Archives for November 2015

Psalm 137; Hosea 10,11,12; Revelation 3:19–4:8

Psalm 137: This psalm clearly comes from the time Israel and Judah were exiled in Babylon, and it famously communicates the lament of those who have lost their home and their country.
By Babylon’s streams,
there we sat, oh we wept,
when we recalled Zion.
On the poplars there
we hung up our lyres. (1,2)

I am sure that this psalm was sung across the centuries during the Jewish diaspora. And it resonates with all those who have been displaced. Alas, the world is fuller than ever of those who have been displaced and now weep at their loss.

The musician’s captors want to hear them play, but to play and to sing is far too painful as it raises too many memories of home and of joyous times no long past. The musicians ask plaintively as longing becomes lamentation, “How can we sing a song of the Lord/ on foreign soil?” (4) Rather the request has raised memories of deep longing:
Should I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand wither.
May my tongue cleave to my palate
if I do not recall you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my chief joy.” (5,6)

The psalm proceeds ever downward as lamentation becomes anger as the musicians remember Jerusalem’s destruction. Memory becomes imprecation as they begin to curse their captors,” Daughter of Babylon the despoiler,/ happy who pays you back in kind,/ for what you did to us.” (8) And then in what must be one of the more notorious verses in the Psalms: “Happy who seizes and smashes/ your infants against the rock.” (9) We can only imagine that the musicians sing these final words as a horrific curse becoming a scream in Hebrew–a language their captors did not understand. Is this curse justified? No, but as we know well, the psalms are where the deepest emotions come to the surface–and this particular psalm lays bare the despair and anger and desperate longing that any captive people must surely feel.

Hosea 10,11,12: These three chapters comprise a single long poem recounting in metaphor after metaphor, the fall of Israel into idolatry and then into depravity, reminding them again and again that the price is alienation from God and punishment:
Their heart is false;
        now they must bear their guilt.
    The Lord will break down their altars,
        and destroy their pillars. (10:2)

There’s an interesting note about how everyone has become litigious–certainly a warning to our current lawsuit-obsessed culture:
They utter mere words;
    with empty oaths they make covenants;
    so litigation springs up like poisonous weeds
    in the furrows of the field. (10:4)

Another warning with a strikingly modern feel as we hear on the empty rhetoric of politicians telling us what we wat to hear (or what they think we want to hear):
You have plowed wickedness,
    you have reaped injustice,
    you have eaten the fruit of lies. (10:13)

Even so, despite Israel’s wickedness, God remains compassionate:
My heart recoils within me;
    my compassion grows warm and tender.
     I will not execute my fierce anger;
    I will not again destroy Ephraim; (11:8,9)

As always, the sin of blind hypocrisy may be the greatest one of all:
Ephraim has said, “Ah, I am rich,
    I have gained wealth for myself;
    in all of my gain
    no offense has been found in me
    that would be sin.” (12:8)

But while God may be compassionate in the long run and will forgive us when we confess, we must nevertheless must bear the consequences of our sinful hypocrisy.
Ephraim has given bitter offense,
    so his Lord will bring his crimes down on him
    and pay him back for his insults. (12:14)

We may think, “ah, these were words spoken millennia ago on a society that had replaced God with its idols.” But we are smug at our peril. The parallels between ancient Israel and Judah feel far too familiar and close for comfort–and proof once again that human nature has neither changed nor “improved” one whit from those ancient people.

Revelation 3:19–4:8: We come to the famous verse used by Evangelicals as the proof text for “accepting Jesus into our hearts as ur personal savior.” (3:20) But it’s equally important to read the preceding verse: “I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.” (19) We must be willing to accept reproof and discipline when we open that door. Too many think of the Christian life as some sort of escape from the trials of quotidian life. Instead, the true Christian life must begin with an acknowledgement not only of past sins, but an awareness that path forward is not going to be an easy one. When we’re ready to do that, then we’re ready to open that famous door to our hearts.

With the conclusion of chapter 3, we close the door, if you will, on the letters to the churches, and the conclusion of all the epistles between Acts and Revelation. And John now is invited by an angel (I presume) through an already open door into his grand vision of a heaven that we mere humans can neither see, nor even fathom: “After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” (4:1)

We commence the wildest apocalyptic journey in the Bible–and perhaps the most over-interpreted of all. Down through the ages there have been unending attempts to match the events and scenes John describes with events in actual history as well as efforts to precisely explain what happens at the end of history. I personally think John’s project was much more modest. I will be reading the remainder of this book with three rules in mind:

  1. Like OT prophecy, Revelation is mostly prophetic forthtelling rather than foretelling or forecasting.
  2. The glories of heaven, its inhabitants, and its activities are ultimately indescribable by mere human words. John does his best, but he gives us only a glimpse “through a glass darkly.” And since we cannot comprehend heaven’s reality, we cannot attach reality to it–much less a sure outline of exactly how history will end.
  3. In the end, whatever symbolism John’s allusions and allegories refer to the “here and now” of the recipients of his letter, i.e., the Roman Empire.

