Hope Among the Traumatized

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 47.8-9
8 He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. 9 Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live.

Reflection: Hope Among the Traumatized
By John Tillman

Ezekiel is unique as an exiled, suffering prophet without power or political influence. When Ezekiel speaks of his home it is with longing and sadness, as a place that he knows he will never see again except in his visions.

Ezekiel is processing his own trauma and ministering to the traumatized. Many prophets bore warnings of future catastrophe. Ezekiel ministered to those for whom, catastrophe was past and present. He often spoke of the future but much of his ministry was making sense of the past. 

Ezekiel’s audience was traumatized by the consequences of their own actions. He spoke to people suffering under judgment, those who had been unfaithful. He lived among and served rebels who lost a war and oppressors who became oppressed. 

With all of Ezekiel’s baggage, (traumatized, suffering, living among the corrupt, dominated by an evil empire) we might expect to find him embittered, angry, and insufferably judgmental. Wouldn’t we be? Yet, Ezekiel is, more often than not, a prophet of hope. 

Ezekiel did teach hard truths and deliver sharp and biting critiques. He pulled no prophetic punches, yet he still, with kid-gloves, delivers God’s messages of hope, love, and restoration.

Ezekiel has unique prophetic experiences. Ezekiel is often transported physically across distances to witness events that happen in Jerusalem and in the transcendent future. Ezekiel, in his visions, sees both the surface reality and the deeper spiritual activity. Rather than a separate spiritual plane, Ezekiel experienced an integrated physical and spiritual world.

Ezekiel gives us one of the strangest, most otherworldly images of God. Ezekiel describes a God so other, holy, powerful, and perfect that we can hardly imagine that he should care for us or that we are somehow expected to be images of him.

In one of Ezekiel’s final visions, water trickles from the Temple into the land, becoming a river. This river of living water from the Temple changes the entire environment, bringing life even to the Dead Sea. Jesus identified himself as this spring, this source, of living water. (John 7.37-39

We are, each of us, a temple of the Holy Spirit and the living water Jesus and Ezekiel described should flow from us. Traumatized rebels live all around us in a Dead Sea of failures and sins. From our lives may there flow trickles of hope, which combine into a river that brings to life the Dead Sea and brings healing to the nations.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Be still, then, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth. — Psalm 46.11

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 47  (Listen – 4:08)
Psalm 103 (Listen – 2:07)

Read more about A Temple for Exiles
God is measuring out a temple of living stones which rest upon the chief cornerstone of Christ.

Read more about Model of an Exile
Ezekiel didn’t preach attempting to prevent the judgment of God—he already lived under it. Ezekiel is an exile. We have this in common with him.

The Gospel and the Year of Freedom

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 46.18
18 The prince must not take any of the inheritance of the people, driving them off their property. He is to give his sons their inheritance out of his own property, so that not one of my people will be separated from their property.’ ” 

Leviticus 25.13-17
13 “ ‘In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to their own property. 
14 “ ‘If you sell land to any of your own people or buy land from them, do not take advantage of each other. 15 You are to buy from your own people on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee. And they are to sell to you on the basis of the number of years left for harvesting crops. 16 When the years are many, you are to increase the price, and when the years are few, you are to decrease the price, because what is really being sold to you is the number of crops. 17 Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the LORD your God. 

Reflection: The Gospel and the Year of Freedom
By John Tillman

The “year of freedom” refers to the system of Jubilee described first to those entering the promised land. It first divided the land equitably, and then ensured that ownership would reset after a period of years, each family receiving back property lost or sold, being released from indentured servanthood, and being forgiven debts.

For former slaves, this would prevent the foolish or unfortunate from becoming enslaved and prevent the greedy or fortunate from becoming oppressors. There is little evidence, however, that Israel ever faithfully followed the system of Jubilee despite agreeing to it multiple times. 

The brown-skinned authors of scripture did not write under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in order to endorse or condemn economic theories that would be created by white men centuries later. As much as partisans might like it to be, the system of Jubilee is not an endorsement or condemnation of collectivism or individualism. Many current economic and political practices have points of friction with scripture. 

Scripture challenges and convicts all man-made systems, governments, and economic practices of their errors and hubris. Approaching scripture with an eye toward self-correction rather than self-justification should be our default setting. 

The theological basis for the concept of Jubilee was that the land belonged to the Lord, not the people. (Leviticus 25.23) Therefore, since they were “aliens and strangers.” The people could “possess” the land with the Lord but could not claim to own the land and neither could their leaders.

May we pray over and reflect upon a few things described or implied by Jubilee and Ezekiel’s new city of God: 
We don’t own anything even if we possess it.
Equity is the default setting of God’s spiritual economy.
Leaders (princes) must set an example, creating fairness and justice.

