Psalm 119:137–144; Ezekiel 39:14–40:16; 2 Peter 1:12–21

Originally published 11/3/2015. Revised and updated 11/2/2019.

Psalm 119:137–144: This section is a good reminder for all of us living in a post-Christian society. Those who reject God or even the idea of God are no longer indifferent, many are actively hostile to hearing anything having to do with God’s or God’s word. Especially religious over-enthusiasm, as our psalmist notes;
My zeal devastated me,
for my foes forgot Your words. (139)

This zeal has exacted a substantial social cost: “Puny I am and despised,” (141a). But our psalmist soldiers bravely onward: “yet Your decrees I have not forgotten.” (141b)

Despite his trials he remembers what we all need to remember. God is still present and his righteousness and justice is immutable:
Your righteousness forever is right,
and Your teaching is truth. (142)

For our psalmist, it’s all a question of focus. Whatever oppression he may be enduring, there is just one place to look for comfort:
Straits and distress have found me—
Your commands are my delight. (144)

It is on this solid rock he stands—and we stand. We are in even better circumstances than the psalmist. For us, it is God’s capital ‘w’ Word—Jesus Christ—that is the source of life. As the psalmist has it, “Grant me insight that I may live.” (144) For us, though, it is living in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit that is life, no matter what oppression we may eventually face. But we do not have to arrive finally at this safe place though insight and knowledge; rather, we arrive by grace.

Ezekiel 39:14–40:16: These chapters read as apocalyptic literature. The great battle is won and the land is cleansed of any trace of the invaders. A great sacrificial feast is proclaimed. It is at once eerie, but with eucharistic overtones: “You shall eat fat until you are filled, and drink blood until you are drunk, at the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you.” (39:19)

At this point, Israel is fully restored, cleansed of its previous sins. Following this great victory, “The house of Israel shall know that I am the Lord their God, from that day forward.” (39:22) and even better, “I will restore the fortunes of Jacob, and have mercy on the whole house of Israel; and I will be jealous for my holy name.” (39:25) At last, at the very end of history,  the terms of the first covenant will be fulfilled: “I will never again hide my face from them, when I pour out my spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord God.” (39:29)

Like the New Jerusalem described in Revelation, Ezekiel has a vision of a new, far greater temple. Once again, Ezekiel’s remarkable vision is tied to a specific point in time to lend his vision historical credence: “In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was struck down, on that very day, the hand of the Lord was upon me,” (40:1) Ezekiel is carried by God to the site of the new temple, where he encounters a man, “whose appearance shone like bronze, with a linen cord and a measuring reed in his hand; and he was standing in the gateway.” (40:3) Is this man an angel? Jesus? Given that he is bringing a message directly from God, I’ll go with it being an angel as messenger.

The angel holding the measuring stick (about 6 feet long) measures out the dimensions of this incredible new temple in specific dimensions. He measures the walls, the vestibules, the recesses, the pilasters, and tells us, among other things, “the vestibules also had windows on the inside all around; and on the pilasters were palm trees.” (40:16) So, why all this detail of a building that existed at that point only as a vision? I think that the precision underscores the reality that Ezekiel experienced. It also tells us that God is connected to the real world and that the world to come at the end of history will be as tangible and real as the one we are living in now.

John, writing his Revelation, must have been very familiar with this passage as he describes the dimensions and aspects of the New Jerusalem, which will descend form heaven at the end of history. This is a reminder that God is Creator and he engages the world not in some ephemeral spirituality, but in nature and even in bricks and mortar. For me, this description given in such detail underscores the reality of God as creator. God, who is part and parcel of the world we live in—not some remote being up in the clouds.

2 Peter 1:12–21: We hear the urgency of Peter’s message as he tells his listeners, “I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you.” (12) Which is also a good reminder to those of us who have been in the church for a long time. Yes, as Peter tells us, we already know the “established truth,” but we come again and again to worship, where we are reminded again and again just what Jesus did for us.

Peter knows the end of his life is approaching:“since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.” (14) But he is writing these letters “so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.” (15) Did Peter ever imagine that we’d be reading his letter some 2000 years later? I doubt it! He thought Jesus’ return to earth was imminent. But what a gift he has given all of us. Which is also a good reminder why writing things down is a way to speak even when we are no longer present.

Peter reminds us of his apostolic bona fides: “we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (16) I love his somewhat sarcastic phrase, “cleverly devised myths.” Because of course many accuse Christianity itself as being nothing more than an elaborate myth. But Peter was an eye and ear witness. He heard the actual voice of God: “when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven,” (17, 18a)

We readers may be one step removed from Peter’s eyewitness testimony, but in reading the words, I am convinced once again that Peter was not making this up, and that the truth of who Jesus was and what happened is historical fact.

Finally, Peter warns us of the dangers of over-interpretation of scripture: “no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (20, 21). I think this is fair warning to those around us who believe the books of Daniel and Revelation—and even Ezekiel— are some sort of secret coded documents that, if interpreted in just the right way, will forecast future events. Peter is reminding us that is not how God operates. Peter’s message is crystalline: Don’t waste your time speculating on the future. Work diligently in the here and now!

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