Psalm 102:23–28; Jeremiah 19:10–21:10; 1 Timothy 4:1–10

Psalm 102:23–28: The psalmist swings back around from concern for the nation to his own situation, asserting that God is the one who has decreed his early death. He prays that God would change his mind:
He humbled my strength on the highway,
he cut short my days.
I say, ‘O my God.
Do not take me away in the midst of my days!’” (24, 25a)

Our poet has a very creative rationale with which he supports is plea for a longer life. He contrasts God’s eternality with a man’s brief life span. The unspoken implication is that God, who has created everything, being eternal, really can fathom neither the poet’s yearning to live nor the human’s psychological plight of mortality—of being given just a few short years to be on earth:
Your years are for all generations.
Of old You founded the earth,
and the heavens—Your handiwork.” (25b, 26)

I sense the deep frustration of the psalmist as he compares human lives to metaphorical clothes that God puts on and then discards when they are worn out:
They will perish and and You will stand.
They will all wear away like a garment.
Like clothing You change them, and they pass away.” (27)

One last acknowledgement of God’s eternity and our poet seems to accept his mortal fate as he understands that even in our short lives it is God who protects us and gives the gift of life to the next generation:
But You—Your years never end.
The sons of Your servants dwell safe,
their seed in Your presence, unshaken.” (28, 29)

The takeaway for me is that we must accept the fact that even though God is eternal we are not. But in our mortality we will find God’s healing and protection.

Jeremiah 19:10–21:10: The Moravians inexplicably ended yesterday’s reading at Jeremiah holding the earthenware jug but doing nothing with it. Today, we read God’s instructions of what the prophet is to do with it: “Then you shall break the jug in the sight of those who go with you, and shall say to them: Thus says the Lord of hosts: So will I break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter’s vessel, so that it can never be mended.” (19:10) This statement is in stark contrast to Jeremiah’s earlier visit to the potter where he saw that when the craftsman makes a mistake he can redeem the clay by starting over. But with a broken jug there is metaphorically no redemption for Judah.

Jeremiah carries out God’s instructions in his usual blunt style: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I am now bringing upon this city and upon all its towns all the disaster that I have pronounced against it, because they have stiffened their necks, refusing to hear my words.” (19:15)

Unsurprisingly, this does not go over well with his audience. As a consequence, the high priest, Pashur, “struck the prophet Jeremiah, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the Lord.” (20:2) The priest releases Jeremiah the next morning but instead of saying thanks, Jeremiah curses him: “Jeremiah said to him, The Lord has named you not Pashhur but “Terror-all-around.” (20:4) He goes on to tell the priest that he will witness his friends die by the sword and everyone else will be carried off to Babylon and “there you shall die, and there you shall be buried, you and all your friends, to whom you have prophesied falsely.” (20:6)

A long disquisition in poetry naturally follows as Jeremiah decries the fate of prophets without honor in their own countries:
For I hear many whispering:
    “Terror is all around!
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!”
    All my close friends
    are watching for me to stumble.” (20:10)

Despite the personal danger in which he finds himself, Jeremiah remains true to God and would really like to see the events he’s prophesied actually carried out sooner rather than later:
Lord of hosts, you test the righteous,
    you see the heart and the mind;
let me see your retribution upon them,
    for to you I have committed my cause.” (20:12)

Once again we read that Jeremiah, faithful to God and relentless deliverer of bad news to an evil people, would rather not have been born at all. The poem ends on a dark but psychologically authentic note—regret for having lived at all:
Why did I come forth from the womb
    to see toil and sorrow,
    and spend my days in shame?” (20:18)

Eventually the people of Judah begin to understand that Jeremiah has not been making all this up. Perhaps, some may have thought, he is an authentic prophet telling us stuff we’d rather not hear.  The events he’s predicted appear to be coming to pass and Babylon is nearing Jerusalem. Pashur sends for Jeremiah and asks, “Please inquire of the Lord on our behalf, for King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is making war against us;” (21:2a) The high priest is optimistic that “perhaps the Lord will perform a wonderful deed for us, as he has often done, and will make him withdraw from us.” (21:2b)

Unsurprisingly, Jeremiah tells the priest his optimism is badly misplaced and that God “will strike down the inhabitants of this city, both human beings and animals; they shall die of a great pestilence.” (21:6) And those who survive need not think themselves fortunate because God will ensure that “those who survive the pestilence, sword, and famine—into the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, into the hands of their enemies, into the hands of those who seek their lives.” (21:7)

The last line in today’s reading is Jeremiah, speaking in God’s voice, summing up the dreadful events to come: “For I have set my face against this city for evil and not for good, says the Lord: it shall be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.” (10:10)

But as always the reading ends, leaving us wondering, will God give them one last chance to redeem themselves before the awful events come to pass? Jeremiah’s been forecasting doom through these twenty-one chapters but nothing has happened yet. Is there still hope?

1 Timothy 4:1–10: Our author undertakes a direct condemnation of gnosticism, whose influence seems to be growing in the church (again another suggestion that the letter has been written some years after Paul). He writes, “in later  times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron.” (1,2)

He goes on to note that “They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods, which God created…” (3) A foundational belief of the Gnostics was that physical objects, even physical life itself was inferior to a serene and superior state of spirituality—exactly the same thing we see today in the crystals and makras of various spiritualists who hang out in places like Sedona,AZ.

True Christians, on the other hand, rejoice at the physicality of creation because “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving.” (4) This is a good warning to those who may tend to over-spirtualize their religious experience.

For example, sometimes, people misinterpret the role of the Holy Spirit and make an overt spiritual experience such as speaking in tongues, aka a ‘second baptism’ become not only the ne plus ultra of the Christian life but a defining boundary of who is “really Christian” and who is not. This was especially rampant in the various charismatic movements of the 1970s.

Following this condemnation our author relapses back into serious advice-giving mode, ostensibly to Timothy, although given Paul’s affection for—and obvious trust in— his friend, these cookbook instructions feel inauthentic to me: “Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (7,8) Nevertheless they stand as good advice for pastors and leaders. 

 

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