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

Psalm 119:41–48: In this lengthy disquisition to God, we see that the cares of the psalmist are very similar to our so many centuries later. In the same way that many Christians find their beliefs under attack by today’s culture, our psalmist beseeches God for wisdom in how to respond to these attacks:
“...that I may give answer to those who taunt me,
for I have trusted in Your word.
And do not take the least word of truth from my mouth…

And let me speak of Your precepts
before kings without being shamed.” (42b, 43a, 46)

Yet, speaking about my faith to doubting strangers—or even friends—is the most difficult task of all for me—even though we have even better news than the psalmist who can speak only of  God’s law. We have the good news of Jesus Christ. Yet, I hesitate and prefer to blend in rather than set myself apart from the deteriorating mores of the culture in which we now live.

I have always admired those who speak boldly, unafraid of what others might think. These verses need to become my prayer.

Ezekiel 24:9–25:14: Following the prophetic imprecations against Jerusalem as  a corrupt cooking pot that cannot be cleaned, we encounter a sad personal note. God tells Ezekiel that his wife will die, but that he cannot mourn publicly: “The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears. Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead. Keep your turban fastened and your sandals on your feet; do not cover your mustache and beard or eat the customary food of mourners.” (24:15-17)

And rather than be at his wife’s bedside as she dies, Ezekiel reports, “So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. The next morning I did as I had been commanded.” (24:18) In short, the job of prophet was more important than Ezekiel’s love for his wife. Ugh.

The people around him understandably question Ezekiel’s lack of respect for his dead wife. But Ezekiel replies that in the same way that he cannot mourn his wife, they will not be able to mourn the upcoming destruction of the temple at Jerusalem: “you will do as I have done. You will not cover your mustache and beard or eat the customary food of mourners. You will keep your turbans on your heads and your sandals on your feet. You will not mourn or weep but will waste away because of  your sins and groan among yourselves.” (24:22)

But I have to ask: would God really require Ezekiel to use the death of his wife as a symbol of the destruction to come? Yes, God was angry with the people of Jerusalem but one wonders if Ezekiel’s own love for his wife had become so subsumed to his angry rhetoric that this is more an act of the prophet than of God.

What’s not said here is that the people of Jerusalem, having seen Ezekiel fail to mourn his wife, doubtless reject anything else the prophet has to say and he is forced to find new territory to which to prophesy.

As the next chapter opens, we find Ezekiel far away from Jerusalem, preaching the same message of imminent doom against the Ammonites. This prophecy is even harsher than those against the people of Jerusalem: “I will wipe you out from among the nations and exterminate you from the countries. I will destroy you, and you will know that I am the Lord.’” (25:7) Given that there are no more Ammonites, this prophecy was certainly fulfilled.

Same goes for the hapless inhabitants of Moab, who will be conquered: “I will give Moab along with the Ammonites to the people of the East as a possession, so that the Ammonites will not be remembered among the nations; and I will inflict punishment on Moab. Then they will know that I am the Lord.’” (25:10)  We presume that the “people of the east” are the Babylonians.

Finally, there is Edom which “took revenge on Judah and became very guilty by doing so.” (25:12) God’s vengeance is the reward for Edom’s vengeance: “I will take vengeance on Edom by the hand of my people Israel, and they will deal with Edom in accordance with my anger and my wrath; they will know my vengeance, declares the Sovereign Lord.’” (25:14)

Ezekiel’s God is angry at everyone and will act accordingly. He seems much more the adolescent God than the mature loving God we see in the New Testament. This is one of those inexplicable places where we can only say, “Noted.”

James 4:7–17: James is sounding very Ezekiel-like, but without the threat of imminent destruction: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” (7-9)

In other words, being a Christian is a serious business; we cannot treat our faith lightly or as an object of humorous derision. This is one of those sections that remind me that I really don’t like this epistle. I’ve seen too many humorless Christians justify their dour outlook on life with these verses.

Nevertheless, the epistle also contains pretty useful advice. Here, James warns against judging our neighbors because to do so is to judge the law itself: “Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it.” (11) Indeed, he writes, “who are you to judge your neighbor?” (12) And yet we do it all the time. And social media has only made those judgements easier and more widespread.

Perhaps my favorite section in this book is what many psalms have already observed: our lives are brief and ephemeral. James notes that we are wrong to assume we have assurance about the future: “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (13, 14)  And yet this is exactly how most of us live: blissfully unaware that today might be our last day on earth.

James is also frightfully clear on the sin of pride: “As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.” (16) In other words, it’s a sin to boast of how much money we’ve made in the stock market or in various real estate deals.

And finally, not only  are there sins of commission, there are sins of omission as well: “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” (17)

James certainly sets a high bar for Christian behavior.

 

 

 

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