Psalm 34:1–7; Ezra 8:1–20; Romans 1:13–25

Originally published 3/8/2017. Revised and updated 3/7/2019.

Psalm 34:1–7: The superscription of this psalm, “For David, when he altered his good sense before Abimelech, / who banished him, and he went away,” is a direct reference to I Samuel 21:14 where David, surrounded by Philistines, is able to escape with his men by playing the madman.

It’s not clear to me why the psalmist decides to dedicate this psalm of thanksgiving to that particular incident since the psalm is really pretty conventional. The opening verses describe a personal response to worshipping God and an invitation to others to join in:
In the Lord do I glory.
Let the lowly hear and rejoice.
Extol the Lord with me,
Let us exalt His name one and all. (3,4)

Unlike the silence of God that suffuses so many psalms of supplication, the psalmist here remarks that God has responded and rescued David quickly because he heard David’s plea:
I sought the Lord and He answered me,
and from all that I dreaded He saved me. (5)

In fact, God rescued David’s men as well, and they were, shall we say, quite happy about that:
They looked to Him and they beamed,
and their faces were no longer dark. (6)

This verse is certainly a reminder that when we see God answer prayer it is an occasion of joy. Here, unlike so many other psalms of supplication, there is sheer confidence that when we call upon God for rescue he will answer. Even better, God rescues everyone regardless of their social status or regardless of what circumstance in which they find themselves:
When the lowly calls, God listens
and from all his straits rescues him. (7)

These verses are an excellent reminder to me that God is listening to our prayers and that we should pray to him with confidence instead of hesitancy or doubt.

Ezra 8:1–20: Ezra himself has become the first-person narrator of his eponymous book as he lists the companions and their families who “who went up with me from Babylonia, in the reign of King Artaxerxes” (1) and returned to Jerusalem.

We probably should not be surprised that he lists only the males, although they add up to a goodly number of people, one family to a verse, totaling 1696 males. (150 + 200 + 200 + 300 +50 + 70 + 80 + 218 +160 + 28 + 110 + 60 +70) Obviously, along with females and servants, it was quite a crowd tagging along behind Ezra as they headed back to their ancestral homes.

However, at a campsite along the journey, Ezra runs into a snag: “As I reviewed the people and the priests, I found there none of the descendants of Levi.” (15) The implication is clear: There’s no point in returning to the temple if they cannot worship there. Ezra gathers his leaders for a council as well as “Joiarib and Elnathan, who were wise.” (16)  He then sends his team off to “Iddo, the leader at the place called Casiphia, telling them what to say to Iddo and his colleagues the temple servants at Casiphia, namely, to send us ministers for the house of our God.” (17)

Ezra, acknowledging that “the gracious hand of our God was upon us” (18a) relates how Iddo and his colleagues “brought us a man of discretion, of the descendants of Mahli son of Levi son of Israel, namely Sherebiah, with his sons and kin, eighteen.” (18b) Now that there are Levites to serve in the temple, the journey to Jerusalem—the site of worship—can continue.

This list of names is noteworthy as an example of how the great goal of every Jew is to be remembered by those who come after him. The naming of names for posterity was an honor devoutly to be wished—and Ezra certainly delivers for his companions here.

Romans 1:13–25: Paul continues his greeting to the church at Rome by telling them, “that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles.” (13) He makes it clear that he is eager to preach and, to be honest, he’s more than happy to preach to anyone who will listen: “Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish —hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” (14, 15)

Paul’s life is centered around the Gospel because “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (16) And then come the words that changed Martin Luther’s life from works-centric to faith-centric: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” (17)

Paul then launches into the heavy theology that characterises this epistle, observing that God’s wrath comes down “against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.” (18) One suspects he has in mind the Jews who rejected (and conspired against) him in Jerusalem.

In fact, people are all too willing to ignore or deny the obvious evidences of God’s creation: “because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” (19b, 20) That is certainly a good description of materialists in the world today who, despite the evidence Paul hints at here, reject any idea of God’s existence or that there is even a spiritual dimension to life.

Contrary to what these non-believers may think, Paul makes it clear that by rejecting God, they are doomed to stupidity—and worse: “for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.” (21)

If there was ever a line to describe the state of those professing to be wise today, it is right here: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools.” (22) We certainly see these fools on all sides, including at the highest reaches of government.

Paul is adamant: the fate of those who reject God are on the downward path. As long as they reject God, God rejects them—which is truth even though it seems somewhat tautological: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”  (24)

Of course the root sin here is human pride. We can either foolishly set ourselves up as the center of the universe and “serve the creature” or we can put the Creator at the center. But there is no room for both. And foolishness abounds all around us.

 

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