Psalm 123; Ezekiel 48:23–Daniel 1:21; 1 John 3:1–10

Psalm 123: This short psalm of supplication brims with poignance. First, the image of slaves looking up beseeching their masters: “Look, like the eyes of slaves to their masters.” (2a) forces us to acknowledge that slaves were human beings. [One wonders how slaveowners glided over the verses without a second thought.] The second line evokes a much deeper one-to-one intimacy: “Look, like the eyes of a slavegirl to her mistress,” (2b). With this image in our mind we are almost surprised by the next line that so clearly describes the relationship between God our master and we his slaves: “so are our eyes to the Lord our God/ until he grants us grace.” (2c)

The central plea of the slam is “Grant us grace, Lord, grant us grace, for we are sorely sated with scorn.” (3) Here, I believe “grace” is not so much the theological definition of “unmerited favor” but simple relief from the present dreadful situation. Like slaves, the supplicants are seen by their superiors as worthless, less than human, “sated with scorn.”

The last verse drives home this sense of the hopelessness of a slave enduring the unendurable: “Sorely has our being been sated/ with the contempt of the smug,/ the scorn of the haughty.” (4) It’s worth noting that the suffering is caused by an attitude of smug and scornful superiority, not a specific action such as slander. I think the challenge of this psalm is that we need to reflect on it from the point of view of the haughty, not of the slaves, because that is too often our own attitude. How many people have I made feel slave-like because of smug superiority. Even to the point where I have made them feel worthless, driven to pray to God for relief?

Ezekiel 48:23–Daniel 1:21: Ezekiel’s grand description of the new and Restored Israel outlines the specific apportioning of land to the twelve tribes and finally to the city at the center of this new nation. [Surely John, as he wrote Revelation, was deeply aware of this city, which is far grander than even Ezekiel’s and not built with human hands.]

The last verse of this remarkable book finally reveals the name of this enormous city and it is not Jerusalem. “And the name of the city from that time on shall be, The Lord is There.” (48:35). Which to me, is the theme of the book: God is indeed “there,” but only if, like Israel, we would turn away from our self-centeredness and sins and realize that God is standing right there, ready to receive us into his arms.

The shift from the dream-like yet highly detailed descriptions that comprise the last chapters of Ezekiel to the crystalline history of the opening of the book of Daniel is abrupt. Like a good journalist, our author [Daniel? I’m skeptical about that] uses the very first verse to give us the when, “the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah;” the who, “King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon;” and the what, “came to Jerusalem and besieged it. The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into his power,” (1, 2a) The remainder of the book will be devoted to the “why.”

The scene shifts to Babylon and we are introduced to four remarkable people, “ Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace.” (4) Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “from the tribe of Judah,” (6) are smart, handsome, skilled. Nebuchadnezzar has clearly chosen well. (And leads me to believe this book’s author was also form Judah.)

Daniel (and I presume the others) “resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine.” Daniel asks the palace master to be allowed the heathy vegetarian diet and water instead of wine  rather than the “royal rations of food and wine.” And after a ten day trial, “it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations.” (15) This raises two observations. First, this is the great biblical example of the benefits of a healthy diet. Second, notice that it is better to be “fatter than all the young men.”

The four young men are not only more physically fit than their peers, they are smarter and wiser because “God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom; Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams.” (17) After three years they are “stationed in the king’s court. [and] In every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them.”  (20) Our author has clearly established their superiority in every way. The stage is set for the exciting dramas to come.

1 John 3:1–10: John holds out an exciting promise as he continues his essay about how the end is very near. The most important thing to remember, he is telling us is “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” (1) God’s love is the foundation, the root of everything.

And because “we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” All we know is that since we were created in the image of God, “when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” (2)  For me, that is a promise that when we see God it will be a grand “Aha” moment–something that we never imagined, yet at the same time something that is perfectly logical. It will be like coming out of a black and white world into vibrant color that we had never imagined possible.

But there is a big requirement here. This can happen only if we are children of God and not children of sin: “No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.” (6) Just to make sure we get his point, John repeats himself, “Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” (8a) But wait. Aren’t we all sinners? Does than mean we’re cut off from this great promise?

That’s where Jesus comes in: “The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” (8b) This is not just at the end of time, but through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is able to destroy the works of the devil. This is not just Jesus coming at the end of history, but how Jesus deals with our persistent daily sinning. We confess and are forgive one by one, one day at a time. That’s why confession is so urgently crucial.

We must always remember that without confession and forgiveness, “all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.” (10) I think this is a verse that could have led Martin Luther to say that we are baptized anew each day. Whatever it is, love is the basis of our life as children of God.


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