Psalm 119:121–128; 
Ezekiel 37:1–38:6; 1 Peter 5

Originally published 11/1/2017. Revised and updated 10/31/2019.

Psalm 119:121–128: Methinks our psalmist doth protest too much as new each stanza piles on the last emphasizing his righteousness before God compared to those who are apparently attempting to do him harm. And he believes this righteousness should earn him action on God’s part.
I have done justice and righteousness;
do not yield me to my oppressors.
Vouch for Your servant for good.
Let not the arrogant oppress me. (121, 122)

There is the usual obsequiousness lurking just below the surface of his supplications:
My eyes pined for Your rescue
and for Your righteous utterance. (123)

Eyes pining for rescue? Really? But as always for this psalmist, it comes back to his focus on learning and obeying God’s law. He truly believes that strict obedience will motivate God to come to his aid:
Do for Your servant as befits Your kindness
and teach me Your statutes.
Your servant I am, grant me insight,
that I may know Your precepts (124, 125)

Having pointed out that he has kept his side of the bargain by asking God to give him greater understanding, he once again asks God to act on his behalf against his enemies. His tone seems almost stentorian:
It is time to act for the Lord—
they have violated Your teaching. (126)

This stanza concludes with yet another statement of how much he loves God’s law and that he religiously(!) follows the rules:
Therefore I love Your commands
more than gold, more than fine gold.
Therefore by all Your ordinances I walked a straight line.
All paths of lies I have hated. (127, 128)

One thing is becoming clear at this point: this long psalm has but one major theme: that the man who loves and follows every jot and tittle of God’s law is entitled to some compensatory response on God’s part against his enemies. I rejoice once more that grace enters the picture through Jesus Christ. Otherwise it would be dry and dusty prayers like this endless psalm.

Ezekiel 37:1–38:6: We arrive at what is probably the best known part of this book: the valley of dry bones. This is perhaps God’s best object lesson as he commands Ezekiel, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” (37:3)

God then commands Ezekiel to preach to the bones, telling the prophet that the bones will come to life. Which is exactly what happens. In the first stage of this revivification as the bones become corpses: “So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. (37:7, 8)

God then commands Ezekiel to prophesy some more and as he does so, “the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.” (37:10)

Ezekiel is doubtless completely puzzled and not a little frightened at this point. So God explains: “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’’ (37:11) The resuscitation of the bones into people is dramatic evidence of God’s promise that Israel will one day be restored: “Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.” (12)

One has to believe that Ezekiel’s prophecy must have been music to the ears of those faithful Jews stuck in exile. But the more cynical among them would doubtless have scoffed. This is pretty much the reaction to the Gospel message: some will accept and others scoffingly reject the Good News.

God moves onto another object lesson: two sticks. ‘“Mortal, take a stick and write on it, “For Judah, and the Israelites associated with it”; then take another stick and write on it, “For Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel associated with it” (37:15, 16) God commands Ezekiel to join them together. When people ask what this all means, Ezekiel is to tell them that God “I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from every quarter, and bring them to their own land.” (37:21) Even better, “Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” (37:23) With God there is always hope.

The messianic prophecy of the previous chapter continues here: “My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd.” (37:24a) God will fulfill his promise for all time: “I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless[g] them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary among them forevermore.” (37:26) As we know, Israel did eventually return from exile to its land. But I think for us Christians, this prophecy also looks forward to the king of the line of David who came to earth as Jesus Christ. Through his saving grace we too can say we are God’s people.

Today’s reading ends with what seems to be a completely random prophecy that a certain Gog of the land of Magog (love those names!) and many allied nations will be defeated in a battle which God wins. Not sure what to do with this one. Perhaps tomorrow’s reading will yield more clues.

1 Peter 5: In the final chapter of this epistle, Peter advises the elders in the church: “as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly,” (1, 2a) This statement, “not under compulsion but willingly,” seems to me to be the key to pastoral leadership. Peter continues, asserting that the office of leader is “not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock.” (2b, 3) Unfortunately, it’s too easy to cite examples of leaders who have pursued dishonest gain rather than shepherd their flock.

Once a pastor or leader sees his or her duties as pointless or becomes indifferent to the people being led, it is time to leave. Too many pastors burn out because they do not heed Peter’s advice here.

Peter advises that those of you “you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders.” (5) Humility among both the leader and those led is key: “And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for

“God opposes the proud,
    but gives grace to the humble.” (6)

Alas, too often none of us wants to be humble, or we strike notes of false humility. As Peter makes clear, this goes for both leaders and the led.

We then come to one of the truly comforting verses in the entire NT: “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” (7) This promise is so straightforward. So why don’t I do it? I think it’s because in order to cast all my cares on God requires (as Oswald Chambers would put it) abandoning my deep desire to always be in full control of my thoughts and actions.

Finally, a verse I memorized as a 5th grader: “Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” (8) We know that there is evil in the world and that unless we are alert and looking always toward Jesus it is far too easy to be sucked into the maw of the many temptations of our corrupt culture.

This epistle ends on a personal note: “Your sister church in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark.” (13)  Peter may have an actual son or perhaps this is the Mark who Peter views affectionately as a son. I think ‘Babylon’ is a clear reference to Rome. 

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