A box of summer fruit

For me one of the biggest clues that it is summer is the appearance of roadside fruit stalls at either end of the Princes Motorway or along Appin Road. We have all seen the signs along the road alerting us to the truck ahead – Mangos (spelt incorrectly) $10 a box.

I love the summer stone fruits – peaches, mangoes, nectarines, apricots and cherries!!! It is something I look forward to tasting this time every year. But not so in our Old Testament reading from Amos 8, where in the vision the prophet is confronted with of ripe summer fruit – ordinarily associated with the joys and provision of the harvest becomes a sign of mourning and judgement.

The connection between summer fruit and judgement is not readily apparent as we miss the play on words in the original language where the word for summer fruit “qayis” is similar in sound to the word “qes” which means end – or as the NIV ominously puts it in verse 2 – “The time is ripe for my people”.

In this scene from God’s courtroom, the verdict is handed down. Just as the apparent promise of summer fruit was turned into the assurance of Israel’s destruction, so the joyous temple hymns would give way to the wailing when the wrath of God’s judgement fell on them (v3).

The nation has been charged with exploiting and mistreating the poor and vulnerable. Merchants could not wait for the holy days to be over and the Sabbath to end so they could resume dishonest trading with short measures and inflated prices. The Message paraphrase of verses 4-6 puts it a modern context:
Listen to this, you who walk all over the weak, you who treat poor people as less than nothing,
Who say, “When’s my next pay cheque coming so I can go out and live it up?
How long till the weekend when I can go out and have a good time?”
Who give little and take much, and never do an honest day’s work.
You exploit the poor, using them—and then, when they’re used up, you discard them.

The judgement to follow will surely come because God does not allow his glory to be sullied. The metaphor of an earthquake (v8) represents the calamity that Amos has referred to throughout the book. Such catastrophic language is used to foreshadow the fear and dread in the hearts and minds of the people. The destruction of Samaria (v10-12) will be the cause of bitter of bitter mourning. Amos describes the event in terms of a funeral for an only son. He then goes on to depict a coming famine – not starving people searching for food and water but for the word of the Lord. They had rejected the word, not realising its great value, and had lost it forever.

In case we are under some allusion that such scenarios are strictly “Old Testament” – our New Testament reading from Luke 16:16-31 contains the equally confronting vision of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Again neglecting the needs of the poor are met with judgement. From his place of torment, the rich man makes a desperate appeal that his family might warned and spared. But Abraham answers him –
‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’

Let us heed the warning signs – that we too hear the words of prophets like Amos.

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Hanging Haman

Go on admit it – we all like to see an evil villain get their just deserts – whether that be in a novel, movie or in the annals of history.

More than any other book in the Bible, Esther reads like the script of a TV mini-series. Each chapter drawing to a climax to be resolved in the next.

In yesterday’s episode Haman is forced to eat humble pie, his enemy Mordecai is honoured in his place. The moment of triumph he had plotted had blown up in his face. Humiliated Haman rushes home with his tail between his legs to vent to his wife and friends the injustice of it all but finds no sympathy. Those who had proposed his victorious scenario (5:14) – now don’t want to know him (6:13).

Esther 7 is the point in the story where everything comes out in the open

Before the chilling reality of those prophetic words could set in, the Kings’ eunuchs arrive to take him to the feast that Queen Esther had prepared (6:14).

Exploiting the King’s partiality for food and wine, Ahasuerus (Xerxes) is favourably disposed to hear what Esther wishes to request of him. He is shocked when Esther reveals her ethnicity and pleads that her life and those of her people to be spared.

What?? How can this be?? Who is responsible for this act of evil???

Esther points the finger of blame squarely on the shoulders of the deceitful Haman who had coerced the King into unwittingly pronouncing an irreversible degree which would bring about the genocide of the Jewish people throughout the kingdom.

For Haman – a bad day could not possibly get any worse (or could it?)

While the enraged, humilated and slightly inebriated King storms out of the room to cool his head in serenity of the palace garden; Haman throws himself at the reclining Queen Esther in the vain hope that she might show him some mercy. The returning King catches Haman in a compromising position and his fate is sealed.

Palace security cover his face and he is hauled off to be hung on the very gallows he had prepared for Mordecai.

