Gleanings from the Bible: Hosea

Is God into judgement or into love and mercy? Our answer to that question will determine how we respond to those who fail in church life, whether the lay or the leadership. It’s easy to see that we can find ourselves towards either end of the spectrum – harsh and unfeeling at one extreme or weak and irresponsible at the other.

The answer, of course, is somewhere in the middle and it seems to me that the prophecy of Hosea gets the balance right.

The theme of marriage is used to illustrate the Covenant relationship between Yahweh and his people. Israel is likened to an adulterous wife, chasing after idols and the heinous practices associated with them (13:2). Israel has made vows to worship and serve Yahweh alone and there are consequences for breaking those promises and the conditions associated with them. Both the leadership and the people are culpable. God is justifiably angry…

            “I will punish her for the days she burned incense to the Baals
she decked herself with rings and jewellery
and went after her lovers
but me she forgot,”
declares the LORD. (2:13)

However, in the following sentences we read…

            “Therefore I am going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her…”
“There she will respond as in the days of her youth…”
“In that day,” declares the LORD,
“you will call me ‘my husband’;
you will no longer call me ‘my master’…” (2:14-16)

The very act of judgement can be seen clearly as discipline to restore Israel to all that will make life abundant, stemming from her devotion to her Maker, Lord and devoted Husband.

            “I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the LORD.  (2:19)

The wrath of God (his justifiable anger and judgement) are seen clearly as an act of discipline where, “I long to redeem them…” (7:13). That longing of God for Israel is laced through the text contrasting with the withholding of compassion until the (often horrifically severe) judgement is meted out: “I will have no compassion…” (13:14b), “The people of Samaria will bear their guilt” (13:16), “When Israel was a child, I loved him” (11:1), Return Israel to the LORD your God (14:1), “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely” (14:4).

The Christian church has often struggled to get the balance right between judgement and mercy. Too often a lack of rigorous discipline has allowed destructive attitudes and activities to flourish and at others it has been so harsh, unfeeling and unrelenting as to drive people away for ever. I remember that someone once said something to the effect that, when you preach about Hell you should only do it with tears in your eyes.

May God give us the strength to not retreat from church discipline but to apply it with wisdom and a heartfelt love and longing for the restoration of the people concerned. I am sure we will have much healthier fellowships as a result.

Gleanings from the Bible: Ezekiel

Ezekiel is an unusual book. A mixture, which includes a call that reads like an extract from a science fiction novel, the usual prophecies declaring judgement and the future restoration of Jerusalem, an inspiring vision of the dry bones becoming a living army and then a long, detailed description of a Temple yet to be built.

The vision of God, at the beginning, is out of this world but appears to be full of the sort of vivid symbolism one finds in Revelation. Ezekiel’s call is to prophesy lament and mourning and woe (2:9), to point out that Israel/Judah had not kept God’s laws but rather conformed to the standards of the nations around them (11:12) and to foretell a time when the scattered people of Jerusalem would return and receive a new spirit within them – a heart of flesh to replace the heart of stone (11:19 & 36:26).

It strikes me that that is what should happen when the Christian receives the Spirit of God. A revolution, a transformation from the inside out. I once heard someone put it this way: Our lives are like a bowling ball with a bias that tends to take us in our own direction, governed by our own will. When God’s Spirit indwells us it is if the bowling bowl was turned over so that the bias takes us the opposite way, towards God and his will for our lives. The heart of flesh has a new sensitivity to the promptings of the Spirit.


The renewal image is expanded with the shoot taken from the top of the cedar (the Davidic line (17:1-3) and planted so that birds find shelter in its branches (an image of the Kingdom of God picked up by Jesus in Matthew 4:32). It is further expanded by the vision of the Valley of Dry Bones in chapter 37. When hope is completely lost, God breathes new life into the situation. It is interesting that he enlists Ezekiel’s cooperation in the revival. “Prophesy to these bones and say to them…”


God’s spokespeople are saddled with great responsibility then. Ezekiel is also enlisted as a watchman in chapters 3 and 33. If he does not speak out he is accountable for the fate of those who might have heard the warning. It instantly reminds me of Romans 10:14-15, “How then can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?” Christians have a calling by virtue of the Great Commission (Matthew 28). We should be capable of giving a reason for the hope that lies within us (1 Peter 3:15).


Ezekiel’s message of judgement went beyond the People of God. Chapters are given over to the destruction of Tyre for example. But it seems probable to me that the message would not have been presented directly to the inhabitants of those nation’s and may rather have been for the benefit of the Jews with Ezekiel in Exile in Babylon. And I might add, to bolster the faith of the Exiles in God’s overarching control of history, rather than to satisfy their emotions of vengeance or triumphalism. We must remember that chapter 18 tells us that God responds to those who repent and takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. “Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?”


