Psalm 114; Ezekiel 4:6–6:7; Hebrews 10:19–31

Psalm 114: The energy of this metaphorically powerful psalm that compresses the history of Israel into just 8 verses is evident at the opening verse: “When Israel came out of Egypt./ the house of Jacob from a barbarous-tongued folk.” We realize suddenly that as slaves in Egypt, the Hebrews and Egyptians spoke different languages. And the poet leaves no doubt as to which language was superior. a major reason for that superiority, of course, is that God accompanies Israel: “Judah became His sanctuary,/ Israel His dominion.” (2)

The forty years of wandering in the wilderness are compressed into its bookends of the two bodies of water that play such an important role in Israel’s history: “The sea saw and fled,/ Jordan turned back.” (3) These references to the crossing of the sea out of Egypt and the crossing of the Jordan into Canaan animate nature itself, revealing its personality as “The mountains danced like rams,/ hills like lambs of the flock.” (4). Allegorical hierarchy is maintained as the large mountains are symbolized as powerful male sheep, while the smaller hills are the newborns.

Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of this poem is how the poet repeats these preceding two verses as a rhetorical question:
“What is wrong with you, sea, that you flee,
Jordan, that you turn back,
mountains, that you dance like rams,
hills like lambs of the flock?” (5,6)

Well, we know that sea and rivers don’t flee or turn back, and that mountains and hills don’t dance. I think the poet is making sure we understand just how powerful and unusual was God’s intervention with the Hebrews–so remarkable that even nature rejoices in what has happened. The following verse—-“Before the Master, whirl, O earth,/ before the God of Jacob,” (7)–says exactly that. God’s action cause not just the humans of Israel and Judah to rejoice, but as Creator all of creation responds to what God has done.

The poet concludes by bringing nature and Israel into juxtaposition by reminding us of the famous incident at Meribah, where it is God, not Moses, “Who turns the rock to a pond of water,/ flint to a spring of water.” (8) That the poem concludes on water given by God reminds me of the saving power of the waters of baptism. All nature comes down to this simple, but wonderful, act of God’s grace. For Israel. For us.

Ezekiel 4:6–6:7: God’s training and testing of his newest prophet continues with the assignment of hard tasks. God binds Ezekiel to lie on his right side for forty days as he “bears the punishment of the house of Judah.” (4:6) That Judah is in effect atoning for the sins of Judah is a foretaste of Christ’s atoning for our sins. The forty days is certainly symbolic, reflecting Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness as he prepared for his own prophetic work.

God provides for Ezekiel’s sustenance while undergoing these desert rigors. Among other things, we learn that Ezekiel was a vegetarian: “Ah Lord God! I have never defiled myself; from my youth up until now I have never eaten what died of itself or was torn by animals, nor has carrion flesh come into my mouth.” (4:14) And then the rather unappetizing detail, as God replies, “See, I will let you have cow’s dung instead of human dung, on which you may prepare your bread.” (4:15)

Things get weirder. God commands Ezekiel to use a sword to shave off not only his beard but the hair on his head. Then he’s to burn one third of it inside Jerusalem, another third “you shall take and strike with the sword all around the city” (5:2) and the final third is to be scattered to the wind. All of these are symbols of the fate of Jerusalem: fire and famine, being cut down by their enemies, and then exile.

There are other fearful promises from, yes, a God who demands justice: “ Surely, parents shall eat their children in your midst, and children shall eat their parents; I will execute judgments on you, and any of you who survive I will scatter to every wind.” (5:10) and “ when I loose against you my deadly arrows of famine, arrows for destruction, which I will let loose to destroy you, and when I bring more and more famine upon you, and break your staff of bread.” (5:16)

Finally, God instructs Ezekiel to bring this message to Israel and its relentless idolatry: “say, You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God! Thus says the Lord God to the mountains and the hills, to the ravines and the valleys: I, I myself will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places.” (6:3) and then, “ I will lay the corpses of the people of Israel in front of their idols; and I will scatter your bones around your altars.” (6:5)

What do we make of this? God is angry and God demands a harsh justice. This is one of those seemingly unresolvable conflicts between the OT God and the God we encounter through Jesus Christ. If nothing else, it is amble proof of why a New Covenant was required. The old cycle of human crime and Godly punishment was ultimately futile.

Hebrews 10:19–31: Our author has constructed a new, albeit symbolic, temple for the New Covenant that replaces the Old: “we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus,” (19) and right through the “curtain (that is, through his flesh)” (20) to bring us directly into the new Holy of Holies: before God himself.

But with this new access to God through Jesus Christ comes enormous responsibility: “let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (22) Surely, the water of baptism is that “pure water.” This is not just some sort of individual crystal-gazing personal spirituality, but real world action, “let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” (24, 25) In other words, our faith is acted out by our deeds and in community for all to see.

To make sure we hew to the straight and narrow, the writer reminds us that we cannot fool around. Our faith is not a convenience or a product we pick up and then discard, it is a serious commitment: “How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?” (29). In other words, if we’re going to practice this faith, we must practice it whole-heartedly. Alas, I stand guilty as charged for too often setting my faith aside to pursue more ephemeral pleasures.

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