Psalm 105:8–15; Jeremiah 32:16–33:5; 2 Timothy 3:10–4:8

Originally published 9/04/2017. Revised and updated 9/03/2019.

Psalm 105:8–15: Opening worship concluded, our psalmist begins to recount Israel’s history beginning with God’s original Abrahamic covenant:
He recalls His pact forever—
the word He ordained for a thousand generations—
which He sealed with Abraham,
and His vow to Isaac,
and He set it for Jacob as a statute,
for Israel an eternal pact.
“To you will I give the land of Canaan
as the plot of your estate.” (8-11)

God’s promise to the original three Patriarchs follows a logical succession through those first three generations:  from sealed promise to Abraham, vow to Isaac, and statute to Jacob. This three-time commitment makes it quite clear that the Covenant was no casual promise on God’s part.

What’s also fascinating to me here is that the original Covenant included not only a people more numerous than the stars in heaven, but also a land, specifically Canaan. I do not recall reading this in Genesis. Perhaps by the time the psalmist is writing, the promise of Canaan had been firmly ensconced by tradition into the original promise to Abraham.

In any event, our psalmist notes that Abraham and his son and grandson were nomads without a land of their own:
…when they were a handful of men,
but a few, and sojourners there.
And they went about from nation to nation,
from one kingdom to another people.” (12, 13)

The psalmist makes it clear that prior to God’s promise, Abraham was a man without a country. Even so, in apparent anticipation of the Covenant to come, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were still firmly under God’s protection:
He allowed no man to oppress them
and warned kings on their account:
‘Touch not My anointed ones,
And to My prophets do no harm.‘ (14-15)

I wonder if this psalm was written during the exile in Babylon as a hopeful anticipation that just as God protected Abraham and his progeny, God will protect them as they are once again sojourners in a foreign land. And as God promised Canaan to Abraham, so too, the exiles will eventually return from their journey to their own land.

Jeremiah 32:16–33:5:  After Jeremiah turns the deed of the land near Jerusalem he just purchased over to Baruch, he prays fervently, first acknowledging that God, “It is you who made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.” (32:17)

Then Jeremiah recounts—much like the psalmist above—Israel’s history from Egypt to the Promised Land, reminding God, “you swore to their ancestors to give them, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (32:22) But what was not mentioned by the psalmist above is that the people “did not obey your voice or follow your law; of all you commanded them to do, they did nothing.” (32:23a) And logically, “Therefore you have made all these disasters come upon them.” (32:23b)

Jeremiah then observes that Jerusalem is under siege by the Chaldeans and he asks rather puzzledly, “Yet you, O Lord God, have said to me, ‘Buy the field for money and get witnesses’—though the city has been given into the hands of the Chaldeans.” (32:25) In other words, Jeremiah wonders, why would God ask me to buy land in a place that’s about to be overrun by the enemy?

As is inevitable in this book, God speaks. Yes, he replies, “the Chaldeans who are fighting against this city shall come, set it on fire, and burn it, with the houses on whose roofs offerings have been made to Baal and libations have been poured out to other gods, to provoke me to anger.” (32:29) And yes, God continues, “This city has aroused my anger and wrath, from the day it was built until this day, so that I will remove it from my sight…They have turned their backs to me, not their faces; though I have taught them persistently, they would not listen and accept correction.” (32:31, 33) So, Judah is experiencing the justifiable consequences of its sins.

But with God there is always hope, God continues, “Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good fortune that I now promise them.” (32:42) And one of the good fortunes is that real estate transactions will resume one day: “Fields shall be bought for money, and deeds shall be signed and sealed and witnessed, in the land of Benjamin, in the places around Jerusalem, …for I will restore their fortunes, says the Lord.” (32:44) As far as God is concerned, Jeremiah has obeyed him even though the entire transaction seemed pointless. But God often asks us to do seemingly stupid things that turn out to have good consequences.

But before there can be restoration and healing, punishment must occur: “For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the houses of this city and the houses of the kings of Judah that were torn down to make a defense against the siege ramps and before the sword: The Chaldeans are coming in to fight and to fill them with the dead bodies of those whom I shall strike down in my anger and my wrath, for I have hidden my face from this city because of all their wickedness.”(33:4,5)

In Jeremiah’s time it was God who determined punishment. Today, punishment is executed by an often flawed justice system. But two things are constant down through the ages: disobedience has consequences. And punishment inevitably precedes healing.

2 Timothy 3:10–4:8: Sounding a bit like Jeremiah, our author writes, “Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (3:12) But, he continues, “wicked people and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived.” (3:13)

It’s clear from the context here that Timothy’s church is badly confused at best and subject to deception by unscrupulous theologians at worst. They need a reference point, a guide that stands apart from their arguments. Unsurprisingly, our author continues, that reference point is familiar and close at hand: “from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (3:15) This is one of those places that convinces me the real Paul was not the author. I don’t think the evangelist would have referred to “sacred writings,” but rather he would have referred directly to Christ’s power to save us.

Then comes the verse that while indisputably true has created endless division within the church: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (3:16) [BTW, it’s worth remembering that by “Scripture,” our author means what we now call the Old Testament. The canonical New Testament did not emerge until a three centuries later.]

But the question hangs in the air: just what does “inspired” mean anyway? Some believe that the men who wrote scripture were basically stenographers, writing down the words that the Holy Spirit dictated to them. Whence cometh the inerrantists, i.e, the belief Scripture cannot contain errors. It’s all literally true. This has led to all sorts of mischief, IMHO, as e.g., the doctrine of a literal 6-day creation.

I prefer “inspired” to mean that the Holy Spirit was indeed present and that the men wrote what they wrote based on that presence. For me, there are parts that are more germane to the cultural context in which they were written, e.g., Leviticus and this book.

That does not necessarily mean we get to pick and choose the parts we like or that fit our won world view, while just ignoring the parts we don’t like or are uncomfortable with. I think God is asking us to grapple with all Scripture and that in that grappling we will come to a deeper understanding of who God is and how we relate to him. But also there will be parts of Scripture that despite our best interpretive efforts will lie forever beyond our ken. Nevertheless, I think we must always read and interpret Scripture from the perspective that God loves us and that he wants us to follow him through the saving grace of Jesus Christ and the ongoing impact of the Holy Spirit in and on our lives.

As in Timothy’s time, there are too many people today, who are making pronouncements based on an inadequate knowledge and understanding of what Scripture is actually saying. It is a pastoral responsibility to “proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.” (4:2)

And we continue to experience exactly the same problem as back then: “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” (4:3,4)  We are surrounded by both people with itchy ears, as well as even more with no ears at all—unwilling to listen.

Speak Your Mind