Psalm 116:7–13; Ezekiel 11:16–12:28; Hebrews 11:29–40

Originally published 10/6/2015. Revised and updated 10/5/2019.

Psalm 116:7–13: Our psalmist realizes he has been rescued by God and tells himself,
Return, my being, to your calm,
for the LORD has requited you. (7)

Notice how he describes something akin to what people who’ve had a near-death experience as he seems to rise up outside his body by using the second person pronoun, “you” referring to himself. This is an existential freedom:
For You freed me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my foot from slipping. (8)

In a verse reminiscent of Psalm 23, he expresses his gratitude by being able to walk alongside God “in the lands of the living.” (9) As he walks he realizes that as he suffered he was too cynical:
Oh, I was sorely afflicted—
I in my rashness said,
‘All humankind is false.’ (10b, 11)

Which is to basically accuse God of making a mistake in having created humankind in the first place. This suggests that whatever bad thing that had happened to him was caused by others, leading to deep cynicism about the people around him and then to all humanity.

I think we tend to do exactly the same thing because it is awfully easy to become deeply cynical about the motives and behaviors of those around us—especially those with whom we disagree. This verse forces us to realize that human beings are indeed God’s creation and to categorize them for what they believe or who they are goes against God’s will. Nevertheless, that’s hard to do when, like the psalmist, we have been the injured party.

I have to think that this psalm is one place where Jesus picked up his ‘turn the other cheek’ theme.

Realizing his mistake, our psalmist asks,
What can I give back to the Lord
for all He requited to me? (12)

What God has given back to him in his restored state is,
The cup of rescue [that] I lift
and in the name of the Lord I call. (13)

This is what God does: He is our Great Rescuer. And we worship him.

Ezekiel 11:16–12:28: Ezekiel has cried to God, “Ah Lord God! will you make a full end of the remnant of Israel?” (11:13), wondering if God will destroy the entire Jewish race. But God responds, “Though I removed them far away among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a little while in the countries where they have gone.” (11:16) There will be restoration as God “will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.” (11:19) God is very clear what this changed heart accomplishes: “so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them.” (11:20a) as we come to the wonderful promise, “Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” (11:20b)

But that will happen only if they give up their evil practices and “as for those whose heart goes after their detestable things and their abominations, I will bring their deeds upon their own heads, says the Lord God.” (11:21). Israel—and we—must be willing to exchange our hearts of stone for a heart of flesh.

This interlude of promise fades as the theme turns what exactly Ezekiel must do “in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, who have ears to hear but do not hear.” (12:1). This verse provides context for when Jesus utters his own eyes/ears statements. Any Jew familiar with the prophet Ezekiel would know exactly what Jesus was saying. Surely the Pharisees who heard him knew these verses and realized that Jesus was accusing them of being “a rebellious house,” on a par with the idol worshippers of old Israel. Since they saw themselves as the exact opposite, it’s little wonder even Jesus’ statements that appear anodyne inflamed the religious leaders around him.

God turns Ezekiel into an object lesson, commanding him to “bring out your baggage by day in their sight, as baggage for exile; and you shall go out yourself at evening in their sight, as those do who go into exile.” (12:4) Since Ezekiel was a well-known inhabitant of Jerusalem, God observes that people will ask questions. In response, Ezekiel is to say, ““I am a sign for you: as I have done, so shall it be done to them; they shall go into exile, into captivity.” (12:11), which of course is exactly what eventually happens.

Then God commands Ezekiel, “Mortal, eat your bread with quaking, and drink your water with trembling and with fearfulness,” (12:17) which is an object lesson to Jerusalem and Israel that “They shall eat their bread with fearfulness, and drink their water in dismay, because their land shall be stripped of all it contains, on account of the violence of all those who live in it.” (12:19). What’s fascinating here is that God seems to have given up on Jeremiah-like verbal pronouncements of doom, instead using Ezekiel as an object lesson of what is to come. It’s almost as if God has to use the more powerful visual rather than aural medium to make his point obvious through Ezekiel’s actions. Had movies been at God’s disposal in that era, I’m sure he would have made Ezekiel become a film maker.

Hebrews 11:29–40:Our author’s extensive catalog of “heroes of faith” and “historical actions of faith” continues apace drawing on well-known Old Testament stories.
— “By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land.” (29)
— “By faith the walls of Jericho fell…” (30)
— “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient” (31)

Our writer is passionate on this issue of faith: “And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—” (33) and then catalogs the amazing deeds that faith has accomplished: “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” (33, 34).

‘OK,’ his listeners might say, ‘We get your point but this is ancient history. We are suffering right here and now for our faith. What about us?’ Our writer then proceeds to list the gruesome trials that the community’s contemporaries have suffered: torture, mocking, flogging, chains, imprisonment, stoning, sawn in two, killed by sword, destitute, persecuted, tormented.” He’s saying, in effect, ‘you think you have it hard? Come on, people!’ 

Which is a frame of reference we Christians in 21st century America should consider when we think all of society is against us and that we have it so hard. If the author of Hebrews were writing today, I think we would say, ‘Quit whining! Think about the Christians in the Middle East that are fleeing their homelands and others being beheaded for their faith. They are faithful, why aren’t you?’ Putting this chapter into our modern context is a sobering exercise. Maybe my faith isn’t so strong after all.

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