It has been suggested, with some good reason, that chapters 38 and 39 are a separate unit. Certainly we seem to be projected beyond the immediate return of the Exiles to Jerusalem, and the style of writing has changed to distinctly apocalyptic (similar to Revelation, where Gog is also mentioned in a great battle after the millennial period of peace).

Gog (not readily identified) appears to be an enemy leader from Israel’s north who gathers other nations to fight Israel in a huge battle which ends (as in Revelation) with a comprehensive defeat of those forces of evil.

If taken literally then this would appear to take place somewhere near the end of time prior to the Judgement Day. If understood spiritually this could refer to the death and resurrection of Christ and the victory over sin and death (which is the way some people interpret the Battle of Armageddon mentioned in Revelation). Or once again it could refer to some spiritual end-time battle.

I am conscious that, when Israel was reconstituted as a nation after the Second World War, many saw a fulfilment of these chapters in the huge return of Jews to the land, and are therefore expecting a rising of nations for a final battle against Israel. It could be, but     since the apocalyptic style carries a great deal of symbolic imagery we have to approach interpretation with care and with the recognition that a good deal of speculation abounds on the subject.

Best then to at least see that the overall thrust of these chapters is to affirm that God has control of the nations, both to raise up and destroy, and that the victory belongs to him. Whatever else is happening around God’s people, they are with God and can stay calm in the knowledge that they are on the winning side. The overthrow of evil will come to fruition. That is the message here and it is the message of Revelation.


Chapter 40 of Ezekiel seems to pick up from the end chapter 37 and deals with the restoration of the Temple and the re-division of the Promised land amongst the tribes of Israel.

Since we have chapters of detailed dimensions of a Temple that has not been built, what should we make of it? Three broad possibilities occur to me.

  1. I grew up with the idea that one day an earthquake would demolish the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and Israel would build a fourth temple on the site, after the design given to Ezekiel.
  2. God gave instructions to Ezekiel which were not carried out, as historically so many instructions weren’t. It’s another case of people not really listening to the prophets. What they finished up with were inferior buildings.
  3. Ezekiel’s Temple represents an ideal couched in concrete pictorial terms. Rather like the end-times pictures we have of the Kingdom of God in writings such as Isaiah and again in the symbolic language of the final chapters of Revelation.

The first two theories are not impossible but I think I favour the third. I can’t imagine why God would mandate a sacrificial system in our future, given that Jesus Christ is portrayed as the once-for-all sacrifice that is effective for dealing with the problem of human sin in a way that animal sacrifice could never be.

The way the Land is divided in chapter 48 is in strips one above the other, quite differently from the original division of the Land under Joshua. Here again may be the portrayal of a future ideal where the divisions are set out neatly with a comparatively huge central area set apart, where the sanctuary is just on the north side of Jerusalem.

In the final chapters of Revelation we also see the imagery of the New Jerusalem, which contains no Temple. This New Jerusalem is obviously a symbol of the People of God and there is no Temple because God and Jesus Christ are the Temple – God dwells amongst his people.

Whatever else Ezekiel’s Temple may indicate, that is where the People of God are heading. God amongst his people is the reassuring reality.

Gleanings from the Bible: Lamentations

Over my lifetime I have lived in sixteen houses for various periods, ranging from several months to eighteen years. I also hold both UK and Australian passports. Throughout my life I have always had a sense of impermanence, of temporary ownership. Even living now in our own retirement house I am only too aware that again, at some time, we will probably move on. So I personally find it somewhat difficult to put myself in the shoes of those for whom land and place are of paramount significance. For me, my attachment to places has had more to do with the people that I have known and returning to that place after they have gone is like visiting an empty shell, populated only by memories.

Trying to identify with Lamentations is made more difficult by the knowledge that their exile was not the end for Judah. There would be a return to the Land, even if it was only  their children and grandchildren who would make it. Furthermore there is also the assurance, through the prophet Jeremiah, that God is still with them as they seek him in the foreign land. There is ample evidence in the Old Testament that Yahweh is the God in and over all the nations, not just Israel and Judah.

If Jeremiah (as tradition has it) did write Lamentations then, knowing all this, it is remarkable that he has captured the passion and grief of the exiles in such a meticulously constructed poem…

Zion stretches out her hands
but there is no one to comfort her.

Your wound is as deep as the sea.
Who can heal you?

