The Bible in a Year – 21 September

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

21 September. 1 Chronicles chapters 21-23

Much of what will follow these chapters concerns the building of the Temple.  Chapters 21 and 22 provide the “back story” to it construction (written several hundred years later, so presumably passed down orally until then).

We already know from chapter 17 that God had told David that the Temple was to be built in his son’s lifetime and not his own.  But David, following the letter if not the spirit of God’s command, decided as an old man to start on collecting the materials and labour for the work before his death.  But where to build it?

The story in chapter 21 of the angel at the threshing floor of Ornan raises some interesting ideas.  David is tempted by Satan to take a census with the implied intention of starting another military campaign, and is punished by God for doing so.  These days only a minority of Christians believe in Satan as a real and powerful personality (but those who do, take him very seriously).  Rather more will admit the existence of spirits or angels generally, and I know a few people who claim to have seen angels. But they tend to appear to individuals with a personal message or practical support in times of danger.  The angel in this passage is different – the “destroying angel” sent by God to bring a plague on Jerusalem as punishment for David’s hubris, and visible to all who would look up and see it.  With sufficient penitence shown by David and others, God relents and spares the city. The personal cost to David of his sin was the gold with which he bought the site of the angelic appearance to build an altar.

Whatever this visible angel might have been, and whatever we are to understand by the battle for a human soul between God and Satan (as in the book of Job), the consequences were enormous.  Israel moved in the following generations from being a nation with many localised altars as centres of worship to a centralised system with one huge Temple in Jerusalem.  David acknowledged that the period of warfare over which he had presided was at an end, and instructed Solomon to reign in peace.  And from that day to this, the site of the threshing floor of Ornan has been a place of pilgrimage for millions, whether as Jewish Temple or (in its current form as the Dome of the Rock) for Muslims.

Perhaps the lesson from this is that, at a time of crisis, God will act in whatever way in necessary to guide people towards doing his will.  In none of this is there any sense of compulsion: David could have ignored the words of the prophet Gad and carried on with rearmament, probably with disastrous consequences; he could have chosen one of God’s other punishment options (famine or defeat in battle), probably losing the kingship as a result; he could have ignored the presence of the angel (as Ornan did initially), in which case presumably Jerusalem would have suffered the plaque, again with severe consequences for the whole country.

But David was a man of faith. Although he sinned by letting Satan tempt him to a wrong action at the start of the story (not that Satan appeared to him visibly; his temptations are more subtle than that), he knew when God was speaking to him, whether by prophets, angels or through religious laws, and he obeyed.  So the future of God’s people was assured for another generation.

The Bible in a Year – 28 February (Shrove Tuesday / mardi gras)

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

28 February. Deuteronomy chapter 4

We are about to enter the season of Lent, which traditionally starts with thinking about the temptations faced by those who serve God, as Jesus faced temptation in his 40-day desert retreat.  In this chapter Moses warns his people of the temptations they will face in Canaan.

 

He lays much stress on the fact that unlike the so-called gods of other nations, the one true God is not visible, at least not in human or animal form although they had experienced God’s presence as cloud and fire and a voice.  This true God is also always present, very close when we call on him, and the laws that he gave were not arbitrary but for “wisdom and discernment”, so Moses warns the people not to ignore the teaching or to forget their experience of the divine presence.

 

People still face the same temptations now when thinking about faith, though they may take different forms: idolatry (which nowadays might take the form of astrology, the false belief that the planets represent spirits that influence our lives); discounting the reality of God because we can’t see him (although many people testify to encountering God in one way or another); being led astray from devotion to God by the wealth and fertility of the land around us ( we call this consumerism); and treating religious teaching as irrelevant, when in fact there is much wisdom in it if we take it seriously.

 

May you have a holy Lent.