John begins with the throne room of heaven and with, we presume, a vision of God himself: “and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne!” In an echo of many psalms, we see that God and nature are closely aligned: “Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder,” (4:5)

The imaginative “living creatures” are doing one thing and one thing only: worshipping God: “Day and night without ceasing they sing,

“Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
    who was and is and is to come.” (4:8)

Which is precisely our ultimate duty before God as well.

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

Psalm 136: Appropriately enough for this Thanksgiving weekend, this thanksgiving psalm praises God across history from the Creation to the Exodus to Israel in Jerusalem.  Every verse has the antiphonal refrain, “for His kindness is forever,” so it seems obvious that it was used in a worship setting among the community.

Following an introduction asking the group to “Acclaim the Lord for He is good,” (1) and “Acclaim the greatest God” (2) “who alone performs great wonders” (4), the psalm begins at the reprises Genesis 1: “Who makes the heavens in wisdom” (5); “Who stamps firm the earth on waters” (6), describing the the creation of the sun and moon, as well.

Then we leap over history to the Passover: “Who strikes Egypt in its firstborn,/…And brings out Israel from their midst” (10,11); the escape, “Who split the Reed Sea into parts,” (13) and the chase by Egypt, “And shook Pharaoh and his force into the Reed Sea.” (15). Even the wilderness time is included–not the complaining, but acknowledgement that God led them: “Who led His people in the wilderness.” (16) Israel conquers the kings of Canaan, naming “Sihon, king of the Amorites” (19) and “Og, king of the Bashan.” (20) and “gave their land as an estate,…An estate for Israel His servant.” (21, 22)

Finally, the psalm understandably does not acknowledge Israel’s many sins, but notes that God “recalled us when we were low” (23) and “delivered us form our foes.” (24), ending by thanking God ” Who gives bread to all flesh.” (25).

Perhaps each of us should write our own psalm of thanksgiving, tracing our history and recalling how God has intervened and led each of us down through life. But the real power of this psalm comes from its relentless refrain, “the kindness of God”–or as the NRSV has it, “for his steadfast love endures for ever.” The psalmist could have focused on God’s power or perhaps, as in so many other places in the Psalms, God’s justice. But the quality of God that lies behind creation and guidance and rescue is above all God’s love for us. Which we have experienced beyond what the psalmist knows through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Hosea 8,9:  By this time in Hosea, we realize that again and again the prophet loops back and focuses on Israel’s sins and its consequences, especially its apostasy of idol worship. Speaking as the prophetic voice of God, Hosea warns,
   One like a vulture is over the house of the Lord,
   because they have broken my covenant,
       and transgressed my law.
   Israel cries to me,
       “My God, we—Israel—know you!”
   Israel has spurned the good;
    the enemy shall pursue him. (8:1-3)

Israel pretends to know God, but its sins have only created estrangement. And this hypocrisy can only come to a bad end, as we read the famous lines,
    For they sow the wind,
        and they shall reap the whirlwind. (8:7)

Perhaps the greatest sin of all is that “Israel has forgotten his Maker.” (8:14)–and that is a sin that right here in the 21st century our culture stands justly accused. No, we are not God’s chosen people, nor are we a theocracy, but our forgetfulness is surely yielding less-than-wonderful consequences.

As for Israel, Hosea returns to his thematic metaphor in the opening of chapter 9: “Do not rejoice, O Israel!/ Do not exult as other nations do;/ for you have played the whore, departing from your God.” Hosea warns them not to persist in their hypocrisy pretending they worship God: “They shall not pour drink offerings of wine to the Lord,/ and their sacrifices shall not please him.” (9:4) Israel will drive out its prophets: “Israel cries, “The prophet is a fool,/ the man of the spirit is mad!” and then, in a key psychological insight, Hosea asserts, “Because of your great iniquity,/ your hostility is great.” (9:7)

That certainly seems like the zeitgeist of our age now as we live with polarization, derision, whining, hostility, angry marches, and people feeling offended at every turn. (A zeitgeist which people like Donald Trump and others have tapped rather successfully.) I think that deep down in our God-rejecting hearts we know there is only emptiness and vain seeking after something that will fill our desire for meaning. And our external response to that emptiness is anger and hostility. Peace in our heart can come only through filling that famous “God-shaped hole.”

