Psalm 104:1–9; Jeremiah 25:15–26:9; 1 Timothy 6:3–16

Psalm 104:1–9: Although this psalm begins with the same exclamation of God’s glory as the preceding one, it focuses not on humankind, but celebrates the glories of God’s creation—almost a poetic setting of the Genesis creation story. God first act is to create light with striking similes of putting on a coat and the heavens compared to a tent:
Wrapped in light like a cloak,
stretching out heavens like a tent-cloth.” (2)

Creation is reminiscent of a construction project as the skies are put in place first:
Setting beams for His lofts in the waters,
making His chariot the clouds
He goes on the wings of the wind.
He makes His messengers the winds
His ministers, glowing fire.” (3,4)

Notice the active participles—stretching, setting, making—that underscore an active God on the move. For this psalmist, God is not some remote somnolent being. Our poet turns his gaze downward from heaven to earth, reflecting “solid ground:”
He founded earth on its solid base,
not to be shaken forevermore.” (5)

Then, in the description of water, we can feel its movement. God is not going about his tasks quietly. Creation is quite a noisy affair. But above all is the sense that God created the ultimate order of nature that gives us life:
With the deep You covered it like a garment—
over mountains the waters stood.
From Your blast they fled,
from the sound of Your thunder they scattered.
They went up the mountains, went down the valleys,
to the place You founded for them.” (6-8)

There’s the clear sense that water once covered the  earth until God moved it into its proper place, exposing the mountains and valleys. One is reminded of  the Noah flood story—a feeling intensified by the next verse:
A border You fixed so they could not cross,
so they could not come back to cover the earth.” (9)

The key idea here—and that will continue through the entirety of this psalm—is that God is  not only its creator, but is ultimately in control of nature. Which of course has clear meaning for we humans who live within nature. Especially in the path of hurricanes and tornadoes. We humans seem to be the only creatures that God has created with the gift of free will and therefore not under God’s direct control.

Jeremiah 25:15–26:9:  God is not only angry at Judah, he’s angry at every surrounding nation—sounding pretty much like the Noahic God as he instructs Jeremiah, “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.” (25:15) Their fate will not be any better than Judah’s: “They shall drink and stagger and go out of their minds because of the sword that I am sending among them.” (25:16)

We are then presented with a long list of the nations to whom Jeremiah is to take this (I presume metaphorical) cup. God instructs Jeremiah again in even starker terms, “Then you shall say to them, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, get drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you.” (25:27)

If the nations refuse to drink this cup, which I presume they would, then they receive a curse in fairly apocalyptic poetry:

The clamor will resound to the ends of the earth,
    for the Lord has an indictment against the nations;
he is entering into judgment with all flesh,
    and the guilty he will put to the sword,
says the Lord.
Thus says the Lord of hosts:

See, disaster is spreading
     from nation to nation,
and a great tempest is stirring

    from the farthest parts of the earth!” (25:31,32)

These verses seem to be a clear prophecy of the end of history, aka the Day of the Lord, rather than to Judah’s contemporary neighbors.

As usual, the Jeremiah timeline is confusing as we jump from the end of history to the court of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah. And it’s not like God instructs Jeremiah to say anything new. It’s pretty much a rehash of what we’ve read over and over: “Thus says the Lord: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, and to heed the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently—though you have not heeded— then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.” (26:4,5)

Unsurprisingly, this does not go over well and “when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die!” (26:8)

As we lay readers say, ‘Here ends the reading.’  WIll Jeremiah escape the clutches of the priests and other prophets? He was certainly becoming a more than just an irritating thorn in their side.

1 Timothy 6:3–16: Speaking of irritating thorns in the side, our “Paul” cannot cease giving instructions cloaked in what I think is rather graceless language: “Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness, is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words.” (3,4) Of course the phrase “disputes about words,” hits pretty close to me personally…

There seems to be little question that church to which Timothy was going was riven by dissention—much of it around words, i.e., philosophy. As I’ve noted before my guess is that there was a Gnostic faction in the church that was creating most of the problems. Our author notes that “morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words” creates “envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” (5) [I love that the translators came up with ‘wrangling!’]

Being content with one’s lot in life is the underlying theme of this reading as we hear words that it would do well to reflect on as we get older: “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that  we can take nothing out of it.” (6,7)

This contentment is far preferable to “those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (9) Well, that pretty much sums up our over-striving American culture—although this empty striving clearly traces all the way back through history.

This leads our author inexorably to the most famous line in this epistle—and one that is widely misquoted: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” (10a) Money is the root of evil; it is not intrinsically evil. Money is merely a neutral object. It’s the human motivation behind it that leads to bad outcomes.

This rather didactic letter finally finds a bit of humanity as our author writes to Timothy a wonderful prescription that every Christian should not only remember but truly take to heart: “Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (12)

Too many Christians—myself included—see our faith as neutral and rather static, even kind of wimpy. We think we’re being persecuted when things in the public square don’t go our way via court rulings or the general contempt for Christianity in the culture when we read things such as the Southern Poverty Law Center designating Christian groups who disagree with the progressive agenda as “hate groups.”

But as our author notes, we are to fight on, not sit back. Because we are working for “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion.” (15, 16)

Which is a pretty good note on which to end this letter of instruction.

 

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