Psalm 113; Ezekiel 3–4:5; Hebrews 10:5–18

Originally published 9/30/2015. Revised and updated 9/30/2019.

Psalm 113: This “Hallelujah” psalm praises both the majesty of God and the marvelous works he does for us. God is everywhere: across time and spatially, horizontally from the east to the west and vertically:
May the Lord’s name be blessed
now and forevermore
From the place the sun rises to where it sets.
High over all the nations, the Lord,
over heavens His glory. (2-4)

Our psalmist clearly places God overhead, even above the skies, looking down on his creation:
Who is like the Lord our God,
Who sits high above,
Who sees down below
in the heavens and on the earth? (5,6)

But God is no mere observer, and once again we see God’s compassionate priority among all his human creatures—as the exemplar of what must be our priorities as well:
He raises the poor from the dust,
from the dungheap lifts the needy. (7).

But God is not content to merely lift the poor man out of poverty,. His generosity is so enormous that he then raises the poor man up to the pinnacle of power—and turns the hierarchy of humankind upside down:
…to seat him among princes,
among the princes of his people. (8)

And so, too, the woman, who in that patriarchal society is given the greatest possible gift by God:
He  seats the barren woman in her home
a happy mother of sons. (9)

Even though this psalm takes poetic license over what was doubtless the social reality of the time (the poor rarely, if ever, ascend to great power), it is a reminder that God is everywhere and he can do everything.  No transformation, be it from desperation to exaltation, is beyond God’s ken. We can take enormous comfort in that.

Ezekiel 3–4:5: Having received the scroll, God commands Ezekiel, “Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.” (3) While anything is possible, I’ll take “eating the scroll” as in to memorize it, absorb it into his entire being as if he were digesting a meal.

God then commands Ezekiel, “Mortal, go to the house of Israel and speak my very words to them.” (4) with an interesting riff on the fact that God has chosen Ezekiel because he can speak in simple words with clarity: “For you are not sent to a people of obscure speech and difficult language, but to the house of Israel.” (5) God has also chosen Ezekiel for his intrinsic stubbornness and unwillingness to give up: “See, I have made your face hard against their faces, and your forehead hard against their foreheads. Like the hardest stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not fear them or be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.” (8, 9)

So, our stubborn prophet of simple words and unshakable persistence is carried off by the angels on wheels and spends a week with “the exiles at Tel-abib, who lived by the river Chebar” (15) presumably in preparation for the prophetic confrontations to come. God speaks once again. This time it’s even more serious. If Ezekiel fails to warn the wicked or the righteous and they die, then Ezekiel will stand guilty before God: “their blood I will require at your hand.” (18b), But if Ezekiel warns the wicked and they fail to heed his words, then “they shall die for their iniquity; but you will have saved your life.” (19).

The next stage of Ezekiel’s investiture as prophet is a period of God-enforced silence: “I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be speechless and unable to reprove them; for they are a rebellious house.” (26) But then, to make it clear to the prophet he is literally the voice of God, God says, “when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord God. (27).

This section is a brilliant exegesis on the preparation for a true prophet in order to distinguish him from the ample number of false prophets that surely abounded in Jerusalem. First, he must know his stuff by “eating” God’s word. Second he must be persistent, by virtue of his having a “hard forehead,” willing to engage in hard, confrontational conversations. Third, he must not express his own opinions, but his tongue will cling to the roof of his mouth until God commands him to speak–and then when he does speak, they will truly be God’s words.

As if this is not enough, God commands Ezekiel to take a brick and build a model of Jerusalem under siege. “Then take an iron plate and place it as an iron wall between you and the city; set your face toward it,” (4:3) and then “lie on your left side, and place the punishment of the house of Israel upon it.” (4:4) God commands Ezekiel to lie there as “you shall bear their punishment for the number of the days that you lie there.” (4:4) And this is not just for a few hours or a few days, but for more than a year: “I assign to you a number of days, three hundred ninety days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment.” (4:5)

What’s this about? All I can surmise it that it is clear that Ezekiel will be a more effective prophet for having suffered punishment and having a taste of what God will visit upon those who fail to heed the prophet’s words. And as Ezekiel bears the punishment of Israel, there is also an precursor here of Jesus bearing the heavy sins of us all.

Hebrews 10:5–18: Our writer continues his seemingly endless comparison between the futile efforts of the old covenant to wash away sin via sacrifice and the new, far more effective power of Jesus Christ. Again, the author makes it clear that Christ has not come to bear sins in keeping with the old sacrificial system, but to replace it: “He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.” (9) And this is “by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (10)

Christ’s single act of sacrifice is infinitely more effective than the priests who offer “again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins.” (11) Instead, “by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (14). And just to make sure we get the point, our writer quotes Isaiah, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more” (17) and then finally summarizes, “Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (18)

Inasmuch as the sacrificial system came to an abrupt halt in 70CE with the destruction of the temple by the Romans, we read these verse primarily for the theology that Jesus Christ died for our sins once and for all. Continuous sacrifice has been rendered obsolete by the shedding of Jesus’ blood.  Even though we humans keep on sinning, we can always return to Jesus’ single glorious act, confess and be forgiven.

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