Revelation 3:7–18: The church at Philadelphia has remained faithful. Its members may not be at the top of the societal heap, and “I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (8) Because of that “patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.” (10) In other words, they will not only be spared punishment, but John promises, “I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.”

The key message here is that remaining faithful will certainly be tough in the here and now, but that it results in great heavenly reward. It is doubtless this formula that allowed so many martyrs to go happily to their deaths as the early church endured its severe trials. And that is true today, as we witness the martyrdom of men and women in the evil that seems to permeate much of the world today, especially in Africa and the Middle East.

But as for the church at Laodecia, we encounter what I believe is the great sin of the church today: “you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (16)  In some ways this sin is greater than thee hypocrisy of Israel that Hosea so enthusiastically condemns. Because it is not just external hypocrisy or outward show, it is an inner hypocrisy of believing we’ve done the “right religious things” and that’s all that’s required of us. When in fact Christ is asking for our entire being, or in Oswald Chambers’ construction, that we abandon ourselves completely to God.  Only then can the fires of faith burn hot.









Psalm 135:13–21; Hosea 5,6,7; Revelation 2:24–3:6

Psalm 135:13–21: The psalmist writes, “For the Lord champions His people,/ and for His servants He shows change of heart.” (14) Does God really change his heart (or his mind)? I think not. However, if we look at God form our perspective and we change our behavior, then it may certainly appear that God has changed his heart. If we accept God’s offer of redemption through Jesus Christ and turn our lives around, then God will no longer appear to be and agent of punishment or irrelevance. Rather, we will begin to realize and experience God’s love that has been there all the time. It’s like driving down the road in one direction and then turning around and driving back. On the return journey we see perspectives and things that we missed on the way out.

The verses that follow describe the impotence and ultimate meaninglessness of the idols we create. [We saw a similar list back in Psalm 115.]  One verse perfectly describes our over-reliance on the benefits of capitalism, when we forget it is a means by which God bestows blessing on us to becoming the sole idol and object of our attention and worship: “The nation’s idols are silver and gold,/ the work of human hands.” (15) But as the psalmist points out, they are powerless because unlike God, they cannot speak, see, or hear. They lack the animation of life that only God can bring into being: “nor is there breath in their mouth.” (17b)

But what is most dreadful is that these idols suck the life out of us, as the psalmist observes, “Like them [the idols] may their makers be,/ all who trust in them.” (18) Is there anything sadder than to be so obsessed with our idols that the enjoyment of life evaporates and we try to live on in the empty void that the love of God could be filling? And yet, that is where our culture seems to be heading: into anger and ultimately into despair.

Hosea 5,6,7: These three chapters are written in prophetic verse very similar to what we encounter mostly in Isaiah. Chapter 5 begins with God’s warning to listen up:
  Hear this, O priests!
    Give heed, O house of Israel!
  Listen, O house of the king!
    For the judgment pertains to you; (5:1)

Hosea goes on to speak of Israel’s overweening pride and the downfall that awaits. But it’s not just Israel, Judah is also at risk if it does not repent and turn from wickedness: “Ephraim [Israel] will become a desolation…The princes of Judah have become /like those who remove the landmark” (5:9, 10) If they persist in their wickedness God will “be like a lion to Ephraim,/ and like a young lion to the house of Judah.” (5:14) and God will remove himself from them “until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face./ In their distress they will beg my favor.” (5:15)

This last statement bridges immediately to chapter 6, which describes the hope of repentance as we encounter a remarkable prophecy:
   “After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will raise us up,
    that we may live before him.” (6:2)

To us Christians this is a clear prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection. But to the Jewish disciples, who surely were aware of this passage in Hosea, it could mean only one thing: that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was God’s long promised restoration of Israel that God caused to occur in a wildly unexpected way. Hosea describes the hope for Israel that was implicit in Jesus’ resurrection:
For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed.
When I would restore the fortunes of my people,
when I would heal Israel. (6:11, 7:1)

If we continue in this vein, we can see that while Hosea has forecast the resurrection of Jesus, he has also forecasted the rejection of Jesus and the ultimate downfall of Israel, which we know occurred in occurred in AD70:
    Israel’s pride testifies against him;
       yet they do not return to the Lord their God,
     or seek him, for all this. (7:10)

Did Hosea himself know about the coming of Jesus? Obviously not. But as the Gospel writers are constantly pointing out, Jesus came and fulfilled prophecy. But only those willing to look at prophecy in a completely new light through the person and actions–and resurrection–of Jesus Christ would come to understand this.

