Psalm 104:24–30; Jeremiah 29:15–30:11; 2 Timothy 2:1–13

Originally published 8/31/2017. Revised and updated 8/30/2019.

Psalm 104:24–30: Our psalmist pauses in his catalog of creation to reflect more deeply on the nature of our creative God himself:
How many Your deeds, O Lord,
all of them You do in wisdom.
all the earth is filled with Your riches. (24)

That’s the difference between God and us, isn’t it? He creates in wisdom while we humans usually forge ahead creating technologies that can be used wisely or equally for ill. A recent example is genetic editing, aka CRISPR. Are humans wise enough to use this capability to good ends or will it also be exploited in morally evil ways? Based on history, doubtless both as manking tries once again to prove that he is god.

The poet then turns his attention to God’s creative works in the sea—all of which are dependent on God’s largess:
The sea is great and wide,
where creatures beyond number stir,
little beasts and the large.
There the ships go,
this Leviathan You fashioned to play with.
All of them look to You
to give them food in its season. (25-26)

The poet speaks of ‘beyond number,’—a truth in that we still these many years later are discovering new and remarkable creatures who live in the oceans. As the sea teems with creatures beyond number, it is also a place where human civilization has gone in ships. “Leviathan” is no longer the primordial sea monster described in earlier psalms but it has become God’s domesticated play thing—perhaps now the whales and dolphins— reminding us that God presides over all creation, including mythic creatures.

Above all, all God’s creatures are dependent on God’s munificence—just as we are—for life itself:
All of them look to You
to give them food in its season.
When You give them, they gather it in,
when You open Your hand, they are sated with good. (27-28)

But there are times when God does not provide. As the poet reminds us,  All creatures including us humans are mortal:
When You hide Your face, they panic,
You withdraw their breath and they perish,
to dust they return. (29)

But mortality is necessary because without death there can be no renewal of life:
When You send forth Your breath, they are created,
and You renew the face of the earth. (30)

Ongoing creation is almost always preceded by destruction. Or as Isaiah puts it, “Behold, I make all things new.” God made this truth abundantly clear in the sacrifice and resurrection of his own son, Jesus.

Jeremiah 29:15–30:11: The people who avoided capture by Babylon and continue to live in Jerusalem are hardly safe from God’s wrath. Thus, they will meet their deserved fate in yet another memorable agricultural simile: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, I am going to let loose on them sword, famine, and pestilence, and I will make them like rotten figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten.” (29:17)

Likewise the false prophets who are in Babylon and doubtless telling the same untruths as Hananiah, whom we met earlier. Like Hananiah, “Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying a lie to you in my name” (29:21a) Unsurprisingly, they too will come to bad end: “[God will] deliver them into the hand of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, and he shall kill them before your eyes.” (29:21b) More curses and imprecations follow, but we shall not bother to list them here.

A certain Shemaiah of Nehelam, an exile in Babylon, has written a letter to the people still in Jerusalem accusing them of failing to punish Jeremiah, adding incredulously that Jeremiah “has actually sent to us in Babylon, saying, “It will be a long time; build houses and live in them, and plant gardens and eat what they produce.” (29:28) Zephaniah, whose eponymous book we will read later, reads Shemaiah’s letter to Jeremiah. Upon hearing this, and as always, “the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah:…Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, though I did not send him, and has led you to trust in a lie, therefore thus says the Lord: I am going to punish Shemaiah of Nehelam and his descendants; he shall not have anyone living among this people to see  the good that I am going to do to my people.“(29:31, 32)  So much, then, for Shemaiah.

But behind all this punishment of false prophets lies a wonderful promise of God’s eventual restoration of Israel: “For the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their ancestors and they shall take possession of it.” (30:3)

Yes, God continues, in poetic form this time, there will be suffering, which is expressed here in a striking image of men in pain giving birth (which as I can imagine would certainly strike terror into every male heart):
Ask now, and see,
    can a man bear a child?
Why then do I see every man
    with his hands on his loins like a woman in labor?
    Why has every face turned pale?  (30:6)

But even in pain there is till the promise of rescue as God promises, “I will break the yoke from off his neck, and I will burst his bonds, and strangers shall no more make a servant of him.” (30:8) Even better, the Messiah will finally appear: “But they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.” (30:9)

The reading ends on the great promise of restoration of Israel and Judah, but that their misdeeds wrong belief must nonetheless still be punished:
For I am with you, says the Lord, to save you;
I will make an end of all the nations
    among which I scattered you,
    but of you I will not make an end.
I will chastise you in just measure,

     and I will by no means leave you unpunished.” (30:11)

So too for us. We sin and if we confess, God will never fail to forgive us. But we must still bear the consequences of our deeds. The problem today is that in their self-centered, self-absorption, most people do not even acknowledge that they have sinned, much less have asked God for forgiveness. Nevertheless, whether acknowledged or not, sin has consequences. And they will never fail to occur. Unfortunately the consequences of most sins also impact the innocent.

2 Timothy 2:1–13:  Like Jeremiah, our Pauline author acknowledges that the Christian life and witness involves suffering. But we must bear it “like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (3) The author then adds rather mysteriously, “No one serving in the army gets entangled in everyday affairs; the soldier’s aim is to please the enlisting officer.” (4) which I take to be a reference to something that has gone wrong at Timothy’s church. However, I don’t think the real Paul would be this obscure.

Metaphors pile up against each other: “And in the case of an athlete, no one is crowned without competing according to the rules. It is the farmer who does the work who ought to have the first share of the crops.” (5, 6) Reading between the lines, it sounds like someone in the church has usurped Timothy’s pastoral leadership and set himself over others. Our Paul is telling Timothy that good order must be restored ASAP. Perhaps like many of us, Timothy has hesitated to confront that person and clear the air, as he is advised to “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in all things.” (7)

Using imprisoned Paul as the example, our author writes that leaders will undergo trials and suffering—but never in vain, rather always for the greatest of causes:  “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.” (8,9) Indeed! The word of God seeps out everywhere regardless of the manifold efforts down through history to suppress it.

Now we encounter a verse that is near to the heart of Calvinists: “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” (10) The implication is that there is a group of people—the “elect”—who will eventually be saved. This is the basis of the doctrine of predestination—that God knows beforehand who will be saved and who will not. That’s doubtless true since God knows everything unconstrained by time. But in the end, I have to say, “So, what?” God’s foreknowledge certainly does not alter our responsibility to go out into the world with the Gospel message to every person. Frankly, I find the entire concept of predestination obscure and confusing.

The reading ends with a quotation of what I take to be an early hymn of the church that includes a hint of the unforgivable sin: denying the Holy Spirit:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
    if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
    if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.” (11-13)

In other words, it takes an act on our part of conscious rejection to fail to enjoy salvation. Other than that once saved, always saved. Which is very much in line with Lutheran theology.

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