Psalm 104:19–23; Jeremiah 28:1–29:14; 2 Timothy 1:8–18

Psalm 104:19–23: Our poet shifts his focus to God’s creation of the seasonal and diurnal cycles:
He made the moon for the fixed seasons;
the sun—He appointed its setting.
You bring down darkness and it turns to night
in which all beasts of the forest stir.” (19, 20)

Underneath these verses is the sense that God not only created time itself, but that like everything else God has created there is strict and beautiful order—be it the seasons or night and day. As we know from physiology we humans would not be able to function or we would simply have mental breakdowns were it not for the diurnal cycle of sleep and wakefulness. This is a God-ordained reality. Here, our psalmist makes it clear that it is the nocturnal “beasts of the forest” who own the night:
The lions roar for prey,
seeking from God their food.
When the sun comes up they head home,
and in their dens they lie down.” (21, 22)

The idea that the lions are “seeking from God their food” indicates that as far as this psalmist is concerned, animals are an equally important part of God’s good creation. The question arises: do animals have some sort of instinctual sense of God as creator? I’m guessing that those who have dogs (cats are more questionable) truly believe there is some kind of God-infused loyalty and love between man and dog.

As a final proof of God’s diurnal order, when the lions return to their dens, the day belongs to humans:
Man goes out to his work
and to his labor until evening.” (23)

Notice that a key element of God’s order is that humans engage in productive labor—not sit in basements playing video games. As we know, it is work that gives men—especially men—a sense of purpose in life. Our psalmist certainly know this truth.

Jeremiah 28:1–29:14: Well, finally. Rather than the endless prophecies of Judah’s certain doom, we get a fairly entertaining narrative. Writing autobiographically, Jeremiah describes his encounter with a fellow prophet, a certain Hananiah son of Azzur, from Gibeon. Hanniah, using the usual speaking in the voice of God technique, publicly prophesies that God has “broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon.” (28:3) Moreover, he continues, God “will also bring back to this place King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, says the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.” (28:4)

In this same public setting, Jeremiah encourages Hananiah, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles.” (28:6) Jeremiah then makes the remarkable statement, “As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.” (28:9) Which is certainly not what doom & gloom Jeremiah has been doing for the last 27 chapters!

At this point Hananiah removes the yoke that Jeremiah has had on his back all this time (months? years?) and as an object lesson, breaks it in two as he proclaims that this is how God “will break the yoke of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon from the neck of all the nations within two years.”  (28:11) Notice that Hananiah, with his 2-year forecast, is a lot more time-specific than Jeremiah has ever been. This was an unwise move on Hananiah’s part.

Jeremiah then gets a message for God to tell his fellow prophet that he broke Jeremiah’s yoke “only to forge iron bars in place of them!” (28:13) God explains to Jeremiah that he has “put an iron yoke on the neck of all these nations so that they may serve King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon” and adds one of those odd Godly asides, “I have even given [Nebuchadnezzar] the wild animals.” (28:14) Did wild animals comprise part of Babylon’s army?

Jeremiah tells Hananiah that “the Lord has not sent you, and you made this people trust in a lie.” (28:15) and pronounces the other prophets doom. Sure enough, “that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died.” (28:17)

As we have observed before, prophecy is a serious and fraught business. Nevertheless we should not forget that we are only getting Jeremiah’s point of view here in his eponymous book.

As proof of just how far off the mark Hananiah was, Jeremiah writes a letter to those in exile in Babylon, telling them that God has instructs them “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” (29:5) In other words, they are to take a long term view of the length of their exile and establish roots in Babylon. Moreover, Jeremiah instructs, “Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.” (29: 6)

Clearly, there were lots of prophets predicting a quick return from exile just as Hananiah had done. Jeremiah warns the people in exile, “Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream.” (29:8) Our prophet then delivers the very bad news that the exile will last 70 years.

But it’s not all bad news, for at the end there will be return—the story told in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. It is here that we encounter what I think is one of the most profound and important verses in this book: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (29:11)

That is God’s promise not just to the exiles in Babylon, but for all of us today. God not only returned the Jews to Jerusalem, but fulfilled this promise beyond imagining in sending Jesus to save humankind.  And this promise still stands today and as things seem to turn ever darker, we can rest in that marvelous gift of hope.

Another wonderful promise for all of us follows immediately in the next verse: “ When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.” (29:13) What a joy to find these verses in the midst of the general pessimism that characterizes this book.

2 Timothy 1:8–18:  Compared to 1 Timothy, there is some serious theology here as our author reiterates the core of the Gospel message: “This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (9, 10)

This section actually sounds authentically Pauline: “But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.” (12)

Naturally, this wouldn’t be an epistle to Timothy without some instruction to pastors that is equally applicable today: “Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.” (13, 14)

We then get another biographical note that things in the church have not always gone according to plan: “You are aware that all who are in Asia have turned away from me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.” (15)

On the other hand, there is Onesiphorus, who “often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chain; when he arrived in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me.” (17)

This all sounds very much like Paul, but then our author adds, “may the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day!” (18) which does not sound like Paul at all. This statement seems to indicate that  Onesiphorus’ salvation was in question and it may or may not occur depending on how his good works are judged by God. The Paul  I know seems pretty clear that once we are saved we are always saved. Nevertheless, I believe that on this single phrase and the epistle of James, the Roman Catholic idea (doctrine?) of “works salvation”  has been built.

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