Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 13, 2016
Am I a God nearby, says the Lord, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed!” How long?! Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back—those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal. Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the Lord. Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?
Jeremiah is a prophet who speaks to the Southern Kingdom, that is, the Israelites who lived in Jerusalem and the part of Canaan given to the tribe of Judah. By the time of Jeremiah, the Northern Kingdom already fell to Assyria. Then Babylonia conquered Assyria and came after Jerusalem and Judah, in order to control trade routes to Egypt and Africa.
As Babylonia was mounting a war against Jerusalem and Judah, Jeremiah found himself to be the only true prophet to the Israelites. The other prophets and the priests, scribes, and Temple officials, all said, “God will save us from Babylonia. Go about your business.” The problem is, the business to which most Israelites will go is devoid of God/Yahweh. The kings and high priests have actually set up alters to foreign gods in THE TEMPLE in Jerusalem. The hills in Judah are topped with little alters to Baal and his concubine, Ashera/Astartes. Every big tree has a little shrine under it to the nature gods. Jeremiah alone prophesies the actual words of God, some of which are found in the above passage.
God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.”
Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!
The first of the Ten Commandments is, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, you shall have no other gods but me (or “before me”).” The ancient Israelites believed there to be many gods and goddesses, but they understood God/Yahweh to command them to worship, love, and serve only Him. The above psalm reflects this belief as it depicts God holding a council meeting with the minor deities and lambasting them for judging prejudicially against the poor, weak, and needy. As punishment, God takes away their immortality.
Ancient tradition taught that each nation had a minor god or goddess assigned to it from this heavenly council. The last line of this psalm refers to this belief. The psalmist calls on God to judge these minor deities, stating that they in fact belong to God.
By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Continuing on last week’s theme of faith, this text gives lots of faithful people, both biblical and post biblical. (There is no one who was sawed in half in the Bible but that was a torture used by the Romans at and after the time of Jesus.)
“All these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, …” God promised one who was to come would restore the Kingdom of God, and Jesus, that one, promised eternal life. All of these faithful people had faith in this promise, but did not see it realized.
The writer of Hebrews teaches in this, and other passages, that those who believed the promise God made to them about one who was to come, and those who believe in Jesus, are all caught up together and will receive the “better resurrection,” that is, eternal life. Note how the author does not make a distinction between ancient Jews who did not actually believe in Jesus or even Jews during the time of Jesus or after who did not know of Jesus, and those people who actually know of and believe in Jesus. In the author’s understanding, all of these are faithful to the promise made by God which is fulfilled in Jesus.
“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
For the past three weeks we have been hearing texts from the 12th chapter of Luke. None of them have been easy texts. First Jesus severely criticizes the Pharisees for their showy piety which Jesus deems lacking any real relationship with God. Then a man asks Jesus to be the arbitrator between he and his brother over their inheritance which Jesus answers with the parable of the Rich Fool. “Sell your possessions, give alms.”
Jesus is directly criticizing retirement accounts and family trusts, praying in public and dressing up for church. “What?!” we ask. “What?!” the disciples and the crowds ask. These were as difficult a teaching for Jesus’ original audience as they are for us. What happened to nice, kind, meek, humble, healing Jesus?
Jesus answers that exact question in the above paragraph. Jesus says, “If you think I came to preach Chicken Soup for the Soul and Everything I Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten, you’ve got another thing coming! I came to change the world, if necessary one person at a time!!!!”