The roads to Zion mourn,
for no one comes to her appointed festivals
All her gateways are desolate,
her priests groan,
her young women grieve,
and she is in bitter anguish.

Then again, Jeremiah may have had more reason to grieve than most. His ministry, his warnings had been rejected. He knew that the Exile could have been avoided, but even down to the very end, when all his other predictions had come to pass, his people had ignored him and tried to flee to Egypt. Now he could only hopelessly stand by as life fell apart for them.

And yet… in the middle of all this loss and emptiness, Jeremiah again holds out the message of hope…

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion:
I will wait for him.”

At the lowest moments in life, when we have failed and brought shame and disaster on ourselves, when the future looks impossibly bleak and when we have lost all that we hold dear. For the refugee, the bereaved, the destitute, the betrayed, the lonely and the outcast, the LORD, Yahweh, is the ever-present, constant anchor in a turbulent world. Say to yourself, “Yahweh is my portion; I will wait for him. His compassions never fail.” And believe it!

Gleanings from the Bible: Jeremiah

Jeremiah is an example of the truth that you can be whatever God wants you to be. Although another reluctant starter, God assures him…

“Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I
command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.” (1:7).

Like Moses, it was as if he had little choice. God touched his lips and he was ready to go.

We sometimes forget, as Christians, that we already have a call, encapsulated in the Great Commission, “Go and make disciples of all nations…  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20). To receive Christ as Saviour is to receive the anointing of his Spirit, who gives us the words we need. We cannot opt out any more than Jeremiah could!

 …his word is in my heart like a fire,
a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in,
indeed, I cannot. (20:9)

Just as Isaiah prophesied judgement, so did Jeremiah, though you get the impression that the latter suffered more for it, even expressing the wish that he’d never been born! (chapter 15). Although God held out the assurance that, if Judah would change her ways and actions, deal justly and not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, shed innocent blood or sacrifice to Baal, they could continue to live in the land, the rulers and people resolutely ignored the message, right up until they went into captivity to Babylon!

When we look at the world today we realise that human nature has not changed and this message is still just as relevant. We may no longer sacrifice to Baal, but instead offer the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people on the altars of materialism, power, fame and fortune. Recently in Australia we sought to help balance our budget by significantly decreasing overseas aid.

As with Isaiah, there is still a strong note of hope. Seventy years was allotted for the Captivity and as always the aim of the judgement was repentance and restoration…

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I  will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. (29:11-14)

Jeremiah put his money where his mouth was and, with disaster looming on Judah, he bought a field in obedience to God and in anticipation of the return.

Until the return (and let’s face it, not many of those who heard Jeremiah speak would see out the Exile) Jeremiah exhorted the people to seek the peace and prosperity of the countries where they would be carried off.

Even today that’s good advice, not only to refugees but also to Christian people who can be so busy criticising governments and their leaders that they forget to pray positively for them. If we want to see change, we must pray as the beginning of our action!

Beyond the return God promises that, a righteous Branch, a King who will rule wisely, would be raised up, to be known as The LORD Our Righteous Saviour (23:5-6).

Also there would be a new covenant where…

I will put my law in their minds
and write it in their hearts. (31:33)

The implication is a transformation whereby people are motivated to live in obedience to God and act in the spirit of the law rather than simply living to the letter and minimum that the law demands. It reminds us that we can achieve little of lasting worth without the Spirit of God within our minds and heart.

It remind me of a prayer from the Anglican Prayer Book…

Almighty God,
who alone can bring order to our unruly wills and affections:
give us grace to love what you command
and desire what you promise,
that, in all the changes and chances of this uncertain world,
our hearts may surely there be fixed
where true joy is to be found;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Gleanings from the Bible: Isaiah

Isaiah is a magnificent work, speaking of Judgement, Restoration, and New Creation. It spans the warning time prior to the Exile, gives encouragement to the Exiles in Captivity and looks to a glorious future kingdom. It even points, quite remarkably, to Jesus as God’s Servant-Messiah. Whether written by one two or even three authors, there is a cohesion that spans the book as we have received it. In this blog we only touch on a few of the book’s treasures.

Isaiah’s commissioning is an inspiration in itself. It embraces a realisation of his own sinfulness and that he is a member of a sinful nation. But it also shows his  willingness to do whatever God wants of him, despite the discouraging nature of the task. God tells him that the message will harden the hearts of the listeners and when Isaiah asks, “For how long?” he gets the answer, “Until they are completely ruined!”

A Book of Judgement

Isaiah’s call introduces him to the fate of most prophets. No-one wants to listen to bad news, particularly when they are being held accountable!

