Psalm 112; Ezekiel 1,2; Hebrews 9:23–10:4

Psalm 112: Alter tells us that like the preceding psalm, this one is also an acrostic, with each line beginning with a Hebrew letter in sequence. One has the impression that these psalms may have come as a set, two to be memorized by a boy entering manhood, or perhaps a priest being initiated into the Temple rite.

While Psalm 111 describes God’s attributes, this one is a catalog of the attributes of the wise man. It begins exactly where the preceding one left off. The most important quality is fear of the Lord: “Happy the man who fears the Lord.” But not just fearing God, but “His commands he keenly desires.” (1)  The next most important as aspect of the God-fearing man is that he is able to pass along these virtues to his progeny: “A great figure in the land his seed shall be,/ the generation of the upright shall be blessed.” (2)

Then comes “Abundance and wealth in his home,/ and his righteousness stands forever.” (3) Say what we will about the unimportance of financial capital vis a vis other capital in today’s world, there’s no question it was important then. Like the God he fears, the upright man has many of the same qualities: “gracious and merciful and just,” (4) which is reiterated in the following line: Good is the man who shows grace and lends,/ he sustains his words with justice.” (5) As always, if we truly fear a just and righteous God, our responsibility is to bring justice as well. And our reward is, ” an eternal remembrance of the just man shall be.” (6b) In short if we are to be remembered after we die, it will be for the justice we brought to others, not for our other accomplishments.

The man whose “heart is firm [because] he trusts in the Lord” (7) “shall not fear,/ till he sees the defeat of his foes.” (8). In other words to see that justice occurs means that we must engage out foes. As well, “he disperses, he gives to the needy.” (9a) And our reward is that “his righteousness stands forever.” (9b) In the end, the major requirement of the man who fears God is that he will do all in his power to bring justice. The question is, do I fear the Lord such that bringing justice is my heart’s desire?

Ezekiel 1,2: So we arrive the book of “the priest Ezekiel son of Buzi.” Like Jeremiah, his prophetic bona fides are established not only because “the word of the Lord came” (1:3a) to him, but that “the hand of the Lord was on him there.” (3b)

Beyond that terse opening there is no biographical information about Ezekiel. Unlike Isaiah and Jeremiah, Ezekiel is a man who sees visions and the book opens with the most dramatic commissioning of a prophet that we could imagine. There is “a stormy wind [that] came out of the north: a great cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing forth continually, and in the middle of the fire,” (1:4) And in its middle, “something like four living creatures…Each had four faces, and each of them had four wings….the four had the face of a human being, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle…The living creatures darted to and fro, like a flash of lightning.” (1:6-14)

As if these creatures aren’t dramatic enough, the creatures are accompanied by “wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl; and the four had the same form, their construction being something like a wheel within a wheel.” (1:16) I remember as a kid when flying saucers were all the rage someone speculated that Ezekiel’s vision must have been an alien spaceship.

But it turns out that this is really a theophany: “above the dome over their heads there was something like a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was something that seemed like a human form.” (1:26) And “there was a splendor all around. Like the bow in a cloud on a rainy day, such was the appearance of the splendor all around.” (1:27, 28) Ezekiel does what any sane human would do at this point: “When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of someone speaking.” (1:28b)

It would seem to be God himself commissioning Ezekiel as a prophet: “He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day.” (2:3) Ezekiel must go and speak to the “descendants [of those ancestors, who] are impudent and stubborn.” (2:4) But perhaps what is most striking about this apocalyptic vision are God’s words of encouragement to Ezekiel: “And you, O mortal, do not be afraid of them, and do not be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words, and do not be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.” (2:6) And, God’s command: “You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear; for they are a rebellious house.” (2:7) Ezekiel is then handed a scroll “and written on it were words of lamentation and mourning and woe.” (2:10)  It’s fascinating that many of the visions themselves are recapitulated in Revelation.

What would it be like to hear these words from God himself? Like Ezekiel, we would know that we are about to go speak to very dangerous people. But would I be like Ezekiel and actually go and speak?

Hebrews 9:23–10:4: Our writer continues to explain the nature of Christ’s sacrifice and how it transcends the sacrificial system in place in Jerusalem. The crucial difference is, “Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” (9:24) Christ intercedes directly with God. And this intercession is required only once because, unlike the Jewish high priest who “again and again, …enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own” (9:25), Christ “has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (9:26)

The author then connects Christ’s sacrifice to the Second coming: “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (9:28) But in the meantime, the Temple system continues (suggesting this book was written before the destruction of the Temple by Titus in AD70) and the fact that “in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. and that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (10:3) are pretty remote concepts to those of us who today so far removed from that Temple.

But the power of these words must have been palpable shortly after they were written, for our writer is turning the long-established old covenant over on its head.  When we think about what happened to Paul in Jerusalem,  I’m guessing that our author was some safe distance from Jerusalem when he wrote what could only be seen as heresy by the Jewish establishment.

 

Speak Your Mind

*