Revelation 2:24–3:6: John tells the believers at Thyatira that have not fallen for the heresies of Balaam or the Nicolaitans to “hold fast to what you have until I come.” (2:25). Which is what we need to do too, especially as we enter the post-Christian era that I think awaits America. At the end of history, John tells us, quoting Isaiah, “I will give authority over the nations;/ to rule  them with an iron rod,/ as when clay pots are shattered.” (2:27) But in the meantime, we are to be patient and “ Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” (2:29). For us, that means we are to rely on the leading of the Holy Spirit, not on our own power or ideas, especially as we confront the wiles of the world.

Then John comes to Sardis, a dying church, as he gives his harshest assessment yet: “I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead.” (3:2) I don’t know about you, but I sure wouldn’t want an apostle writing to my church and telling me we’re dead. He admits there are”still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.” (3:4) But it’s pretty binary: either you’re a Jesus follower or you aren’t. If you hang in there and resist temptation and heresy, “If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life.” (3:5)

The distressing implication to me, anyway, is that if you persist in sin, your name will be “blotted out of the Book of Life”[of which more to follow in later chapters). Do we really lose our salvation? My take on this is that if you persist in sin, you won;t care about your salvation and the point about whether your name is in the book or not becomes moot.



Psalm 135:1–12; Hosea 2:16–4:19; Revelation 2:12–23

Psalm 135:1–12: Today is Thanksgiving and although it’s a secular holiday, this psalm gives thanks and praise to God, who deserves it, reminding us that all our blessings come from him. It is written to be sung in the courts of the temple itself: “O praise, you servants of the Lord,/ who stand in the house of the Lord,/ in the courts of the house of our God.” (2) The psalmist gives thanks that God “has chosen for Himself Jacob,/ Israel as His treasure.” (4). Then, radiating out to encompass the heavens, the psalmist and we “know that the Lord is great,/ and our master more than all the [other] gods.” (5).

God is the Creator and “all that the Lord desired He did/ in the heavens and on the earth,/ in the seas and all the depths.” But God did not simply create and then leave the scene, he continues to be active in the here and now as “He brings the clouds up from the ends of the earth/ lightning for the rain He made.” (7)

The psalmist then remembers that it was God “Who struck down the firstborn of Egypt” (8) and defeated “Sihon, the Amorite king/ and Og, king of Bashan,/ and all the kingdoms of Caanan.” (12) And for Israel, the greatest gift of all outside God himself: “And gave their land as an estate,/ an estate to Israel, His people.” (12). In short, the psalmist is thankful for the history that brought them to be able to praise God in the temple.

The blessings of God, creation, the natural world, and the nation–and even our history–are all things for which this psalm gives thanks. And so should we. Our blessings are not only our family, our shelter, daily sustenance and shelter. We cannot forget our ancestors, our nation, nature, and creation itself. Without those, there could have been no thanksgiving for the simple fact that we are here alive to give thanks.

Hosea 2:16–4:19: Hosea, commanded to take the whore Gomer as his wife, understands that Gomer represents the sinful Israel. But through the sancity of this marriage, there will come a day when “you will call me, “My husband,” and no longer will you call me, “My Baal.”” (2:17). The prophecy envisions a time when God “will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will take you for my wife in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord.” (2:19, 20)

This magnificent vow of the marriage between a repentant Israel and God must surely have been on the minds of the New Testament writers when they speak of the church as the bride of Christ. Marriage is the strongest possible metaphor of the nature of the relationship between God and Israel–and between the church and Jesus Christ. For marriage makes all things whole and complete, and blessings (and children) arise form marriage.

