Psalm 137; Hosea 10,11,12; Revelation 3:19–4:8

Psalm 137: This psalm clearly comes from the time Israel and Judah were exiled in Babylon, and it famously communicates the lament of those who have lost their home and their country.
By Babylon’s streams,
there we sat, oh we wept,
when we recalled Zion.
On the poplars there
we hung up our lyres. (1,2)

I am sure that this psalm was sung across the centuries during the Jewish diaspora. And it resonates with all those who have been displaced. Alas, the world is fuller than ever of those who have been displaced and now weep at their loss.

The musician’s captors want to hear them play, but to play and to sing is far too painful as it raises too many memories of home and of joyous times no long past. The musicians ask plaintively as longing becomes lamentation, “How can we sing a song of the Lord/ on foreign soil?” (4) Rather the request has raised memories of deep longing:
Should I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand wither.
May my tongue cleave to my palate
if I do not recall you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my chief joy.” (5,6)

The psalm proceeds ever downward as lamentation becomes anger as the musicians remember Jerusalem’s destruction. Memory becomes imprecation as they begin to curse their captors,” Daughter of Babylon the despoiler,/ happy who pays you back in kind,/ for what you did to us.” (8) And then in what must be one of the more notorious verses in the Psalms: “Happy who seizes and smashes/ your infants against the rock.” (9) We can only imagine that the musicians sing these final words as a horrific curse becoming a scream in Hebrew–a language their captors did not understand. Is this curse justified? No, but as we know well, the psalms are where the deepest emotions come to the surface–and this particular psalm lays bare the despair and anger and desperate longing that any captive people must surely feel.

Hosea 10,11,12: These three chapters comprise a single long poem recounting in metaphor after metaphor, the fall of Israel into idolatry and then into depravity, reminding them again and again that the price is alienation from God and punishment:
Their heart is false;
        now they must bear their guilt.
    The Lord will break down their altars,
        and destroy their pillars. (10:2)

There’s an interesting note about how everyone has become litigious–certainly a warning to our current lawsuit-obsessed culture:
They utter mere words;
    with empty oaths they make covenants;
    so litigation springs up like poisonous weeds
    in the furrows of the field. (10:4)

Another warning with a strikingly modern feel as we hear on the empty rhetoric of politicians telling us what we wat to hear (or what they think we want to hear):
You have plowed wickedness,
    you have reaped injustice,
    you have eaten the fruit of lies. (10:13)

Even so, despite Israel’s wickedness, God remains compassionate:
My heart recoils within me;
    my compassion grows warm and tender.
     I will not execute my fierce anger;
    I will not again destroy Ephraim; (11:8,9)

As always, the sin of blind hypocrisy may be the greatest one of all:
Ephraim has said, “Ah, I am rich,
    I have gained wealth for myself;
    in all of my gain
    no offense has been found in me
    that would be sin.” (12:8)

But while God may be compassionate in the long run and will forgive us when we confess, we must nevertheless must bear the consequences of our sinful hypocrisy.
Ephraim has given bitter offense,
    so his Lord will bring his crimes down on him
    and pay him back for his insults. (12:14)

We may think, “ah, these were words spoken millennia ago on a society that had replaced God with its idols.” But we are smug at our peril. The parallels between ancient Israel and Judah feel far too familiar and close for comfort–and proof once again that human nature has neither changed nor “improved” one whit from those ancient people.

Revelation 3:19–4:8: We come to the famous verse used by Evangelicals as the proof text for “accepting Jesus into our hearts as ur personal savior.” (3:20) But it’s equally important to read the preceding verse: “I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.” (19) We must be willing to accept reproof and discipline when we open that door. Too many think of the Christian life as some sort of escape from the trials of quotidian life. Instead, the true Christian life must begin with an acknowledgement not only of past sins, but an awareness that path forward is not going to be an easy one. When we’re ready to do that, then we’re ready to open that famous door to our hearts.

With the conclusion of chapter 3, we close the door, if you will, on the letters to the churches, and the conclusion of all the epistles between Acts and Revelation. And John now is invited by an angel (I presume) through an already open door into his grand vision of a heaven that we mere humans can neither see, nor even fathom: “After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” (4:1)

We commence the wildest apocalyptic journey in the Bible–and perhaps the most over-interpreted of all. Down through the ages there have been unending attempts to match the events and scenes John describes with events in actual history as well as efforts to precisely explain what happens at the end of history. I personally think John’s project was much more modest. I will be reading the remainder of this book with three rules in mind:

  1. Like OT prophecy, Revelation is mostly prophetic forthtelling rather than foretelling or forecasting.
  2. The glories of heaven, its inhabitants, and its activities are ultimately indescribable by mere human words. John does his best, but he gives us only a glimpse “through a glass darkly.” And since we cannot comprehend heaven’s reality, we cannot attach reality to it–much less a sure outline of exactly how history will end.
  3. In the end, whatever symbolism John’s allusions and allegories refer to the “here and now” of the recipients of his letter, i.e., the Roman Empire.

John begins with the throne room of heaven and with, we presume, a vision of God himself: “and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne!” In an echo of many psalms, we see that God and nature are closely aligned: “Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder,” (4:5)

The imaginative “living creatures” are doing one thing and one thing only: worshipping God: “Day and night without ceasing they sing,

“Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
    who was and is and is to come.” (4:8)

Which is precisely our ultimate duty before God as well.

Speak Your Mind