Psalm 134; Daniel 12:8–Hosea 2:15; Revelation 2:1–11

Originally published 11/25/2017. Revised and updated 11/25/2019.

Psalm 134: This very succinct psalm appears to be directed to those worshippers who remain at the temple overnight:
Look, bless the Lord,
all you servants of the Lord,
who stand in the Lord’s house through the nights.
Lift up your hands toward the holy place
and bless the Lord. (1, 2)

Perhaps these are the people who tend the fires that are never extinguished, or even perhaps the those who cleaned the public areas at night. It’s a helpful reminder that churches require tending to: maintenance, security, cleaning—all the things that go on behind the scenes to ensure a place to worship that reflects our desire to present our very best to God.

Moreover, these folks also worship God through their quotidian but highly necessary tasks and are worthy of our complete respect. With the psalmist we should say to them when we encounter them,
May the Lord bless you from Zion,
He who makes heaven and earth. (3)

Daniel 12:8–Hosea 2:15: Perhaps the Moravians just want to torture us one last time with one last snippet from the frustrating book of Daniel before allowing us to move on to the minor prophets…

This weird chapter of this very odd book ends with one last pronouncement and one final, highly specific prophecy by the angel as Daniel stands down at the bank of the Tigris. The angel’s pronouncement is eternally true: “Many shall be purified, cleansed, and refined, but the wicked shall continue to act wickedly. None of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand.” (12:10) Which certainly seems like an apt description of our present governmental leadership. Except I’m not sure there are any wise men—or even mature adults— remaining in Washington DC.

The final prophecy is strikingly precise, which I suppose is what the authors did in order to give it one final air of authenticity. Or perhaps they wrote this after the fact: “From the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that desolates is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred ninety days. Happy are those who persevere and attain the thousand three hundred thirty-five days.” (12:11, 12) Once again, my take is that this os a prophecy (or perhaps a recounting) of the desecration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes (2290 days hence) and his eventual overthrow by the Maccabean revolt (3335 days). Or maybe it means something completely different…

But what the angel says to Daniel in the book’s last line seems also appropriate for all of us who have struggled to understand this puzzling and often frustrating book: “But you, go your way, and rest; you shall rise for your reward at the end of the days.” (12:13)

And so we meet Hosea which opens just as weirdly as the book of Daniel concluded. God commands the prophet, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” (2) Hosea, being a obedient prophet, marries a certain Gomer who bears him a son, whom God commands Hosea to Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel.” (1:4)

Then Hosea fathers a daughter to be named “Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them.” (1:6) A third child arrives and God commands, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God.” (1:8) I’m pretty sure that unlike Hosea I would strongly resist having to give my children whose names that are essentially an early form of tweeting a message to all Israel…

But even though God is truly angry at Israel, he always holds out hope of the nation’s eventual redemption: “in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” (1:10)

Chapter 2 is a long poem which appears to be written in God’s voice. A disobedient wife is a metaphor for the nation of Israel and will be duly punished by an angry husband. [We need to remember not to inject our modern values and behaviors on this ancient poem, but it is nonetheless disturbing]:
I will strip her naked
    and expose her as in the day she was born,
and make her like a wilderness,
    and turn her into a parched land,
    and kill her with thirst.
Upon her children also I will have no pity,
    because they are children of whoredom. (2:3, 4)

And then the (in)famous line:
For their mother has played the whore;
    she who conceived them has acted shamefully. (2:5)

As usual, the problem is Israel’s predilection to worship small-g gods and their associated evil rites such as child sacrifice. But even worse, they have forgotten the true God:
I will punish her for the festival days of the Baals,
    when she offered incense to them

    and forgot me, says the Lord. (2:13)

Nevertheless, as always, there is a glimmer of hope amidst the curses:
Therefore, I will now allure her,
    and bring her into the wilderness,
    and speak tenderly to her.
From there I will give her her vineyards,
    and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. (2:14, 15)

The lesson here is that even in their hideous apostasy, God never ever gave up on Israel—and he never ever gives up on us.

Revelation 2:1–11: Chapters 2 and 3 are seven brief  sermons, one each to each of the seven churches of Asia. What’s strikes me on reading this is that every one of the seven churches could read what John wrote not only to themselves but to the other six churches as well. I wonder how each church felt having its dirty laundry aired to a bunch of other churches?

The first letter to the church at Ephesus commends them for “your works, your toil and your patient endurance.” (2) and that they do not tolerate “evildoers.” But everything is not hunky dory: “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” (4) There is a clear lesson here for us: there’s no point in even having a church if it is not a loving church. What Paul wrote in I Corinthians 13 applies to every church. [I wonder if the church at Ephesus was aware of Paul’s letter before the NT was compiled into a single volume a few centuries after these letters were written.] Alas, I suspect that a majority of congregations today could easily have these same charges leveled against them.

Next comes the church at Smyrna and John does not mince words: “I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich.” (9) We assume the affliction and poverty is not about economic issues but about an absence of love. John warns them of tougher times yet to come—doubtless persecution by the Romans: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (10, 11)

My take is that of we in the church are focused on trivialities and not on Jesus and on love for each other, we will be unable to stand up against political pressure of both the prevailing culture and the state. I suspect that the American church will bear more than a passing resemblance to the church at Smyrna in the years to come.

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