Song of Songs 4

A whole chapter of praise by the male voice for the loveliness of his beloved. In places it reads pretty hilarious to us because it’s not visual praise. It’s a much parodied part of the book.

If you visualise her neck a stone tower of David, covered with the shields of warriors, and her teeth looking like shorn sheep, it’s ridiculous.

But equally, when did you last hear a modern love song or more to the point watch a love song video that tried to find metaphors for the inherent qualities of a girl, such as her strength and power? We laugh because it’s so unfamiliar for male praise for desirable women not being all about the gaze. The joke’s on us, in a way.

Some cultures emphasise coquettish pursuit and resistance, and have trouble with romantic imagination moving beyond that, fun as it can be.

This chapter is very sexy in a totally exotic middle eastern way, all pomegranates and henna, lions and leopards, scents, and nature (oh my!). But it idealises a strong meeting of equals, both there by choice and equal desire.

There is something mutual about the objectification and ownership of each other here that is super erotic but doesn’t need to play with gender superiority or inferiority to get there.

Their desire for each other delights in their gender difference, but is also strongly about their shared and equal humanness. He keeps returning to the phrase ‘my sister, my bride’.

It takes me back to that first creation story, the female variant of mankind is 100% God’s image, and stands before God equal with the male. So many cultures still struggle with that, yet here it is back when the world was supposed to be less woke.

Taken as a whole the wisdom literature has many moments that extend this equality relationship ideal beyond the burning blaze of first love.

In Ecclesiastes there is the “two is better than one” section, and proverbs praises a partner who is a great organiser and manager. Psalm 68 has this:

The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng

… Except perhaps inside most Anglican churches in my city, which ban women from preaching!

The girl’s voice comes in at the end in response to him at the point where he compares her many delights to a closed garden inside a wall. She says essentially, no wall to you babe, come on in!

She then asks the North and the South winds to blow like the holy spirit, to spread her scent out from her garden, everywhere.

May it be so!

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Proverbs 21

The same themes. And pretty contradictory.

The important thing is our hearts, which the Lord weighs. The Lord values what is right and just, above all. Wealth obtained though lies is as insubstantial as vapour, leaving you caught in its trap.

Then again, bribes are an effective way to do business. The commentators say it’s simply an observation, not a moral principle. But it’s pretty confusing placing it in a book about how to be wise, alongside numerous statements that ARE moral principles. The collection is so random!

Then there is the most famous saying of this chapter… About how horrible it is living in a house with a contentious wife (or woman, could be daughter or relative). Commentator dutifully says it could apply equally to a contentious man. But why specify? There’s plenty about the evil of violence not specifically devoted to men.

Does it by implication mean that the whole of the book is addressed to men?  The options are the man’s. It’s not telling the woman not to be contentious, it’s telling the man to avoid her.

Discussing this with Kelly she mentioned this as an example of why as a woman you get used to interpreting the bible less literally than men.  How do you as a woman read a passage like that?  If you are suffering domestic violence, are you the man in that scenario? Is all this wisdom for men?

You get used to extracting the principle, reading in gender adjustments.

The bribery parts of proverbs could have a different cultural meaning in the ancient world. The commentator’s explanation, that its an amoral proverb, seems to ask more questions than it answers. This theme of wisdom is going to have to be one of those ‘leave it to heaven’ things for me.

I certainly have a softer, less absolute view of theology than I had when I was younger, though I’ve always been someone who avoids hard edges to things. Someone recently reminded me of the – apparently bogus – Winston Churchill quote “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain”. In my experience, for many Christians its the other way around. Start conservative, go liberal.

Anyhow, I’ve got to be content to pick the eyes out of proverbs and not sweat the weirder stuff. And in that vein:

There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan
    that can succeed against the Lord.

Psalm 68

A kaleidoscope montage recalling great moments of God’s saving interaction with his chosen people.

This is a grand processional dance song for the coming of the ark of the covenant to mount Zion in Jerusalem, which David made the capital of a united Israel.

It is THE moment, the end point of the vast saga of exodus, the moment they made it, they are a nation – its the medal ceremony at the end of star wars, throwing the ring into mount doom.

And they had the ark right there, so you had a tangible artifact of God’s protective … and destructive … power around which to singl of his victory and blessing.

The opening is a catchcry from Moses, everyone would have instantly recognised it. Called out as God went before the vulnerable ex slaves in the desert. And he did scatter their enemies. So often mighty armies would just melt away in confusion.

There are references to God’s eternal nature, his superiority, in the clouds, like the pillar of cloud in the desert, and his size. God is called the cloud rider, which is apparently a play on a name for Baal.

There seem to be references to Deborah’s victory song in judges 5, as a way to rejoice perhaps in the relatively progressive position women had in Israel compared to other nations at the time, encouraging all the women to go out and proclaim the word, and win victories for God. They actually get the plunder, compared to the image of the enemy women in Deborah’s song waiting at home for the plunder that will never come from armies that have been scattered and defeated.

God is compared to a magnificent silver and gold dove (the Spirit?) hidden among the plain sheep pens of Israel. Its a bit weird these days, but you can get the vivid power it must have had for them.

