Psalm 140:7–14; Amos 8,9; Revelation 10

Psalm 140:6–13: Having described his circumstances where his enemies conspire against him, our supplicant psalmist asks God to listen: “Hearken, O Lord, to the sound of my pleas.” (7) He recalls how in the past, “You sheltered my head on the day of the fray.” (8).

Always remembering that it is God who acts, not he, the poet asks, “Do not grant, O Lord, the desires of the wicked.” (9a). Interestingly, it appears that his enemies are also praying to God at this time , as the psalmist asks God to not answer their prayers, “do not fulfill his devising.” (9b) because it will give them power that because of their corruption they do not deserve, and “They will rise.” (9c) (Presumably in power.) In fact, the psalmist asks God to answer his enemies in such a way such that their conniving prayers will backfire on them: “May the mischief of their own lips/ cover the heads of those who come round me.” (10) Then, he asks for God to mete out an even harsher penalty: “May he rain coals of fire upon them,/ make them fall into ravines, never to rise.” (11)

We have to admit that some of this rhetoric, especially the wish for God to annihilate his enemies in verse 11, is words borne out of anger. But the really intriguing issue here is, is it OK to ask to God to countermand the prayers of others? Jesus, in his command to love our enemies, seems to have neutralized the act of praying for others destruction, much less raying that their own prayers not be answered.

Nevertheless, this psalm expresses deep emotion, and it seems is not entirely inappropriate given that the psalmist’s enemies appear to be in positions of power, while he counts himself among the weak: “I know the Lord will take up/ the cause of the needy.” (13) And that victory—here, God’s answered prayer—will come to those who are worthy: “yes, the righteous will acclaim Your name,/ the upright will dwell in Your presence. (14).

But should I go out and pray for the downfall of my enemies even if they are conspiring against me? Probably not. But maybe I could pray for obstacles to appear in their path…

Amos 8,9: God tells Amos that he reached the end of his rope with by holding a basket before Amos and asking what it is: “Summer fruit,” Amos replies—the symbol that harvest is over and the land is about to be plowed under. Which is exactly what God promises he will do to Israel: “The end has come upon my people Israel;/I will never again pass them by.” (8:2).

Much of God’s anger at Israel seems to arise from its devious economy, which preys on the poor. Amos warns the merchants, “Hear this, you that trample on the needy,/ and bring ruin to the poor of the land.” (4). These corrupt merchants cheat their weights and measures (5) and sell shoddy goods at a high price, “buying the poor for silver/ and the needy for a pair of sandals,/ and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” (6)

Again and again, we come to understand that God’s anger is directed at the powerful for oppressing and exploiting the poor and needy. Practices that alas continue down to today.

Amos, speaking in the voice of God, also predicts the Jewish diaspora, “They shall wander from sea to sea,/ and from north to east;/ they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord.” And then the final curse, “but they shall not find it.”(12) What if I were searching for God but could not find him?

Chapter 9 begins in the same angry vein, as Amos “saw the Lord standing beside the altar, and he said,: Strike the capitals until the thresholds shake” and the temple comes down and “shatters…on the heads of all the people.” (9:1) Which of course is what eventually happened.

But…as always, there follows God’s promise of future restoration: “On that day I will rise up/ the booth of David that has fallen,/ and repair its breaches,. And raise up its ruin,/ and rebuild it as in days of old.” (9:11). Like so many prophecies, this one seems to point to both a near-term fulfillment and one farther out in time. The near-term fulfillment is of course described in Nehemiah, where the walls of Jerusalem are rebuilt and the temple reconsecrated.

For me, the longer term points of course to Jesus Christ and the New Covenant, which as the author of Hebrews explains, the “new Israel” is the church itself.

Revelation 10: We have been witnessing the succession of trumpets; each bringing increasing levels of disaster upon the earth and humankind, especially once the door to Satan’s domain has been unlocked and all kinds of hideousness emerges. This chapter is at once a climax—the seventh trumpet is about to be sounded—and an intermezzo.

Intermezzo: An angel “wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head” descends from heaven and ”he held a little scroll open in his hand.”(2) The angel opens his mouth and “he gave a great shout, like a lion roaring.” (3) Nature answers back with seven thunders, which apparently contain language intelligible to John. Ever the faithful witness, he’s about to tell us what the thunders said, but is is commanded by the angel, “do not write it down.” (4) The angel swears “by him who lives forever” and announces, “there will be no more delay, but in the days when the seventh angel is to blow his trumpet, the mystery of God ill be revealed, as he announced to his servants, the prophets.” (7)

John must have been pretty frustrated. He’s about to find out the solution to the greatest mystery of the universe and now it’s been grabbed away! He knows, but like someone with a Top Secret clearance, he cannot speak.

Instead, the angel hands John a little scroll, which he must have seen as some sort of consolation prize. And rather than read it, he’s commanded by the angel to eat it. Apparently it’s like a heavy, too-rich dessert because the angel warns him that it will taste sweet as honey but will upset his stomach. John obeys and swallows it. It tastes good, but as promised it upsets his stomach.

So, what’s written in the little scroll? People have speculated for centuries. My own sense is that while John will go on to describe the end of history in the remaining chapters of this remarkable book, there are still some mysteries that will not be revealed until God really does end history. Some things just need to be swallowed–like the book of Revelation– and we need to accept that there are aspects of God that remain a mystery. Which is why I think it’s also a warning not to try to over-interpret the meaning of this book.



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