Psalm 122; Ezekiel 47:13–48:22; 1 John 2:18–29

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

Psalm 122: This “song of ascents” is a hymn probably sung by pilgrims who lived in the surrounding countryside making their annual trek to Jerusalem to give sacrifice and worship at the temple. We have an example of this in Luke when Jesus and his family travel from Nazareth to Jerusalem and Jesus remains dialoguing with the rabbis after the rest of his family leaves town.

The goal of the journey is obvious and it is suffused with joy:
I rejoiced in those who said to me:
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’
Our feet were standing 
in Your gates, Jerusalem.” (2)

This worshipful pilgrimage is required by the law and is expected of every faithful Jew:
An ordinance it is for Israel
to acclaim the name of the Lord. (4b)

Growing up, my siblings and I were expected to go to church every Sunday because that was my father’s rule. I unwillingly obeyed until I graduated from high school. This ordinance became part of my resentment against the church for the ten years while I was at college and throughout my 20’s. But looking back I see that it was a good discipline to go to worship every Sunday—even though the 45-minute long sermons were dull and boring.

Our psalmist describes what the pilgrims will encounter when they arrive at the great city. Jerusalem is not just the seat of worship, it is the center of judicial and political power:
For there the thrones of judgement stand
the thrones of the house of David. (5)

The psalm concludes with a prayer for Jerusalem and its inhabitants and pilgrims that we would probably do well to update to our own center of judicial and political power in Washington DC:
Pray for Jerusalem’s weal.
My your lovers rest tranquil!
May there be well-being within your ramparts,
tranquility in your palaces. (6, 7)

Finally, the psalm turns inward to our own desired attitude toward God:
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
let me seek your good.” (9)

Would that we all turn even briefly away from our individual desires to pray for and work to seek the good the church and of our own Jerusalem.

Ezekiel 47:13–48:22: This section is about as enjoyable as reading the county records that delineate property borders. Which is to say not at all.

The motivation for this lengthy screed appears to be reestablishement of tribal boundaries when Israel returns from its babylonian exile.  Undergirding the entire project is God’s demand that fairness and equality prevail in the allocation process: “You shall divide it equally; I swore to give it to your ancestors, and this land shall fall to you as your inheritance.” (47:14)

Although the land was Israel’s, God’s command extends the requirement to non-Jews, who received full citizenship rights: “You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who reside among you and have begotten children among you. They shall be to you as citizens of Israel; with you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.” (47:22) Perhaps we should look back 2500 years to see how an enlightened immigration policy actually works…

As unbelievable as it may seem, chapter 48 is even more boring than 47. It’s at this point that e see a new dimension of God: land surveyor. This chapter describes the exact plots of locations of the temple and Jerusalem’s city limits and surrounding suburbs devoted to agriculture. The focus is on what land is “holy” and allocated to the temple, what belongs to the king, and what belongs to the agrarian inhabitants of Israel.

Although I’m tempted to scoff at this level of detail occupying Scripture, these descriptions are a potent reminder that God is a God of order and fairness. There is nothing random happening here. And since it is written as prophecy it doubtless served a practical purpose, i.e., to quell any territorial disputes that may have arisen as the process of re-habitation took place after the Babylonian exile. Erstwhile lawyers would have little ground to stand on to argue for their clients who may have wanted a bigger piece of land.

1 John 2:18–29: John becomes downright apocalyptic as he warns his community against being duped by various antichrists appearing on the scene. Doubtless they were preaching an anti-gospel that John condemns in the strongest possible terms: “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ?  This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.” (22)

John must also have been a philosopher because he uses a classical philosophical argument to make his point that the Christians to whom he is writing are anointed in the truth because they have been baptized: “But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and all of you have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and you know that no lie comes from the truth.” (20, 21) 

My guess is that these antichrists were preaching a gnostic message that implied everyone could ascend in self-knowledge to achieve what Jesus had achieved and themselves become divine. John wants to make sure this entire business is squashed in its crib. As we know, battles to fight off gnostic influences raged on for a couple hundred years until the New testament canon was finally agreed to at Nicaea. And in some circles, they rage on today…

 At its core, John’s solution is really quite simple. Rather than listening to these antichrists, he advises his followers to look inside themselves where the Holy Spirit already dwells: “As for you, the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and so you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in him.” (27)  

If we really accept that as Christians that the Holy Spirit dwells in us and we follow what the HS is telling us in our hearts, all will be OK. Unfortunately, what the Holy Spirit says to us is usually means we need to to give up control and our own efforts to achieve the quasi-spiritual self-fulfillment that so permeates our culture today. As always, we will inevitably go astray when it’s all about what we can do ourselves to achieve “spiritual enlightenment” rather than letting the Holy Spirit work within us.

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