May 4 – May 11, 2018

Friday, May 4

Psalms 106 (Greek & Latin 105): The praise of God in this psalm, then, springs from the consideration of God’s fidelity to His people notwithstanding their own infidelities to Him: “Praise the Lord, for He is gracious, for His mercy endures forever!”

The examples of the people’s continued sin are drawn from the accounts of the Exodus and the Desert Wandering, a period of such egregious unfaithfulness that only a few of that entire generation were finally permitted to enter the Promised Land. The examples are detailed: the constant murmuring against the Lord both in Egypt and in the desert, the rebellion of Dathan and Abiron, the cult of the golden calf, the succumbing to temptation from the Moabites and other moral compromises with the surrounding nations, child-sacrifice to Moloch, and so forth. In all of these things God nonetheless proved His patience and fidelity to the people of His covenant: “Who will tell the mighty deeds of the Lord, or make all His praises heard?”

This poetic narrative, which summarizes much of the Books of Exodus and Numbers, deals with the period of the Desert Wandering as a source of negative moral example: “Don’t let this happen to you.” Such is the approach to that period through much of biblical literature, from Deuteronomy 33 to
1 Corinthians 10.

Ezekiel 34: Ezekiel knows that the recent disaster at Jerusalem and its dire consequences, such as the scattering of God’s people, were in large measure the fault of those appointed to care for them: the royal house and the government, the priesthood, the teachers. All of these were Israel’s shepherds, commissioned by God to tend, govern, and feed the sheep. Not only did they fail to do so, but also they used their relationship to God’s people in order to serve themselves.

Thus, unfed and without guidance, the flock had “been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” God Himself, however, will come to shepherd them, and He will do so through His Anointed One—the new David—who will inherit the promises made to his ancient forebear (2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89 [88]). This imagery and its promise will in due course be taken up by that new David who, in John 10, describes Himself as the Good Shepherd.

Ezekiel then (verses 17-22) criticizes some of the sheep themselves, who have exploited and ill-treated one another. God will judge them, not by classes, but as individuals (“sheep by sheep”) responsible for their decisions and their behavior.

The final section of this chapter (verses 25-30) describes the coming care of the Good Shepherd in terms reminiscent of paradise (compare Psalm 72 [71]).

Saturday, May 5

Ephesians 1:1-14: The readers—mainly, in fact, the listeners—of this epistle are “the saints who are faithful in Christ Jesus.” We discern three components in this expression:

First, they are “saints”—hagiois—consecrated people, people devoted to God by call, chosen for the service of God. The first thing to be said for Paul’s readers, then, is that they for a consecrated people. This is a sustained presumption all through the present work.

Second, they “are also faithful”—tois ousin kai pistois.””Faithful here is probably to be taken in a double sense: both believing and loyal. Moreover, the complex expression, “who are also faithful,” infers that their faith and loyalty spring from their consecration to God as “saints.” That is to say, the two expressions are not set apposition, but in sequence. Bishop Westcott, in his commentary on this verse, observes the nuance of this sequence: “So the thought of consecration to God precedes the thought of continuous individual faith by which the members of the body keep their place in it.”

Third, these readers are consecrated and faithful “in Christ Jesus.” Their consecration and faith come from communion with Christ. These things are not separable from Christ. The expression, “in Christ Jesus,” is “incorporative.”

Ezekiel 35: In this chapter we find expressed toward the Edomites, symbolized in Mount Seir, that same spirit of bitter condemnation that inspired the entire prophecy of Obadiah and the last several verses of Psalm 137 (136).

The material here expands on ideas found in a seminal form in Ezekiel 25:12-14. Edom has assisted and cheered on the Babylonians in their wanton destruction of the temple (cf. 1 Esdras 4:45). Ezekiel is our witness that the Edomites hoped to annex territory left open by the destruction of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah (verse 10), but they will not do so, he tells us, because God has other plans for that land. Those plans of God form the substance of the next chapter.

The Edomites in the Bible comprised what we may call . . . well, a special case. Israel did not like them very much. Indeed, the Lord had to command Israel not to despise the Edomites (Deuteronomy 23:7), a thing they were prompted to do, perhaps, on the excuse that the Lord Himself was said to hate Esau, the father of the Edomites (Malachi 1:2; Romans 9:13). Truth to tell, the Edomites were not easy to love. They had obstructed Israel’s path from Egypt during the days of Moses (Numbers 20:21). They were known to be without pity (Amos 1:11) and engaged in international slave trade (1:6,9). For Ezekiel, as for Obadiah, however, the major sin was their attempt to exploit Babylon’s destruction of Judah.

