Friday, November 17, 2017

November 17: Ezekiel 35 – 36; Psalm 116; Proverbs 27:23-27; James 1:1-18



Overview

            Ezekiel: Ezekiel is told to prophecy against Mount Seir. The Lord will destroy all its cities because they loved to kill the people of Israel even when they were fleeing from their time of punishment. The people of Mount Seir will be wiped out with bloodshed because they loved bloodshed. They thought they would be able to take over Israel and Judah because they were laid waste. The Lord heard it and the earth will be glad when he wipes our Mount Seir just as Mount Seir rejoiced over Israel’s downfall. Edom will also be punished and they will all know the he is the Lord.
            The Lord told Ezekiel to prophecy to the mountains of Israel. The nations around them thought they could take possession of the land that the Lord made desolate. The Lord is jealous for the land, so he will make a reproach of those nations who think they can swoop in and take the land. But the mountains of Israel will once again be inhabited by Israel. They will multiply both in people and animals. They will till the ground and it will be prosperous. The land will no longer devour the people and the land will no longer be a reproach among the nations then they will know God is the Lord.
            Israel will be restored but it will be because the Lord will act for his name’s sake. They profaned his name, but he will bring them back and clean them from their sins so that the nations will know he is the Lord. He will give them a new heart and spirit instead of heart of stone. They will be obedient and live in the land. They will have plenty as he makes them prosperous. They will remember their evil and be ashamed. He will do this for his name’s sake, not theirs.
            When this happens, the nations around them will observe their prosperity and the desolate cities that will be inhabited and fortified. The nations will know that he is God. He is the one who has rebuilt them. He will let the people of Israel ask him to increase their people like flocks. Then they will know he is the Lord.
            Psalm: The Psalmist says he loves the Lord and then explains why. He was about to die when he called on the Lord and he was saved from his suffering. The Lord is righteous and merciful, he takes care of simpletons and those brought low. The Lord delivered him from death, tears, and stumbling. He walks in the land of the living. He recognizes that everyone is a liar and there is no way he can repay the Lord. However, he will proclaim salvation and pay his vows. Even if he were to die, he is still in the Lord’s hand and he cares deeply when a saint dies. His bonds ae loosed and he will publicly thank the lord with sacrifice and vows.
            Proverbs: Make sure you pay attention to what the Lord has given to you and manage it well. It doesn’t last forever. That includes the land because from it comes all the food and clothing that we need. Pay attention to it and you will have enough for our household.
            James: James is writing as servant of the Lord to the Jews who have been dispersed among the nations by persecution. His message is to consider all the problems we face as joy. This is because they are used to make us more godly people. If we don’t have any wisdom in how to handle trials, we should ask God in faith because he will answer generously. If we are skeptical doubters, then we shouldn’t think God will answer us.
            Lowly people should boast that God exalts them and rich people should boast that God humbles them. We are all like grass that disappears quickly. Rich people disappear just as fast even while pursing riches.
            The person who is blessed stands firm during trials. Afterward he will get the crown of life God has promised to everyone who loves him.
            God doesn’t tempt people to sin. We are tempted by our own evil desires that drag us into sin. It all grows and gets worse until sin leads to death.
            We must remember that all good things come from God the Father who doesn’t ever change. He is the one who saved us by his word of truth to be the firstfuits of his creation.

What Stood Out

            Ezekiel: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezek 36:27).
            Psalm: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Ps 116:15).
            Proverbs: “Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds” (Prov 27:23).
            James: “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4 NASU).

