Psalm 105:23–36; Jeremiah 34:8–35:19; Titus 1:1–9

Psalm 105:23–36: This section describes how “Israel came to Egypt,/ Jacob [i.e. Israel] sojourned in the land of Ham.” (23) The Israelites are fecund, which as we know was economically beneficial to the Egyptians but then they were perceived as a threatening to overrun the native Egyptians. Fears of immigrants is certainly nothing new!
“And He made His people very fruitful,
And made them more numerous than their foes.
He changed their heart to hate His people,
to lay plots against His servants.” (24, 25)

What’s interesting here is that the psalmist tells us that God is the one who changed the heart of the Egyptians. But after 400 years, God has decided it is time to restore Israel to its rightful land in Canaan and the only way to do that is to cause the Egyptian to eject the Israelites.

Our psalmist hews closely to the Exodus story and Moses and Aaron appear on the scene, who warns the Egyptians of the plagues to come, which indeed they do. The order of the plagues here in the psalm is not the order in Exodus, each plague being just one verse long:
1. Darkness (v. 28, #9 in Exodus)
2. River of blood (v. 29, #1)
3. Frogs (v. 30, #2)
4. Lice (v. 31 #4)
5. Destructive hail (v. 32, #3)
6. Plant blight (v. 33, #7)
7. Locusts (v. 34, 35 #8)

Having pretty much made his point, our poet omits the plagues of cattle blight and the sores and rashes. Surprisingly, he gives equally short shrift to the Passover:
“And He struck down each firstborn in their land,
the  first yield of all their manhood.” (36)

I’m presuming that some of this psalmic terseness is based on the assumption that while every Jew would know the details of the Passover cold—after all, it was celebrated every year—they may have forgotten the plagues that led up to it.

Jeremiah 34:8–35:19: The book of Jeremiah is a valuable resource for God’s desire for social justice. We’ve seen how the leadership and king were held to a higher standard than the hoi polloi. Now the issue of slavery arises. “King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to make a proclamation of liberty to them—that all should set free their Hebrew slaves, male and female, so that no one should hold another Judean in slavery.” (34:8, 9) While this order is carried out at first, it is betrayed as “afterward they turned around and took back the male and female slaves they had set free, and brought them again into subjection as slaves.” (34:11)

Jeremiah, as usual speaking the Word of the Lord, reminds them of the Levitical rule that “Every seventh year each of you must set free any Hebrews who have been sold to you and have served you six years; you must set them free from your service.” (34:14) But their good act has been canceled out by their backsliding, so God decrees an appropriate punishment: “Therefore, thus says the Lord: You have not obeyed me by granting a release to your neighbors and friends; I am going to grant a release to you, says the Lord—a release to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine. I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.” (34:17)

Once again, Jeremiah calls out the leadership, which is held to a higher standard, for more specific punishment: “the officials of Judah, the officials of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land…shall be handed over to their enemies and to those who seek their lives. Their corpses shall become food for the birds of the air and the wild animals of the earth.” (34:19, 20)

In chapter 35, the timeline again reverses course and we are back to “the  days of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah” (35:1) There is a certain group of teetotalers called the Rechabites living in Jerusalem. God tells Jeremiah to bring them to a place in the temple and he “set before the Rechabites pitchers full of wine, and cups; and I said to them, “Have some wine.”” (35:5)

But the Rechabites refuse the temptation, asserting, “We will drink no wine, for our ancestor Jonadab son of Rechab commanded us, ‘You shall never drink wine, neither you nor your children;” (35:6) They continue, “We have obeyed the charge of our ancestor Jonadab son of Rechab in all that he commanded us, to drink no wine all our days, ourselves, our wives, our sons, or our daughters.” (35:8).

God directs Jeremiah to use the Rechabites as an object lesson. They have obeyed the dictates of their long-dead ancestors, yets the Judeans in Jerusalem will not obey the living God. And once again, the old familiar refrain: “Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: I am going to bring on Judah and on all the inhabitants of Jerusalem every disaster that I have pronounced against them; because I have spoken to them and they have not listened, I have called to them and they have not answered.” (35:17)

By contrast God promises the Rechabites they will always have descendants “because you have obeyed the command of your ancestor Jonadab, and kept all his precepts, and done all that he commanded you.” (35:18)

Well, I have to say this object lesson of the Rechabites is a lot more obvious than the loincloth, or the yoke that Jeremiah wore. And yet, obvious as the lesson is, the Judeans refuse to follow God. I have a feeling there are similar object lessons in our own culture, which the masses ignore at their peril.

Titus 1:1–9: This third pastoral epistle is also ostensibly written by Paul. For the same reasons I’ve pointed out in the two Timothy epistles, I have my doubts. Nevertheless, I’ll go with the narrative flow here and refer to the author as Paul.

The with book opens  a Pauline invocation, which is a nice condensation of the core Gospel message, but whose language seems less elegant than the Paul we know from the authentic letters: “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that is in accordance with godliness, in the hope of eternal life that God, who never lies, promised before the ages began—in due time he revealed his word through the proclamation with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior.” (1-3)

Titus is in Crete, sent there by Paul to “put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.” (5) Once again, there’s a brief list of leadership qualifications: “someone who is blameless, married only once,  whose children are believers, not accused of debauchery and not rebellious. For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain.” (6,7)

Rather, a bishop “must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and self-controlled.” (8) Moreover, he needs to have a clear understanding of Scripture—”a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it.” (9)

Regardless of who wrote the letter, this job description is certainly applicable today. In light of this command to expound Scripture, the leadership of the ELCA seems less interested in that and more interested in making social justice statements that often, IMHO, are less than an orthodox reading of Scripture. I’ll leave it at that and only speculate that the letters to Timothy and Titus don’t come up for frequent discussion in certain denominational headquarters.

 

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