Psalm 106:6–12; Jeremiah 38:14–39:18; Titus 3:3–15

Psalm 106:6–12: Our psalmist records the famous escape from Egypt, the Egyptian pursuit, crossing the Sea (of Reeds per Alter), and making it to the other side. At first look it’s an odd beginning to this section: “We offended like our fathers, we wronged,/ we did evil.” (6) But this confession of wrongdoing has deep historical roots as he also records the attitude and behavior of his ancestors.

First, there is their unawareness of God’s hand in the events leading up to their release from slavery: “Our fathers in Egypt/ did not grasp Your wonders.” (7a).  Unawareness continues rampant through Israel’s history–and ours. Worse, in their forgetfulness they rebel: “They did not call to mind Your many kindnesses/ and rebelled by the Sea, at the Sea of Reeds.” (7b) [As it’s recorded in Exodus 14:11, it was more than mere forgetfulness, it was derision of their leaders in the famously sarcastic complaint,  “Was it for lack of graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the wilderness?”] Not unlike the present complaints we hear on Facebook of Christians “forcing their religion down our throats.”

But, as our psalmist points out, their rescue is not just about them: “Yet He rescued them for His names sake,/ to make known Hs might.” (8) And there is no more dramatic large-scale rescue than this: “He blasted the Sea of Reeds, and dried it up/…And He rescued them from the hand of the hostile/ and redeemed them form the hand of the enemy.” (9, 10) Notice “redemption,” that wonderful act of God that threads through the Bible. Like Israel, we are redeemed. The question is, how are we going to respond to us it?

The psalmist records the initial response of Israel: As “the waters covered their foes,/…they trusted His words/ they sang His praise.” (12) In their (and our) anger and contempt, God shows merciful grace and redeems them in dramatic fashion. And they are grateful. But for how long? Is it like the aftermath of 9/11 , where we were kind to each other, and even thought about God for a while, but quickly reverted to our usual form of anger and contentiousness?

Jeremiah 38:14–39:18: King Zedekiah seems to intuit that Jeremiah is the only true prophet around, and he meets secretly with him “at the third entrance of the temple.” The king tells Jeremiah that he wants to ask something and please “do not hide anything from me.” (38:14.) Jeremiah, who clearly has his wits about him, replies, “If I tell you, you will put me to death, will you not? And if I give you advice, you will not listen to me.” (38:15) So, the king swears “As the Lord lives, who gave us our lives, I will not put you to death or hand you over to these men who seek your life.” (38:16)

Thus reassured, Jeremiah tells the king that if they surrender to Babylon, they will live and Jerusalem will not be destroyed. “But if you do not surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then this city shall be handed over to the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and you yourself shall not escape from their hand.” (38:18) If the king refuses to heed the prophet’s warning, then Jeremiah assures him, “All your wives and your children shall be led out to the Chaldeans, and you yourself shall not escape from their hand, but shall be seized by the king of Babylon; and this city shall be burned with fire.” (38:23).

But Zedekiah does not surrender, and a few months later, Jerusalem falls. The hapless king is taken before Nebuchadrezzar and is forced to watch his sons killed, and then the victor “put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him in fetters to take him to Babylon.” (39:7) With the exception of “some of the poor people who owned nothing” the remaining population of Jerusalem is sent into exile with the blinded king.  His blindness seems an appropriate metaphor for Zedekiah’s blindness in refusing to act on Jeremiah’s warning.

Interestingly, Nebuchadrezzar orders that Jeremiah be spared: “Take him, look after him well and do him no harm, but deal with him as he may ask you.” (39:12). Why was Jeremiah spared? Did the Babylonian king know about Jeremiah’s prophecies and decided to spare the life of the one guy who “got it,” while all around him remained in deep denial? Perhaps. But in the end, it is a clear message that God protects his prophets, particularly those whose faith is so great that they persist in telling the truth no matter what the possible outcome. The question of course is, am I willing to tell the truth where it needs to be told? Or would I prefer to remain in denial, even though I know what is true, thinking that is the safest course? Zedekiah’s fate is a stern lesson on the perils of not acting on a prophetic word.

Titus 3:3–15: The author turns autobiographical for a moment, recalling “ For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another.” (3) Would Paul have described himself in these terms? As a good Pharisee, I doubt very much that Paul would have accused himself as a “slave to various passions and pleasures.” But whoever wrote it, he certainly gets the Kerygma right: “…the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water  of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (4) We even get a Pauline riff, “having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (7)

Even though he’s coming to the end of the letter, our author cannot resist offering more advice: “I desire that you insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works; these things are excellent and profitable to everyone.” (8) and once more, with feeling, “avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” (9) And if you’re raising a ruckus in the church, you only get two chances: “after a first and second admonition, have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions, since you know that such a person is perverted and sinful, being self-condemned.” (10, 11)

I know I am being hard on the author of Titus–and I’d love to know the backstory at this church, whose very existence must have been hanging by a thread. Perhaps I’ve been a Lutheran too long, but grace seems absent from this letter. It’s all about the doing rather than the being, as the final word of advice reminds them, “let people learn to devote themselves to good works in order to meet urgent needs, so that they may not be unproductive.” Unproductive? Really?

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