Psalm 106:1–5; Jeremiah 37:1–38:13; Titus 2:6–3:2

Psalm 106:1–5: This psalm opens like a praise hymn–“”Hallelujah!/ Acclaim the Lord, for He is good,/ for His kindness is forever,/Who can utter the Lord’s mighty acts,/ who can make heard all His praise?” (1, 2) But “the Lord’s mighty acts” gives us a clue that like the preceding psalm, we will be reviewing Israel’s history.

The third verse sets out the thematic framework: “Happy those who keep justice,/ who do righteousness at all time.” (3) We have a feeling we will be hearing about righteousness spurned and justice denied later in this verse. This becomes more evident in the personal note of the next verse two verses: “Recall me, O Lord, when You favor Your people,/ mark me for Your rescue,/ to see the good of Your chosen ones,/ to rejoice in the joy of Your nation…” (4, 5)

This introduction that moves from praising God to the themes of justice and righteousness to a note of supplication, to the plea to be rescued suggests that we are in for a long historical ride in this psalm that will bring us to a distinctly unpleasant reality. One lesson we can learn here is that one of the roots of wisdom is reflection on the past.

Jeremiah 37:1–38:13:  Pieces of Jeermiah’s history seem to be collected in this section of the eponymous book. Before, it was King Jehoikim, who burned the scroll. King Zedekiah has succeeded Jehoikim and he seems less a hopeless case than his predecessor and he sends his messengers to ask Jeremiah to, “Please pray for us to the Lord our God.” (37:3) But Jeremiah responds with a dire prophecy that “ Pharaoh’s army, which set out to help you, is going to return to its own land, to Egypt. And the Chaldeans shall return and fight against this city; they shall take it and burn it with fire.” (37:8)

Jeremiah heads out of town to see the land he bought but doesn’t get any farther than the Benjamin gate of Jerusalem, where he is arrested on a false charge of deserting to the Chaldeans. His protests that it was a lie are to no avail and Jeremiah is imprisoned, “in the cistern house, in the cells, and remained there many days.” (37:16).

But something is bothering the king and he sends for Jeremiah, “question[ing] him secretly in his house, and said, “Is there any word from the Lord?” Jeremiah said, “There is!” Then he said, “You shall be handed over to the king of Babylon.”  Since the city is now under siege, Jeremiah twists the prophetic knife, “Where are your prophets who prophesied to you, saying, ‘The king of Babylon will not come against you and against this land’?” (37:19) Apparently realizing that Jeremiah had a point, he agrees to release Jeremiah from prison, but not to freedom “and they committed Jeremiah to the court of the guard; and a loaf of bread was given him daily from the bakers’ street, until all the bread of the city was gone.” (37:21)

Jeremiah then asserts, “Those who stay in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but those who go out to the Chaldeans shall live; they shall have their lives as a prize of war, and live.” (38:2) The court officials demand death for Jeremiah “because he is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, and all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm.” (38:4). Jeremiah is tossed into the bottom of an abandoned cistern, although “there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud.” (38:6)

But God protects his prophets, even the ones who bear news no one wants to hear. The king hears of Jeremiah’s plight from one of those heroes we meet only once, a certain “Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, a eunuch in the king’s house”  who asks the king to rescue Jeremiah, to which he agrees and “they drew Jeremiah up by the ropes and pulled him out of the cistern. And Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard.” (38:13)

Jeremiah’s travails prove that our desire to kill the messenger has deep roots. But we also learn that sometimes, even dire prophecies can sink in. Things have come to a desperate pass in Jerusalem, surrounded by the Chaldeans and the treacherous  Egyptians, so Jeremiah’s prophecies have real credibility. The question is, do we, like King Zedekiah, have to be in desperate circumstances before we put aside our denial of reality and really listen?

Titus 2:6–3:2: Even though this book is didactic and directive to the point of annoyance, we sense that the church is under fire by the authorities and right conduct is essential not only to its proper operation, but to its very survival.  So, there are warnings to young men, who might be tempted to carouse: “urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, and sound speech that cannot be censured;” (2:6-8a)

We know that like Zedekiah’s court, there are people always looking for the slightest excuse to kill the prophet or shut down the church, which is why our author observes that decent behavior will avoid this: “then any opponent will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us.” (2:8b).

Then there is the admonition to slaves: “Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior.” (2:9-10). From our cultural perspective we tend to think that the church should have been condemning slavery, not telling the slaves to be obediently submissive. But again, exigent circumstances demanded that the church be culturally quiet if it were to cary out its mission. A time eventually came for the church when it separated itself from the evils of slavery, although the human cost of centuries of delay was enormous.

Finally, our author speaks to everyone: “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone.” (3:1-2) What does this verse have to say to us today? Given the current public behavior of some Christians, there’s some reason to shout this message from the rooftops. Notice that the verse is not telling us to shut up, rather “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone.” I think that’s a fair metric by which to assess the actions of the church and individuals in the public square. Personally, I do not think that condemning social mores such as gay marriage and bemoaning we are no longer a “Christian nation”  hold up to the standard that’s been set here.

And in the end, we really have to assess our role as the church in society by the phrase, “be ready for every good work.” Are we working to better society or are we just complaining loudly?


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