Psalm 147:7–20; Zechariah 6,7,8,9; Revelation 19:1–21

Psalm 147:7–20: Our psalmist continues describing God’s qualities, reminding us how different God is from what he has created, including man’s sexual desire: “Not the might of the horse He desires,/ not by a man’s thigh’sHe is pleased.” What God is please by is very simple: that we remember he is God and all that implies: “The Lord is pleased by those who fear him.” (11a) But also, that we seek God’s love, as well: “those who long for His kindness.”

And when we fear and love God, God responds personally “strengthens the bars of your gates,/ blesses your children in your midst.” (13). He also responds to the needs of the community, even the entire nation: “He bestows peace in your land,/ He sates you with choice wheat.

God is of course the master over his natural creation as well as the psalmist speaks of a winter that seems oddly out of place in Israel’s mediterranean climate: “He pours forth snow like fleece,/ scatters frost like ash./ He flings His ice like bread crumbs./ In the face of His cold who can endure? (16, 17) But winter does not last forever and “He sends out His word and melts them,/ He lets His breath blow–the waters flow.” (18)

But for the psalmist, God has given a greater gift to Israel above how he has blessed other nations. God has given them the Law: “He tells His word to Jacob,/ His statutes and laws to Israel./ He did not thus to all the nations,/ and they knew not the laws.” (19, 20) The is greater than even God’s blessings. And for us, God has given us his Word: Jesus Christ, greater even than the Law.

Zechariah 6,7,8,9: Once again we see one of the sources that John of Patmos built off of: Four chariots: “the first chariot had red horses, the second chariot black horses, the third chariot white horses, and the fourth chariot dappled gray horses.” (6:2,3). However, the purpose of these chariots is different than John’s: rather than bringing death and destruction, each is sent to one of the four points of the compass to “patrol the earth.” (6:7) To me this is simply Zechariah’s vision that God has dominion over all the earth, not just Israel, i.e., a God knows what is happening everywhere. 

Then a messianic vision with a fascinating name: “Here is a man whose name is Branch: for he shall branch out in his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord.” (6:12) For Zechariah of course the issue is rebuilding the temple; he is not particularly interested in this prophecy’s larger implication that a branch, Emanuel, will grow from the root of Jesse and be born in Bethlehem several centuries after he writes. The prophet also envisions a government where the Branch “shall bear royal honor, and shall sit upon his throne and rule.” (6:13a), but also that “There shall be a priest by his throne, with peaceful understanding between the two of them.” (6:13b). This is a good definition of what a nation should be: guided by wisdom, but always with God at its side. Unfortunately, by the time of Jesus, this partnership has become corrupted.

Chapter 7 deals with hypocritical fasting as God, via Zechariah, asks, “When you fasted and lamented in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted?” (7:4) As we read so often in the OT, the prophet points out that they were given the law to “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.” (7:10) If we ever needed a list of God’s true desire for all of us, it is right here. Alas, Zechariah tells them, “they refused to listen, and turned a stubborn shoulder, and stopped their ears in order not to hear” (7:11) and were punished for abandoning their responsibility. Israel’s responsibility then is exactly ours today. And we are doing as poor a job as Israel when it comes to Christianity as practiced (or not practiced) far too widely today in America. We have become a religion of intolerance and hate, accompanied by whining when things don’t go our way. 

But as always, God is relentless in asking Israel (and us!) to return to him. Chapter 8 abounds in a beautiful promise of a restored Jerusalem that feels so much more human and less apocalyptic than John’s vision of a New Jerusalem: “Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age.And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.” (8:4,5) Once again, God will rescue and Zechariah tells the people what they (and we) must do: “Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace, do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath;” (8:16, 17)

Zechariah then writes an oracle full of great promise that he will guard Israel and Judah and bring them victory in war, this time against Greece:
For I have bent Judah as my bow;
       I have made Ephraim its arrow.
   I will arouse your sons, O Zion,
       against your sons, O Greece,
       and wield you like a warrior’s sword. (9:13)

And “On that day the Lord their God will save them/ for they are the flock of his people;.” (9:16a) But will Israel carry out its side of the Covenant or lapse once again into hypocrisy and injustice? Have we?

Revelation 19:1–21: One of the brilliant aspects of John’s Revelation is that it provides us respite along the way from all the prophecies and visions of doom. As always, we return to the throne room of God, this time worshipping in thanksgiving for overthrowing the whore of Rome:
Salvation and glory and power to our God,
  for his judgments are true and just;
he has judged the great whore
    who corrupted the earth with her fornication,
and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” (1,2)

And after talking of the metaphorical Lamb all these chapters, John finally comes right out and tells us just who the Lamb is. John tries to fall down in worship of the angel who is bringing these visions to John, but the angel remonstrates: “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!” (10a)

Then John makes the direct connection: “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (10b) As we reflect on this simple phrase, it tells us not only that Jesus is himself a prophet, he is someone far greater: all the prophecy of Scripture points to exactly one place: Jesus.

The a vision of all-powerful Jesus astride a write horse. Its rider is “is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.” (11)  He is  “clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God.” (13)–the former phrase to Jesus’ blood that washed us clean and the latter phrase being a direct reference back to John 1. I suspect this verse is one of the reasons this revelation ends up in the Canon. And to make sure we get what John is telling us about this conquering hero, “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” (16)

And finally, with Jesus coming down form heaven, victory for all time: “ And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet …These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.” (20)

Whatever we may think about the strangeness of John’s imaginative prophecies and visions, there is no question about where this book ends up: Jesus has conquered the evil powers of the earth. And for those people under the oppressive yoke of the Roman empire, these were encouraging words indeed. As they should be to us.

This is the promise of the child born in a small stable near an inconsequential town in the Judean foothills far from the centers of political power. The world was just as awry then as it is now. But events that that night in that far off place brought peace and joy to the earth through the birth of a Savior for all humankind. Peace that the world will never know through its own hopelessly inadequate efforts.

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