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 – 23 April

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

23 April. 2 Kings chapters 9-11

Several years earlier, God had told Elijah (1 Kings 19:15-17) that he was to anoint Hazael as king of Aram and Jehu as king of Israel – two countries that were at war on-and-off throughout this period of history – and that between them these two kings and Elijah’s successor Elisha would kill all the worshippers of the false god Baal.  Now this prophecy comes true, although Elijah had been taken up to heaven and it is Elisha who anoints the two kings.  He sets Jehu – an army commander – against the previous king Joram, and Jehu is a ruthless man who starts by having all seventy of Ahab’s sons killed, along with Jezebel his widow, and king Ahaziah of Israel. He then proceeds to destroy the temples of Baal in the two main Israelite cities of Jereel and Samaria along with those who worship there. The job of killing all Ahaziah’s family is carried out by his mother who intends to reign as queen in her own right, although one baby is rescued by his aunt and seven years later proclaimed king by his own supporters. Hazael meanwhile “does his bit” by wiping out the Israelites living east of the Jordan.


In all this we are told that God’s will is being done because the false Baal worship is being wiped out from the land.  It is uncomfortable reading when we think of a God of peace and mercy who commands “you shall not kill”. But the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is the story of God choosing the descendants of Abraha and Isaac as his special nation, provided they follow his teaching and worship him alone.  He saves them from all their enemies, both external and internal, so those Israelites who follow false Gods – whether commoner or king – are subject to God’s judgement.  How do we explain that?


The last verse of the prophecy to Elijah tells us that just seven thousand true worshippers of God would remain in the land in Elisha’s time. God’s chosen people were coming close to being wiped out. If this purge had not happened, the true faith, so vulnerable at times, may not have survived to this day, either in the form of Judaism as we know it today, or Christianity whose founder was descended from the house of David. Fortunately they are both peaceful religions for the most part, but both still face challenges to survival in a largely hostile world. Jews still face unfounded discrimination, and Christians in many parts of the world including England worry about the younger generation which seems to have no interest in organised religion.


The ‘false god’ of our time is not the Phoenician deity Baal, but (as the Archbishop of Canterbury has reminded us) ‘mammon’, that is the lure of wealth and material comfort which can be just as damaging to true religion.  “Dethroning mammon” requires not Jehu’s armies of chariots and swordsmen, but prayer and teaching, and the example of lives devoted to God.  Many times God’s people have been close to extinction but many times God has stepped in when all seemed lost, and saved them in some unexpected way. We need to have faith in this Easter season that he will do so again.