Psalm 103:1–5; Jeremiah 21:11–22:30; 1 Timothy 4:11–5:8

Psalm 103:1–5: Dedicated to David, this psalm is an inward reflection by the poet as he contemplates God’s overwhelming beneficence.
For David.
Bless, O my being, the Lord, and everything in me, His holy name.
Bless, O my being, the Lord, and do not forget all His generous acts.” (1,2)

Today, I think we would call this a centering prayer, where the goal is to gather all our thoughts without distraction and focus solely on God (or in our case, Jesus)—hence the repeated line, almost mantra-like, “Bless, O my being, the Lord…”

Having focused himself, the poet goes on to enumerate God’s blessings in his life:
Who forgives all your wrongs,
heals all your illnesses,
redeems your life from the Pit,
crowns you with kindness, compassion,
sates you with good while you live—
you renew your youth like the eagle.” (3-5)

Notice that the first blessing is forgiveness, which of course means that our psalmist has recognized his sins and confessed them—an act in decreasing popularity in our self-centered age. …And one more reminder why it is wise to place confession at thefront end of worship.

Unlike so many other psalms that focus on God having created disease as punishment, here our psalmist celebrates God’s healing power, even over deadly diseases—a power that in our technological age we seldom acknowledge.

In this age that believes our behavior—both good and bad—is completely self-willed, it worth remembering that it is God—not us—who is the source of kindness and compassion. God will happily overcome our darker instincts with heaven-sent kindness and compassion if we but center our lives on him and acknowledge what the psalmist has said here. It is true for him and it is true for us.

As the final stanza states, God is the source of our blessings. And even if we do not become younger physically, centering our lives on Jesus Christ and God certainly restores a fresh, youthful outlook on our life. (Although I don’t really get the eagle simile…)

Jeremiah 21:11–22:30: In this reading, Jeremiah turns his attention to the kings of the Davidic dynasty. The prophet opens with an offer and a threat regarding the core leadership responsibility of the king, which is to dispense justice fairly:
Execute justice in the morning,
    and deliver from the hand of the oppressor
    anyone who has been robbed,
or else my wrath will go forth like fire,
    and burn, with no one to quench it,
    because of your evil doings.” (21:12)

As always, there’s God’s quid-pro-quo:. Treat others unjustly and God will punish the king accordingly:
I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings,
says the Lord;” (21:14a)

With this introduction, God sends Jeremiah right to the king this time to outline the deuteronomic deal. Jeremiah instructs the king to “Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place.” (22:3)

Notice that the underlying theme of the OT surfaces once again: the command to provide  justice to the orphans and widows. Jeremiah then outlines the unsurprising consequences of disobedience (as he has done so many times before): “But if you will not heed these words, I swear by myself, says the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation.” (22:5)

At this point Jeremiah gets down to forecasting the fate of specific kings. The first is Shallum, son of King Josiah. He’s already been taken hostage by invading powers and “in the place where they have carried him captive he shall die, and he shall never see this land again.” (22:12)

A poetic intermezzo follows regarding the fate of kingly oppressors:
Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
    and his upper rooms by injustice;
who makes his neighbors work for nothing,
    and does not give them their wages;” (22:13)

But it appears God has already given up on this Shallum character as Jeremiah concludes in a verse that applies to all corrupt leaders,
But your eyes and heart
    are only on your dishonest gain,
for shedding innocent blood,
    and for practicing oppression and violence.” (22:17)

Alas, how many kings and rulers down through history and to the present time fit this exact description? Jeremiah then turns his prophetic attention to King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah. This miscreant meets a shameful end:
With the burial of a donkey he shall be buried—
    dragged off and thrown out beyond the gates of Jerusalem.” (22:19)

A similar fate awaits Josiah’s grandson, Coniah in one of God’s more memorable threats: “As I live, says the Lord, even if King Coniah son of Jehoiakim of Judah were the signet ring on my right hand, even from there I would tear you off and give you into the hands of those who seek your life, into the hands of those of whom you are afraid, even into the hands of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon and into the hands of the Chaldeans.” (22:24, 25)

This corrupt king is so hopeless that Jeremiah returns to the image of the broken jug:
Is this man Coniah a despised broken pot,
    a vessel no one wants?” (22:28a)

But I think the greatest tragedy here is how the Davidic dynasty ends. What had begun in greatness with David and Solomon has degenerated to an ash heap of corruption. Coniah is the end of the line as Jeremiah pronounces God’s ultimate curse on a man—the lack of progeny:
Record this man as childless,
    a man who shall not succeed in his days;
for none of his offspring shall succeed
    in sitting on the throne of David,
    and ruling again in Judah.” (22:30)

But we also know neither the story nor the Davidic line end here. Several centuries after the lines are penned, one person from the house of David will arise: the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ.

The lesson here is stark and occurs often in the OT: Leadership matters and therefore it is held by God to the highest standards. A corrupt leader infects the nation. We have seen it over and over down through history and now we must question even our own leadership. I am not particularly optimistic as America turns increasingly away from God.

1 Timothy 4:11–5:8: Our author continues to write in Paul’s voice, advising Timothy, “These are the things you must insist on and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (4:11, 12) [I have to say at this point even though my skepticism regarding Paul’s authorship remains strong, our author has certainly captured Paul’s penchant for advice-giving in long lists.]

We also for the first time encounter the rite of ordination that continues today—the laying on of hands in apostolic succession: “Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.” (4:14)

Just to make sure Timothy gets the point, our “Paul” repeats himself, but without the elegance that I think the actual Paul would have used. Rather, although it is pertinent, the exhortation is workmanlike and more abstract than I think Paul would have been: “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (4:16)

I have to confess there’s some pretty decent advice here about pastoral relationships with the members of the church. If a pastor is younger than many congregants, as Timothy was, then “Do not speak harshly to an older man,  but speak to him as to a father, to younger men as brothers, to older women as mothers, to younger women as sisters—with absolute purity.” (5:1,2) Notice especially the care that a pastor should take when interacting with women: with “absolute purity.” How many church splits and general shame would have been avoided had leaders heeded these words more carefully!

Speaking as an older adult, I particularly like the next verse: “If a widow has children or grandchildren, they should first learn their religious duty to their own family and make some repayment to their parents; for this is pleasing in God’s sight.” (5:4) In other words, charity begins at home with the family. This command is reiterated more broadly just a few verses down: “And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (5:8)

I think our culture in general has pretty much ignored these commands as too many family members ignore their responsibility to each other and think that the government will take care of them. Obviously, there are many families that cannot support each other, but I suspect many do not really try hard enough, preferring to keep their wealth to themselves. If we claim to be Christian, then the command seems especially clear here.

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