In marriage, God will show mercy to sinners, and Israel will respond, just as he shows mercy to Hosea’s children: “And I will have pity on Lo-ruhamah,/  and I will say to Lo-ammi, “You are my people”;/ and he shall say, “You are my God.” (2:23). In fact, to show just how great God’s mercy is, he commands Hosea to “Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.”  (3:1) [Gotta love that bit about the raisin cakes!] Because God will still love Israel even though it continues to sin. And eventually, “the Israelites shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; they shall come in awe to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.” (3:3)

As is the nature of prophecy, it often loops back and recapitulates themes that have already been elaborated upon, in effect starting over. In Chapter 4, God again lists the manifest sins of Israel:
   There is no faithfulness or loyalty,
    and no knowledge of God in the land.
   Swearing, lying, and murder,
    and stealing and adultery break out;
    bloodshed follows bloodshed. (4:1, 2)

And once again, the image of Israel as prostitute appears because of its relentless attraction to idolatry:
   They shall eat, but not be satisfied;
       they shall play the whore, but not multiply;
   because they have forsaken the Lord
    to devote themselves to whoredom. (4:10)

As always, there are new themes among the old, and here Hosea cautions Judah not to take up Israel’s evil ways: “Though you play the whore, O Israel,/ do not let Judah become guilty.” (4:15) But as for Israel itself, there is almost a loss of hope on God’s part because “Like a stubborn heifer,/Israel is stubborn.” (4:16a)

And of course, we ourselves are just as stubborn in our attraction to our own idols. We may say we love God, but these verses are a stark reminder that if we give our own idols–wealth, power, status, material possessions–a higher status than we give God, then we are whores just as much as ancient Israel.

Revelation 2:12–23: The church at Pergamum is living “where Satan’s throne is,” but it is remaining faithful “holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me” (13) even in the face of the martyrdom of one of its leaders, Antipas. Nevertheless, “I have a few things against you,” including even the “teaching of Balaam” (14) [My, I didn’t realize that Baal worship persisted down through the centuries!]  There are other heretics in the church as well, who hold to “the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” (15)

The church at Pergamum is a reminder of the necessity for hewing to the theological straight and narrow. Avoid other cults (Balaam) and avoid those who add to the core message (Nicolaitans).  This is one reason why I’m a big fan of church hierarchy such as synods and accountability to bishops. It reduces the possibility of drifting away from the core message, beliefs and doctrinws of our faith. I have seen too many “independent Bible churches” drift off into bad theology and ultimately into heretical waters.

The issues at Thyatria are similar to those at Pergamum. For the most part the people are faithful and “I know your works—your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first.” (19). However, they are being led astray by a charismatic preacher, “Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols.” (20)

This person has refused to repent and will be punished. John uses the same metaphor as Hosea: she is a whore and “I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings.” (22) The lesson here for us is clear: we must be ever alert to corrupting influences in the church, especially those who like Jezelbel at Thyatria have an alluring but ultimately corrupting message. Once again, those preachers who hawk the prosperity gospel come immediately to mind.


Psalm 134; Daniel 12:8–Hosea 2:15; Revelation 2:1–11

Psalm 134: This short psalm is all about “blessing God,” which of course is praising and worshipping God and how God reciprocates by blessing our lives.

It’s directed to “the servants of the Lord,/ who stand in the Lord’s house through the nights,” (1) which I take to be people who took care of the temple at night, perhaps tending the fires and lamps of the temple. For us today, I like to think it’s the people in public safety–firemen and police–as well as those in hospitals and homes tending to the sick who stand watch through the night.

The final act of the psalm is that we “Lift up [our] hands toward the holy place/ and bless the Lord.” This is the corporate act of praising God for all that he has done in our lives, and how God continues to protect and bless us. In short, it is worship for a single purpose, directed solely to God. It is not worship for our entertainment or even for our equipping to go out into the world.

And in turn, God blesses us: “May the Lord bless you from Zion,” (3a) And at this thanksgiving time, the last line of this psalm reminds us that is is “He who makes heaven and earth.” And all that is within. All that we have, be it life, family, friends, home, wealth comes to us from only one place: God the creator. And that is why we live and have our being in the unceasing cycle of worship and blessing.

Daniel 12:8–Hosea 2:15: Once again, the Moravians have us bridging two books, a reminder, I think, that the Bible is like a seamless garment.

The book of Daniel ends with the reminder that what he has been told (or is it the prophecies written down?) “are to remain secret and sealed until the time of the end.” (12:10) There’s a precise forecast that  1290 “days” (actual days?) will pass while “the regular burnt offering [in the temple] is taken away and the abomination that desolates is set up.” (11) That, I presume is the author’s take on how long Antiochus Epiphanes will desecrate the temple.  And then, “Happy are those who persevere and attain the thousand three hundred thirty-five days.” (12) Which at this point I can say only, “Whatever…” The last line of this always mysterious book is one clear promise from the angel to Daniel: “But you, go your way, and rest; you shall rise for your reward at the end of the days.” (13). Which the New Testament makes clear that under the New Covenant is a promise that is for all of us.