Insight

            Ezekiel: When it comes down to the facts of life, we can’t be obedient to God and walk in his ways until he puts his Holy Spirit in us. The people of Israel had the Law and they continually disobeyed it, repented, disobeyed, repented, repeat, repeat. Where are they today? They are still in the same condition. While many Jews are coming to Jesus for salvation, the nation of Israel is still predominantly secular or trusting in a form of Judaism that can’t save them. The Lord promised again that he would give them a new heart and put his Spirit in them, so we know there is more to come.
            We can look at the nation of Israel today and see that it is flourishing in much the same way that today’s prophecy describes. They are turning the land into a fruitful nation. The population is steadily increasing (2 million in 1960 to 8.5 million in 2016). But, for the most part, they don’t know the Lord. We know that even in this prophecy, it isn’t near the full restoration of Israel. We learned earlier that they will be a time when they will dwell securely (Ezek 28:26) and Zechariah 2:4-5 says that the villages will be without walls. This prophecy seems to disrupt that idea because they have the Holy Spirit when still living in fortified cities. I always find it intriguing to find little anomalies in what people think is the timeline for the end times.
            What is most important in today’s reading is not when Israel gets saved, but who is doing it and why. The Lord is giving them a new heart and his Spirit. They are getting restored by God’s power, not their own. This is all to show the nations that God is the Lord. He is doing it to bring glory to himself, the glory that the rebellious nation (and us) has tarnished with idolatry and wickedness. When we get saved, it is primarily to bring glory to God. It is only God who can take dirty rotten sinners and make them his holy people. That is when others will know that he is the Lord.
            Psalm: I’m sure the Psalmist was speaking primarily about salvation from physical death. However, this Psalm also has the metaphorical application to eternal salvation and life. The Lord preserves the simple from stumbling (sin). That all men are liars speaks to our need to admit our sin and come to Jesus in faith rather than in our own righteousness. When he asks, what can he give back to the Lord for his salvation, we can see that our salvation is not based on our merit. It is only on God’s mercy and nothing from ourselves. Our lives are precious to the Lord, but eventually we must all die. Our death is the door way to eternity. While it doesn’t seem to be a good thing, we can only follow Jesus through that door and it makes our death precious to the Lord.
            Proverbs: I don’t claim to be a tree-hugging environmentalist primarily because they elevate nature to the level of a god. However, what many of them want is the same thing I want. They want us to treat the environment with respect. I want to do that also. Environmentalists want to protect the environment for its own sake. They think it is more important than people. That is where our ideologies diverge. The reason I want to do it is because it belongs to God and he has made us responsible for it. When we treat it well and pay attention to it, it produces good food, clothing, and shelter for us. When we don’t, it produces little or polluted food, air, and water.
            James: The beginning of James’ letter should be familiar to all Christians, especially verse 2-4 and 13-15. They both deal with trials but of different kinds. The first is apparently physical, emotional, financial, or other trials that happen to us simply because the world is broken. James tells us what our attitude toward them should be. We must have an attitude that any trial should be considered joy. He doesn’t say trials will feel joyful but that is the way we should approach them. This is a decision to act with joy instead of bitterness, anger, frustration, or any other negativity. We need to make up our minds to do this. It doesn’t come naturally and the only way we can do it is by the power of the Holy Spirit living in us as we obey this instruction. James does give the reason and that is because the trials will develop a godlier character. However, it will not happen automatically. We must let it happen. We must let endurance finish its work. We can’t seek to avoid every hardship just because we don’t like difficulties. Maybe we should stop praying for relief from some situations and let them work in us to become more Christlike.
            The other verses, 13-15 deal with trials of a moral nature. These are temptations to sin. The first thing to note is that God doesn’t send these. Obviously, as we read through the Old Testament, God did a lot of things as punishment and testing. But he never intends for these things to bring about sinful behavior. James clearly put that on us. We may react incorrectly to trials or we may simply want something that God has said is sinful. Either way, we can’t blame God. When we are tempted, we don’t have to be dragged away into sin. If we have been letting other trials build up our character, we will more easily recognize that the temptation is there because we have idols in our heart that are pulling us toward sin. We must remember that when Paul said God would not let us be tempted beyond our ability resist, but he would provide a way out of it (1 Cor 10:13), we have to make the decision to take the way out.

Application

             I want to be alert to temptations so that I won’t be dragged into sin. One way is to make sure I don’t complain about trials. Rather, I need to see them as helping me develop a Christlike character. When that happens, I can approach them with joy.

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