Saturday, November 18, 2017

November 18

Ezekiel 37:1-38:23; James 1:19-2:17; Psalm 117:1-2; Proverbs 28:1

Ezekiel 37:1-10 is so interesting.  On a sheer literal level, what an event!  A valley full - full! - of bones, dry as only old bones left to themselves can be.  Abandoned, unloved, unburied.  A terrifying moment of noise as the bones rattle together, a fear-inducing rejoining of skeletons, then the covering with tendons and muscles and skin.  A great host of lifeless bodies, standing inert until life enters them with breath, and they live.

I mean, wow.  Really.  WOW.  This is more suited to a Halloween Haunted House or a Dia de los Muertos celebration!

A few comments on the literal level:
* For a good Jew, like Ezekiel, this scene would have been revolting.  Unburied bodies contaminated those nearby, causing ceremonial uncleanness (see Num. 19:11, for example).  A valley full of them would distress an observant Jew.
* Notice the emphasis on very dry bones.  These are ancient bones, picked clean by scavengers and left to bleach in the sun.
* The amount of bones is significant: it's not one or two skeletons, nor can we be sure the bones are even in skeleton-like heaps.  It's a scene of destruction and death and loss.  These are "the slain" (Ez. 37:9).

But then look at this on the spiritual level.

God asks Ezekiel if these bones can live.  Then, through his prophet, God acts to restore, to renew.  He makes a promise and then fulfills it.  God takes the dead and broken and brings new life and wholeness.  Despair and destruction make way for hope and a future.  Nothing is beyond our God.

A few comments on the spiritual level, and some application for our own lives:
* Ezekiel's faith - "you alone know" (Ez. 37:3).  I can hear my answer to that question, a resounding "no."  I've taken high school biology.  I know the stats on physical life after death.  But Ezekiel acknowledges that another option is possible with God.  I want to live my life in a manner that indicates the same trust and even hope.  "You alone know," Lord, whether my marriage is salvageable.  "You alone know," Lord, whether these medical treatments will heal me.  "You alone know," Lord, whether my loved one will turn toward you in repentance.
* Ezekiel acts as the Lord commands (vs. 7, 10).  His simple declaration of trust leads him to act in faith, and the result of his obedience is dramatic.  What an event he gets to be a part of because he obeys!  Even when confronted with a seemingly impossible situation, Ezekiel prophesies - and the Lord answers.  This, too, is an encouragement to me: God is capable of healing the fractured relationships in my life; God is eager to deliver me from the habitual sin that keeps me from Christ-likeness; God is able.  No matter how desperate the situation, it can be redeemed.  God can redeem.  But my obedience comes first.
* True life is the ultimate goal.  It's not enough to have a body without life, without vitality.  This "vast army" (vs. 10) is only truly animated by the breath of God.  I, too, am only really alive when filled with the activity and presence of the Holy Spirit.  We all know men and women who live a deadened life, joyless and monotonous.  That is "life," but yet is not.  God offers so much more.  "I will settle my Spirit in you and you will live" (vs. 14).  Hallelujah!

"Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol him all you peoples.  For great is his love toward us and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever" (Ps. 117:1-2, emphasis mine).  Amen and amen.

- Sarah Marsh

How did God speak to you in Scripture today? Click here to share your reflections on God's word or read past posts. We'd love to hear from you.

Friday, November 17, 2017

November 17

Ezekiel 35:1-36:38; James 1:1-18; Psalm 116:1-19; Proverbs 27:23-27

Isn’t it a great time of year? We’re getting closer to Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday; the weather is turning cooler; for some of you, the trees are changing color (palm trees are pretty much always green at the beach); and we’re getting incrementally closer to our goal of reading the Bible in a year. Way to go, us!

Today we get to start a new book – James. Written by Jesus’ brother, James, around 44-48 AD, this book gives us great practical applications for living a life centered around faith in Christ. James was the leader of the Jerusalem church. [As a side note, don’t you love that even though there are times in the New Testament when Jesus’ words make us wonder about his relationship with his family (Matt. 12:46-48), the fact that his brother leads this large and prominent church affirms that they did love and believe in him in the end?] We see in John 7:5 that James perhaps doubted, but 1 Corinthians 15:7 reveals that Jesus appeared directly to James and this compels his conversion and, most likely, is the impetus for his rise to leadership.

Pressing on. So James writes this letter about ten years after the death of Christ and ten years into the new life of the church. He writes it to all the believers who have been forced out of Jerusalem (he calls them the “Twelve Tribes”), in an effort to encourage them during their trials and to exhort them to wholeheartedly commit themselves to God, who requires absolute allegiance (Jam. 4:4-5). In essence, this is a letter of moral exhortation to struggling and tempted believers (Moo, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, 87-88). And exhort them (and us) he does!

There’s so much even in this first section from today’s reading, but I was particularly struck by verses 14 and 15: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Isn’t that just such a true picture of what happens? We are drawn into sin by our desire – by the things we want, that we perhaps feel we are entitled to. Satan doesn’t tempt us with things that hold no power over us; he goes for where we are vulnerable, for the places we’ve been letting little lies creep in. God isn’t good. There isn’t enough money. Her house is better than mine. The website isn’t really that bad. My wife doesn’t love me the way she should. We are enticed by our desire which gives birth to sin – but instead of bringing forth life the way a normal birth does, it brings forth death. The gossip we indulge in eventually becomes our world, the only way we know how to relate to others. The comparison we give into about other people’s houses or jobs or kids grows to make us dissatisfied with our whole lives. The thoughts we entertain about someone else’s spouse becomes the affair we feel we are justified in. Desire gives birth to sin, which grows into death: the death of our families, the death of our relationships, the death of our marriages, the death of our very souls.

Hooray for the psalm today, the gracious reminder we so need – “I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy” (Ps. 116:1). Have mercy on us, Jesus! We want to do the right thing, but we often fail. Thank you that you hear our call and save us, no matter how many times we fail. Have mercy on us!

- Esther McCurry

How did God speak to you in Scripture today? Click here to share your reflections on God's word or read past posts. We'd love to hear from you.