Psalm 119:129–136; Ezekiel 38:7–39:13; 2 Peter 1:1–11

Originally published 11/2/2017. Revised and updated 11/1/2019.

Psalm 119:129–136: One begins to admire just how many ways our psalmist can repeat his basic themes with and still come up with some fresh poetry. I have to give him credit for basic creativity. Here, we encounter the intriguing metaphor of God’s word being light coming through an open doorway:
The portal of Your words sends forth light,
makes the simple understand. (130)

Not sure about simple people comprehending the intricacies of God’s Levitical law, but happily, we have a much simpler Gospel message that although radical is beautiful in its simplicity.

This metaphor is followed immediately with one about hunger for God’s word:
I opened my mouth wide and panted,
for Your commands I craved. (131)

Panted?

The remainder of the stanza covers the usual ground, first pleading for something that in my view is a gift from God:
Turn to me, grant me grace,
as is fit for those who love Your name. (132)

Next is the usual prayer to walk in God’s path, avoid sin, and to be freed from the attacks of others so he can give his full attention to obeying God’s law:
Make firm my footsteps through Your utterance,
let no wrongdoing rule over me.
Ransom me from human oppression,
that I may observe Your statutes. (133, 134)

But I have to admit the final verse of the stanza is arresting as we encounter our psalmist’s first real emotion focused on other people besides the ones who have oppressed him:
Streams of water my eyes have shed
because men did not observe Your teaching. (136)

This is the sort of emotional caring that I think we should feel when those around us reject God’s gift of grace through Jesus Christ.

Ezekiel 38:7–39:13: This section wherein Ezekiel prophesies against Gog and “all the hordes gathered about you” strikes me as a pretty dramatic description of a final battle of the nations arrayed against Israel. I have the feeling that the author of Revelation, writing about the battle of Armageddon, was familiar with this passage since there are some parallels to the pretty brutal descriptions of this battle.

Ezekiel, speaking always in the voice of God, describes how Gog will “advance, coming on like a storm; you shall be like a cloud covering the land, you and all your troops, and many peoples with you.” (38:9) Gog will then plan to “fall upon the quiet people who live in safety, all of them living without walls, and having no bars or gates.” (38:11) In summary, Gog “come up against my people Israel, like a cloud covering the earth.” (38:16)

But when Gog and his armies attack Israel, God will have the upper hand: “my wrath shall be aroused. For in my jealousy and in my blazing wrath I declare: On that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel; (38:18b, 19) At this, “all human beings that are on the face of the earth, shall quake at my presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the cliffs shall fall, and every wall shall tumble to the ground.” (38:20b)

At this point God will strike down Gog’s army, described in language we encounter again in Revelation: “With pestilence and bloodshed I will enter into judgment with him; and I will pour down torrential rains and hailstones, fire and sulfur, upon him and his troops and the many peoples that are with him.” (38:22)

Gog and his army will be utterly defeated: “I will strike your bow from your left hand, and will make your arrows drop out of your right hand. You shall fall on the mountains of Israel, you and all your troops and the peoples that are with you; I will give you to birds of prey of every kind and to the wild animals to be devoured.” (39:3, 4) 

Notice that it is God who is general of this battle, not Israel. God’s conquest of this mighty army will be so final that “they will make fires of them for seven years. They will not need to take wood out of the field or cut down any trees in the forests, for they will make their fires of the weapons; they will despoil those who despoiled them, and plunder those who plundered them” (39:9, 10) What a great image! So much destruction that the fires will burn for seven years!

I’m aware of various attempts by various Evangelicals to tie this prophecy about Gog to actual world events ever since Israel’s reestablishment as a nation in 1949. During the Cold War Gog was theoretically the Russian army and/or the European nations that would invade. More recently, Gog has been interpreted as Arab and Muslim nations. The earthquake has been taken to represent nuclear weapons.

We can see how these attempts to link Biblical prophecy to actual historical events can occupy a lot of time and effort. But I think we should just sit back and read these chapters as wonderful storytelling to encourage the Jews in exile.

2 Peter 1:1–11: As with the case of Paul’s letters, I’d love to know the backstory for this second letter from Peter (or someone writing as Peter). In 1 Peter it’s pretty clear he was writning to a community that was being oppressed from the outside and was experiencing dissention within the church. Here things seem to have calmed down a bit and these opening verses are good deal more didactic and theological as, e.g., “Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.” (4)

There’s even a very Pauline logic chain: “For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.” (5-7)

This is a magnificent passage that I think surpasses just about all of Paul’s lists. It begins with faith and ends with love, giving us a recipe of the ingredients of the well-lived Christian life: goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love. Peter goes on to make the obvious point that “if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (8)

Churches really don’t need write their own mission statements when there are these verses right here looking at us. 

The list is also a terrific checklist for me as an individual. But this kind of self-inventory only points up my inadequacies as a Christian. But as Peter reminds us, “if you do these things, you will never stumble, ” (10) All I can do is start over each morning and keep on persevering.

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