Psalm 104:31–35; Jeremiah 30:12–31:22; 2 Timothy 2:14–26

Originally published 9/01/2017. Revised and updated 8/31/2019.

Psalm 104:31–35: Having reflected on God’s power over nature, his generosity to both animals and humans, and on the fact that we are mortal, the concluding verses of this celebratory psalm are pure worship—the worship of both nature and humankind:
May the Lord’s glory be forever,
may the Lord rejoice in His works,
Who but looks down to earth, and it trembles
but touches the mountains—they smoke. (31, 32)

While God’s glory may be eternal our psalmist recognizes that he—like all of us—has but limited time here on earth. And he is going to spend that limited time praising God:
Let me sing to the Lord while I live,
let me hymn to my God while I breathe.
Let my speech be sweet unto Him.
As for me, I rejoice in the Lord. (33, 34)

Good advice indeed. God has given us the gift of life with all its magnificence and all its woes. As I grow older and see people my own age (and those younger than I) die, I realize that every day is indeed a gift and that I must unwrap that gift in gratitude to God. My prayer is that my speech is sweet—certainly to God first, but then always to others. For it is in God’s manifold gifts, especially as this psalm has made so clear, the gift of life itself that I find true joy.

The psalm appears, as so many do, to inject a rather sour note as our psalmist wishes:
Let offenders vanish from the earth
and the wicked be no more.
Bless, O my being, the Lord
Hallelujah! (35)

On the other hand, I think this is a pretty anodyne desire. He is not asking God to strike down the wicked, but expresses what I think we all think when we hear of some evil being perpetrated against the unsuspecting or the innocent.  Like the psalmist, we simply wish evildoers would vanish from the earth.

Jeremiah 30:12–31:22: Thus far in this book, God’s words as spoken by Jeremiah have focused on Israel’s and Judah’s apostasy and their other sins as God promises to destroy them—and there’s plenty of that here, too:
All your lovers have forgotten you;
    they care nothing for you;
for I have dealt you the blow of an enemy,
    the punishment of a merciless foe,
because your guilt is great,
    because your sins are so numerous. (30:14)

But we often cannot comprehend that an angry God is also at the same time a loving God—exactly what a loving parent often must be. But like wayward children we must bear the consequences of our actions. However, I think is important to point out —and we’ve seen this again and again in this book—that sin has its own woeful consequences that we have brought on ourselves. But like the father he is, God also loves his wayward people. It is this loving side of God that we see here as he speaks to Judah in exile:
I am going to restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob,
    and have compassion on his dwellings;
the city shall be rebuilt upon its mound,
    and the citadel set on its rightful site.
Out of them shall come thanksgiving,

    and the sound of merrymakers. (30: 18, 19a)

It seems that every time God speaks of rescue, a messianic prophecy accompanies that promise:
Their prince shall be one of their own,
    their ruler shall come from their midst;
I will bring him near, and he shall approach me,
    for who would otherwise dare to approach me?
says the Lord. (30:21)

And then comes the great covenantal promise:
And you shall be my people,
    and I will be your God. (30:22)

But there is darkness before the dawn of hope, punishment before joy, as Jeremiah reminds the people:
The fierce anger of the Lord will not turn back
    until he has executed and accomplished
    the intents of his mind. (30:24)

Nevertheless, for the exiles in Babylon, there is a great promise as well:
See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
    and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
    those with child and those in labor, together;
    a great company, they shall return here.
With weeping they shall come,
    and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
    in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I have become a father to Israel,
    and Ephraim is my firstborn. (31:8,9)

As we’ve noted elsewhere, these promises have been interpreted by conservative Jews and Christians alike that the nation of Israel would be restored in the future, specifically with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1947. As for me, this seems to be  a stretch since the Jews did indeed return to Jerusalem after the promised 70-year exile.

Without question one of the most beautiful passages in the book occurs during this lengthy poem that promises return as sorrow becomes joy:
Rachel is weeping for her children;
    she refuses to be comforted for her children,
    because they are no more.
Thus says the Lord:
Keep your voice from weeping,
    and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work,
says the Lord:
    they shall come back from the land of the enemy;
there is hope for your future,
says the Lord:
    your children shall come back to their own country. (31: 15b-17)

Despite how awful things may look for us now, whether it be personal disease or cultural malaise, there is indeed hope for the future.

2 Timothy 2:14–26: It’s pretty obvious that one of the problems besetting Timothy’s church was theological disputation. Our Paul repeats himself: “Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.” (14)  And again: “Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, and their talk will spread like gangrene.” (16, 17) Of course this is true not only in churches but more recently on angry Facebook threads about politics. These are verses for me to remember when I’m tempted to write a snarky comment there.

Foundational pastoral advice occurs in the next verse: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” (15) The word of truth of course found in Scripture. Pastors who fail to study and preach on Scripture will shortly find themselves adrift. As for me personally, I feel this is also my responsibility as a Christian to always return to and study Scripture. Which is also why I am not a fan of small group book studies instead of Bible studies. Books that present fresh points of view or that unearth new insights are excellent aids, but in the end, the richest rewards are found by going straight to the source.

Our author calls out two men by name: “Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place. They are upsetting the faith of some.” (18) Again, I think this is more ungracious than the actual Paul would have been—if he ever had cause to call people out by name, it would have been in his letters to the church at Corinth, and he never called anyone out by name there.

Our Paul then turns his attention to what I think was discontent within the church that some were leaders and appeared to be favorites of the pastor, while others apparently of lower station, slaves perhaps, are being treated dismissively or even with disdain. He employs a metaphor of utensils: “In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary.” (20)  If some of the these wayward folks, including I presume, Hymenaeus and Philetus, will “cleanse themselves,” they will be restored to usefulness in the church.

Now, the pastoral advice comes fast and furious: “Shun youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” (22, 23) Why is it that churches seem especially prone to “senseless controversies.” I guess it’s because the people doing the arguing don’t think the issues are senseless. Or as my son Geoff has pointed out about university faculties, “the lower the stakes, the more intense the argument.”

In one final piece of advice to pastors and leaders there lies great wisdom: “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness.” (24, 25a) Clearly any kind of patient correction needs to be done in a face-to-face meeting, not via email. Yes, this takes personal courage but our best example here is Jesus himself. Speak truth to power.

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