Psalm 138:1–5; Hosea 13,14; Revelation 4:9–5:10

Psalm 138:1–5: This psalm of thanksgiving opens with a line of intense feeling–“I acclaim You with all my heart” and a puzzling line that follows: “before gods I hymn to You.” (1) Is the psalmist acknowledging that small-g gods even exist? Or is this a simply a derisive assertion that he worships the true God despite those around him that worship the small-g gods? I think the psalmist is simply admitting that although he lives in a culture awash in small-g gods, he knows that only God is worthy of his praise. In light of our present culture, where all sorts of small-g gods are worshipped, this is an interpretation that certainly resonates with me.

Worship–“I acclaim Your name” (2a)–is far more than an emotional praise song feel good phrase here. The psalmist gives us the reasons behind his worship: “for Your kindness and Your steadfast truth” (2b) God’s love and truth are the qualities we worship–and experience. Moreover, he acknowledges God as Creator, who continues to create: “for You have made Your word great across all Your heavens.” (2c) Of course when we encounter the phrase, “Your word,” we of course think of God’s Word, who came in flesh to save us.

The psalmist’s full heart arises not only in the psalmist’s knowledge of what God is and does, but in his personal experience as well: “On the day I called You answered me,/ You made strength well up within me.” God is not just a remote abstraction, but a source of physical, emotional, and psychological strength. This is a real challenge for me since I am so fast to worship a God who is “out there” rather than experience the physical pleasure (yes!) of God who is “in here.” God is of course both.

Hosea 13,14: God’s frustration with Israel’s relentless sinning is evident:
And now they keep on sinning
    and make a cast image for themselves,
    idols of silver made according to their understanding,
    all of them the work of artisans.
   “Sacrifice to these,” they say.
    People are kissing calves! (13:2)

It’s as if God cannot even fathom the sheer stupidity of people because they have reduced themselves to kissing calves!  Hosea, speaking the words of God reiterates the great truth that we do well to heed as well: “you know no God but me,/ and besides me there is no savior.” (13:4) But in the light of Israel’s refusal to repent, it’s as if the God of truth and justice has no other choice but to destroy these intransigent sinners as Hosea employs some of the most gruesome possible images:
    Samaria shall bear her guilt,
    because she has rebelled against her God;
   they shall fall by the sword,
    their little ones shall be dashed in pieces,
    and their pregnant women ripped open. (13:16)

One would think that the prophecy would end here. But Hosea knows that as Israel is relentlessly sinful God is relentlessly merciful. Now we hear Hosea’s own voice as he prays:
Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
    for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
   Take words with you
    and return to the Lord; (14:1, 2a)

Hosea knows what Israel does not: that one day it will repent and realize:
   Assyria shall not save us;
    we will not ride upon horses;
   we will say no more, ‘Our God,’
    to the work of our hands. (14:3)

And God answers Hosea’s prayer as this book ends with God’s promise that he will indeed forgive:
I will heal their disloyalty;
    I will love them freely,
    for my anger has turned from them. (14:4)

That’s always it, isn’t it? No matter how grave our sin or how far we try to distance ourselves from him, God always sticks right with us. We can try to ignore him, sometimes for a very long time. But God is there. God wants nothing more than to forgive and to be in relationship with us. Why do we resist? Alas,the answer is all too simple: our overweening pride always insists that we never give up control of our lives. That desire for control–to think we are masters of our fate– makes us blind to God, who is standing right next to us waiting patiently.

Revelation 4:9–5:10: John informs us that not only are the living creatures (which I believe represent God’s creative agency in nature) who “give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne” (4:9) but there are humans present as well: “the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever” (10) They are obviously Very Important People since they have crowns which they cast at God’s feet as an act of obeisance. Needless to say there’s been ample speculation as to what Biblical characters they are, but suffice to say, they probably include Moses and Elijah, who appeared at Jesus’ transfiguration. Certainly Daniel, and I’d also like to think the group includes Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and all the other prophets whose words were scorned by Israel and Judah.

There’s more than  worship going on here. God is holding a rolled-up scroll, “written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals.” (5:1) An angel asks, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” (5:2) but no one can. This is a huge disappointment to John, who begins weeping. But one of the elders assures him there is someone who can open and read the scroll. An elder provides the honorific titles of this person: “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered” (5). Well, we know enough from reading OT prophecy and the Gospels that it can be none other than the resurrected Jesus Christ, whom we expect to see stroll confidently into the throne room in all his heavenly glory.

But instead, John sees “a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes.” This is certainly not what he–and we–were expecting. [My take on this is that this is one of those places where the glory is so overwhelming that John’s words cannot adequately describe what he sees.] The lamb steps confidently up to the throne and takes the scroll. The living creatures and the elders immediately fall before the lamb and worship, and each elder is “holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” (8). So we have acclamation and prayer at this worship. There is one more thing: they all begin singing. Not just any song, but a new song that acknowledges the lamb’s power and what he has done for us:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
    saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving  our God,
    and they will reign on earth.”

There’s no mistaking who this is: Jesus Christ, the lamb of God.

This scene tells us several important aspects of worship. There is solemn respect. There is praise of God; there is reverence and kneeling. There is prayer. There is the Word (the rolled-up scroll). There is singing. Above all, there is the presence of Jesus Christ. These are the elements of serious worship–and it is not a casual affair.


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