OT: Ezekiel 20:1-49
The year, according to the Eerdman's Bible Handbook I recently unearthed, is 591. It's around July or August (man, this book gets specific). And Ezekiel has just been instructed to give the exiled elders a little history lesson in response to their inquiry into God's will. For a short, simple question, they get quite a long response!
This history lesson is obviously designed to highlight the recurrent pattern of covenant-rebellion-punishment-restoration that has occurred throughout Israel's history. Thus, Ezekiel uses similar phrases over and over:
--"with uplifted hand I swore to them" (5, 15, 23, 42)--Regarding God's establishment of covenant or assurance of punishment.
--"desecrated my Sabbaths" (13, 16, 21, 24)--always included as part of the description of the people's rebellion.
--"for the sake of my name" (9, 14, 22, 24)--God's reasoning for inevitably showing mercy and grace to the Israelites. That might sound self-serving, but if God's glory is the highest goal, then it makes sense to me that it is His highest goal, as well.
One interesting thing about Ezekiel's use of this cycle in telling Israel's history is that he made the time of Egyptian slavery fit into that cycle. I had never heard before that the reason God allowed the Israelites to be enslaved was because "they did not get rid of the vile images they had set their eyes on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt" (8). Like I said, that was just interesting.
Also of interest was the section in which God basically told the Israelites, "Like it or not, you will never NOT be my people" (32-44). Verses 32-34 put the section the most clearly:
"You say, “We want to be like the nations, like the peoples of the world, who serve wood and stone.” But what you have in mind will never happen. As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I will reign over you with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath. I will bring you from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered—with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath."
I guess there are several ways to look at that. You can view is as tyrannical or overly controlling, perhaps. I, however, tend to view it through the lens of a parent. I hope this never happens, but my children may one day rebel against me and everything I believe in; they may come to hate me; they may do great harm to me. But there is nothing they can do that will make me stop being their mom, not just in terms of biology, but in terms of love and action. And my ever-present "mom-ness" may be unpleasant to them at times. It may seem unfair; it may even seem suffocating to them (I hope not, but I'm just acknowledging the facts). But my choice to always be their mom is not so that I can control their lives or make them miserable; it is because I love them and want what is best for them.
And now that I'm thinking about it that way, let me say something else about God's motivations as related in Ezekiel. I mentioned earlier that He was motivated by the desire to glorify Himself. That's not actually what it says. Every verse talking about "the sake of his name" mentions His concern for His name among other nations. Those nations are (obviously) full of people, and if God's ultimate goal is to save the world (see John 3:16), then He has to be concerned about His reputation among the nations. So I see God's actions here as striking a pre-Jesus balance between maintaining His holiness (via punishment of the people) at the same time as He maintains His great love (shown in his pity for the people and His concern for His name among other nations).
NT: Hebrews 9:11-28
The Hebrew writer continues his comparisons between the old and new covenants. Both required blood--one of many, many animals, and the other of Christ (12-14). Similarly, both were like wills, in that they were put into effect only after death occurred--again, the animals, and Christ, respectively (16-21).
The contrast comes when considering that the new covenant takes place in heaven, where the old one took place in--Plato alert!--a mere "copy of the true one" (24). And because his blood was perfect, it only had to be shed once (25-28).
Another lengthy and interesting praise psalm, giving glory to God through the ups (e.g. 8-9) and downs (e.g. 10-16).
A father imploring his son to be wise.