Psalm 104:1–9; Jeremiah 25:15–26:9; 1 Timothy 6:3–16

Psalm 104:1–9: The psalm opens with the same line of almost ecstatic utterance that the previous psalm closed with: “Bless, O my being, the Lord!” suggesting it is a continuation of a long poem of thanksgiving. However, the Psalm editors probably broke 103 and 104 into two psalms because here, rather than celebrating God’s righteousness and justice, it celebrates the magnificence of all creation with incredible energy and evocative similes.

God is the animating Light who brought the earth and heavens to their present glory: “Wrapped in light like a cloak,/ stretching out heavens like a tent cloth.” (2) The poet’s use of present participles recreates the almost breathless activity of creation:
“Setting beams for His lofts in the waters,
making His chariot the clouds,
He goes on the wings of the wind.
He makes His messenger the winds,
His ministers, glowing fire.” (3,4)

Having created the heavens, God turns to the creation of the earth itself, consisting of solid land and water:
“He founded earth on its solid base,
not to be shaken forevermore.”
With the deep You covered it like a garment.
over mountains the waters stood.” (5,6)

The last line, “over mountains the waters stood,” might suggest the Noahic flood, but given the context, I think the poet had Genesis in mind: “And God said,“Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” (Gen 1:9)

Creation is a joyfully noisy process; we can hear the roaring waters of rivers and the roar of the surf: “From Your blast they [the waters] fled,/ from the sound of Your thunder they scattered.” (7) But God’s creation also connotes a cosmic order: “A border You fixed so they could not cross,/ so they could not come back to cover the earth.”

Joy, activity, energy, noise. But also order. What a wonderful description of God’s creation. When we read Genesis 1 we should really read these verses as well.

Jeremiah 25:15–26:9: Jeremiah is back in form in these chapters as he communicates the harsh words of God in striking metaphors of drinking and drunkenness. Only this time it’s not just Judah that will be punished, but “all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and go out of their minds because of the sword that I am sending among them.” (25:16), which he then goes on to name, including Egypt, the Philistines, Arabia and all the well known enemies of Israel: “Edom, Moab, and the Ammonites; all the kings of Tyre, all the kings of Sidon, and the kings of the coastland across the sea;” (25: 21-25) Jeremiah is instructed by God, “ Then you shall say to them, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, get drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you.” (25:27)

What follows is a passage worthy of the destruction described in Revelation (or more correctly, we can see sources of the descriptions in Revelation here) as we read one of the starkest images in this starkest of books: “Those slain by the Lord on that day shall extend from one end of the earth to the other. They shall not be lamented, or gathered, or buried; they shall become dung on the surface of the ground.” (25:33). To those people (and to us!) there is no greater dishonor or punishment than to “become dung on the surface of the ground.”

As always, Jeremiah tells them (and us) God always offers an escape clause to avoid this fate: “It may be that they will listen, all of them, and will turn from their evil way, that I may change my mind about the disaster that I intend to bring on them because of their evil doings.” (26:3).

But Jeremiah’s jeremiad doesn’t go over well and we see the usual response, kill the messenger: “when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die!” (26:8) Like all great drama, today’s reading ends on the threatening note, “And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.” (26:9)

We are exactly the same as the inhabitants of Jerusalem. But our culture has replaced Jonathan Edwards with Joel Osteen–so we don’t even hear jeremiads anymore, much less get angry at the messenger.

1 Timothy 6:3–16: Our author is nothing if not judgmental, a Jeremiah of the early church: “Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness, is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words.” (3,4). Interesting observation there: “a morbid craving for controversy.”  There are certainly people who thrive on controversy and all of them are not just on the cable news channels…

But whether or not we like the judgment, there’s no question that self-centered teaching rather than just communicating the “sound words of Jesus Christ” has bad results in the church: “From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” (4b, 5) That last phrase–“godliness is a means of gain”– is especially striking when we reflect on the motives of various wealthy televangelists such as Benny Hinn or Creflo Dollar. If nothing else, we know that their kind have always been a scourge of the church.

Contentment not advancement is the message here because “those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction,” (9) which gives us the proper context for one of the top three well known by those outside the church (but usually misquoted) verses of all: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,” (10a). But it’s the latter half of this verse that matters just as much: “and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” (10b) Our quest for wealth does indeed bring many pains–and here we learn that if our priorities are straight: contentment over wealth-seeking we will be far happier.

Even if Paul was not really the author of this epistle, we certainly get a sense of that old Pauline warmth in these closing verses in the instructions to Timothy–and to us all: “But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.” (11) We can’t ask for a better set of priorities than those. Because when we are right with Jesus then with Timothy we are well prepared to “Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” Yes, not just pastors are called; we are all called.

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