Psalm 107:1–9; Jeremiah 47:1–48:25; Hebrews 2:8b–18

Originally published 9/15/2015. Revised and updated 9/14/2019.

Psalm 107:1–9: The opening of this psalm marks it as a psalm of thanksgiving:
Acclaim the Lord, for He is good,
for His kindness is forever. (1)

It is also probably post-exhilic because the next verse describes how God has gathered together those who have been scattered:
Let the Lord’s redeemed ones say,
whom He redeemed from the hand of the foe,
and gathered them from the lands,
from east and west, from north and south. (2, 3)

God gathered them as they “wandered in wilderness, waste land,/ found no road to a settled town.” (4) These wanderers were “hungry, thirsty, too,/ their life-breath failed within them.” (5) As always, we need only turn to God and cry out for rescue—and God will rescue them and us:
And they cried to the Lord from their straits,
from their distress He saved them. (6)

This psalm operates on two levels. First, the physical. God has gathered together those who were scattered, provided shelter in the settled town, quenched their thirst, and satisfied their hunger:
For He sated the thirsting throat
and the hungry throat He filled with Good. (9)

And these people are indeed thankful.

But the second level speaks directly to us today. Is there a better description of our current human condition? Now that our culture believes we have outgrown the need for God, we are increasingly scattered as we continue lose societal cohesion and wonder own roads that are ultimately dead ends. There is no better metaphor for our present situation than that we have found no road to a settled town where our spiritual hunger and thirst can be quenched.

Will we, like the people in this psalm, “cry to the Lord from their straits?” (6a) For Israel, “from their distress He saved them./ And He led the on a straight road/ to go to a settled town.” (6b, 7) This phrase seems particularly apt as thousand and thousands attempt to flee the chaos of the Middle East and find a straight road to a settled town in Europe or from failed states in Central America seeking asylum in the US.

As Christians, we know where that straight road leads: directly to Jesus Christ. But I fear the world will continue to wander, thinking it knows what to do. Will it, too, ever cry out to God for rescue?

Jeremiah 47:1–48:25: One thing about Jeremiah that we never found with Isaiah. God speaks through this prophet to the lands beyond Israel and Judah. Here, Jeremiah prophesies doom for the Philistines, that ever-present threat to the Jews:
     “For the Lord is destroying the Philistines,
         the remnant of the coastland of Caphtor.
     Baldness has come upon Gaza,
         Ashkelon is silenced.” (47:4b, 5a) 

Because Gaza and Ashkelon are still with us almost 3000 years later, there is an eerie quality to this prophecy, as if it has been fulfilled once again in our time.  Judgement also comes to Moab:
the fortress is put to shame and broken down;
the renown of Moab is no more. (48:2)

There is a gruesome command as well, “Accursed is the one who is slack in doing the work of the Lord; and accursed is the one who keeps back the sword from bloodshed.” (48:10). This is one of those places in the OT where we shake our head, realizing that it was a very different place than the civilization we know, and that some aspects of these prophecies remain inexplicable.

So, why Philistia and Moab here in the midst of a long story about the fate of Israel and Judah? It’s one more place where we encounter the fact that God is concerned with all humankind. Israel may have been his chosen people, but his concerns–and ultimately, his love, extends to all people.

Hebrews 2:8b–18: The reason for our author’s discussion on the place of humans in God’s creative hierarchy starts to become clear: “we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (9)  My take on this is that Jesus came to earth effectively to give God the personal experience, if you will, of “the suffering of death” and of “tasting death.” But in so doing, Jesus Christ has thereby accomplished the means to our salvation, or as our author puts it, “make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” (10) [I love the phrase, “pioneer of salvation”…]

Going on to cite three Scripture passages, our author makes it clear that only through becoming flesh and blood, could Jesus have “likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.” (14, 15) Jesus came to conquer death. Or as the old cliche has it, Jesus won the final war against death even though we continue to fight the battles against the devil. 

In short, Jesus “had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.” (17)  Aha, now we see where he’s going with this. Jesus is our great high priest, making the once-and-for-all sacrifice on our behalf. But the primary qualification for Jesus to become that effective priest was that “he himself was tested by what he suffered, [so that] he is able to help those who are being tested.” (18)

God is sympathetic to our fallen plight as humans. That’s on display all the way through the OT. But it is only through the incarnation of Jesus Christ that God becomes empathetic with us: tasting what we taste, walking where we walk, suffering what we suffer—and of course endures the one great Suffering which spares us and becomes the means to our salvation.

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