Bible reading for September 29 -- 30
Sept 29 -- Ezekiel 32 and Psalm 80
Sept 30 -- Ezekiel 33 and Psalms 81-82
"Son of man, wail over the multitude of Egypt, and send them down, her and the daughters of majestic nations, to the world below, to those who have gone down to the pit: 'Whom do you surpass in beauty? Go down and be laid to rest with the uncircumcised.'" (Ezekiel 32:18-19)
ONCE MAJESTIC NATIONS (ch 32). As I am writing this, workers in our backyard are taking down a large tree, a beautiful ash, which has been dying from the emerald ash borer infestation. In the Bible empires and kingdoms are compared to large trees which provide beauty, shade, food, and shelter for God's creatures (cf 17:23). But these same trees can become proud, diseased, weak, and rotten, and so must be taken down. The previous chapter contains a lament for the mighty empire of Egypt. With irony (and personification) it is written that the trees of Eden "envied" this great tree of Egypt. (Note: the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Joel all speak of the historical reality of the garden of Eden -- Isa 51:3; Ezek 18:13; 31:8-9, 16, 18; Joel 2:3.) By every account Egypt (like Babylon) was a magnificent empire. But such great and majestic empires can, like a stately but diseased tree, become rotten in their core. In this chapter we read that there are many great kingdoms (like Assyria, Elam, Edom, and Sidon) that also have fallen into the grave. It's against this background that Christ's kingdom is described: "The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches" (Matt 13:31-32). His kingdom is eternal, glorious, and life-giving. It is only in Jesus that human glory will finally be realized. Jesus Christ, reigning in his kingdom, is the true glory of man.
WORDS OF WARNING (ch 33). Through my years in the pastorate I always found it much easier to encourage people than to warn or reprove them. I've not wanted to make people feel judged or condemned by what I said. But Paul wrote to Timothy, "...preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (2 Tim 4:2; cf Gal 5:21; Col 1:28). "Reprove" and "rebuke" are right there, up front. If we are concerned for the life and health of those within our sphere of care -- whether spouses, parents, children, fellow church members, or neighbors -- we must speak out regarding those things which would destroy them. Being a watchman like Ezekiel (33:2, 6, 7) is not the same thing as being hyper-critical about non-essential issues or quarreling over matters of opinion. It is about life and death. We must remember that Satan is a thief who steals, kills, and destroys people (John 10:10), and God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked (33:11; cf 18:23, 32). We may not be able to turn everyone to the Lord, but we must not be silent and hardhearted toward those around us who are going heedlessly to their destruction.
"Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!" (Psalm 80:3)
RESTORE US, O LORD (Ps 80). Several of Asaph's psalms (e.g., 74, 77, and 79) are called "laments of the community", including this one. Many of David's laments are individual, regarding his reign as king of Israel, but these psalms express sorrow for the condition of God's people at the time of writing. Three times Asaph uses the phrase, "restore us" (vv 3, 7, 19). This word means to bring something back to its proper condition, its place, its glory, or its rightful position. It is also used in the sense of, revive or recover. We all love seeing old homes renovated, old cars restored, and old works of art being returned to their first beauty. The psalmist longs for Israel to be restored to her first glory and to become what God has called her to be. Asaph asks the Lord himself to turn back (another form of the word) to the people (v 15) in order to do this.
LISTEN UP (Ps 81). Asaph tells us that God removed the heavy burden of slavery from upon his people (81:6), and that he answered their prayers (v 7). But what about Meribah, which was a place of difficulty and testing (v 7; cf Ex 17:7)? Sometimes it's hard for us to hold together God's goodness and his discipline. Hebrews 12 helps with the answer: God is our Father who not only gives and provides, but who also trains and disciplines. He does this not as a disinterested coach but as a loving Father. He "disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness" (Heb 12:6). He deals with us not merely in terms of our present good but for our future glory. So, God is not stingy at all. We should not be unbelieving and stubborn just because we have to go through difficult trials. We need to listen to God's promises: "Open your mouth wide and I will fill it" (v 10), and "he would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you" (v 16). We should trust God's wisdom and timing in all of this, but we should never stop seeking and trusting him (Matt 7:7-11).
THE GODS WHO DIE (Ps 82). The judges of Israel were sometimes called "gods" ('elohim, or "God") because they were to stand for the Lord in the exercise of justice in the land (Deut 1:17, see above). They had the power of life and death in their judgments. But when they became unfair and uncaring, God would judge them. If the justices walk in darkness (moral ignorance) then the very foundations of society -- any society -- are shaken (v 5). Pray that our nation's courts will exercise true justice. Pray that Christ's churches would exercise a just leadership, a care for the vulnerable, and proper discipline over all.
Image credit: my photo of the work being done in my yard by Extreme Tree Service, an excellent company. About this newsletter: I'm Sandy Young, and I post three times a week on my Bible reading, following the Robert Murray M'Cheyne (RMM) two-year reading schedule, as arranged by D. A. Carson. Subscribe for email at Buttondown.email/Sandy. Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. A very helpful resource is the NET Bible with its excellent notes at netbible.org.
Bible reading for September 29 -- 30