We see in this passage justice being served – the wicked punished and those with integrity and godly character triumph. But in our experience this is not always the case. Our motivation for doing what is right is in understanding that justice will ultimately prevail. We may not witness justice in our lifetime, but we know from scripture that justice will be done as Psalm 73 reminds us that when we are frustrated with the lack of justice, we must go to the sanctuary of God for His perspective. We must continue to do what is right whether or not justice happens now.

Some translations state that Haman was impaled rather than hung. If you would like to explore why this may be so – I commend to you the interesting posting “Was Haman Hanged or Impaled?” by Benjamin Shaw.

The special purpose of the first born

Numbers 3 commences with a recount of Aaron the brother of Moses and high priest’s four sons. The two oldest Nadab and Abihu were struck down by the LORD for making unauthorised sacrifices (Leviticus 10:1-7). Their priestly roles were inherited by their younger brothers Eleazar and Ithamar and the priestly succession passed down to their sons after them.

The sons of Aaron, the anointed priests, whom he consecrated to minister as priests were only one small family among the Levites; to be a priest and a Levite were not the same thing at all. Only those who were descendants of Aaron could be priests.

What is readily apparent in our reading is that God desired order and organization in the way the Israelites were to worship him. The families of the Levites had certain callings they were to fulfill. There was no one man or family to do everything; God made them dependent on one another to accomplish the work.

Numbers 3:6-10 details the role of the tribe of Levi – serving the needs of Aaron and the priests, the needs of the congregation at large, and the needs of the tabernacle itself.
The Levites are a special possession to God. The firstborn belonged to God; a firstborn lamb from a ewe would be given to the LORD. Since God did no want human sacrifice, so He took the tribe of Levi as Israel’s firstborn (v.11-13).

In the census of the tribe of Levi (v.14-20), they were to be categorized by the families, with the main grouping according to Levi’s three sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.
The families of the Gershonites (numbering 7,500 males) were to camp behind the tabernacle westward (in between Judah and the tabernacle itself). The Gershonites were to take care of the skins that covered the tabernacle itself (v.21-26).

The Kohathites (8,600 males) were to camp southward to the tabernacle (in between Reuben and the tabernacle itself). Their duty included taking care of the furniture of the tabernacle: The ark of the covenant, the table of showbread, and so forth, under the direction of Eleazar the priest, son of Aaron (v.27-32).

The family of Merari (6,200 males) were to camp northward to the tabernacle (in between Dan and the tabernacle itself). Their appointed duty was to take care of the structural aspects of the tabernacle: The pillars, the boards, and so forth (v.33-37).

The family of Aaron, and Moses, were to camp on the east side of the tabernacle – closest to the entrance, which was on the east, keeping charge of the sanctuary (v.38-39).

In total they numbered 22,000 Levites(v.39). Although this does not tally with the totals of the individual clans given in verses 22, 28, 34 which come to 22,300. Scholars explain this discrepancy as a textual corruption in verse 28. The number of Kohathites may originally have been 8,300. 3 (Hebrew sls) could quite easily have been corrupted into 6 (ss).

Redemption of the Firstborn (Numbers 3:40-51)
The firstborn – which was always thought to be the best and the favoured – always belongs to God; so instead of giving the firstborn of Israel to God in sacrifice, the tribe of Levi was “given” to God as in place of each of the firstborn sons of Israel. However, there were 22,273 firstborn sons in Israel; and there were only 22,000 Levite males (Leviticus 3:39). The extra 273 were given a monetary value (five shekels for each one individually), and the money was given to the tabernacle as redemption money.

The special purpose of the first born

Numbers 3 commences with a recount of Aaron the brother of Moses and high priest’s four sons. The two oldest Nadab and Abihu were struck down by the LORD for making unauthorised sacrifices (Leviticus 10:1-7). Their priestly roles were inherited by their younger brothers Eleazar and Ithamar and the priestly succession passed down to their sons after them.

The sons of Aaron, the anointed priests, whom he consecrated to minister as priests were only one small family among the Levites; to be a priest and a Levite were not the same thing at all. Only those who were descendants of Aaron could be priests.

What is readily apparent in our reading is that God desired order and organization in the way the Israelites were to worship him. The families of the Levites had certain callings they were to fulfill. There was no one man or family to do everything; God made them dependent on one another to accomplish the work.

Number 3:6-10 details the role of the tribe of Levi – serving the needs of Aaron and the priests, the needs of the congregation at large, and the needs of the tabernacle itself.
The Levites are a special possession to God. The firstborn belonged to God; a firstborn lamb from a ewe would be given to the LORD. God didn’t want human sacrifice, so He took the tribe of Levi as Israel’s firstborn (v.11-13).