The opening chapter of Hosea is one of God’s more bizarre object lessons. He commands the prophet to act out in his life the estrangement between God and the northern kingdom of Israel. Hosea marries the whore Gomer, who gives him three children. Jezreel is representative of a battle to come, where God promises, “On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.” (1:5). Daughter Lo-ruhamah represents the time when God “will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them,” (1:6) reminding that dissolute nation that “I will have pity on the house of Judah,” (1:7) Hosea’s third child, Lo-ammi, is the final estrangement, as God says, “you are not my people and I am not your God.” (1:9)

But yet. In the midst of punishment, God always offers a bright future wherein Israel is restored. Some day, “the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered” (1:10) and “in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” (1:11). With God, there is always the possibility of redemption.

But what follows is Jezreel’s long poem that is clearly Hosea’s begging Israel to turn away form its wicked ways as we read him speaking in God’s voice.
    “Plead with your mother, plead—
    for she is not my wife,
    and I am not her husband—”…
For their mother has played the whore;
    she who conceived them has acted shamefully.” (2:1. 5)

Eventually, Israel will come to its senses and say,
    “Then she shall say, “I will go
    and return to my first husband,
    for it was better with me then than now.” (2:7b)

As always, there is the promise of redemption:
  “Therefore, I will now allure her,
    and bring her into the wilderness,
    and speak tenderly to her…
   From there I will give her her vineyards,
    and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
   There she shall respond as in the days of her youth,
    as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. (2:14-15)

Even though Israel sinned immensely, God still holds out his hand in promise and hope of eventual restoration. Just as he does for us. No matter how far we drift from God, his hand remains outstretched, pleading for us to come back.

 Revelation 2:1–11: John writes to each of the seven churches of Asia, noting both their positive qualities and their shortcomings, but also God’s promise to them. Taken together, they are a marvelous compendium of the what a community should be–and what it should not be.

The church at Ephesus works hard and has “patient endurance” but its focus on working hard has cause it to “abandon the love you had at first.” (4) In other words, focusing solely on the task at hand can too easily cause us to lose the focus on Christ as doing good works becomes the end in itself, not the means of expressing our love for others.

John tells the church at Smyrna ““I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich.” (9) Even though its members may be wealthy, they are being castigated by members of the “Synagogue of Satan.” Some in the Smyrna church will even be tossed into prison. But despite these trials, John asks them to remain faithful: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (10)

These are words to remember as Christianity becomes increasingly marginalized here. We American Christians may not suffer as other Christians elsewhere in the world suffer–even to death–but that does not mean we will not encounter difficulty in remaining faithful. The point of the our faith is not to have it easy or to become prosperous. Rather, it is to endure suffering inflicted on us by the world. The constant whining from some quarters about America no longer being a “Christian nation” or has lost its “Christian values” is a clear indication they have not paid attention to what John said about the church at Smyrna.


Psalm 133; Daniel 11:20–12:7; Revelation 1:9–20

Psalm 133: This quiet little poem celebrates the good life and fellowship in the peaceful community. The opening line has the rhythm and feel of sitting down among one’s friends and exhaling a long, contented sigh: “”Look, how good and how pleasant/ is the dwelling of brothers together.” (1).

In the ancient world, rubbing one’s hair and body with aromatic oil was a pleasure and here becomes a simile for the good life: “Like goodly oil on the head/ coming down over the beard,/ [like] Aaron’s beard that comes down/ over the opening of his robe.” (2) Men of that time were obviously hirsute and Aaron’s long, full beard that stretched down over his robe as he reclined must have been what men of that time modeled their own beard on.

Another simile of the pleasures of that oil follows: “Like [Mount] Hermon’s dew that comes down/ on the parched mountains.” (3) And dew in that dry land connoted fruitfulness and here, this fruitfulness is representative of the wonderful gift of life that God has given: “For there the Lord ordained the blessing–/ life forevermore.” The psalm ends where we would expect–and where we should remember each day when we arise and contemplate the early morning dew and freshness of the day: God’s gifts to us are beyond measure and even the ability to relax for awhile is also his gift. We should cease from our busyness and enjoy it and time among our friends!

