Psalm 138:6–8; Joel 1:1–2:14; Revelation 5:11–6:8

Psalm 138:6–8: The psalmist leaves no question in these three verses that God is deeply involved in human affairs. First, he observes from his position: “For high is the Lord yet the lowly he sees,/ and the lofty, from a distance he knows.” (6) The implied image is God on his throne looking down and the first people he sees are the ones he cares most deeply about: the lowly, the poor, the widows and orphans, those who have been treated unjustly by those in power.

As for those in power–the lofty–God also sees them from a distance. Distance here implying that despite what the powerful may think, they are no closer to God than the lowly. Also, “distance, He knows” in the sense that God is well aware of what they are doing to oppress the lowly–and that God will be meting out their just desserts to them.

Verse 7 is a direct echo of Psalm 23: “Though I walk in the midst of straits,/ You give me life in spite of my enemies wrath.” God does much more for those who are oppressed than just observe us. He is with us and is our life source no matter what trials we endure.  God’s “alongsideness” is not just conceptual, but is expressed as a powerful physical interaction: “You stretch out Your hand,/ and Your right hand rescues me.” We can know that when we are in dire straits and are rescued it’s because God has seen us, is alongside us, and stretches out his hand to us. For the psalmist, rescue and protection are never natural coincidences; they are the direct act of God.

Following rescue there is gratitude: “The Lord will requite me./ O Lord, Your kindness is forever.” But there is also the realization that we have been created by God and we want always to remain with him: “Do not let go of Your handiwork.” (8) The word “handiwork” reminds us that we have been fashioned by God. He is the potter and we are the clay, the work of his hands–the very same hands that have rescued us.

Joel 1:1–2:14: Unlike Hosea, who enters into a marriage with a whore as a metaphor for God’s relationship to Israel, we know little of Joel, “the son of Pethuel,” who just begins speaking a lamentation. Israel has been invaded and come to ruin:
For a nation has invaded my land,
    powerful and innumerable;

   It has laid waste my vines,
      and splintered my fig trees; (1:6, 7a)

The invaders have disrupted religious life:
The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off
          from the house of the Lord.
       The priests mourn,
        the ministers of the Lord. (1:9)

As with all lamentations, there is a call to repentance:
Sanctify a fast,
        call a solemn assembly.
     Gather the elders
        and all the inhabitants of the land
         to the house of the Lord your God,
         and cry out to the Lord. (1:14)

Joel then moves to apocalyptic language–the language Jesus used in his Olivet Discourse in Mark and his warnings in the temple in Luke, which surely must have reminded Jesus’ listeners of Joel:
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
       for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—
        a day of darkness and gloom,
       a day of clouds and thick darkness! (2:1,2)

But amidst the gloom and gnashing of teeth Joel is telling his listeners–and us–that honest from the heart repentance will turn everything around:
Yet even now, says the Lord,
        return to me with all your heart,
      with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; (2:12)

And then, Joel says something truly remarkable: “rend your hearts and not your clothing.” Here is the essence of repentance: it is an action of the heart,not an outward sign. It doesn’t matter if we head down the sawdust trail and “go forward for Christ” if our heart is not truly changed. But if Israel is willing to change–and if we are willing to change, then we can truly experience the impact of some of the most famous words in the entire Old Testament:
Return to the Lord, your God,
       for he is gracious and merciful,
    slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, (2:13)

Yes, there is lamentation, but with repentance tears turn to joy and we experience God’s unending love.

Revelation 5:11–6:8: The lamb, holding the scroll with the seven seals has entered the throne room of God. And now John hears “the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice,” (5:11) as they worship the risen Christ in words that echo down through the centuries:
    “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
      to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
      and honor and glory and blessing!” (5:12)

But the angels of heaven, the creatures, and the 24 humans are apparently insufficient for true worship that the risen Christ deserves. Now John hears “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,
      “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might
forever and ever!” (5:13)

This passage reminds us that our ordinary worship is a mere whisper compared to the worship that is going on in heaven. But that is not to discourage us. John helps us realize that when we worship Jesus Christ together it is not an isolated act, but we are joining in with churches around the world and as John tells us, with the angels in heaven. Which is why worship is about much more than just feeling good about Jesus; it is our primary duty when we are gathered together and it is serious business that is at once solemn and joyful–but never trivial or performed for our own entertainment.

The worship in heaven ceases as the Lamb opens the first four seals to reveal the four horses and riders: white, bright red, black and pale green. The rider of the white horse holds a bow and “a crown was given to him,” –a clear symbol of military might and power of the Roman empire. The bright red rider is given a great sword and “was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another” (6:4) clearly represents the bloodshed of battle and, I suspect, of the oppression of the church and the blood of the martyrs.

The rider of the black horse “held a pair of scales in his hand” and is accompanied by a voice speaking of a day’s pay and “do not damage the olive oil and the wine” (6:6) appears to represent the economy and perhaps famine to come.

There is no confusion about the pale green horse and its rider: “Its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed with him; they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth.” (6:8) I don’t know why the fraction “a fourth” is there, but there’s no question that death will march relentlessly through the land–just as it has from John’s time right down to the present. There is no reason to assume the effects of the four horses and their riders are predictions of tribulation to come. They have been free to roam the earth for the past 2000 years.


Speak Your Mind