Psalm 106:40–48; Jeremiah 45,46; Hebrews 1:10–2:8a

Originally published 9/14/2017. Revised and updated 9/13/2019.

Psalm 106:40–48: God’s anger is understandable given the vile practice of child sacrifice before Canaan’s idols—even to the point of his regretting what having chosen these stubborn, complaining people. Our psalmist’s history lesson arrives at the present doleful situation of Judah in Babylonian exile, which he sees clearly as God’s punishment for their manifold evil sins:
And the Lord’s wrath blazed against His people,
and He abhorred His estate,
and gave them into the hand of nations,
their haters ruled over them.
And their enemies oppressed them,
and they were subject to their power. (40-42)

As far as the psalmist is concerned this is just one more turn of the never-ending cycle of Israel’s sinfulness followed by its repentance followed by God’s forgiving mercy:
Many times did He save them,
and they rebelled against His counsel
and were brought low through their misdeeds.”
And He saw when they were in straits,
when He heard their song of prayer.
And He recalled for them His pact,
relented through His many kindnesses.
And He granted them mercy
in the eyes of all their captors. (43-46)

Our poet asks for God’s mercy once more—for God to gather in his people who have been scattered around the nations so that they may worship him:
Rescue us, Lord, our God
and gather us from the nations
to acclaim Your holy name
and to glory in Your praise. (47)

I’m not sure if this is a specific reference to the return from Babylonian exile or a deeper prophecy about to what happens much later in history. This verse surely was sung in 1947 with the reestablishment of the state of Israel.

The psalm ends on an perfect phrase of liturgical worship:
Blessed is the Lord God of Israel forever and ever.
And all the people say: Amen, hallelujah!

If we ever needed to be reminded of the depths of our own depravity and the fact that God will forgive us when we repent, it is right here. This psalm has plumbed the depths of human depravity but it ends on the highest possible plane—in exactly the same rhythm of a downward thrust of sin in our lives to be supplanted by an upward thrust of mercy and forgiveness. Our God is a rescuing God!

Jeremiah 45,46: Baruch, who is Jeremiah’s amanuensis, receives a wonderful promise for his faithfulness. Jeremiah tells him that he will be spared when the destruction of Jerusalem comes. But rescue requires humility: “And you, do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for I am going to bring disaster upon all flesh, says the Lord; but I will give you your life as a prize of war in every place to which you may go.” (45:5)

Indeed, that is the promise for us: when we are willing to place God ahead of our own egos, we will survive and prosper.

Chapter 46 at least opens with a clarification of what the chapter will be about: “The word of the Lord that came to the prophet Jeremiah concerning the nations.” (46:1) And then Jeremiah dives right in once again back in poetic form. The first nation up is Egypt as Jeremiah describes its history rather than events yet to come: “Concerning Egypt, about the army of Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, which was by the river Euphrates at Carchemish and which King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeated in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah.” (46:2) One thing I had not realized: Egypt’s army marched to Babylon in its futile effort to overthrow the Chaldeans.

The poem is almost homeric—a brilliant exposition of battle and blood, opening with Egypt’s doomed plan to ride to Babylon and conquer it:
Egypt rises like the Nile,
    like rivers whose waters surge.
It said, Let me rise, let me cover the earth,
    let me destroy cities and their inhabitants.
Advance, O horses,
    and dash madly, O chariots!
Let the warriors go forth: (46:8, 9)

But defeat by the Chaldeans is inevitable:
The sword shall devour and be sated,
    and drink its fill of their blood.
For the Lord God of hosts holds a sacrifice
    in the land of the north by the river Euphrates. (46:10)

The sacrifice here, of course, is the Egyptian army. Notice that as far as our prophet is concerned, God directs the fate of every nation, not just Israel’s.

Parenthetically, I’ve always wondered what the song, “There is a Balm in Gilead” was referring to. Turns out it’s about Egypt’s defeat at the Euphrates. Who knew?
Go up to Gilead, and take balm,
    O virgin daughter Egypt!
In vain you have used many medicines;
    there is no healing for you (46:11)

Defeated on the battlefield, there is only humiliation for Egypt—and, as far as Jeremiah is concerned, it is God who caused it:
Why has Apis fled?
    Why did your bull not stand?
    —because the Lord thrust him down.
   Your multitude stumbled and fell,

Daughter Egypt shall be put to shame;
    she shall be handed over to a people from the north. (46: (15, 16a, 24)

As well as humiliation for its pharaoh:
Give Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the name
    “Braggart who missed his chance. (46:17)

Egypt has fallen (and we are reminded that the fate of the Jews who fled to Egypt a few chapters back is doubtless the same as Egypt itself). But Israel (here referred to as Jacob) will eventually be restored:
But as for you, have no fear, my servant Jacob,
    and do not be dismayed, O Israel;
for I am going to save you from far away,
    and your offspring from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease,
    and no one shall make him afraid. (46:27)

But this wonderful eventuality occurs only after punishment for its manifold sins. Nevertheless, there is also always the promise that Israel will survive:
I will make an end of all the nations
    among which I have banished you,
    but I will not make an end of you!
I will chastise you in just measure,
    and I will by no means leave you unpunished. (48:28)

All this has indeed come true. Babylon is certainly no more and Egypt is much diminished. But the state of Israel not only exists, it is strong. It is also a personal reminder that while we must bear the consequences of our sins, God will indeed rescue us when we repent—exactly the same theme we saw in today’s psalm.

Hebrews 1:10–2:8a: Our Jewish author is a fan of the psalms as he quotes from Psalm 102 describing how God’s eternal nature transcends creation itself:
In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands;
they will perish, but you remain;
    they will all wear out like clothing;
 like a cloak you will roll them up,
    and like clothing they will be changed.
But you are the same,
    and your years will never end. (1: 10-12)

(I have to believe these lines have been set to music somewhere.) But as we will discover, our author has a didactic purpose as he describes the relationship between God and Jesus Christ.

Apparently, he is refuting a belief in the early church that angels were superior beings to Jesus himself because Jesus came to earth as flesh and blood. But he makes it clear that angels are simply spiritual messengers and they communicate a Message that is superior to them. In fact, they are also messengers for us: “Are not all angels  spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (1:14)

Inasmuch as angels are in communication with us, our author notes, “Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.” (2:1) He then refers to the crucial importance of Scripture and what has been written there regarding our salvation: “It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, ” (2:3)

But in addition to what the psalmists and prophets wrote, God has been actively communicating this great message to us in other ways as well: “God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will.” (2:4) Perhaps this verse is a reference to the Day of Pentecost and our author was in that crowd who received the Holy Spirit.

The author returns to his assertion that while humans may be lower in spiritual status than angels, they are in fact God’s preferred creation. He does this by quoting Psalm 8:
What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    or mortals, that you care for them?
 You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
    you have crowned them with glory and honor,
   subjecting all things under their feet. (2:6-8)

Indeed, God has created us to be “crowned with glory and honor” But as we will see in this fairly complex book, this glory and honor brings serious responsibility as well.

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