Psalm 94:1–11; Jeremiah 2:20–3:13; 1 Thessalonians 3

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

Psalm 94:1–11: Wow. So much for ‘God is love’ as our psalmist boldly asks God to strike down the haughty and wrongdoers. Unlike other psalms, there is no gentleness or reflection on God’s justice. There is just a bold request for God to take vengeance. This is as aggressive an opening as we are likely to see in the Psalms:
God of vengeance, O Lord,
God of vengeance, shine forth!
Rise up, O judge of the earth,
bring down on the proud requital. (1,2)

The psalmist then asks the question that we encounter so often in psalms of supplication. But here it is more of an angry disquisition on the evil that the wicked commit as these verses catalog the types of sin committed by people who ostensibly and hypocritically follow God:
How long the wicked, O Lord,
how long will the wicked exult?
They utter arrogance, speak it,
all the wrongdoers bandy boasts. (3,4)

Notice that again the first thing on the mind of the psalmist is sin committed by speech, causing us to reflect on the destructive power of words—something we certianly see on display daily in Washington DC by politicians of all stripes. And here, we see the effects of evil words on and wicked actions against the innocent:
Your people, O Lord, they crush,
and Your estate they abuse.
Widow and sojourner they kill,
and orphans they murder. (5,6)

Along with the poet we wonder why God is silent as this evil mayhem persists. Amplifying their evil acts is the fact that these wrongdoers think they can get away with it:
And they say, ‘Yah will not see,
and the God of Jacob will not heed.’ (7)

Our poet is warning the people, who obviously aren’t listening, that the consequences of their deeds will inevitably come back to haunt them:
Take heed, you brutes in the people,
and you fools, when will you be wise? (8)

I think I know the answer to that question: very rarely, if ever. But our psalmist is going for the logical approach. After all, he argues, God has created humankind so he is well aware of the evil being committed and will eventually act to rectify it:
Who plants the ear, will He not hear?
Who fashions the eye, will He not look?
The chastiser of nations, will he not punish,
Who teaches humankind knowledge? (9,10)

Wrongdoers must understand that God is not missing a thing regarding what evil they are committing:
The Lord knows human designs,
that they are mere breath. (11)

Yes, we humans may be ephemeral, but what we fail to understand is that our evil acts have long-lasting effects. In a world where skepticism about God’s very existence seems on the rise, there is little to hold back the rise of evil that I think we see all around us increasing each day as our culture unravels.

Jeremiah 2:20–3:13: Speaking in God’s voice as he continues his speech to unfaithful Israel, Jeremiah expresses his frustration toward a people gone bad with the famous line:
On every high hill
    and under every green tree
    you sprawled and played the whore. (2:20)

Metaphors tumble out of Jeremiah’s pen. Israel is a wild vine; (21), a camel in heat (23); a “wild ass in the wilderness” (24). Without question, Israel’s most egregious sin has been its embrace of idolatry as Jeremiah writes with dripping sarcasm, noting their hypocrisy:
who say to a tree, “You are my father,”
    and to a stone, “You gave me birth.”
For they have turned their backs to me,
    and not their faces.
But in the time of their trouble they say,
    “Come and save us!”

I remember after the national trauma of 9/11 the churches were full for a time. In a time of deep trouble people tend to turn to God. But only for a while as previous behavior resumes. Human nature has not changed a whit since Jeremiah’s time. We Americans much prefer our idols of technology and wealth. Jeremiah’s sarcasm continues as he asks rhetorically,
But where are your gods
    that you made for yourself?
Let them come, if they can save you,
    in your time of trouble;
for you have as many gods
    as you have towns, O Judah. (2:28)

All around us today are the small-g gods that people think will bring them satisfaction. If that were really true there would be far fewer people in therapy! Israel—and we—are like an adolescent, always going after the next adventure. But without maturity or wisdom or heeding consequences
How well you direct your course
    to seek lovers!
So that even to wicked women
    you have taught your ways.
How lightly you gad about,
    changing your ways! (2:33, 36a)

Nor do they (we) appreciate the consequences until they come whining back to God:
  Yet in spite of all these things
you say, “I am innocent;
    surely his anger has turned from me.” (2: 34b, 35a)

But God can spot hypocrisy from a mile away and he’s not letting anyone off. Their humiliating comeuppance awaits:
You shall be put to shame by Egypt
    as you were put to shame by Assyria.
From there also you will come away
    with your hands on your head; (2:36b, 37a)

I wonder what consequences await our own culture. God will not abandon those who seek after him, but he has no particular interest in saving those who have rejected him.

Jeremiah is on a tear, and the same topic of evil deeds and hypocrisy occupies the beginning of chapter 3:
You have polluted the land
    with your whoring and wickedness.
…Have you not just now called to me,
    “My Father, you are the friend of my youth—
will he be angry forever,
    will he be indignant to the end?”
This is how you have spoken,
    but you have done all the evil that you could. (3:2, 4,5)

Here we learn that God is equally angry at Judah as he is of Israel. Perhaps  that upon seeing the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel, Judah would repent. Alas, that was not to be: “[Judah] saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce; yet her false sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore.” (13:8)

In fact, Judah has been the greater hypocrite than even Israel: “Yet for all this her false sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but only in pretense, says the LordThen the Lord said to me: Faithless Israel has shown herself less guilty than false Judah.” (13:10, 11) Which serves as a serious warning to the church those of us who profess to follow God. We are better off to be like Israel and reject God altogether than to profess faith as Judah did but to fail to have our actions follow our words.

1 Thessalonians 3: Paul continues in autobiographical mode, noting that after the events at Philippi he went by himself to Athens, where as we learn in Acts, he was not particularly effective. Rather than going himself, he sent Timothy to Thessalonica, “proclaiming the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the sake of your faith, so that no one would be shaken by these persecutions.” (2,3)

In a time without instant communication Paul still worried that his beloved Thessalonians had suffered persecution. That’s the real reason he sent Timothy and he’s thrilled to learn that Timothy “has just now come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love. He has told us also that you always remember us kindly and long to see us—just as we long to see you.” (6)

It’s difficult to describe how greatly this news encouraged Paul, although he tries: “For this reason, brothers and sisters, during all our distress and persecution we have been encouraged about you through your faith.” (7) And then, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?” (9)

The question I ask myself here is, do I rejoice in the same way that Paul does when someone I know returns to Jesus Christ? Or do I merely say, “Well, that’s nice…” and then go about my business.

Paul concludes this chapter (but not the epistle itself) with a wonderful benediction:

And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (12, 13)

I think it would do us good to hear the words, “may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all,” every week at worship. After all, it’s all about love, isn’t it? Love for God; for Jesus; for each other and yes, even for ourselves.

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