Psalm 136; Hosea 8,9; Revelation 3:7–18

Originally published 11/29/2017. Revised and updated 11/28/2019.

Psalm 136: The Moravians must be doing catch-up by assigning us all 26 verses of this psalm. However, since every other line is “for His kindness is forever,” its content is really only 13 verses worth. With the repeated refrain following every line, it’s clear that this psalm of thanksgiving was sung antiphonally—much in the same way that many congregations today read (or sing) psalms responsively

The theme of the opening stanza is God’s creativity and his steadfast faithfulness:
Acclaim the greatest Master
for His kindness is forever.
Who alone performs great wonders,
for His kindness is forever. (3,4)

The stanza following reprises God’s creation of the universe as it parallels the Genesis story (we’ll omit the refrain):
Who makes the heavens in wisdom,
Who stamps firm the earth on the waters,
Who makes the great lights,
The sun for dominion of day
The moon and stars for dominion of night. (5-9)

Then, the psalm recounts Israel’s national story: its escape from Egypt:
Who strikes Egypt in its firstborn,
And brings out Israel from their midst,
With a string and an outstretched arm,
Who split the Reed Sea into parts,” (10-13)

Then, the wilderness journey and the conquest of Canaan, including naming the kings that they defeated:
Who struck down the great kings,
And killed mighty kings
Sihon, king of the Amorites,
And Og, king of Bashan,
And gave their land as an estate,
An estate for Israel His servant, (17-22)

The poet remembers how God rescued Israel:
Who recalled us when we were low,
And delivered us from our foes. (23-24)

Having moved through the creation story and Israel’s history, the psalm closes on a general thanksgiving for God’s providence:
Who gives bread to all flesh,
Acclaim the God of the heavens. (25-26)

The ultimate effect of this psalm is unity. Depsite individual differences, all Israel was united in acknowledging God’s action in creation and their national history. One cannot come away from this psalm without a feeling of strength and patriotism. I think if we Americans could somehow sing our own national history in unison as the Jews did here there would be greater understanding of where we came from, who we are, and a reminder that we have much more in common than the politics that rips us apart.

Hosea 8,9: Hosea continues his prophetic narration in God’s voice as  he catalogs Israel’s collective sin of idolatry and its failure to follow God’s law—as well as its hypocrisy:
Israel cries out to me,
‘Our God, we acknowledge you!’
But Israel has rejected what is good;
    an enemy will pursue him. (8:2, 3)

For their egregious sins, God’s punishment is inevitable as it is memorably decsribed in the famous verse,
They sow the wind
    and reap the whirlwind.  (8:7)

Both Israel and Judah are relying on their own efforts rather than trusting God. Out of this pride of self-sufficiency will come the whirlwind of destruction:
Israel has forgotten their Maker
    and built palaces;
    Judah has fortified many towns.
But I will send fire on their cities
    that will consume their fortresses. (8:14)

Needless to say, there’s a contemporary lesson here: Human pride and its attitude that God is superfluous will inevitably bring nations—including this one—to a bad end. Which is the entire point of chapter 9 as Hosea, still speaking in God’s voice, outlines Israel’s dreadful fate:
Do not rejoice, Israel;
    do not be jubilant like the other nations.
For you have been unfaithful to your God;
    you love the wages of a prostitute
    at every threshing floor. (9:1)

And for its manifold sins,
The days of punishment are coming,
    the days of reckoning are at hand.
    Let Israel know this.
Because your sins are so many
    and your hostility so great,
the prophet is considered a fool,
    the inspired person a maniac. (9:7)

Notice the personal note there. Obviously Hosea was considered to be a lunatic for speaking the truth. Which is exactly how we discount dire warnings today. I wonder how long we can get away with that same attitude to those speaking warnings about the dire path we as a culture are headed down? Will we meet the same fate as Israel? The final verse of this chapter describes exactly what happened in AD70 and the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem as the Jews lost their homeland and the centuries-long diaspora and persecution began:
My God will reject them
    because they have not obeyed him;
    they will be wanderers among the nations. (9:17)

Even prophecies that appear to be lunacy can come true.

Revelation 3:7–18: The churches at Philadelphia and Laodicea are today’s targets. Like Hosea, John seems to be speaking in God’s (or actually, I think, Christ’s) voice, describing the conditions at Philadelphia: “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (8) Sounding just like Ezekiel or Hosea, there are apparently some false believers “of the synagogue of Satan,” who will meet their deserved fate: “I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.” (9) But notice how different their fate will be under Christ rather than the angry OT God: they will “acknowledge that I (Christ) have loved you.” The terms of the New Covenant are certainly preferable to the old!

There’s an apocalyptic interlude here as John, eager to get on writing about his visions, promises Jesus’ imminent return to earth: “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” (11) And he gives us a hint of what will come in greater detail at the end of this book: “the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God.” (12) In effect, he’s telling the church to stay tuned. And of course 2000 years later, we are still waiting. But as always, we must remain alert.

John is less complimentary about the church at Laodicea, as he famously notes it is stuck in the middle between faith and apostasy—” I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (15, 16) The problem here is that the members of this church have deluded themselves, thinking they are all set theologically and “do not need a thing.” But it’s clear that this church has forgotten about compassion for its neighbors as we hear an echo of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: “you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (17) In short, they are focused on the things that really don’t matter but ignoring the things that do.

Which pretty much describes too many churches today, I’m afraid.

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