Psalm 119:73–80; Ezekiel 29:1–30:26; 1 Peter 1:13–25

Psalm 119:73–80: The psalmist acknowledges that he is God’s creature: “Your hands made me and set me firm,” (73a).  And as God’s creatures we are entitled to ask God for intellectual capacity: “Give me insight, that I may learn Your commands.” (73b).  I take “insight” to include not just the intelligence to understand what is going on at a deeper level, but also creativity.

In our current God-free society, many believe that intellect leading to insight–especially scientific insights–occur simply because that collection of neurons in our brains somehow coalesce in some semi-random fashion and cleverly deliver us those “Aha” discoveries. But I prefer to think that our ability to discover, to create, and to recognize and solve problems is a direct consequence of us having been created in God’s image. Unfortunately, that very imago deo can too easily lead us to believe that we are ourselves gods.

But our psalmist understands the relationship between Teacher and those who are taught. God is not only the source of our intellect, he is also the source of mercy: “May Your mercies befall me, that I may live,/ for Your teaching is my delight.” (76). I am grateful that God continues to give me a life that is free of cancer, for it is in this same time that I have come to the joy of studying and reflecting on God’s word through these daily readings. I have truly enjoyed God’s mercy so that I may delight in the teaching of his Word.

Ezekiel 29:13–30:26: In his ongoing tour of the kingdoms surrounding Israel and Judah, Ezekiel is commanded by God to prophesy against Egypt. Here, instead of condemning the wealth Tyre, God punishes Egypt for desecrating nature: “Because you said, “The Nile is mine, and I made it,” therefore, I am against you, and against your channels, and I will make the land of Egypt an utter waste and desolation.” (29: 9b, 10) with the warning that “it shall be uninhabited forty years.” (29:11) and “her cities shall be a desolation forty years among cities that are laid waste. I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations.” (29:11, 12) Sounds like it became a radioactive wasteland… But then, as God inevitably does, there is restoration: “At the end of forty years I will gather the Egyptians from the peoples among whom they were scattered.” (29:13) Although Egypt is restored, “It shall be the most lowly of the kingdoms, and never again exalt itself above the nations.” (29:15), which is true even to today.

Egypt is given over to Babylon: “I will give the land of Egypt to King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon; and he shall carry off its wealth and despoil it and plunder it; and it shall be the wages for his army” (29:19) with the interesting information that “ I have given him [Nebuchadrezzar] the land of Egypt as his payment for which he labored, because they worked for me, says the Lord God..” (29:20)

After this narrative description of Egypt’s fate, then a lamentation for Egypt: “A sword shall come upon Egypt,/ and anguish shall be in Ethiopia.” (30:4a) And Egypt will come to the same realization as Israel: “Thus I will execute acts of judgment on Egypt./ Then they shall know that I am the Lord.” (30:19) Ezekiel then gets personal, addressing the prophecy specifically to Pharaoh: “Therefore thus says the Lord God: I am against Pharaoh king of Egypt, and will break his arms, both the strong arm and the one that was broken; and I will make the sword fall from his hand.” (30:22)

So, what gives with these lengthy chapters about nations and kingdoms like Tyre and Egypt, Ammon and Moab, that were neighbors to Israel and Judah? Was Nebuchadrezzar actually aware that his conquering armies were allowed to do so by God? That Babylon became the instrument of God’s punishment? Or that Egypt come to desolation because it had dug irrigation channels? Or that Tyre’s economy was wrecked because God commanded it? My take is that this is actual history told from the point of view if a prophet, who saw God in every act of humans and even nature. From our 21st century perch it’s difficult to put ourselves in the ancient’s shoes who saw every event–especially disasters– as evidence a God-ordained cause. But we know that the connection between God and human actions were deeply intertwined in that world–and even more so in the mind of a prophet. For us, this is a valuable perspective on a God-filled world. The question arises: are we better off having pushed God out of our own world? Yes, we understand cause and effect in rational human and scientific terms. But I think we may have been too quick to dismiss God altogether in the affairs of his creation.

1 Peter 1:13–25: Every epistle in the NT seems to include the theme of the necessity of self-discipline, and Peter is no exception: “Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.” (13) As an inveterate intellectualizer, I particularly appreciate the idea of preparing our minds for action–a clear reminder that we must think before we act.

Peter also focuses on our transformed nature–not just the one to come in heaven–but in the hear and now in which we live: :You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.” (19, 20). And with that transformation comes real world responsibility: “that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.” (22). Notice that it is love–the greatest commandment– that is the evidence of that spiritual transformation here in the real world.

This is also why I prefer Peter to James. James may be theologically correct, but his commands lack the crucial context of love. For with Peter, the requirements of living the Christian life are suffused completely in love–and it is in love that we act. He reminds us of our new heritage born of that love: “You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed.” (23) And he takes that simple metaphor–imperishable seed–and recasts the passage from Isaiah 40 in a way that makes it even more beautiful than its original prophetic meaning:
   “The grass withers,
       and the flower falls,
    but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (25) 

Peter finishes with the piece d’resistance: “That word is the good news that was announced to you.” We have received God’s love through the Word that is Jesus Christ. How can we do anything other than to respond in love? Alas, we know all too well how to respond to each other in non-loving ways.


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