Psalm 139:7–12; Amos 1,2; Revelation 7:9–17

Originally published 12/05/2017. Revised and updated 12/04/2019.

Psalm 139:7–12: Our psalmist’s imagination soars as he reflects on God’s omnipresence. In verse 7 he asks rhetorically if there is any place where God is not already there—or if there is any possible place God would try to escape from:
Where can I go from Your spirit,
and where from before You flee? (7)

The answer is obvious as our poet attempts to imagine himself flying to the very ends of the earth, if not the universe—and even to the Jewish place of death:
If I soar to the heavens You are there,
if I bed down in Sheol—there You are.
If I take wing with the dawn,
if I dwell at the ends of the sea,
there, too, Your hand leads me,
and Your right hand seizes me. (8-10)

The key though here is that not only is God present, he is actively part of our lives. He is the God who leads us through our lives, including even to the place of death. And he is the rescuing God no matter in what straits we might find ourselves.

Our psalmist then attempts a kind of thought experiment, trying to envision a place of opposites where darkness is a kind of perverse light as he wonders if some kind of eternal night could exist in God’s all-encompassing presence:
Should I say, ‘Yes, darkness will swathe me,
and the night will be light for me,
Darkness itself will not darken for You,
and the night will light up like the day. (11, 12)

In short, wherever God is, there is light. I’m sure Jesus had these verses in mind when he said, “I am the light of the world.” Of course it’s difficult to hide from a God who is the very definition of light. which is what Peter discovered that fateful night when he denied Jesus in the darkness and dawn’s rooster revealed not only the physical light of the rising sun, but God’s spiritual light that fully revealed what he had done. Despite our attempts to escape God, even to the point of denying him, these verses remind us that God is omnipresent and inescapable.

Amos 1,2: The editors assembling the Old Testament provide very precise details about who Amos was and when he prophesied: “The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa—the vision he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash[a] was king of Israel.” (1:1) Well, it certainly proves that God chooses his prophet from unlikely places—and after David here is another shepherd.

As usual the prophet speaks in God’s voice—and God is not speaking quietly:
The Lord roars from Zion
    and thunders from Jerusalem; (1:2)

Amos describes the punishments that will rain down on those neighboring tribes and nations that have attacked Israel, which include Damascus, the king of the Valley of Aven; Gaza, the king of Ashdod, and Moab:
Moab will go down in great tumult
    amid war cries and the blast of the trumpet.
I will destroy her ruler
    and kill all her officials with him, (2:2, 3)

And yes, these kingdoms have long vanished from history.

But wait a minute. Not just Israel’s neighbors will be punished. Judah and Israel are included in this ominous list. Their sins are the usual ones:
For three sins of Judah,
    even for four, I will not relent.
Because they have rejected the law of the Lord
    and have not kept his decrees (2:4)

And the northern kingdom of Israel will be punished as well. What’s interesting here is that these are economic sins:
For three sins of Israel,
    even for four, I will not relent.
They sell the innocent for silver,
    and the needy for a pair of sandals. (2:6)

Israel’s sins are especially egregious as we read a catalog of wrongdoing that begins (as it does so often) with injustice against the poor:
They trample on the heads of the poor
    as on the dust of the ground
    and deny justice to the oppressed. (2:7)

Other sins include incest (7b) and misuse of property (8) as well as Israel’s rejection of both Nazarites and prophets:
But you made the Nazarites drink wine
    and commanded the prophets not to prophesy. (2:12)

Amos tells us that unsurprisingly all these sins have made God fairly angry and there will be consequences that sound pretty much like the final defeat of Israel’s army at the hands of the Assyrians.
 The swift will not escape,
    the strong will not muster their strength,
    and the warrior will not save his life.
The archer will not stand his ground,
    the fleet-footed soldier will not get away,
    and the horseman will not save his life.
Even the bravest warriors
    will flee naked on that day,”
declares the Lord. (2:13-16)

The moral here: if you’re a Gentile, do not get on the wrong side of God by attacking his people. If you’re Judah and Israel, do not disobey his clear commands. Or there will be consequences.

Revelation 7:9–17: John’s vision is an echo—and a fulfillment—of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on that fateful Palm Sunday.  We meet the people who have been saved: there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.” (9, 10)

John must have been a frustrated hymn writer because he keeps inserting worship scenes with lyrics:
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!” (12)

One of the 24 elders asks John if he knows who these people are and then tells John, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (14) Which I interpret as the martyrs executed by the Romans when John was writing.

More conservative churches assert this great multitude is the sum total of Christians saved down through the ages and who have survived the Great Tribulation which occurs at the end of history. Whether martyrs past or martyrs down through history, they engage in the great underlying theme of this book: worship.  And in this worship song lies the thrilling promise for all of us who follow Jesus:
For the Lamb at the center of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (17)

In Jesus we have the greatest of all promises: we will rest beside the springs of living water, which is Jesus himself—and sorrow will finally be banished.

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