Posts Tagged With: Old Testament

Moving Beyond Mockery

Moving Beyond Mockery
Psalm 1

1 Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. 4 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

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Our American society revels in its ability to poke fun at itself and others.  We have a reputation as a sarcastic, condescending, and sneering culture.  From Stephen Colbert to Rush Limbaugh to South Park (with multiple sitcoms, celebrities, pundits, and bloggers wedged in between), we are a society that laughingly embraces mockery as if it was art.  But it’s not; far from it.

mockers

Mockers Mocking

Following in the genre of Wisdom Literature, Psalm 1 (the “Introduction” to the entire psalter) lays out two opposing choices: Sinfulness versus righteousness.  This contrasting between two options occurs often in the the Old Testament and is seen also in the New Testament.  Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount has a very strong Wisdom tone and structure to it as well, as it also begins the same way with “Blessed are…

Though the Bible often lays out these opposites of sinful -vs- righteous within its stories and lessons, scripture is not naive about the fuller complexity of human nature.  Look carefully at the venerated “heroes of the faith” (Heb.11) and you’ll find complicated humans who exemplify a messy mix of both good and bad;  Abraham with his lying, Moses with his murder, and David with his adultery prove that obvious point.

But even so, the Bible still sets forth the plumbline of righteousness to guide us.  Cue Psalm 1.

In Psalm 1:1, there is a fascinating ramp-up of evil:  It’s a threefold layer of sin beginning with a lingering “walk”, followed by stopping for a curious “stand”, and ending with a comfortable “sit”.  In that order God warns his people. And then in the verses that follow (vs.2-6), he lays out the good news within the construct of His righteous alternative.

1. PROBLEM: The Man-Centered Life.

Without God’s active intervention, each of us will gravitate towards living a life apart from God, centered on self.  We see this negative progression playing out in verse 1, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers”.  Notice the use of action verbs in this threefold evolution.

First, walking in the “counsel” (the Hebrew ‘etsah also translates as “advice”) of the wicked; actively listening to, and living according to, the guidance or opinion of those with man-centered philosophies that steer us away from the full life Christ offers. The psalmist continues.

Second, standing (the word ‘amad can have a militant tone; “remain, take a stand”) in the way of sinners.  This is the same word used of Ruth who stood firm in fields all day long gleaning grain (Rt 2:7).  Within this paradigm, the standing progresses beyond mere listening into joining in the chorus of evil; swaying others away from the pure path of God by our own example.  Again, the psalmist continues.

Third, sitting (yashab is also used of stubborn Jonah sitting in the shade; Jon. 4:5) in the seat of mockers.  The word for “seat”, mowshab, translates “dwelling place” and is also used in Ezekiel 34 to signify the location where the true good shepherd will bring his sheep (vs.13).  The word is used to describe a place of resting and remaining; a parking spot for the soul.

Mockery of Christ Duccio 1311

Mockery of Christ –Duccio 1311

To dig even deeper, we discover that this Hebrew word for mockers (also scoffers), lê·ṣîm, only appears in the Bible one time (here in Psalm 1), but that a variety of forms of the word appear elsewhere, rounding out our understanding:  In Job 16:20, Job’s friends are called scoffers and in one of the Proverbs (1:22), Wisdom personified cries out in the street, “How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?”.  Even more incriminating is elsewhere in Proverbs (14:9) where it translates,  “fools mock at the guilt offering” (NRS & ESV) or “fools mock at making amends for sin” (NIV).

The progression of sin is easy to see.  It begins with being open to, listening to, and letting bad advice (contrary to God’s Word and ways) shape our thinking.  Then it transitions into more of an active participation.  And lastly, it settles comfortably into the place of mocking at righteousness; even mocking at the need for God and the guilt offering that Christ provides on the cross.

2. SOLUTION: The God-Centered Life.

There are many etymological tidbits related to the word roots and usages in this Psalm, but let’s not lose the forest for all those trees.  The solution to the problem of verse 1 is found in the verses immediately afterwards and it’s all about prayerfully and humbly letting the Word of Christ (the scriptures) transform us from the inside out, by the power of His Holy Spirit.

Notice the significance that the three-fold problem of verse 1 are all action verbs, yet the righteous alternative that follows are all cognitive or being verbs.  This because the solution is not something we do, but something that’s done to us, that we allow to refocus our lives. Not a passive “being”, but an active “being”.

First, one who becomes blessed is one who delights in the law of the LORD (vs.2).  Here “law” (elsewhere, “law and prophets”) is a synecdoche, a part standing in for the entire whole, and signifies the entire scriptures.  The psalmist here isn’t suggesting a delight or pleasure in the Ten Commandments, per se (though that is part of it), but in the full revelation of God across the entire Old Testament.  Also, the strong case can be made to include that which was to be encapsulated in future writings (the coming prophets along with the gospels and epistles, the New Testament).

