Psalm 34:19–22; Ezra 10:7–44; Romans 2:5–16

 Psalm 34:19–22: These last verses are the distillation of hope because they are the distillation of God’s promise to us: “Near is the Lord to the broken-hearted,/ and the crushed in spirit He rescues.” (19) As we endure the vicissitudes of life, there is the assurance that even in the darkest places, God is very near. Near enough to rescue us.

These are extravagant promises: “Many the evils of the righteous man,/ yet from all of them the Lord will save him.” (20) We will encounter evil times and evil people, but we will always be rescued. It’s worth noting that rescue can be a messy business. If I fall off a boat into the sea and almost drown, but am rescued, it’s not like I was able to avoid getting wet or gasping for air. Bad things will happen, but God will rescue me in the end.

The bad guys will get theirs in the end: “Evil will kill the wicked, / and the righteous man’s foes will bear guilt.” (22) Even when things are at their darkest and the enemy seems to have the upper hand, God will win out And so will we. Because it is “The Lord [who] ransoms His servants’ lives.” (23a). And through the saving power of Jesus Christ, “we will bear no guilt, all who shelter in Him.” (23b). Each of us will experience desperate times but like so many other psalms, we are reassured again and again, God is our protector, our very present help in trouble.

Ezra 10:7–44: To solve the problem of intermarriage and to restart Israel as the Jewish people they were before the exile, Ezra sends out the world that everyone must gather in jerusalem within three days or forfeit his property and “they themselves [would be] banned from the congregation of the exiles.” (10:8)

Everyone duly shows up, and “sat in the open square before the house of God, trembling because of this matter and because of the heavy rain.” (9) Ezra demands that the assembly must “make confession to the Lord the God of your ancestors, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” (11). Just about everyone agrees, but there are logistic problems in undertaking the confession of each man there: “it is a time of heavy rain; we cannot stand in the open. Nor is this a task for one day or for two, for many of us have transgressed in this matter.” (13), so it’s agreed that judges will instead come to each outlying town and take confessions.

Ever precise, Ezra records exactly how long this process takes, “On the first day of the tenth month they sat down to examine the matter. By the first day of the first month they had come to the end of all the men who had married foreign women. (16, 17) A list of those who confessed follows. Why this precision and detail? I think it was because it was essential to know exactly how Israel’s national identity was reestablished. Jesus tells us that God is in the details, and the names of those involved in the re-founding of Israel is a crucial matter.

And we cannot forget how difficult it must have been for these men to give up their wives–and their children. Would I have obeyed this command in order to preserve the racial purity? We certainly know how modern society–where individual rights trump all else– would view this act.

Romans 2:5–16: For the psalmist above, the acts of God that Paul is describing here would be the lower level of abstraction of just how God will deal with both those who follow God and those who do not. For God “will repay according to each one’s deeds:” (6) For those “who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;” (7) And “those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.” (8) And These rules apply to both the Jew and the Greek (Gentile): “For God shows no partiality.” (11) Like the psalmist, Paul makes it clear that God will judge us by our deeds.

Since Paul is addressing both Jewish and Gentile believers here, he draws the interesting distinction that for the Gentiles, “ All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law” but for Jews, “all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.” (12) But, regardless, all will be judged.

So how does Paul know that this is how things will operate? First, it doesn’t have to do with hearing or knowing the law, but it’s all about doing–how we act. Paul is saying that the extensive written code of the Jewish law is in effect written on the heart of the Gentiles, and it’s called conscience: “They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness;” (15) Because Gentiles, “who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires,.” (14)

So, what’s going on here? Clearly, at the church in Rome, there were two classes of people: Jewish converts and Greek converts, and the Jews may have lorded it over the Gentiles because they were possessors of the written law. Paul is telling them, “Hey, guys, it doesn’t matter who’s got the written law; we each and everyone of us have the law, whether written down or written on our hearts. We are all the same in God’s eyes and will be judged the same.” Paul’s project here is to crush  the old cultural distinctions and telling us (as he does later) that we are all “new creatures in Christ.” This theme of we are the same in the eyes of God recurs over and over.

Speak Your Mind