Psalm 105:37–45; Jeremiah 36; Titus 1:10–2:5

Psalm 105:37–45: The concluding section of this psalm follows the Exodus story as it describes the escape from Egypt and the years in the wilderness—all orchestrated by God himself (the “He” in the verses since our psalmist only uses pronouns to refer to God):
And He brought them out with silver and gold,
and none in His tribes did falter.
Egypt rejoiced when they went out,
for their fear had fallen upon them.” (37, 38)

What’s interesting here is what’s included and what’s excluded from the Exodus story. The detail of silver and gold and the fact that the tribes hung together for the escape from Egypt is included, while the crossing of the sea and the Egyptian pursuit and defeat are omitted. So why did our poet excise the narrative drama of the story and focus only on relatively anodyne aspects such as the Egyptian’s feelings of joy at the departure of the Israelites? Our psalmist is writing for worship, not fo a history lesson. And in worship it is our relationship to God and recognizing what God has done that matters most.

The scene shifts to the wilderness and God’s provision of the cloud/fire to guide them and the food he supplied, including the unfortunate incident of the quail, but again in a very upbeat light:
He spread the cloud as a curtain
and fire to light up the night.
They asked, and He brought the quail,
with bread from the heavens He sated them.” (39,40)

I think our psalmist is far more interested in God’s care and bounty than the backstory of complaining people that resulted in these God-given gifts. The same applies to water. Moses’ (who is not even named) sin in striking the rock is unimportant; it is God who supplies the water:
He opened the rock, and water flowed,
it went forth in parched land as stream.
For He recalled His holy word
with Abraham His servant.” (41, 42)

As far as our poet is concerned, God did all these things because he was being faithful to the Abrahamic covenant. I wonder what the cultural atmosphere was when the psalmist wrote. Was it a time when Israel followed God or was it later when they had abandoned their side of the Covenant?

The psalm leaps ahead to the entry conquest of Canaan, again omitting the less savory details of how Israel defeated its inhabitants and how it confiscated their wealth. The psalm recounts only the joyful aspects of Israel’s national story as it concludes in worship, neatly summarizing what God has done and all the gifts God has given them— and what God is asking them to do in return:
And He brought His people out in joy,
in glad song His chosen ones.
And He gave them the lands of nations,
they took hold of the wealth of peoples,
so that they should keep His statutes,
and His teachings they should observe.
Hallelujah!” (43-45)

While I hesitate to call it the “sanitized” version of ISrael’s story, there’s no question that the psalm was meant for joyful celebration not for narrative history. That can easily be found elsewhere in the OT.

Jeremiah 36: The word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah commanding him to write down what is essentially the first 35 chapters of his eponymous book: “Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today.” (2) God’s theory is that perhaps “when the house of Judah hears of all the disasters that I intend to do to them, all of them may turn from their evil ways, so that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.” (3) Well, why not? Goodness knows the many object lessons that God has commanded Jeremiah o carry out have not had their intended effect.

So Jeremiah dictates all the prophecies to Baruch, his secretary. Since Jeremiah has been prevented from entering the temple he asks Baruch to go read the scroll, which he does. [In one of those interesting but seemingly irrelevant details, our author is careful to give us the exact location where the reading occurred: “Baruch read the words of Jeremiah from the scroll, in the house of the Lord, in the chamber of Gemariah son of Shaphan the secretary, which was in the upper court, at the entry of the New Gate of the Lord’s house.” (10)]

A certain Micaiah is impacted by the reading and thinks it would be a good idea to have the scroll read before the various officials over at the palace and “told them all the words that he had heard, when Baruch read the scroll in the hearing of the people.” (13) So the officials invite Baruch to read it before the leadership. They are sufficiently alarmed at the scroll’s contents that they ask who the author is. Baruch admits the author was Jeremiah, whereupon, “the officials said to Baruch, “Go and hide, you and Jeremiah, and let no one know where you are.” (19) AN ominous sign indeed. They probably intuited what the king’s reaction would be

So the king’s aide, a certain Jehudi, gets the scroll and begins reading it to the king. It’s winter and a fire is burning in the king’s apartment. “As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a penknife and throw them into the fire in the brazier, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the brazier.” (23) Our author emphasizes the king’s indifference to Jeremiah’s words of warning: “Yet neither the king, nor any of his servants who heard all these words, was alarmed, nor did they tear their garments.” (24)

God is pretty upset at Jehoiakim’s arrogance and commands Jeremiah to write another scroll. This one has specific words for the king: “He shall have no one to sit upon the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat by day and the frost by night.” (30)

This chapter is a perfect example of the underlying theme of the entire book: the spiritual state of the people in leadership—especially the head guy, here the king—matters. Jehoiakim’s sin will result in the destruction of the entire nation. The people under him certainly understood the the stakes and the gravity of Jeremiah’s warning. But without agreement from the very top their warnings were in vain.  Something of that same anxiety now pervades American culture. There are warnings all around us, but they are being ignored.

Titus 1:10–2:5: As with the Timothy letters, our author knows there is trouble afoot in Crete: “There are also many rebellious people, idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision.” (10) It’s essential to get them to shut up because they are having a deleterious impact on entire families. Paul even cites “one of them, their very own prophet, who said, “Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons.” (12)

Titus is directed to “rebuke them sharply, so that they may become sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths or to commandments of those who reject the truth.” (13, 14) Some things have been true in the church since its very beginning: every church seems to include people who stir up trouble and lead people astray with emphasis on the wrong doctrines. On the other hand, there is very little rebuking that goes on in churches today.

Above all, there is the problem of rampant hypocrisy in the church: “To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure. Their very minds and consciences are corrupted. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their actions.” (15, 16a) Those are pretty harsh words, but our author has even harsher things to say about these people: “They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” (16b) This is certainly true but once again I have to say that I doubt the actual Paul would have put it quite that harshly. There is certainly not much grace evident in these pastoral epistles.

Chapter 2 opens with advice for us older men: “Tell the older men to be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance.” (2:1) Which at this point in my 70 years is pretty good advice that I really do try to follow.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a much longer list of advice for older women who must “be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good,  so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited.” (2:3) Once again, this list is reflective of the culture of the time, but I have to say that these words to men and women are sound advice and constitute the social basis on which a culture can flourish.

Alas, so many of these behaviors seem to have disintegrated in the declining mores of our culture. Note that none of this advice is about the individual rights or self-actualization that is so ascendant today. It is all directed to relationships within a community. Without the wisdom, patience, and love for others practiced by elders the whole thing falls apart. And that’s what I think we baby boomers have mostly forgotten.

 

 

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