Psalm 105:16–22; Jeremiah 33:6–34:7; 2 Timothy 4:9–22

Originally published 9/05/2017. Revised and updated 9/04/2019.

Psalm 105:16–22: The scene advances to the story of Joseph. The poet has compressed the story to the point that only those who knew the entire story would understand the references. He reverses the timeline by referring to the famine about to strike Egypt before even introducing Joseph, who had been imprisoned by the treachery of Potiphar’s wife:
And called forth famine over the land,
every staff of bread He broke.
He sent a man before them—
as a slave Joseph was sold.
They tortured his legs with shackles,
his neck put in iron, (16-18a)

The psalmist makes it quite clear that God is behind it all. And it is God who determines that Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams is the gift to him that sets him free and is responsible for Joseph’s ascent:
…until the time of his word had come,
the Lord’s utterance that purged him.
The king sent and loosed his shackles
the ruler of peoples set him free, (18-20)

Our poet emphasizes the power that Joseph came to enjoy over every other Egyptian save the pharaoh:
made him master of his house
and ruler of all his possessions,
to admonish his princes as he desired
and to teach wisdom to his elders. (18b-22)

Notice the last line: it is Joseph’s wisdom that’s emphasized here. Assuming the psalm was written during the Babylonian exile, our poet is creating a parallel between the Joseph story and the fact that Israel itself is now in captivity. But like Joseph in prison, there is hope and that hope comes from God that rescue will come.

The psalmist is telling his compatriots to look back into their own national history. God brought Joseph out of prison to the second-highest position in the land. Surely, he implies, God will rescue us too.

Jeremiah 33:6–34:7: Speaking of hope, we fans God’s same promise as in the psalm above here in Jeremiah: “I am going to bring it recovery and healing; I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel, and rebuild them as they were at first.” (33:6, 7) And later, the promise to restore the land itself to its original ‘promised land’ state, not the desolate and corrupt place it had become: “For I will restore the fortunes of the land as at first, says the Lord.” (33:11)

Then we arrive at a full-bore messianic prophecy: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” (33:14, 15)

So why call the messiah a “righteous Branch?” It all comes back to the promise that God made to David so many centuries ago: “David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel.” (33:17) Moreover, God also promises, “the levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to make grain offerings, and to make sacrifices for all time.” (33:18) We know that this did not fully come to pass but ended with the Roman conqueror Titus destroying the temple in CE 70. But by that time, God had already made the ultimate sacrifice through Jesus, rendering the levitical sacrifices moot and superfluous. As the book of Hebrews tells us, Jesus is our new high priest, albeit from the line of Melchizedek, not the levitical line.

God’s promise of return is bound up in creation itself: “Only if I had not established my covenant with day and night and the ordinances of heaven and earth, would I reject the offspring of Jacob and of my servant David and not choose any of his descendants as rulers over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (33:25)

We know that God kept his promise but not in the way that anyone, including Jeremiah, expected. Rather than an earthly king, Jesus, the descendant of David, became King of the Jews, who rejected him in mockery at the cross. But then just as God had established day and night, this rejected cornerstone became king of all creation. And not just for the Jews, but indeed for all of us.

In the next chapter, the scene shifts back to the grim reality of the siege of Jerusalem. Jeremiah is commanded by God to go to King Zedekiah with not very good news: “Thus says the Lord: I am going to give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire. And you yourself shall not escape from his hand, but shall surely be captured and handed over to him; you shall see the king of Babylon eye to eye and speak with him face to face; and you shall go to Babylon.” (33:2, 3)

But Zedekiah will not be allowed to return from exile: “O King Zedekiah of Judah! Thus says the Lord concerning you: You shall not die by the sword; you shall die in peace.” (34:4, 5) One wonders how Zedekiah received this news. Was he relieved that he would not die in battle? Or would he despair that as Jerusalem’s leader he would not die alongside his men, but in prison in Babylon. My suspicion is the latter.

2 Timothy 4:9–22: This reading includes very personal instructions from Paul that certainly gives us names of both the faithful and unfaithful men around the evangelist. Nevertheless, my suspicions are that our author has inserted this level of detail—never before seen in such length in any other epistle—as a way of making it appear that Paul wrote this epistle.

That said, however, I certainly believe the descriptions are true and the names are real. In any event, there is certainly interesting detail about the early church here. Some men have remained loyal to Paul, notably Luke who authored the Gospel and Acts. Paul has sent others off to various churches: “Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia, and Tychicus to Ephesus.” (10b, 12)

Two men are called out for their disloyalty: “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (10) and “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will pay him back for his deeds.” (14) Paul warns Timothy especially about the latter: “You also must beware of him, for he strongly opposed our message.” (15)

But the detail that stands out most for me is the fact that Paul asks Timothy, “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.” (13) It’s a wonderful detail and it makes sense. Afterall, most of his possessions would have been lost in the shipwreck that marked his journey to Rome. This is also the verse that my Dad inscribed on the flyleaf of every book he ever purchased, so it has special personal resonance as well.

Our author inserts a slight hint of bitterness on Paul’s part for those who were disloyal to him at (what I presume to be) his trial in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, he is quick to forgive: “At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them!” (16)

The epistle ends on a note that, while very true in meaning, sounds a bit wooden to me. Paul’s outlook and faith are there for sure, but I’m pretty sure the actual Paul would have said it more elegantly: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom.” (18)

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