Psalm 104:10–18; Jeremiah 26:10–27:22; 1 Timothy 6:17–2 Timothy 1:7

Psalm 104:10–18: Having created the boundaries of the seas in the preceding verses, God now creates freshwater sources in the mountains which provide for the animals of the earth and the birds in the sky and trees. This psalm includes some of the most evocative language describing nature that we read anywhere in the Bible:
You let loose the springs in freshets,
among the mountains they go.
They water all beasts of the field,
the wild asses slake their thirst.
Above them the fowl of the heavens dwell,
from among the foliage they send forth their voice.” (10-12)

God also creates the rain “in His lofts” which benefit not just animals, but humans as well:
He waters mountains from His lofts,
from the fruit of Your works the earth is sated.
He makes the hay sprout for cattle,
grass for the labor of humankind
to bring forth bread from the earth,
and wine that gladdens the heart of man
to make faces shine brighter than oil,
and bread that sustains the heart of man.” (13-15)

I write this while Houston is receiving multiple feet of rain and people are dying for too much water, so there’s some irony as I read these beautiful verses that describe the benefits—among them bread and wine—of God-sent rain. Nevertheless, without the rain life of all kinds on the earth would be impossible. It truly is a gift from God.

Our psalmist returns to describing the flora and fauna that God has placed on the earth, focusing on trees and and how he sustains life around the trees with the water he provides:
The trees of the Lord drink their fill,
the Lebanon cedars He planted,
where the birds make their nest,
the stork whose home is the cypresses,
the high mountains for the gazelles,
the crags a shelter for badgers.” (16-18)

One marvels at both the abundance and variety of wildlife that populated Israel when the psalmist wrote. Unfortunately, we humans have not been faithful stewards of creation and I suspect there are very few storks, gazelles, and badgers to be found in modern Israel. This psalm reminds me of my own God-ordained duty to creation as well: to tread lightly on nature.

Jeremiah 26:10–27:22: The priests and other prophets carry their demand to put Jeremiah to death to the king: “This man deserves the sentence of death because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.” (26:11)

But Jeremiah will not be silenced and he once again tells his accusers that if they would only “amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will change his mind about the disaster that he has pronounced against you.” (26:3) At that, he turns himself over to them, telling them, “Do with me as seems good and right to you. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will be bringing innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.” (26:15)

He is persuasive and some in the crowd reply that Jeremiah “does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.” (26:16) [Quite a contrast to the frenzied crowd that demanded Jesus’ death some centuries later…]

At this point someone rises and reminds the assembly that prophets earlier than Jeremiah have made the same kinds of pronouncements and were not put to death. The speaker cites Micah (whose eponymous book we’ll read late in this year) and a certain Uriah son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-jearim as examples. The argument is persuasive and we learn the name of the man who saved Jeremiah: “the hand of Ahikam son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah so that he was not given over into the hands of the people to be put to death.” (26:24)

So, it’s time for another Jeremiah object lesson as God commands him, “Make yourself a yoke of straps and bars, and put them on your neck.” (27:2) Jeremiah’s instructions are to send word to the kings of Edom, Moab, ammonites, Tyre and Sidon that they, along with Judah, will shortly be under the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. If the kings of these nations fail to obey and fail to “put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, then I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, says the Lord, until I have completed its destruction by his hand.” (27:8)

This doesn’t seem like a great choice but then Jeremiah goes on to tell them that  “any nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave on its own land, says the Lord, to till it and live there.” (27:11)

Jeremiah carries the same message to “King Zedekiah of Judah in the same way: Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live.” (27:12) The priests and officials are recommending an armed fight against Babylon, but Jeremiah pleads, “Do not listen to them; serve the king of Babylon and live. Why should this city become a desolation?” (27:17) God has given them a way out if they would only listen. One of the great constants of human nature is that we’re really poor listeners.

Jeremiah then dares the false prophets, telling them that if they’re true prophets, the furnishings of the temple at Jerusalem will remain intact in Jerusalem. But they obviously fail the test and the “the pillars, the sea, the stands, and the rest of the vessels that are left in this city” (27:19) are carried off to Babylon. However, God will at some point see that they will be returned (along with the people, I presume) and “Then I will bring them up and restore them to this place.” (27:22)

While I’m impressed with the historical detail I confess to being suspicious that this book was written after the fact and that our author is reporting on events that are in the past rather than the future. I guess it’s just my suspicious nature…

1 Timothy 6:17–2 Timothy 1:7: At the end of yesterday’s reading I thought we had arrived at the end of the epistle, but I was mistaken. Our author cannot resist tacking on still more words of advice after that “Amen” in 6:16.

Money and wealth continue to concern our author and he has wise words for all of us who think we can play the stock market: “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (6:17)  The rich are especially commanded to “to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share.” (6:18) Those are profound words for all of us, even we who do not count ourselves rich.

As we’ve read elsewhere, our deeds are the currency that matters and we store up “the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.” (6:19) This is something I need to be reminded of frequently. My deeds have consequences for good or for bad.

After a final sign off, we come the second letter to Timothy from Paul. (As with the first letter, I have the same concerns about authorship.) But I cannot deny the sweetness and sincerity of the letter’s introduction: “To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” (2Tim 1:2) and “Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy.” (1:4)

We get one of those rare biographical notes, revealing that Timothy is a grandchild in the faith: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.” (1:5)

But then a darker theme. Our author suggests that perhaps Timothy has written Paul, telling him that he’s discouraged. This second letter, then, is Paul’s reply (or how our author presumed Paul might reply): “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (1:6, 7)

Hmmmm. Is Timothy discouraged, or has he gone and done something that suggests cowardice? Did he flinch somewhere when accused of being a Christian? Did he abandon love and self-discipline? Stay tuned.

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