deal with Egypt to protect against them. It was a dumb move that I think made the sacking of Jerusalem necessary.

These political moves are compared to Eagles carrying twigs of Cedar trees -Israel being the twigs. An uncertain propagation strategy compared to flourishing next to a sustaining River.

It ends with a vision of the kingdom of God which Jesus referred to, as a great flourishing tree, full of birds, providing shade and comfort.

At the end of all these alarming analogies of the last few chapters: the cedar twig carried off by Eagles, the prostitute, the dead vine; are promises of God’s salvation.

I’ve read a lot of dire prophesy, and many stories of death and destruction to get this far in the Bible. Maybe I’m just getting de-sensitised to it.

Maybe it was the hopelessness of Ezekiel’s audience, already political captives, learning of the situation at home worsening. There is a lot of grace here. Hope despite everything.

It’s what is so appealing about the Bible: yes there is a reason we have spiritual longings as well as fleshly desires There is a God. The one constant, and God is a God of love.

Jesus is love in human flesh. In a world of evil, against all odds, God’s kingdom is established.

Psalm 124

Even Atheists have God on their side. Every breath comes from God.

Or doesn’t, if God is not real.

But it’s not like believers’ breaths come from God and unbelievers’ don’t. It’s one or the other.

Unless reality is subjective. Hmm.

I sometime toy with the idea that my faith is a construct. It’s certainly a culture I enjoy and am comfortable in. It’s an ethic I relate to, it gives me meaning and purpose. If it turned out not actually to be true, I’d still be ahead of the game, really.

But it’s when I contemplate actually trying to believe God is not there that I realise I’m a true believer. You can be frustrated with your spouse or your kids. You can think “if it weren’t for Kelly, I would eat pizza more often. I like pizza” But if they were ever actually gone, your love for them would be overwhelming. Pizza would taste like poisonous cardboard.

On a TV panel show yesterday they were discussing an experiment where they dropped wallets with money to test peoples ethics… Would they take cash and/or credit cards?

The panelists all said they would return it with cash and all, but none would say because it was the right thing to do. They came up with pretty far fetched scenarios about how it was actually to their benefit to hand it in. One of the panelists, a Muslim, didn’t comment. He would have put it in a moral framework, maybe he was embarrassed to link it to faith in God? It made me think that absolute right and wrong seem out of fashion, an uncomfortable reason for doing things.

Anyway this psalm is all about remembering and realising how we would be nowhere but for God. King David points to tangible examples of saving grace in the past. Then the last image, of a bird escaping a snare, and the snare being destroyed, opens up larger, more permanent aspects of God’s grace and love.

God’s presence, moment to moment. And in a larger, eternal sense, no more tears, crying or pain.

Free as a bird.

Psalm 83

A frustration-with-enemies Psalm.

The enemies of Israel grow stronger, and this is a plea for God to stop being silent and let them know who is Lord.

He had a different plan. We know he is Lord not because he has stricken all the enemies of Israel, but because from Israel came a global saviour, Jesus.

But there are still enemies, grumbling and conspiring. How much should I hate them?

My favourite metaphor in the psalm is the anticipation of Israel’s enemies losing their power, and being like tumbleweed, life chaff. So insubstantial that the wind blows them away.

When I look at the list of enemies in the alliance plotting against Israel, they have proved thus. None are still world powers, most are footnotes of history.

We pray for God’s will to be done on earth, which is not so very different from this psalm.

I actually work at not feeling too culturally threatened by God’s enemies.

The assurance that God is in control controls a xenophobic reaction to how comfortable people are with openly mocking God these days.

These palms should be read as Psalms reaching for faith and confidence, not fear and revenge.

Their ‘downfall’ could be coming to know God’s grace. That would be my preferred method of their destruction as enemies.

We all come to terms with passing time.. their downfall might be after my time on earth is done.

I feel at work for the salvation army and at church in glebe, we are battling a tide of indifference and growing malice towards Christianity. It’s not global, mainly western countries.

I’m going to brainstorm the sign for our church next week. How to approach a message to my suburb. It’s been populist comfort, it’s said ‘lay down your burdens’. But what next ‘destruction is nigh’?

Job 2

Having lost everything dear to him, Job is further tested by being covered in sores. We get the iconic image of him sitting in ashes, scraping his sores with pottery.

