Psalm 108:6–13; Jeremiah 52; Hebrews 6:13–7:3

Psalm 108:6–13: Even though theologians such as NT Wright assert that heaven or the Kingdom of God is really right close to us–“just over there in a different dimension”–the psalms, including this one, constant reenforce our idea of heaven and God being “up there.” Not just God, but his two key qualities as well: “For Your kindness is great over the heavens,/ and Your steadfast truth to the skies.” (5) and of course, God himself: “Loom over the heavens, O God,/ Over all the earth Your glory.” (6).  But God is not just quiescently sitting up there, doing nothing. Instead, our psalmist asks, “that Your beloved ones be saved,/ rescue with Your right hand.” (8)  Of course in that pre-flight, pre-satellite era, only God (and the birds) could look down on earth and see what was going on. I’m pretty sure that’s why God wound up “up there.”

The tone of the poems shifts suddenly to a recollection that “God once spoke in His holiness” from up there, looking down and saying, “Let Me exult and share out Shechem,/ and the valley of Sukkoth I shall measure.” (8) The psalmist remembers that from his high vantage point, he surveyed the empire of his chosen people: “Mine is Gilead, Mine Manasseh,/ and Ephraim My foremost stronghold,/ Judah my scepter.” (9). Likewise he surveyed Israel’s longtime enemies and expressed his godly disgust at them: “Moab my washbasin,/ upon Edom I fling my sandal,/ over Philista I shout exultant.” (10) This is certainly a descriptive “God was once on our side” passage.

But these are just memories, retrospection, as the psalmist asks plaintively, “Have You not, O God, abandoned us?/ You do not sally forth, God, with our armies.” (11) God was once on our side, but now we have been abandoned as the psalm ends with the plea: “Give us help against the/ foe when rescue by man is in vain.” (12) and we realize that only “Through God we shall gather strength,/ and He will stamp out our foes.” (13). It’s clear that the psalmist realized that God was not by definition always on their side; that there were times when they felt abandoned. People who think about America as being permanently “God’s country” would do well to reflect on this psalm.

Jeremiah 52: We now get in narrative form a complete review of the destruction of Jerusalem. It is chock full of precise historical detail such as, “On the ninth day of the fourth month the famine became so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land. Then a breach was made in the city wall; and all the soldiers fled and went out from the city by night by the way of the gate between the two walls, by the king’s garden, though the Chaldeans were all around the city.” (6,7)

But to me the most arresting part of this tragic story is the dismantling of the temple, written in much the same level of detail as its construction back in Kings as Solomon built it: “They took away the pots, the shovels, the snuffers, the basins, the ladles, and all the vessels of bronze used in the temple service. The captain of the guard took away the small bowls also, the firepans, the basins, the pots, the lampstands, the ladles, and the bowls for libation, both those of gold and those of silver.” (18, 19) We are reminded of the enormous size of many of these objects: “ As for the two pillars, the one sea, the twelve bronze bulls that were under the sea, and the stands, which King Solomon had made for the house of the Lord, the bronze of all these vessels was beyond weighing.” (20)

Then a census: “This is the number of the people whom Nebuchadrezzar took into exile: in the seventh year, 3023 Judeans;  in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar he took into exile from Jerusalem 832 persons; in the twenty-third year of Nebuchadrezzar, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took into exile of the Judeans 745 persons; all the persons were 4600.” (28-30) Once again we are reminded that all of God’s people were accounted for. Even though they went into captivity, they were not lost. Just as God knows the hairs on our head, God is a God in the details.

Finally, this incredible book ends with a hopeful note. King Evil-merodach of Babylon (love that name!) brings Judah’s King Jehoiachin out of prison, and “spoke kindly to him, and gave him a seat above the seats of the other kings who were with him in Babylon.” (32) and “So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes, and every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table.” (33) This is a wonderful picture of God’s providence and promise: that we have been rescued by God. Yes, we may still be “in captivity” as sinful humans, but have taken off our prison clothes of self-centeredness, and we are privileged to sup at the King’s table. Something to remember each time I go forward for communion.

Hebrews 6:13–7:3: Our author returns to the theme that God is a God of commitment: “God made a promise to Abraham, because he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself.” Note that being God, he “swore by himself.” As was made clear in the first chapter, we are lower than God, so “ Human beings, of course, swear by someone greater than themselves, and an oath given as confirmation puts an end to all dispute.” (6:16) This is an example for us to remember that “when God desired to show even more clearly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it by an oath,” (6:17) And, using irrefutable logic, our writer concludes, “it is impossible that God would prove false, we who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to seize the hope set before us.” (6:18)

And with the fact that God keeps his promises settled, our writer is about to turn the familiar Jewish world upside down and inside out. First, he reminds us that “We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain,” (6:19)–the curtain referring to the curtain of the Holy of Holies in the temple , certainly familiar to all his listeners. And, oh yes, Jesus, his listeners must be thinking. ‘We know who he is.’ But then something new and very unexpected happens: “Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (20) Jesus is a high priest going behind the curtain? And Melchizedek? Who is Melchizedek?

Our writer hastens to explain: “This “King Melchizedek of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham as he was returning from defeating the kings and blessed him” (7:1) Moreover, “His name, in the first place, means “king of righteousness”; next he is also king of Salem, that is, “king of peace.” ” (7:2) Melchizedek is “Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.” (3)

This is wild! Genealogy and family are everything to the Jews. And now there’s this non-Abrahamic priest guy who seems to live forever and resembles the son of God?  And  “he remains a priest forever?” This is an incredible leap from Abraham to Jesus to Melchizedek. What is our author up to here?

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