Psalm 93; Jeremiah 1:8–2:19; 1 Thessalonians 2:10–20

Originally published 8/7/2017. Revised and updated 8/6/2019.

Psalm 93: This brief but powerful psalm has no superscription and opens with a metaphor of a king donning his kingly garments:
The Lord reigns, in triumph clothed,
clothed is the Lord, in strength He is girded. (1a)

After all, a king was at the pinnacle of national order, so it’s certainly no poetic stretch to celebrate God as the king over all his creation. And having been king for all time, God brings stability to the world—which is certainly more than we can say about our present worldly leaders:
Yes, the world stands firm, not to be shaken
Your throne stands firm from of old,
from forever You are. (1b, 2)

There is no better representation of all nature praising its creator than the sound of waterfalls and the roar of the surf:
The streams lifted up, O Lord,
the streams lifted up their voice,
the streams lift up their roaring.
More than the sound of many waters,
the sea’s majestic breakers,
majestic on high is the Lord. (3,4)

For me, rushing, tumbling water is the perfect metaphor of nature praising God. I think that why we experience that transcendent feeling when standing on a beach with pounding surf or we are transfixed by a place like Yosemite Falls in the spring.

With the abrupt shift in the next verse, our psalmist implicitly reminds us that we, too, are part of God’s creation and that is why we are to follow God’s law and worship him:
Your statutes are very faithful.
Holiness suits Your house. (5a)

In the concluding line of this beautiful poem, we must never forget that God is eternal (and we are not):
The Lord is for all time. (5b)

Jeremiah 1:8–2:19: The young, fairly frightened (as I would certainly be!) Jeremiah is reassured by God:
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord. (1:8)

Writing autobiographically, Jeremiah tells us “the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,

“Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.” (1:9,10)

This is certainly a reminder of the power of spoken words and the heightened power of prophetic words as these verses authenticate everything that will be spoken by Jeremiah henceforth.

After passing the initial test of seeing the branch of an almond tree, Jeremiah has a vision of “a boiling pot, tilted away from the north.” (1:13) From this single image God explains how the northern kingdom of Israel has sinned and will be destroyed by an enemy to the north if they don’t repent. So he sends Jeremiah to plead with Israel to repent.

Of course it’s a fairly long speech which opens with how God speaking as he  remembers Israel’s original faithfulness:
I remember the devotion of your youth,
    your love as a bride,
how you followed me in the wilderness,
    in a land not sown.
Israel was holy to the Lord,
    the first fruits of his harvest. (2:2,3a)

God reminds them of all the wonderful things he did for Israel and on its behalf, but that Israel lost no time in turning to sin:
I brought you into a plentiful land
    to eat its fruits and its good things.
But when you entered you defiled my land,
    and made my heritage an abomination. (2:7)

Unfortunately, the sins of the father will be visited on subsequent generations:
Therefore once more I accuse you,
says the Lord,
    and I accuse your children’s children. (2:9)

Given the sins of my current generation here in a culture that increasingly rejects even the idea of God and seems to be sinking into chaos, these prophetic words alas ring just as true today.

Jeremiah tells the people of Israel that they have committed two sins: first abandoning God and then turning to idols. We again encounter a watery metaphor, this time comparing God’s blessings to the our pathetic attempts of finding succor in idols:
for my people have committed two evils:
    they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
    and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns
    that can hold no water.” (2:13)

That memorable image pretty much sums up our present world that is filled with cracked cisterns that cannot hold true spiritual water. Yet, like Israel, we prefer the cracked cisterns of our culture to God’s overflowing fountain of blessings.

Jeremiah reminds Israel (and us) that we cannot blame anyone but ourselves:
Have you not brought this upon yourself
    by forsaking the Lord your God,
    while he led you in the way? (2:17)

Of course we like to blame God for our woes rather than taking personal responsibility for our actions. Jeremiah concludes his Jeremiad (I’ve wanted to say that for a long time!) on a down note, that while true, is not terribly motivational:
Your wickedness will punish you,
    and your apostasies will convict you” (2:19a)

Which is just as true for us as for Israel, even though the church does not like to talk about it very much. We can deny God all we like, but in the end it is our our own sins of omission and commission that convict us.

1 Thessalonians 2:10–20: As is his habit, Paul polishes his bona fides as he reminds the Thessalonians, “You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers.” (10) He also gives us a hint of the content of his sermons which certainly involved “urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” (12)

Paul is happy that his ministrations at Thessalonica have taken root in that they understood that Paul was not making this up but was speaking for God: “when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.” (13)

He then has some pretty harsh things to say about his Jewish opponents who believe he is corrupting Judaism by encouraging Gentiles to participate in what to them is sacred: “for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews,  who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved.” (14-16)

In fact, Paul is quite pleased that “God’s wrath has overtaken them at last.” (16b) Which is not exactly turning the other cheek as Jesus advised.

I read genuine pain in Paul’s words that he is unable to visit them personally since he is a prisoner in Rome: “we were made orphans by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face.” (17) But as much as he would like to visit them again, a return visit is simply not in the cards: “certainly I, Paul, wanted to again and again—but Satan blocked our way.” (18)

Absent his personal visit, the church at Thessalonica receives Paul’s highest accolade: “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? Yes, you are our glory and joy!” (19, 20)

But a letter will have to suffice. And following this lengthy preamble we presume Paul will shortly get down to the theological business at hand.

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