Psalm 115:1–8; Ezekiel 6:8–7:27; Hebrews 10:32–11:3

Originally published 10/2/2015. Revised and updated 10/2/2019.

Psalm 115:1–8: The opening verses of the psalm contrasts the God of Israel with the idols of the nations surrounding them. Bearing in mind that the idols were anthropomorphic carvings of wood and stone, while Israel’s God was invisible and therefore out of human sight, the psalmist answers their taunt with the simple rejoinder:
Why should the nations say,
‘Where is their God?’
when our God is in the heavens— (2,3a)

Moreover, from God’s high position, “all that He desired He has done.” (3b) There is nothing more to be accomplished.

Our poet then turns to the business at hand: taunting the ineffectiveness of the idols, beginning with the key difference:
Their idols are silver and gold,
the handiwork of man. (4)

As man-created rather than God-created, they are lifeless, as the psalmist goes on to carefully list all the human senses and capabilities that the idols lack:
A mouth they have but they do not speak,
eyes they have but they do not see.
Ears they have but they do not smell.
Their hands—but they do not feel;
their feet—but they do not walk;
they make no sound with their throat. (5-7).

In this oral society, perhaps the greatest shortcoming of all is that “they make no sound with their throat.

The poet curses those who build and believe in such idols, tossing the taunt of verse 2 back in their faces:
Like them [the idols] may be those who make them,
all who trust in them. (8)

Of course, we now live in a nation surrounded by inanimate objects–our idols. Except that we call it technology, some believing so deeply in the power of its artifice that they are even convinced that we will be able to invent sentient machines. But even should that horror comes to pass, those machines will never be creatures of the Creator as we humans are. Such is man’s pride and hubris, that both the intended and unintended consequences of sentient machines is be dreadful to contemplate. I hope we can leave those idols where they belong: science fiction. But I am not overly optimistic.

Ezekiel 6:8–7:27: God is none too happy about Israel having turned to those very idols the psalmist above castigates. In fact we see an emotion displayed by God that arises at the faithlessness of his people and occurs only infrequently: sadness. “I was crushed by their wanton heart that turned away from me, and their wanton eyes that turned after their idols.” (6:9a) But sadness morphs quickly to anger: “Then they will be loathsome in their own sight for the evils that they have committed, for all their abominations.” (9b).

God gives an almost comical instruction to his prophet: “Thus says the Lord God: Clap your hands and stamp your foot,” but what he instructs Ezekiel to say is far from comedy: “say, Alas for all the vile abominations of the house of Israel! For they shall fall by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence.” (6:11) God is almost petulant: “I will stretch out my hand against them, and make the land desolate and waste, …Then they shall know that I am the Lord.” (6:14) We don’t tend to think of God stamping his foot and saying in effect, “Just you wait, Israel. You’ll see that I wasn’t kidding around.”

The chapter that follows is a long poem detailing the fate that awaits, opening literally at “the end” as Ezekiel says,
An end! The end has come
    upon the four corners of the land.
    Now the end is upon you,

    I will let loose my anger upon you; (7:2,3)

And just to make sure they get the point,
Disaster after disaster! See, it comes.
     An end has come, the end has come.

     It has awakened against you; see, it comes! (7:6)

Once again, we hear that “You’ll see” God:
Then you shall know that it is I the Lord who strike.
See, the day! See, it comes!

 Your doom has gone out. (7:10)

And so on, as Ezekiel describes in details the destruction of the city and the culture, ending on that same “You’ll see who I am” theme: “And they shall know that I am the Lord.” (7:27)

I have to imagine that Ezekiel standing there, stamping his foot and saying words to the effect, if you people persist in disobeying God, an awful fate will come to pass, was greeted with the same skepticism and derisive laughter as we today would greet any prophet who says the same thing about our culture. Prophets of doom are a popular subject of cartoons, and not to be taken seriously. But now that we have once again witnessed more wanton shootings in schools and stores by disaffected young males or the daily shootings that occur in our cities, I wonder if judgement on a society that has lost its moral footing is not already coming to pass.  We don’t need an Ezekiel because in our modern age because it is too easy to a culture that has abandoned God crumbling around us.

Hebrews 10:32–11:3: Our writer encourages his audience, which has obviously already suffered for its faith: “recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.” (10:32, 33)  And he reminds them that they did not reciprocate evil for evil, but rather, “you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting.” (10:34) He pleads, “Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward.” (10:35) and reminds them, “we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.” (10:39)

It’s crucial to understand and appreciate this context of faith under persecution and the need to stand fast as we come to the most well-known verse in this book: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (11:1) In exactly the same way that the nations around Israel mocked its invisible God in the psalm above, the people who read this letter had to trust that their now invisible Jesus Christ was remind beside them and the power of the Holy Spirit surrounded them—even as they suffered persecution. And not just to believe, but to be convicted, to be convinced. And we too, in the here and now, must confront the same reality of the intangible quality of our faith—of what we believe—even though we cannot witness it directly.

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