Second, he/she is also described as one who meditates on the scriptures day and night (vs.2).  The Hebrew hagah, translates as “moan, meditate, speak, and imagine”. This isn’t describing brief and shallow morning devotions, but a deep and ongoing relationship with the Word of God.  There is a purposeful, vocal, and creative element here; engaging the many senses and the fullness of thought. Much like in Joshua 1:8, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success”. A continuous cognition of and transformation by His Word.

Van Gogh: Les Alpilles avec Olive Trees 1889

Van Gogh: Les Alpilles avec Olive Trees 1889

Third, he/she is compared to a “tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither” (vs.3). The word “planted” (shathal) means to be deliberately transplanted.  That the tree is there by the water is not by accident.  See also Psalm 92:13, “planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God”.  When we are delighting and meditating on the Word, we are like trees that drink in deeply of the streams (notice the plural) of living water, referring forward to Christ himself (John 7:38, Rev 7:17).  In and through us He yields His good fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) to bless all of his creation.

That the leaf doesn’t wither (vs.3) speaks to the constancy, consistency, and reliable growth of a garden.  If the proper nutrients are present (sun, rain, soil), the plant will organically grow and bear fruit.  And there’s an intimation of quietness and longevity as well: We don’t hear or see a tree grow when we are watching it; but rather we see the growth in retrospect over the passing of time. This because the LORD himself (vs.6) is the master gardener who directs the spiritual health and growth of all his plantings.

In case we miss the obvious, the psalmist is ultimately pointing forward to Jesus Christ himself.  Jesus is both the complete fulfillment of the “law” of God and He is the living stream(s) of water which flow from God.

As followers of Christ, we too become truly blessed when we allow His Spirit to transform us beyond the progressing paradigm of the default man-centered life (manifested by mockery) and towards the refreshing and refreshed God-centered life which is only found in Jesus Christ.

#Wade

[the end]

NOTE: Lectionary Calendar for July 11:  “Benedict of Nursia” (Abbot of Monte Cassino c.540)

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Categories: Blessed Life, Devotional, Living Water, Psalms, Sermon On The Mount | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lord Is Our Good Shepherd

Ezekiel 34:11-16 11 For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

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People have mistakenly tried to construct a false dichotomy between a wrathful Old Testament God who judges and a loving New Testament God who saves, but that thinking is revealed as flawed in multiple places. Case in point: This chapter 34 of Ezekiel.

In the context of this prophetical book, pronouncing judgment upon sin, we encounter here in this chapter astonishing imagery describing our Lord shepherding his flock with compassion. So it becomes obvious again that God has revealed his depth of character in a profound “both-and” way. He is both sovereign Lord who provides justice AND he is also nurturing shepherd who loves tenderly.

Prophet Ezekiel

Prophet Ezekiel

The prophet-priest Ezekiel was called by God during Israel’s history right around the time of the Babylonian exile of 597 BC when Nebuchadnezzar swept through and destroyed all of Jerusalem including the Temple; the center of religious ritual. It was within this historical context that Ezekiel prophesied; enacting many of his proclamations symbolically and speaking others verbally.

The initial focus of Ezekiel’s prophecies were about God’s judgment on sin and idolatry; initially first against Israel, and then against the surrounding seven nations. But once Jerusalem fell, Ezekiel switched towards a message of consolation; foretelling of a restored people awaiting a glorious future where the Lord himself will shepherd his flock by gathering, caring for, and feeding them in deep and profound ways.

1. The Lord GATHERS his flock

The imagery of the Lord as a shepherd who actively seeks and saves those who are lost brings to mind the deliberate recounting of this metaphor in parabolic form by Jesus himself in Luke 15:1-7. Even though the flock had been scattered and exiled to Babylon (due to the sinful neglect by the “shepherds”; the religious leaders), the glorious day will come when the Lord will gather his sheep who are easily in view, but will also actively pursue those who are far off; those who are weak, hurt, injured, scared, from every nation on earth.

And imagine how comforting the message that they would be gathered “out from the nations” (vs.13) would have been to the scattered remnant captured into foreign lands. It would have brought hope to those exiles trapped there in Babylon.

In verse 16, the word translated “lost”, the Hebrew ‘abad, means scattered but also annihilated/destroyed and the word translated “scattered”, nadach, is even more insidious; meaning to be thrust away, banished, outcast! These sheep were lost to the point of desperately needing divine rescue (vs.12).

To expand our context to the entire chapter 34, we read that the Lord’s gathering of his flock is in stark contrast to the human shepherds (signifying the religious leaders) who only care about themselves and therefore don’t even bother to go out looking for missing sheep. They “have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost” (vs.4). A very strong indictment.

