Isaiah 30

He’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.

 

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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 live 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 on 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.

1 Kings 3

Solomon meets god, asks for wisdom, and displays it.

We are entering the most successful period of Israel’s history.

Moses was unable to enter the promised land.  David was unable to build the temple.

Solomon will usher in the most full realisation of all the law and descriptions in Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy of life in the promised land. But already the worship of other Gods is prevalent, even young king solomon doesn’t know better.

God speaks to him, and he asks for wisdom. God is pleased and promises him earthly triumph as well.

The famous example of him judging a dispute between 2 women for 1 live baby gives credence to his great wisdom.  I hadn’t got the idea that they were prostitutes before – when we did it at sunday school.  Which puts a strange twist on the story.

Reading back through my blog entries, I realise I often ask God for wisdom.  I have a vague memory that God eventually tells Solomon he asked for the wrong thing, but there is no hint of that here, maybe I remembered wrong.

In any event, off to a strong start…

Numbers 30

Numbers has got very like Leviticus at the moment. This is rules about a woman’s vow. Men may veto them – the father of a girl, and later the husband of a wife. The assumption seems to be that women will make rash promises.

It seems terribly sexist. But no doubt in other societies women’s word meant even less. The rules here are that a husband or dad is bound by the vow by passive assent… If they do nothing after they hear about it, it stands.  So the vow of a woman becomes the vow of their protector man… not challenging their patricarchal society, but there is a small means by which women may have a voice in it.

I’d look it up but so tired this morning!

I know I don’t seem very interested in the text this morning, but I’m very aware of God’s presence in my life as I go back to work this morning. I have some clarity over some things I should do.

Numbers 27

A family of five daughters gets the inheritance rules changed so that the family name doesn’t only pass though the male line.

Not only another example of the Israelites being one of the more progressive ancient cultures as regards women, it shows how much the family stake in the promised land meant to them. 

Their parents, as punishment for being faithless after the Exodus, could not see the promised land. But they had enough of a journey in belief that they believed their children would, and it was important to them that their family name continued to be part of that. 
Moses commissions Joshua to lead the people. We are set for reaching the holy land!

Numbers 5

Purity in the camp. Infectious people to be segregated. A test for women suspected of infidelity.

I imagine the test is one of those cultural relative issues. Seems primitive to us but probably a lot gentler than treatment of women in the rest of the ancient world. 

Meta message: God judges, husband’s don’t own wives like chattels. Jealousy must be proven. 

But gee whiz… No remedy for male cheating?

Leviticus 15

At the end of ch14 it said that it was the end of rules about infectious skin diseases, and I thought “well that’s a relief”.  So to genital emissions, male and female, normal and abnormal. Sigh.

There is a public health element blended with spiritual metaphors.  So we have periods of quarantine and cleaning where there are diseased emissions.  But we also have shorter and more minor times of uncleanliness for normal reproductive emissions, semen and menstruation.

I’ve been contemplating the element of equal opportunity here.  Both men and women are made unclean for God by reproductive emissions, but women are unclean longer. The rest of the day for men (and women if they get the semen on them) and 5 days for women (and men if they get the blood on them).

Thing is, men have emissions more often, multiple times a week.  So perhaps as a percentage of time being spent unclean, from a practical point of view, its about equal.

Some have argued the menstruation rule is an early recognition of women’s period pain and quite progressive in full social context… I don’t know about that.

On balance, it does blunt the misogyny accusation somewhat, particularly the parallel structure of the chapter, male and female rules alongside each other, its quite striking.

It also clear that none of it is individually blameworthy, Jesus said we are born into sin.  To me this is a recognition of that, by saying that human reproduction is not the way of producing rightness with god, only gods cleansing intervention can do that.

Rather than pointing fingers at groups: at foreigners, criminals, men, women, sick, well etc. its actually saying actually dramatically and emphatically of course you need God’s cleansing grace, all of you. None is right before God.   

 

 

 

 

Leviticus 12

Are you allowed not to like things in the Bible?  I don’t like this chapter about unclean things much, I think it is sexist. I will now proceed to rationalise it a bit, but I still think its sexist and don’t like it much.  It doesn’t lessen my faith in God, but it does lessen or justify lessening the faith of many people. Its one of those awkward passages that people raise to say that christianity is stupid. Which I don’t know what to make of.

So to the lame rationalisation. I don’t think “unclean” is meant to have the connotation “shameful” for one thing, which is natural for it to have.  But if you think about it, if I’ve worked hard in the garden all day and then go out without having a shower, I’m sort of unclean.  Its not sociable to my friends and fellow diners who have to smell me, or who’s clothes get dirty if I pat them on the back, and I feel grotty and sweaty. But the fact that I got that way is not shameful.  It would have been more shameful if I never did the gardening.  I just worked up honest sweat, and I needed a shower.  Likewise I think this is an issue of context rather than shame.

So if a man has an emission or a woman is menstruating, I don’t think its saying those are bad things, its just saying, don’t go to the temple then.  Put it this way, if you didn’t show up and someone said “oh, its your period, how are you” and you said “its not my period”, that would be more of a problem.  So its as much like a “you’re excused”.

Colds are similar, I mean we know that staying away decreases the risk of infection, but even if we didn’t know that, its sometimes just a politeness to spare people your company if you are coughing and snivelling. When I am at work with a cold and my boss says “go home, we don’t want you here” he is not condemning me for having a cold, he’s giving me and everyone else a break.

Similarly I don’t think the bible doesn’t wan’t us to think that the rules for “purification” after childbirth mean that childbirth is shameful or makes you an undesirable outcast.  Its a good reason not to be at church.

I read a passionate commentary from a woman who said she thought it was actually much more enlightened than similar surrounding cultures would have been in respecting women’s excuses for needing a break – thinking of them as real people with needs.

I was less convinced reading her justification than I was when I’ve written this one.  I’m starting to talk myself into it, a bit. But not much.

Sexist views of menstruation include regarding it as a reason for treating women as too emotionally unstable for serious responsibilities, or treating it like it doesn’t exist, or if forced to acknowledge it, finding it disgusting.  This chapter is not directly guilty of the first two, but arguably the last, unless you buy the line that its actually a thoughtful treatment for women, which I really don’t.

In the rest of Leviticus we have a male only priesthood, which is consistent with the first kind of sexism. Arguably since they were in a world where religions with priestesses seemed to be built around a lot of bonking and exploitation of women, it could mean the male only thing was a statement about that. But it would have been more of a statement to build a religion where women simply had a role that wasn’t built around sex.

Anyway, it makes the point that God deserves your sunday best, scrubbed up and groomed.

I’m going to make a new tag for this chapter #leave-it-to-heaven.  For questions that I simply don’t understand – that don’t destroy my faith, but just seem wrong to me, like this.

Regrettably this marks the point at which my bible blog departs from being a perfect insight into the mind of god and all knowledge.  I had hoped when it was complete to be omniscient. Sigh.