Psalm 37:34–40; Exodus 27:1–28:14; Matthew 25:14–30

Originally published 3/21/2016. Revised and updated 3/21/2018

Psalm 37:34–40: Our psalmist arrives (at last!) at his concluding lines which summarize the key points he’s made earlier. The core promise of the psalm is straightforward: Stick with God and the seeming success of the wicked will eventually be reversed and the just will finally win out in the end:
Hope for the Lord and keep His way
and He will exalt you to inherit the earth;
you will see the wicked cut off.
” (34)

Harking back to the opening verses where our poet likens the wicked to green grass that withers, he returns to the vegetation metaphor, reminding us,
I have seen an arrogant wicked man
taking root like a flourishing plant.
He passes on, and, look, he is gone.
 (35, 36a)

In an echo of our celebrity culture, those who do not follow God wicked look healthy and beautiful—but in the end they are not only withered and dried up, but are gone altogether: “I seek him [the wicked man], and he is not found.” (36b)

Instead of focusing on the supposed accomplishments of the wicked, we are advised to turn our attention elsewhere: specifically to the righteous man as our example to follow:
Watch the blameless,
look to the upright,
for the man of peace has a future.

This is certainly excellent advice for us in the current state of the world. Not that we can ignore evil—or even ignore the follies of the neverending antics of politicians—but our gaze must be on what is good and blameless. And for us Christians, that is certainly just one person: Jesus Christ.

Just in case we missed his point our psalmist reminds us once again,
And transgressors one and all are destroyed,
the future of the wicked cut off. 

This psalm talks about the future.  The man of peace has a future, while “the future of the wicked [is] cut off.”  As with Jesus’ Olivet Discourse and the apocalyptic books, Daniel, Ezekiel (to a certain extent), and Revelation there’s much about the future in the Bible.  History moves forward in a straight line and one day it will all come to an end. But like the foolish bridesmaids in Jesus’ parable, we tend to live strictly in the present. As the psalmist implies here, the future is all about hope and many good things are yet to come to pass. The promise always remains: “And the Lord will help them and free them.” (39)

Those who have centered their live and actions exclusively on their own self-centered gain will come to the gnashing teeth featured at the end of history. And the worst fate of all: they will be ‘cut off” from God. For me (and I suspect others) hell is not fire and brimstone but cold, dark isolation from God and therefore from all that is good and just.

Those who have followed God are rescued, and God is “their stronghold in time of distress.” (39b). But God is more than shelter, God is active in the lives of the righteous even when we are in turmoil and danger:
And the Lord will help them and free them,
He will free them from the wicked and rescue them,
for they have sheltered in Him.

This promise may seem far off and abstract, but I contend that f we look back on our own lives we can see many times where God has indeed sheltered us and rescued us from the wiles of those who would do us harm. Does that make our lives free and easy? No. But absent God’s shelter I know the storms that have come into my life would have been far more difficult to endure.

Exodus 27:1–28:14: The seemingly endless detail in the construction and furnishing of God’s tent—the Tabernacle—continues apace and now focuses on the central furnishing of the Tabernacle: the altar. Employing the usual structural material, acacia wood, Moses is commanded to build an altar, 7 1/2 feet on a side, that includes horns, bronze rings and a metal grating on which sacrifices are to be burned. More poles for portability, as well. What’s intriguing is that God has apparently given a demonstration to Moses about how to build it while he was up on Sinai for that 40-day encounter with God: “They shall be made just as you were shown on the mountain.” (27:8)

Attention now turns to the outer perimeter—the courtyard—and the hangings which define it. It is a sizable structure 150 feet of hangings and three bronze pillars with silver hooks and bands on the north and south sides, 75 feet of the same construction on the east and west sides.

What’s impressive here is the sheer logistics involved in construction here in the middle of the desert. Gold, silver, bronze all requires furnaces for refining and casting. Giant looms to handle weaving of these huge curtains are also required. Not to mention store yards for inventory. We have to assume that they brought all this material with them after plundering Egypt. My image of Israel in the desert has always been of this transient people on a giant camping trip. But the reality must have been far more complex.

There would also have to be extensive workrooms for the fabrication of the priestly vestments. God instructs Moses to “bring near to you your brother Aaron, and his sons with him, from among the Israelites, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.” (28:1) Then Moses must round up the right people to make “sacred vestments for the glorious adornment of your brother Aaron.” (2), which requires the efforts of “all who have ability, whom I have endowed with skill.” (3) These artisans “shall use gold, blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine linen” to make “sacred vestments for your brother Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests.” (4,5)

The most impressive garment is the Ephod, whose traces we see today as the stoles of ordained pastors. The Ephod is made of “of gold, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen, skillfully worked.” (6) The skills of stone carvers and jewelers are also required to “engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel,” (11) not to mention gold workers for “two chains of pure gold, twisted like cords.” (14)

So why all this magnificent construction and priestly finery? The reason seems simple to me: God deserves the very best we can fashion and construct—the best materials and the best workmanship. The details in these chapters are an example to all who follow that what we do for God, we do soli deo gloria—to the glory of God alone. As his highest creation, we humans must to return to God our very best dedication and skill. There is no shortcut, no cheap imitation, no skimping, when it comes to working for God.

Matthew 25:14–30: The underlying theme of preparation and alertness that Jesus has already made in the parables of the wicked and dedicated slaves and of the careless bridesmaids come to their climax in the justly famous parable of the talents. Notice that each slave is given an amount of talents proportional to their ability (15) ‘Talents’ were basically gold bars in Jesus’ time, but the translation is a useful pun for the gifts—talents—which God has imbued us with. Or to quote God himself in the Exodus passage above: all who have ability, whom I have endowed with skill.

The slave with the most talents has invested well and doubled his money; so too the one with two talents. But the one-talent slave has famously buried his talent and made nothing of it. Perhaps the master would have taken mercy on him had he been merely cautious. But I think the slave seals his fate when he accuses the master, “I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed.” (24). In other words, he asserts the master is not only conducting business unfairly, but implying that he, the slave, knows better than the master what seed should be scattered where. It was his pride in thinking—his massive assumption of self-rightousness— that he knew better than the master combined with fear of punishment that paralyzed him into doing nothing. This makes his deliberate inaction far more egregious than mere laziness. Jesus sums it up well: “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (29) Following Jesus is not a spectator sport.

And yet, isn’t this exactly what we do ourselves when we assume we know God’s work better than God does? We make assumptions and pronouncements about what God has in mind rather than letting the Holy Spirit do its work. Or, if we are outside the church, we complain it is full of hypocrites and we stay away as a justification to pursue our own interests. All of these acts are arrogant and are exactly like burying the talents we could otherwise have invested in the work of the kingdom.

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