Psalm 138:6–8; Joel 1:1–2:14; Revelation 5:11–6:8

Originally published 12/02/2017. Revised and updated 12/02/2019.

Psalm 138:6–8: Our psalmist reminds us that even though God is infinitely greater than we are and even though he may seem far away, he knows our entire being—our thoughts, our actions, our words, our relationships. And this includes “the lofty”—which would be the high and mighty of the land. However, I also take them to be those who presume to see themselves greater than God, or those who think there is no God and that they mistakenly think they can get away with anything they desire:
For high is the Lord yet the lowly He sees,
and the lofty, from a distance, He knows. (6)

In a verse that’s not quite as poetic, but highly reminiscent of Psalm 23, our psalmist speaks of God’s all-encompassing protection and more crucially, that God rescues the poet from the wiles of enemies out to ruin him:
Though I walk in the midst of straits,
You give me life in spite of my enemies’ wrath.
You stretch out Your hand,
and Your right hand rescues me.” (7)

What is true for the psalmist is equally true for us. Since God knows our entire being, he is fully aware of those who would do us harm. God is truly our Great Protector.

The final verse again reminds us of God’s ineffable faithfulness. The last line is a reminder that we are indeed God’s creatures—his handiwork—and we will never be abandoned by the God who created us:
The Lord will requite me.
O Lord, Your kindness is forever.
Do not let go of Your handiwork. (8)

Joel 1:1–2:14: All we know about Joel is that he is the son of a certain Pethuel. This prophet wastes no time in describing a catastrophe in Israel that is greater than any before or since:
Has anything like this ever happened in your days
    or in the days of your ancestors?
Tell it to your children,
    and let your children tell it to their children,
    and their children to the next generation. (1:2, 3)

Joel describes the invading enemy as a seemingly unending plague of locusts. And yet Israel appears to be oblivious to the danger as Joel shouts into the wind to a society consumed in excess:
Wake up, you drunkards, and weep!
    Wail, all you drinkers of wine;
wail because of the new wine,
    for it has been snatched from your lips. (1:5)

Disaster stalks the land as Joel tells the priests in the temple to “put on sackcloth” and famine stalks the land—doubtless arising from the siege of Jerusalem by Babylon:
Has not the food been cut off
    before our very eyes—
joy and gladness
    from the house of our God?
The seeds are shriveled
    beneath the clods.
The storehouses are in ruins,
    the granaries have been broken down,
    for the grain has dried up. (1:16, 17)

Famine is followed by invasion. This disaster can mean only one thing to the prophet: the end of history and the dawning of the Day of the Lord as he pronounces certain doom:
Let all who live in the land tremble,
    for the day of the Lord is coming.
It is close at hand—
a day of darkness and gloom,
    a day of clouds and blackness. (2:1, 2)

Joel’s language is cinematic as he describes the invasion:
They plunge through defenses
    without breaking ranks.
They rush upon the city;
    they run along the wall.
They climb into the houses;
    like thieves they enter through the windows. (2:8b, 9)

But even in this time of catastrophe, there is hope as Jeol implores all who would listen:
Even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.” (2:12)

We arrive at the theological heart of Joel’s pleas in the most famous verse in this short book:
Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity. (2:13)

Like our psalmist today, Joel knows God’s faithfulness. Above all, God is a God of limitless love. All we need to do is repent. But we cannot fully return to God with just our words or even with our actions. We must return with our whole heart, our entire being. As Oswald Chambers has it, we must abandon our entire being to God.

Even with this promise, there is a bit of doubt for Joel. But this is a doubt based in the idea that perhaps Israel’s sins—and our sins— are too enormous for even God to forgive:
Who knows? He may turn and relent
    and leave behind a blessing— (2:14)

This final verse tells me that even though God is always faithful we human creatures will still doubt. The reality for me is, absent a scintilla of doubt, there can never be true faith.

Revelation 5:11–6:8: The slain lamb—Jesus Christ—has taken the sealed scroll and there is immediate worship as “many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand” (5:11) join in and all sing a new hymn together—words that inspired Handel:
Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!” (5:12)

John’s account of the great throne room worship scene concludes as all creation joins in singing: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
    be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!” (5:13)

With the worship scene concluded John turns his full attention to the opening of the seals. The first four seals each bring forth one of what we know as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:

  • “a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.” (6:2)
  • Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other. ” (6:4)
  • there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand.” (6:5)
  •  “I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him.” (6:8)

Needless to say there’ve been numerous interpretations. Mine are:

White horse: The Roman empire
Red horse: the invasion of Jerusalem by Titus in 70CE, which had occurred before John wrote this book.
Black horse: Slavery and economic oppression
Pale horse: exactly what it says: death.

But then again, it could be a lot of different things. One thing I am sure of: it is not a forecast of future events.

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