Psalm 139:13–16; Amos 3,4; Revelation 8

Originally published 12/06/2017. Revised and updated 12/05/2019.

Psalm 139:13–16: Our psalmist moves to the most remarkable section of this psalm as he describes God’s ongoing creative act of bringing a child into being within its mother’s womb:
For You created my innermost parts,
wove me in my mother’s womb. (13)

The verb, ‘wove,’ is exactly the right metaphor for how we develop from a few cells into a fully-formed human being ready to face the world. Moreover, our psalmist realizes that each child is a distinct and unique individual that emerges from the womb as an independent being:
I acclaim You, for awesomely I am set apart,
wondrous are Your acts
and my being deeply knows it. (14)

Even though we have vastly more technical knowledge than the psalmist about exactly how a baby comes into existence, the act of gestation is nevertheless just as wondrous to us as it was to him. We are not evolutionary accidents. Rather, we are the result of God’s great and wonderful design. He truly does know our every cell on down to the DNA that resides in every cell within us.

For me, the most profound part of this verse is that “my being deeply knows it.” I see this as our innate quest to seek and know God. Even the most die-hard God-denier or atheist cannot fully extinguish the sense that there is something greater—call it God—that is connects with the essence of our being—a part of us that longs for a transcendence that only a relationship with God can provide.

Picking up on the theme of God’s omnipresence, the psalmist acknowledges that God was present even in the womb:
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in a secret place,
knitted un the utmost depths. (15)

This is all the more reason to realize that the creation of human life by two human beings and the carrying of a child by its mother is at its core a sacred act—a reality that is ended by “choice” at an enormous physical, psychological, and spiritual cost to the mother and that God’s greatest creative act—has been destroyed by human intervention.

The next verse is a remarkable description of exactly how we come into being:
My unformed shape Your eyes did see,
and in Your book all was written down.
The days were fashioned,
not one of them did lack. (16a)

For me, ‘Your book’ is the poetic anticipation of what we would discover centuries later to be DNA. Fetal development is a continuous process across the entire 9-month term. Each day of a mother’s pregnancy encompasses a specific area of growth of the child within her and the process proceeds according to a precise genetic plan (“The days were fashioned /no one of them did lack“). The unintentional foreknowledge expressed by our psalmist of how God has designed us and how God brings us to life is truly awe-inspiring.

Amos 3,4: Like the true prophet he is, Amos does not mince words as he communicates God’s anger: “Hear this word, people of Israel, the word the Lord has spoken against you—against the whole family I brought up out of Egypt.” (3:1)

A long poem of prophecy follows, suffused with the tension of a God who will indeed punish cultural wrongdoing:
Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“An enemy will overrun your land,
    pull down your strongholds
    and plunder your fortresses.” (3:11)

This is immediately contrasted with the God who wants to rescue, expressed first in a metaphor of shepherd rescuing only a few remains of a sheep devoured by a lion, and then in the startling metaphor of  Israel  as furniture from which only a remnant will be saved:
This is what the Lord says:

“As a shepherd rescues from the lion’s mouth
    only two leg bones or a piece of an ear,
so will the Israelites living in Samaria be rescued,
    with only the head of a bed
    and a piece of fabric from a couch.” (3:12)

In the next chapter, Amos is especially incensed at idle women and his words to them would probably be legally actionable in today’s fraught political environment. As usual, their greater sin is that the needy and poor has been oppressed by them:
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria,
    you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy
    and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!” (4:1)

He forecasts an especially gruesome punishment for them:
The Sovereign Lord has sworn by his holiness:
    “The time will surely come
when you will be taken away with hooks,
    the last of you with fishhooks.” (4:2)

Amos continues to express God’s anger at Israel’s hypocrisy and describes God’s futile efforts to get them to repent, as e.g:
I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps,
    yet you have not returned to me,”
declares the Lord. (4:10)

Even when he rescues them, the people do not repent:
You were like a burning stick snatched from the fire,
    yet you have not returned to me,”
declares the Lord. (4:11)

Perhaps more than any other prophet Amos clearly communicates a frustrated God:
Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel,
    and because I will do this to you, Israel,
    prepare to meet your God.” (4:12)

I wonder how frequently my words and actions frustrate the God who despite it all still loves me.

Revelation 8: When I was in college I saw Igmar Bergman’s film, “The Seventh Seal” a number of times. I’ve always been fascinated by the image of the knight playing chess with death. But I digress…

The lamb opens the seventh seal and rather than all hell breaking loose as with the first six seals, “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” (8:1) During this ominous silence seven trumpets are handed to seven angels. But before those trumpets sound there is yet another worship interlude as another angel, this one holding a golden censer, is “given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that is before the throne.” (3) After prayers rise to God, the angel throws the censer to earth and all natural hell breaks loose: “there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.” (5)

In the midst of these natural cataclysms, the trumpets sound one by one—and John describes the effect of each trumpet in turn.

The first trumpet represents destruction of nature by fire (not dissimilar to what’s happened all over the west these past few years): “a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.” (7)

The second trumpet appears to be a volcanic eruption: “something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea.” (8) This appears to cause  some sort of red algae growth in the sea that chokes off aquatic life. It is so deadly that even ships are destroyed.

The third trumpet blows and a meteorite falls to earth, causing enormous destruction: “a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water.” (10) John gives it the name “Wormwood” since it poisons water supplied. That name certainly inspired CS Lewis when he wrote “The Screwtape Letters,” as that is the name he gave to the junior devil to whom the letters are directed.

The fourth trumpet brings on what appears to be a simultaneous solar and lunar eclipse: “a third of the day was kept from shining, and likewise the night.” (12) Inasmuch as hurricanes are unknown in the Mediterranean, I’m sure that’s the only reason John didn’t describe one. But all the other events described here are doubtless based on actual events that probably occurred at certain points during John’s lifetime. Of course as an apocalyptic writer, he exaggerates for effect as dramatic indicators of the end of history.

All of these awful events appear to destroy only a third of the earth. I presume John uses this fraction to indicate that the earth still survives the events so that some more awful things can happen in subsequent chapters of this book.

The trumpet blasts halt and a talking eagle appears, announcing “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!” (13)

I’m sure more drama is about to ensue…

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