Psalm 119:33–40; Ezekiel 23:28–24:8; James 3:13–4:6

Psalm 119:33–40: The overriding theme of this long psalm is the desire of the psalmist to be instructed in the law and to be guided by God because that is where the pleasure in life arises: “Instruct me, Lord, in the way of Your statutes,/ that I may keep it without fail.” (33) and “Guide me on the track of Your commands,/ for in it I delight.” (35)

So, if we descend a level of abstraction, just what does it mean to be “instructed” or “guided” by God? Like me, sitting here reading Scripture, is it a question of being alone in one’s study, reading and gaining new insight on one’s own? Is being guided by God strictly a one-on-One activity–just God and me? Or are we as individuals guided or instructed through the words and actions of others? Will I gain more instruction  and “insight that I may keep Your teaching” (34a) from God sitting here at my desk reading, or will I benefit from the wisdom of others? Should I read books about the Bible or just the Bible itself? Will I get more out of a Bible study with others or just wait here for the Holy Spirit to descend and give me those “Aha!” moments?

For me–and I think for most others–insight comes in a variety of ways. Certainly solitary study has been enormously productive for me in terms of the discipline of reading and writing about the Bible without aid of commentaries. Which is what “musing” is about. But there’s no question that listening to sermons or having group discussions such as those I enjoy at Hubcaps on Friday mornings brings insights, as well.

The psalmist says, “Through Your ways give me life.” (37b) And I think the key is to be open and accepting of God’s many “ways,” which certainly includes the wisdom and insights of other people. But there’s also no question that for me, sitting alone most mornings at my desk and reading and reflecting is a rich source of insight and hearing God’s “utterance, which is for those who fear You.” (38)

Ezekiel 23:28–24:8: The prophecy concerning Oholah and Oholibah just keeps getting grimmer as the metaphor of Israel and Judah as whoring sisters grinds to its woeful conclusion. The other countries, who are the metaphorical johns, lead Oholibah–Judah–to its bitter end and they “shall deal with you in hatred, and take away all the fruit of your labor, and leave you naked and bare, and the nakedness of your whorings shall be exposed….because you played the whore with the nations, and polluted yourself with their idols.” (23:29, 30)

The greatest sin is not to have played the whore by adopting the idolatrous and sinful practices of the nations around them. That was bad enough, but the greatest sin is to have committed adultery against God, “and blood is on their hands; with their idols they have committed adultery” including the most despicable possible act of idolatry, child sacrifice: “they have even offered up to them for food the children whom they had borne to me.” (23:37) Worse, they pretended to still be faithful to God: “when they had slaughtered their children for their idols, on the same day they came into my sanctuary to profane it.” (23:39)

God’s judgement against the whores follows Levitical law: “The assembly shall stone them and with their swords they shall cut them down; they shall kill their sons and their daughters, and burn up their houses. ” (23:47) and Judah “shall bear the penalty for your sinful idolatry; and you shall know that I am the Lord God.” (23:49)

We often castigate the OT God as harsh and unforgiving, but I think we must consider the magnitude of Israel’s and Judah’s sins. This is not casual idolatry, but children are being sacrificed to false gods. In terms of “eye for an eye” Judah and Israel received exactly what they deserved.

On “the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, the word of theLord came to me” (24:1). It is “this day, this very day. The king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day.” (24:2) And Ezekiel is commanded to “utter an allegory to the rebellious house ” (24:3).

The allegory is a boiling pot, which once was useful for making lamb stew: “Take the choicest one of the flock,/ pile the logs  under it;/ boil its pieces, / seethe also its bones in it.” (24:5).  I take this to be the time that Israel and Judah followed God’s law and the pot represents the kingdom of Israel as it followed God in the days of David and Solomon.  But through the adultery of Judah the pot has become rusty and useless: “Woe to the bloody city,/ the pot whose rust is in it,/ whose rust has not gone out of it!” (24:6) and “the blood she shed is inside it;” (24:7). The blood is emptied out and “to take vengeance,/ I [God] have placed the blood she shed/ on a bare rock,/ so that it may not be covered.” (24:8).

The pot would be the very civilization of Israel and Judah itself and the blood poured out is the punishment to come. Judah will lose everything and its blood will be shed on the rock, in the wilderness. The people who heard this prophecy could not have missed its woeful meaning as the army of Babylon stood camped outside the gates of Jerusalem.

James 3:13–4:6: James sets up the dichotomy of two kinds of wisdom. One is to demonstrate it and “Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.” (3:13). The other “wisdom” is “if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth.” (14). So, it’s clear that for James, wisdom does not come from ourselves our our own knowledge, but from acts of selfless love that are inspired by God.

In fact, he defines godly wisdom quite precisely: “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” (3:17) The phrase that jumps off the page for me is “willing to yield.” I think demanding “our way or the highway” has led to more discord and conflict–especially in the church–than any other cause. For James, wisdom cannot arise from getting our own way.

I think James could rightly be called the patron saint of the therapeutic community because he gets exactly what is going on inside people: ” Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?” (4:1) If our desires come from our head and not our heart, it’s suspect.

He also parses what Jesus meant about asking and receiving, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.” (4:3) In other words, asking and receiving is a question of the heart, not the mind. If we are in tune with the Holy Spirit then what we ask for will be received. I’m pretty sure that those who preach the “prosperity gospel” have not read this chapter lately.

James make it crystal clear: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (4:4). In other words, God does not bestow mansions, fast cars and planes because that’s how someone is blessed by God. Instead, ““God opposes the proud,/ but gives grace to the humble.” (4:6) Would that we would remember that in our relationships with fellow Christians and in our relation ship as “resident aliens” in the world itself.

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