I don’t think that things have changed. Anything resembling criticism of society, its trends, lifestyles, “rights” and so on, especially if it comes from a biblical perspective, brings (ironically) an avalanche of counter criticism, condemning such judgemental attitudes! The result is that people are often afraid to speak out on issues that might be controversial and instead stick to the safe (read, majority) opinions which they are sure most of their friends will “like”. A related result is that the Christian church, while safely criticising politicians, will very often follow the crowd, rather than challenge it. The warning of 7:9 is pertinent…
“If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.”

This was the sort of predicament that Isaiah faced, and yet he stood up and spoke out. He criticised the meaningless offerings, injustice and oppression of the most vulnerable (1:17), superstitions, divination and pagan customs (4:6), those who monopolised land (5:8), those who chased after drink, who turned values upside down and presented lies as truth (5:20). He accused Judah of being like a vine that produced bad fruit (5:1-7). He was scathing about idolatry (44:12ff) and called on Israel to wash their sins away.

     Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow,
though they are red like crimson
they shall be like wool. (1:18)

And herein lies an important observation. The prophet shares in the condemnation of the people. The judgement comes not from him but from God. The prophet can take no delight in his pronouncements. Moreover the aim of judgement is restoration. It is an act of punishment (of justice) but also an act of discipline.

 A Book of Encouragement and Restoration

Even in the first 39 chapters, which are predominantly about the judgement of Judah and other nations, God holds out hope for the future, beyond the devastation of Jerusalem and the Exile to Babylon…

     I will restore your leaders as in days of old,
      your rulers as at the beginning.
     Afterward you will be called
     the City of Righteousness,
     the Faithful City. (1:26)

     The Lord will have compassion on Jacob;
     once again he will choose Israel
     and will settle them in their own land. (14:1)

     Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
     therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
     For the Lord is a God of justice.
     Blessed are all who wait for him! (30:18)

By chapter 40 there is an even greater sense of encouragement…

      Comfort, comfort my people…
      Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. (40:1)

There is the promise of a return couched in the language of the Creation and Exodus stories. “Don’t look to the past. I am doing something new!” Out of the wilderness and chaos God would use the great Persian King, Cyrus as his servant to make a way back to the Promised Land, through a desert now running with water and brimming with life. Here is a Creator who knows what will happen and causes it to take place, in stark contrast to a created idol, which is powerless to know or do anything!

A Book about the Messiah

But Isaiah’s prophecy looks forward to an even greater hope. That of a Messiah, a servant of God and a deliverer and saviour for the nations. References are scattered through the book. Even while telling Isaiah that he will destroy Judah and Jerusalem, God rather cryptically adds…

     But as the terebinth and oak
     leave stumps when they are cut down,
     so the holy seed will be the stump in the land. (6:13)

Now he could just be referring to the small remnant left behind from the Exile but as we continue to read, we find references picked up by the New Testament in association with Jesus Christ…

     The people walking in darkness have seen a great light…”
… He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God…” (9:2-7)

     A shoot will come from the stump of Jesse [the line of David]
…The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him…
…with righteousness he will judge…   (Chapter 11)

     The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to proclaim good news… (61:1-3)
quoted by Jesus as referring to himself


Then there are the so-called “Servant Songs” (eg 42:1-7, 49:1-7, 50:4-9). It’s not always clear with whether in each case it refers to the prophet, to Israel or to the coming Messiah. What is clear is that the Messiah fulfils the servant role, where Israel failed to be a covenant and witness to the nations. When we arrive at chapters 52-53 it would be hard to apply the words to any other than Jesus Christ, in one of the most moving pieces of poetry found anywhere in the Bible and one that has brought me to tears on more than one occasion. I cannot edit it any more than I have…

     Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
          his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
          and his form marred beyond human likeness—
15 so he will sprinkle many nations,
          and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
     For what they were not told, they will see,
          and what they have not heard, they will understand.

   Who has believed our message
          and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
          and like a root out of dry ground.
   He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
          nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
          a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
   Like one from whom people hide their faces
          he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
          and bore our suffering,
          yet we considered him punished by God, ”
          stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
          he was crushed for our iniquities;
          the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
          and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
          each of us has turned to our own way;
          and the Lord has laid on him
          the iniquity of us all…
He was oppressed and afflicted,
          yet he did not open his mouth;
          he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
          and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
          so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgement he was taken away.
   Yet who of his generation protested?
   For he was cut off from the land of the living;
          for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
          and with the rich in his death,
          though he had done no violence,
          nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
          and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
          he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
          and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,
          he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
          by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
          and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, n
          and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
          because he poured out his life unto death,
          and was numbered with the transgressors.

