Psalm 145:1–7; Zephaniah 1,2; Revelation 16:12–21

Psalm 145:1–7: Alter tells us that this is the only Psalm actually designated “song of praise”–and it indeed fulfills its promise. Our psalmist acknowledges God as king: “Let me exalt You, my God my king,/ and let me bless Your name forevermore.” (1) We are to “praise Your name forevermore.” Equally important is the psalmist’s point that as mere humans we can only praise God, and despite our many pretensions to do so, we will never fully understand God nor his majesty and power: “Great is the Lord and highly praised,/ and His greatness cannot be fathomed.” (3)

God’s greatness–and thus our worship–extends across time: “Let one generation to the next extol Your deeds/ and tell of Your mighty acts.”(4) Likewise, God expresses his power in creation itself as the psalmist clearly implies, “Of the grandeur of Your glorious majesty/ and Your wondrous acts let me treat.” (5)  To drive home the unutterable greatness of God to his worshippers, verse 6 is essentially a rewording of verse 5: “And the power of Your awesome deeds let them say,/ and Your greatness let me recount.”

In essence, this psalm is reminding us that worship is our grateful expression of joy at the inexpressible majesty and greatness of God. Moreover, we must bring the best we have to offer in terms of how we praise God. To me this means bringing the highest possible quality of speech an music. Worship is about God; it is not about us, but we are nevertheless obligated to bring him our very best in singing of God’s greatness and kingly majesty.

Zephaniah 1,2: Zephaniah is the great great, great grandson of Hezekiah, speaks during the reign of the boy king Josiah, and is a contemporary of Jeremiah. His first words speaking as usual in the voice of God give us a sense of where he’s headed:
I will utterly sweep away everything
         from the face of the earth, says the Lord.(1:2) 

This certainly sounds as if God is once again so disgusted with the behavior of his people that he’s willing to break his promise to Noah. Zephaniah tells Judah that they’re next on God’s clean-up list:
I will stretch out my hand against Judah,
    and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem;  (1:4)

As usual, the problem is Judah’s relentless idolatry and that they “have turned back from following the Lord,/ who have not sought the Lord or inquired of him.” (1:6) Which of course is the question we must continually ask ourselves. Have we turned our backs on the Lord as we have pursued our own agendas? 

Zephaniah promises great suffering for their collective sins with the repulsive image, “their blood shall be poured out like dust,/ and their flesh like dung.” There is nothing more worthless than dust and dung, yet that is what sinners are before God. Again, this sense that in God’s righteous anger the entire world is doomed as Zephaniah resorts to pure apocalyptic language:
Neither their silver nor their gold
       will be able to save them
       on the day of the Lord’s wrath;
   in the fire of his passion
       the whole earth shall be consumed;
   for a full, a terrible end
       he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth. (1:18)

However, as we learn in chapter two, God’s anger is not confined to Judah:
Ah, inhabitants of the seacoast,
       you nation of the Cherethites!
   The word of the Lord is against you,
       O Canaan, land of the Philistines;
       and I will destroy you until no inhabitant is left.  (2:5)

He goes on to pronounce similar doom against Moab and the Ammonites with the curse that “Moab shall become like Sodom/ and the Ammonites like Gomorrah,” (2:9) as well as the Ethiopians and (once again!) the inhabitants of Nineveh. As in the days of Noah, Zephaniah asserts that God is ready to give up on the human species and return the land to its former pastoral glory as the works of man, especially the cities are reduced to ruin:
   Herds shall lie down in it,
       every wild animal;
   the desert owl and the screech owl
       shall lodge on its capitals;
   the owl shall hoot at the window,
    the raven croak on the threshold;
    for its cedar work will be laid bare. (2:14)

Zephaniah reflects God’s anger and desire to wipe every trace of these humans he created form the face of the earth. But will God carry out this dreadful promise?

Revelation 16:12–21: The pouring out of the bowls of wrath continues relentlessly as the sixth angel pours and dries up the Euphrates river, allowing demonic spirits to cross over and prepare for the battle of Armageddon (or Harmagedon, as the NRSV has it). The pouring out of the seventh bowl brings “flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a violent earthquake, such as had not occurred since people were upon the earth,” (18) Cities split apart and “God remembered great Babylon (Rome) and gave her the wine-cup of the fury of his wrath.” (19). (We can almost see John’s readers shouting, Hooray!”)

But it is verse 20 that departs form the John’s vivid imagery and describes what I think is a a volcanic eruption rather accurately: “every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found; and huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds,  dropped from heaven on people, until they cursed God for the plague of the hail, so fearful was that plague.” (20, 21) Mount Vesuvius erupted and inundated Pompeii in 79CE. Given that John is writing around 90CE, I think it’s safe to assume that he had certainly heard of (if not witnessed) that eruption.

Is John describing a past event in the future tense to make sure his readers understand that what happened was a “foretaste of the feast to come” with regard to the fate of Rome? As we know in apocalyptic writing, what is written in one tense may very well have its meaning in another. Not everything John writes has to be predictive.

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