Psalm 118:22-29; Ezekiel 18:19–19:14; James 1:9–19

Psalm originally published 10/12/2016. OT & NT passages originally published 10/12/2013. Revised and updated 10/12/2019.

Psalm 118:22–29: We encounter the verse that Jesus quoted in reference to himself (Matt 21:42, also Mark & Luke). It is also referred to in Peter’s sermon in Acts 4, as well as in Ephesians and 1 Peter: “The stone that the builders rejected/ has become the chief cornerstone.” (22)  In the NT, this verse stands for Jesus and the Jews’ rejection of their Messiah.

But the verse following is equally important and it doubtless came to mind among the Jews when Jesus referred to the chief cornerstone:
From the Lord did this come about—
it is wondrous in our eyes.

As the gospel of John makes clear repeatedly, Jesus has indeed come from directly God and this act of incarnation is wondrous for all humankind.

The verse that follows is equally well known, and usually something we casually toss off on Sunday mornings:
This is the day the Lord has wrought.
Let us exult and rejoice in it.

Here in its context, its meaning is far richer. This is the day that God has created and it is the day—every day—when we realize that the Rejected Cornerstone has indeed rescued us. That is the beauty to reflect on each morning when we awake: Not just the beauty of God’s creation but his munificent act in sending Jesus Christ to us: rejected in his time and culture—and also in ours—but then to be exalted—worshipped— down through history for his saving grace.

The psalm concludes with a benediction that is an acknowledgement of how God in his rescue has blessed us:
The Lord is God and He shines upon us.
You are my God, and I acclaim You,
my God, and I exalt You.
Acclaim the Lord, for He is good,
forever is His kindness. (27a, 28, 29)

It would be a good habit to pray those words of gratitude every morning.

Ezekiel 18:19–19:14: As we saw yesterday, the old saying, “the sins of the father are visited upon the sons,” is no longer operative. Subsequent generations do not bear responsibility for the wrongdoings of their forebears, nor are the parents responsible for the sins of their offspring (although I presume we are speaking about adult children here): “A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child. (18:20a)

But God, speaking through Ezekiel, also makes it clear that he takes no pleasure in punishment, sort of God saying (as my father once did) in effect, “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you” when Ezekiel writes: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live?” (18:23)

In Ezekiel, righteousness is like going to the gym: you can’t store it up, go off and commit sins and then come back to God saying, “This is unfair; I have righteousness points in the bank and I’d like to use them now to offset my iniquity.”  God makes it clear it doesn’t work that way.  We are each responsible for our own actions: “the righteousness of the righteous shall be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be his own.” (18:29b)

In this era where so many people consider themselves part of a victim class rather than accepting the consequences of their misdeeds, this passage on responsibility for our own actions is bracing.  The choice is consummately simple—and it is wholly ours: “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.” (18:32) How much of life we miss because we ignore these simple four words: Turn, then, and live.

Ezekiel 19 is a lamentation containing a tragic metaphor followed immediately by a tragic simile. Ezekiel makes it very clear who he’s talking about: the wicked kings of Israel are the lion cubs. Kings are anointed and then become wicked:
She [Israel?] raised up one of her cubs;
   he became a young lion,
and he learned to catch prey;
   he devoured humans. (19:3)

A subsequent king does exactly the same thing:
He prowled among the lions;
    he became a young lion,
and he learned to catch prey;
    he devoured people. (19:6)

Ultimately, after battles and destruction, an evil king ends up a captive in Babylon in a pretty clear metaphor:
With hooks they put him in a cage,
and brought him to the king of Babylon;
they brought him into custody,
so that his voice should be heard no more
on the mountains of Israel. (19:9)

Even more tragic is the simile that follows: Your mother was like a vine in a vineyard” (19:10a) that once achieved greatness. I take this to be the united kingdom under Solomon:
 …transplanted by the water,
fruitful and full of branches
    from abundant water.
 Its strongest stem became

    a ruler’s scepter;
it towered aloft
    among the thick boughs;
it stood out in its height
    with its mass of branches. (19:10, 11)

But through the depredations of those young, devouring lions, the vineyard has been destroyed:
And fire has gone out from its stem,
    has consumed its branches and fruit,
so that there remains in it no strong stem,
    no scepter for ruling. (19:14)

Corrupt leadership at the top begets the destruction of nations.  Which, as any casual reading of history reveals, is hardly unique to Israel. Is our empire the next to fall?.

James 1:9-19: In a land where of ever-increasing inequality between the rich and the rest of us, this passage in James seems rather empty: “It is the same with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.” (11b) True in the abstract in the sense that the rich die like the rest of us, but in the meantime, they seem to be doing quite well, thank you.  Nevertheless, James is reminding us that what wealth we amass here on earth is ephemeral–something we all do well to remember.

We must remember that the temptations confronting us are not sourced by God: No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. (13) The world, all its fallenness is what creates. And above all, our own self-will is what succumbs to temptation. Along the same line, God does not place obstacles in our path in order to test us and see if we will stumble.  As a guy who has been in close contact with others in the cancer community, there is no greater theological crock than the old canard, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” Happily, I’ve only heard it once, but that was enough.

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