Psalm 105:8–15; Jeremiah 32:16–33:5; 2 Timothy 3:10–4:8

Psalm 105:8–15: Our psalmist reflects on the history of Israel, or more precisely on the history of the covenant as seen from God’s perspective, recalling how it connects back to the three patriarchs:

He recalls His pact forever—
the word He ordained for a thousand generations—
which He sealed with Abraham, and His vow to Isaac,
and He set it for Jacob as a statute,
for Israel an eternal pact,

Then, we hear the Covenant in God’s own words, “To you I will give the land of Canaan/ as the plot of your estate.” (11). Back at that time of Israel’s origins in Canaan, “they were a handful of men,/ but a few, and sojourners there.” (12) At the time that god gave his Covenant, they were but a wandering nomadic tribe, “And they went about form nation to nation,/ from one kingdom to another people.” (13)  This verse and “Sojourners” tells us that Abraham/Isaac/Jacob had no real claim to the land, only the promise of God that one day they would possess it as they moved about in Canaan form place to place.

Nevertheless, they enjoyed God’s fierce protection: “He allowed no man to oppress them/ and warned kings on their account: ‘Touch not My anointed ones,/ and to my prophets do no harm.'” (14,15) This reference to the wanderings of the Patriarchs is certainly one reason why protection of sojourners in Israel in always included in the lists of justice that God demands for widows, orphans and the poor, which we encounter in the OT.

This is also a reminder that God keeps his promises no matter how few we may be or where we may wander–and I suppose even when we wander outside the church. All those psalms of supplication notwithstanding, God never abandons us. His eye is indeed on the sparrow.

Jeremiah 32:16–33:5: Jeremiah remains under guard in the court of Judah’s king and devotes his time to prayer. Like the psalm above, he begins at Creation, “It is you who made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.” (32:16), reviewing the captivity and escape from Israel, the entry into Canaan, “you gave them this land, which you swore to their ancestors to give them, a land flowing with milk and honey;” (32:22) But then things went awry: “they did not obey your voice or follow your law; of all you commanded them to do, they did nothing.” (32:23) [Notice that “doing nothing” is also to disobey God.] And in true deuteronomic fashion, “Therefore you have made all these disasters come upon them.” as he reviews the current desperate situation: “siege ramps have been cast up against the city to take it, and the city, faced with sword, famine, and pestilence…” (32:24). Things couldn’t be worse.

But Jeremiah admits his puzzlement: “O Lord God, [You] have said to me, “Buy the field for money and get witnesses.'” (32:25) Why, Jeremiah asks, should he buy land in a place that is about to be conquered? This is another one of those great metaphorical object lessons we find scattered across this book. Jeremiah’s purchase represents God’s promise that Israel will one day be restored after he has punished the people: “See, I am going to gather them from all the lands to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation; I will bring them back to this place, and I will settle them in safety.” (32:37) And then, the Great Promise: “They shall be my people, and I will be their God….I will make an everlasting covenant with them, never to draw back from doing good to them; and I will put the fear of me in their hearts, so that they may not turn from me.” (32:38, 40)

Israel was certainly restored after its 70-year exile in Babylon under the terms of what we could call the “Renewed Covenant.” But for us Christians, once again we can read these words as the promise of Jesus coming as savior: the New Covenant. Ultimately, for both Israel and ourselves, there is this marvelous promise: “I will rejoice in doing good to them, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.” (32:41) Think on that: we are the beneficiaries of all God’s heart and soul. There is nothing greater, nothing better than basking in the love of God.

2 Timothy 3:10–4:8: This is where we encounter the (in)famous verse, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” (3:16) Yes, all Scripture is God-inspired, but that does not mean “transcribed autograph direct  from the Holy Spirit” such that every word is inviolate, without error. I’m no theologian, but inerrancy just doesn’t seem to flow from this verse, whose purpose–like so much in this epistle–seems to be practical advice rather than complex theology. For me, the point of this verse is about how we use Scripture as a touchstone reference point for maintaining order and building up knowledge and understanding of each of us as we grow in Christ. 

Nor is this just an intellectual exercise so that we are able to compete successfully in “Sword Drills.” Rather, we are to be come “proficient, equipped for every good work.” The way I read that is that when we head out into the world to serve others and carry out the Great Commission, we must be able to rely on our Biblical understanding to be effective witnesses in our actions. And these actions do not include browbeating others with the “Are you saved?” question. Or at least it doesn’t for me.

Frankly, I think that Biblical ignorance is rampant in much of the church today. And lacking that sure grounding in what Jesus, the Apostles are saying and what all the authors of both the OT and NT actually wrote, we drift aimlessly, unsure of ourselves, almost automaton-like. And then inevitably, we drift away altogether.

We are not to leave our brains at the door of the church and go in to just enjoy an emotional worship experience with cool songs and a charismatic sermon. As the Cursillo folks have it, being an effective Great Commission Christian involves prayer and study before there can be effective action. Study is more than sitting and listening to one 20-30 minute sermon each week. It involves self-discipline and diving into the Word. And action without knowing why and out of what tradition and purpose we’re acting becomes noble but ultimately empty gestures.

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