Our prince, Jesus, sets our example. He owned everything but lived as though he owned nothing. He laid down his rights as king, taking up the cross. 
He had sympathy for the unsympathetic. (That’s us.) 
He canceled the debts of those who deserved no mercy. (Also us.) 
He restored those whose lives had been wasted by their own choices. (Us, again.)

The gospel challenges us to make every year, a year of freedom, granting forgiveness and freedom to others.

May we seek out unsympathetic failures and undeserving debtors and may we show them the same mercy given to us. (Matthew 18.21-35) In this way, we can make every year (even 2020) a “year of freedom.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Yours are the heavens; the earth also is yours, you laid the foundations of the world and all that is in it. — Psalm 89.11

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 46  (Listen – 4:49)
Psalm 102 (Listen – 2:45)

Read more about Unsurprising Oppression
“Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.”

Read more about A Cry to God for the Poor from Zimbabwe
You spoke to the children of Israel saying there should not be poor among them. You instituted the Years of Jubilee and Sabbath.

Leaders Against Oppression

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 45.8-9
8 …and my princes will no longer oppress my people but will allow the people of Israel to possess the land according to their tribes. 
9 “ ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: You have gone far enough, princes of Israel! Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Stop dispossessing my people, declares the Sovereign LORD. 

Reflection: Leaders Against Oppression
By John Tillman

Continuing his vision of the new city of God and its temple, Ezekiel describes an equitable division of the land among the tribes. Then he gives a special warning to the “princes” that they must not abuse their position or power.

So what are princes to do?

“Do justice, walk humbly, and love mercy” are easy to assent to but harder to live up to. Specific things Ezekiel mentions are giving up violence and oppression and to stop seizing people’s property unjustly. 

Property, wealth, and debt are frequently addressed in scripture and frequently the implication is that debts should be forgiven and wealth should not be hoarded or go unused. God expects those with wealth to put it to use doing good, not pile it up for themselves for a life of ease.

The word translated “princes” could refer to kings or royal family members but is more often a general term for any leader. These “princes” were typically wealthy or powerful individuals, religious leaders, and governmental officials. The word more literally means “one lifted up” or “exalted one” and its root word can also be used to refer to a rising vapor or cloud (Psalm 135.7; Proverbs 25.14; Jeremiah 10.13; 51.16). 

This root word creates an analogy that can be instructive to and a warning for leaders. Princes, or leaders, are like vapor, mist, or clouds. They are not raised up by their own power. Their time is short and their power is intended to be transitory, impermanent, and light. They are intended to bring refreshing dew in the morning, shade in the heat of the day, and rain in the afternoon. They should be sources of blessing and regeneration for the land and the people, not like dry, harsh, greedy winds, taking from the land every scrap of moisture that can be absorbed.

God says his princes will “no longer oppress.” May that day come soon. In whatever way we are lifted up, may we remember God’s charge to his leaders.

While we wait for this idyllic future city of God, may we work to ensure that the powerful are warned not to be abusive. May we live in such a way that others will not be dispossessed. May we grasp power fearfully and with humility, understanding that God’s first concern with power is that it must not be abused.  

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer

Bless the Lord, you angels of his, you mighty ones who do his bidding, and hearken to the voice of his word.
Bless the Lord, all you his hosts, you ministers of his who do his will.
Bless the Lord, all you works of his, in all places of his dominion, bless the Lord, O my soul.
— Psalm 103.20-22

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 45  (Listen – 5:32)
Psalm 99-101 (Listen – 2:48)

Read more about Lament the Fall of Leaders (Even Bad Ones)
Your life will always be in danger when you aren’t telling the powerful what they want to hear.

Read more about Seeking God’s Servant
God’s servant is different than would be expected of a king or worldly leader.

Abandon Human Vengeance

Scripture Focus: Psalm 94.1-7
The Lord is a God who avenges.
O God who avenges, shine forth.
Rise up, Judge of the earth;
pay back to the proud what they deserve.
How long, Lord, will the wicked,
how long will the wicked be jubilant?
They pour out arrogant words;
all the evildoers are full of boasting.
They crush your people, Lord;
they oppress your inheritance.
They slay the widow and the foreigner;
they murder the fatherless.
They say, “The Lord does not see;
the God of Jacob takes no notice.”

From John: Christ told us that, spiritually, thoughts are as condemnable as actions and insulting language is as condemnable as physical violence. In a culture in which vengeance drives a machine of violent rhetoric which leads to physical violence, Christians have a responsibility to break the machine. With this post from 2018, we pray that Christians will abandon our culture’s model of unrestrained vengeance and violence. 

Reflection: Abandon Human Vengeance
By John Tillman

The tactics of human vengeance are escalatory. We always hit back harder than we were struck.

This is why God specifically limited the punishment that could be legally sought for damages. “An eye for an eye” was never intended to instigate a god-ordained, eye-gouging, free-for-all. It is a limit designed for selfish, angry, vengeful people. In other words, for us.

