Psalm 119:121–128; Ezekiel 37:1–38:6; 1 Peter 5

Psalm 119:121–128: Our psalmist celebrates his personal character as a reason for God to protect him from his enemies: “I have done justice and righteousness;/ do not yield me to my oppressors.” (121) But as always characteristic of this psalm, this plea for rescue is always for the single purpose of being able to continue learning God’s precepts: “Do for Your servant as befits Your kindness/ and teach me Your statutes.” (124)

Once rescued, the quest for greater insight, greater learning of how God speaks through the Law continues: “Your servant I am; grant me insight,/ that I may know Your precepts.” Once he has been rescued and is back on the path to learning, he indicates he may move to action against his enemies: “It is time to act for the Lord–/ they have violated Your teaching.” (126) Again, we see this binary world of goodness arising from following the law and badness arising from its violation. There are no gray areas, no ambiguities in this psalm.

Our psalmist once again makes sure that we know–and that God knows–on whose side he stands: “Therefore by all Your ordinances I have walked a straight line./ All paths of lies I have hated.” (128) And once again I realize what a gift I have been given through the grace of Jesus Christ. I do not need to go to God and explain how good I’ve been; how well I’ve hewed to the straight and narrow. Instead, when I sin I am able to go to him and confess my sins in the assurance of forgiveness.

Ezekiel 37:1–38:6: And finally we arrive at the most well knowing location in this book: the valley of dry bones. (And an appropriate passage for today being Halloween!) God commands Ezekiel to prophesy to this collection of deadness: “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.” (37:4) I have to wonder what Ezekiel thought when God told him to say, “I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.” (5). Sinew. Flesh. Skin. Breath. It’s a physiologically correct recreation of what God did in Eden and like Adam, these reconstructed people “shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” (6)

As always, Ezekiel does what he is commanded “and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.” (10) This is the most dramatic manifestation yet of God’s intention to restore Israel itself from death to life. That which was scattered will again be brought together and given life. And even better than life itself, God promises, “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil;” (14a). But I think the real significance here is what God says about himself: “you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” (14b). God speaks and acts. An incredible contrast to the dead idols Israel once worshipped. And a promise to us as well: God both speaks and he acts.

When God speaks and acts something far better than what was before occurs. Here it is the restoration of the once divided kingdom of Israel. Ezekiel is to take two sticks, write ‘Judah” on one and “Joseph and the House of Israel” on the other and before the people he is to “join them together into one stick, so that they may become one in your hand.” What this means is made crystal clear: “I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.” (22)  In short, the Israel under David and Solomon is restored. And finally, “Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” (23)

Now we come to the messianic prophecy: “ My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd.” (24). As usual, we can read this prophecy that moves from scattered bones to a restored messianic kingdom at several levels. First, of course, it is indeed a restored and unified Israel. Is that modern Israel? Maybe. Maybe not. Second, it is a vision of a New Israel, which the NT writers saw as the church because of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection which is hinted at here. Finally, I think the restoration of the dry bones speaks directly to us who have been transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit into new creatures. Once we were dead, now we love through Christ.

1 Peter 5: Peter states his bona fides as an apostle, “as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed” (1) and speaks directly to the “elders among you.” Like his entire epistle, his method of church governance in the church is suffused in trust and love: “tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it —not for sordid gain but eagerly.” (2)

Nevertheless, there is good order: “In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders.” (5) But it is an authority that has been earned by love and experience–that is why they are called elders. When there is mutual respect and trust, the people follow willingly.

And then one of the greatest, if most ignored in practice, words of encouragement in the NT: “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” (7) Worry gains nothing and now we have one who will bring comfort–but only if we are willing to give up ownership of our worries, which is really very difficult to do because it also means giving up control.

But we cannot just cast off our cares and go skipping gaily through the tulips. Rather, our worry-free life requires self discipline because we are surrounded by temptation: “Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” (8) True then and true now. Nor does freedom from worry necessarily mean freedom from suffering: “Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.” (9) But suffering in the knowledge that we are free in Jesus is infinitely better than suffering alone.

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