The heaven of Job is such a strange pantomime. The characters of God and Satan are like those Warner Brothers cartoons where bugs bunny goes to the afterlife.

I developed plans as a youth to write a musical of Job, where God and Satan were depicted by hand puppets in like a punch and Judy show. Its like Uz, Job’s mysterious home town, is Oz, a dreamscape of the actual world.

Ray Minniecon, the indigenous pastor at our church memorably taught it as an indigenous story. There are none of the chosen people in it, is about non Jewish spirituality. Job has abundant blessing and is righteous and known by God. Everything good and dear to him is taken away from him one day, and replaced by disease.

This is the chapter where Job’s 3 friends arrive, who will discuss his situation, and his wife who tells him to curse God and die.

It hooks you in by setting up this extreme case. I react, ‘I’ve got problems, but not compared to job’ and the majority of readers are in that boat, it instantly challenges your frustrations with life, your anger at God or the universe. The psalms give you permission to vent to God (though they ask a despairing ‘why?’ rather than actually curse God).

This chapter of Job sets up a doubt about my perspective on my problems. I may not have job security, my kids may have all sorts of issues, but at least they are alive and I’m not homeless and covered with sores, eh?

Psalm 53

Almost identical to psalm 14. It’s an adaptable song a bit like happy birthday, except you substitute a reference to your current problem at the end instead of a person’s name.

Last time I wrote a lot about atheism. This time I got distracted at how the goal posts keep shifting on who’s ‘good’/believers and who’s ‘bad’/unbelievers.

It seems clear when it talks about the ‘fool who says in his heart there is no God’. Atheists, or in their day practical atheists who follow religion as a custom but don’t believe it in their heart.

But its less clear when it goes on to say everyone is corrupt, emphatically: no one does good, and no one seeks God.

And indeed, ‘believers’ continue to sin. We are scarcely seeking God when we are lying, cheating, lusting, resenting, being cowards for God, are we?

Then the goal posts seem to move again and it talks about the ‘evildoers’, who are attacking them, who will be beaten by fear.

We’ve seen again and again God’s favourite and most convenient shortcut to a military victory is to fill the enemy with unfounded fear, so they retire in confusion, or worse, destroy each other.

I like how David doesn’t really argue for God. He is confident that unbelief is a self deception, which will run aground on facts.

But that response to attack requires the most faith. The Israelites had to literally do nothing but trust God. Which can be terrifying. Fear and fools on their side too.

So you have a scenario of an impending attack on Israel, and David is saying: none of us are good, none of us deserve to win. We can be fools like our attackers and not trust God, or call on him.

You may call yourself a ‘believer’, but we are basically all the same evil hearted beings. Calling on God to overcome fear, trusting him for the crisis, is the thing.

David was clearly longing for Jesus, the one uncorrupt man. We know him, but the psalm still rings true. So many Christians prefer to trust politics for the crisis, for instance.

And I’m worried about my future, and my family. Let’s see how I go.

2 Chronicles 24

A sadder take on this king than in Kings. At 7 he became king, having lived his childhood hidden in the temple. Under the influence of his mentor/ priest, he reigns as a lover of God for many years and rebuilds the temple.

When the old mentor/father figure/priest dies king Joash comes under the influence of the local rulers of towns in his kingdom, who don’t necessarily believe Jehovah. They reestablish the folk religions and Baal worship.

The new priest Zechariah, son of king joash’s mentor, condemns this, but the king is persuaded to turn on the priest and he is stoned to death.

In these times God’s judgement is concrete and direct. Invaders come and smash Judah as punishment for rejecting God. The rulers are killed, king Joash is wounded, and vulnerable to a court conspiracy. He’s killed and ignominiosly buried.

The king was weak, the rebuilding of the temple and reestablishing the religion, happened because the mentor priest, Jehoaida, was effectively ruling. He bent like a reed when other influences got to him.

The king was bought up in the temple. The Jesuits said ‘ give me a child until they are 7 and we’ll have them for life’ but it wasn’t true in this story and it’s not true now. The church needs to rely on much more than inheritance and culture to thrive.

2 Chronicles 16

Asa’s loss of faith and decline.

A contrasting victory to the last chapter, where he prayer for and got God’s help. Here he buys the allegiance of a foreign nation against the northern kingdom, using treasury from the temple.

