Psalm 144:1–4; Nahum 3; Habakkuk 1; Revelation 14:17–15:8

seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever

Psalm 144:1–4: This David song praises God as shelter and deliverer in military metaphors:
Blessed is the Lord, my rock,
Who trains my hands for battle,
my fingers for the fray.
My strength and my bastion,
my fortress and my deliverer.
My shield in which I shelter
Who tramples down peoples beneath me.” (1, 2)

God not only trains for battle but as the last line indicates, our psalmist believes he participates in battle. While I am not anxious to have God “trample down” those who oppose me, I’m with the psalmist in feeling that God does indeed stand at my side when I face difficult times—metaphorical battles, if you will. I certainly felt God at my side as I lay in the lead-lined room receiving radiation for my cancer. He is indeed my strength and bastion.

In the next two verses the tone of the psalms shifts to philosophical reflection, with a line that is strongly reminiscent of Psalm 139 and almost directly quotes Psalm 8:4:
Lord, what is a human creature that You should know him,
the son of man that You pay him mind?” (3)

Our psalmist touches on humankind’s ephemerality in the next verse, again a theme we see often in the Psalms:
The human is like unto breath,
his days like a passing shadow.” (4)

Our psalmist recognizes the vast gulf between God the Creator and we the created. As verse 4 indicates, this gulf exists in time as well as space. Out 70 or 80 years is but a mere breath in a universe that is 13 billion years old. Logic says that we humans are so small and insignificant—especially when we gaze out at the vastness of the universe—that God would pay us no heed. Yet, not only does God pay attention to us, and as the earlier verses indicate, protect us, but there is the stunning reality that God loves us.

Nahum 3: This obscure prophet is certainly the most cinematic of the minor prophets as he describes the horror of destruction of the city of Nineveh, which he calls “City of bloodshed” (1):
The crack of whip and rumble of wheel,
    galloping horse and bounding chariot!
Horsemen charging,
    flashing sword and glittering spear,
piles of dead,
    heaps of corpses,
dead bodies without end—
    they stumble over the bodies!
Yet she became an exile,
    she went into captivity;
even her infants were dashed in pieces
    at the head of every street;
lots were cast for her nobles,
    all her dignitaries were bound in fetters.” (2, 3, 10)

But perhaps the most striking image in this chapter of horrors is the metaphor of Nineveh as prostitute:
I am against you,
    says the Lord of hosts,
    and will lift up your skirts over your face;
and I will let nations look on your nakedness
    and kingdoms on your shame.” (5)

Who knew that the Bible contained such metaphorical imagery? Clearly, this book was written by an angry prophet. He is certainly capable of writing memorable lines of pure mockery as he speaks in God’s voice:
Look at your troops:
    they are women in your midst.
Your guards are like grasshoppers,
    your scribes like swarms of locusts
settling on the fences
    on a cold day—
Your shepherds are asleep,

    O king of Assyria;
    your nobles slumber.” (13, 17, 18)

This short but dramatic book ends with the announcement that every other nation is eager to witness Assyria’s downfall for one simple reason:
All who hear the news about you
    clap their hands over you.
For who has ever escaped
    your endless cruelty?” (19)

While the theology and potential life application of this book escapes me, it certainly would be a good source of colorful insults.

Habakkuk 1: This chapter seems like it belongs in Psalms since its opening verses certainly parallel a typical psalm of supplication:
Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
    and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
    and you will not save?” (2)

I like Habakkuk because he’s not afraid to ask God the tough questions. In what would serve nicely as a contemporary description of our world today—especially in the Mideast, our prophet asks God:
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
    and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
    and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
    therefore judgment comes forth perverted.” (3,4)

But unlike in the Psalms, here God replies to Habakkuk:
Look at the nations, and see!
    Be astonished! Be astounded!
For a work is being done in your days
    that you would not believe if you were told.” (3)

Habakkuk goes on to describe how God is “rousing the Chaldeans,/ that fierce and impetuous nation.” (6) And their arrival will not be a pretty sight:
Dread and fearsome are they;
    their justice and dignity proceed from themselves.
Their horses are swifter than leopards,

    more menacing than wolves at dusk; (7, 8a)

Habakkuk responds to God’s announcement with the same  puzzlement that we ask today: the eternal question of why God allows evil to apparently triumph over good:
Your eyes are too pure to behold evil,
    and you cannot look on wrongdoing;
why do you look on the treacherous,
    and are silent when the wicked swallow
    those more righteous than they?” (13)

To which I guess there will never be an answer…

Revelation 14:17–15:8: More angels holding sharp sickles who are commanded by an angel lurking inside the altar: “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” (14:18) Lest we think this angel is merely harvesting grapes, the grapes are a metaphor for humans who will be cut down and thrown into in an awful wine press and “the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse’s bridle, for a distance of about two hundred miles.” (14:20)

As far as I can figure out this is John’s vision of the destruction of the Roman empire. Although goodness knows, enough blood has been shed in wars across the centuries to supply the grim river of blood he describes here.

As we’ve observed, bad things seem to come in sevens—and here are seven plagues. But happily, they “are the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended.” (15:1) John holds off on describing the nature of the plagues but instead turns his attention to the image of a “sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands.” (15:2)

As usual, victory results in worship and here this large multitude of conquerors breaks into song, specifically “the song of Moses, the servant  of God, and the song of the Lamb.” (15:3) Given the juxtaposition of Moses and the Lamb, who is obviously Jesus Christ, John evisions a great coming together of Judaism (Moses) and Christianity (the Lamb). But this has not happened yet.

Nevertheless, they all sing a hymn of praise together. When the song is ended more sevens appear: “the temple of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues, robed in pure bright linen. Each of the seven angels is handed “seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever.” (15:7) The temple is filled with smoke and “no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were ended.” (15:8)

I have a feeling we’re about to find out what’s in the bowls. But if God has already triumphed over evil as it seems he has, why are there plagues to come. Once again, John’s logic and timeline are a complete mystery to me. Personally, I think he’s just having a good time to see how wild his imagination can run—and to drive anyone who reads his letter crazy—which was certainly a very effective way of keeping his seditious writings from being interpreted by the Romans…

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