Psalm 119:41–48; Ezekiel 24:9–25:14; James 4:7–17

Psalm 119:41–48: In this section the psalmist moves beyond the pleas to God to know and understand his word to the issue of communicating his word. The psalmist asks for knowledge so “that I may give answer to those who taunt me.” (42) God’s word becomes a matter of how the psalmist lives: “And let me observe Your teaching always,/ forevermore.” (44)

The psalmist moves outdoors: “And let me walk about in an open space,/ for Your decrees I have sought.” (45) and then he asks for courage as he speaks to those who rank above him, “And let me speak of Your precepts/ before kings without being shamed.” (46) Finally, he adopts an attitude of worship: “And let me lift up my palms to Your commands/ that I have loved, and dwell on Your statutes.” (48).

So it is for us when we study God’s word. It is not just a question of interior knowledge, but of taking God’s word into an “open space” and having the courage to speak “before kings without being shamed.” In a present circumstance where I feel I must confront a “king” with what I believe is a word from God, I can certainly identify personally with the psalmist.

Ezekiel 24:9–25:14: What we could call the “poem of God’s utter frustration,” concludes with stark images of how God will cleanse the the “rusty pot” of Jerusalem:
   10 Heap up the logs, kindle the fire;
       boil the meat well, mix in the spices,
       let the bones be burned.
   11 Stand it empty upon the coals,
       so that it may become hot, its copper glow,
       its filth melt in it, its rust be consumed.
   12 In vain I have wearied myself;
       its thick rust does not depart.
       To the fire with its rust!

God has set Jerusalem to the burning fire in an attempt to cleanse it, but alas, “Yet, when I cleansed you in your filthy lewdness,/ you did not become clean from your filth;” (24:13) and we can hear God’s frustrated anger at the stubbornness of his chosen people as he cries, “I will act. I will not refrain, I will not spare, I will not relent.” (24:14)

God in effect turns to his prophet Ezekiel and tells him, “Mortal, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down.” (24:16) And then in one of the saddest verses of this book, Ezekiel tells us, “So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.” (24:18) Despite his bereavement, Ezekiel obeys God. he does not mourn and his friends come to him puzzled, asking,“Will you not tell us what these things mean for us, that you are acting this way?” (24:19) He replies that God will “profane his sanctuary, “the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes, and your heart’s desire; and your sons and your daughters whom you left behind shall fall by the sword.” (24:21), but just as Ezekiel cannot mourn his dead wife, they “you shall not mourn or weep, but you shall pine away in your iniquities and groan to one another.” (24:23)

So what is this business about not mourning all about? Perhaps it’s because their sins been so great that mourning their loss would be an act of hypocrisy. They will weep; they will pine away and groan to each as they realize the enormity of their misdeeds. But the act of mourning is to express contrition before God and to recognize our very humanity. In God’s eyes they have not been human because they have rejected their God-given humanity and become mere animals sacrificing their children; they are beyond redemption. There could not be a more tragic realization than that.

Then, as before, we hear similar prophecies of doom for Ammon, Moab and Edom. And as we know, those kingdoms disappeared forever because there was no faithful remnant as there was for Israel.

James 4:7–17: James advises us to do what Jerusalem did not do: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (7) (one of those verses I learned back at Lake Avenue Congregational in 5th grade Sunday School.) Then, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (8a).  I confess I do not like the idea of a quid pro quo God–that I must come to God in order for him to come to me. Perhaps it is merely poor sentence construction on James’s part and that he did not mean to imply that God will turn to us only if we turn to him. I prefer to believe that God is steadfast, immovable and it is I who turn away and then, hopefully, turn back to God to find him exactly in the same place.


Clearly, James is writing in some anger here as he continues, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (8b) And when he says, “Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection.” (9) I presume he is talking about the artificial laughter and joy of the godless world, which we will reject when we turn away from the “joys” of the world and turn back to God.

Then, more practical advice from this Dear Abby of the epistle writers: “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters.” (11) and remember always that “There is [only] one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?” (12) As Jesus pointed out, we are to love,not judge, our neighbor. Easy in concept; difficult in practice.

But the part of this passage that stands out to me personally is his assertion about the futility of thinking our plans will unfold exactly as we think they will: “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.”Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring.” (13, 14) The old cliche is true: “If you want God to laugh, tell him your plans.” As cancer has taught me so well, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (14b). As a society we are in total denial of our ephemerality. We delude ourselves in thinking that anything we do, anything we build is somehow permanent. Yes, the rich may set up foundations in the belief that their influence will be felt beyond the grave. But they have no voice, no power. There is only one Permanence. And we are not it.

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