Psalm 108:1–5; Jeremiah 51:24–64; Hebrews 6:1–12

Psalm 108:1–5: Alter informs us that this psalm is the concatenation (my word, not his) of Psalms 57 and 60. But we’ll leave it to the scholars to speculate on why this psalm ended up in the Psalms.

This David psalm opens musically with voice and instrument:
My heart is firm, O God.
Let me sing and hymn
with my inward being, too.
Awake, O lute and lyre.
I would waken the dawn.” (2, 3)

We often talk about interior singing, usually as “a song in my heart.” And there’s no question that if we’re singing on the inside we feel enveloped in a joyful feeling. One of the as-yet unanswered questions is the connection between music and emotion. Or how hearing a certain song brings back indelible memories. Are we hardwired for music? And if so, what kind of music? I think we’re all different in how we respond to different music. I know that I am in the minority that prefers classical music to contemporary popular music. Except sometimes…

Here, though, the music has but bone purpose: worshipping God. And we sense the psalmist’s enthusiasm in both his inward and outward being as he sings:
Let me acclaim You among the peoples, Lord.
Let my hymn You among the nations.
For Your kindness is great over the heavens,
and Your steadfast truth to the skies.” (4, 5)

What strikes me here is that music, especially great worship music, is not confined to inside the church, but it transcends national borders and speaks to the heart of different cultures “among the nations.” But I think it has to be great music—I’m thinking Bach—not the singsong ditties that so frequently waste time in worship.

Jeremiah 51:24–64: OK, OK, Jeremiah. We get it. Babylon is doomed as we encounter yet another 40 verses—this time in poetry—packed with metaphors about how God will take vengeance on the Chaldeans.

There is the usual fire and brimstone:
I am against you, O destroying mountain,
says the Lord,
    that destroys the whole earth;
I will stretch out my hand against you,
    and roll you down from the crags,
    and make you a burned-out mountain.
No stone shall be taken from you for a corner
    and no stone for a foundation,
but you shall be a perpetual waste,
    says the Lord.” (25, 26)

The inhabitants of Babylon are equally doomed as their city as the invading armies of Persia swoop down from the north:
One runner runs to meet another,
    and one messenger to meet another,
to tell the king of Babylon
    that his city is taken from end to end:
the fords have been seized,
    the marshes have been burned with fire,
    and the soldiers are in panic.” (31, 32)

And the reason for the destruction is clear. God is taking vengeance for its cruelties to his chosen people:
Therefore thus says the Lord:
I am going to defend your cause
    and take vengeance for you.
I will dry up her sea
    and make her fountain dry;
and Babylon shall become a heap of ruins,

    a den of jackals,
an object of horror and of hissing,
    without inhabitant.” (36, 37)

And just in case we missed the message of the earlier verses, Jeremiah provides us a couple of summaries:
Assuredly, the days are coming
    when I will punish the images of Babylon;
her whole land shall be put to shame,
    and all her slain shall fall in her midst.” (47)

and:
Thus says the Lord of hosts:
The broad wall of Babylon
    shall be leveled to the ground,
and her high gates
    shall be burned with fire.
The peoples exhaust themselves for nothing,
    and the nations weary themselves only for fire.” (58)

But what’s really weird is what happens next. Jeremiah commands a certain Seraiah, who is the exiled King Zedekiah’s quartermaster, to read the scroll (presumably to Zedekiah) and “when you finish reading this scroll, tie a stone to it, and throw it into the middle of the Euphrates, and say, ‘Thus shall Babylon sink, to rise no more, because of the disasters that I am bringing on her.’” (63, 64)

So, is what we are we reading here the contents of that scroll because Seraiah didn’t carry out Jeremiah’s command? Or is there yet another scroll full of the same message as we’ve been enduring for the last 3 chapters that indeed lies at the bottom of the Euphrates?

If nothing else, we know that Jeremiah (and perhaps some other writing as ‘Jeremiah’) was a pretty good, but terribly verbose prophet.

Hebrews 6:1–12: Our author—also verbose—is dealing with the issue of Christians who have left the faith—what my parents referred to as ‘backsliders.’

He views living the Christian faith not just as a singular conversion experience—what he calls “the foundation”—but rather as an ongoing catechism or confirmation class, whose curriculum includes “instruction about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” (2) This process, sometimes called sanctification, is preferable to focusing solely on the initial conversion experience and “the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation.” (1) Which I take to mean that if we just “accept Jesus into our heart” and proceed to do nothing about it, the conversion experience (or baptism) is worthless.

This maturing process is essential because because if someone has repented and “tasted the heavenly gift, and [has] shared in the Holy Spirit, and [has] tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,… [but] then [has] fallen away,…on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt.” (5, 6)  In other words, he is describing someone who initially confessed faith in Jesus, or perhaps was baptized as an infant, but has failed to mature, and then has consciously rejected that same faith.

Once that rejection has occurred, our author asserts, coming back into the faith is impossible. I believe some people have interpreted this passage as the possibility of losing one’s salvation. But I think the author is simply saying that if a person consciously and positively rejects the faith he is no longer part of the Christian community. This is basically tautological.

He uses a different metaphor to compare good Christian growth in faith and understanding to those who reject the faith: “Ground that drinks up the rain falling on it repeatedly, and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is worthless and on the verge of being cursed; its end is to be burned over.” (7,8) 

So what does this passage say about people I know who have rejected the faith? I think it means that we must commit to living out our faith and constantly growing in knowledge and understanding. If one has a conversion experience but does nothing about planting and tending that faith then it becomes worthless.

In short, we have a duty to equip ourselves in faith. Faith is what we engineers call a dynamic process. A “static faith” is ultimately worthless.

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