Psalm 142; Micah 3–5; Revelation 12:7–13:10

Psalm 142: This supplication psalm opens with a very specific superscription, “A David psalm, when he was in the cave” (1) hiding from Saul. The psalmist is writing in David’s words and there is a an almost panicked urgency here in David’s voice for God to hear and act, his distress amplified in the repeated lines and words:
With my voice I shout to the Lord,
with my voice I plead to the Lord.
I pour out my speech before Him,
my distress before before Him I tell,
when my spirit faints within me,
You, You know my path.” (2-4a)

David explains that he is trapped and there is no obvious way of escape with no one is at hand to rescue him. In fact it appears no one even knows he is missing, which are dire straits indeed:
On the path on which I walk
they have laid a trap for me.
Look, on the right and see—
there is no one who knows me.
Escape is gone for me,
no one inquires for me.”  (4b, 5)

David does not merely converse with God nor does he merely raise his voice. He shouts at the top of his lungs, reminding God that he has been faithful and implying that it is now God’s turn to be faithful:
I shouted to You, O Lord.
I said, You are my shelter
my lot in the land of the living.
Listen close to my song of prayer,
for I have sunk very low.” (6, 7a)

He reminds God that he is one against many and that his strength is fading. But if God rescues him, he will tell everyone that it is God who rescued him:
Save me from my pursuers,
for they are too strong for me.
Bring me out from the prison
to acclaim Your name.” (7b, 8a)

And when he is rescued, his friends and allies will gather around him and all will presumably worship God:
For the righteous will draw round me
when You requite me.” (8b)

This is a model prayer for a desperate situation. It also reminds us that it is perfectly OK to shout at God and implore him for rescue. God does not need polite reverent phrases. And as we know from David’s story, God rescued David and in fact even gave him a chance to kill the Saul who fell asleep in the same cave, But David followed God and did not kill his enemy. God’s rescue was sufficient for David. As it should be for us. And David proved his faithfulness to the point fo becoming Israel’s greatest king.

Micah 3–5: Micah’s screed against “the leaders of Jacob” and especially its erstwhile prophets in their exploitation of the people is relentless and downright grisly:
Should you not embrace justice,
you who hate good and love evil;
who tear the skin from my people
    and the flesh from their bones;
who eat my people’s flesh,
    strip off their skin
    and break their bones in pieces;
who chop them up like meat for the pan,
    like flesh for the pot?” (3:1-3)

Unlike his fellow prophets writing about the Northern Kingdom, Israel, the greatest sin does not appear to be idolatry, but the perversion of justice that will lead to the destruction of Judah:
Hear this, you leaders of Jacob,
    you rulers of Israel,
who despise justice
    and distort all that is right;
Therefore because of you,
    Zion will be plowed like a field,
Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble,
    the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.” (3:9, 12)

Nevertheless, like all godo prophets, Micah envisions a restored and righteous Israel “in the last days” where,
The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
…we will walk in the name of the Lord
    our God for ever and ever. (4:2, 5
)

For us Christians, however, the highlight of this book is the promise of a Messiah who arises from Bethlehem:
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.
He will stand and shepherd his flock
    in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.” (5:2, 4)

It does not take a theologian to figure out who is referenced here, and as I recall the this prophecy is mentioned in several gospels. I’m especially struck by the line, “whose origins are from of old,/ from ancient times” which reads directly to John 1 as the Word that was with God at the beginning of time.

Revelation 12:7–13:10: With the appearance of the red dragon, war breaks out in heaven: “Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.” (12:7) The red dragon, now identified as Satan himself, “who leads the whole world astray. …was hurled to the earth,and his angels with him.” (12:9) Notice that Satan is far from dead and he now lives on earth.

In Revelation every disaster or battle is followed by an interlude of worship. This interlude takes the form of a voice from heaven that reads specifically, I think, to Rome’s persecution of Christians:
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
    who accuses them before our God day and night,
    has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
    by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony.” (12:10b, 11)

Meanwhile, back on earth, the dragon/Satan pursues “the woman who had given birth to the male child.” But in a scene right out of a fantasy novel (this book being the progenitor of the genre), the “woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness” (12:13) where she will rest for “a time, times and half a time” (I think that’s 3 1/2 years). At which Satan spews water and tries to drown her, but “the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.” (12:16)

Satan is pretty angry at this turn of events and goes off to “wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.” (12:17) This is one of those rare places where John makes it very clear that Christians will suffer persecution under the aegis of Rome, the Red Dragon, which as far as John is concerned, is Satan himself.

As if a red dragon pursuing a woman isn’t enough, John treats us to a great beast with “ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name” (13:1) arising out of the sea. The multi-headed beast is empowered by Satan and seems to me to be a clear reference to a succession Roman emperors—each one represented by a head—one of which has a “fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed.” (13:3)

This beast rules for 42 months—and therefore yet again this is one of those places where many Christians believe this is a forecast of the Great Tribulation yet to come at the end of history. In any event, the beast is quite successful in its war against Christians: “It was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. ” (13:7) The beast rules the entire world and as we can imagine, it has been identified as various historical figures who sought to rule the world, the most recent being Hitler and during the Cold War, the Soviet Union.

This section ends with John citing a poem or song that reads like a tautology:
If anyone is to go into captivity,
    into captivity they will go.
If anyone is to be killed with the sword,
    with the sword they will be killed.” (13:10a)

In other words, dear Christians, accept your fate. What will happen will happen. And again in a rare moment of clarity John advises his readers, “This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people.” (13:10b) Which is very similar to the patient endurance required to stumble through this book…

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