Psalm 145:1–7; Zephaniah 3; Haggai 1; Revelation 17:1–8

Psalm 145:1–7: Alter informs us that this is the only psalm that’s specifically called “a song of praise,” although there are certainly many other psalms that praise God—and the last six psalms are all praise songs. This is also an acrostic psalm with each verse beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet (except for ‘nun.’)

Rather than parsing theological meaning let’s just sit back and enjoy the music and words. (Oh, and just to note, there are no endless repetitions in this song of praise, which cannot be said of too many contemporary praise songs.)

Let me exalt You, my God the king,
    and let me bless Your name forevermore.
Every day let me bless You,
    and let me praise Your name forevermore.
Great is the LORD and highly praised,
    and His greatness cannot be fathomed.
Let one generation to the next extol Your deeds
    and tell of Your mighty acts.
Of the grandeur of Your glorious majesty
    and Your wondrous acts let me treat.
And the power of Your awesome deeds let them say,
     and Your greatness let me recount.
The fame of Your great goodness they utter,
     and of Your bounty they joyously sing.” (1-7)

Notice how the second line of each verse begins with ‘and.’ One comes away with the sense of breathlessness that God possesses so many magnificent qualities it is impossible to list them all.

The other fascinating thing is how God’s qualities and human worship are so deeply intertwined, which is demonstrated by the verbs in each verb.  We “praise” (2); we “extol” ( 4); we “treat” (5); we “reconut” (6); we “utter” (7) and above all, we “sing.” As is always the case in Psalms, it is speaking and singing aloud. God is so great we cannot keep our joy hidden inside. We must speak and sing aloud in community.

Zephaniah 3: At this point we can see that all these prophets used basicallY the same formula: castigation of Israel, castigation of other nations, the possibility of rescue for a few God-Followers, and sometimes a song of joy  This chapter contains all four prophetic forms:

1. The wickedness of Israel or Judah or Jerusalem. specially of its leaders. judges, other prophets(!), and priests:
The officials within it
    are roaring lions;
its judges are evening wolves
    that leave nothing until the morning.
Its prophets are reckless,
    faithless persons;
its priests have profaned what is sacred,
    they have done violence to the law.” (3, 4)

2. The punishment of surrounding nations that have had the temerity to try and oppress the Jews, usually expressed as the end of history or the “Day of the Lord.”
For my decision is to gather nations,
    to assemble kingdoms,
to pour out upon them my indignation,
    all the heat of my anger;
for in the fire of my passion
    all the earth shall be consumed.” (8)

3. The salvation for the remnant  of Israel  (1,that follows and obeys God:
For I will leave in the midst of you
    a people humble and lowly.
They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord
   the remnant of Israel;
they shall do no wrong
    and utter no lies,” (12, 13)

4. A song of joy usually describing God’s rescue and usually set far in the future in the form of the end of history—a theme John of Revelation takes up with creative vengeance. The concluding verse of this short book is especially affecting:
At that time I will bring you home,
    at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
    among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
    before your eyes, says the Lord.” (20)

Perhaps it would be fun to craft a book of prophecy using this formula that would be appropriate to our own culture…

Haggai 1: Like Zephaniah, Haggai is set in a specific time and place: “in the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai” (1a) This little book is remarkable in that it identifies exactly to whom Haggai is delivering his prophetic message as verse 1 continues: “to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest” (1b)

Haggai’s challenge is to tell the officials and high priest, who have taken care of their own needs first that it’s time to get on with rebuilding the temple that had been destroyed by the Babylonian invasion—and that officialdom is basically doing nothing: “Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? ” (4)

Haggai then makes an economic argument that by having failed to rebuild the temple they are stuck in mediocrity and frankly, even poverty when things could be so much better: “Consider how you have fared. You have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and you that earn wages earn wages to put them into a bag with holes.” (6) He’s forcing them to examine the root cause of that less than optimal situation.

Haggai points out that God has withheld rain and brought economic woe for one simple reason: “Because my house lies in ruins, while all of you hurry off to your own houses. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce.” (9, 10)

Unlike just about every other prophet (and maybe because he wasn’t shouting excoriations at them), the people take Haggai’s message to heart: “then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, and Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of the prophet Haggai, as the Lord their God had sent him; and the people feared the Lord.” (12)

At last! A prophet who is willing to have conversation by sitting down and simply telling them what god has said rather than shouting in their faces. And what do you know: people respond. Haggai’s a prophet I wouldn’t mind inviting to dinner.

Revelation 17:1–8: Following his old testament prophetic lead John uses that favorite metaphor: the nations as a whore. One of the seven bowl-pouring angels tells John: Come, I will show you the judgment of the great whore who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and with the wine of whose fornication the inhabitants of the earth have become drunk.” (1,2)

This obviously (to me anyway) a barely disguised reference to the Roman empire. John goes on to be even more specific: “I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication.” (3, 4) I’m pretty sure that the woman is in fact the Roman emperor. 

If his readers haven’t figured out the metaphor by now, John then gives them another broad hint: “on her forehead was written a name, a mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of whores and of earth’s abominations.” (5) Any Jews in his audience would quickly put two and two together: in the same way the original Babylon conquered Jerusalem, so too, Titus conquered Jerusalem in 70 CE.

One more pretty obvious statement: the woman, i.e. Rome, is persecuting Christians: “And I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses to Jesus.” (6)

John is amazed at all this and the angel looks quizzically at him and speaks as if John is being an idiot: “Why are you so amazed? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her.” (7) But then, rather than being direct in the way we thought he was about to b,e the angel speaks in a riddle: “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to ascend from the bottomless pit and go to destruction.” (8) The concatenation of verb tenses—”was,” “is”, “is about to”—suggests that the beast/ Satan has always been around but that at ome future date will finally meet his end. And although the Roman empire may think of itself as eternal, it too will meet its well-deserved destruction.

 

 

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