Psalm 131; Daniel 9:1–10:7; Jude 1:11–25

Psalm 131: This psalm evokes the humility that all of us would do well to emulate:
Lord, my heart has not been haughty,
nor have my eyes looked too high,
nor have I striven for great things,
nor for things too wondrous for me.” (1)

This is pretty much the opposite state that our ambitious culture espouses. “Reach for greatness,” we tell our youth. We judge financial success and celebrity as the ne plus ultra of achievement. But this kind of achievement leads too often to self-centeredness and pride. And as we watch celebrities and politicians implode due to accusations of sexual harassment, we all should learn the lesson that pride and a sense that one has power over others inevitably leads to a fall.

Rather we should follow the psalmist:
But I have calmed and contented myself
like a weaned babe on its mother–
like a weaned babe I am with myself.” (2)

Think about that image: a contented humility that brings the peace of a baby asleep on its mothers shoulder. Am I calmed and contented with myself? Am I humble? Too often I have considered myself to be pretty good, pretty smart, pretty accomplished. This psalm is a wake-up call for me. And it should be a wake-up call for our culture.

Daniel 9:1–10:7: We encounter a welcome interlude from bizarre visions and interpretations as Daniel  prays for Israel’s forgiveness—a prayer that seems completely appropriate to American society today: “To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by following his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.” (9:9, 10) He continues, observing that ” this calamity has come upon us. We did not entreat the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and reflecting on his  fidelity.” (9:13)

We can see Daniel down on his knees, begging God to forgive Israel, clothed in the he humility of the psalmist above: “We do not present our supplication before you on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies.” (9:19) Something we need to remember: grace comes from God, not by anything we ourselves have said or done.

Alas, the interlude of prayer ends and we are back to vision-land. Gabriel comes to Daniel in a vision and tells him his prayer will be answered because “you are greatly beloved.” (9:23)

Gabriel tells Daniel that Jerusalem will be an interval of seven weeks “from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince” (9:25a) Then “for sixty-two weeks [Jerusalem] shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time.” (9:25b) But at the end of this 62 weeks, “[Jerusalem’s] end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed.” (9:26)

As if this isn’t enough, this anointed prince will “make a strong covenant with many for one week,” For half a week things will be normal activity at the temple, but then the anointed prince will place “abomination that desolates, until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator.” (9:27)

Much has been made of the 7, 62, and 1/2 weeks: the conventional interpretation is that a “week” equals 7 years. This vision again seems to refer to Antiochus Epiphanes who by virtue of sacrificing a pig in the temple did indeed create an “abominable desolation.” But many conservative evangelicals interpret this vision is a prediction about the Antichrist and events such as the Tribulation that will occur at the end of history, i.e., events still to come. As before, I go with the Antiochus Epiphanes interpretation.

Today’s reading ends with yet another Daniel vision: “I looked up and saw a man clothed in linen, with a belt of gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like beryl, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the roar of a multitude.” (10:5, 6) Even though Daniel is amidst a crowd he (unsurprisingly) is the only ne who sees and hears this vision. 

I guess we’ll just have to wait until tomorrow to see what happens next….

Jude 1:11–25: Jude is on a tear as he excoriates those who are corrupting the Christian community to which he is writing by citing three OT examples of the fruits of corruption: “Woe to them! For they go the way of Cain, and abandon themselves to Balaam’s error for the sake of gain, and perish in Korah’s rebellion.” (11)

Then, he launches into some colorful metaphors as he struggles to communicate just how awful these apostates are: “They are waterless clouds carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved forever.” (12, 13)

At this point he gets downright apocalyptic, citing Enoch’s curse that these corrupters will meet a very bad end. Out of breath and metaphors at this point, he calls them “grumblers and malcontents; they indulge their own lusts; they are bombastic in speech, flattering people to their own advantage.” (16) Let’s hope we never get in Jude’s cross-hairs…

He concludes this passionate letter by addressing those who have remained faithful and giving advice that is pretty much the author’s message: “But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” (20, 21)

Equally important, we are to be merciful to others: “have mercy on some who are wavering; save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies.” (22, 23) In other words have mercy on people we intensely dislike and/or we see as hopeless sinners. 

These words of advice are a pretty good encapsulation of the faithful Christian life.

However, the implication that we have to do good in order to “keep yourselves in the love of God” suggests that God will cease loving us when we sin or stray from him. On the contrary, I think God always continues to love us; it is our own actions that pull us away from him. But there’s just a skosh too much Catholic works righteousness for me here. Jude is clearly not a Lutheran who sees grace in all that God does. 

 

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