Psalm 133; Daniel 11:20–12:7; Revelation 1:9–20

Originally published 11/24/2017. Revised and updated 11/23/2019.

Psalm 133: This compact psalm celebrates the pleasures of a group of men, perhaps priests, in fellowship together:
Look, how good and how pleasant
is the dwelling of brothers together. (1)

Of course in today’s culture we would be looking suspiciously at a group of men gathered around enjoying each other’s company, especially when we we read the simile that follows:
Like goodly oil on the head
coming down over the beard,
Aaron’s beard that comes down
over the opening of his robe. (2)

Apparently anointing one’s head with olive oil was a luxury of the time. Today we call that aroma therapy. This verse also reveals that Aaron (and I suspect all high priests that succeeded him) had a very long beard…

Our psalmist emphasizes the pleasure of the anointing by using another simile that reminds us that God is behind this pleasure, just as God is behind all the pleasures the psalmist enjoys—and that we enjoy:
Like Hermon’s dew that comes down
on the parched mountains
For there the Lord ordained the blessing—
life forevermore. (3, 4)

This psalm is truly an oasis and reminds us that sometimes we should just sit back and enjoy the blessings God has given us—a highly appropriate theme for this Thanksgiving season.

Daniel 11:20–12:7: This endless speech by the angel explaining what Daniel’s vision meant certainly provides ample fodder for those who like to speculate what may happen at the end of history. There are ongoing battles between the king of the north and the king of the south. —and further amplification about the desolating abomination and its charismatic leader: “Forces sent by him shall occupy and profane the temple and fortress. They shall abolish the regular burnt offering and set up the abomination that makes desolate.” (11:31) Happily, though, not everyone will be fooled by the pretence of this leader: “He shall seduce with intrigue those who violate the covenant; but the people who are loyal to their God shall stand firm and take action.” (11:32)

There seems to be a pretty clear description of the rule of Antiochus Epiphanes: “The king shall act as he pleases. He shall exalt himself and consider himself greater than any god, and shall speak horrendous things against the God of gods. He shall prosper until the period of wrath is completed, for what is determined shall be done. (11:36)

Finally, this tyrant’s rule comes to its end: “At the time of the end the king of the south shall attack him. But the king of the north shall rush upon him like a whirlwind, with chariots and horsemen, and with many ships.” (11:40) And the sycophants who followed him will abandon him to his fate: “He shall pitch his palatial tents between the sea and the beautiful holy mountain. Yet he shall come to his end, with no one to help him.” (11:45)

This all makes me wonder if this passage—especially about the “people who are loyal to their God shall stand firm and take action” is a reference to the Maccabean revolt, 167 to 160 BCE.

There is a sudden shift in chapter 12 to what many evangelicals believe is a description of the 7 year Tribulation that will occur at the end of history, including a resurrection of the dead—everyone, both good and bad: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (12:2) I have to admit it’s difficult to square this section with the end described in Jesus’ Olivet discourse (Matthew 24-26) since it’s clear that no resurrection of the dead has yet occurred. IN the end (so to speak), I think it’s pretty foolhardy to rely on this cryptic passage as a clear forecast of what will occur at the end of history.

Daniel is sternly instructed to “keep the words secret and the book sealed until the time of the end. Many shall be running back and forth, and evil shall increase.” (12:4) I have to confess that it certainly feels like there is an abnormal amount of “running back and forth” in our present American culture as it abandons its Christian roots. Of course that phrase has been levied against all kinds of horrors down through history.

Revelation 1:9–20: John of Patmos describes exactly how he was inspired to write this book—and like what is to come in subsequent chapters, it was quite a dramatic encounter. What we should take as an angelic proclamation came to him a what I take to be a trance-like state: “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” (10)

OK, there have been lots of angelic visitations, including the really long one we’re reading about in Daniel. But what John describes next is unprecedently dramatic—it kind of makes Daniel’s vision down by the Tigris River look pretty wimpy: “Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands,  and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest.” (13) John goes on to describe the Son of man’s appearance: white hair, eyes like a flame, feet like burnished bronze and holding seven stars. But then what I think is the most dramatic if ather bizarre image of all: from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.” (16)

John’s vision is clearly that of Jesus Christ, who as heavenly visitors always do, first reassures John “Do not be afraid.” Christ continues, “I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades.” (18) If we ever needed a description of the unfathomable power of the resurrected Jesus it’s right here.

The Son of Man helpfully interprets part of the vision: “As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” (20) Unfortunately, as this book continues, Jesus will not show up to interpret things. We’ll be left pretty much on our own to decipher John’s writing.

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