Psalm 33:12–22; Ezra 6:13–7:28; Romans 1:1–12

Psalm 33:12–22: Our psalmist switches the point of view from earth to heaven where “the Lord looked down.” And God’s focus here in not on creation in general but specifically on human kind. God looks down and “saw all the human creatures” (13) Notice “creatures,” making it clear that even though we forget, we are indeed God’s creation. As is the nature of Hebrew poetry–and to make sure we get the point–the idea of God looking down on us is repeated: “From His firm throne He surveyed/ all who dwell on earth.” (14) God is looking at all of us, not just a few; none of us can escape God’s gaze.

And what does God see? He sees more than just humankind’s outward appearances and actions; he sees right into us, for in being created, so too are our emotions and motivations God’s creation: “He fashions their heart one and all./ He understands all their doings.” (15)

And with the reality that we are his created beings, God sees humans performing acts that they believe are their own accomplishments, when they are not: “The king is not rescued through surfeit of might,/ the warrior not saved through surfeit of power.” (16) The unstated answer to the unstated question of “who, then?” is obvious: God is our rescuer.  This is a fine definition of pride: we operate under the delusion that we are independent beings, forgetting that we are God’s creatures, his creation.

But if, as Jesus says, God’s eye is on the sparrow, so too is his eye on us as those of us who seek after God are protected: “Look, the Lord’s eye is on those who fear Him,/ on those who yearn for His kindness/ to save their lives from death/ and in famine keep them alive.” (19,20) As this psalm concludes, the poet reminds us that it is this awareness of God’s faithful watching over us us why “in Him our heart rejoices,/ for in His holy name do we trust.” (21)

Ezra 6:13–7:28: Despite the obstacles thrown in their way, and protected by the decree of King Darius, the rebuilding of the temple is complete: “They finished their building by command of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus, Darius, and King Artaxerxes of Persia.” (6:14) A great celebration takes place and Passover is celebrated, as Ezra gives credit to God, but to the king of Assyria, as well: “for the Lord had made them joyful, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.” (6:22).  This is a good reminder that God’s work is aided through human agency. No miracles are required here, but it’s clear that as the psalm above would have it, God “fashioned” Darius’s heart.

Suddenly the book turns autobiographical (or, assuming someone else wrote this book, biographical) and we learn that Ezra “was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses that the Lord the God of Israel had given; and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was upon him.” (7:6) And in return, “Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach the statutes and ordinances in Israel.” (7:10). Notice that Ezra studies the law, but he also does it and teach it. A good reminder that just reading and writing about the Word of God, as I do here, is not sufficient. My knowledge must be translated into action.

King Artaxerxes writes a letter granting Ezra full access to whatever “the priest Ezra, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, requires of you, let it be done with all diligence.” God has impacted Artaxerxes’ heart to make sure Ezra has what he needs and is obeyed for a very practical reason. The king clearly has read the history of the Jews and understands God’s wrath for disobedience: “Whatever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be done with zeal for the house of the God of heaven, or wrath will come upon the realm of the king and his heirs.” (7:23). Artaxerxes isn’t taking any chances here.

Ezra becomes the defacto ruler–not king–of Judah. And Ezra gathers his courage to go visit the king: “I took courage, for the hand of the Lord my God was upon me, and I gathered leaders from Israel to go up with me.” (7:28) Ezra knows that these honors being shown and power given to him are not the result of his work, but God’s.

Romans 1:1–12: And so, we leave the Gospels and Acts and enter the realm of theology. I don’t think that given how Luke’s history ended–with Paul preaching in Rome, that it was any accident that whoever determined the order of the NT, logically places Paul’s letter to Rome immediately following.

Paul’s salutation is a remarkable summary of the the Gospel–and lays out the themes he will be taking up in detail in the themes of this letter, as he writes, “the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” (3,4). And then Paul’s restates his own great commission to “to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles.” (5)

It’s clear in Paul’s introduction that the letter was written well before he actually arrived in Rome. He tells the people in Rome “I remember you always in my prayers, asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you.” (10). Which wish we know by virtue of reading Luke’s history was finally been granted.

Paul reminds us of the crucial importance of community, and why our faith cannot be practiced in isolation: “For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—  or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” The journey with the Lord, has not only Jesus at our side, as on the road to Emmaus, but our friends in the faith as well. Mutual encouragement is so crucial, so important in building up each other’s faith.


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