In the census of the tribe of Levi (v.14-20), they were to be categorized by the families, with the main grouping according to Levi’s three sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.
The families of the Gershonites (numbering 7,500 males) were to camp behind the tabernacle westward (in between Judah and the tabernacle itself). The Gershonites were to take care of the skins that covered the tabernacle itself (v.21-26).

The Kohathites (8,600 males) were to camp southward to the tabernacle (in between Reuben and the tabernacle itself). Their duty included taking care of the furniture of the tabernacle: The ark of the covenant, the table of showbread, and so forth, under the direction of Eleazar the priest, son of Aaron (v.27-32).

The family of Merari (6,200 males) were to camp northward to the tabernacle (in between Dan and the tabernacle itself). Their appointed duty was to take care of the structural aspects of the tabernacle: The pillars, the boards, etc (v.33-37).

The family of Aaron, and Moses, were to camp on the east side of the tabernacle – closest to the entrance, which was on the east, keeping charge of the sanctuary (v.38-39).

In total they numbered 22,000 Levites (v.39). Those quick at maths will see that this does not tally with the totals of the individual clans given in verses 22, 28, 34 which come to 22,300. Scholars explain this discrepancy as a textual corruption in verse 28. The number of Kohathites may originally have been 8,300. 3 (Hebrew sls) could quite easily have been corrupted into 6 (ss).

The exchange of the firstborn (Numbers 3:40-51)
The firstborn – which was always thought to be the best and the favoured – always belongs to God; so instead of giving the firstborn of Israel to God in sacrifice, the tribe of Levi was “given” to God as in place of each of the firstborn sons of Israel. However, there were 22,273 firstborn sons in Israel; and there were only 22,000 Levite males (Leviticus 3:39). The extra 273 were given a monetary value (five shekels for each one individually), and the money was given to the tabernacle as redemption money.

Numbers 4 further details the duties each of the Priestly families in relation to who was fit to serve and what responsibilities each had in relation to the special task of packing and transporting the tabernacle on its journey to the Promised land.

In our New Testament passage from Luke 1:39-56 we have the account of Mary’s visit to her relative Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist) to share the good news of her special pregnacy. In the encounter we are told:

when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit

Elizabeth gives Mary a prophetic blessing to the mother and her unborn child. Mary responds with a Song of Praise know as the Magnificat – a song of praise for what God has done.

There will be no further need for priests or the tabernacle for he is Emmanuel – God with us (Matthew 1:23), the first born child (Colossians 1:15-20) who will grow up to become our great high priest (Hebrews 4:14-16).

From the rising of the sun

The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises. – Ecclesiastes 1.5

The sun rises on a new day – what will this day bring?  Is it just another routine meaningless day blurring one into another as the sentiment of the Teacher in Ecclesiastes 1 verse 5 seems to imply.  Life can become so cyclic.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

When was the last time you were up to take in a sunrise or a sunset?  Someone once wrote “There’s a sunrise and a sunset every single day, and they’re absolutely free.  Don’t miss so many of them.”

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Commuting to Sydney for work, I get to see many sunrises throughout the year, even if it is a fleeting glimpse over the ocean as I drive safely up Mt Ousley Road.  Similarly in the winter months I get to see the sunset across Maddens Plains on the trip back home.
In making his point, the writer of Ecclesiastes fails to appreciate these daily natural wonders.  Do they become something we take for granted?  I expect that like me, on those days where I take the time to sit and take in a sunrise or sunset – that it is easy to reflect on the power and wonder of God as I marvel at the work of his heavenly palate.

From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the LORD is to be praised – Psalm 113:3
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. – Psalm 19:1

May each sunrise give us a spiritual awakening.

Awakening – Chris Tomlin
Like the rising sun that shines
From the darkness comes a light
I hear Your voice and this is my
Awakening

More than transformed rubble

Nehemiah 12 commences with a generational roll call of eminent priests and Levites (v.1-26) among whom is Abijah (v.4) from whom Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist was descended (Luke 1:5).

Having shared his account of the building of the wall in chapters 1-7, Nehemiah now depicts for us the dedication day, with its twin processions and loud rejoicing for their restoration (v.27-43).

