Psalm 143:7–12; Nahum 1,2; Revelation 14:6–16

Psalm 143:7–12: In the last half of this psalm our poet utters some pretty standard supplications, one of which is for God to answer his plea on his preferred timetable before he turns into a person like his enemies:
Quick, answer me. O Lord,
my spirit pines away.
Do not hide YOur face from me,
lest I be like those gone down to the Pit.
Let me hear Your kindness in the morning
for in You I trust.” (7, 8a)

That’s an interesting if theologically questionable request. Do we really turn into bad people if God does not answer our prayers on our schedule? I suppose the more anodyne interpretation here is that our poet reciprocates his faithfulness, drawing it out of  God’s own faithfulness.
Let me know the way I should go,
for to You I lift up my being.
Save me from my enemies, Lord;
with You is my vindication” (8b, 9)

In fact, he is asking God for guidance to make the right decision, which is certainly something we too can pray. I know I would benefit if I prayed for God’s guidance more often than I do.

In an echo of Psalm 119, our poet looks to God as his teacher—what I suppose today we would call a “life coach:”
Teach me to do what will please You,
for You are my God.
Let Your goodly spirit guide me on level ground.” (10)

The psalmist circles back around to his plea for God’s rescue from whatever situation—which he does not describe—he finds himself in and to rescue him from his unnamed enemies:
For the sake of Your name, Lord, give me life,
in Your bounty bring me from the straits.” (11)

And no psalm would really be complete without a final wish for God to annihilate his enemies (sarcasm intended):
And in Your kindness devastate my enemies
and destroy all my bitter foes,
for I am Your servant.” (12)

I have to admit that the idea of God’s kindness being expressed as devastating one’s enemies is rather disturbing. I’m glad Jesus pretty much put an end to the prayers that tout the supplicant’s goodness and faithfulness while wishing doom on one’s enemies.

Nahum 1,2: All we learn about who Nahum is is that he is from some place called Elkosh. This prophet wastes no time or words announcing God’s anger is about to be directed against someone or some place:
A jealous and avenging God is the Lord,
    the Lord is avenging and wrathful;
the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries
    and rages against his enemies.” (1:2)

As usual the poetry swings between destruction and salvation. As our psalmist has observed above, if we are faithful to God, he is faithful to us:
The Lord is good,
    a stronghold in a day of trouble;
he protects those who take refuge in him,
even in a rushing flood.” (1:7)

Nahum seems to be directing his message at some kind of conspiracy:
From you one has gone out
    who plots evil against the Lord,
    one who counsels wickedness.” (1:11)

But even though Judah is the target of this conspiracy, God will still strike down the conspirator—”I will make your grave, for you are worthless.” (1:14)—and preserve the nation:
Celebrate your festivals, O Judah,
    fulfill your vows,
for never again shall the wicked invade you;
    they are utterly cut off.” (1:15)

It is in chapter 2 that we learn that while God will protect Judah, the enemy is Nineveh and Nahum uses some pretty dramatic images to describe its downfall due its temerity:
The chariots race madly through the streets,
    they rush to and fro through the squares;
their appearance is like torches,
    they dart like lightning.” (2:4)

Devastation, desolation, and destruction!
    Hearts faint and knees tremble,
all loins quake,
    all faces grow pale!” (2:10)

The chapter concludes with Nahum speaking in the voice of God: “See, I am against you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will burn your[h] chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions; I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall be heard no more.” (2:13) As we know, Nineveh is indeed no more. But I have to ask: did Nahum’s prophecy come true after Jonah’s visit to them when the great city repented? In order to merit such definitive destruction this would mean that Nineveh fell back into its old evil ways and tried to conquer Judah.

Revelation 14:6–16: As we have observed before, Revelation oscillates between scenes of evil and destruction and scenes of God’s intervention and worship. This time it’s three angels making announcements. The first angel announces “an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live  on the earth—to every nation and tribe and language and people.” (6) The day of judgement apparently has arrived and the angel shouts “in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (7)

A second angel arrives, announcing, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” (8)

A third angel, sounding very much like an Old Testament prophet, announces that all who have worshipped “the beast and its image, [will] receive a mark on their foreheads or on their hands, they will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger.” (9) And so on.

For me this is John telling the churches that one day in the future the persecuting Rome will fall and God’s kingdom will be triumphant. To a certain extent this is exactly what happened when the emperor Constantine established Christianity as the official religion of Rome around CE 330.

But in the meantime, John reminds his churches, “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus.” (12) He includes an additional encouragement for those who have been martyred for their Christian beliefs: “Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.” (13)

John looks up and sees “a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand!” (14) This must be Jesus himself, who as we say in the Creed, “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”

This event appears to be at the end of history which still lies in our future as much as laid in in John’s.  The earth has reached its saturation point and the angel calls to the one sitting on the throne, “Use your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” (15) I’m guessing that all those who worshipped the beast rather than God are about to get their deserved comeuppance.

This section is definitely an echo of what we read in Nahum today when Nineveh was destroyed. As always, John uses his fertile imagination to make the scene orders of magnitude more dramatic than Nahum or any of the other OT prophets.

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