Psalm 129; Daniel 6:19–7:22; 3 John

Psalm 129: This song of ascents celebrates how despite their torturous methods Israel’s long-time enemies have not triumphed. Israel still stands tall:
Much as they beset me from my youth
–Let Israel now say—
uch as they beset me from my youth,
yet they did not prevail over me.
My back the harrowers harrowed,
they drew a long furrow.” (2, 3)

For me, this vivid agricultural image of a plow cutting open a lengthy laceration communicates searing pain more dramatically than almost any other metaphor in the psalms. And despite the pain, our psalmist can still celebrate God’s mercy in how the captives have been set free:
The Lord is just.
He has slashed the bonds of the wicked.
May they be shamed and fall back,
all the haters of Zion.” (4, 5)

The haters of Zion have persisted down through history, most tragically in the Holocaust. So we can be sympathetic to the psalmist’s wish that they will suffer mightily as the poet continues with the agricultural metaphors—only this time turned against the enemy:
May they be like the grass on rooftops
that the east wind withers,
which no reaper fills his hand,
no binder of sheaves his bosom.” (6, 7)

Worse than that, these enemies lie outside the realm of God’s favor and they will miss God’s blessing:
and no passers-by say, “The Lord’s blessing upon you!
We bless you in the name of the Lord.” (8)

For me, this separation from God is what sin is all about.

Daniel 6:19–7:22: Daniel keeps setting an example of the godly life and he keeps outwitting the wiles of his enemies in court, this time the satraps of King Darius. Once again an appeal to a king’s outsize ego and his narcissistic stupidity in singing an ordinance that everyone has to pray to him that cannot be rescinded lands Daniel in harm’s way. Since he prays only to God his jealous enemies see that he is tossed into the lion’s den. Darius wants to save Daniel, but there’s no escaping the legality of the law he’s signed. Daniel is famously tossed into the lion’s den, and anxiety-ridden Darius neither eats nor sleeps that night.

Next morning, the king rushes to the den, finds Daniel quite alive “because he had trusted in his God.” (6:23)  The king makes sure that Daniel’s accusers suffer the fate they had arranged for Daniel. Darius issues a decree that is actually a wonderful psalm, doubtless written by the authors of this book than by Darius:
For he is the living God,
    enduring forever.
His kingdom shall never be destroyed,
    and his dominion has no end.” (6:26)

For me, this famous story is all about trusting God in dire circumstances.

The lion’s den story would have been a great place to end this book. But alas, somebody—perhaps another author—has tacked on what is basically a postscript: Daniel’s own dream of things to come. It’s certainly an imaginative dream featuring four fearsome hybrid animals:

  • a lion with eagle’s wings which morphs into a human with a human mind.
  • a bear with three tusks that eats people
  • something like a leopard with four wings and four heads
  • a frightening ten-horned beast with iron teeth devouring everything in sight.

The ten-horned beast suddenly sprouts a “little horn…with eyes like human eyes in this horn, and a mouth speaking arrogantly.” (7:8)

Then there’s a throne room judgement scene—and we can see some of the source material used by the author of Revelation in the throne room scene:
A thousand thousands served him,
    and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgment,
    and the books were opened.” (7:10)

The three beasts are usually interpreted as the empires of Babylon, Persia and Greece. The fourth beast with iron teeth is the Roman empire. The talking horn is typically interpreted as the Antichrist. Needless to say, a lot of ink has been consumed by people attempting to link these images to world history—together multiple and IMHO, inevitably futile attempts at interpreting just who the little horn represents. One interpretation may be Antiochus Epiphanes, the Greek ruler who sacrificed pigs in the temple at Jerusalem.  Or perhaps someone yet to come. During the Reformation the pope served as a handy interpretation of the little horn.

But perhaps the strongest image in this passage is the one we could interpret as Jesus Christ come to earth as Daniel exclaims,
I saw one like a human being
    coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One[f]
    and was presented before him.
To him was given dominion
    and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
    should serve him.” (7:13, 14a)

I think we can leave it at that. God wins at the end of history by virtue of having sent Jesus into the world to save us.

3 John: I’m not sure why this short little letter is its own epistle in the NT. It’s essentially a thank you note to a certain Gaius whom John commends for how well he hews to the Gospel: “I was overjoyed when some of the friends arrived and testified to your faithfulness to the truth, namely how you walk in the truth.” (3)

On the other hand, there’s “Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.” (9a) Even more scurrilous than spreading “false charges against us” (9) is that he lacks hospitality and has arrogantly put himself in charge as “he refuses to welcome the friends, and even prevents those who want to do so and expels them from the church.” (10) However, John has the ultimate revenge as Diotrephes goes down in history as a miscreant. I strongly doubt if any Christian mother ever named her child Diotrephes.

The example of Diotrephes once again causes John to remind us, “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.” (11) Which I think is the theological heart of this little letter. In the end, if we imitate Christ himself we are on the right path.

Finally, John endorses a certain Demetrius, as “Everyone has testified favorably about [him], and so has the truth itself.” (12)

John concludes by telling his correspondents that he has much more to write, but “instead I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face.” (14) One of the great unanswered questions is whether or not that meeting actually took place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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