Daniel 11:20–12:7: The angel Michael continues to interpret Daniel’s dream of Darius’s reign, including battles between the kings of the north and kings of the south, as well as a rebellion among some unsavory Jews: “The lawless among your own people shall lift themselves up in order to fulfill the vision, but they shall fail.” (11:14) Finally, a good prince “shall arise in his place one who shall send an official for the glory of the kingdom; but within a few days he shall be broken, though not in anger or in battle.” (20), But, alas, probably through assassination, “ In his place shall arise a contemptible person on whom royal majesty had not been conferred; he shall come in without warning and obtain the kingdom through intrigue.” (21) Eventually, “the king shall act as he pleases. He shall exalt himself and consider himself greater than any god, and shall speak horrendous things against the God of gods. He shall prosper until the period of wrath is completed, for what is determined shall be done.” (11:36) Worse, “He shall pay no respect to the gods of his ancestors, or to the one beloved by women; he shall pay no respect to any other god, for he shall consider himself greater than all.” (11:37).

This king of the north conquers much and “He shall advance against countries and pass through like a flood.” (11:40) and “He shall become ruler of the treasures of gold and of silver, and all the riches of Egypt; and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall follow in his train.” (43) But eventually, “he shall come to his end, with no one to help him.” (45)

Once again, I believe this is history told as prophecy, and the evil king is probably Antiochus Epiphanes. I’m sure that many dispensationalists would prefer that this passage is a forecast of the end times, but the details seem to be simply too complex to fit neatly into some scenario of events yet to come. The real lesson here seems clear to me: no matter how great the power that a king–or a country–can amass, it always declines and comes to an end. As we look back through history there is a procession of empires that have risen and fallen. And our present empire will be no exception.

This book of Daniel, which began as clear as day as the inspiring story of the young man who followed God and became the wisest in the land seems to end in fog and ambiguity. Daniel is instructed to “keep the words secret and the book sealed until the time of the end.” which of course reminds us that this is apocalyptic literature. But the next line seems true for all time and all places–and certainly characterizes the confusion rampant in our world today: “Many shall be running back and forth, and evil shall increase.” (12:4) Our civilization may have more technology, but we as fallen, confused people have not “progressed” in any way whatsoever.

The last line has puzzled readers across the millennia. It at once seems so precise and specific, yet like much of the latter chapters of this book remains shrouded in ambiguity: “And I heard him swear by the one who lives forever [God, I presume] that it would be for a time, two times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end, all these things would be accomplished.” (12:7)  But it has certainly caused a lot of ink to be spilled as interpreters struggle to prise out its meaning.

Revelation 1:9–20: I think that the main reason that Revelation eventually made it into the canon is that it is not just apocalyptic speculation, but that the apostle John grounded his book so clearly into the person of Jesus Christ.

John is sitting quietly as a prisoner on Patmos when he hears a “loud voice like a trumpet” and he receives highly specific instructions, ““Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” (11). In a brilliant piece of dramatic writing, “ I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. ” (12, 13) And then we get the single and wonderful picture we have of the resurrected and ascended Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father: “His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters.” (14, 15)

And just like Daniel, who fainted at the sight of the angel Michael, John records, “ When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” and Christ speaks the usual first words when a heavenly visitation occurs: “Do not be afraid.” (17) But then he immediately adds his bona fides as the Son of God: “I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades.” (17, 18) 

It’s important to reflect here. The main images we have of Jesus are from the Gospels: the very human side of Jesus, who lived among us. But here we have the qualities of Christ that demand us to realize that he at once fully human and fully God.  Which is why when we talk about Jesus as our “good friend” we also must remember that Jesus is the awesome power of God. And we best take him seriously and reverently.

Psalm 132; Daniel 10:8–11:19; Revelation 1:1–8

Psalm 132: This psalm recounts in poetry the actions of David described in 2 Samuel 6-7, where he brings the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem and to build a permanent temple around it. As we recall from the Samuel story, God foils David’s building project, telling him that building the temple is to be undertaken by his son, Solomon.

The first section describes David’s fierce dedication to his self-appointed task, describing his vow, “I will not come into the tent of my home,/ I will not mount my couch,/ I will not give sleep to my eyes/ nor slumber to my lids/ until I find a place for the Lord,/ a dwelling for Jacob’s Champion.” (3-5). The next part describes the discovery of the Ark, which has been hidden away “in Ephtatha,/ we found it in the fields of Jaar,” (6) and then moving it up to Jerusalem: “Rise, O Lord. to Your resting-place./ You and the Ark of Your strength.” (8)

This is followed by an oath that “the Lord swore to David/ a true oath from which He will not turn back.” (11) The oath promises a Davidic dynasty: “from the fruit of Your loins/ I will set up a throne for you.” (12a) But there’s a requirement, which not surprisingly is that like their founder, the successors hew to the terms of the Covenant: “If your sons keep My pact/ and My precept that I shall teach them,/ there son, too, evermore/ shall sit on the throne that is yours.” (12b).  Alas, we know how that turned out.

