Psalm 119:73–80; Ezekiel 29:13–30:26; 1 Peter 1:13–25

Psalm 119:73–80: Our psalmist draws a distinction between the fact of his creation by God and his desire for God to provide intellectual and spiritual knowledge of God’s law and thus become a happily shining example to others:
Your hands made me and set me firm.
Give me insight that I may learn Your commands.
Those who fear You see me and rejoice,
for I hope in Your word.” (73, 74)

Well, there are certainly worse things to pray for. The intriguing thought is that upon our birth our intellect is essentially unformed and that what we learn and come to know is yet another gift from God. As far as the psalmist is concerned it is our responsibility to pray for knowledge and insight—it does not just naturally arise from our own efforts.

Our psalmist is of the deuteronomic old school as he asserts that a just God was the source of his recent illness:
I know, Lord, that Your laws are just,
and in faithfulness You did afflict me.” (75)

Really? Is it because God is faithful to us that he deigns to afflict us? Seems to me that by virtue of living in a fallen world there is plenty of affliction on offer in the world that God had nothing to do with creating.

The remainder of this stanza is basically a standard supplication to God that the psalmist will enjoy God’s blessing while his adversaries who attacked him also receive their just reward of humiliation:
May the arrogant be shamed, for with lies they distorted my name.
As for me I shall dwell on Your decrees.” (78)

But also having endured the false accusations of his opponents,  our psalmist prays that he be received back into the  community of God-followers:
May those who fear You turn back to me.” (79a)

Even though we now live under the terms of grace, it’s worth reflecting that we can be falsely accused and thereby wrongly excluded from the community. Sometimes we can find justice only by asking God to work on the hearts of those who doubt us.

Ezekiel 29:13–30:26: Our prophet is i

nto some serious prophetic forecasts here as he predicts that Egypt will fall from its perch as a mighty nation and become a “lowly kingdom.” (29:14b) Moreover, “Egypt will no longer be a source of confidence for the people of Israel but will be a reminder of their sin in turning to her for help.” (29:16) This is clearly a reference to Judah’s last gasp of seeking a military alliance Egypt for help as the Babylonians commenced their attack on Judah.

But what’s really bizarre here is that Ezekiel, speaking as the voice of God, asserts that “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon drove his army in a hard campaign against Tyre” (29:18) but that the Babylonian army did not receive its just reward of looting and plundering. Ezekiel announces that God is “going to give Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he will carry off its wealth. He will loot and plunder the land as pay for his army.I have given him Egypt as a reward for his efforts because he and his army did it for me, declares the Sovereign Lord.” (29:19, 20)

Really? Why do I have the feeling that Ezekiel was providing religious cover to justify Babylon’s pillaging of Egypt? Ezekiel sounds as if he’s become the court prophet for Nebuchadnezzar.

Just to make sure we get the point, the prophet now provides a lengthy poetic lament about Egypt’s defeat being strictly the work of God as vengeance for its manifold sins:
Dark will be the day at Tahpanhes
    when I break the yoke of Egypt;
    there her proud strength will come to an end.
She will be covered with clouds,
    and her villages will go into captivity.
19 So I will inflict punishment on Egypt,
    and they will know that I am the Lord.’” (30:18, 19)

This is one of those Old Testament descriptions of God’s vengeance that makes us uncomfortable if not outright hostile when Ezekiel asserts, “Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against Pharaoh king of Egypt. I will break both his arms, the good arm as well as the broken one, and make the sword fall from his hand.” (22)

I’m sorry, but for me this entire reading is an ex post facto justification of Babylon conquering Egypt. And there is certainly a whiff of sycophancy on Ezekiel’s part. If we ever needed an example of the rule that winners write the history it is certainly right here.

1 Peter 1:13–25: Peter asserts that the Christian faith is based on intellect as well as feeling: “Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” (13) As my Dad used to say a true religion does not require one “to leave his brains at the door.” Yes, I know that the heart is an essential element of being a Christian, but as Peter notes here, so too is a sober inquiring mind. That’s certainly why more than any other religion, Christianity has such well-developed theology. Sober minds seek to understand.

Also at the heart of Peter’s message here is that we live differently than the culture that surrounds is. Reminding us that the world ‘holy’ means set apart, Peter advises us, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.” (14)

He goes on to remind us that our redemption has been accomplished via a heavy price far greater than mere gold and silver: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (18, 19)

This statement stands at the center of Lutheran theology: our faith is not about something we did, but about something God did for us through Christ’s sacrifice. But just because we’ve been redeemed doesn’t mean we don’t have significant responsibilities as practicing Christians. Peter tells us that the result of redemption is love (which is one reason why I like Peter so much more than James): “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” (22) This is where the heart becomes important: In our love for each other

It appears that Peter is countering some false theology about the nature of being born again when he remind his audience that “you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (23) The great truth is that while we are mortal and we will die, the Word of God, (which is clearly the Word in the John 1 sense) is eternal. Peter backs this up with a quote from Isaiah 40 that makes this distinction clear. We’re like grass that withers “but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (25a)

Too bad we tend to think we’re immortal and that God is ephemeral. As Peter notes, it’s quite the opposite.

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