Psalm 37:34–40; Nehemiah 12:44–13:14; Romans 7:7–20

Psalm 37:34-40: For those who endeavor to “hope for the Lord and keep His way” (34a) this exercise is frustrating at best when we “have seen an arrogant wicked man/ taking root like a flourishing plant.” There are examples of the crooked and shady all around us becoming rich and famous, while those of us who toil honestly seem to miss the party.

Yes, there is the promise, “He passes on, and, look, he is gone,/ I seek him, and he is not found.” (36). And we see examples of fallen celebrities and powerful men going off to jail frequently. In the end, as my father used to say, ‘the chickens come home to roost.” Their fame and power is ephemeral.

What’s important here is that we are to “watch the blameless, look to the upright,/ for the man of peace has a future.” Things will turn out all right for us in the end because we trust in God. Because “the rescue of the just is from the Lord, / their stronghold in time of distress.”

But getting to that point of rescue does not mean we will escape suffering along the way. Too many people believe that if they become Christians that everything about their lives will become what they see the wicked enjoying around them. But we need only remember Jesus at Gethsemane and what followed. Rescue indeed came, and it comes for us. Although that can be very difficult to remember in times of suffering; the promise remains.

Nehemiah 12:44–13:14: The concluding verses of Nehemiah record how service in the temple resumes with the Levites in charge. Ashad happened in the past, the law is read aloud. As the people of Israel listen, they realize again that they are a people set apart. And in the theme of today’s psalm, Nehemiah writes, “our God turned the curse into a blessing.” (13:2) Israel has suffered, but by turning to God, curses become blessings.

This remarkable book ends more or less as it began: Nehemiah is the one man who demonstrates responsibility in following the law of God—and he takes the initiative. In his absence, the priest Eliashib has remodeled a storeroom where the various offerings of grain, wine and oil and other sacramental items had been stored in the temple into living quarters for a certain Tobiah. Moreover, “ I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them; so that the Levites and the singers, who had conducted the service, had gone back to their fields.” (13:10) Clearly, the temple is dedicated to one purpose and one purpose only: worshipping God.

So, once again, Nehemiah has to set things right and he appoints trustworthy men to oversee temple operations. Ever faithful, Nehemiah again prays, “Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for his service.” (13:14) As always, his focus as leader has been on God. Everything else he does and says flows from his faithfulness. Would that all my actions flow form my faith rather than my selfish motives.

 Romans 7:7–20: In this passage Paul is addressing those new Christians, probably Gentiles, who have said that the Law is not only an impediment to following Jesus Christ, but is itself sinful. Paul corrects this misconception in the strongest possible terms: “What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means!” No, the purpose of the Law is to identify sin: “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. (7) The Law itself “is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.” (12) Rather, it is we, whom the law has exposed as being hopelessly sinful, that are ultimately dead.

The law also exposes that if we are honest with ourselves, we will realize that we are creatures of inner conflict; “of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin,” (14) In one of the most famous verses in this book, Paul expresses the frustration and conflict created by our own sinful nature: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. “ (15)

The point is—and as the Scriptures demonstrate again and again—we cannot come to righteousness on our own. Our inherently sinful nature makes that impossible: “I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” (18)

On our own, we are cursed to “not do the good [we] want, but the evil I do not want is what [we] do.” (19). It is essential to recognize this grim reality of our human nature. People who believe they are inherently “good” simply have not examined themselves and their motivations carefully enough.

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