The Bible in a Year – 5 July

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this, and the introduction to the Psalms for this book of the Bible in particular.

If you are a regular visitor and wondering why the posts stop at 4 July it is just because I have been away for a few days – making notes but without the opportunity to post them online.  So we will catch up shortly.

5 July. Psalms 46-50

Psalms 42-49 are all headed “of the sons of Korah”. Perhaps they were a group of musicians who played for temple worship.

At present we need little reminder that “the nations are in uproar” (46:5), with violent demonstrations against world leaders in Hamburg this week, continuing warfare in the Middle East, central Africa and other places, and increasing numbers of migrants seeking asylum in more settled countries. But the Biblical response is to hold on in faith, even if the “whole world melts” (which with nuclear tensions building up again between America and North Korea does not seem much of an exaggerated fear). God, his support for the vulnerable, and his strength for the weak, will never cease.

 

Psalm 47 stands out from most of the others with its positive affirmation of monotheism – there is one God who rules over all the kingdoms of the earth.  The triumphal shout that “God has gone up!” is seen by Christians as a prophecy of the ascension of Jesus, forty days after his resurrection. Whether we think of that as a literal or metaphorical description of what happened, all Christians can agree that Jesus is now the “king of all nations” in a way that is much more real than when the Jews had to have faith in an unseen God.

 

Psalm 49 turns our thoughts to the unavoidable subject of our own mortality, with a reminder that, as we say in English, “you can’t take your money with you when you go [to heaven]”.  Riches (“mammon”) have no real existence, nor does the human body after death.   All that remain are the soul, and God’s memory of our thoughts, words and deeds.  Some of the verses, “No-one can redeem the life of another or give God a ransom for him – the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough – that he should live for ever and not see decay” (49:7-9), are a worldview that is in fact overturned by the death of Jesus. We believe that in fact he did, by his death, ransom all people to God at great cost, so that they may have the opportunity of eternal life – free from guilt in this life, and with the promise of resurrection to a new life with a new kind of body beyond death.

 

The Bible in a Year – 27 May

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

27 May. Jeremiah chapters 46-48

Until this point the main thrust of Jeremiah’s prophecy has been about the captivity and future restoration of Judah.  But now the revelations he has turn to the surrounding nations.  Many of them, he foretold, would be conquered by the Babylonians, including Egypt; while Egypt would itself have first conquered the Philistines.

 

The picture is therefore of a whole world (at least, the world known to the writer) in turmoil as one nation makes war against another.  And always, the innocent suffer.  As I write, there is turmoil in the near east as several groups battle for the country of Syria, leaving millions dead and other millions fleeing for their lives to refugee camps or other countries.  Libya and Egypt (to name but two others) are likewise divided into many warring factions. This week a Libyan has committed a terrorist attack in Manchester, England killing 22 people, and a similar number of Christians were murdered in Egypt by Islamist attackers.

 

We cannot see now where God’s hand is in all this.  No sane person who believes in a God of love and mercy could accept that any individual death was God’s fault, and yet in a fallen world where man constantly threatens violence against man (and woman), the Bible’s message is consistently that God’s hand is behind the bigger picture, as he issues judgements on entire ethnic or religious groups for their sins.  We rightly pray for the victims of terror, for justice to be done and for security forces to do all they can to prevent future attacks.  But when we pray for peace, and for God’s kingdom to come, we are in effect also putting ourselves in his spotlight for judgement.  Is my lifestyle bringing forth the kingdom of justice, or is there anything in it that promotes injustice?  Maybe not directly but indirectly through the effect my lifestyle choices of purchase and travel have on the environment or on the economies of developing countries, for example?

 

Yesterday was Ascension Day in the Christian calendar, and the Archbishops of England have asked all churches to pray over the next ten days for the mission of the church in our land.  These days we don’t think of mission so much in the narrow sense of making individual converts to Christianity (though that is part of it) but in a wider sense of helping to steer the wider culture towards being the kind of peace-loving, justice-seeking society that God would have it be.