Psalm 144:5–8; Nahum 3; Habakkuk 1; Revelation 14:17–15:8

Psalm 144:5–8: The psalmist moves from his reflection on humanity’s ephemerality [“his days like a passing shadow”] to a vision of God as creator and therefore master of the universe. He prays that God will demonstrate his inherent power in a dramatic fashion through natural phenomena with the remarkable image: “Lord, tilt Your heavens and come down,/ but touch the mountains and they smoke.” (This is certainly one of those verses which reenforce the image of being “up there” above us.) The psalmist asks specifically for God to use this power to defeat his enemies so they are no longer a threat: “Crack lightning and scatter them,/ send forth Your bolts and panic them.” (6)

At the same time, the psalmist prays, asking God to use this same power over nature to rescue him, apparently from a real or metaphorical flood: “Send forth Your hand from on high,/ redeem me and save me from the many waters.” (7) The hand of God which shoots lightning bolts at his enemies is the same hand that rescues him. Clearly the psalmist understands that God is at once the all-powerful master of nature and vanquisher of enemies while also the loving rescuer, who stretches out his hand to the person he loves. This rescue will also save him “from the foreigners’ hand,/ whose mouth speaks falsely,/ and whose right hand is a right hand of lies.” (8)

Given that this is a David psalm we can imagine it was written to describe the king as soldier protected by God (verses 1-2), philosopher (verses 3,4), and political figure who is facing foreign enemies and who calls upon God to act against his enemies and to rescue him (verses 5-8). For me, it demonstrates the impossibility of ever getting a complete handle on who God is and what he is capable of, but that above all we can trust in him and call on him to rescue us just as David did.

Nahum 3; Habakkuk 1: Nahum’s vivid description of the destruction of Nineveh continues apace in gruesome detail:
Horsemen charging,
    flashing sword and glittering spear,
piles of dead,
    heaps of corpses,
dead bodies without end—
    they stumble over the bodies! (3:3)

Dreadful sins committed by the inhabitants of Nineveh lies at the root of God’s anger:
Because of the countless debaucheries of the prostitute,
       gracefully alluring, mistress of sorcery,
    who enslaves nations through her debaucheries,
       and peoples through her sorcery. (3:4)

Is this the same Nineveh converted to worshipping God through Jonah? Has it fallen so far? Nahum reminds Nineveh that she is in a long line of once-great empires such as Thebes which have fallen to ruin. Despite the assistance of Ethiopia, Egypt, Put, and Libya, Thebes
became an exile,
    she went into captivity;
       even her infants were dashed in pieces
    at the head of every street;
       lots were cast for her nobles,
    all her dignitaries were bound in fetters. (3:10)

Nahum’s prophecy ends without hope for rescue because of the brutality of its sins:
There is no assuaging your hurt,
       your wound is mortal.
   All who hear the news about you
       clap their hands over you.
   For who has ever escaped
       your endless cruelty?  (3:19)

Is the fate of Nineveh a warning to us? As we have observed again and again, empires rise and they fall. And they fall because they fall into depravity and cruelty. Why should America, given its cultural trajectory, not meet a similar fate?

Habakkuk’s writings begin as a psalm of supplication. “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,/ and you will not listen?” (1) The prophet is greatly distresses at the violence and injustice of Israel that he sees everywhere around him:
Destruction and violence are before me;
       strife and contention arise.
   So the law becomes slack
       and justice never prevails.
   The wicked surround the righteous—
       therefore judgment comes forth perverted. (3b, 4)

And then a prophetic warning:
For a work is being done in your days
       that you would not believe if you were told.
    For I am rousing the Chaldeans,
       that fierce and impetuous nation, (5b, 6a)

What’s striking here is that the people Habakkuk is warning remain in complete denial that anything could possibly go wrong or that they could be overrun by an enemy. But the prophet knows that:
O Lord, you have marked them for judgment;
       and you, O Rock, have established them for punishment.
   Your eyes are too pure to behold evil,
       and you cannot look on wrongdoing; (12b, 13a)

The question Habakkuk, like Nahum poses for me is our own state of denial in our wickedness as a culture. Given current circumstances the moral threads that hold our civilization together are fraying rapidly. To me, it seems that our collective sins and depredations, many in the name of “tolerance” will be our ultimate undoing. These prophets have much to say to us, but they pretty much remain ignored.

Revelation 14:17–15:8: The winnowing of the wicked from the earth continues at the end of history as “another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over fire, and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” (14:18) The image of the winepress crushing out its rivers of blood of the wicked–“blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse’s bridle, for a distance of about two hundred miles.” is worthy of any OT prophet.

This image reminds us that John speaks of the vineyard (“I am an the vine, you are the branches”) in the Upper Room Discourse in his Gospel. Here in a strikingly similar image, the fruit of the world’s evil comes to its well deserved but ghastly end. There is a vine of the righteous, but then there is the much larger vineyard of the wicked that bears fruit which must ultimately be destroyed. Thus it ever is: the righteous are always vastly outnumbered by the wicked, hence the river of blood 6 feet high and 200 miles long.

But wait, there’s more. We now come to the final images of destruction: the bowls of wrath. What’s fascinating here is that this final judgement opens with yet another dramatic scene of worship of the Lamb: “and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.” (15:2,3). John even records the song, a compendium of quotes from Jeremiah and Isaiah.

Following worship, we meet the “seven angels with the seven plagues, robed in pure bright linen, with golden sashes across their chests.” (6) One of the four living creatures, whom we met back in the throne room scene of chapter 4, hands each angel a “golden bowl full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever.” (7,8). The temple is filled “with smoke from the glory of God and from his power” as we await the outpouring of the seven bowls.

At this point, given all the destruction that John has described thus far, is there anyone left to even experience these bowls of wrath? But as we know from apocalyptic writing, logic is not at the top of the author’s list. Rather, image after image is slammed against us because I think it’s the only possible way to use words as pictures to even partially and inadequately describe the affairs of heaven which lie so far beyond our limited human comprehension.

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