Psalm 104:24–30; Jeremiah 29:15–30:11; 2 Timothy 2:1–13

Psalm 104:24–30: The Moravians are rightly taking us through this psalm not only because of its beauty but its many parallels to the Creation Story as well. “How many Your deeds, O Lord,/ all of them You do in wisdom/ And the earth is filled with Your riches.” (24) acknowledges God’s mastery over all Creation but that God remains active, particularly in his relationship with each of us. These lines also remind us that it is God who possesses wisdom. Whatever wisdom we may think we have acquired through long years of experience is puny by comparison. 

Although humankind may be the only part of God’s creation that is imago deo, the bounty of God’s creation extends everywhere: “The sea is great and wide,/ where creatures beyond numbers stir,/ little beasts and the and the large.” (25). Even today, we are discovering creatures in the sea that we didn’t even know existed. Would that in these discoveries we reflected more on the generosity of God’s gifts to the earth.

Although we humans are the ones who consciously look back to God as our Creator, even the  the other creatures seem to know God’s generosity at some level and in return they bring enormous pleasure to God, as we read the famous verse, “There the ships go,/ this Leviathan You fashioned to play with./ All of them look to You.” (26) “To play with” reminds me that our image of God as a stern old man is so wide of the mark. God takes pleasure in his creation–even to he point of play. What an example: Part of life is play. Do we play or is life simply work and striving? How much we would miss absent that simple pleasure.

God is also provider for the creatures–including us: “All of them look to You/to give them food in its season.” (27)  It is God who controls the destiny of his creation, including us, in this image of the seasons: “You withdraw Your breath and the perish,/ and to dust they return./When You send forth Your breath, they are created,/ and You renew the face of the earth.” (29b, 30) Another beautiful reminder that God’s creative act continues through time. Unlike the 18th century view of God as watchmaker, who set creation in motion and then went away, here we are reminded that each day and all that happens in it is also part of God’s ongoing creative act.

Jeremiah 29:15–30:11: More terrifying prophecies as to Judah’s fate: “ I will pursue them with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, and will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be an object of cursing, and horror, and hissing, and a derision among all the nations where I have driven them,” (29:18) For one simple reason: “because they did not heed my words.” (29:19a) even though they were warned by a long line of prophets. And these sad words: “because they would not listen.” (29:19b)

There’s a fascinating backstory here about prophets: who are real prophets of God and who are not. A prophet named Shemaiah, who is in Babylon, sends a letter back to Judah wondering “why have you not rebuked Jeremiah of Anathoth who plays the prophet for you?” (29:27) When Jeremiah hears this he responds in typical Jeremiah fashion: “Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: Send to all the exiles, saying, Thus says the Lord concerning Shemaiah of Nehelam: Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, though I did not send him, and has led you to trust in a lie, therefore thus says the Lord: I am going to punish Shemaiah of Nehelam and his descendants.” (29:30-32)

The question is, how to discern. I think it’s safe to say that since we have the book of Jeremiah and not the book of Shemaiah just who was truly speaking for God. But I can identify with the frustrations of the people hearing these conflicting prophecies! Once again, we’d rather hear good prophetic news than bad, but it’s important to pray for discernment when it comes to prophecy. I also think that like Judah, we are subject to more false prophets than true ones.

Now we encounter one of Jeremiah’s greatest prophecies and one that is contentious down to today: “For the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their ancestors and they shall take possession of it.” (30:3) That is certainly what happened when the Jews returned from Babylonian exile. But was it fulfilled again in 1949 when the Jews returned to Palestine?  My Evangelical background persists in this area: I’d like to think that the modern restoration of Israel is in fact an answer to this prophecy. But is modern Israel any better than the court and people who listened to, but did not heed, Jeremiah’s warnings?

2 Timothy 2:1–13: Now we come to a potentially disturbing metaphor about living the Christian life: “Share in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving in the army gets entangled in everyday affairs; the soldier’s aim is to please the enlisting officer.” (3,4). Who knows, but did Jesus have this metaphor in mind when he gave us the Great Commission? In this politically correct era we no longer sing, “Onward Christian Soldiers,” and we tend to look somewhat askance at the Salvation Army. But having served in the military, I completely get the point here: it is obedience and good order. At this point in the early church it was becoming necessary to creature structure and rules.  

The two subsequent metaphors clarify the point: “in the case of an athlete, no one is crowned without competing according to the rules.” (5) There have to be laws and bylaws; we cannot be members of the body of Christ and do just what pleases us without regard to the welfare of the body. The third metaphor, “ It is the farmer who does the work who ought to have the first share of the crops.” (6) says that one cannot just walk in and take over. We must respect the labor of those who have been working before we arrived. I think it is also a cautionary note for new pastors as they seek to implement change.

Interestingly, this rule seems to fly in the face of Jesus’ parable of the workers, who all get paid equally. But for better or worse, these rules have a practical real world application. Church polity depends on them. Otherwise we end up with independent churches that are dominated by a single charismatic leader who does what he please to the detriment of the Body. When the charismatic figure departs (or is found to have been having an affair) the whole structure collapses. 

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