Psalm 116:1–7; Ezekiel 10:1–11:15; Hebrews 11:17–28

Originally published 10/5/2017. Revised and updated 10/4/2019.

Psalm 116:1–7: Unlike many psalms of supplication that express frustration that God is nowhere to be found or is not hearing one’s prayers, this psalm of thanksgiving opens with gratitude for a listening God:
I love the Lord, for he has heard
my voice, my supplications.
For He has inclined His ear to me
when in my days I called. (1,2)

It’s clear that the psalmist’s prayers occurred at a time of great physical distress, perhaps from an illness or being wounded on the battlefield. In any event we see that it was a desperate near-death situation:
The cord of death encircled me—
and the straits of Sheol found me—
distress and sorrow did I find. (3)

In that desperate circumstance, it is often the simplest and shortest of prayers that God hears:
And in the name of the Lord I called.
‘Lord, pray, save my life.‘ (4)

There’s a lesson here for those of us who embellish our prayers with lengthy details or worse, IMHO, pray stuff like, “If it be your will.” God doesn’t need fancy paragraphs with our request hidden somewhere in the middle. A simple declarative sentence will do.

And when God answers, our prayer of thanksgiving can be equally straightforward:
Gracious the Lord and just,
and our God shows mercy. (5)

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this prayer is not how God answers prayers, but how he calms our emotional and psychological anxieties. Our psalmist describes how, when we know God has heard our prayer, we experience inner peace:
I plunged down, but me He did rescue.
Return, my being, to your calm,
for the Lord has requited you. (6, 7)

God is not only a rescuing God he is a calming God. And in these fraught times when we see evil on full display all around us, it is in God’s peace that we find our own succor.

Ezekiel 10:1–11:15:  Ezekiel has returned to the temple in Jerusalem. In this extravagant vision, God himself is present: “The cloud filled the temple, and the court was full of the radiance of the glory of the Lord.” (10:4b) There is a mysterious man clothed in linen, who is commanded by God to take fire from the cherubim. I would not be surprised if some Christians interpret this man as being Jesus Christ.

Ezekiel’s vision provides even more imaginative details about those cherubim who move around on interlocking wheels. The cherubim, who are riding them, control how the wheels move and halt. Ezekiel sees no other control and concludes that “the spirit of the living creatures was in them.” (10:17)

The centerpiece of this vision is that God abandons the temple, presumably because of the idolatrous abominations being performed within its walls: “Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house and stopped above the cherubim.” (10:18) It appears that the cherubim accompany God back to heaven: “The cherubim lifted up their wings and rose up from the earth in my sight as they went out with the wheels beside them.

We also get a rather ominous sense of being watched by these four-faced creatures, whose “entire bodies, including their backs, their hands and their wings, were completely full of eyes, as were their four wheels.” (10:21)

At the end of chapter 10 we don’t yet know what the man dressed in linen holding fire is going to do with it.

As chapter 11 opens, Ezekiel is taken up by what I gather to be the Holy Spirit and deposited at the eastern entrance of the temple where he sees 25 men, whom I presume to be religious leaders, standing there. God tells Ezekiel “Son of man, these are the men who are plotting evil and giving wicked advice in this city.” (11:2) Ezekiel, still operating under the power of the Spirit, tells them they are hypocrites who may be talking God talk, but that God knows “what is going through your mind. You have killed many people in this city and filled its streets with the dead.” (11:6)

The prophet then tells them that “This city will not be a pot for you, nor will you be the meat in it;” (11:11) which is a symbolic way of telling them that their plans to exploit the people will fail because God “will execute judgment on you at the borders of Israel…for you have not followed my decrees or kept my laws but have conformed to the standards of the nations around you.” (11:12)

Even as Ezekiel speaks, one of the leaders promptly dies. This is pretty distressing to the prophet, who “fell facedown and cried out in a loud voice, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! Will you completely destroy the remnant of Israel?” (11:13) But God reminds him that these people in Jerusalem are the ones who have been plotting to destroy the remnant and take their land and possessions: “the people of Jerusalem have said of your fellow exiles and all the other Israelites, ‘They are far away from the Lord; this land was given to us as our possession.’” (11:15)

These visions are certainly striking and I’m waiting for the movie depicting this vision and the encounter with the 25 men standing at the temple entrance. But as for theological content beyond God leaving the temple, I’m not sure there’s much beyond there are things in heaven that are otherworldly, which we cannot understand or describe—although I give credit to Ezekiel for trying.

Hebrews 11:17–28: In this perhaps the most well-known section of this epistle we encounter our author’s famous catalog of faithful Jewish patriarchs, beginning with Abraham’s own faith that God would rescue his son Isaac whom he was directed to sacrifice. But he puts an interesting twist on it by asserting that “Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” (19) Which I assume is meant to remind us that God has indeed raised Jesus from the dead. If Abraham had that kind of faith in resurrection, then so should we.

He then goes on to list the faithful acts of the patriarchs: Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and then Moses. Rather than be known as “the son of Pharaoh’s daughter,” Moses abandons the title and instead “chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.” (25) This is a clear message to the community: If Moses chose a harder path, so should you.

Then, in what I think is one of the more remarkable assertions in the book, our author states that Moses “regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (26) He concatenates Moses’ trust in God with the “sake of Christ.” The implication here seems to be that Moses was somehow pre-aware that Christ would come to earth at some future point. Or perhaps it is simply that faith in God is the same as faith in Christ.

In any event, the overall theme of this passage is faith. If the patriarchs had faith that God would lead and provide, then so too should we. Faith brings insight and it also brings courage: “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” (27) And like Moses, we too must have faith in the one “who is invisible.”

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