Psalm 104:19–23; Jeremiah 28:1–29:14; 2 Timothy 1:8–18

Psalm 104:19–23: There’s a beautiful diurnal symmetry in these verses. God has established night and day: “He made the moon for the fixed seasons;/ the sun–He appointed its setting.” (19)  The night is time time of the animals: “You bring down darkness and it turns to night/ in which all the beasts of the forest stir.” (20) Not only “stir” but “The lions roar for prey,/ seeking from God their food.” (21) I’m intrigued by the implication that while lacking language, lions (and other animals) may somehow be aware that God is their provider. In any event, the psalmist is making it clear that lions seeking their prey is part of the natural order.

At dawn the animals retire: “When the sun comes up, they [the lions] head home,/ and in their dens they lie down.” (22) In God’s order, daylight is man’s dominion: “Man goes out to his work/ and to his labor until evening.” (23) The verses connote God has established a natural order. Now that we have lit the night and so many of us are sleep-deprived we have upended that order–to the detriment of ourselves and the lions as well. One more example of how we wish to dominate and control the earth, little realizing once again that our self-centeredness is to the detriment of all nature.

Jeremiah 28:1–29:14: Jeremiah notes the very precise dates and place as he recounts what happens next after Jeremiah has appeared in the king’s court wearing the symbolic yoke: “at the beginning of the reign of King Zedekiah of Judah, in the fifth month of the fourth year, the prophet Hananiah son of Azzur, from Gibeon, spoke to me in the house of the Lord,” (28:1) Jeremiah’s prophetic rival, Hananiah, delivers exactly the reverse of what Jeremiah has said, asserting, ““Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon.” (28:2) and that God will bring back the exiles presnetly in Babylon.

Jeremiah’s response is generous: “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles.” (28:5) He then points out,” As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.” (28:9) Things are sounding pretty good for Hananiah and he takes the yoke off Jeremiah’s back and dashes it to the floor, breaking it, shouting, “Thus says theLord: This is how I will break the yoke of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon from the neck of all the nations within two years.” (28:11)

But all prophetic assertions are not necessarily God’s truth. God speaks to Jeremiah, “Go, tell Hananiah, Thus says the Lord: You have broken wooden bars only to forge iron bars in place of them!” (28:13). Jeremiah does so, telling his colleague, “Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you made this people trust in a lie.” (28:15) and predicts that Hananiah will be dead within the year. Which he is.

So, what’s the takeaway here? That we would rather hear good news than bad. But sometimes bad news is what we have to accept. This also tells me we should be wary of me and women who claim to speak for God and deliver self-esteem “God will bless you” pablum. Once again, I’m talking about you, Joel Osteen and all your megachurch TV successors (and predecessors for that matter…)

Jeremiah sits down and writes a letter to the exiles in Babylon to “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.” (29:5,6) He also warns them, “Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord.” (29:8,9) In other words live where you are planted, don’t follow delusions of false prophets, but trust in God.

We arrive at the verse that Susan has quoted for many years and is such a wonderful reminder that we are not drifting through the vicissitudes of life alone: “ For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (29:11) And then less often quoted, if we seek God, “ I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes” (29:14) It’s not we who find God but stretching all the way back to the Garden, it is always God who finds us.

2 Timothy 1:8–18: The theme here is similar to Jeremiah 29. When we feel abandoned and hopeless, “join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.” (8,9) And the all important reason that we live in this hope as our author picks up the kerygmatic theme almost exactly echoing Paul’s words in Philippians 2: “This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (10).

There we have it folks: the core of the Good News. And if we truly know and accept its reality we will be able to discern “the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (13) And it’s our responsibility to hold fast and “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.” (14). Just as in the early church, there are still too many who would add to or subtract from the the beautiful simplicity of the Gospel message. Why? Because like always we want to be in control and impress others with our insight and knowledge when all that is required is to understand and communicate the unadorned Good News.

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