Psalm 141:1–4; Obadiah 1; Jonah 1,2; Revelation 11:1–14

Psalm 141:1–4: This David psalm deals with the righteous comportment of a man of God when he is tempted by evil. The stanza opens with a pretty standard request for God to listen to the psalmist, noting along the way that he is in an attitude of reverent prayer. One detects a scintilla of impatience as he repeats himself asking God to hear him::
O Lord, I call You. Hasten to me.
Hearken to my voice when I call You.
May my prayer stand as incense before You,
my uplifted hands as the evening offering.” (1, 2)

I like the image of prayer as an incense offering—and if I thought about that image when I’m praying I think my prayers would have a greater attitude of reverence.

Our psalmist turns to the matter of the ever-present temptation to speak cruelly—and I think this would include cutting sarcasm, which is alas one of my more creative skills. So, I need to pray what our psalmist prays here:
Place, O Lord, a watch on my mouth,
a guard at the door of my lips.
Incline not my heart to an evil word
to plot wicked acts with wrongdoing men,
and let me not feat on their delicacies.” (3, 4)

The clear point is that we should pray to God for something as simple as “guarding our words.” These verses remind us that words have tremendous power for good and more easily, for evil. There’s an implied slippery slope here: evil words lead easily to wicked acts “with wrongdoing men.” In other words, it’s tempting and easy to join the whining, noisy crowd—which is certainly what Facebook and Twitter political threads are all about. We need to pray for God not only to guard our lips but also our posts.

Obadiah 1: Poor Obadiah. His short little book doesn’t even rate a day’s reading to itself. Although upon reading it we probably can be grateful Obadiah didn’t write more.  Like Revelation John, Obadiah has a vision. It’s all about the nation of Edom whose pride tells them that they should go to war against Israel. Not a good idea, Obadiah tells them, speaking, as prophets always do, in God’s voice:
I will surely make you least among the nations;
    you shall be utterly despised.
Your proud heart has deceived you,
    you that live in the clefts of the rock,
    whose dwelling is in the heights.” (2, 3)

History demonstrates again and again that haughty pride brings down empires. One thinks about our own American empire when Obadiah declares:
Though you soar aloft like the eagle,
    though your nest is set among the stars,
    from there I will bring you down,
says the Lord.” (4)

The image of the soaring eagle crashing to earth seems symbolically apropos.

Obadiah goes on to tell Edom that it will be utterly destroyed because of its aggression:
For the slaughter and violence done to your brother Jacob [Israel],
    shame shall cover you,
    and you shall be cut off forever.” (10)

And as always, the problem is pride and its sister, gloating:
But you should not have gloated over your brother
    on the day of his misfortune;
you should not have rejoiced over the people of Judah
    on the day of their ruin;” (12)

Obadiah reminds Edom that even though it will decimated Israel will still stand:
But on Mount Zion there shall be those that escape,
    and it shall be holy;
and the house of Jacob shall take possession of those who dispossessed them.” (17)

As for Edom’s fate, “there shall be no survivor of the house of Esau.” (18) And here we are more than 2500 years later. Israel exists. Edom is but a dusty echo in an obscure prophet’s writings.

Jonah 1,2: We do not need to recount the story here. God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh, who immediately sets off in the opposite direction by boat. The storm comes and the sailors cast lots to find out that Jonah is the storm-causing culprit. Jonah offers to be thrown overboard and the sailors happily comply. The “large fish” swallows Jonah, where he spends three happless days.

What they didn’t emphasize to me in Sunday school is that “Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish.” (2:1) It’s a beautiful prayer and Jonah
called to the Lord out of my distress,
    and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
    and you heard my voice.
…As my life was ebbing away,
    I remembered the Lord;
and my prayer came to you,
    into your holy temple.” (2:2, 7)

And with his repentance comes Jonah’s salvation: “Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.” (2:10)

Clearly (to me anyway), while there was doubtless a real Jonah, the story of the fish is highly symbolic. That the Jonah story speaks of being entombed in a living version of Sheol for three days is of course a precursor to Jesus’ three days in the tomb. And as the Jonah fish story ends with his salvation, we are reminded that it is Jesus’ resurrection that has brought us salvation.

The Jonah story is not over—his salvation is merely the beginning of his story. As our salvation is merely the beginning of ours. The big question is: what do we then do with our salvation?

Revelation 11:1–14: We encounter an echo of Ezekiel’s over-long description of measuring the dimensions of the temple here as John is handed a “measuring staff” and told, Come and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there,but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample over the holy city for forty-two months.” (1, 2) I take this as a signal from John that the churches may have to worship in secret while Rome persecutes the church f0r 3 1/2 years. Those who think that the events in Revelation are yet to come, interpret this period as the first half of the Great Tribulation, which lasts 7 years.

Two prophets are appointed by God with “authority to prophesy for one thousand two hundred sixty days, wearing sackcloth.” (3)

These prophets, symbolized by two olive trees and two lampstands, have the power to create drought and famine and can “strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire.” (6) After this period “the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them,” (7) Their bodies remain unburied in “great city that is prophetically called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.” Which means it has to be Jerusalem. Their deaths cause great rejoicing “and the inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and celebrate and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to the inhabitants of the earth.” (10) Which when you think about it is pretty much what Christmas in the broader culture has become: self-centeredness and exchanging gifts.

But then the dead prophets are resuscitated after 3 1/2 days and told to “Come up here” and return to heaven At that point a great earthquake occurs and “a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.” (13)

OK, I give up. I cannot untangle this story, but one thing is clear: the earth is a battleground between the forces of good and evil. and for John: between Rome and the church.

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