Psalm 141:5–10; Jonah 3,4; Micah 1,2; Revelation 11:15–12:6

Psalm 141:5–10: Parts of this reading are just plain weird as e.g.:
Let the righteous man strike me,
the faithful rebuke me.
Let no wicked man’s oil adorn my head,
for still my prayer is against their evils.” (5)

Huh? The best I can make of this is that our psalmist is fine with other righteous people doing him harm or saying bad things to him. But that’s OK because they’re righteous? On the other hand, he continues, even kind acts by evil people, such as anointing with oil, are completely unacceptable.

He goes on to heap curses upon evil people and yet he wants to be heard by them:
Let their leaders slip on a rock,
and let them hear my words which are sweet.
As when the earth is parted and split,
our bones are scattered in the mouth of Sheol.” (6, 7)

Sorry, but these verses just makes no sense to me. Alter informs us that the Hebrew for these verses is “badly mangled,” so I guess he came up with a best guess, which still doen’t make much sense.

The conclusion of the psalm is much more understandable if only for the conventional wishes for God to keep him safe from the wiles of his enemies:
For to You, O Lord, my eyes turn.
In You I take refuge. Expose not my life
Guard me from the trap they laid for me
and the snares of the wrongdoers.
May the wicked fall in their nets.
I alone shall goe on.” (7-10)

The last line is striking. I take it to mean that even if if all his erstwhile friends abandon him and therefore abandon God he will still remain faithful. Beyond that I can;t read much application into the final verses of this psalm.

Jonah 3,4: One has the feeling the Moravians were being quite leisurely about their assigned readings and then figured out they had a whole pile of minor prophets to cover in the waning days of this 2-year course of reading. So they are really rushing us through the final books.

Back on dry land, our chastised prophet does in fact go to Nineveh, which is an impressive place: “a very large city; it took three days to go through it.” (3:3) I’m sure Jonah, who was expecting great resistance from the inhabitants to his message about God, was more than a little shocked when “Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, [and] he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust.” (3:6) The king promptly decrees that “everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” (3:8, 9) Indeed, God does spare Nineveh.

The lesson here is pretty obvious: God will often do the things we least expect. In practical terms it means we should boldly witness to others. Who knows? They may respond positively because the Holy Spirit has already prepared their hearts to hear about the Good News.

However, God’s compassion for Nineveh really angers Jonah. So much so that he’d rather die. God rather reasonably asks his prophet, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (4:4) God then famously grows a bush to provide shade for Jonah, which he really likes. Then God allows a worm kill the bush, leaving Jonah in the blazing sun, causing him once again  to want to die.

God’s object lesson is simple: it wasn’t Jonah who grew and then killed the bush. And it wasn’t Jonah who softened the hearts of the king of Ninevah. We would do well to remember with Jonah that things such as repentance are God’s doing, not ours. There’s also a subtext here that God loves everyone, not just his chosen people. Our psalmist today certainly could have benefited from this object lesson…

Micah 1,2: Sounding very much like his colleagues Joel, Amos, and Obadiah, Micah issues a warning that God is angry at both Judah’s and Samaria’s idolatrous apostasy and punishment awaits:
Therefore I will make Samaria a heap of rubble,
    a place for planting vineyards.
All her idols will be broken to pieces;
    all her temple gifts will be burned with fire;
    I will destroy all her images.” (1:6, 7)

A long poem describing various details of God’s forthcoming punishment occupy the remainder of chapter 1. Things get more interesting in chapter 2 as man’s plans are contrasted with God’s plans. Micah starts out by announcing that most human plans are fundamentally evil:
Woe to those who plan iniquity,
    to those who plot evil on their beds!
At morning’s light they carry it out
    because it is in their power to do it.
They covet fields and seize them,
    and houses, and take them.
They defraud people of their homes,
    they rob them of their inheritance. (2:1, 2)

God, on the other hand, has a different plan for these conspirators:
I am planning disaster against this people,
    from which you cannot save yourselves.
You will no longer walk proudly,
    for it will be a time of calamity.” (2:3)

Nothing has changed, has it?. Powerful men still make plans to defraud and oppress. But God holds the trump cards. Which of course is the entire point of the book of Revelation. No matter how bad things get, God will one day rescue us. And that is what Micah tells us that God has plans for the remnant of Israel:
I will surely gather all of you, Jacob;
    I will surely bring together the remnant of Israel.” (2:12)

The chapter ends on a messianic note about God’s even greater plans, which we Christians can take as clear foretelling of the coming of Jesus Christ—highly appropriate during this Advent season:
The One who breaks open the way will go up before them;
    they will break through the gate and go out.
Their King will pass through before them,
    the Lord at their head.” (2:13)

Revelation 11:15–12:6: At last! The seventh trumpet sounds. And rather than dispensing further evidences of God’s wrath, it becomes the opening note of yet another worship scene: “there were loud voices in heaven, which said:

 “The kingdom of the world has become
    the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
    and he will reign for ever and ever.” (11:15, 16)

[That last line should sound familiar to Handel fans.] The 24 elders join in worship, also singing:
We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
 the One who is and who was,
because you have taken your great power

and have begun to reign.” (17)

The chapter concludes with an outright theophany that shakes the earth: “Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a severe hailstorm.” (11:19)

But worship quickly ends and we encounter two of John’s more potent symbols:

  • A pregnant woman “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head,” (12:1) and who is about to give birth.
  • An “an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.” (12:3)

The woman gives birth “to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” (12:5a) The dragon is poised to snatch the child as soon as it is born.  But before that can happen, “her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.” (12:5b)

Up to this point the symbolism seems straightforward. The woman is Mary, who is about to give birth to Jesus. But there’s some difficulty with that interpretation: in John’s telling, Jesus ascends to heaven as a baby rather than a 33-year old. Logic is certainly not John’s strong suit… The red dragon seems to be a clear reference to either the Jewish authorities who wanted Jesus dead, the Roman army, or both.

However, all this neat theorizing seems to come to naught with the last verse of today’s reading: “The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.” (12:6) So the woman and child seem suddenly to be something else. Perhaps the 12 stars represent the 12 tribes of Israel and the wilderness is a reference to the wilderness journey of Israel. In addition, we have another reference to what many have taken to be the 3 1/2 year long Great Tribulation.  No wonder everyone’s confused about this book—and anyone who claims not to be confused is just plain wrong.

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