Psalm 103:19–22; Jeremiah 23:33–25:14; 1 Timothy 5:17–6:2

Psalm 103:19–22: In what can only be described as a “grand conclusion,” our psalmist’s  focus shifts to heaven itself as this wonderful psalm concludes with awestruck worship. At its center God sits on his throne of justice overseeing all creation—including us—and directing the activities of the “heavenly host:”
The Lord set His throne firm in the heavens
and His kingdom rules over all.
Bless the Lord, O His messengers,
valiant in power, performing His word
to heed the sound of His word.
Bless the Lord, all His armies,
His servants performing His pleasure.” (19-21)

Notice how our poet takes pains to note that the ‘messengers’ or angels are not independent operators but follow God’s directions and “heed the sound of His word.” It appears to me that angels lack free will, being much more like soldiers in the army who are required to carry out God’s commands to the letter. (And of course we know of one angel who decided to disobey God’s command and fell to earth…) The gift of free will is what God has given to us humans and apparently to no other creature. (Although I’m guessing cat owners may disagree!)

The psalm ends with a grand finale celebrating all of God’s creation, ending with his creative apotheosis: humans. Our psalmist and we are truly grateful for our existence, our being both physical and spiritual:
Bless the Lord, O all His works,
in all places of His dominion.
Bless, O my being, the Lord!” (22)

How often have I thanksed God for my very existence, the person I am and who he created me to be? Do I behave as God’s creation or do I go my clueless, self-centered way? Looking around at our culture I’m afraid the vast majority are in the latter category.

Jeremiah 23:33–25:14: Apparently a way to distinguish false prophets and priests from God’s true prophets and priests was when a prophet asked, “What is the burden of the Lord?”  If one heard these words, righteous people were directed to reply, “You are the burden, and I will cast you off, says the Lord.” (23:33) and reject them. So what is this “burden?” Jeremiah answers the question: “is everyone’s own word, and so you pervert the words of the living God” (23:36). In other words, the “burden” is whatever the priest or prophet felt like making up.—which was certainly not God’s word.

Jeremiah, speaking as usual in God’s voice, makes it abundantly clear that a prophet who speaks thus will experience God’s opprobrium: “I will bring upon you everlasting disgrace and perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.” (23:40) I think there are a lot of “prophets” making things up today just as there were in Jeremiah’s time.

It’s object lesson time once again. God shows Jermiah two baskets of figs. “ One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, but the other basket had very bad figs, so bad that they could not be eaten.” (24:2) We rapidly get to the interpretation. The good figs are unsurprisingly those who have remained faithful to god even though they’ve been exiled to Babylon. God’s promise to them is, “I will bring them back to this land. …I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.” (24:6b, 7) So once again, there’s this promise of a saved remnant. The Jewish race will not be lost—and of course it continues down to the present day. God keeps his promises.

Jeremiah comes right out and identifies the bad figs: “King Zedekiah of Judah, his officials, the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who live in the land of Egypt.” (24:8) Needless to say, this group will meet a bad end: “I will send sword, famine, and pestilence upon them, until they are utterly destroyed from the land that I gave to them and their ancestors.” (24:10)

Interesting. Those few souls who remained in conquered Jerusalem are in the bad fig category. Obviously, God intends a thorough cleansing of corruption in the capital city before the “good remnant” returns some 70 years later.

As usual, the timeline of this book is somewhat confusing. The exile to Babylon has not happened yet and in chapter 25 we find Jeremiah still in Jerusalem warning the people to listen to him. We hear Jeremiah’s frustration: “For twenty-three years, from the thirteenth year of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah, to this day, the word of the Lord has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened.” (25:3)

Jeremiah reminds them that they’ve been warned multiple times—and not just from him but other true prophets: “the Lord persistently sent you all his servants the prophets, you have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear when they said, “Turn now, every one of you, from your evil way and wicked doings, and you will remain upon the land that the Lord has given to you and your ancestors from of old and forever.” (25:4, 5)

But as always they ignore the warnings and whatever happens next will be their own fault: “Yet you did not listen to me, says the Lord, and so you have provoked me to anger with the work of your hands to your own harm” (25:7)

Jeremiah then announces their fate with great specificity: “Because you have not obeyed my words, I am going to send for all the tribes of the north, says the Lord, even for King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants…I will utterly destroy them, and make them an object of horror and of hissing, and an everlasting disgrace.” (24:8, 9)

But then once again, Jeremiah articulates the promise that God will destroy Babylon after 70 years: “I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, says the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste.” (25:12)

In short, God punishes all evil, whether Jewish or not. The overarching lesson here is the same one we’ve read in almost every chapter of this book: doing evil before God has dreadful consequences: “ I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.” (25:14)

As Christians we know that we are saved by grace, but I do wonder about entire nations that persist in doing evil. All empires fall. ANd given the state of American culture I think we can safely predict which nation will fall next because it is behaving pretty much like corrupt Judah and corrupt Babylon. This book is not just a recitation of events that took place several millennia ago.

1 Timothy 5:17–6:2: More advice on church management. First and foremost, pastors deserve to be paid for their labors: ” the scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves to be paid.” (5:18)

When it comes to accusations against a church elder or leader, “Never accept any accusation against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” (5:19) That is certainly sound advice in every setting, not just churches.

Rather more disturbing is the advice to publicly rebuke persistent sinners in the church, pointing at them as bad examples for everyone else. There are a few very conservative churches in the US that still do this and I know of at least one case where public shaming in a church led to a lawsuit. Once again, we need to keep the cultural context always in mind.

Same goes for the advice to slaves: “Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed.” (6:1) I’m sure this command was carried out with great ferocity in the antebellum South. Equally disturbing to me, is that “Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved.” (6:2) In other words, be a good slave because we’re all Christians here.

I skipped over the one verse in this book that I’m sure most Lutherans love: “No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” (23) But as I read this verse, wine is more medicine than pleasure. Talk about random advice in the midst of everything else! Of course the prohibition movement of the late 19th and early 20th century right skipped over this verse as do teetotaling churches today. On the other side, too many take this verse as license rather than advice.


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