Psalm 121; Ezekiel 46:1–47:12; 1 John 2:12–17

Originally published 11/10/2015. Revised and updated 11/9/2019.

Psalm 121: This well known psalm opens with the beautiful, almost poignant question,
I lift my eyes to the mountains
from where will my help come? (1)

The answer is the next verse reminds me of the power of reading or chanting psalms responsively. The answer comes immediately in the second verse:
My help is from the Lord,
maker of heaven and earth. (2)

Taking the unusual form of dialog, it’s as if another person—a priest perhaps?—answers the questioning pilgrim:
He does not let your foot stumble.
Your guard does not slumber. (3).

We can be sure of God’s protection, both from physical harm (“foot stumble”) and guarding against harm from enemies.  To make sure we understand the vast scope of God’s protection, the psalm opens out to include all Israel under God’s watchful and protective eye:
Look, He does not slumber nor does He sleep,
Israel’s guard. (4)

Then the psalmist’s camera zooms back into a single person:
The Lord is your guard,
the Lord is your shade at your right hand. (5)

We can imagine that in that dry desert climate, where the sun beats down so fiercely, shade was a welcome companion to the traveler. So it is with God , who shades us from harm. In fact, God protects us constantly:
By day the sun does not strike you,
nor the moon by night. (6)

Being shaded from the moon, especially the full moon, was important in those civilizations that believed the moon could lead too easily to madness (lunacy).

Now comes the boldest assertion of all:
The Lord guards you from all harm,
He guards your life. (7)

This protection is permanent, unceasing:
The Lord guards your going and coming,
now and forevermore. (8)

One might argue that we are indeed harmed during our journey through life and that some harm can be fatal. But I don’t think that’s the real point here. The reality that this Psalm communicates so beautifully is exactly that of Psalm 23: God protects us through the darkest times and darkest valleys. But that does not make us impregnable. But the immutable reality is that God is always at our side.

Ezekiel 46:1–47:12: Chapter 46 goes “pure Leviticus” on us as we read the new rules and regulations around festivals and sacrifices that will occur in and around the new temple, including such minutiae as  “whoever enters by the north gate to worship shall go out by the south gate; and whoever enters by the south gate shall go out by the north gate.” (46:9)

There are legal rules as well: “If the prince makes a gift to any of his sons out of his inheritance, it shall belong to his sons, it is their holding by inheritance.” (46:16) On the other hand, if the prince wills his inheritance to his servant, “it shall be his to the year of liberty; then it shall revert to the prince.” (46:17)

There is a final tour of the temple that goes through, of all places, “the kitchens where those who serve at the temple shall boil the sacrifices of the people.” (46:24). Who knew? But when you think about it, kitchens were a practical necessity to deal with all those animal carcasses.

Ezekiel’s tour guide brings him back outside the temple, where a river has appeared and “the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar.” (47:1) The man leads Ezekiel through the water for one thousand cubits until “it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed.” (47:5) Since the river flows from the sanctuary, it becomes a river teeming with life: “Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there.” (47:9) and “it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of a great many kinds,” (47:10).

In John 7, where Jesus speaks of “living water,” there is no question in my mind that most of his listeners would recall this river image from Ezekiel 46. And the Pharisees would also understand that Jesus was positioning himself as the replacement of this great temple that Ezekiel described. We’re also reminded of the time the disciples spent and unsuccessful night fishing, only to be told by Jesus to spread their nets on the other side.

And of course, water and rivers lead inexorably to baptism. And that through baptism, we are like the trees by the river, whose “leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary.” (47:12) I don’t think it’s a metaphorical stretch to assert that for us, Ezekiel is describing how our life comes through Jesus Christ.

1 John 2:12–17: John becomes poet or hymn writer addressing everyone as he singles out “little children,” fathers, “young people,” . If we omit the “I am writing to you…” phrases in this poem we have the Gospel message itself:
because your sins are forgiven on account of his name

because you know him who is from the beginning.

because you have conquered the evil one.

because you know the Father.

because you are strong
       and the word of God abides in you,
         and you have overcome the evil one. (12-14)

Notice that John emphasizes the “evil one.” For John, the evil one is all too easy to encounter in everyday life as he advises us, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” (15) For this is not where we find “the love of the Father.” Indeed, “all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (16)

And yet, the world is exactly where we almost always look first. We look to fulfill our desires, and our world is exactly like John’s: full of temptations that seem to speak to our desires, but our true desire–the deepest desire of our being, our very existence, is to be loved by someone greater than us. I think every human being desires transcendence, but we look for it in all the wrong places: sex and increasingly, pornography (desire of the flesh”); objects and beauty (“desire of the yes”); wealth and power (“pride in riches”). But it’s all purely transitory: “the world and its desire are passing away,” (17a) Permanence comes from only one source: “those who do the will of God live forever.” (17b)

But I would submit that until we acknowledge our own mortality, realizing that eternal life is only through Jesus Christ to God the Father, most of us will till seek after what the writer of Ecclesiastes calls “vanity.” But as Qoeleth tells us there, we will ultimately seek in vain.

Speak Your Mind

*