Psalm 92:10–16; Isaiah 66–Jeremiah 1:7; 1 Thessalonians 1:5b–2:9

Originally published 8/5/2017. Revised and updated 8/5/2019.

Psalm 92:10–16: Our psalmist continues to rejoice that just as the grass withers in the hot afternoon sun, God’s enemies will soon meet their doom :
For, look, Your enemies, O Lord,
for, look, Your enemies perish,
all the wrongdoers are scattered. (10)

The enemies meet their deserved fate at God’s hands—contrasted with what seems to be an anointing of the psalmist from God himself. Notice that the poet witnesses the downfall of his enemies both visually and audibly. There is no question they have been fully vanquished:
And You raise up my horn like the wild ox.
I am soaked in fresh oil.
And my eyes behold my foes defeat,

those hostile toward me, my ears hear their fall.” (11, 12)

With his enemies dispensed with, the psalmist turns to how God blesses the righteous man (including him, of course) as he employs a metaphor of tall trees that contrast starkly with the enemies who were metaphorical grass a few verses back:
The righteous man springs up like the palm tree,
like the Lebanon cedar he towers.
Planted in the house of the Lord,
in the courts of our God they flourish.
They bear fruit still in old age,.
fresh and full of sap they are. (13-15)

This flourishing takes place because he is “planted in the house of the Lord.” Just as trees cannot grow without constant nourishment, so too we cannot grow in God without being “planted” in worship, prayer and scripture. What’s especially encouraging to me in my advancing old age is that spiritual growth continues to occur throughout one’s life as long as we remain “planted in the Lord.”

Our duty as growing, fruitful trees is to witness both to God in worship and to others of God’s saving grace that he has given to us through Jesus Christ and, “to tell that the Lord is upright,/ my rock, there is no rong in Him.” (16)

Isaiah 66–Jeremiah 1:7: We arrive at last at the end of Isaiah, although I know from experience that Jeremiah will also be something of a slog…

The poet continues to speak God’s words, making it clear that God is totally in charge of all creation:
Heaven is my throne
    and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
    and what is my resting place?
All these things my hand has made,
    and so all these things are mine,
says the Lord. (66:1, 2a)

God is looking for humility and obedience, not false worship from the rich and powerful:
But this is the one to whom I will look,
    to the humble and contrite in spirit,
    who trembles at my word. (66:2b)

But as for those who “have chosen their own ways,/ and in their abominations they take delight” there is the darker fate when they are brought to justice before God:
I also will choose to mock  them,
    and bring upon them what they fear;
because, when I called, no one answered,
    when I spoke, they did not listen;
but they did what was evil in my sight,
    and chose what did not please me. (66:4)

Which seems to be Isaiah’s overall theme as far as God’s relationship with humans is concerned. Ignore God or abandon him altogether and you will suffer bad consequences. This is not the grace-filled, loving “Abba Father” we like to imagine. God demands obedience and worship and woe to those who fail to heed his command.

As always, though, Isaiah presents us with both sides of God—using a metaphor of a mother giving birth—who also promises to deliver Israel from its present woes :
Listen, an uproar from the city!
    A voice from the temple!
The voice of the Lord,
    dealing retribution to his enemies!

Shall a land be born in one day?
    Shall a nation be delivered in one moment?
Yet as soon as Zion was in labor
    she delivered her children.
Shall I open the womb and not deliver?
    says the Lord;
shall I, the one who delivers, shut the womb?
    says your God.” (66:6, 8,9)

Indeed, Israel will find comfort at last through its rebirth:
I will extend prosperity to her like a river,
    and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream;
and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm,
    and dandled on her knees.
As a mother comforts her child,
    so I will comfort you;
    you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. (66:12, 13)

However, all of these events appear to be off in the distant future at the end of history on the Day of the Lord as the poet’s description once again turns apocalyptic:
For the Lord will come in fire,
    and his chariots like the whirlwind,
to pay back his anger in fury,
    and his rebuke in flames of fire.
For by fire will the Lord execute judgment,
    and by his sword, on all flesh;
    and those slain by the Lord shall be many. (66:15, 16)

A prose description of the fate of unbelievers follows. But what is perhaps most meaningful for us is that once again the Day of the Lord will be a ingathering over every tribe and nation, not just Israel, which I think is what became known in the NT as the Day of Judgement: “They shall bring all your kindred from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and on mules, and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord.” (66:20)

This brilliant, yet often puzzling book ends with God reigning over all creation and all people faithful to God:
For as the new heavens and the new earth,
    which I will make,
shall remain before me, says the Lord;
    so shall your descendants and your name remain.
From new moon to new moon,
    and from sabbath to sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship before me,
says the Lord. (66:22-23)

But Isaiah cannot resist a final footnote describing the eternal punishment of the disobedient: “And they shall go out and look at the dead bodies of the people who have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (66:24) Which is hardly a happy note to end on, but then again that does not seem to bother this prophet.

Since the Moravians are indifferent to stopping at the end of a book, we meet Jeremiah, “son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign.” (1:1, 2) Jeremiah prophesied at the very end of Judah’s existence in the years before it was overrun by the Babylonians in 587 BCE.

Like Isaiah, Jeremiah receives his prophetic chops directly from God, who speaks directly to him:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations. (1:5)

At the time, Jeremiah is only 13 and attempts to demur, but God remains insistent:
Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you. (1:6)

Thus begins the career of Judah’s second greatest prophet after Isaiah.

1 Thessalonians 1:5b–2:9: Thessalonica was one of Paul’s earliest missions and he commends the people in the church there for becoming a missionaries like Paul to other cities: “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” (1:6, 7)

Paul knows this because he has heard from other witnesses “how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.” (9b, 10) Notice that in this early letter Paul is quite specific about the Second Coming, which he believes to be in the near term. Like Isaiah, he also mentions the wrath of God.

We encounter Paul’s description of something fairly awful that happened to him when he visited Philippi: “though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition.” (2:2) As we read in Acts, it was the Jews who threw Paul and Baranbas in jail there.

As usual, Paul is at great pains to establish his bona fides: “but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts.” (2:4) He also makes it clear that he is trying to avoid becoming a personality cult, which would obscure the gospel message: “we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others.” (2:5, 6) It wouldn’t hurt for a few current TV evangelists to reflect on these verses for a while.

Paul apparently plied his tentmaker trade while at Thessolonica in order to avoid having to be supported by the church, which doubtless did not have the funds to pay h ima salary so early in its existence: “You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” (9)

These verses are not in the lectionary, nor have I ever heard them as the subject of a sermon. I wonder if that’s because a congregation would be tempted to compare Paul with the preacher standing in front of them. And the comparison would probably raise a few sticky issues over personality and/or finances.

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