For he bore the sin of many,
          and made intercession for the transgressors.

A Book about the Future Kingdom

And it is on the strength of the ministry, the life, death and resurrection, of the Messiah that Isaiah can look forward still further, beyond the return from Exile, beyond the first coming of the Messiah to the culmination of God’s Kingdom. Again, there are references throughout the prophecy, but more particularly towards the end of the book…

     See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth. (65:17)

     Before they call I will answer;
          while they are still speaking I will hear.

     The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
          and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
          and dust will be the serpent’s food.
     They will neither harm nor destroy
          on all my holy mountain,”
          says the Lord. (65:24-25)

We will see some of this language picked up in Revelation, when all will be put right and people of every nation will stand before God and acknowledge him. Justice will be done and peace will finally reign. In this life however we do well to heed Isaiah’s exhortation:

Isaiah 55
     “Come, all you who are thirsty,
          come to the waters;
          and you who have no money,
          come, buy and eat!
     Come, buy wine and milk
          without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
          and your labour on what does not satisfy?
    Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
          and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
          listen, that you may live.
   I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
          my faithful love promised to David…

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
          call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
          and the unrighteous their thoughts.
   Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
          and to our God, for he will freely pardon…

 12 You will go out in joy
          and be led forth in peace;
          the mountains and hills
          will burst into song before you,
          and all the trees of the field
          will clap their hands…

Gleanings from the Bible: Song of Songs.

In my younger days, when this book was known as the Song of Solomon, there was a tendency for the Christians I mixed with to understand it as an allegory for Christ and his Church. Apart from the fact that marriage is frequently used in scripture as an analogy for the covenant relationship of God with his people and Christ with the Church, there is little reason to interpret Song of Songs that way. There is no internal evidence and the New Testament doesn’t refer back to it.

No, quite simply this is a poem about the exclusivity and richness of two people in love, delighting in one another. As a part of Scripture and the body of Wisdom Literature, it reminds us that love and sexual attraction are God’s gift, to be thoroughly enjoyed within the bounds that God has set for us.

The spontaneity of love is hinted at, with Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires (2:7 and 3:5). It has to do with giving and responding from the heart.

Catch for us the little foxes
the little foxes
that ruin the vineyards
our vineyards that are in bloom

…suggests an attention to detail in the relationship, whether presenting attractively to one’s spouse or dealing with the everyday small things that could mar the relationship. It is obviously expressed here by a couple in the prime (bloom) of life.

Elsewhere there are the poetic (if somewhat quaint to our ears) compliments expressed one to the other, which keep the romantic love alive:

Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates
     with choice fruits,
     with henna and nard,
     nard and saffron,
     calamus and cinnamon,
     with every kind of incense tree,
     with myrrh and aloes
     and all the finest spices.
You are a garden fountain,
     a well of flowing water
     streaming down from Lebanon.

We might feel awkward expressing ourselves exactly like this, but you get the idea.


You frequently read, “All you need is love,” or something similar. It’s used in all sorts of contexts to justify various ideas and lifestyles. But it’s not true and at its worst amounts to superficial sentimentality. I think I know what people mean when they say that though. They are appealing to the idea that love covers a multitude of sins and that if you do what is loving and good for the other person then you will be doing the right thing – fulfilling the spirit of good laws and transcending bad ones.

But, love needs guidance and wisdom. For example, sometimes parents can love their children by giving them everything they want and bailing them out whenever they get into trouble of their own making. And in doing so they can ruin the ones they love. Love can be misdirected from one’s spouse to another, with painful and prolonged results. Love can lead people to make bad choices in a partner, or to enter a sexual relationship without a commitment to marriage. Statistics have long shown that people who live together before marriage are less likely to stay together when they get married than those who waited. De facto relationships often leave an “out” in the minds of the participants, which can often leave the woman literally carrying the baby. Remember, this is a generalisation, but an important one. Just ask the church organisations, which attempt to give aid in a huge number of broken relationships.

God (who is love) has given us ample instruction in the Old and New Testaments as to the boundaries in which love is to be most enjoyed and practised. Those boundaries are the safeguards for a love which may at times be tough in its administration but which ultimately has the long-term good of the other person in mind. Amongst Paul’s writings about purity in relationships 1 Corinthians 13 has served couples well on their wedding day. Would that we read that New Testament chapter frequently alongside the beautiful Old Testament Song of Songs to experience the love of God permeating our relationships in all its fullness.