The relative weakness of Israel is a returning theme. That God dwells on tiny mount Zion compared to proper big mountains is a symbol of the incredible blessing and victory this small once subjugated nation has had in the Lord.

The are references to the promise to crush the head of the serpent, comparing it to the way that the nations have been subdued, how they have walked through fields of victory, of crushed armies.

There are tender images of God providing family for the lonely, the fatherless, release for the prisoners.

There is an image of God ascended and accepting gifts from the rebellious, the captives, as well as his people. This will literally happen at the bringing of the ark to crown Jerusalem capital. Tribute is coming from nearby lands over whom Israel was ascendant at the time. Paul quotes and flips this in Ephesians, taking about Jesus descending, ascending and giving gifts to the church.

Having zoomed around so much stuff, images of God’s greatness and love for little Israel, the procession comes into view – singers, musicians, girls with timbrels, the tribes… All the tribes coming before the ark.

It ends praying in rich, deep language, for this greatness to continue in God’s blessing of the city. And so it did, this commenced Israel’s golden period of earthly success.

Its all macro and I’m unfortunately living very micro at the moment. I feel somewhat stuck and low energy – can’t get onto all the things I have to do. That Christmas feeling of too much to do while feeling burnt out and impatient for holidays seems to have come super early this year. I want to just let everything slip through my fingers, the energy demands of trying to cope disgust me.

I didn’t really get a weekend, worked all the time on paving, which I didn’t get close to finishing. Perhaps that’s affecting my mood more than it should.

Pray that I can jazz up as in this Psalm, get focused. I’m daunted by the need to get a job and feeling vulnerable and inadequate. I must remember that this psalm is not about the adequacy of Israel/its not about my adequacy, its about the blessing, the good will of God.

I pray that he gives me strength, lollies and coffee just aren’t cutting it right now.

2 Chronicles 34

So we get the story of King Josiah, the last believing King before Jerusalem falls. He rules 31 years, a substantial period but in the sweep of the book it is just like a staging post to the end, fall of Jerusalem. The pattern has become predictable now, a zig zag between followers of idols vs the true God.

At 20 he takes action, ridding all the idolatry. Burns the bones of the Baal etc. priests on their own altars. The violence jolted me, it reminded me of British history of the struggles between catholic and protestant, how deft you had to be not to be on the wrong side of religion.  I suppose the common folk maybe just had to try and keep up: Jehovah, Baal, Jehovah, Baal…

Amid the temple renovations we get a book and a prophesy. The book is the law, a book from the torah is unearthed, probably Deuteronomy or Leviticus or Numbers. It has that powerful mirror effect God’s word does, and the King instantly sees how much he needs God’s forgiveness.

How did it get lost? I hate to be critical, but there are some problems with the Jewish national religion God instituted.

First, just one church – the Temple, where God lives. Practically, people want to worship locally.  That might partly explain why these multiple high places keep popping up.

Second, I can’t see it involves much teaching. The books keep getting lost, and keep being rediscovered from scratch. Josiah is devastated when he hears the Law – even a devout king appears to have had little direct instruction in the word of God.

By Jesus’ time there were Synagogues, which served both needs, but they didn’t start til after the temple was destroyed, apparently in response.

I mean, I know its deeply impertinent telling God how to run his religion better. But working for a church, we do every day, in a way.  In one sense, every denomination is a human take on what God could do better. In yet another sense I suppose, each denomination is part of God’s uber plan. It’s an odd plan, that includes a lot of bizarre input from us.

It warrants thinking about the proper attitude, and God’s larger purpose.  

Josiah calls a prophet – who turns out to be female, just by-the-by (do Anglicans even read these passages?) Speaking with the voice of God, she sees the doom over Jerusalem, but the piety of the King will hold it off during his lifetime.  He becomes all the more devout.

What a strange feeling that must have been, knowing it would all be lost after his time.  We leave the meta plan in God’s hands. Josiah was ultimately saved by the blood of Christ, but he could never have imagined it.

Yet presumably what he did know of the nature of God from the law meant that he did not despair despite being told of disaster for the religious practices and nation he gave his life to fighting for.

When we read the word of God, any of it, in any time period, the eternal interacts with the temporal. We see the eternal true perspective of our current situation, and God’s character is one of love fairness and hope.

A big theme of this books seems to be practical holiness, and there is lots of inspiration.

Different human takes on God’s mighty plan. Australian, female, Salvation army General Eva Burrows meets her Catholic counterpart, Pope John Paul – That’s the Salvation Army salute shes giving him… the Orthodox guy seems quietly amused. Forget gender – which is God’s preferred hat?  eva-pope2

2 Chronicles 23

In the last chapter, an evil woman bought to the South by a marriage alliance with North tried to kill everyone in the house of David. One heir was hidden in the temple by his aunty, wife of one of the priests. 7 years pass.

They stage a perfect coup, and the boy is made king.

God is in the background, he’s promised a great destiny for the Davidic Kings. But he’s not mentioned and doesn’t speak.

