Psalm 102:12–22; Jeremiah 18:1–19:9; 1 Timothy 3:8–16

Psalm 102:12–22: Even though our psalmist is in dire physical and psychological straits—and has let God know just how bad off he is—he seems to accept his fate as he approaches death:
My days inclined like a shadow,
and I—like grass I withered.” (12)

But before he dies, and in a sudden shift of focus away from his own impending death, he asks for God’s mercy on the Jerusalem (Zion), which appears to be in similar dire straits:
And You Lord, forever enthroned,
and Your name for all generations.
You, may You rise, have mercy on Zion,
for it is the hour to pity her, for the fixed time has come.” (13, 14)

In the same way that he has asked God to take pity on him, the few righteous men remaining (himself included) feel the same pity for destroyed Jerusalem:
For Your servants cherish her stones
and on her dust the they take pity.” (15)

If God does indeed restore Jerusalem  it will again command the respect from other nations that a city where the one true God dwells should by rights enjoy:
And the nations will fear the name of the Lord,
and all kings on earth, Your glory.
For the Lord has rebuilt Zion,
He is seen in His glory.” 16, 17)

This glorious outcome that will span generations can occur because God has looked down from heaven and deigned to answer their prayers:
He has turned to the prayer of the desolate
and has not despised their prayer.
Let this be inscribed for a generation to come,
that a people yet unborn may praise Yah.
for the Lord gazed down from His holy heights,
” (18-20a)

Our psalmist describes what God has seen and heard as his own physical woes are juxtaposed to the nation:
“...from heaven to earth He has looked
to hear the groans of the captive,
to set loose those doomed to die…” (20b-21)

As always, the response to being set free by God is worship:
that the name of the Lord be recounted in Zion
and His praise in Jerusalem
when peoples gather together
and kingdoms, to serve the Lord.” (22, 23)

For me the most striking thing here is how the psalmist is able to shift his focus from his own woes and ask God for healing for the nation. I think that if I were so near death, I would not be able to think much about others, much less my entire community. This psalm is a good reminder that even in times of mortal distress we need to think of—and pray for—others. I think this shift of focus away from our understandable self-centeredness is a form of healing.

Jeremiah 18:1–19:9: God seems to enjoy giving Jeremiah object lessons that the prophet can use to demonstrate in more dramatic terms than mere words the nature of Jerusalem’s eventual grim fate. There was the buried loincloth, now it’s what happens when the potter makes a mistake: “The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.” (18:4)

The meaning should be obvious: God is the potter, the clay is Judah. God is perfectly willing to remold or restore them if they simply repent: “…if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it.” (18:8)

But Judah remains stubborn in its idolatry as Jeremiah reports back to God the gist of their leaders’ response (with some sarcastic editorializing thrown in): “But they say, “It is no use! We will follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of our evil will.” (18:12)

Not surprisingly, God is less than thrilled at the news and promises the usual bad end for the wayward nation:
Like the wind from the east,
    I will scatter them before the enemy.
I will show them my back, not my face,
    in the day of their calamity.” (18:17)

To say that Jeremiah’s words have become a nagging annoyance is an understatement. The peopel would rather do away with him. Jeremiah tells God, “Then they said, “Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah…Come, let us bring charges against him, and let us not heed any of his words.” (18:18)

As always, Jeremiah comes to God in prayer, but unlike the psalmist does not ask for God to take pity on them. Quite the opposite in fact:
Do not forgive their iniquity,
  do not blot out their sin from your sight.
Let them be tripped up before you;
   deal with them while you are angry.” (18:23)

So it’s object lesson time again. God instructs Jeremiah to assemble “some of the elders of the people and some of the senior priests” (19:1) in front of the city gate and warn them once again that God says, “I am going to bring such disaster upon this place that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle.” (19:3)

The image of tingling ears is appropriate because for the first time in this book we learn the details of Baal worship—and it is downright evil. My ears would tingle as well as Jeremiah outlines the exact nature of their sins: “because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent, and gone on building the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I [God] did not command or decree, nor did it enter my mind.” (19:4b, 5) Notice how God is careful to distance himself from these vile practices

God will turn the tables on those who’ve killed innocent children as they will become cannibals as they starve while Jerusalem is under siege: “ I will make this city a horror, a thing to be hissed at;…And I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and all shall eat the flesh of their neighbors in the siege, and in the distress with which their enemies and those who seek their life afflict them.” (19:8,9) 

With these grim images of children sacrificed on a bloody altar and people becoming cannibals we can understand why Jeremiah doesn’t get preached about very often, if at all. Isaiah is certainly a more comforting prophet…

1 Timothy 3:8–16: Our author turns his attention to the role of deacons, who report to the bishop. Again, this level of organizational minutiae suggests a church that’s been in operation for  a long time, suggesting it was written some years after Paul was writing.

As with the bishop, “Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money; they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.” (8,9)  There is apparently a formal test, which I take to be some form of temptation, wherein the candidate deacon must “prove themselves blameless,” (10) [And again a well-established practice that comes into practice in a long-established organization, not a young church.] Inexplicably, our author inserts his warning about women’s behavior in the middle of the deacon’s job description: “Women  likewise must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things.” (11) Or does this mean women could also be deacons? Given what we read yesterday, I rather doubt it.

For our author, writing as Paul, it’s all about being Christians in the church being on their best behavior, which also seems rather unpauline:  if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” (15)

Having dispensed all this behavioral advice, our author sums up the gospel message in what I take to be the words of an early hymn about Christ, or perhaps a creed that served as a precursor to what eventually was developed fully in the 4th century at Nicea:
He was revealed in flesh,
    vindicated in spirit,
        seen by angels,
proclaimed among Gentiles,
    believed in throughout the world,
        taken up in glory.” (16)

It’s a nice little stanza and it’s theologically orthodox.  But it’s far less magnificent or theologically rich than the hymn that the authentic Paul quotes in Philippians 2.

Again, so little theology, so much behavioral instruction. Is this really Paul?

 

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