Psalm 138:1–5; Hosea 13,14; Revelation 4:9–5:10

Originally published 12/01/2017. Revised and updated 11/30/2019.

Psalm 138:1–5: This psalm of thanksgiving opens what we might call over-the-top enthusiasm, although when praising God I think over-the-topness is exactly right. Words fail us when we really see God and attempt to comprehend what he has done for us:
I acclaim You with all my heart,
before gods I hymn to You.
I bow to Your holy temple,
I acclaim Your name
for Your kindness and steadfast truth,
for You have made Your word great across all Your heavens. (1, 2)

One wonders who these small-g gods are. My theory is that the psalmist praying in Jerusalem in its final corrupt stages before being conquered by Babylon. Perhaps the streets were littered with idols that our psalmist knows are merely impotent pieces of wood.

While we have read many psalms of supplication where God remains frustratingly silent, here God has answered quickly and imbued our psalmist with joyous strength:
On the day I called You answered me,
You made strength well up within me. (3)

Which certainly makes our psalmist joyous—and in that joy he envisions a time when the entire world will know and praise God:
all the kings of the earth will acclaim You, Lord,
for they have heard the words of Your mouth.
And they will sing of the ways of the Lord,
for great is the Lord’s glory. (4, 5)

This is one of those places where the psalms do such a marvelous job of stretching our imaginations to see what one day will be true. Just as the psalmist did not inhabit a world where all praised God neither do we. But I don’t think that diminishes the joyous thrust of these verses that remind us we can look forward to God’s restored creation, where all people from leaders and kings on down worship and praise the one true God.

Hosea 13,14: The final chapters of this book continue God’s monologue where he appears to vacillate between handing Israel the punishment it deserves as over against the inherent love he has for his people and his inextinguishable hope that they will one day repent and return to him. Chapter 13 opens with an angry God:
Now they sin more and more;
    they make idols for themselves from their silver,
cleverly fashioned images,
    all of them the work of craftsmen. (13:2a)

But the situation is far worse than images made of silver:
It is said of these people,
    “They offer human sacrifices!
    They kiss  calf-idols!  (13:2b)

That there is child sacrifice is a reminder of the pure evil that this idol-worship has engendered among formerly God-fearing people.

Then, God seems almost nostalgic about the people he cared for and who followed him:
I cared for you in the wilderness,
    in the land of burning heat.
When I fed them, they were satisfied; (13:5, 6a)

But now…. Now God’s anger emerges white hot in similes of ferocious, flesh-eating predators:
So I will be like a lion to them,
    like a leopard I will lurk by the path.
Like a bear robbed of her cubs,
    I will attack them and rip them open;
like a lion I will devour them—
    a wild animal will tear them apart. (13:7, 8)

But as always, there is the promise of God’s rescuing salvation if these people would simply repent, expressed here in a well-known verse:
I will deliver this people from the power of the grave;
    I will redeem them from death.
Where, O death, are your plagues?
    Where, O grave, is your destruction? (13:14)

But this brief intermezzo is followed an immediate swing back to an angry description of the gruesome fate awaiting an unrepentant Samaria:
They will fall by the sword;
    their little ones will be dashed to the ground,
    their pregnant women ripped open.  (13:16)

Chapter 14 opens with yet another call to repentance:
Return, Israel, to the Lord your God.
    Your sins have been your downfall!
Take words with you
    and return to the Lord. (14:1, 2)

All it will take to return to God and be forgiven is a simple vow—to “take words with us.” Which words Hosea then helpfully supplies for the remainder of the chapter. This passionate book ends with what I take to be the author’s message and the point of everything that has preceded this final verse:
Who is wise? Let them realize these things.
    Who is discerning? Let them understand.
The ways of the Lord are right;
    the righteous walk in them,
    but the rebellious stumble in them. (14:9)

Indeed! This is the bifurcation of humanity: those who follow God understand—and accept—what God is saying and look to God to lead their lives. But those who reject God, these words—and as we see in John, the Word himself—are stumbling blocks that they dismiss as errant nonsense.

What Hosea saw around him more than 2000 years ago we see around us today. Our human pride and its manifestation that we do not only do not need God to guide our affairs, we can pretend that he doesn’t even exist. We have foolishly convinced ourselves that we can do it all on our own. This is the great constant of fallen humanity. The humanity that would not listen to its prophets and to which he sent his own Son to rescue.

Revelation 4:9–5:10: Worship before the throne of God concludes when “the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever.” (4:10)  John provides us the words of the hymn they sing:
You are worthy, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they were created
    and have their being. (4:11)

I’m pretty sure these words have been set to music by someone somewhere.

Suddenly all is quiet in the room as John sees God on his throne holding a scroll sealed with seven seals. An angel asks who is worthy to open the scroll. John’s sadness at the fact that no one steps up causes him to cry, but one of the elders leans down and tells him, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” (5:5)

Suddenly John sees a slain lamb which has “seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” (5:6) The lamb takes the scroll, which causes a new round of worship to occur: “And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.” (5:8) John, who must have been a musician or lyricist in his former life, provides us another worship song—this one about lamb’s sacrifice:
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. (5:9)

It’s really not that difficult at this point to figure out that the slain lamb represents Jesus Christ. And that the recurring ‘sevens’ represent the seven churches to whom John is writing. However, other scenes yet to come will prove more difficult to figure out…

My view of this scene and this entire book is that it is a coded or symbolic message to the seven churches John is writing to. These churches already are or shortly will be enduring persecution by the Roman authorities as they see the popularity of this new Jewish sect as a threat to Pax Romana. In short, Revelation is a subversive book and John is writing in deliberately symbolic language for the simple purpose of protecting its recipients should it fall into the hands of the Roman authorities. They would read it and because they would see it as the nonsensical scrawlings of an obscure political prisoner, dismiss it out of hand. In short, I think Revelation is a coded message to the seven churches about Roman persecution and the great promise of Jesus Christ. And we should read it in the context of the fraught times in which John is writing.

I do not believe Revelation has anything to say about events yet to come, nor that it is predicting anything beyond what was happening in Asia at the end of the first century CE. This view is doubtless anathema to many evangelicals, but so be it. It’s still a lot of fun to read.

Speak Your Mind