God sends a prophet to tell him he’s done the wrong thing and he turns on God, jailing the prophet. He also starts unfairly oppressing the people, and when he gets a chronic illness, refuses prayer over it.

This is all merely noted, a sad, flawed end to an otherwise long, peaceful and pious reign.

On the weekend an older guy at church, I’d guess in his 70s was baptised. Sort of the opposite of this story. I found it moving that he came to that decision at that point in his life.

While we live, our thinking is not set.

Isaiah 53

This must surely be one of the most eloquent and beautiful descriptions of the heart of Christianity.

Lots of sheep metaphors, so affecting because sheep are so vulnerable.

This poetry links the old teaching about sacrifice for sin with the “new thing” Isaiah has started to describe. God has prepared Israel for this step by having them mindfully slaughter sacrificial sheep for generations. But the idea is still a huge leap.

To compare the mighty creator God we’ve met so far: the firey cloudy pillar guiding us through the wilderness, shaking mountains and carving his words on the rock, to a lamb; one being passively slaughtered, is almost incomprehensible.

The servant is beaten, whipped, his striped scars heal us.

Then killed. And in that paradox, the mightiest God submitting to humiliation and destruction, is my sin absorbed.

For we are also like sheep, wandering off, helpless, incapable of following instructions or caring for ourselves.

Such a complete and clear description of my beliefs, the years melt away.

Hundreds of years between Isaiah and Jesus, thousands of years between Jesus and me. All the scar tissue of my own 55 years, I am a new creation again. For me it requires no rationalisation, it is simply truth which has stood and will stand forever.

When I step back from the moment and realise what I am reading, I get a chill. The holy spirit, surely. These ancient writings, so beautiful, predicting Jesus so accurately and so meaningfully. Speaking right to my heart. Loving, saving. The voice of my God.

Isaiah 7

A story of the options of trusting or not trusting God when you are scared, and how many steps ahead God really is.

Isaiah lived in the smaller Southern Israelite kingdom of Judah. They faced an attack by an alliance of the Northern kingdom, Israel, and Syria. The king and the general population were in mortal terror.

Isaiah meets the king, Ahaz, and through Isaiah God says he’s got it sorted.

The threat is all smoke and no fire. Ahaz is given a promise… The child of a woman who conceives and gives and gives birth will not be yet eating solid food before the threat is disposed of. Max 2 years, problem solved.

But the king does not trust God. In the end he makes an alliance with Assyria, giving them most of the kingdom’s treasure for protection.

They prove to be an unreliable partner, and eventually Judah is attacked by both them and Egypt at the same time, a far worse result than the original attack the alliance was designed to avoid.

The simple lesson is “trust God”.

You can sometimes still get good stuff by trusting yourself, like love, wealth, good times.

But God is mightier, stronger, more able to bless, and ultimately loves you more than you could love yourself, so you are better off trusting him.

The twist is that Isaiah knew the king would not trust God. To his meeting he bought his son, whose name “a remnant will survive” pointed to the outcome, and the ultimate fate of Judah.

Furthermore, remember the sign about God saving them by the time a child was eating solid food? It has a familiar cadence that jumps out at you in the text “a virgin will give birth to a son, and he shall be called ‘Immanuel'” ( God with us)…

That prophesy had a near and far meaning, being quoted when Jesus was born.

Because God is always several jumps ahead of our fear and our plans. And his salvation is eternal.

2 Kings 13

Read the chapter, read the commentary. Don’t really understand, don’t really want to. 

We are looking at Kings of the northern kingdom. They all start with J. One is the father one is the son, one has the same name as the southern kingdom’s king and seems to be used interchangeably with the son. 

In the middle Elisha dies. It’s fairly low key, he is old and gets ill, unlike Elijah before him who went up to heaven in a chariot.

The king(s) semi respect him. They see him as a man of God, but they don’t stop worshipping God the wrong way. 

This half hearted faith shows in a story about lacking boldness, where dying Elisha gets the king to symbolically claim future victories by banging arrows on the ground. The king doesn’t really get it, and doesn’t get the blessing of victory he could have got. 

Fits with the theme of Kings which is how half hearted compromised lives of faith mean richness of God’s blessing forfeited.

Good wants bold faith. The kind that says “the odds may be impossible, but God’s message is clear so I’m going ahead anyway”.