Psalm 34:8–18; Ezra 8:21–10:6; Romans 1:26–2:4

Psalm 34:8–18: Our 21st century concept of God tends to be that he is far off and should be approached with caution even though his love for us is deep and abiding. Yet, “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” (9a) is almost sensual, and the reward, “happy the man who shelters in Him” (9b) guaranteed. Lest he get a little too carried away, our poet reminds us that God is still God and that we  should “Fear the Lord, O his holy ones,” (10a), but in doing so, there is a sure reward: “for those who fear Him know no want.” (10b).

With our relationship to God established, the psalmist takes on an avuncular tone–“Come, sons, listen to me,” (12a) stating that fear of the Lord is teachable. Now, the verses sound more like Proverbs than Psalms: “keep your tongue form evil/ and your lips from seeking deceit.” (14) and just to drive his point home, he amplifies the same advice in the next verse: “Swerve from evil and do good,/ seek peace and pursue it.” (15)

The reason to take this advice is quite simple in the psalmist’s deuteornomic world: “The Lord’s eyes are on the righteous/ and His ears to their outcry.” (16) As over against the fate awaiting wrongdoers: “The Lord’s face is against evildoers,/ to cut off from the earth their name.” (17) All we need do, if we are God-followers, is “Cry out and the Lord hears, / and from all their straits He saves them.” (18)

These are indeed encouraging words: that God rescues those who have tasted the Lord and follow in His ways, avoiding evil. God is looking out for us. But woe to him who missteps. For the psalmist there are two classes of people: those who fear the Lord and evildoers. But are we really all that clearly defined as good or evil?  The reality of our personalities is a good deal more complex, I think.

Ezra 8:21–10:6: Ezra is now speaking in the first person. Following a fast at the Ahava river, “that we might deny ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our possessions,” (8:21), the band, led by Ezra, sets out for Jerusalem. They have prayed for a safe journey because they are traveling without a security detail as Ezra had told the king that “the hand of our God is gracious to all who seek him, but his power and his wrath are against all who forsake him.” (22).

In other words, they had to put their money where their mouths were: they had to trust God completely. A good lesson for us: we talk about how we trust God, and even, like Ezra, declare it to others. But do our actions tangibly reveal that trust?

So, they safely arrive at Jerusalem and offer a sacrifice of praise. But all is not sweetness and light. Ezra learns the dreadful news that the Jews who have gone on before him, “The people of Israel, the priests, and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations” (9:1) and mixed marriages are running rife. Ezra tears his clothes in distress, “while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice.” (9:4).

Ezra prays desperately to God,  “O my God, I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.” (9:6) and “We have forsaken your commandments.” (9:10) and “Here we are before you in guilt.” (9:15). This is truly one of the most heart-rending confessional prayers in the Bible. Ezra has been faithful, but he finds he is leading a faithless people.

Ezra’s plan to rectify this is drastic: “let us make a covenant with our God to send away all these wives and their children.” (10:3)  This is not just a concept to be executed later, but now: “Take action, for it is your duty, and we are with you; be strong, and do it.” (10:4) Families are about to be torn apart. This is one of those places where I would probably compromise, but Ezra will not.

Romans 1:26–2:4: This is one of those hard passages where Paul condemns sexual immorality. One of them is homosexuality: “Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” (1:27) It’s worth noting that it’s not just the men: “women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural,” (26) But Paul’s arc here does not stop with homosexuality. Rather, I think he sees it as an unnatural act that has severe consequences because at its heart it’s a failure to acknowledge God as master and the beginning of the inevitable slippery slope down into practices that comprise Paul’s first (of many) long list of wrongdoing: “They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” (29-31).

How quick we have been to condemn the homosexual perosn without admitting ourselves that we, too, are full of those same sins. Paul makes it clear that we are hypocrites: “you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” (2:1).  So, to those who condemn homosexual acts and then stop, read on, as Paul nails pious self-righteous sinners as well: “You say“We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth. Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God?” (2:2,3) In short, “hypocrite, heal thyself.”

I think Paul’s real concern is that when we become occupied in wrongdoing we are”despis[ing] the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience.” Our focus is in completely the wrong place because we forget the crucial reality that we “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” (2:4) God has kindly given us free will. But the best and highest use of that will is to choose God, not wrongdoing.

Speak Your Mind