Psalm 98; Jeremiah 10:17–11:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:13–3:5

Originally published 8/16/2017. Revised and updated 8/15/2019.

Psalm 98: One begins to think there was a psalmists contest at some point where competing poets announced their new compositions with “Sing to the Lord a new song” as their opening line in order to distinguish their hymn from the competition’s.

Like the previous few, this psalm again celebrates God’s victorious kingship over all his creation, including the nations beyond just Israel:
The Lord made known His victory,
before the nations’ eyes He revealed His bounty. (2)

Not surprisingly, Israel comes in for special mention as God’s chosen nation but God’s triumph is visible throughout all of natural creation, not just the nations:
He recalled His kindness and His faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the victory of our God. (3)

The remainder of the psalm is simultaneously hymn and instructions to the choir and the orchestra that accompanies them:
Shout out to the Lord, all the earth
Burst forth in glad song and hymn.
Hymn to the Lord on the lyre,
on the lyre with the sound of hymning.
With trumpets and the sound of ram’s horn,
sound loud before the king, the Lord. (4-6)

I’ve always wondered what kind of musical scale they used. Probably not the chromatic scale. Perhaps the pentatonic? It would be cool to hear this music. Would it be closer to the organ or to a praise band? Probably the latter…

All creation then joins in the music-making with their own sounds in some of the most beautiful verses (for me, anyway) in all the psalms:
Let the sea and its fullness thunder,
the world and those dwelling in it.
Let the rivers clap hands,
let the mountains together sing gladly
before the Lord, for He comes
to judge the earth. (7-9)

Well, it wouldn’t be a true psalm if it didn’t invoke at least one of God’s qualities or actions. Here, it’s judgement, but as always justice accompanies judgement:
He judges the world in justice
and peoples righteously. (10)

What’s remarkable to me here is that God’s judgement occurs in an atmosphere of joy, not in anxious trepidation. But to those who are righteous—and for us Christians, those who are righteous (justified) in Christ—God’s judgement is truly an occasion of celebration. For it is then we will hear the famous words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Jeremiah 10:17–11:23: Jeremiah’s mood has not improved as he predicts the scattering and exile of Israel and Judah. Once again, God speaks:
I am going to sling out the inhabitants of the land
    at this time,
and I will bring distress on them,
    so that they shall feel it. (10:18)

This dispersal from the land certainly has a note of finality in the metaphor of Israel and Judah being a shelter that has been ruined:
My tent is destroyed,
    and all my cords are broken;
my children have gone from me,
    and they are no more;
there is no one to spread my tent again,
    and to set up my curtains. (10:20)

As before, the leadership—the officials, priests, prophets, and I presume, the kings themselves—that are metaphorically shepherds, bear ultimate responsibility for all that has gone awry in the land:
For the shepherds are stupid,
    and do not inquire of the Lord;
therefore they have not prospered,
    and all their flock is scattered. (10:21)

Given what is currently going on in Washington DC, an erratic over-verbal president, his opponents, and the in the media itself, I think these verses have real—and rather portentous— relevance. We are being scattered as a nation that has become a panoply of self-identified tribes.

Nevertheless, Jeremiah’s God loves the people despite their sins. The prophet now speaks and begs for mercy on behalf of his wayward people, asking God to punish the conquerors rather than the conquered:
Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not know you,
    and on the peoples that do not call on your name;
for they have devoured Jacob;
    they have devoured him and consumed him,
    and have laid waste his habitation. (10:25)

At the chapter break we appear to begin all over again as the word of the Lord comes once again to Jeremiah, this time focusing on the Covenant between Israel/Judah and God himself: “And the Lord said to me: Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: Hear the words of this covenant and do them.” (11:6)

Unsurprisingly, Jeremiah treads pretty much the same prophetic ground as before. Israel and Judah have sinned and thereby broken their side of the Covenant: “And the Lord said to me: Conspiracy exists among the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.They have turned back to the iniquities of their ancestors of old, who refused to heed my words; they have gone after other gods to serve them; the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken the covenant that I made with their ancestors.” (11:9,10)

Equally unsurprising, God therefore “is going to bring disaster upon them that they cannot escape; though they cry out to me, I will not listen to them.” (11:11) This is one of those places where God, as described in the Old Testament, seems somewhat petulant—not a desirable quality in anyone, much less God himself. The loving God we’d rather think about seems to be on hiatus.

In fact, God instructs Jeremiah quite specifically about his misguided attempts at asking for mercy: “As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer on their behalf, for I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their trouble.” (11:14)

Jeremiah, faithful prophet that he is, speaks this word of God to the people and they are not terribly pleased to hear his dire words. He realizes the “people of Anathoth” are conspiring against him and want to kill him. He prays to God,
But I was like a gentle lamb
    led to the slaughter.
And I did not know it was against me
    that they devised schemes, saying,
“Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
    let us cut him off from the land of the living,
    so that his name will no longer be remembered! (11:19)

However, God is always on Jeremiah’s side and promises, “I am going to punish them; the young men shall die by the sword; their sons and their daughters shall die by famine; and not even a remnant shall be left of them. For I will bring disaster upon the people of Anathoth, the year of their punishment.” (11:22, 23)

Which we presume is exactly what happened. The lesson here is that God-inspired prophecy is protected speech, even when it delivers the most dire news possible to convict listeners of their sins.  I wonder: are there any truly God-inspired prophets among us in the midst of the unceasing babble warning us of the consequences of our sins?

2 Thessalonians 2:13–3:5: This is one of those places where we have to be careful in interpretation as Paul asserts, “God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2:13b) I presume that for Calvin and others this is a key passage used to support the idea of predestination, i.e., that God specifically chose those whom he would save ahead of time. This gets us into lots of theological conundra such as, ‘If God has chosen us ahead of time, what’s the point? I have no say in the matter.’

Personally, I think it’s simpler than that. Jesus is reaching out to everyone on earth. Some choose to follow; others don’t. But the sheep and goats have not been sorted out ahead of time. Each of us, being blessed by God with a free will, is free to accept or reject. And when we accept, we look back and feel chosen, just as Israel was chosen so many years ago. As Lutherans put it, it is Jesus who comes to us, not the other way round.

In any event, those who are Jesus-followers are to follow Paul’s correct instruction, to “stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.” (2:15)

This short letter ends with Paul’s prayer request: “Finally, brothers and sisters,  pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere, just  as it is among you, and that we may be rescued from wicked and evil people; for not all have faith.” (3:1,2) Which is a request that’s as relevant to the church today as two millennia ago. It is a prayer that each of us called to carry out Jesus’ Great Commission and be effective evangelists must do so not only throughour words, but more importantly, I think, through our actions.

But it is Paul’s concluding sentence that resonates for me: “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” (3:5) In the end, it’s the condition and focus of our hearts that matters most. And the foundation of all is our love for God—realizing that he loved us first. God’s love is what is predestined.

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