Psalm 119:169–176; Ezekiel 43:22–44:27; 2 Peter 3:14–1 John 1:4

Psalm 119:169–176: We come (at last!) to the final eight verses of this psalm that has celebrated God’s word, law, precepts, decrees, utterances, and statutes in every conceivable manner.

Once again we see the priority of speech as the psalmist imagines a spoken conversation between God and himself. The psalmist comes before God in humility as he speaks: “Let my supplication come before You” (170a) in anticipation of God’s reply: “as befits Your utterance save me.” (170b). Supplication becomes worship, but as is always the case in this psalm, gratitude circles around one thing only: “Let my lips utter praise,/ for You taught me Your statutes.” (171) His worship is literally speaking God’s law: “Let my tongue speak out Your utterance,/ for all Your commands are just.” (172)

From worship he returns to supplication but again with the singular justification that having followed God’s law he is in relationship with God: “May Your hand become my help,/ for Your decrees I have chosen.” (173) Indeed, God’s law appears to be the sole source of his pleasure: “I desired Your rescue, O Lord,/ and Your teaching is my delight.” (174) In the final verse we see humility but as has always been the case, a reminder that he has followed God’s law to the letter: “I have wandered like a lost sheep./ Seek Your servant, for Your commands I did not forget.” (176)

As we have remarked many times through these reflections this psalm is at once praise for Gd’s law and its many benefits that it brings. But is is also constricted. One finishes the psalm with the feeling that this singular focus on knowing and following God’s law also means that much about life has been missed. As a child of the New Covenant I have come to realize, that in the end, a relationship with God is founded on love, not just the law. And that in the person of Jesus Christ I have experienced grace, not just endless obedience in the hope that God will hear me.

Ezekiel 43:22–44:27: In a reprise of Leviticus, Ezekiel receives specific instructions about the nature of the sacrifices to be made on this giant altar. We learn that there is one gate of the temple that “shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it; for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut.” (44:2)  It is reserved. “ Only the prince, because he is a prince, may sit in it to eat food before theLord; he shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gate, and shall go out by the same way.” (44:3) From our New Covenental perspective I wonder if this is a presaging for the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. As I recall, the east gate of Temple Mount (or what was the east gate) remains shut to this day.

Then tehre seems to be a dilemmas about who the priests of this temple will be. First, “No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and flesh… shall enter my sanctuary.” (44:9) But the Levites, the priestly clan aren’t qualified either: “the Levites who went far from me, going astray from me after their idols when Israel went astray, shall bear their punishment.” (44:10) because “they ministered to them before their idols and made the house of Israel stumble into iniquity,” (44:12). Nevertheless, absent an alternative, they become the administrators and custodians: “Yet I will appoint them to keep charge of the temple, to do all its chores, all that is to be done in it.” (44:14)

But who will be qualified to go before God into the Holy of Holies?  Happily, there is one family of Levites that has been faithful: “the levitical priests, the descendants of Zadok, who kept the charge of my sanctuary when the people of Israel went astray from me, shall come near to me to minister to me.” (44:15) They are the only ones who can approach God: “ It is they who shall enter my sanctuary, it is they who shall approach my table, to minister to me, and they shall keep my charge.” (44:16). They will be teachers–“They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.” (44:23)– and judges: “In a controversy they shall act as judges, and they shall decide it according to my judgments. They shall keep my laws and my statutes regarding all my appointed festivals, and they shall keep my sabbaths holy.” (44:24)

For us Christians, this presages the reality that in the end, Jesus is the only one qualified to go before God, and who himself becomes the sacrifice. That one sacrifice eliminates not only the need for a temple, but all of its complexities about who is clean enough to come before God. Here, Zadok’s family was qualified, but it’s clear that God faces a dilemma about the sacrificial system in that so few are qualified to come before him. What happens if Zadok’s family dies out?

We have a hint in this chapter that God must be thinking at a new type of Covenant is going to be required. And of course it turns out that the super-temple envisioned here in Ezekiel is superfluous. The sacrifice of his only son does it all in one fell swoop.

2 Peter 3:14–1 John 1:4: In one few places outside Acts we have evidence that Peter and Paul have resolved their argument: “So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters.” (3:15, 16)  Peter points out that “There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.” (16b) He must have been referring to Romans that was as confusing to members of the early church as it they are to us!

Peter’s final words are an encouragement that have rung down through the ages to us right here: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (18)

I like how the Moravians have concatenated the end of Peter and the beginning of 1 John. It’s as if we are in the room with Peter and John. Peter has ceased speaking, sits down and now John stands up to address us…

John, as in his eponymous Gospel, opens at pre-history: “We declare to you what was from the beginning.” But now he reminds us of his bona fides as a witness of all these events: “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—” (2) almost as if he is in a court of law: “this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us” (2)

John is compelled to write what he has witnessed. Not our of duty, but in that famous line, “We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (4)

Which is also a reason I write these reflections day in and day out. They are not a duty, but a source of joy.

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