Psalm 119:65–72; Ezekiel 28:11–29:12; 1 Peter 1:1–12

Psalm 119:65–72: Our psalmist has endured some sort of severe illness which has caused him to reflect on his life and the direction he was going. Before his illness he was definitely headed down the wrong path and doubtless consorting with the neer-do-wells he now calls arrogant. Now that he has experienced what was probably a near-death experience he has turned back to following God’s law:
Before I was afflicted, I went astray,
but now Your utterance I observe.” (67)

I well know whereof the psalmist speaks. There was nothing like hearing the words, “You have a nasty cancer, Craig” to suddenly stop drifting through life, acknowledge my mortality, and begin serious reflection on the direction my life and my relationships—especially my relationship with God—were taking.

Our psalmist realizes that God is the source of all that is good:
You are good and do good.” (68a)

He abandons his erstwhile friends when he realizes they are up to no good as he compares their falsehoods with God’s eternal truths. And he is sure to let us know that he has chosen the righteous path:
The arrogant plaster me with lies—
I with whole heart keep Your decrees.
Their heart grows dull like fat—
as for me, in Your teaching I delight.” (69, 70)

Looking back, he realizes that the reflection and then the repentance that arose from his sickness was a beneficial because it turned him back to God:
It was good for me that I was afflicted,
so that I might learn Your statutes.” (71)

I have to agree. The reality of illness forced me to think about more serious matters—matters of life and death. Unlike the psalmist though, I was not surrounded by people spewing lies. Rather, it was the love of God expressed through the deeds and words of those around me that helped me realize that God was very near.

Ezekiel 28:11–29:12: God has deployed Ezekiel as the prophet who carries God’s judgement outside of Judah and Israel. Tyre certainly receives a lot of God’s attention as Ezekiel continues to prophesy to the king of Tyre of the doom to come. He reminds the king of what once was:
“‘You were the seal of perfection,
    full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
You were in Eden,
    the garden of God;

You were blameless in your ways
    from the day you were created
    till wickedness was found in you.” (12b, 13a, 15)

But as always, the problem is pride as Ezekiel continues:
Your heart became proud
    on account of your beauty,
and you corrupted your wisdom
    because of your splendor.” (28:17)

As the cliche has it: pride goes before the fall. And Tyre has fallen indeed—apparently by an all-consuming fire:
By your many sins and dishonest trade
    you have desecrated your sanctuaries.
So I made a fire come out from you,
    and it consumed you,
and I reduced you to ashes on the ground
    in the sight of all who were watching.” (28:18)

Ezekiel levels similar prophecies of doom against Sidon. But rather than fire, a plague will do them in:
I will send a plague upon you
    and make blood flow in your streets.
The slain will fall within you,
    with the sword against you on every side.” (28:23)

The elimination of this nettlesome neighbor will be positive for Israel: ““‘No longer will the people of Israel have malicious neighbors who are painful briers and sharp thorns.” (28:24) Even better, God will one day restore Israel: “When I gather the people of Israel from the nations where they have been scattered, I will be proved holy through them in the sight of the nations.” (28:25)

But Ezekiel isn’t finished yet as he turns his prophetic attention to Egypt. Evidently, the Pharaoh has claimed that he was the creator of the Nile River. Needless to say, God the Creator is offended at the Pharaoh’s temerity:
I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt,
    you great monster lying among your streams.
You say, “The Nile belongs to me;
    I made it for myself.” (29:3)

Just to prove his point, Ezekiel proclaims that God “will bring a sword against you and kill both man and beast. Egypt will become a desolate wasteland. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” (29:8,9) Moreover, it is Egypt that will be scattered: “And I will disperse the Egyptians among the nations and scatter them through the countries.” (29:12b)

So Tyre falls by fire, Sidon by plague, and Egypt by famine. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Ezekiel is in fact recording actual historical events. There’s an aura of doom about Ezekiel that makes him a much scarier prophet than Jeremiah or Isaiah.

1 Peter 1:1–12: With James in our rear view mirror we arrive at the epistles ascribed to Peter. I think we’ll find him to be a good deal less preachy and for me, anyway, far more uplifting than James.

Peter’s letter is directed simultaneously to a number of churches “throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia,Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.” (1) We have an immediate Trinitarian reference in Peter’s introduction with a bonus comment on predestination: “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood.” (2)

Peter views the gift of the Christian life as “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.” (4) However, the inheritance will not come easily, “though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (6) It is these difficulties that test us and strengthen us: “These [trials] have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (7)

Peter is describing exactly what our psalmist in today’s reading has asserted: trials have brought him closer to God—just as they bring peter’s audience—and us—closer to God.

For me, the aspect of this reading that stands out is that Peter, who has indeed seen Jesus, is writing words of assurance to those who have not: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” (8) Even back then close to the actual events faith was—and is— a difficult journey. I am grateful to Peter that he acknowledges this reality.

 

 

 

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