Psalm 133; Daniel 11:20–12:7; Revelation 1:9–20

Psalm 133: This quiet little poem celebrates the good life and fellowship in the peaceful community. The opening line has the rhythm and feel of sitting down among one’s friends and exhaling a long, contented sigh: “”Look, how good and how pleasant/ is the dwelling of brothers together.” (1).

In the ancient world, rubbing one’s hair and body with aromatic oil was a pleasure and here becomes a simile for the good life: “Like goodly oil on the head/ coming down over the beard,/ [like] Aaron’s beard that comes down/ over the opening of his robe.” (2) Men of that time were obviously hirsute and Aaron’s long, full beard that stretched down over his robe as he reclined must have been what men of that time modeled their own beard on.

Another simile of the pleasures of that oil follows: “Like [Mount] Hermon’s dew that comes down/ on the parched mountains.” (3) And dew in that dry land connoted fruitfulness and here, this fruitfulness is representative of the wonderful gift of life that God has given: “For there the Lord ordained the blessing–/ life forevermore.” The psalm ends where we would expect–and where we should remember each day when we arise and contemplate the early morning dew and freshness of the day: God’s gifts to us are beyond measure and even the ability to relax for awhile is also his gift. We should cease from our busyness and enjoy it and time among our friends!

Daniel 11:20–12:7: The angel Michael continues to interpret Daniel’s dream of Darius’s reign, including battles between the kings of the north and kings of the south, as well as a rebellion among some unsavory Jews: “The lawless among your own people shall lift themselves up in order to fulfill the vision, but they shall fail.” (11:14) Finally, a good prince “shall arise in his place one who shall send an official for the glory of the kingdom; but within a few days he shall be broken, though not in anger or in battle.” (20), But, alas, probably through assassination, “ In his place shall arise a contemptible person on whom royal majesty had not been conferred; he shall come in without warning and obtain the kingdom through intrigue.” (21) Eventually, “the king shall act as he pleases. He shall exalt himself and consider himself greater than any god, and shall speak horrendous things against the God of gods. He shall prosper until the period of wrath is completed, for what is determined shall be done.” (11:36) Worse, “He shall pay no respect to the gods of his ancestors, or to the one beloved by women; he shall pay no respect to any other god, for he shall consider himself greater than all.” (11:37).

This king of the north conquers much and “He shall advance against countries and pass through like a flood.” (11:40) and “He shall become ruler of the treasures of gold and of silver, and all the riches of Egypt; and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall follow in his train.” (43) But eventually, “he shall come to his end, with no one to help him.” (45)

Once again, I believe this is history told as prophecy, and the evil king is probably Antiochus Epiphanes. I’m sure that many dispensationalists would prefer that this passage is a forecast of the end times, but the details seem to be simply too complex to fit neatly into some scenario of events yet to come. The real lesson here seems clear to me: no matter how great the power that a king–or a country–can amass, it always declines and comes to an end. As we look back through history there is a procession of empires that have risen and fallen. And our present empire will be no exception.

This book of Daniel, which began as clear as day as the inspiring story of the young man who followed God and became the wisest in the land seems to end in fog and ambiguity. Daniel is instructed to “keep the words secret and the book sealed until the time of the end.” which of course reminds us that this is apocalyptic literature. But the next line seems true for all time and all places–and certainly characterizes the confusion rampant in our world today: “Many shall be running back and forth, and evil shall increase.” (12:4) Our civilization may have more technology, but we as fallen, confused people have not “progressed” in any way whatsoever.

The last line has puzzled readers across the millennia. It at once seems so precise and specific, yet like much of the latter chapters of this book remains shrouded in ambiguity: “And I heard him swear by the one who lives forever [God, I presume] that it would be for a time, two times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end, all these things would be accomplished.” (12:7)  But it has certainly caused a lot of ink to be spilled as interpreters struggle to prise out its meaning.

Revelation 1:9–20: I think that the main reason that Revelation eventually made it into the canon is that it is not just apocalyptic speculation, but that the apostle John grounded his book so clearly into the person of Jesus Christ.

John is sitting quietly as a prisoner on Patmos when he hears a “loud voice like a trumpet” and he receives highly specific instructions, ““Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” (11). In a brilliant piece of dramatic writing, “ I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. ” (12, 13) And then we get the single and wonderful picture we have of the resurrected and ascended Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father: “His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters.” (14, 15)

And just like Daniel, who fainted at the sight of the angel Michael, John records, “ When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” and Christ speaks the usual first words when a heavenly visitation occurs: “Do not be afraid.” (17) But then he immediately adds his bona fides as the Son of God: “I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades.” (17, 18) 

It’s important to reflect here. The main images we have of Jesus are from the Gospels: the very human side of Jesus, who lived among us. But here we have the qualities of Christ that demand us to realize that he at once fully human and fully God.  Which is why when we talk about Jesus as our “good friend” we also must remember that Jesus is the awesome power of God. And we best take him seriously and reverently.

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