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Chapter #31 1 Chr 1-29: A matter of opinion

Step back in time now about 250 years, from the time of Jonah, Amos, Hosea and the long reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel and we find ourselves back again at the birth of the United Monarchy, and reintroduced to the story of King David.

The Book of Chronicles (or sometimes Paraleipomêna meaning ‘additions’, or ‘supplements’) is a great example of the highly subjective nature of History. The books together span the time covered by 2 Samuel – 2 Kings, detailing the reigns of David and Solomon as well as the other kings of the Divided Monarchy. But they tell the story very differently.

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Right with God

My two-year old son recently burst into song whilst being fitted for shoes. As the Clarks assistant knelt down to place his foot against the sizing slider Joe raised his arms to the skies and with all the passion of his lungs cried out ‘And it’s Preston North End, Preston North End FC; they’re by far the greatest team the world has ever seen!’

Joe has never seen Preston play and couldn’t name any of the team, but he has been born in to family of North End-ers. His Mummy had a season ticket for years, and Grandpa still does, as did his father before him. Daddy, on the other hand, is a late convert. Apart from a few ambiguous seasons on the terraces of Wokingham Town I had never nailed my colours to any team’s mast, despite loving the game. But when I married Rachel, I also married into Preston. No one forced me; I’ve become a fan of the team (and the city) by choice. But I’m definitely an outsider who’s been grafted in. I owe my North End allegiance to my new family, not my old one.

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Chapter #30 Hos 1-14: Back for good

Hosea is the third of these ‘earlier’ prophets whose ministry occurred under the reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel. According to 1:1, however, he outlasted Jeroboam, continuing to prophecy into the time of King Hezekiah of Judah. It is therefore likely that he would have seen the first element of the Exile take place when in 722 BCE, Sargon II completed the siege of Samaria and deported the intelligentsia way off into Assyria.

Hosea 1-3 is one of the most graphic, emotive and dramatic sections of the Old Testament Scriptures. The powerful story of love, betrayal and redemption personalises the story of Israel, igniting it from cold Covenant-breaking to the fiery lies of a passionate and devastating adultery.

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Chapter #29 Amos 1-9: Rotten religion

A common and unfortunate misconception about Israel’s prophets is that they were attempting to predict the future. The reason that this misconception is so easy to come by is that it is partly true. But it is not a prediction for the sake of telling people what is going to happen; it is a prediction of what could happen, or indeed what will happen if Israel were to carry on down the same road.

It’s like people today saying that climate change will make our planet hotter and cause devastating weather conditions. It will happen… unless we change our behaviour, in which case we might avoid it, but possibly not. Our only hope is to give it a go.

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Chapter #28 Jonah 1-4: God goes too far

This week we begin our journey through the mass of Old Testament prophetic literature, starting with an oddball. For the remainder of the year we will engage the prophets in their oracles and premonitions, peppered by further narrative from The Chronicles and other smaller books such as Daniel and Nehemiah.

Jonah, an approximate contemporary of Amos (see Amos 1:1 with 2 Kgs 14:25), also serving under Jeroboam II in the northern Kingdom of Israel, provides the character basis for this story. A story that demonstrates very powerfully one of the new emerging themes: That Yahweh is not just the God of Israel, but of the whole world.

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Chapter #27 2 Kings 17-25: The mighty have fallen

Finally, after six months, we have arrived at the penultimate stage of the Israelite story, and it is without doubt the lowest and saddest point in their journey. So much so, that we will spend the majority of the next six months reliving it. It is known by one simple, desolate word: Exile.

It is here that we realise what Kings has all been about. From Solomon, to Ahab to Josiah, the story has been relentlessly stampeding towards collapse. Even the great reformers could not turn Israel’s heart back to Yahweh. The Council for the Defence lies in tatters and the verdict is final. Israel has failed. It’s over.

Week 4: Mundane mission

With the final chapters of Acts, Luke hits the fast-forward button. Having spent the first 15 chapters focusing on specific episodes covering just a few years, Luke now takes us on a whirlwind tour around Asia Minor following Paul. Snapshots and summaries are the order of the day – Paul spends six months here, a year there, plants a church, moves on, preaches the gospel, starts a riot.. There is a huge sense of energy and excitement. We get earthquakes, torture, riots, quarrels, courtroom drama. Great miracles happen, people are healed by shadows and handkerchiefs. All great stuff.

So why then am I left slightly weary? I think it is because there is an elephant running round the room by which I am trying hard not to get trampled. The elephant is not Paul himself but how we have used Paul as the exemplary Christian missionary, and in some senses the paradigmatic Christian.

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Chapter #26 1 Kings 17 - 2 Kings 16: Quick-fixes, broken promises

With Solomon gone and the Kingdom divided, the central section of the Kings narrative follows the rise and fall of the dual monarchy: Israel, the far larger nation of the north and the smaller, but ultimately more significant, Judah, in the South.

The remainder of 1 Kings details the stories of Elijah the Prophet and the controversial King of Israel, Ahab. The latter, bent on ‘evil’, according to the text, does show signs of devotion to Yahweh, but for whatever reasons (almost certainly among them, a very dodgy wife and a distinct lack of guts) cannot seem to turn himself away from the cult of the Ba’al and its diverting ways.

Week 3: Break point

This article was first posted in 2009

The summer sun is shining hot, we have one solitary strawberry growing on our veg patch and Wimbledon fever has taken over our house. And for once Britain has a genuine contender. God bless Tiger Tim with his pressed whites and embarrassingly limp fist pump, but Andy Murray looks like the real deal. I watched rapt for almost four hours yesterday as he fought Stan Stan the Swiss man to a standstill.

What I love about tennis, and especially grass court tennis, is that whole matches hinge on only a few points. A break of serve here, a double-fault there changes the course of whole matches. Therein lies the drama and the excitement.

I think of Acts 8-15.35 as a break point to win 10-8 in the fifth set of a final at Wimbledon. It is impossible to overstate how important these chapters are within the grand story of the bible. There are some decisions in life which have irreversible consequences, some do-or die moments which will affect everything which is to come. These chapters represent such a pivotal hinge, whose consequences have shaped the rest of Christian history, and, as such, world history.

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Chapter #25 1 Kings 1-16: Peace at any price

This first sixteen chapters of 1 Kings provide us with an almost perfect snapshot of Israel’s ongoing Yahweh saga. One the one hand, greatness, and on the other, despair and ruin.

The narrative picks up where 2 Samuel left off. David dies and his son, Solomon, succeeds him as king. In what follows, Solomon is established as, without doubt, Israel’s mightiest sovereign. If you thought King David was impressive, you ain’t seen nothing! This is a Suzerain with increasing vassals, among them, the great Old-Assyrians Tyre and Sidon.

But there is one clear and penetrating reason why Solomon does not make number #1 in the Israelite League of Greatness: Women! Seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines to be precise.