OT: Ezekiel 35:1-36:38
Since Ezekiel is symbolically prophesying to mountains today, I googled Mount Seir to see who he was talking about. According to Wikipedia, Mount Seir was on the southeastern border of Edom and Judah. So this prophecy is to Edom. Shockingly, it is full of doom and gloom, not just because Edom shed blood (after all, God has had several countries shed plenty of blood), but because they enjoyed it so much and they gloated over Israel during the process (35:6, 12-15).
In chapter 36, Ezekiel offers some hope to the beleaguered Israel (1-12), but also reminds them that they brought this calamity on themselves (13-20). God also makes clear that He is not restoring Judah b/c they deserve it, but instead, He is acting out of concern for His holy name (21-23, 32). He also tells the Israelites that, "I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws" (27). I don't know how Bible scholars interpret that prophecy, but I wonder if it found its ultimate fulfillment in Acts 2, where God's Spirit descends upon His church for the first time.
Ever since I discovered this Eerdman's Handbook to the Bible (published in 1973, baby, and looking very much the part), I have liked referring to it, b/c it has a bite-sized paragraph on each chapter of the Bible, along with lots of color pictures:). Regarding chapter 36, it reads in part,
"Those who returned from exile were truly and permanently cured of idolatry (25). But the total transformation of a 'new heart' is realized only 'in Christ' (2 Cor. 5:17). Ezekiel was thinking of something far more complex than a heart transplant: the heart, in Jewish though, stood for the whole personality, the essential man."
I thought that was all pretty interesting. And it seemed to me that the handbook's explanation of the prophecy was a great example of sensus plenior application.
NT: James 1:1-18
Ahhh, I love me some James. Martin Luther called James "an epistle of straw," mainly b/c it threw a kink in his precious "sole fide" theory. In seeming contrast to a lot of Pauline thought, James really emphasizes the importance of actions in the life of a Christian. Apparently, people see that idea (expressed most fully in James 2) as some big contradiction to Paul. To that I say, "Where did you get the impression that actions don't matter to Paul?" Paul is all about actions. Remember? He is Mr. "Hand them over to Satan" if a Christian's actions don't match their talk. His letters are full of instructions and guidelines on just about every area of Christian action.
Anyhow, I'm getting ahead of myself. Today's reading contains several distinct sections, all of them good. The first is found in 2-6. Verse 2 is especially famous: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds..." I can never read that without remembering my brother's retort, which he once wrote me in a letter. In discussing his response to his troubles, he brought up his thoughts about James. "'Consider it pure joy?' he said, "Yeah, right. Consider it pure hell.'" As, um, forceful as his response was, I think it highlights the craziness of James' idea. I always test this idea when I have a particularly bad stomach virus. I lie in bed and think, "I am going to consider this pure joy." It doesn't work very well, especially when you consider joy to be synonymous with happiness. But in the Christian worldview, the highest goal is to become more like Christ. Our suffering makes us more like Christ, by testing our faith, developing perseverance in us, and making us mature and complete. Thus, it is good, at least in the hands of a person who allows it to do those things.
Verses 9-11 exalt the poor and slam the rich, and they also provide a reminder that, like the rich man, we are like transient flowers, which soon fade away.
Verse 12 is about perseverance, and relates well to verses 2-6.
And verses 16-18 remind us that "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." I love that wording. Did you hear that they retranslated the NIV? I am not happy about that. I hope this verse stayed the same, though.
A praise psalm to God for rescuing the author from personal distress.
These four verses seem to be an admonition to keep track of your financial business.