Psalm 132; Daniel 10:8–11:19; Revelation 1:1–8

Thanksgiving 2017

Psalm 132: This psalm celebrates David and his unflagging efforts to bring the Ark if the Covenant to Jerusalem, which Alter informs us is recounted in 2 Samuel 6 and 7. The psalm’s opening verses describe David’s single-minded dedication:
“Recall, O Lord, for David
all his torment
when he swore to the Lord,
vowed to Jacob’s Champion:

I will not give sleep to my eyes
nor slumber to my lids
until I find a place for the Lord,
a dwelling for Jacob’s Champion.” (1-5)

“Jacob’s champion” is a name for God I’ve not heard before and it must refer to the incident in Genesis where Jacob wrestled with God—and God won. It’s worth remembering that as far as the Jews were concerned, God was not omni-present but quite literally dwelled in one place: the Ark, hence the requirement for a permanent holy place for the Ark to rest.

David succeeds in the task and there is rejoicing:
“Rise, O Lord, to Your resting place,
You and the Ark of Your strength.
Let Your priests don victory,
and let Your faithful sing gladly.” (8, 9)

At this point the psalm recalls how the Davidic dynasty was God-ordained:
“The Lord swore to David
a true oath from which He will not turn back:
‘From the fruit of your loins
I will set up a throne for you.” (11, 12)

Crucially, the psalmist reminds us that the dynasty remains in power only, “If your sons keep My pact/ and My precept that I shall teach them,/ their sons, too, forevermore/ shall sit on the throne that is yours” (12) Of course by reading the Histories, we know how well that turned out…

The psalm then returns to the topic at hand, which is that as long as the Ark remains at Jerusalem, all will be well. Writing in God’s voice, the psalmist asserts that all will be well:
‘This is my resting place evermore,
Here I dwell, for I desired it.
I will surely bless its provisions,
its needy I will sate with bread.” (14, 15)

Alas, it’s tragic that the great promise of this psalm was undermined by the failure of Israel to continue to worship God. But we need to remember that God didn’t abandon his side of the promise.

Daniel 10:8–11:19: For me this passage is much more valuable as a description of Daniel’s emotions—mainly fear— than the content of the vision. An angel appears to Daniel and encourages him. Like most angelic visitations, there’s the invocation not to be afraid: “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.” (10:12)

But Daniel replies, My lord, because of the vision such pains have come upon me that I retain no strength. How can my lord’s servant talk with my lord? For I am shaking, no strength remains in me, and no breath is left in me.” (10:16, 17) Once again, the angel encourages Daniel, “Do not fear, greatly beloved, you are safe. Be strong and courageous!”  (10:19)

With Daniel apparently recovered, there’s a really long discourse about kingdoms rising and being broken apart. There is a king from the south who makes an alliance with a king from the north via an arranged marriage. The princess will have a son, and “He shall come against the army and enter the fortress of the king of the north, and he shall take action against them and prevail.” (11:7)  I wouldn’t be surprised if someone out there has tried to make this a prophecy about Jesus, but that seems pretty farfetched to me.

Anyway, our eyes glaze over as we read of still more there are lots of battles, another marriage and ultimately defeat: “Then he shall turn back toward the fortresses of his own land, but he shall stumble and fall, and shall not be found.” (11:19)

This is one of those places in the Bible where one can only wonder why it’s there. It must have had meaning to the author’s contemporaries, but it seems a futile effort to try and sort all this out and align it to actual events, which I’m pretty sure have been lost to history.

Revelation 1:1–8: As if the puzzlement of Daniel weren’t enough, we now embark on the wild ride that is Revelation. A political prisoner named John (certainly not the same John of the eponymous gospel or epistles) writes to seven churches in Asia.

Things start out calmly enough as John reprises the Gospel message in an opening invocation: “To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made  us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” (5b, 6) 

But then John shifts his view up toward heaven and the second coming, giving us a brief introduction to the apocalyptic feast to come:
Look! He is coming with the clouds;
    every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
    and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.” (7)

This sense that we about to encounter something greater than mere theology is intensified when he focuses on God’s eternality over all things: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (8) We are left with the feeling that just as God knows no boundaries in spacetime, so too, what John is about to write will also transcend the boundaries of the quotidian world in which we live.

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