Psalm 144:9–15; Zephaniah 1,2; Revelation 16:12–21

Psalm 144:9–15: While the first half of this psalm celebrates asks for victory over enemies, this second half celebrates the fruits of peace. This celebration opens with a song of gratitude for rescue:
God, a new song O would sing to You,
a ten-stringed lute I would hymn to You.
Who grants rescue to kings,
redeems David His servant from the evil sword.” (9, 10)

A parenthetical final request to be free of the predations of enemies interrupts the celebration in what seems to be a scribal error that basically repeats verse seven and seems to have been inserted this verse in the wrong place:
Redeem me and save me from the foreigner’s hand,
whose mouth speaks falsely,
and whose right hand is the hand of lies.” (11)

The celebratory psalm then continues, rejoicing over children and includes a gorgeous simile about beautiful daughters:
While our sons are like saplings,
tended from their youth;
our daughters, like corner-pillars
hewn for the shape of a palace.” (12)

The “corner-pillars” are posts at the corners of a building, evidently carved into beautiful and sinuous shapes that his daughters resemble. The blessings of peace overflow in the land:
Our granaries are full,
dispensing food of every kind.
Our flocks are in the thousands,
ten thousands in our fields,
Our cattle, big with young.
There is no breach and none goes out,
and no screaming in our squares.” (13, 14)

That there is no screaming in the squares refers to the terrors of war, which are now finally gone. This psalm ends on an idyllic note with these images of a secure peace and a happy people:
Happy the people who has it thus,
happy the people whose God is the Lord.” (15)

This beautiful description of a land at peace is what we so desperately hope for but alas, is always beyond our grasp because of the evils and lies we humans persist in committing. Only in God can such peace be imagined, much less found.

Zephaniah 1,2: At least we get a description of who Zephaniah was and the time in which he prophesied, which was “in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah” (1)—one of Judah’s more righteous kings. That said, Zephaniah dishes out the pretty standard foretelling of bad things to come. As prophets do, Zephaniah speaks in the voice of God, who is pretty angry, appearing to regret that he’d promised Noah that he would not again destroy humankind:
I will utterly sweep away everything
    from the face of the earth, says the Lord.
I will sweep away humans and animals;

    I will sweep away the birds of the air
    and the fish of the sea.
I will make the wicked stumble
    I will cut off humanity
    from the face of the earth, says the Lord.” (1:2, 3)

And that includes Judah, which as usual, persists in its idol worship:
I will stretch out my hand against Judah,
    and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem;
and I will cut off from this place every remnant of Baal
    and the name of the idolatrous priests.” (1:4)

Zeph goes on in the same vein, predicting that
The great day of the Lord is near,
    near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter,
    the warrior cries aloud there.” (1:14)

It’s a pretty standard description of doom, which John obviously build on in Revelation with more dramatic flourishes:
That day will be a day of wrath,
    a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
    a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
     a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
    and against the lofty battlements.” (1:15, 16)

Trumpets seem to be the instrument of choice when it comes to announcing the end of history. In any event, something we need to remember is that the people’s wealth will not protect them:
Neither their silver nor their gold
    will be able to save them
    on the day of the Lord’s wrath” (1:18a)

The second chapter opens as Zephaniah demands repentance as the only possible escape from this terrible fate:
Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land,
    who do his commands;
seek righteousness, seek humility;
    perhaps you may be hidden
    on the day of the Lord’s wrath.” (2:3)

He goes on to tell us that Judah is not the only doomed nation predicting destruction for the Cherethites (2:4), the Philistines (2:5), and the Moabites (2:8), the Ethiopians (2:12), the Assyrians (2:13) As always, it is pride and smugness that leads to downfall:
Is this the exultant city
    that lived secure,
that said to itself,
    “I am, and there is no one else”?
What a desolation it has become,
    a lair for wild animals!” (2:15)

The prophetic foretelling of doom is, as always, interrupted parenthetically with the hope of rescue for the remnant that has remained faithful:
The seacoast shall become the possession
    of the remnant of the house of Judah,
    on which they shall pasture,
and in the houses of Ashkelon
    they shall lie down at evening.
For the Lord their God will be mindful of them
    and restore their fortunes.” (2:7)

As I read this depressing catalog I can envision no other end for our own empire that is so smug in its self-righteousness because general repentance certainly does not seem to be on the horizon.

Revelation 16:12–21: Bowl number six dries up the Euphrates river, which results in the bizarre image of “three foul spirits like frogs coming from the mouth of the dragon, from the mouth of the beast, and from the mouth of the false prophet.” (13) John explains that these are “demonic spirits performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty,” (14) which will be taking occurring “at the place that in Hebrew is called Harmagedon.” (16)

The narrative is interrupted by a parenthetical insertion that Jesus is coming again “like a thief” and that we had not only better stay awake but keep our clothes on.

John is certainly building a sense of urgency here. And that’s probably because the seventh angel “poured his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” (17) Which certainly seems like an echo of Jesus’ last words on the cross. Only this time the thing that is done is history as the world ends in cataclysm: “And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a violent earthquake, such as had not occurred since people were upon the earth, so violent was that earthquake. “(18), which causes “the great city” (presumably Rome), to be split into three parts.

At last, and sounding exactly like Zephaniah, John writes that “God remembered great Babylon and gave her the wine-cup of the fury of his wrath.” (19) which for me can be nothing else than the Roman empire itself. Just to make sure the destruction is complete, Joh adds a final touch, again echoing one of the original plagues visited on Egypt so many centuries ago: “huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds, dropped from heaven on people, until they cursed God for the plague of the hail, so fearful was that plague.” (21)

I’m pretty sure John’s readers at the seven churches were lapping up his descriptions of Rome’s destruction with great enthusiasm—not too different than we who sit in theatres and just as enthusiastically watch movies that include dramatic shots of widespread destruction as our hero triumphantly emerges from the rubble. John didn’t have our movie or TV technology, but his imagery is pretty unforgettable. If he were alive today I’m pretty sure he’d be a screenwriter.

 

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