Sunday, May 6

Psalms 96 (Greek & Latin 95): This psalm and all other Old Testament references to God as King are prophecies fulfilled in the Kingship of Jesus the Lord, who declared to the local representative of the Roman Empire, “You say rightly that I am a king” (John 18:37).

Thus, our psalm commands, “Announce among the nations that the Lord is King.” Truly, this is the sum and essence of everything the Church was given to proclaim, not only to the Roman Empire, but to all the nations of the earth at all times: “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus . . . both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). The word “Christ” here, of course, is a translation of the Hebrew expression “anointed one,” which referred to Israel’s anointed king. In the context of Peter’s sermon, Jesus is made Lord and King by His Resurrection from the dead (cf. 2:22–32).

It is in the mystery of His Resurrection, then, that Jesus the Lord fulfills the prophetic dimension of that symbolic enthronement of God in Israel’s ancient Holy of Holies. Psalm 96, which was sung to celebrate that figurative enthronement, finds its intended completion in Jesus’ victory over death. This is the truth of that invitation of its first line: “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.” It is a “new song” exactly as this term is used of the anthem sung to the victorious Lamb in Revelation 5:9; it is a “new song,” because henceforth humanity is dealing with a wholly new reality. And it is “all the earth” that is summoned to sing this new song, for the Resurrection of Christ establishes His kingship, not only over human hearts, but also over the nations. It is precisely the nations that are called to sing the new song.

Ezekiel 36: As the previous oracle was addressed to Mount Seir in Edom, so this one (verses 1-15) is addressed to the mountains of Israel. It condemns all the nations that have set themselves against God’s people, but special attention is given, once again, to the Edomites (verse 5).

In verse 8 Ezekiel begins a series of several prophecies of the Israelites’ return to their homes. Whereas in Chapter 6 he had infallibly foretold to these same mountains the many sufferings that have since ensued, he now tells them, again infallibly, of the joys that lie ahead.

And why should God perform these mercies, in view of the fact that Israel has deserved all that it has suffered (verses 16-20)? Because of His own gracious election (verses 21-38). God will pour out all these new blessings on His people in order to testify to the gratuity and steadfastness of His choice. God will be faithful, even though Israel has not been faithful.

The most famous lines of this section are in verses 26-28, repetitious of 11:19-20 and reminiscent of Jeremiah 31:31-34. God will restore Israel, not because of the merits of Israel, but to vindicate His covenant fidelity. The gift of cleansing and a new heart is entirely God’s, but it will not be given except in the context of repentance (verse 31).

Monday, May 7

Ephesians 2:1-10: Paul asserts, “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” Man, apart from God, is helpless in the sense of not being able to do anything permanently significant with his life. No matter what man without God may seem to accomplish, none of it has permanent significance. When history has at least run its course, all the deeds of men will be found wanting. These deeds include every human accomplishment, every scientific endeavor, every cultural achievement, every political or military exploit, absolutely everything that man, by his own standards, thinks to be great and proclaims to be important. None of it will be found significant.

Human history does not justify itself by its own works. God will not be impressed with any of those works. “All flesh is grass,” according to Isaiah, “and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.” And the prophet goes on to spell it out in detail: “Behold, the nations are like a drop in the bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.”

Ezekiel 37: We come now to Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones, unarguably the best-known part of this book. It consists of a Spirit-given experience (verses 1-10), followed by an interpretation (verses 11-14). In its immediate historical sense, the valley of the dry bones represents Israel after Jerusalem’s destruction in 586.

As a prophecy to be fulfilled in the fullness of time, it refers to the resurrection of the dead, of which the principle and first-fruit is the Resurrection of Christ. (Hence it is most appropriate for us to be reading this text on the eve of Ascension Thursday, the feast celebrating the heavenly exaltation of Christ’s risen flesh.)

In this vision the dynamic principle in the resurrection of the dead is the same Spirit who brought the prophet to the valley (verse 1).

The reader should bear in mind that, all through this chapter, there is a single Hebrew word (ruah) translated in different ways (“Spirit,” “breath,” “wind”), simply because no one English word expresses the fullness of its meaning (Cf. also Genesis 1:2).

