Psalm 33:12–22; Ezra 6:13–7:28; Romans 1:1–12

Originally published 3/7/2017. Revised and updated 3/6/2019.

Psalm 33:12–22: In these verses about God’s creative power, our psalmist interjects that the welfare of an entire nation rests in God’s hands. That nation is the one God has chosen: Israel.
Happy the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people He chose as His estate for Him.
 (12)

He quickly returns to writing from God’s point of view as he examines his creation from high above:
From the heavens the Lord looked down,
saw all the human creatures.
From His firm throne He surveyed
all who dwell on the earth. (13, 14)

It is from this perspective that God knows every human and every human thought and motivation. Our poet makes it clear that it is God’s omnipotence and omniscience that accounts for whatever victories humankind (at least in Israel) has enjoyed because God can see into the depths of each person’s heart, not least because he created us:
He fashions their heart one and all.
He understands all their doings.
” (15)

As far as the psalmist is concerned whatever is accomplished by humans is God’s work, not by our own strength or wisdom:
The king is not rescued through surfeit of might,
the warrior not saved through surfeit of power.
 (16)

In fact, God’s power operates the same way in the animal kingdom. Animals such are horses are merely agents of God’s omnipotence:
The horse is a lie for rescue,
and in his [the horse’s] surfeit of might he helps none escape.
” (17)

God’s intervention is good news—but this rescue is available only to those who follow God:
Look, the Lord’s eye is on those who fear Him,
on those who yearn for His kindness
to save their lives from death
and in famine to keep them alive. (18, 19)

Because we have been the beneficiaries of God’s protection, we worship God, who brings us hope and joy:
For in Him our heart rejoices,
for in His holy name do we trust.
May Your kindness, O Lord, be upon us,
as we have yearned for You. (21, 22)

The thematic thrust of this psalm is about our relationship with God who knows our innermost thoughts, who guides and helps our actions, and who is at the center of our very being. This is what Oswald Chambers keeps getting at: it is far, far better to abandon our self-centeredness and rely on God to carry us through life’s trials and joys.

Ezra 6:13–7:28: Happily, “Tattenai, the governor of the province Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and their associates did with all diligence what King Darius had ordered.” (6:13) The Jews remain diligent followers of God, and they pay attention to the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. The temple reconstruction project is completed. As their ancestors did under King Josiah when the temple was repaired back then, the Jews celebrate Passover. As our psalmist above observed, it was God who brought them hope and joy—and it was God who spoke to King Darius’ heart to allow them to complete this all-important project: “for the Lord had made them joyful, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.” (6:22)

Now that we are seven chapters in, and we finally meet the man of the eponymous book: “[Ezra] was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses that the Lord the God of Israel had given; and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was upon him.” (7:6) It’s clear that not every Jew went back to Jerusalem, but that many remained in Babylon. But now Ezra leaves Babylon and returns to Jerusalem, where the becomes the teacher of restored Israel: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach the statutes and ordinances in Israel.” (7:10)

This book is certainly one of the most well-documented books in the Bible, as its authors provide us the entire text of King Artaxerxes’ (who succeeded Darius) decree allowing Israel to return to Jerusalem. The king has given Ezra serious power: “And you, Ezra, according to the God-given wisdom you possess, appoint magistrates and judges who may judge all the people in the province Beyond the River who know the laws of your God; and you shall teach those who do not know them. (7:25)

Ezra is given the right to enforce these laws: All who will not obey the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be strictly executed on them, whether for death or for banishment or for confiscation of their goods or for imprisonment.” (7:26).  Notice that they are to “obey the law of your God and the law of the king,” which works well when the king is aligned with God. But when secular power is at odds with God’s power, trouble begins. Just as it does today.

Romans 1:1–12: We now enter the second half of the New Testament, leaving narrative behind and engaging in the serious theology that undergirds the church—mostly as Paul laid it out, but the reflections and instructions of other apostles as well.

While there is disagreement among scholars about the Pauline authorship of some later epistles—notably Ephesians and the Pastoral epistles—all scholars agree that Paul is the author of this greatest of theological treatises, the letter to the Romans.

The letter opens on an autobiographical note: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.” (1) Then Paul writes a precis´of the Good News, the essential elements of the Gospel, which I quote in its entirety here since it contains every theme on which Paul will expand in this profound letter:

God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,” (2-6)

This lengthy paragraph turns out to be the preamble of Paul’s greeting to the Christians at Rome: “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (7) Today, we would call this opening paragraph the abstract of the treatise to follow.

Paul’s opening prayer reveals his inner nature. While he is certainly tough and a formidable opponent—as we just saw in the final chapters of Acts—he is also a warm human being. But it is a warmth that comes from his close relationship with “my God through Jesus Christ.” (8)

Paul is what some call a ‘prayer warrior,’ and he tells his audience at Rome that it is “without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you.” (9) This sentence also informs us that Paul wrote to Rome, probably from Ephesus, some years before he got there.

What must have been immensely gratifying to Paul is that as we saw at the end of Acts he indeed did arrive in Rome to met these people in person. Which is probably why the men who assembled the NT canon in the 4th century placed Paul’s letter to the Romans immediately after the conclusion of Acts.

Finally, something we should all remember in Christian community: “that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” (12) How much better to do that than to complain about others, especially our leaders.

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