Psalm 119:89–96; Ezekiel 32:17–33:20; 1 Peter 2:13–25

Psalm 119:89–96: We return to an underlying theme in this psalm: the infinite extent of God’s word being a key element of his original creative act—a theme the first chapter of John picks back up with a far more revolutionary meaning:
Forever, O Lord,
Your word stands high in the heavens.
For all generations Your faithfulness.
You made the earth firm and it stood.
By Your laws they stand to this day,
for all are Your servants.” (89-91)

God’s word is the one thing we can rely on. And our psalmist credits God’s word as having rescued him from death:
Had not Your teaching been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.” (92)

While our psalmist celebrates the power of God’s law, we would do well to reflect for a moment on how we, who live through the grace of Jesus Christ—God’s true Word, have so much more than just God’s decrees or laws. This is the point Jesus makes when he says he has come to fulfil the law, not reject it. Paul develops this theme of Jesus being the apotheosis of the law in Romans: Jesus, as God’s word, is God’s ultimate decree. Therefore, we do not have to plead as the psalmist does:
I am Yours, O rescue me,
for Your decrees I have sought.” (94)

We do not have to seek out Jesus; he has come to us. Will we accept him, realizing that God’s Word is far greater than our feeble efforts to find God?

Ezekiel 32:17–33:20: Just when you think things can’t get any weirder in this book, Ezekiel ups the ante. Ezekiel is called by God to pronounce doom on Egypt. [Again we ask, why is the fate of Egypt taking up so much space in this book?]

Apparently Egypt feels it can escape the fate of Assyria. Ezekiel speaks for the empires that have already fallen: “Are you [Egypt] more favored than others? Go down and be laid among the uncircumcised.’ They will fall among those killed by the sword. The sword is drawn; let her be dragged off with all her hordes.” (32:19, 20) Then, even more remarkably, it is the already dead who speak, assuring Egypt that it too will fall: “From within the realm of the dead the mighty leaders will say of Egypt and her allies, ‘They have come down and they lie with the uncircumcised, with those killed by the sword.’” (32:21)

He goes on to list all the countries that have been defeated, presumably by Babylon. Assyria is “surrounded by the graves of all her slain, all who have fallen by the sword.” (32:22) As well, ““Elam is there, with all her hordes around her grave. All of them are slain, fallen by the sword. All who had spread terror in the land of the living went down uncircumcised to the earth below.” (32:24) Not to mention Meshek and Tubal [whoever they were] and Edom.

This is all to underscore the validity of Ezekiel’s pronouncement of doom on Egypt: “You too, Pharaoh, will be broken and will lie among the uncircumcised, with those killed by the sword.” (32:28) Which I believe is exactly what happened.

Having spent all this time prophesying about the nations surrounding Israel, the scene finally shifts back to Israel in the next chapter. God commissions Ezekiel as Israel’s official prophet or watchman, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.” (33:7) This is a task with life and death responsibilities. If Ezekiel fails to “speak out to dissuade [the wicked] from their ways, that wicked person will die for[c] their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood.” (33:8)

There’s also some pretty harsh law-giving here. If a formerly righteous person sins, he doesn’t get credit for his past righteousness. Nor are past wicked deeds held against the person who repents and now seeks righteousness: “If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and does evil, they will die for it. And if a wicked person turns away from their wickedness and does what is just and right, they will live by doing so.” (33:18, 19)  It’s all pretty black and white. But even so, Israel complains that ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ (33:20)  Then again, no matter how just God’s law is, like Israelwe will still complain.

The key judicial concept that arises here is that God judges us by our individual acts, not by the standards of the community at large. God says, “But I will judge each of you according to your own ways.” (33:20b) Which looks to me like a key foundational concept for our own judicial system.

1 Peter 2:13–25: Peter dives into the political implications and responsibilities of being a Christian—a ‘resident alien’— in a secular world: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.” (13, 14)

He advises us to “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. ” (16) and that we are to “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” (17) In other words, we are to live within the lawful bounds of the culture in which we find ourselves.

But within that culture the reality is that Christians are likely to be treated unjustly and even beaten by those with power over them. This was certainly true in the case of slaves: “it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.” (19)

Peter promises there will be suffering as we live as Christians in a hostile world and “if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.” (20) We American think we are suffering under the weight of a hostile “post-Christian culture. But our pains are nothing compared to the fate of Christians in the Middle east and many parts of Asia. I read the other day that Christianity is the most persecuted religion on earth and I believe it. Peter’s advice is just as relevant today as it was in his time. Contrary to our wishes for a smooth an easy time of it, true Christian faith is no walk in the park.

The back story for Peter’s essay here is doubtless that many Christians were beginning to endure substantial suffering at the hands of Rome—suffering that would eventually lead to the deadly games in the Colosseum at Rome. He clearly is writing to people who have been treated and punished unjustly

So how does Peter justify this position of enduring suffering without complaint? By reminding us of Christ’s example: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (23)

Of course, the question is, if I were placed in a position of having to defend my faith by suffering at the hands of the authorities

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