Psalm 145:17–21; Haggai 2; Revelation 17:9–18

 Psalm 145:17–21: Many psalms of supplication despair that God has disappeared as the desperate psalmist begs him to answer his prayers. As if to prove that the Psalms cover the emotional and theological gamut, this psalm rings with the assurance that God is above all just and faithful: “Just is the Lord in all His ways,/ and faithful in all His deeds.” (17) And that faithfulness extends to each of us as we are assured that God is nearby and will always answer: “Close is the Lord to all who call Him,/ to all who call Him in truth.” (18) Aha. There’s the requirement: “call in truth.” In other words, we must reciprocate that same faithfulness that defines God. We do not call on God in doubt or disbelief as if we are asking for some kind of heavenly magic trick. We call on God in truth and in the deep faith that he will answer.

And answer he does: “The pleasure of those who fear Him he performs,/ and their outcry He hears and rescues them.” (19) This occurs because of God’s incredible faithfulness: “The Lord guards all who love Him.’ (20a). Moreover, “all the wicked He destroys.” (20b). comprehending this reality of God always leads to worship: “The Lord’s praise let my mouth speak,/ and all flesh bless His holy name forevermore.” (21)

These verses ring with “Blessed Assurance.” Would that I can live day to day with this same confident conviction that God will hear and act. As we look around at the affairs of the world, that assurance can be sorely tested. But then all I have to do is to imagine the evil and darkness of a world where God was not present at all. Jimmy Stewart’s visit to Potterville in “It’s a Wonderful Life” would be a paradise compared to a world where God was absent.

Haggai 2: The word of the Lord comes to Haggai, just about a month after he first spoke to Zerubbabel and Joshua. This time he asks, “Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?”  (3) We do not hear their reply, but it seems clear they were appalled by viewing the temple in ruins, a shadow of its former glory. But Haggai reminds them that God is in their midst “Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts.” (4) In fact, with God’s help, the temple will be restored such that “The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts.” (9)

Two months later, “On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius,” Haggai, speaking the word of the Lord asks the priests if consecrated meat touches a garment becomes unholy or if a person who touches the dead becomes unclean. Well, they’ve all read Leviticus, so the answer is obviously,”Yes,” Haggai uses this object lesson to point out that ” So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, says the Lord; and so with every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean.” (14). Haggai asks, “Before a stone was placed upon a stone in the Lord’s temple, how did you fare?” (16) reminding them that them that “I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and mildew and hail; yet you did not return to me, says the Lord.” (19)

The lesson is clear: By failing to give God priority, here symbolized by the very real act of failing to rebuild the temple, the lives of the inhabitants of Jerusalem were only a shadow of what they could be by placing God above their human affairs. I think that even under the terms of the New Covenant, when we fail to place God at the center of all that we do, we miss the greater blessings that God will willingly bestow when we are faithful. God doesn’t necessarily cause our crops to fail as here in Haggai, but a tremendous opportunity cost is exacted when we ignore God and think we can perform the task on our own.

Revelation 17:9–18: The seventh angel, still speaking to John, helpfully interprets the meaning of the seven headed beast with ten horns and the whore who sits on it. As for the beast, it represents “seven kings, of whom five have fallen, one is living, and the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain only a little while.” (10). As we speculated in yesterday’s reflections, these must refer to the succession of Roman emperors, possibly beginning with Augustus. Five have come and gone, one is reigning, and another will “remain only a little while.”  

As for the horns, they are “ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom. These are united in yielding their power and authority to the beast.” (12b, 13). In the context of the Roman Empire, these may be the untamed kings of Europe such as Germania. But the point John makes is that they will unite with Rome in persecuting Christians: “they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” (14) As always, Christ will win out in the end.

The verses that follow suggest how this ultimate victory is achieved: the whore–Rome–will come to a bad end as “the ten horns … will make her desolate and naked; they will devour her flesh and burn her up with fire.” (16). Which several centuries later is exactly the fate of the fall of the Roman empire as it is conquered form the north and east.

John concludes this section by having the angel tell us that this is all directed by God and that “the woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.” (18) Which I take to be the promise of the New Jerusalem. If we look at history, things didn’t exactly work out this way unless we consider that Constantine’s conversion and the ascension of Christianity to an instrument of the state in some way represents the “New Jerusalem.”  But writing in 90CE, John would not know what would take place three centuries later. But his confidence, like that of the psalmist above, lies in God’s faithfulness and that victory is assured because “the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”

One of the lessons for me in this mysterious book is that the means may be unclear, but the end–God’s ultimate victory–is never in doubt.

 

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