Psalm 119:129–136; Ezekiel 38:7–39:13; 2 Peter 1:1–11

Psalm 119:129–136: The theme of this long psalm is unchanging: the psalmist rejoices in God’s word; it guides him and those who do not follow God’s word are enemies and are lost. But each section always reveals a new facet. Which also tells us that as for the psalmist, God’s word for us is always fresh and there is something new to be revealed and grasped each time we come back to it.

Here, the verse, “The portal of Your words send forth light,/ makes the simple understand,” (130) is a fresh image and reveals a new aspect of God’s word. The image is striking. The psalmist imagines that God’s greatness and knowledge–his word–is contained in a room with a door. He stands outside the door and as he cracks it open, which would be studying Scripture, God’s word pours forth out as the light of a brightly lit room would light the outside darkness. Which is exactly how it is for me. Until I open that door, deeper understanding and knowledge of who God is and what he has done for me through the gift of Jesus Christ remains hidden. And I remain in the dark.

But right behind that door is light that “makes the simple understand.” God may be ultimately unknowable, but his word is for everyone, no matter what their intellectual capacity. We do not need to be scholars to understand the simple nature of God’s gift. Which for us of course is even grater than for the psalmist: it is that God sent his Word through the portal of heaven to bring light to every human. The Gospel message my be unexpected and its depths cannot be plumbed by the human mind. But it is a simple, saving message that every human heart can come to know and experience.

Ezekiel 38:1–39:13: This controversial chapter describes a great battle to come at some unspecified time in the future. Israel will be invaded by “Persia, Ethiopia, and Put are with them, all of them with buckler and helmet; Gomer and all its troops; Beth-togarmah from the remotest parts of the north with all its troops.” (38:5,6) These armies will be led by “Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.” In short, an invasion by many armies led by an army from the north.When the invasion comes, Israel will appear to be at peace: “On that day when my people Israel are living securely, you will rouse yourself  and come from your place out of the remotest parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great horde, a mighty army.” (38:15, 16)

Gog of Magog surfaces again in Revelation 20 as the head of a mighty army. Therefore many people assume the Ezekiel prophecy refers to the end of history. During the Cold War there was speculation that God would come out of Russia since the prophecy is specific about an invasion from the north. And that the battle will occur during the Tribulation period, which many believe to be the 70 weeks described in Daniel. (We’ll see when we get there.) Today, I would not be surprised if there is speculation that Gog is Iran (Persia). Things seem quite unclear to me and I side with those who believe the OT Gog is not the same person as the Revelation Gog.

The battle itself is pretty horrific since God himself enters the fray in an amplified reprise of the plagues that came to Egypt long ago: “ I will summon the sword against Gog in all my mountains, says the LordGod; the swords of all will be against their comrades. With pestilence and bloodshed I will enter into judgment with him; and I will pour down torrential rains and hailstones, fire and sulfur, upon him and his troops and the many peoples that are with him.” (38:21, 22) There are so many corpses that it takes 7 months to bury them all. (39:12) I imagine there are those who have interpreted these verses as nuclear war.

Here in Ezekiel, Israel triumphs over all these armies because the nation is fully prepared for battle and is victorious. We could make much of parallels to modern Israel, but I think the dangers of over-interpretation are just great. What I take away is that regardless of the battle, regardless of the enemy, God will triumph in the end. So, I think I will just leave it at that…

2 Peter 1:1–11: The themes of Peter’s second epistle appear similar to the first: how to live a Christian life that includes substantial suffering, while surrounded by a world of corruption and evil. For Peter, being Christian is to be lifted out of that evil to live a far better far richer life: “so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.” (4)

But to live that way does not come automatically. It requires intense participation on our part. To help us do that, Peter provides a very Pauline-like hierarchal list, where real love ultimately grows out of faith. But it’s not just as simple as “if you have faith, you’ll have love for your neighbor.” Rather, he says, “you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual  affection, and mutual affection with love.” (5-7). There’s a very clear order here: faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, affection, and finally, love. 

For me, these are the essential ingredients of the Christian life. faith is foundational, but it does not automatically create a “good Christian.” Jesus has come to us in grace. We are indeed saved through faith, but then there’s lots of work to be done on our part. As the psalmist would tell us: we must seek knowledge and open the door out of which God’s word pours like light into the darkness. Without self-control we cannot endure suffering. I think in modern terms we would characterize this as loving and valuing ourselves even when times are tough. Out of patience endurance and self-respect come a godliness that takes us out of ourselves and into true affection for others. And the honest love of “love your neighbors” finally arises out of that mutual affection.

Peter has made faith so much greater than a mere intellectual exercise. Faith is the basis of everything about our lives–how we see ourselves and how we treat–and love–those around us.

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