Psalm 132; Daniel 10:8–11:19; Revelation 1:1–8

Psalm 132: This psalm recounts in poetry the actions of David described in 2 Samuel 6-7, where he brings the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem and to build a permanent temple around it. As we recall from the Samuel story, God foils David’s building project, telling him that building the temple is to be undertaken by his son, Solomon.

The first section describes David’s fierce dedication to his self-appointed task, describing his vow, “I will not come into the tent of my home,/ I will not mount my couch,/ I will not give sleep to my eyes/ nor slumber to my lids/ until I find a place for the Lord,/ a dwelling for Jacob’s Champion.” (3-5). The next part describes the discovery of the Ark, which has been hidden away “in Ephtatha,/ we found it in the fields of Jaar,” (6) and then moving it up to Jerusalem: “Rise, O Lord. to Your resting-place./ You and the Ark of Your strength.” (8)

This is followed by an oath that “the Lord swore to David/ a true oath from which He will not turn back.” (11) The oath promises a Davidic dynasty: “from the fruit of Your loins/ I will set up a throne for you.” (12a) But there’s a requirement, which not surprisingly is that like their founder, the successors hew to the terms of the Covenant: “If your sons keep My pact/ and My precept that I shall teach them,/ there son, too, evermore/ shall sit on the throne that is yours.” (12b).  Alas, we know how that turned out.

The psalm concludes with God’s satisfaction regarding the new location for the Ark: “This is my resting-place forevermore,/ Here will I dwell, for I desired it.” (14). Moreover, God will “sure;y bless its provisions,/ its needy I will sate with bread.” (15)

So, what do we make of this psalm that celebrates an ancient kingdom and ancient ceremony around an object–the Ark–that is completely alien to us? The idea of grace is far away from this psalm and the line about David’s sons being taught God’s “precepts,” suggests the same poet that wrote Psalm 119 wrote this one. I guess my takeaway is that God is faithful when we obey him. But beyond that, this psalm is interesting but personally remote from my time, place and of course the reality of what Jesus Christ has done for us.

Daniel 10:8–11:19: We gain real insight here into the physical and psychological impact of Daniel’s visions as he recounts them in the first person: “I was left alone to see this great vision. My strength left me, and my complexion grew deathly pale, and I retained no strength.” (10:8) In fact, it is Daniel’s response to the dream and his relationship with God that is far more impactful than the actual nature of the vision.

In his state of distress following his vision, Daniel suddenly hears someone speak, “and when I heard the sound of his words, I fell into a trance, face to the ground.” (10:9). The angel Michael reaches down to Daniel and tells him, “Stand on your feet, for I have now been sent to you.” As with so many other angelic visitations described in the Bible–and this time of year, Mary certainly comes to mind–the words are, “Do not fear.” [If I ever receive an angelic visitation, I’ll know it’s real if I hear those three words up front.] Michael tells Daniel that God has heard his words and that Michael has come to him “because of your words.” If ever we needed a clear, if rather dramatic, demonstration that when we pray in humility that God both hears and answers, it is right here.

Michael’s reassurances notwithstanding, Daniel is still petrified and again, Michael, “the one in human form touched my lips” (10:16) and “I am shaking, no strength remains in me, and no breath is left in me.” (10:17). Once again, Michael attempts to reassure Daniel, ““Do not fear, greatly beloved, you are safe. Be strong and courageous!” and this time Daniel says, “I was strengthened.” (10:19)

Michael then interprets Daniels vision about four kings of Persia, one stronger than the others, as well as some business about the kingdom of Greece–more evidence that this book is contemporaneous with the Greek invasion of Israel. I think the real truth we can learn here is not the prophecy, but the beautiful description of how God listens and sends a messenger to reassure Daniel.  But above all, we have a wonderful description of Daniel’s humanity. He may be the wisest person in the kingdom, but he is also a human being who is overawed by the majesty and power of God. This is the lesson for us: even God’s messengers are awe-full. When we speak or sing casually of God and of God’s love, we must also remember that God’s power is sufficient to cause even the wisest and strongest man in the kingdom to faint in fear. I think this is the quality of God’s love and  fearful power that CS Lewis communicates so beautifully in Aslan.

Revelation 1:1–8: So we come to the final and most controversially puzzling book in the New Testament canon.  I must say at the outset that I believe this book was written by John for the same people in the same time and place to whom he wrote his epistles, and that it is prophecy as forthtelling rather than foretelling.

As with Daniel, the prophecy is delivered “by sending his angel to his servant John who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.” Since John also saw Jesus, I see him as being unique in that he is both an apostle and a prophet. 

A verse I’d never noticed before: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.” (3). In other words, this book is to be read aloud, not merely read silently. Like all great stories.

The book is addressed to the “seven churches that are in Asia,” and John then tells us that what he is about to write comes from “him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” (4, 5). In other words, from God and the somewhat mysterious “seven spirits” (a manifestation of the Holy Spirit?) and from Jesus  who is not only a faithful witness, but “the firstborn of the dead,” which is a direct reference to Jesus’ resurrection.

Then, John tells directly that this book is about the end of history, when
  “He is coming with the clouds;
    every eye will see him,
   even those who pierced him;
    and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.” (7)

Then, the famous verse,“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (8) This seems a clear reference that God was there at Creation, at the beginning of history as “Alpha,” and he will be there at the end, “Omega.” In short, we are participants in a grand story that stretches out linearly across time with a real beginning and a real end. We are not on some “great mandala,” ceaselessly cycling through history over and over. Like the arrow of time itself, Creation has a clear direction. Whose end John is now going to tell us about. Let’s sit back and enjoy the ride.

 

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