Psalm 108:1–5; Jeremiah 51:24–64; Hebrews 6:1–12

Psalm 108:1–5: Alter points out that the first five verses of this David psalm “are virtually identical, with only minor variations, to Psalm 57:8–12.”  However, I’m not going to go back and read what I wrote, since my experience in reading Scripture is that (unlike ordinary books), the Holy Spirit reveals something new each time we read the text.

The opening line describes the writer/singer’s emotional state: “My heart is firm, O God./ Let me sing and hymn/ with my inward being, too.” (2) What is a “firm heart?” I think it means a heart prepared for worship, undistracted by the cares of the world around us. That we have settled in and are in repose, in quiet reflection before we open our mouths to sing. Unfortunately, as we prepare for worship these days, reflection has been replaced by socializing.

But as we read on, we realize that the psalmist is not necessarily talking about corporate worship, but solitary worship that opens the day: “Awake, O lute and lyre./ I would waken the dawn.” (3) In other words, worship in reflection and song is the very first thing the poet does each day. I’ve heard that Pope Francis rises at 4:30 a.m. and spends two hours, form 5 to 7, in reflection and writing.

And so too for me: rather than heading off to the gym as I did for many years, writing these musings from 5:30 to 6:30 has become the first act of each day–or at least five or six days a week–and I find myself waking up at 5 and looking forward to it. (Which is more than I can say for the gym!)  Rather than a lyre, I may have a computer keyboard and mouse in my hand, but there’s no question that my heart s firm in what God may be saying to me before the distractions and duties of the day commence.

Jeremiah 51:24–64: Even though Babylon has been the instrument of God’s punishment of the Jews, this does not earn them any good credit with God: “I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea before your very eyes for all the wrong that they have done in Zion, says the Lord.” (24) And it will not be just a mild slap on the wrists: “I will stretch out my hand against you,/and roll you down from the crags,/ and make you a burned-out mountain.” (25b) and then, “ for the Lord’s purposes against Babylon stand,/ to make the land of Babylon a desolation,/ without inhabitant.” (29) And then once again, “and Babylon shall become a heap of ruins,/ a den of jackals,/ an object of horror and of hissing,/ without inhabitant.” (37)

Which of course is exactly what happened. The great empire, with its beautiful hanging gardens and political might collapsed and only desert remains. But why? The answer is woven into the poem: “Babylon must fall for the slain of Israel,/ as the slain of all the earth have fallen because of Babylon.” (49) Babylon has done more than merely take Israel into captivity, which was God’s intent. Rather, Babylon has killed God’s chosen people.

The empire is also brought down because of that greatest of all sins, overweening pride: “Though Babylon should mount up to heaven,/ and though she should fortify her strong height,/ from me destroyers would come upon her,/ says the Lord.” (53). The kingdom sees itself as impregnable and unassailable, but God will shortly prove otherwise. Thus it has ever been about supposedly unassailable kingdoms. They fall. And I have the feeling we are living in one of those right now.

Just to make sure that we readers do not view this poem as mere hyperbole, the author ties it firmly to the reality of a historical person. Jeremiah “wrote in a scroll all the disasters that would come on Babylon” (60) and instructs Seraiah, the quartermaster, who has been taken to Babylon with King Zedekiah that ““When you come to Babylon, see that you read all these words, and say, ‘O Lord, you yourself threatened to destroy this place so that neither human beings nor animals shall live in it, and it shall be desolate forever.’” (62). And then, as if to destroy the evidence that Jeremiah has written these words, “When you finish reading this scroll, tie a stone to it, and throw it into the middle of the Euphrates, and say, ‘Thus shall Babylon sink, to rise no more, because of the disasters that I am bringing on her.’” (63). In other words, Babylon hears Jeremiah’s warning only once.” A warning it is unlikely to heed.

What would be our reaction if we heard Seraiah read these words and then toss the scroll into the sea? Probably derisive laughter. I wonder of Seraiah escaped with his life after reading it to the court officials?

Hebrews 6:1–12: Our author addresses those “who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away,” (5, 6a). I take that he’s referring to those people who once enthusiastically embraced the gospel, even to the point of “sharing the Holy Spirit,” but then have for one reason or another, rejected the message. I know these people. One of them is very close to me.

The author renders a rather harsh judgement that “on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt.” (6b) To make his point he uses a metaphor, where the gospel is rain and we listeners are the ground on which is falls and “if it produces thorns and thistles, it is worthless and on the verge of being cursed; its end is to be burned over.” (8) Really? There cannot be repentance and turning back? I know that Lutheran theology teaches that once baptized we are children of God forever, no matter how far we wander. I guess I prefer that to threats like these.

There’s even a sense that the author may have realized he’s being pretty harsh and acknowledges that he is trying to be motivational: “we want each one of you to show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope to the very end, so that you may not become sluggish…” (11, 12a) I’m afraid this is not the kind of negative motivational speech that would keep me in the church if I was beginning to have doubts in my faith.

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