Psalm 130; Daniel 7:23–8:27; Jude 1:1–10

Psalm 130: This psalm opens with the stark image of a person seeking God from a position that is very near to death:
From the depths I called You, Lord.
Master, hear my voice.” 
May Your ears listen close to the voice of my plea.” (1, 2)

The psalmist is grateful—as should we be—that God does not seek out to punish sinners as that would be too much to bear. Rather God is a God of forgiveness:
Were You, O Yah, to watch for wrongs,
Master, who could endure?
For forgiveness is Yours,
so that You may be feared.” (3, 4)

This is something that too many forget when all they see is a God of punishment and vengeance. Tis psalm reminds us that those qualities are not God’s essence.

As usual in a psalm of supplication there is also the reality of God’s silence. Here, the psalmist beautifully conveys the intensity of hope—hope that God will hear and forgive:
I hoped for the Lord, my being hoped,
and for His word I waited.” (5)

This anticipation consumes the poet’s entire being:
My being for the Master—
more than the dawn-watchers watch for the dawn.” (6)

The question for me, of course, is do I wait upon God with such intensity? The answer is clearly ‘no. ]’ I may pray, but the anticipation of God’s answer does not become the singular focus of my life. I think  that happens only when I relinquish my own ego and desire for control and let jesus take over my life. Alas, I am still very far away from that.

The psalm’s focus shifts from the cries of a single man to the entire nation of israel, which hopes forgiveness for its collective sins:
Wait, O Israel, for the Lord,
for with the Lord is steadfast kindness,
and great redemption is with Him.
And He will redeem Israel
from all its wrongs.” (7,8)

If we substitute the name of our particular Christian community for ‘Israel,’ we can see just how important collective confession becomes—and why it should be at the start of every time the community comes together to worship.

Daniel 7:23–8:27: It seems only proper that Daniel—the great interpreter of king’s dreams—would have his own dream interpreted for him. The watcher, or whoever is interpreting the dream, focuses on the fourth beast—the one with iron teeth:
there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth
    that shall be different from all the other kingdoms;
it shall devour the whole earth,
    and trample it down, and break it to pieces.” (7:23)

In any event, the talking horn—what some see as the Antichrist—will work against all that is holy:
He shall speak words against the Most High,
    shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High,
    and shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law;
and they shall be given into his power
    for a time, two times,[a] and half a time.” (7:25)

My own take is that this is a description of the subjugation of Israel under the Greek empire featuring Antiochus Epiphanes and his attempt to suppress Israel’s worship. Nevertheless, many prefer to interpret Daniel’s dream as a forecast of the end of history—or at least have a lot of fun doing so.

Not content with a bizzaro dream, Daniel then has a vision down by the riverside of a powerful ram “charging westward and northward and southward. All beasts were powerless to withstand it, and no one could rescue from its power; it did as it pleased and became strong.” (8:4) A goat with four horns then tackles the ram. Then—you guessed it—another little horn which “grew as high as the host of heaven. It threw down to the earth some of the host and some of the stars, and trampled on them.” (8:10)

The reference to suppressed worship seems quite clear: “it took the regular burnt offering away from him and overthrew the place of his sanctuary.” (8:11) Daniel now hears “the Holy One” speaking and he asks, “For how long is this vision concerning the regular burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled?” (8:13) The answer is strangely precise: “For two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.” (8:14)—or about six years.

Daniel is frustrated that he cannot interpret his own vision: “I tried to understand it.” So the Holy One (God?) sends the angel Gabriel to explain, who suddenly makes it quite clear that the vision is about the end of something. “Understand, O mortal, that the vision is for the time of the end.” (8:17) End of history? Or the end of Israel?

Gabriel then explains, “As for the ram that you saw with the two horns, these are the kings of Media and Persia. The male goat  is the king of Greece, and the great horn between its eyes is the first king.” (8:21) Greece then breaks apart and “a king of bold countenance shall arise,/ skilled in intrigue…By his cunning he shall make deceit prosper under his hand  and in his own mind he shall be great..” (8:23, 25)

Gabriel concludes that the vision “refers to many days from now.” (8:26)

Needless to say there have been all kinds of attempts to fit contemporary history into this scenario of end times. But again, I think it’s a reference to the Greek conquest of Israel and the desecration that happened then. But if you’d rather try to fit all these signs and symbols into a scenario for the end of history, have at it.

Jude 1:1–10: We know very little about Jude beyond surmising that he was an apostle that like Paul, Peter, James, John, et al was writing against those who would corrupt the early church. I’m pretty sure Thomas Hardy had this short book in mind when he titled one of his novels, “Jude the Obscure.” That title certainly seems to fit here. But then so would “Jude the Angry.”

Whatever church it is to which he is writing, Jude is quite direct. Apostasy is afoot: “I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain intruders have stolen in among you, people who long ago were designated for this condemnation as ungodly, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (3, 4)

Jude does not pussyfoot around. He cites some dramatic examples of how God punished wrongdoers: Even though God saved the Israelites, “he afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” (5) Likewise, he points out, Sodom and  Gomorrah “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” (7)

Something that in his opinion is just as bad is apparently going on at this church and Jude does not mince words: “Yet in the same way these dreamers also defile the flesh, reject authority, and slander the glorious ones.” (8) Jude goes on to accuse these miscreants not only of slander but also of ignorance: “But these people slander whatever they do not understand, and they are destroyed by those things that, like irrational animals, they know by instinct.” (10)

I suspect one of the reasons that this little letter is in the Canon is that it is a great example of the intensity with which the original battles were fought over what was orthodox and what was not. The first verses of this short book are a statement by the winners of the orthodoxy battles that the stakes continue to be very high and subsequent generations should stick to the straight and narrow and avoid Jude-like accusations of apostasy.

 

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