Psalm 119:49–56; Ezekiel 25:15–27:11; James 5:1–12

Psalm 119:49–56: These eight verses include all the elements of a psalm of supplication. There is a sense of God’s distance and possibly that God has forgotten the supplicant: “Recall the word to Your servant/ For which You gave me hope.” (49) The psalmist remembers that better time and that is the basis of hope: “This is my consolation in my affliction,/ that Your utterance gave me life.” (50) He has been oppressed by others: “The arrogant mocked me terribly–” (51a) But he has remained faithful: “from Your teaching I did not turn.” (51b) Since this is Psalm 119 and it’s all about God’s law, precepts, teaching and being taught, unlike other psalms of supplication, hope is found not so much in God himself. Rather, consolation lies in God’s statutes: “I recalled Your laws forever,/ O Lord, and I was consoled.” (52)

In fact, as the psalmist remembers God’s teaching and how they are his consolation, he becomes enraged at his enemies: “Rage from the wicked seized me,/ from those who forsake Your teaching.” (53) He does not list the sins of the wicked, only the simple fact that they have forsaken God’s teaching. This is surely the point of view of a scholar who sees the world in stark but simple terms: Know God’s law and you are on God’s side. Ignore God’s law and you are not.

And he makes sure that we know whose side he’s on: “I recalled in the night Your name, O Lord/ and observed Your teaching./ This I did possess,/ for Your decrees I kept.” (55, 56) Obeying the law is how he knows God remains close to him. And so it is for guys like me: to be sure, I see God in other people around me, and occasionally at worship, and in communion, but I find real closeness to God in the Scriptures, which I guess is why I am obsessed with beginning the day by diving into these Daily texts.

Ezekiel 25:15–27:11: The proclamations continue against the well-known ancient kingdoms that surrounded Israel and Judah. Given all the trouble they created over the years, we’re glad to see Philistia go: “Because with unending hostilities the Philistines acted in vengeance, and with malice of heart took revenge in destruction… I will execute great vengeance on them with wrathful punishments. Then they shall know that I am the Lord, when I lay my vengeance on them.” (25:15, 17)

But I confess I’m more puzzled as to why God has to wreak vengeance on Tyre. Unlike Philistia, we don’t really see a reason for God’s wrath, only that “ I will hurl many nations against you,/ as the sea hurls its waves.” (26:3) and  “It shall become plunder for the nations,/ and its daughter-towns in the country/ shall be killed by the sword.” (26:6).  I wonder of this is simply a prophecy that acknowledges the reality of the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions and really has little to do with its sin and the consequent wrath of God that it endures. Is Ezekiel giving God credit for a purely human action in order to assure us that every historical event is instigated and executed by God through human agency?

If I’m not mistaken, the prophetic assertion, “You shall never again be rebuilt,” (26:14) and “ I will bring you to a dreadful end, and you shall be no more; though sought for, you will never be found again,” actually didn’t come to pass, as Tyre exists in Lebanon to the present day

In fact, there’s true regret over the loss of Tyre since Ezekiel gives us a “lamentation over Tyre” that recalls its glories:
   “O Tyre, you have said,
       “I am perfect in beauty.”
   Your borders are in the heart of the seas;
       your builders made perfect your beauty.” (27:4)

The poem recalls how Tyre was the center of trade and skilled artisans as a beautiful ship becomes a metaphor for the city. “fir trees from Senir; cedar from Lebanon; oaks of Bashan; …sails made of embroidered cloth from Egypt; …blue and purple from the coasts of Elishah…” (27 5-7). And Ezekiel remembers by name the towns form which its brave warriors came,”Paras and Lud and Put /were in your army, Men of Arvad and Helechwere on your walls all around;” (27:10,11). In this lamentation we come away with the sense of tremendous loss. But the question hangs in the air: was the loss of Tyre really God’s will for punishment? With this lamentation I come away with the clear sense that Ezekiel truly regretted God’s action–if indeed this was really God’s action.

 James 5:1–12: Now James takes up the class we have come to call the One Percent: “you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten.” (1,2) There is the promise that every poor person longs to hear: the rich will get their reward: “Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire.” (3). And there’s little question that these riches have been ill-gotten: “The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” (4) because “you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” (5) 

But this retributive justice seems to lie off in the distant future–just as it does today. So, James advises, “Be patient, therefore, beloved until the coming of the Lord.” (7) That would be that great Day of the Lord when God’s justice would finally rain down on rich and poor alike. We get a sense of how imminent the early church believed that day was: “You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” (8) And as “an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets [like Ezekiel!] who spoke in the name of the Lord.” (10) Indeed, he even uses the example of Job as to the level of patience these folks must endure. But he also reminds us, “the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” (11)

In the meantime we are to stand firm. And James will not stand for ambiguity: “but let your “Yes” be yes and your “No” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” Which is tremendously good advice in our relationships with other Christians, other people and especially those we love.

So the questions occur: Would James counsel exactly the same thing to the poor today? Do we just wait patiently? Is the coming of the Lord near?

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