Psalm 106:6–12; Jeremiah 38:14–39:18; Titus 3:3–15

Originally published 9/09/2017. Revised and updated 9/09/2019.

Psalm 106:6–12: Unlike the happy poet of the preceding psalm, who said nothing negative about the Israelites, our current psalmist includes confession:
We offended like our fathers, we wronged
we did evil. (6)

Notice how the three words stand out on the second line: “We did evil.” There can be no franker confession than that. There are no excuses; we have sinned just as our ancestors sinned. Having brought up the topic of ancestors, our psalmist looks back at the darker side of Israel’s national story:
Our fathers in Egypt
did not grasp Your wonders.
They did not call to mind Your many kindnesses
and rebelled by the sea, at the Sea of Reeds. (7)

Like every nation that has followed down through history, the Israelites did not bother to appreciate the tremendous gift that God had just given them: freedom from tyranny. Rather, when they reached the first obstacle at the edge of the sea they whined. How like them we are today! We fail to notice the wonders of God that are around us and the wonderful things he has done for us. Instead, we focus on what’s wrong and on the personal injustices we experience. Whining and victimization is certainly the zeitgeist of our culture—and another proof that human nature is immutable.

But as our poet observes, God overlooked the whining and rescued them and defeated their pursuing enemies anyway because God keeps his promises:
Yet He rescued them for His name’s sake,
to make known His might.
He blasted the Sea of Reeds, and it dried up,
and He led them through the deep as through wilderness,
And He rescued them from the land of the hostile
and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy.
And the water covered their foes,
not one of them remained. (8-11)

What’s crucial here is to recognize that God did not rescue Israel because they deserved it, but he rescued them “for His name’s sake.” So, too, for us. We do not merit salvation. The Israelites did not escape because of anything they accomplished on their own. All they did was stand at the shore and complain. God rescued them because he promised to. So, too, for us. We are rescued by grace alone, “not of works should any man boast.”

And the logical consequence of salvation is grateful worship:
And they trusted His words,
they sang His praise. (12)

The question is, do I trust God’s word and sing his praise enough? The magnitude of what God has done for us can never be matched, even in our humility and praise. The gift is simply too wonderful for us to fully comprehend.

Jeremiah 38:14–39:18: We observed yesterday that King Zedekiah was something of a wimp. Today that’s proved in spades as he comes to Jeremiah in secret, obviously fearing the wrath of the court officials. When Jeremiah arrives at the third entrance of the temple he logically responds to Zedekiah’s plea, “If I tell you, you will put me to death, will you not? And if I give you advice, you will not listen to me.” (38:15) Zedekiah promises, “I will not put you to death or hand you over to these men who seek your life.” (38:16)

Jeremiah advises Zedekiah that if he simply surrenders to the Chaldeans, “your life shall be spared, and this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live.” (38:17) But if he resists, the enemy will burn Jerusalem to the ground and the king will not escape. Zedekiah says he is afraid of the Jews who have gone over to the Chaldeans but Jeremiah assures him that if he “obeys the voice of the Lord in what I say to you, and it shall go well with you, and your life shall be spared.” (38:20)

Zedekiah extracts a promise from Jeremiah not to tell anyone about the conversation or “you will die.” Jeremiah agrees and when questioned by the officials about the meeting, he keeps his word.

Alas, Zedekiah does not heed Jeremiah’s advice. Like so many lawyers’ clients, they hear the advice and then proceed to ignore it. One wonders why Zedekiah even bothered to meet with Jeremiah. In the end Zedekiah’s pride was so immense that he would not consider surrendering. Sounds like a lot of historical figures, including some current politicians.

Chapter 39 is one of  the more depressing chapters of the OT as we see the consequences of Zedekiah’s pride. Jerusalem falls. Zedekiah and his court “fled, going out of the city at night by way of the king’s garden through the gate between the two walls.” (39:4) But they are captured by the Chaldeans. Zedekiah is brought before Nebuchadnezzar, who pronounces a woeful sentence. Zedekiah is forced to witness the execution of his children, as well as all the nobility of Judah. His eyes are then put out and blinded, he is taken in chains to Babylon. Then, “the Chaldeans burned the king’s house and the houses of the people, and broke down the walls of Jerusalem.” (39:8). The remaining population is exiled to Babylon. Interestingly, though, there is also mercy. “Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left in the land of Judah some of the poor people who owned nothing, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time.” (38:10) As we have seen again and again, God cares about the poor.

Jeremiah is spared by Nebuchadnezzar himself, commanding Nebuzaradan to “Take him, look after him well and do him no harm, but deal with him as he may ask you.”  (39:12) Jeremiah is entrusted to what I take to be his grand-nephew and Jeremiah “stayed with his own people.” (39:14)

The word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah one more time and he remembers Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, who rescued Jeremiah from the cistern. Jeremiah is instructed to tell the eunuch, that God “will save you on that day, says the Lord, and you shall not be handed over to those whom you dread.” (17)

In the midst of God’s punishment in the downfall of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem he remembers those, such as Ebed-melech, who have done good deeds  and who have followed God like Jeremiah. As things seem to be collapsing around us, this is the promise to which we can also cling if unlike Zedekiah we are willing to let go of our pride and need to control..

Titus 3:3–15: “Paul” gives his testimony of how he was saved in one of the more overtly Trinitarian passages in the NT where God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit each play a role in our salvation. He begins by describing his former life, (which seems more over the top than how I think the actual Paul would have expressed it): “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another.” (3) Which sounds pretty much like all of us if we were honest with ourselves.

As with Ebed-melech, God shows mercy, but now it is through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in what appears to me to be a catechetical statement of the early church: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (4-7)

But Paul cannot resist giving advice and after this brief theological interlude, he lapses into more of the same almost tedious commands. The duties of Christians are clear: “I desire that you insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works; these things are excellent and profitable to everyone.” (8)

And behaviors to avoid are even clearer: “But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” (9) Wow. Stupid controversies both in the church and certainly in the wider culture are pretty much what define us today.

IN this church, anyway, everybody gets two chances and then they’re shown the door: “After a first and second admonition, have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions, since you know that such a person is perverted and sinful, being self-condemned.” (10, 11) Yes, this is good advice for establishing church discipline. But would Paul really have said, “such a person is perverted and sinful, being self-condemned?” I’m not so sure. The Paul I think I see in his authentic letters is a Paul who always held out hope for everyone—even the sinners of the Corinthian church. 

For our author it’s very much about good works and being useful: “And let people learn to devote themselves to good works in order to meet urgent needs, so that they may not be unproductive.” (14) I certainly see some of the source material for what eventually became the Protestant work ethic right here in these verses.

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