Psalm 120; Ezekiel 44:28–45:25; 1 John 1:5–2:11

Originally published 11/9/2015. Revised and updated November 8, 2019.

Psalm 120: Alter informs us that this is the first of fifteen “songs of ascents,” which could mean anything from a song sung as a pilgrim ascends to the temple mount in Jerusalem to a musical term referring to an increase in pitch as it is sung.

However, there’s no ambiguity about the subject matter of this psalm. the psalmist is calling out to God, who indeed answers, because the supplicant has been the victim of slander:
Lord, save my life from lying lips,
form a tongue of deceit. (2)

As usual, it is speech that is the harmful weapon—as it still is. He asks rhetorically, how does slanderous speech, which certainly hurts the hearer, contribute to the well-being of the speakerÚ
What can it give you, what can it add,
a tongue of deceit. (3)

To slander someone may bring a temporary rush of having cut deeply and wounded another. And if it’s a clever, biting remark, it can even make the speaker feel intellectually superior. But that feeling always fades quickly. All that’s been accomplished is to tear someone down to no larger purpose other than to bring dialog to a screeching halt.

We hear slanderous remarks and accusations everywhere around us–especially during the permanent sliders of Washington, where enemies take the tiniest pieces of trivia out of someone’s past and try to blow it up into something meaningful and hurtful. Slander as a political strategy is even more egregious than “mere slander.” But alas, slander by innunedo seems more widely deployed than ever, especially on the ironically-named “social media.”

There is little doubt that slander is deeply injurious, like
A warrior’s honed arrows
with wood broom coals. (4)

And in the end, the entire atmosphere of discourse becomes poisoned. Like the psalmist, “Long has [our] whole being dwelt among those who hate peace.” (6) We see this every day in the Middle East between Palestinian and Jew, and more recently, in so-called political “discourse” between Democrat and Republican as both sides slander each other, saying with the psalmist,
I am for peace, but when I speak,
they are for war. (7)

Tragic words indeed because no nothing can be said that will not be regarded as slanderous by both sides. Reasonable dialog has been murdered by slander.

Ezekiel 44:28–45:25: This portion of Ezekiel could be termed “Leviticus Revised” as new rules and practices are defined for this fantastic temple yet to come. A giant “holy districts” measuring “twenty-five thousand cubits long and twenty thousand cubits wide; [which] shall be holy throughout its entire extent” (45:1) are to be set aside for “for the priests, who minister in the sanctuary and approach the Lord to minister to him.” (45:4) That’s about 40 square miles. Another 25,000 x 5,000 cubit area “shall be for the Levites who minister at the temple, as their holding for cities to live in.” (45:5) Then all of Israel will be restored.

But there is one condition. God will be living among Israel and God says, “Enough, O princes of Israel! Put away violence and oppression, and do what is just and right. Cease your evictions of my people, says the Lord God.” (45:9)

Ezekiel then outlines a new system of weights and measures: “honest balances, an honest ephah, and an honest bath.” (45:10) which is an attempt to remove corruption from the marketplace and restore honest economics. He goes on to describe the nature of “burnt offerings, grain offerings, and drink offerings, at the festivals, the new moons, and the sabbaths,” (45:17). But something remains unaltered: “In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, you shall celebrate the festival of the passover, and for seven days unleavened bread shall be eaten.” (45:21).

So what are we to make of all these practical instructions regarding a restored Israel? Well, it’s not the devil that’s in the details, but God himself. God continues to be involved in his creation. It’s also as if God is starting over with Israel; that the Covenant will be restored. But only if it “puts away violence and oppression and do what is just and right.” In the end, God demands justice. And we humans just can’t seem to deliver that by ourselves. Did this new Temple and this new Israel ever get built in the size and glory Ezekiel has described? Alas, we know the answer. Ezekiel’s blueprints remain just that.

1 John 1:5–2:11: John engages in one of the great extended metaphors in the New Testament: light and darkness. He asserts “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” (1:5) And it’s clear what he means by darkness: sin in the sense of separation from God. We are fooling ourselves if we are in sin and think we are walking in the light: “we lie and do not do what is true;” (6). Expressed in modern terms, John is dealing with the issue of denial: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (8). And in that justly famous verse, John tells us there is a very simple way out of this denial:  “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (9) And just to make sure we get the point about denial, John bookends this verse of confession with the ominous point once again that our denial makes Christ himself a liar: “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (10) In short, sin separates us. Confession is the only way back into relationship with Jesus.

How do we avoid this separation in sin? The answer is quite simple: obedience. “Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments.” (2:3) And worse, if we say we know Jesus saying “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist.” (4) When one reflects on this, this pronouncement is quite harsh because it says that pretending—hypocrisy in its pure form—is an enormous and egregious sin. And it is probably the one that we practice the most.

This is especially true in our relationships with others: “Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness.” (9) John rephrases Jesus’ command in this new context: “Whoever loves a brother or sister  lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling.” (10). But unlike Jesus, John reminds us again of the consequences of pretending to carry out Jesus command: “But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.” (11) For John it’s binary: we are either in the light of love of the darkness of hypocrisy. As much as we would like there to be, there is no middle ground, no ambiguous gray zone when it comes to following Jesus.

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