After an extensive rebuilding program that touched the lives of the entire community and brought security and pride to the people of Jersulem again. It was a time to celebrate the goodness of God and give thanks. There is no doubt that this would have been a spectacular event to behold, bringing together Levites, singers and musicians from the surrounding regions. But it was also a sacred event requiring the purification (v.30) of the Levites, the people and gates and wall itself.

Two impressive choirs led the processions which departed in different directions to circumnavigate the city, coming together at the house of the Lord (v.40) where great sacrifices and loud rejoicing was offereds because “God had given them great joy.”

In verses 44- 47, this show of joy and zeal is tapped into, to ensure that worship remains part of the fabric of society with key appointments made to collect and look after the tithes and offerings and lead worship.

While the story of Nehemiah teaches us that rubble can be transformed to restore pride and give security again, the Parable of the Tenants in Matthew 21:33-45 further educates us that more than physical walls can be built with that which has been rejected.

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvellous in our eyes’?

Jesus prophecises of a time when those very walls that Nehemiah built up, were about to come tumbling down again, because the religious zeal for God had been lost (v.43-45).

Processing trauma

How does one process trauma? Be it as the result of a natural disaster, an accident or war. The book of Lamentations is an attempt to give voice to this process.

The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Narrative states that scholars working on the connection of literature, narrative, and trauma have made important connections between an individual’s ability to maintain a coherent sense of self (a personal narrative) and their own psychological and social well-being. Some literary expressions from traumatic circumstances, therefore, can be read as individual attempts to repair personal narratives. The biblical book of Lamentations may well be such an exercise in narrative repair.

Lamentations is raw and unfashionable – both to read and preach or write about (indeed I had to create a category tag for Lamentations in this blog as no one had previously done so). Like any war zone, it is a place we would rather flee from and want to visit.

 

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(This powerful image of a man and his daughter wandering the devastation in the city of Mosul, Iraq gives us some insight into the grief and bewilderment felt by the author of Lamentations)

In the Hebrew Old Testament, the book is entitled ekah, meaning “how” or “alas,” taken from the first verse. In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew text) there is a brief notation to the effect that these are the writings (laments – crying aloud) of the priest and prophet Jeremiah when he went up on the hillside and sat overlooking the desolate city.

Lamentations consists of five separate poems, each in the literary form called an acrostic. Each verse begins, in alphabetical order, with a letter from the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet (sadly something lost in translation from Hebrew to English).  Each chapter stresses and develops a particular aspect of sorrow.

Lamentations pictures a man of God puzzling over the results of evil and suffering in the world. Suddenly the greatness of Jerusalem is gone. The city and Holy temple has been destroyed, thousands have been taken into captivity and many more have died. Why had God allowed this calamity to fall upon his once great Holy city ?  Whereas Job dealt with unexplained evil, the writer laments a tragedy entirely of Jerusalem’s making stating categorically that God had rejected His people because of their continuing rebellion against Him. There is no specific mention of the invading Babylonians.

“The book expresses with pathetic tenderness the prophet’s grief for the desolation of the city and Temple of Jerusalem, the captivity of the people, the miseries of famine, the cessation of public worship, and the other calamities with which his countrymen had been visited for their sins. The leading object was to teach the suffering Jews neither to despise ‘the chastening of the Lord,’ nor to ‘faint’ when ‘rebuked of Him,’ but to turn to God with deep repentance, to confess their sins, and humbly look to Him alone for pardon and deliverance” – Joseph Angus, The Bible Handbook

The imagery in Lamentations 1 is confronting, it gives us a description of the utter depths of sorrow, the desolation of spirit that sorrow makes upon the human heart, the sense of abandonment, of complete loneliness. Here we can see how vividly the prophet has captured this feeling as he pours out the feelings of his own heart.

Jeremiah remembers the greatness and weeps for the desolation. He was there to see it all. He warned them ahead of time, but they did not listen. People from many nations had come to Jerusalem to worship in the temple. Now, there is no temple for anyone to worship in. whereas New Jerusalem is described as a bride; Jerusalem destroyed is like a widow and her “lovers” the lands they had made alliances with, such as Egypt.

The people have been vanquished and taken into captivity; the city has been set on fire and totally destroyed. Verse 16:

“For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears;
for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my spirit;
my children are desolate, for the enemy has prevailed.”

Lamentations provides us all with a hard but brutally honest template to consider when we are faced with traumatic events in our lives.

I guess it would be remiss of me not to include a link to the Lamentation Blues which was used to introduce a recent preaching series on Lamentations.