Psalm 119:57–64; Ezekiel 27:12–28:10; James 5:13–20

Psalm 119:57–64: Perhaps it’s an unfair response on my part, but there seems to be a certain braggadocio on the part of our psalmist as he recalls all the times he has confronted temptation and yet has never failed to follow God’s law:
I have reckoned my ways,
and turned back my feet to Your precepts.
I hastened and did not linger,
to observe Your commands.

Your teaching I did not forget.
At midnight I rose to acclaim You
for Your righteous laws.” (59-62)

There’s also a dollop of unctuousness about him as he reminds us that he’s consistently on the side of the angels—and consorts only with all those others who also diligently follow God’s law:
A friend I am to all who fear You,
and to those who observe Your decrees.” (63)

While his motivations are certainly sincere, the psalmist sounds like many Christians I’ve encountered who make sure you know just how faithfully they read their bible or attend worship or love Jesus. The really skilled ones manage—like the psalmist here—to communicate their religious superiority while praying about how well they have followed God this week. This is where the phrase “holier than thou” arises…

Ezekiel 27:12–28:10: In a book that seems awash in apparent non-sequiturs this “Lament over Tyre” certainly stands out. Unfortunately, we do not have the back-story as to why or how the mercantilist kingdom of Tyre plays a significant role in the stories of Judah and Israel. But here it is as we encounter an amazingly detailed catalog of Tyre’s various business dealings with just about every nation and city in the Mediterranean basin. We learn that Tarshish “exchanged silver, iron, tin and lead for your merchandise.” (12) And more ominously that “‘Greece, Tubal and Meshek did business with you; they traded human beings and articles of bronze for your wares.” (13) The list goes on through “Men of Beth Togarmah and men of Rhodes traded with you, and many coastlands were your customers; they paid you with ivory tusks and ebony.” (14, 15)

We finally arrive at agrarian “Judah and Israel [who] traded with you; they exchanged wheat from Minnith and confections, honey, olive oil and balm for your wares.” (17)

What’s astounding about this catalog is both the variety of goods, the extent of trade, and the tremendous wealth involved. We tend to think of ancient kingdoms as relatively unsophisticated compared to our present trade and wealth. While we certainly trade on a larger scale, these ancient kingdoms and city-states were hardly slouches.

But now we come to the reason that Tyre is included in Ezekiel’s prophecies. Despite its influence and wealth, Tyre is doomed and all its economic power comes to naught:
Now you are shattered by the sea
    in the depths of the waters;
your wares and all your company
    have gone down with you.
All who live in the coastlands
    are appalled at you;
their kings shudder with horror
    and their faces are distorted with fear.
The merchants among the nations scoff at you;
    you have come to a horrible end
    and will be no more.’” (27:34-36)

Ezekiel minces no words as to the root cause of Tyre’s downfall. It is the arrogance of pride:
“‘In the pride of your heart
    you say, “I am a god;
I sit on the throne of a god
    in the heart of the seas.”
But you are a mere mortal and not a god,
    though you think you are as wise as a god.”

“‘Because you think you are wise,
    as wise as a god,
I am going to bring foreigners against you,
    the most ruthless of nations;
they will draw their swords against your beauty and wisdom
    and pierce your shining splendor.
They will bring you down to the pit,
    and you will die a violent death
    in the heart of the seas.” (28: 1, 6-8)

For me, it is impossible to read this passage without thinking about what fate awaits today’s nations—and especially our own nation—as the world comes to believe that the price of our relentless exploitation of God’s creation will not one day come due. Will our end be as tragic as Tyre’s?

James 5:13–20: Our writer begins to sound a bit like the spokesperson on a late night TV commercial espousing the efficacy of Christian belief: “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.” (13, 14)

But more troubling for me is James’ claim that “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up.” (15) Maybe. Maybe not. This statement leads leads all too easily to the conviction that those who are not healed possess insufficient faith. I remember back in 1987 when my friend Steve was dying of AIDS (caused by a kidney transplant before anyone knew that the virus was blood-borne) that several of his erstwhile (and very fundamental) Christian friends were convinced he was dying because this wonderful Christian man had insufficient faith that he would be healed.

While I cannot argue with James’ assertion that “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (16) I cannot accept that if we pray as fervently as Elijah that we’ll affect the weather.

No wonder Luther called this epistle “a book of straw.”

 

 

 

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