Saturday, October 16, 2010

October 16

OT: Jeremiah 28:1-29:32

In today's reading, Jeremiah has a prophet showdown with Hananiah. This is apparently after the first wave of exiles have left, and Hananiah predicts that Babylon will be defeated in two years. Jeremiah, of course, disagrees with this prognosis, and instead predicts that Hananiah will die that very year. And he does, two months later.

Next, Jeremiah sends quite a letter to the exiles. He tells them to settle into their new homes, to continue life-as-normal as best they can, and even to pray for the prosperity of their current cities! Again, that sounds a little crazy. I mean, pray for your conquerors?? What the what? But Jeremiah's view of God's plan transcends nationality, and though he passionately loves Israel, he loves God more. And he recognizes that conforming to God's larger will is actually what is best for Israel.

In the midst of this letter, we arrive at one of the most lifted-out-of-context passages, one that has emblazoned graduation cards, mugs, and knick-knacks in Christian bookstores across the country. I am, of course, referring to Jeremiah 29:11, which proclaims,

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"

I must admit that I had heard that this verse was taken out of context, but I had forgotten what the actual context was. Thus, even though I am very familiar with Jeremiah 29:11, it still completely startled me when I stumbled upon it as I was reading along. Before I got to the end of the verse, I have to admit that I was laughing. For one thing, I didn't realize that the verse was in such a specific letter. And honestly, that doesn't rock my world. Universal concepts can be contained in specific letters, such as Paul's letters to churches and individuals. Just a few verses later, in fact, Jeremiah assures the people that if they seek God with all their hearts, they will find him (13). That's definitely a universal idea. The thing that got me is how we use verse 11 as a blithely optimistic, "follow your dreams and shoot for the stars," type of thing. And yet, the people to whom the promise is specifically given are languishing in exile...and they have just been told that it's going to be awhile! I almost feel like our graduation cards need some kind of footnote, with some caveats. "Verse written to people in exile." "Verse does not guarantee exile-free existence." "Future may still include long-term suffering." I don't know--something!

At the end of today's reading, either in the same letter, a separate missive, or a word-of-mouth message, Jeremiah calls out Shemaiah for messing with him behind his back. He then lets the exiles know that Shemaiah is not a true prophet.

NT: 1 Timothy 1:1-20

Yep, probably should read some background info on this one. No time, though. The problem is that Paul is "talking in code," as my friend, Courtney would say. He is describing a problem, but not giving enough details about the situation for an outsider to put the pieces together. Apparently, some people in Ephesus are teaching false doctrines that involve mythology and genealogies (3-4). And these men don't know what they are talking about, and they are distracting everyone by their meaningless drivel (6-7).

And then I got to a section that I know cognitively that I have read before, but honestly, I have NO memory of it AT ALL. It is verses 8-11, which starts, "We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels..." Paul then goes on to list such people who are in need of the law. I was quite confused on what law he was talking about, b/c for some reason, these verses didn't seem in line with his other teachings of the law. Maybe it's just me, though. It almost made me think that he was talking about, like, civic law. Also, I noted with interest that in the list of baddies, along with perverts and liars, were slave traders. Hmmm. Maybe Paul is not as sympathetic to slavery as other passages make it sound? Then what to make of those passages?

I also thought that verse 13 was interesting: "Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief." It is that last phrase that gets me: "I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief." I have some questions about that statement, but I have tried and failed to put them into words, so I will chew on them myself instead.

Lastly, Paul tells Timothy to "hold on to faith and a good conscience" (19), and not to be like Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom Paul has "handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme" (20). Yikes! Very 1 Cor 5-ish!

Psalm 86:1-17

A great psalm, by David. My favorite verse was verse 11:

"Teach me your way, O Lord,
and I will walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name."

Prov. 25:17

On not being annoying.


  1. I am struck today by how tough it is for Jeremiah to compete with the prophets of "all is well." In today's world, we might say that he is the guy who is not politically correct, or tolerant. Everybody likes a guy like Joel Osteen who says "God wants you to have your best life now," but recoils from a Francis Chan when he says "it's hard for (us) rich people to get to heaven." Jeremiah's is a message of hope in the midst of trouble (there's that 29:11), but there is zero sugar-coating.

  2. Yep. And ironically, I think what we do sometimes with 29:11 is to take Francis Chan message and turn it in to a Joel Osteen statement.