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?

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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”. 

2 Kings 1

The Wild God

1 Kings and 2 Kings were written as one book. They continue seamlessly, 1 ended with bad king Ahab receiving judgment and 2 starts with his son, bad king Ahaziah receiving the same.

The Judah kings perversely avoid Jehovah. Ahaziah is injured 2 years into his reign and sends envoys to enquire of the god Baal in a neighbouring land whether he will recover.

Inspired by God Elijah intercepts the envoys to tell him he won’t, and remind him that Israel already has a God.

The king sends three squads of 50 men with a commander to fetch/kill Elijah. He calls down fire on the first two, the signature move from the battle of the gods, Baal vs Jehovah, a story the king would surely know well.

The third squad of men are very polite and obsequious, pleading for their lives. Elijah goes with them and delivers his message to the king’s face. He dies.

It’s a simple ancient – and modern – story: pretending God doesn’t exist.

The Israel kingdom kings are effectively like atheists. However having no belief wasn’t really an option in the ancient world.

Elijah had proved dramatically that Baal wasn’t there. I think the kings actually liked that, a tame God, a God in a box, controllable. So they could get on with running the show.

A life threatening injury bought on thoughts of mortality, but still he tried, and failed, to avoid the wild God.

Numbers 24

Lest there be any doubt….

High on a mountain, overlooking the Israelites camp, Balaam continues to tell the Moabites king that the Israelites are blessed and chosen by God and it would be futile to try and fight them.

Balaam drops his theatre of divination which is his stock in trade and goes into a transcendental spirit filled state where he sees God’s truth. He launched into another pean of praise for Israel.

Balak, the Moabites king get angry at that point, but Balaam reminds him that he said all along he would tell the truth, before he even agreed to come and give his message to the king. He didn’t mention that he had a conversion experience during the journey where his donkey persuaded him to actually do it.

The king sends balaam away, but before he goes, for good measure he gives a fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh message from God about how disastrous it will be if they challenge the Israelites. 7 messages for the 7 sacrifices they offered in the last chapter.

I absolutely love this story. Praise God for such an example of the foolishness of trying to defy him. The is grace and humour in it.

But I fear the Moab king will be to proud to listen.

Exodus 38

The sacrificial altar and paraphenalia, of bronze, where animals will die as offering to acknowledge that all things come from God, and to take away sin.

The curtains that define the courtyard, where the people will come. Sure there is a holy of holies, a layer within the layers, where almost no one can go. But it’s still a bit mind blowing that the people can get as close to God as they do. 

They’ve wandered a long way from home on a second hand experience of god’s presence (well they do have the magical food, and the cloud/fire guidance system.

Even more mind blowing is the Christian evolution of this theology, that our body is a temple where God dwells.

Moses has them record all the materials from which the work was done. The logistics of their situation are daunting, almost impossible to imagine. 

600000 people. And while they had become slaves, in Egypt they didn’t do that bad. They have a prodigious amount of gold, bronze, cloth, wood etc they have bought with them. And herds of animals. And they’ve made this very big fancy tent the will now continue to drag through the desert for decades. 

It must have been a crazy hard life. It went on for 40 years, none of the generation who left Egypt would see the promised land, only their kids I think. 

Mind you, modern scholarship has found almost no corroborative evidence for any of exodus. The most compelling history is the book itself which was written much later from a bunch of sources, that presumably came from somewhere. Historians’ explanations of how and why the story came to be are about as threadbare as the evidence of any of it happening. 

Personally I don’t care much about that sort of thing. Once you’ve bought that a creator God made everything, why not? And for me the alternative, no God, no meaning, has never seemed remotely plausible. 

And I’m with the overwhelming flow of humanity there. I don’t see atheism as the natural state of any people.  They tend towards the theory, the experience, of a God.

There is the atheism of youth, a sort of indifference to God because just being alive and discovering the joys of the physical world is so compelling and seemingly consequence free. The sort of atheism that evaporates in a hospital room, or just with the passing of years as mortality becomes more evident in your body. 

I think this attitude also exists among believers too. 20 year olds basically feel immortal and invincible. They are the doers of most of the great things of humanity, and a fair share of its worst.

Then there is the bitter, hurt atheism, which I see as an acting out of rebellion against God. That has mostly been fringe in human culture.  

As for other religions, they are a matter for God I think. This one has always rung very true to me, and I am grateful for it.

Praise God!