…and now I should go and help my wife and tell her how wonderful she is – which she is of course! 🙂

Gleanings from the Bible: Proverbs.

Here’s wisdom for a new year! This is another book which I think should be taught in schools –  a collection of wise insights on human behaviours and their outcomes. Perhaps it could be produced in an abridged form, because as a collection I notice a good deal of repetition.

Some tend to understand these proverbs as cast-iron promises but in fact they are largely observations born out of experience, producing a number of generalisations. If you do this, then this is what will usually happen, if you neglect to do that, then experience shows that this will be the result.

Years ago I remember teaching my 5th class (10-11yr old primary school children) some of the proverbs I had learned as a child and finding that they had never heard of them – Things like,  “A stitch in time saves nine,”  “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” (ambiguous!) and so on. The Bible’s Book of Proverbs presents in part as a parent teaching a young person, warning and equipping him for his future wellbeing.

Here are a few of them. As you read try to imagine the benefits to society, to churches, to families, if these were taken seriously and taught by parents and schools…

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction (1:7)

 This is the underlying supposition, that listening to Yahweh underpins an understanding of the way life works best. It has to do with grasping a worldview that is centred upon God. It is the sorting of truth from error, not just determining moral right and wrong. Wisdom, thus grounded, is the guide to how we live out our talents for the good of all. Intelligence is good, knowledge is similarly important, but wisdom is the good oil which will guide you to use them productively rather than destructively. I have come across people who may not be particularly bright academically but display a wonderful and endearing wisdom, which makes them socially and spiritually brilliant!

This is why wisdom is personified in chapter two as one to be most sought after… then you will understand what is right and just and fair – every good path. (2:9)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight. (3:5-6)

Two great verses for the New Year and one of my favourite passages in the Bible. My wife, Susan, and I have found them to be true throughout our lives. I have noticed that when I have pushed ahead with my own plans, without consulting God, then things either unravel quickly or simply and quietly fail to work. When we have prayed, particularly at times of momentous change of direction, then things have fallen into place in remarkable ways. I can say the same even on a day to day basis. The day begun with prayer, asking for the filling of the Holy Spirit and overall guidance in what I say and do seem to somehow work out better!

Here is some more good advice…

Drink from the water of your own cistern
running water from your own well. (5:15)

…  part of an extended warning against adultery.

I hate pride and arrogance
evil behaviour and perverse speech. (8:13)

… wisdom speaking!

If you are a mocker, you alone will suffer (9:12)

… beware, social media trolls!

When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with humility comes wisdom (11:2)

For lack of guidance a nation falls,
but victory is won through many advisors (11:14)

… Leaders! Listen to wise people!

Do not say, “I’ll do to them as they have done to me;
I’ll pay them back for what they did. (24:29)

And some other general observations…

A kindhearted woman gains honour,
but ruthless men gain only wealth. (11:16)

Those who are kind benefit themselves,
but the cruel bring ruin on themselves.  (11:17)

Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults;
whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse. (9:7)

The righteous care for the needs of their animals (12:10)

Fools show their annoyance at once,
but the prudent overlook an insult. (12:16)

The words of the reckless pierce like swords,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (12:18)

Where there is strife, there is pride. (13:10)

The one who loves their children
is careful to discipline them. (13:24)

Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker,
but whoever is kind to the needy honours God. (14:31)

Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent (17:28)

Fools… delight in airing their own opinions. (18:2)

… wonder if this applies to bloggers? L Well perhaps not always if you take into account the line before… Fools find no pleasure in understanding…

The purposes [read motives] of a person’s heart are deep waters,
but one who has insight draws them out. (20:5)

Without wood a fire goes out;
without a gossip a quarrel dies down.(26:20)

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. (31:30)

J And some observations that made me smile…

“It’s no good, it’s no good!” says the buyer—
then goes off and boasts about the purchase. (20:14)

 Better to live on a corner of the roof
than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. (21:9)

 The sluggard says, “There’s a lion outside!
I’ll be killed in the public square!” (22:13)
… Any excuse!

 Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears
is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own. (26:17)

There is, of course, far more. Pure gold to reflect on! As I read I find myself thinking over and over, “Now ain’t that the truth!”  But now, the hard part – trying to apply it!

Gleanings from the Bible: Psalms 127, 135, 137 and 139.

Psalm 127

There is peace in knowing God and being able to commit your future, your dreams and desires into his hands because, unless Yahweh builds the house, the builders labour in vain. There is no gain in driving yourself into the ground to increase your wealth. God knows what you need and grants sleep to those he loves.