It is a religious struggle, the usurper has established a temple of Baal, which is a folk God from the north.

Levite guards kill the usurper and the Baal priest when the boy is declared king.

I find out the restructure of the salvation army section in which I work today, it may mean that it is clear I have to leave, or that there is a clear position for me to apply for.

It could be the road to uncertainty or security.

I’m nervous about it but I do have a sense of God being behind the future, so I’m quite resigned and calm about it too.

True then, true now.

2 Chronicles 22

A chapter of intrigue. The next king is the youngest son, does not love God and rules just one year. It’s a story of false alliance between the North and South, that split after Solomon.

God is mentioned as judge in his death at the hands of an assassin.

His mum the princess from the evil northern kingdom, Israel, stages a northern takeover when he dies and kills everyone in the house of David.

The dead King’s sister manages to hide her nephew, the heir, as a commoner in the temple where he lives 6 years during his grandmother’s reign.

So the promise of the Messiah is barely hanging on though intrigue in a time of rampant evil. It’s Noah in the ark, Joseph in the pit, Moses in the bullrushes, all over again. It will be the baby in the manger.

God’s mighty saving power is sometimes in the smallest things.

Isaiah 30

Isaiah’s prepared them in the last chapter, telling them he needs to wake them from a dream and that is for their own good. And now he whacks them.

This is the full on bleak vision of Jerusalem’s future, their leaders useless, their young men dead, the women and children who survive stripped of all possessions finery and dignity, scabrous, homeless, with only sacks to wear.

It reads a bit like a socialist or misogynist rant again the power structures or the finery of Jerusalem’s women, but the previous chapter set the frame of his concern over their indifference to God. It’s tough love, not rage.

I was struck by the casual sexism of his reference to being ruled by women as a sign that society has gone to the dogs.

But I’m confident that is an artefact of Isaiah’s cultural bias, not the point of the passage. Against it, for example, is the positive contribution of women in kings described in instances of them having special insight into God’s word and taking proactive steps to act on their understanding.

Isaiah would have known female prophets, and in kings at least their gender is a non-issue, they are mentioned only for the truth that they speak

The passage tells me about the urgency of the Christian message, something I find hard to think about.

 

2 Kings 22

One last godly king before exile. Josiah may have been the godliest of all. He renovates the temple and the high priest sends him a book of the law he finds… Presumably its Deuteronomy or something. It has a profound effect on the king.

He asks for words from God and a female prophet Hudah is consulted… They make nothing of the gender, so presumably it was a common occurrence … Don’t tell the conservative ministers in our diocese!

The message is that indeed all the curses written in the law for following idols will call them, but because of Josiah’s penitence it won’t be in his lifetime.

It’s another example of God delaying judgement because of compassion. God doesn’t change his mind much as change his timing. But it was 31 years they got, of peaceful, godly rule. It aligns with a sense I’m getting that prayer is about participating in blessing.

2 Kings 11

The lamp becomes a flicker

One theme that runs though the of testament is the line of David, Jesus’ line. In kings it is called the lamp of Judah.

It’s a very slow and often frail salvation plan, and here it comes down to just one hidden boy.

Last chapter king Jehu of Israel – not a godly man, but the means of judgment – aggressively usurped and stamped out evil king Ahab’s line. He missed his daughter who was mother in law of the king of Judah. When her son the king is killed she rules herself for a number of years and keeps power by mercilessly killing the heirs of David, some of her own grandchildren.

One boy is hidden in the temple by a wise and bold woman Jehosheba the wife of the priest . It’s sort of a tale of two women. 

After 7 years the priest and other godly people run a coup that installs the boy as king. It’s a great story.

The lamp flickers but doesn’t go out. A new leaf is turned over.

When Jesus talks about faith the size of a grain of mustard I think of this woman’s act. Grace pops out all over in these stories – when the kings are worst, the most blessed prophets arise.  In a forest of evil, a good person plants one seed of salvation against all odds. Never give up hope in what is right, never.

1 Kings 11

There is a lot of Bible left, and the dream kingdom of Solomon had to end sometime.

This chapter details Solomon’s faults, punishment and death.

His fault was marrying too many wives, 700 and 300 concubines to boot. Most were foreign and as he aged they turned him onto their own Gods. This was despite Jehovah having appeared to him twice.

God spoke to a rebel, jeroboam, through a prophet with the punishment that after Solomon’s death the kingdom would be split, with Solomon’s part being just 2 tribes. He ran to hide in Egypt until Solomon’s death, which came after 40 years.

Additionally, some of the neighbouring countries that Solomon near annihilated started to get strong again.

So Solomon dies with the kingdom set up to fall apart. The mercy God shows, keeping a remnant of the davidic kingdom is on behalf of David. We know that this is part of the meta plan of salvation, the line of David, a failure by earthly terms, but hanging on by a thread for God’s purpose.

Solomons kingdom saw the fullest flowering of the promised land promise they would ever know. It really was a blessed land flowing with abundance, admired by other nations. But they blew it by not staying faithful to Jehovah. We, humans, unaided, always will.