Psalm 107:17–22; Jeremiah 49:17–38; Hebrews 3:16–4:5

Psalm 107:17–22: Alter’s translation of today’s first line–“Fools because of their sinful ways” (17a)– has far greater impact than the NRSV: “Some were sick through their sinful ways.” The idea that we are fools rather than merely “sick” because our our our lives are defined by sinfulness (“sinful ways”) speaks to something deeper in our souls that has redefined us from a human with potential who lapses to someone who has defined by a lack of judgement and wisdom, seeking only hedonistic pleasure. I’m reminded of King Darius when Daniel interprets the handwriting on the wall: “you have been weighed in the scales and found wanting.” A life defined by foolish sinful ways leads inevitably to disaster. A wasted life and in the eyes of God–and others around him– this person can only be a fool.

Here, their sinful ways “drew them near the gates of death,” because somewhat mysteriously, “they loathed any kind of food.” (18) But awaking form their sinful ways, “they cried to the Lord in their straits,/ and from their distress He rescued the .” (19) More than that, God, ever generous, “sent forth his word and healed them./ And delivered them from destruction.” (20) Notice how God effects this rescue: “He sent forth His word,” which as we read Jeremiah must certainly be the words of God spoken through a prophet–perhaps even Jeremiah himself.

And the people respond: “Let them acclaim to the Lord for His kindness.” As always, we remember our rescue through God’s mercy with worship. The question is, will we listen to God’s word (and no, that’s not just the Bible, but words spoken and written as well) and realize that we are have been fools? Especially those that have rejected God altogether?

Jeremiah 49:17–38: Jeremiah’s catalog of God’s judgement on the kingdoms surrounding Judah continues relentlessly. “Edom shall become an object of horror; everyone who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss because of all its disasters.” (17) and then, comparing it to Sodom and Gomorrah, it will become wasteland. There is no possibility of redemption.

Then, “concerning Damascus:” (23) “her young men shall fall in her squares,/ and all her soldiers shall be destroyed in that day,/…And I will kindle a fire at the wall of Damascus.” (26, 27a) Unlike Edom, Damascus the city will apparently survive, but as great human cost. We have the feeling it is defeated due to an internal rebellion. Sadly prophetic given the civil war that continues to rage in Syria.

The come “Kedar and the kingdoms of Hazor that King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon defeated.” (28) These are kingdoms that have made no apparent mark on history other than being noted here. But there’s a relevant warning here since its destruction appears to have come about because of a foolish complacency leading to poor defenses:
Rise up, advance against a nation at ease,
        that lives secure,
    says the Lord,
    that has no gates or bars,
        that lives alone.” (31)

Those desiring peace and the dismantling of military strength forget that empires fall because of living “at ease” rather than being prepared. The world in the 21st century AD is no safer than the 7th century BC.

ON the other hand, militaristic Elam meets the same fate as unprepared Hazor but in a different manner: “I am going to break the bow of Elam, the mainstay of their might; and I will bring upon Elam the four winds from the four quarters of heaven; and I will scatter them to all these winds, and there shall be no nation to which the exiles from Elam shall not come.” (36) This time God’s judgement comes as “four winds from the four quarters of heaven,” which certainly suggests a natural disaster destroys this kingdom.

This chapter reminds me that the fallen world is an unsafe place and empires can crumble from within (Damascus) without (Hazor) or simply fall victim to nature.

Hebrews 3:16–4:5: Our writer uses history as a warning of the consequences of disbelief, of not taking God seriously: “ Now who were they who heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses? But with whom was he angry forty years? Was it not those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?” (3: 16, 17).

Continuing his parallel to the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, we are reminded that “while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it.” (4:1) In other words, belief–faith–is the key to us crossing over the metaphorical Jordan and entering “his rest.”  He points out that those ancient Israelites had been promised “rest,” and that “indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.” (4:2). He boils it down to God’s simple promise, “we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said.” (4:3)

The word ‘rest” is intriguing. I think we tend to take it to mean  being what happens after we die and go to heaven. A euphemism for being dead as in “His soul is now at rest.”  This interpretation leads to an over-simplified Gospel that simply becomes an insurance policy against going to hell after we die. My sense, though, is that “rest” has a much richer meaning: that “God’s rest” is about being in relationship with God while we are alive. And as our author makes clear here, we have a binary choice. There’s wilderness and there’s rest. We must decide between one or the other. There is no middle ground.

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