2. The Lord CARES FOR his flock.

Good Shepherd

Good Shepherd

The Lord as shepherd not only gathers his sheep together safely into his fold, he also cares for their every need; making sure they feel safe and treasured. Listen to the power of the nurturing words used in our text such as “look after” (vs.11,12), “bring them out” and “into their own land” (vs.13), “tend” them (vs.14,15), as well as “bind up the injured and strengthen the weak” (vs.16). All of these activities would be expected of a normal shepherd watching over his sheep, but evidently those religious leaders, identified as shepherds of the people Israel, were preoccupied with other priorities; namely themselves.

Ezekiel draws the obvious contrast between the Lord as good shepherd (in vs.11-16) against all those who tended to their own comforts and privileges. Not only were they not caring for their own flocks (vs.2-3), they were actually plundering and exploiting them for their own comfort, gain, and well-being. Meanwhile, as they were not watching guard, many of the sheep were figuratively carried off (or scared off) by rampaging wild animals.

3. The Lord FEEDS his flock.

Ezekiel paints a beautiful portrait of the Lord as shepherd who gathers and cares for his beloved sheep, but also as one who feeds his flock in nourishing ways. To get the full sense of this concept, we must go back to the original language and notice the multitude of times the Hebrew word ra’ah is used in describing the pasturing and feeding of the sheep. This word ra’ah describes what shepherds do; pasturing, shepherding, feeding and even teaching (which is enormously significant for ministry application).

In the book of Ezekiel itself, this word ra’ah is used sixteen times and all but one of those times shows up here in this chapter 34. It’s as if Ezekiel is overstating again and again the obvious; shepherd the lost and needy sheep, and he communicates this within the agricultural imagery where the shepherd will bring his sheep to verdant pastures where they can feed without fear or anxiety.

Again we must contrast God’s divine shepherd to the human religious leaders who fed themselves without caring about their flock. Verse 2 is condemning, “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves!”. This can also be properly translated as “Woe to the feeders of Israel who have been feeding themselves” (rather than their appointed flocks). Verse 3 goes on to explain that they feast on the choicest parts of their own sheep; on the delicious animal fatty meats. The picture is unmistakable: They were betraying their calling as shepherds and were gorging on the very animals supposedly under their care.

But the Lord turns the tables in verse 10, “I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them”. There is hope: He will reject those shepherds and will replace them with one who is far superior.

Note that the sheep themselves are not innocent in the text. Throughout verses 18-21, many of the neglected sheep are judged as selfish and vindictive to the remainder of their flock. They stamp down the pastures after they have eaten, making it inedible for others, and they pollute/muddy the water after drinking, making water unavailable to the others. Verse 21 adds that the stronger sheep are guilty of bullying and pushing the weak ones around. It’s an absolute mess and needs divine intervention.

The True Good Shepherd

Jesus himself explained on the Road to Emmaus (Lk.24) that all of the Old Testament was about him, and this text is yet another example. Even though a partial fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy did take place during the Old Testament period (the exile eventually ended, the people did return to Jerusalem and rebuilt the Temple), it was never completely fulfilled. Something was always still missing, and there continued to be false shepherds leading the sheep of Israel astray. Why was that?

Caring & Feeding His Sheep

Caring & Feeding His Sheep

This was because though partially fulfilled in the old covenant, this prophecy was not completely fulfilled until the new covenant in Jesus Christ. That word ra’ah which was used fifteen out of sixteen times in chapter 34 (about pasturing the sheep) takes a beautiful turn the final time used by Ezekiel three chapters later, in 37:24, pointing towards the true and coming shepherd of Israel, “My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd ; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them”. Obviously this is not referring to King David who was already dead and gone, but to the true Davidic king to come, Jesus Christ himself.

As foreshadowed in Ezekiel 34:23, Jesus is the one who is the true shepherd. He will give the true rest (vs.15) to his flock where they can experience peace like sheep laying safely on a guarded field. In fulfillment of Ezekiel 34, along with Psalm 23 (with many other instances), Jesus Christ is the good shepherd who gathers, cares for, and feeds his flock with divine compassion.

In the New Testament, Jesus used the same imagery of himself shepherding his sheep (John 10). Those who belong to him will finally be gathered and secured into his flock, and will experience a banquet feast of spiritual food along with living waters as he will institute, per vs. 25, a “covenant of peace” forever.

We who have been gathered by Christ as his sheep can experience this partially now and then completely at the end of the age when the fulfillment of his Kingdom will have been fully accomplished .

#Wade

Categories: Devotional, Ezekiel, Good Shepherd | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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