Psalm 106:1–5; Jeremiah 37:1–38:13; Titus 2:6–3:2

Originally published 9/08/2017. Revised and updated 9/07/2019.

Psalm 106:1–5: This psalm opens on a familiar note of worship—pretty much the same verse the previous psalm ended on:
Acclaim the Lord, for He is good,
for His kindness is forever.
Who can utter the Lord’s mighty acts,
can make heard all His praise? (1, 2)

With the clue, “the Lord’s mighty acts,” I have a feeling we’re about to hear them recounted once again in this historical psalm that looks back over Israel’s past. But before our poet gets to the details, he injects a personal note:
Happy those who keep justice
who do righteousness at all times.
Recall me, O Lord, when You favor Your people,
mark me for Your rescue,
to see the good of Your chosen ones,
to rejoice in the joy of Your nation,
to revel with Your estate. (3-5)

Even though he speaks in the second person plural, I suspect that our psalmist includes himself among “those who keep justice” and “who do righteousness at all times.” There’s a mantra-like quality to these lines—as if the psalmist reminds himself daily of this great truth. Which is not a bad idea for us either!

Verse 4 gives the impression that this psalm is being written from exile and the psalmist is praying that by virtue of his keeping justice and practicing righteousness he will be among the exiles “marked for rescue,” who will be able to return some day to Israel. Verse 5 anticipates how wonderful that glorious day will be. To be able to return to a just society with those other righteous persons God has chosen. Then, with that company, to be able to rejoice together as a reestablished nation. Indeed, to celebrate (“revel”)on the land (“estate”) that God has returned to them.

With this introduction, the psalm is now prepared to move through Israel’s history pretty much the same way as the preceding one, but from a quite different point of view.

Jeremiah 37:1–38:13: This chapter provides background history of the times Jeremiah was living in.  King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has established Zedekiah as a vassal king and he sends Jehucal and Zephaniah (whom will be hearing from later this year in his eponymous book) to ask Jeremiah to “Please pray for us to the Lord our God.” (37:3) Our author notes that “Now Jeremiah was still going in and out among the people, for he had not yet been put in prison.” (37:4)

Meanwhile, Pharoah’s army is on the move northward and the Chaldeans from Babylon rightly fear that army. When they heard the news, “they withdrew from Jerusalem.” (37:5) EVeryone breathes a sigh of relief, thinking the Chaldeans have permanently retired to Babylon. But Jeremiah tells the two priests that Egypt coming to Judah’s aid is only a temporary measure and that the Chaldeans will inevitably return: “Do not deceive yourselves, saying, “The Chaldeans will surely go away from us,” for they will not go away.” (37:9)

The Egyptians come and scare away the Chaldeans. In this moment of relative peace, Jeremiah prepares to go to the land of Benjamin to see the property he’s bought. But he’s arrested at the city gate and accused of treason: “You are deserting to the Chaldeans.” (37:13) Jeremiah strongly denies this, “That is a lie; I am not deserting to the Chaldeans.” (37:14) But the officials, looking for any excuse to remove this prophetic thorn in their side, use this incident as justification to toss Jeremiah in prison, “in the cistern house, in the cells, and remained there many days.” (37:16)

In a scene reminiscent of Joseph being brought before Pharaoh, Jeremiah is brought before Zedekiah in secret, who asks, “Is there any word from the Lord?” (37:17) Jeremiah retorts, “There is!” Then he said, “You shall be handed over to the king of Babylon.” (37:17)

He then asks the king why he’s been wrongly imprisoned and asks Zedekiah, “my lord king: be good enough to listen to my plea, and do not send me back to the house of the secretary Jonathan to die there.” (37:20) The kings shows a modicum of mercy and the prophet is now housed with the palace guard.

That move does not make other officials happy because Jeremiah continues to prophesy the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans. They go to the king and tell him, “This man ought to be put to death, because he is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, and all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm.” (38:4). It’s a clever accusation to assert that Jeremiah is negatively affecting the morale of the troops. Ever the cowardly wimp, Zedekiah turns Jeremiah over to these men who promptly toss Jeremiah into an empty cistern, “and Jeremiah sank in the mud” (38:6), leaving him there to starve to death.

There Jeremiah lay until “Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, a eunuch in the king’s house” tells the king, “My lord king, these men have acted wickedly in all they did to the prophet Jeremiah by throwing him into the cistern to die there of hunger, for there is no bread left in the city.” (38:9) The king agrees and Ebed-melech get some old rags and rope. They lower the rope down to Jeremiah and in one of those places where we get very precise detail that confirms for me, anyway, the true historicity of the Bible, we learn exactly how Jeremiah was rescued. Ebed-melech throws the rags down the cistern and tells Jeremiah, “Just put the rags and clothes between your armpits and the ropes.” (38:12) Ebed-melech’s men pull Jeremiah out of the pit. [We’ll encounter the story another more dangerous pit in the book of Daniel.]

It’s no wonder that when we hear the phase, “a prophet without honor in his own country,” it is Jeremiah who comes immediately to mind. The other great thing about this story is that it is  Gentile—not a Jew—and a eunuch to boot, who rescues Jeremiah. For me this is a reminder that while God may have chosen the Jews as his people, he is nevertheless the God of every person. Moreover, God, being a God of surprise, he will act through the people one least expects.

Titus 2:6–3:2: Having given advice to old men and women, our author moves on to young men: “Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity,  and sound speech that cannot be censured; then any opponent will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us.” (2:6-8) Say what one will about this Paul that seems to have endless stores of advice for other, the advice is certainly excellent. Would that in this era of “social” media, more young men (and women) practiced “sound speech that cannot be censured.” Alas, as a society the babbling politicians and so-called leaders set an awful example for youth.

We come to a reminder that while human nature has remained unchanged down through the ages, the world in which Titus received this letter was significantly different in one significant way: “Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior.” (9, 10)

Our author goes on once again to present the Gospel message. But unlike actual Paul, here there is a tight connection between the Gospel and good works, which strikes me as a bit off: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly,” (11, 12) Yes, this and the verses that follow are certainly true. As we’ve noted already, this are sound advice. But what’s missing here is the exuberant grace that I find in Paul’s authentic epistles. The passage here has a much more somber, almost nagging tone. At this point, one is tempted to say, ‘Enough already. I get your point!!’

But with this author, there is never too much advice and he lards it on once again: “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone.” (3:1, 2) OK, OK, I get his point! And there’s little question that our culture would be a calmer, better place if we all took the advice offered here.

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