Children are a heritage from Yahweh… a reward…

When you observe western society you would wonder whether it had ever realised this truth. The message our society sends is a mixed one. On the one hand we seek to make the welfare of the child the centre of our educational systems (almost to the point of encouraging them to be self-centred). We probably seek to protect them from harm more than at any other time in history. And yet they are becoming less and less exposed to the truths about God, they are becoming more exposed to violence and pornography and the unborn child has little or no chance if the parent decides to terminate his or her life.

If we really believe that children are a gift from God then it should mould the way we think about them and nurture them. It should dictate our and their priorities in their involvements and exposure to the world. Particularly we will want to introduce them to the Creator, who gave them life and who will build their house if they will commit themselves to his ways.

 Psalm 135

15 The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
      made by human hands.
16 They have mouths, but cannot speak,
      eyes, but cannot see.
17 They have ears, but cannot hear,
      nor is there breath in their mouths.
18 Those who make them will be like them,
      and so will all who trust in them.

I don’t notice too much political correctness with the prophets! They tell it as they see it, or rather as God shows it to them.

We don’t come across too many idols of wood and stone, though they are not unknown in some migrant families in Australia. Assuming that idols are the things which replace the worship of God, we may ask what constitutes idolatry in the wider community these days?

It must be those things which we treasure the most, above God. The things to which we devote most of our time and energy. The things that replace prayer, reading the Scriptures and our corporate worship. So it could, in fac,t be almost anything!

Verse 18 – Those who make them will be like them – is, I think, proposing that idolaters will become as lifeless as the things they worship. Another aspect to that is that we can become like the things we love the most – they change us – they turn us into something else.

However, to spend time with God in worship, prayer and praise, is to become  more like him, whose name endures for ever (v13).

Psalms 137 and 139

Psalm 137 is a lament of people who have lost everything and who now dwell, mocked and despised, in a foreign country with alien gods. Their experience is one of abandonment by Yahweh. But, even knowing that, it is hard for us to read verse 9. The talk of dashing infants against rocks makes us wince. At worst it expresses an anguished abundance of violence, hatred and vengeance. At best it is calling for justice and the non-perpetuation of a people who have already dealt so cruelly with the Judeans, now living in captivity. It also puts the task of vengeance into the hands of God, who has the right to mete out justice. However, Jesus has taught us a better way. Though we may find ourselves initially responding to situations in anger, it is grace and forgiveness that transforms both perpetrator and victim for the better.

Psalm 139 is such a contrast in attitude. Wherever the Psalmist may be, God is there, holding him fast! God knows him intimately, better than he knows himself and before he even came to birth and gained self-consciousness. God sees the unborn and knows what they will do, say and achieve. He has plans for them. Of course they have responsibility to respond to God’s will for them, and to walk in the ways that he has set before them. This is why the Psalmist prays that God will search him, not so that God will discover things he hadn’t noticed, but rather that God will reveal to the writer what he already knows about his unwarranted anxieties and offensive thoughts and actions. Once known the Psalmist can embark on correction with God’s help.

It is in this sort of intimate walk with God that we can learn to weather the storms of life and respond appropriately to the people who cause them.


Gleanings from the Bible: Psalms 106, 115 and 119.

Psalm 106

But they soon forgot what he had done
and did not wait for his plan to unfold.

This Psalm outlines the failure of Israel in the Wilderness and is a recipe for backsliding  and spiritual discouragement. They forgot… and did not wait!

Conversely a way of staying on track must be to remember what God has done, in Israel’s, in the wider world’s and in our personal history. And then to “wait”. Not rushing ahead with our own plans but first praying. Not becoming impatient when we don’t see things happening quickly.

The results of forgetting and not waiting are borne out in verse 35. They mingled with the nations and adopted their customs. Israel’s separation was bound up with her spiritual life and identity as God’s People, demonstrating his good laws and upholding his name as Creator and God over all nations. The customs were not those innocent cultural differences but the practices that signified an entirely different worldview, explained from verse 36 onwards: They worshipped their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and daughters to false gods…

This is certainly not a call for Christians in this age to separate themselves from the rest of the world, but it is a warning to avoid relationships and practices which would undermine our faith. We may like to think we are spiritually strong, but our strength lies in remembering and waiting on God. If we see that slipping away, we need to stay off the slide!

Psalm 115

Our God is in heaven:
He does whatever pleases him.

