Psalm 144:5–8; Habakkuk 2,3; Revelation 16:1–11

Writing from Reston, Virginia today where I’m reviewing research grant proposals for the Prostate Cancer Research Program administered by the DOD.

Psalm 144:5–8: Well, you’ve got to give this psalmist credit for one of the more creative supplications against his enemies that we’ve yet encountered:
Lord, tilt Your heavens and come down,
but touch the mountains, that they smoke.
Crack lightning and scatter them,
send forth Your bolts and panic them.” (5, 6)

In short—and sounding like one of the last scenes in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’— only a full-fledged theophany, a demonstration of God’s overwhelming power to literally move heaven and earth, will suffice for these vile enemies. It’s also an interesting way to ask for their destruction without directly asking God to zap them. Rather, they will meet their deserved demise by virtue of God acting through nature. Pretty clever.

At the same time, our psalmist writes, he seeks rescue from the floods that God’s action has create. But above all he wants to be rescued from the snare of his lying enemies:
Send forth Your hand from on high,
redeem me and save me from the many waters,
from the foreigners’ hand,
whose mouth speaks falsely,
and whose right hand is a right hand of lies.” (7,8)

Notice how God’s powerful hand is contrasted to the deceiving right hand of the psalmist’s enemies. In that culture, the right hand was the hand of power and truth. And his enemies have corrupted that all-important symbol with their lies. Which is also why we need to be vigilant. It’s too easy to be swept into the lies of politicians whose soothing but deceptive words appear to have our interests at heart when in fact it only their power they care about. Nevertheless, since Jesus changed the rules we probably should not pray for a natural disaster to take them out.

Habakkuk 2,3: God answers Habakkuk’s complaint:
Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision;
    make it plain on tablets,
    so that a runner may read it.” (2:2)

However, it “speaks of the end” (2:3a), which I take to be the end of history. Which means we should be patient:
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
    it will surely come, it will not delay.” (2:3b)

This is the same advice Peter gives us when he says that as far as God is concerned, a thousand years is but a day.

Habakkuk’s voice-of-God speech has some interesting and trenchant observations, inevitably first about pride:
Look at the proud!
    Their spirit is not right in them,
    but the righteous live by their faith.” (2:4)

And what is also surely true today:
Moreover, wealth  is treacherous;
    the arrogant do not endure.

    like Death they never have enough.” (2:5)

An entire poem about the woes about to rain down on the arrogant wicked ensues:
Because you have plundered many nations,
    all that survive of the peoples shall plunder you—”
You have devised shame for your house
    by cutting off many peoples;
    you have forfeited your life.” (2:8, 10)

And in a verse particularly apropos for our current time:
Is it not [trying to escape] from the Lord of hosts
    that peoples labor only to feed the flames,
    and nations weary themselves for nothing?” (2:13)

Wow. That verse pretty much sums up our current culture of outrage with cable TV news and social media only fanning the flames. The poem goes on to describe the costs of violence and futility of  idols and ends on the all-important reminder:
But the Lord is in his holy temple;
    let all the earth keep silence before him!” (2:20)

Chapter 3 is Habakkuk’s prayer, which is pretty much a psalm of praise in which God rescues Israel from its enemies, as e.g.:
You came forth to save your people,
    to save your anointed.
You crushed the head of the wicked house,
    laying it bare from foundation to roof.” (3:13)

This chapter is more proof that human nature is immutable and wickedness is endemic, but also that we need to remember that God still rules even when the culture seems to be collapsing around us. It is in this obscure little book where we find enormous encouragement. God still rules and because of that we can rejoice:
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    and makes me tread upon the heights.” (3:18, 19)

Revelation 16:1–11: Here come the seven bowls of God’s wrath about to be poured out on the earth. This section certainly echoes the plagues that God brought on Egypt in the efforts to release the Israelites. John seems to be really enjoying himself as he describes the woes about to come on to those who rejected God. It’s pretty much like what we just read in Habakkuk, but with more dramatic flourish. The bowls come in order as a kind of anti-creation story as God dismantles his creation:

  1. Foul and painful sores “on those who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped its image.” (2)
  2. Everything the sea dies.
  3. Rivers and springs turn to blood (just like Nile did).
  4. The sun comes close to the earth and is “allowed to scorch people with fire; they were scorched by the fierce heat, but they cursed the name of God.” (8, 9)
  5. the bowl is poured “on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness; people gnawed their tongues in agony.” (10)

Even so, “and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and sores, and they did not repent of their deeds.” (11)

We should point out that John interrupts himself between bowls 3 and 4 for a the inevitable, albeit brief, moment of worship: “I heard the angel of the waters say,

“You are just, O Holy One, who are and were,
    for you have judged these things;
because they shed the blood of saints and prophets,
    you have given them blood to drink.
It is what they deserve!” (5, 6)

This judgement is validated by the voice behind (in?) the altar in the throne room of heaven:
Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty,
    your judgments are true and just!” (7)

While John has certainly left vengeance in God’s hands, he is at pains to point out that the wicked justly deserve whatever woes that come to him. And frankly, he seems kind of happy about it. Just like Habakkuk.

There are two more bowls to come, as John points out again and again that no matter their suffering the people who worshipped the beast/ Satan did not repent. We humans are stubborn fools, aren’t we?

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