Psalm 123; 
Ezekiel 48:23–Daniel 1:21; 1 John 3:1–10

Originally published 11/13/2017. Revised and updated 11/12/2019.

Psalm 123: This short “song of ascents” does exactly that: it moves our vision from earthly things straight upward to heaven by using two remarkable similes of the relationship of slave and master:
To You I lift up my eyes,
O dweller in the heavens.
Look, like the eyes of slaves to their masters,
like the eyes of a slavegirl to her mistress,
so are our eyes to the Lord our God
until He grants us grace. (1, 2)

There’s no mistaking the hierarchy here: we are the lowly slaves looking up in supplication to our master. I’m intrigued by the inclusion of both sexes in the simile: male slaves to their master and female slaves to their mistress. That is to say both men and women are equal in their relationship with God.

What begins as a song ends as a psalm of supplication. The psalmist has apparently been treated with severe contempt (was he a slave?) as he turns to God as his only source of succor:
Grant us grace, Lord, grant us grace,
for we are sorely sated with scorn.
Sorely has our being been sated
with the contempt of the smug,
the scorn of the haughty. (3, 4)

The choice of “sated” as in the feeling of over-fullness dramatically communicates the sense of feeling overwhelmed by the scorn and contempt of oppressors. We certainly see that same scorn and contempt in contemporary attitudes of many elites toward people of faith believing that these benighted souls are stupid and weak requiring the “psychological crutch” of religion.

All these scorners will one day find out that they are not as independently strong as they think they are. How much better it is to turn our eyes upward to God in times of distress than to pretend we are capable of handling every trial on our own. No matter how independent and strong we think we are, we are lost.

Ezekiel 48:23–Daniel 1:21: This over-long book of Ezekiel and its incredibly detailed allocation of territory winds to an almost anticlimactic end by renaming Jerusalem: “the name of the city from that time on shall be, The Lord is There.” (48:35) Which is a fine name, but unless it’s referring to the New Jerusalem that we learn about in Revelation, it’s a name that didn’t stick. Jerusalem is still Jerusalem some 2500 years after this book was written. Happily for us, the Lord is not just “there” but is everywhere.

The book of Daniel opens at the beginning of the Babylonian captivity. King Nebuchadnezzar orders that his palace master Ashpenaz  to identify and bring “young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans.” (4) Subsuming potential leaders into the conqueror’s culture is actually a pretty enlightened way to deal with a conquered land.

We meet four men: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, all from the tribe of Judah. (7) Daniel is renamed Belteshazzar. (I’m glad that name didn’t stick!) The latter three are famously renamed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Life at the palace is pretty sybaritic to the point of unhealthiness so “Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine.” (1:8) The palace master is afraid that this will lead to a “poorer condition than the other young men of your own age, [and] you would endanger my head with the king.” (1:10) Daniel  says let us try this other diet for ten days and then “You can then compare our appearance with the appearance of the young men who eat the royal rations, and deal with your servants according to what you observe. ” (13)

Unsurprisingly, Daniel’s diet is a success, and “At the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations.” (14).

Not only are the four healthier than all the others but they are smarter and more skilled. Our author observes that “To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom.” (17a). And in a hint of things to come, “Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams.” (17b)

The four men become the go-to guys as far as the king is concerned: “In every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” (20) But as we will see, their wisdom foments resentment among the others in the king’s court.

The takeaway for me in this story is that a healthy diet is an important element of becoming a leader. But more importantly, whatever gifts of intellect and wisdom we may possess ultimately come from God.

1 John 3:1–10: John really digs into the theme of us Christians being God’s children because of his love for us. This love is beyond the world’s understanding: “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” (1) There is an eschatological note here as well in the suggestion that at some point in the future we will be transformed with bodies like Jesus’ resurrected body:”Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” (2)

John then launches into a disquisition about the stark binary contrast between a state of sinfulness and the far superior state righteousness: “Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” (7, 8) He makes this point even more dramatically a few verses down: “The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.” (10)

What’s clear here is that as long as we are in a “state of sin” we are effectively separated from Christ. 

I’m pretty sure that this passage is one of the roots of the practice of weekly confession in the Roman Catholic church, as well as the sacrament of extreme unction performed by the priest for people on their deathbed. John seems to be saying that unless we are in a state of righteousness before God we run the risk of being separated because as he puts it, “Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil.”  Personally, I think there’s too strong a sense that we can lose our salvation if we persist in a state of unrighteousness. I’m not sure Paul would necessarily agree with John on this matter. Yes, we have a responsibility to confess our sins, but where is the grace here?

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