Underlying many of the Psalms – in fact the whole of Scripture – is the proposition that the God of Israel is the Almighty Creator, Yahweh, The One Who Is, The Great I Am, The Eternal God. He is contrasted with impotent, man-made, worthless idols of wood and stone, which are powerless to do anything. The fact that God can do whatever pleases him is not to describe a capricious dictator but one who is well able to save and deliver. One who may not always be understood but who acts according to his plans, which are elsewhere described as just, as well as merciful. We may on occasions shake our fist at him because we don’t get our own way or see events unfolding as we would like, but in the end God will do what is right. It is his world and his plan and, remarkably, he is doing what is best for humanity as a whole (See also Psalm 118:14, 22-23 for example).

Psalm 119

We don’t usually associate law with stimulating and edifying reading. Perhaps more as a cure for insomnia. We may also think that the proliferation of laws is a sign of a sick society, since love ought to guide us into doing what is right from the inner compulsion of God’s Spirit. Now there is some truth in that but it doesn’t mean that we don’t need guidelines and clear boundaries. ‘Good fences make for good neighbours.’

There is security in knowing what is right and wrong. There is revelation in knowing what God requires of us as we relate to him, to one another and to the world in which he has placed us. Reflecting on and obeying these requirements will, furthermore, help us to know peace within ourselves.

When we understand these things we can appreciate this extensive poem in twenty-two sections, each starting, in the original Hebrew, with a new letter of the alphabet. Let me leave you with just a few quotes to ponder and apply and to use in prayer…

Beth (pronounced ‘bait’)
How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
      By living according to your word.

         18 Open my eyes that I may see
      wonderful things in your law.

Daleth (pronounce ‘dar-let’)
         27 Cause me to understand the way of your precepts,
that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds.

He (pronounced ‘hay’)
37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things;

Teth (pronounced ‘tate’)
      72 The law from your mouth is more precious to me
than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.

        98 Your commands are always with me
     and make me wiser than my enemies.
99 I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
100 I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.

       105 Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.

Gleanings from the Bible: Psalms 86, 90, 95 and 103.

Psalm 86

      Teach me your way, Lord,
      that I may rely on your faithfulness;
      give me an undivided heart,
      that I may fear your name.

It is one thing to know the right way and another to walk in it. Many wise people have made shipwreck of their lives because, while knowing what God requires, they have not had the will power to live up to it. Right teaching comes from Yahweh (the LORD) with the purpose of relying on God for a heart and will that is centred upon him (in contrast to the “double-minded person” of James 1:7).

      But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
      slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

In light of the questioning of the character of God, that occurs when people read about his judgements meted out in the Old Testament,  it’s helpful to remind ourselves that over and over the Scriptures reaffirm that God is patient and overflowing with love. We sometimes forget the enormity of what it takes to bring about God’s judgement and that even then his purpose is to refine and restore rather than to destroy.

Psalm 90

      3 You turn people back to dust,
      saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
      4 A thousand years in your sight
      are like a day that has just gone by,
      or like a watch in the night.

Sometimes people have tended to use verse four as some sort of a formula for dating times and seasons. In fact the Psalm is simply a sober reminder of the brevity of our lives compared with the eternal nature of God (see also Psalm 103 below). This is one of the suggested Prayer Book readings for funeral services. It is at such events that we should “number our days” and remember that it is only those things founded in God which have eternal value. It is in such reflection that wisdom is to be found (v12).

Psalm 95

      For forty years I was angry with that generation;
      I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
      and they have not known my ways.’
      So I declared on oath in my anger,
      ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ 

Most of the Israelites who had been delivered from Egypt failed to enter the “rest” of the Promised Land. Just because they were Children of Abraham by lineage did not guarantee that they would inherit the promises of the Covenant made with Abraham. It is proposed that this Psalm is the text for the book of Hebrews (which may be the record of a sermon) and is certainly quoted in it. The idea that faith needs to persevere, even for God’s Chosen People is also intrinsic to Romans 10 and 11 and 1 Corinthians 10:1-11. It is in fact woven through the New Testament and seen clearly at the end of each of the letters to the Seven Churches in the book of Revelation. So, Do not harden your hearts as Israel did in the wilderness.

Psalm 103

This is a beautiful Psalm of reassurance for those who have confessed their sins and called on God’s forgiveness. It’s hard to pick out just one or two verses…

Praise the Lord, my soul;  
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.


The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbour his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children
18 with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.

In light of my comments on Psalm 95 it is worth taking note of verse 18 here. It adds an important condition to God’s blessings!

Verse twelve is often spoken in association with The Confession in the Prayer Book and verses 13 to 17 are found just before the committal in the burial service. The psalm encapsulates God’s gracious dealings with us and, if we truly believe it, then it will transform the way we live and relate, and elicit heartfelt praise towards our Creator.