The psalmist understands that when it comes to vengeance, our role is non-participatory. We cry for it. We give it over to God. We, as Paul writes, “leave room” for the Lord’s just vengeance.

As much as our culture shrinks from biblical descriptions of divine vengeance and wrath, we call for revenge frequently and celebrate those who carry it out. At times it seems like every area of our culture is vociferously demanding vengeance.

Politics is the area in which it is easiest to see it at the moment.

For decades (maybe centuries) political strategists have justified questionable tactics by pointing at the behavior of the other side, childishly saying, “They hit me first.” Politicians are also fond of the mantra of abusers, “look what they made me do.” And every strategic maneuver provides more fuel for hatred and sets up precedent to justify the next retaliation.

Vengeance breeds hatred, and hatred fuels vengeance. This pattern is not new, but it is accelerating.

In their book, Prius or Pickup, Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler discuss how the percentage of Democrats who hate Republicans and Republicans who hate Democrats skyrocketed over the past 18 years. It remained below 20% from 1980 through the 1990s. But in 2016 it was at 50% and trending up. As Hetherington and Weiler say, “hating the opposite political party is no longer a fringe thing.”

As Christians, we must identify ourselves as part of a new fringe that will not submit to the normalcy of hatred.

We must be a fringe that will not be intimidated by those who demand revenge. A fringe that works for justice but will not tolerate the vigilantification of retribution. A fringe that will maintain civility without allowing it to be a synonym for complicity.

Those who continue to stoop to hatred, fear, and exaggeration are worshipers of results, not the Redeemer. As Christians, we have an opportunity to differentiate ourselves from culture every time vitriol spews.

We must be the first to break the chain of retaliatory and violent rhetoric.
We must abandon human vengeance before we can see divine justice.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let your loving-kindness be my comfort, as you have promised to your servant.
Let your compassion come to me, that I may live, for your law is my delight. — Psalm 119.76-77

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 42  (Listen – 3:12)
Psalm 94 (Listen – 2:08)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ezekiel 43  (Listen – 5:15), Psalm 95-96 (Listen – 2:37
Ezekiel 44  (Listen – 5:32), Psalm 97-98 (Listen – 2:19)

Read more about Praying for Divine Vengeance
The prayer for the vengeance of God is the prayer for the carrying out of God’s righteousness in the judgment of sin.

Read more about Responding to Political Violence
For Christians to fail to condemn, or worse, to directly endorse this type of violence is a great moral and theological failing.

Destiny of Grass vs Cedars

Scripture Focus: Psalm 92.4-7, 12-13
For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord;
I sing for joy at what your hands have done.
How great are your works, Lord,
how profound your thoughts!
Senseless people do not know,
fools do not understand,
that though the wicked spring up like grass
and all evildoers flourish,
they will be destroyed forever.

12 The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, 
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; 
13 planted in the house of the LORD, 
they will flourish in the courts of our God. 

Reflection: Destiny of Grass vs Cedars
By John Tillman

There are purposes for the flourishing of the wicked and one of them is that one day the world will see them fall. 

The success of the wicked is like grass that will spring up and then be destroyed. There are purposes for suffering and lowliness and one of them is that one day the world will see the humble exalted. The righteous are not likened to grass but to a “cedar of Lebanon” planted in God’s house. The cedar and the grass may seem a similar height when they sprout, but the cedar’s growth and longevity are much different. 

The psalmist recognizes that wickedness will often flourish in this world. So should we. The writer sees through the illusion that worldly power and success indicate heavenly endorsement. So should we. Whether prospering or suffering, thriving or failing, surviving or dying, gains in this world are meaningless.

The psalmist testifies that senseless people, fools, do not understand this. So we should ask God for wisdom, and he will answer us with understanding.

We should cry out to God to deal with the wicked according to his justice, but let us not wish for a tit-for-tat God. If we got what we deserved, all would be destroyed.

We should praise God for what he has done, but not only for seeing the wicked brought low. We should praise him that despite our wickedness we can be raised up in the righteousness of Christ. 

It is only in emptying ourselves in confession that we can be filled with his righteousness. There is joy and love that God has for us in Christ Jesus. 

The wicked will fall because they will not kneel before Christ. When we fall to our knees in repentance, there is strength to lift us up, carrying us to sanctification. Our arms are too short to grasp what we need but Christ is the arm of the Lord. This powerful arm, bared before the nations, is never too short to save

With the psalmist, may we sing for joy at what his hands have done, working righteousness, showing mercy, and being with us in suffering.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
You are my hiding place…you surround me with shoults of deliverance. — Psalm 32.8

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 41  (Listen – 4:40)
Psalm 92-93 (Listen – 2:09)

Read more about Emptiness Filled by Love :: Worldwide Prayer
Compassionate God, we are sinners in need of forgiveness. The emptiness within us can only be filled by your love.

Read more about The Thriving Tree
Our path to salvation and restoration follows the steps of the suffering, crucified servant, Jesus.

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