Among his wives were seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. 1 Kings 11:3
How wise can a man be if he chooses to have seven hundred wives? I wonder if Solomon ever regretted that he added the rider “to govern your people” to his request of God for wisdom…. surely he could have done with a rather broader wisdom than he got?
Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?’ 1 Kings 3:9
So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ Acts 4:18-20
We read this story with the kids the other night, and afterwards, asked them what they thought they would do if the police told them to stop doing something that they thought was the right thing to do. J’s answer: “I’d probably stop for a bit till they “forgot” (finger quotes) and then carry on doing it”.
I wonder if that ever occurred to Peter and John?
When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Acts 1:9
No one really talks about the ascension. The theology of it, the humanity of Jesus taken into God, sure. But the actual event? He was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. Really? Doesn’t it just sound a little bit like trying to dispose of the body, to explain why he isn’t being seen any more?
Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and its mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and its mate…Genesis 7:2
…and Moses replied “Um, LORD, what exactly do you mean by ‘clean’ animals?”
‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.Matthew 7:13-14
This isn’t so much playing as just noticing. There are many who take the road to destruction, but few who find the road to life. Surely such a swapping of verbs can’t be an accident. But what does it mean? Is the difficulty finding the right road, or is it actually taking it? Or both?
Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as an alien, for the famine was severe in the land. When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, ‘I know well that you are a woman beautiful in appearance; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, “This is his wife”; then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account.’ When Abram entered Egypt the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. When the officials of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female slaves, female donkeys, and camels.
But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. So Pharaoh called Abram, and said, ‘What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, “She is my sister”, so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and be gone.’ And Pharaoh gave his men orders concerning him; and they set him on the way, with his wife and all that he had. Genesis 12:10-20
You notice what’s missing in this account? Any criticism of Abram. Pharaoh, who acts with complete honour, is cursed, and Abram is richly rewarded – blessed – by God for his dishonesty. Same happens again, with the same trick, in Genesis 20. It seems God rewards this man twice for dishonestly using his wife as a sexual lure to take advantage of a rich man.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…Pslam 23:5a
“Hey, enemies, look at this! Look at this amazing meal my God has provided! Sucks to be you, eh? Watch me enjoy myself!”
“Welcome, enemies, to my table. Come and sit down, there’s plenty of food for everyone!”
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3
One of my paradigmatic verses; the blessing of the people of God is designed to overflow – blessed to be a blessing. How many times have I used this verse, explicitly or implicitly, in my preaching? Probably not more than the stars in the sky or the sand in the desert, but not so far off…
And how many times have I made reference to “the one who curses you I will curse”? Zero.
Sometimes this “read the text more closely” isn’t as much fun as others.
Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’ So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. Numbers 21:6-9
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.John 3:14-15
The thing about the snakes is that they were the judgement as well as the cure. The snake was lifted up in order to free the people from… snakes. Snakes, sent by God to punish the people. Is Jesus (or John) just telling us about the lifted up Son of Man saving us, or is he also quietly reminding us that the same Son of Man represents judgement…
Or even that God’s judgement always contains within it the mechanism of salvation?
They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against MosesExodus 17:1b-3a
And so Moses starts the long and dishonourable tradition of religious leaders who, when their followers are concerned about the direction things are going, accuse them of challenging God. Get over yourself, Moses. They weren’t testing God. They were objecting to your leadership, ’cause they were dying of thirst. And you didn’t even seem to have noticed.