This section is followed by another prophetic pantomime (verses 15-17), accompanied by an interpretation (verses 18-23), according to which all of God’s people will be rejoined, with the new David to shepherd them (verses 24-28).

Tuesday, May 8

Ephesians 2:11-18: The key to understanding God’s final purpose in history is to grasp this reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in the one body of the Church. The source of this reconciliation is the Cross, where the death of God’s Son neutralized the difference between Gentile and Jew. Christ Himself, after all, “is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the Cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.”

This Law, given on Mount Sinai, was what separated Jew and Gentile, but in His death on the Cross “abolished” that wall of separation. By reconciling all men equally to God on the Cross, Christ reconciled them to one another. So, says, Paul, “through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.”

Ezekiel 38: In the composition of the Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 38-39 are especially striking and, at first sight, incongruous. Nonetheless, they form an intentional link between the promises in Chapter 37 and the prophecies of God’s final temple in Chapters 40-48.

Chapters 38-39 describe a terrible invasion from the north, led by a commander of an international army (verses 2-6,15), named Gog. This invasion is not imminent; it will come “in the latter years” (38:8), a reference to the indefinite future (indefinite because only God knows the future) that may be described as the “last times.” Gog represents the final great enemy of God’s people, and his invasion will be the last great attack against God’s kingdom.

The name “Gog” would have surprised none of Ezekiel’s contemporaries, for it was the name of a person from the somewhat recent past and still well known in the sixth century before Christ. The Hebrew name Gog corresponds to the Assyrian Gugu and the Greek Gyges. He was a famous seventh century king of Lydia in Asia Minor, who had died in 648. Accounts of the original Gog are found in Assyrian annals and the History of Herodotus. (If Ezekiel were writing today, he might use, for the same purpose, “Bismarck” or “Garibaldi.”) The name is not especially important for the identification of the invader; like all the other names in this chapter, it is symbolic of evil realities much larger and more menacing than their historical references.

Thus understood, Gog and his forces will reappear in Revelation 20. (“Magog,” by the way, appears to be an abbreviation of the Hebrew min-Gog, “from Gog.” In the Book of Revelation, he is a derived ally of Gog.) The most important thing to know about Gog is that God’s people do not need to fear him, for his doom has already been determined.

Wednesday, May 9

Ephesians 2:19—3:7: The reconciliation effected by Christ must not remain theoretical. It concretely means reconciliation among ourselves, “according to the effective working by which every part does its share.”

This can be hard work, because each of the stones in the building must be shaped, must be deliberately contoured, in order to fit into its appointed place in the building. People should not join the Church of Christ and remain as they were before. To be reconciled, which is the work of Christ, each person in the Church must assume a new shape. This is the work of mallet and chisel, and it may be painful. If we stay with Paul’s earlier metaphor of grafting onto a tree, this too can be painful. Both metaphors involve cutting, but this is how we are reconciled into the body of the Church.

We submit ourselves to this discipline for the love of Christ, who “came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near.” Indeed, says St. Paul, “He Himself is our peace.” He is our theological peace, of course, but He is also our peace of mind and heart. Christ is no abstraction; He is not a religious theory. He is Someone that we love and trust. Loving Him and trusting Him, we find our places in the Church, which is the house of reconciliation and the proper heir of biblical history.

Psalms 68:1-20: Because of Paul’s explanation of this psalm in Ephesians 4, it serves to introduce the feast of the Lord’s Ascension into heaven. As Christ conquered sin by his death, and defeated death by his Resurrection, so by his Ascension he was victorious over the inimical powers of the cosmos, the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

When Christ ascended on high, Paul wrote, God “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all principality and authority, power and dominion” (1:20-21; cf. 3:10). Christ’s Ascension, then, was a victory parade up to his enthronement, and the forces of evil were led as captives in his train.

Ezekiel 39: This continuation of the previous chapter uses the mystic number seven (the inference reached by the addition of the divine number three and the human number four [and if you multiply them, you arrive at the other mystic number, twelve]) to designate the number of years that the burning of the discarded weapons will supply the need for fuel. Seven, too, will be the number of months required to bury all the dead from Gog’s great army.

