Psalm 131; Daniel 9:1–10:7; Jude 1:11–25

Psalm 131: The beautiful little psalm is the poet’s reflection on humility:
Lord, my heart has not been haughty,
nor have my eyes looked too high,
nor have I striven for great things,
nor for things too wondrous for me. (1)

Imagine what peace we would bring to our lives if we ceased our ambitions and could truly say “my heart has not been haughty.” Imagine the beautiful relationships that could result: between husband and wife, between parents and children, among members of a church. There would be no agendas, hidden or otherwise, just the simple joy of being together.

When I look back on my own life I realize how much time I wasted trying to impress others; trying to get ahead. How much anxiety I experienced in order to achieve and acquire when I could have said with the psalmist: “But I have calmed and contented myself/ like a weaned babe on its mother.” (2a) What a marvelous image of a contented baby having taken what it needs from his mother’s breast and now peacefully asleep. It would be difficult to find a better metaphor for contentment that comes with true humility.

It took cancer to slow me down and reflect on the joys of humility–and even now I am nowhere near the peace the poet expressed here. In the context of this psalm, the American dream of “getting ahead” and “keeping up” is revealed for the empty exercise and waste of time that it is. I look at politicians and leaders vying for my attention and realizes it is I, not they, who have the greater joy.

Daniel 9:1–10:7: Daniel prays for the people of Israel after studying the book of Jeremiah and determining that Israel will remain in exile for 70 years. (Again, this seems to be retrospective history written as foretelling prophecy.) Like the prophets before him, Daniel prays, first confessing, “we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances.” (9:5) In fact, confessing many times during this prayer. But finally in supplication, “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay! For your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people bear your name!” (9:19)

As Daniel “was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen before in a vision, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice.” Gabriel announces that Daniel’s prayer will be answered and explains what will happen in a seemingly simple, yet one of the most puzzling and controversial prophecies in this controversial book: “Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city: to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. (9:24) There are 7 weeks during which Jerusalem is rebuilt, followed by 69 weeks of relative peace but “in a troubled time.” (25). Then during the last week, “the troops of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. : (9:26). Then in the final week the conqueror “shall make sacrifice and offering cease; and in their place[f] shall be an abomination that desolates,” (27).

Much has been made of this passage as an end-time prophecy; that we are now living in the 69 weeks (which certainly qualifies as a troubled time). Then in the last week, disaster comes, a period many have assumed is the 7-year Great Tribulation at the end of history, which is described in Revelation. Of course that requires interpreting what a “week” means, and some zealous souls have used this and other prophecies to predict the precise end of the world and Christ’s second coming–the last such attempt being in 2011, as I recall.

Personally, I think it is once again retrospective history cast as prophecy, and the reference is to Antiochus Ephiphanes, who conquered Jerusalem and sacrificed a pig in the temple–truly the “abomination that desolates.” At the end of this prophecy is a promise: “until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator.” The desolator is conquered, which is what happened. This is the beauty of prophecy: there are enormous trials, but as Daniel has prayed, God listens and tribulation eventually ceases.  For nations and for us as individuals.

Jude 1:11–25: Like the “desolator” in Daniel, Jude asserts that the people corrupting the church will meet their deserved fates: “Woe to them! For they go the way of Cain, and abandon themselves to Balaam’s error for the sake of gain, and perish in Korah’s rebellion.” (12a) Jude follows with a marvelous sequence of metaphors to drive home the emptiness and eventual fate of these corrupters: “They are waterless clouds carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved forever.” (12b, 13) Just to make sure we get the point, Jude then describes these people’s negative personal qualities: “These are grumblers and malcontents; they indulge their own lusts; they are bombastic in speech, flattering people to their own advantage.” (16)

Nevertheless, we must be on our guard as Jude reminds us what the Apostles said, “In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.” (18) Which certainly seems an apt description of where the Church finds itself today in American culture. But Jude does not advise–contrary to what some Christian hand-wringers advise us today–to complain about the culture or to decry the fate of dying church. Our duty is simple and clear: “But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” (20, 21) In short, the culture is what it is. People will always be attempting to corrupt the church. Yes, we must pay attention and always be on guard, but more importantly, we must keep ourselves in the love of God.

Our duty is not to fight these people or the surrounding culture. Instead, our clear duty is to “have mercy on some who are wavering; save others by snatching them out of the fire.” (22, 23a) We are to look out for each other in community and to bring others into the Body of Christ. Our task is really quite simple.

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