In this section, verses 11-16, we see Ezekiel’s priestly preoccupation with ritual purity (cf. Numbers 5:2; 19:16; 35:33f). So great will be the battle’s carnage that the beasts and carrion birds will be glutted with the corpses (verses 17-20; cf. Revelation 19:17-21). The chapter ends with a summary of God’s restoration of Israel, which brings this third part of Ezekiel to a close.

Ascension Thursday, May 10

Psalms 24 (Greek & Latin 23): is a celebration of the Lord’s entrance into that heavenly sanctuary and royal court: “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”

This King of Glory comes to the entrance of heaven with the blood of the conflict still fresh upon Him (cf. Is. 63:1–6; Rev. 19:13), and a kind of dialogue takes place as the angels call for the opening of the portcullis at the approach of the returning Warrior: “Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.”

The moment, however, is most special and most to be prolonged. Indeed, the moment is eternal, and the angelic dialogue goes on: “Lift up your heads, O you gates! Lift up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory.”

By virtue of the redemption, all of creation belongs to this Jesus, King and Priest, for God “raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:20–23). Thus, our psalm begins: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein.”

Ezekiel 40: These final nine chapters of Ezekiel contain his visions of the future temple, to which God’s glory will return. These visions also contain regulations by which the worship in the temple will be determined, rules with respect to the various sacrifices and ministries, ordinances about holiness, and all manner of prescription governing the priestly services of the temple.

These final chapters serve as something of a foil or counterpart to the terrible visions of Chapters 8-11, where the prophet, touring the temple under the guidance of a heavenly minister, witnessed the abominations that led to the departure of God’s glory from the holy place. Now, in these final chapters, Ezekiel is once again led by the same heavenly minister to tour the temple and to behold the return of God’s glory.

The temple herein described vastly transcends the new earthly temple that will be constructed by Zerubbabel. Indeed, this description points in prophecy to a greater reality transcending all the expectations of Israel according to the flesh. This temple is “ideal” in the sense of conforming to the heavenly model of the sanctuary seen by Moses in the Book of Exodus, and of which we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Chapter 40 begins on April 28, 573 B.C. Then begins the measuring of the new temple, following the dimensions determined by God Himself. (Following the Greek text, the reader will be spared undue confusion by omitting verse 30, which seems to represent either a later addition or a corruption of the Hebrew text.)

Friday, May 11

Ephesians 4:7-16: the uniqueness of each of us does not mean that we are considered apart from the others. Even in their uniqueness, Christians are not individualists. The gift of Christ to each of us is directed to the building up of all of us. Paul thus describes that building up, “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

This is why the gift of Christ is “according to measure”—kata metron. We are living stones proportioned to fit into the larger structure, which Paul in this passage calls “the body of Christ.”

The true human destiny, the goal of human history, is not an abstraction. Paul describes it as man in His perfection, eis andra teleion, which he identifies as “the fullness of Christ.” Thus, Paul uses the expression metros a second time, speaking of the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” The two “measures” are proportioned to one another. The true future of each of us is the destiny of all of us.

Ezekiel 41: Everything in the temple expresses the principles of mathematics. In the Bible (as in Pythagoras and Plato), numbers are sacred; they are spiritual emanations of God’s creative act, giving form, structure, and significance to the universe. Numbers are the basis of “form,” that internal principle of proportion that causes things to be what they are. And because the knowledge of anything consists in the comprehension of its form, all knowledge involves a mathematical perception, a “measure,” the perception of “limits,” which “define” things.

Even this future temple—a reflection of the heavenly sanctuary seen by Moses on Mount Sinai—now being “visited” in prophetic vision by Ezekiel, is shaped (that is, receives its form) by the principles of measurement. Because the house of God is a house of order, not chaos, it is a house structured according to the eternal principles of proportion.

Step by step, and in reverent silence, the angelic tour guide patiently lays his royal cubit stick to determine the proportions of the sacred space. The unit of measure that he employs is the royal cubit, which in modern measurement is 52.5 centimeters or 20.6692 inches.

When the heavenly minister enters the Holy of Holies to take its measure in verses 3-4, Ezekiel reverently remains outside; when that inner sanctuary has been measured, the angel gives the prophet a brief explanation.

Ezekiel also receives an explanation of the altar in verse 22. The elaborate carvings described in verses 19-26 are early proof that the Jews of that period (and for centuries to come, well into the Christian era), did not interpret the Decalogue as prohibiting works of representative art in places of worship.