The psalm concludes with God’s satisfaction regarding the new location for the Ark: “This is my resting-place forevermore,/ Here will I dwell, for I desired it.” (14). Moreover, God will “sure;y bless its provisions,/ its needy I will sate with bread.” (15)

So, what do we make of this psalm that celebrates an ancient kingdom and ancient ceremony around an object–the Ark–that is completely alien to us? The idea of grace is far away from this psalm and the line about David’s sons being taught God’s “precepts,” suggests the same poet that wrote Psalm 119 wrote this one. I guess my takeaway is that God is faithful when we obey him. But beyond that, this psalm is interesting but personally remote from my time, place and of course the reality of what Jesus Christ has done for us.

Daniel 10:8–11:19: We gain real insight here into the physical and psychological impact of Daniel’s visions as he recounts them in the first person: “I was left alone to see this great vision. My strength left me, and my complexion grew deathly pale, and I retained no strength.” (10:8) In fact, it is Daniel’s response to the dream and his relationship with God that is far more impactful than the actual nature of the vision.

In his state of distress following his vision, Daniel suddenly hears someone speak, “and when I heard the sound of his words, I fell into a trance, face to the ground.” (10:9). The angel Michael reaches down to Daniel and tells him, “Stand on your feet, for I have now been sent to you.” As with so many other angelic visitations described in the Bible–and this time of year, Mary certainly comes to mind–the words are, “Do not fear.” [If I ever receive an angelic visitation, I’ll know it’s real if I hear those three words up front.] Michael tells Daniel that God has heard his words and that Michael has come to him “because of your words.” If ever we needed a clear, if rather dramatic, demonstration that when we pray in humility that God both hears and answers, it is right here.

Michael’s reassurances notwithstanding, Daniel is still petrified and again, Michael, “the one in human form touched my lips” (10:16) and “I am shaking, no strength remains in me, and no breath is left in me.” (10:17). Once again, Michael attempts to reassure Daniel, ““Do not fear, greatly beloved, you are safe. Be strong and courageous!” and this time Daniel says, “I was strengthened.” (10:19)

Michael then interprets Daniels vision about four kings of Persia, one stronger than the others, as well as some business about the kingdom of Greece–more evidence that this book is contemporaneous with the Greek invasion of Israel. I think the real truth we can learn here is not the prophecy, but the beautiful description of how God listens and sends a messenger to reassure Daniel.  But above all, we have a wonderful description of Daniel’s humanity. He may be the wisest person in the kingdom, but he is also a human being who is overawed by the majesty and power of God. This is the lesson for us: even God’s messengers are awe-full. When we speak or sing casually of God and of God’s love, we must also remember that God’s power is sufficient to cause even the wisest and strongest man in the kingdom to faint in fear. I think this is the quality of God’s love and  fearful power that CS Lewis communicates so beautifully in Aslan.

Revelation 1:1–8: So we come to the final and most controversially puzzling book in the New Testament canon.  I must say at the outset that I believe this book was written by John for the same people in the same time and place to whom he wrote his epistles, and that it is prophecy as forthtelling rather than foretelling.

As with Daniel, the prophecy is delivered “by sending his angel to his servant John who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.” Since John also saw Jesus, I see him as being unique in that he is both an apostle and a prophet. 

A verse I’d never noticed before: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.” (3). In other words, this book is to be read aloud, not merely read silently. Like all great stories.

The book is addressed to the “seven churches that are in Asia,” and John then tells us that what he is about to write comes from “him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” (4, 5). In other words, from God and the somewhat mysterious “seven spirits” (a manifestation of the Holy Spirit?) and from Jesus  who is not only a faithful witness, but “the firstborn of the dead,” which is a direct reference to Jesus’ resurrection.

Then, John tells directly that this book is about the end of history, when
  “He is coming with the clouds;
    every eye will see him,
   even those who pierced him;
    and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.” (7)

Then, the famous verse,“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (8) This seems a clear reference that God was there at Creation, at the beginning of history as “Alpha,” and he will be there at the end, “Omega.” In short, we are participants in a grand story that stretches out linearly across time with a real beginning and a real end. We are not on some “great mandala,” ceaselessly cycling through history over and over. Like the arrow of time itself, Creation has a clear direction. Whose end John is now going to tell us about. Let’s sit back and enjoy the ride.


Psalm 131; Daniel 9:1–10:7; Jude 1:11–25

Psalm 131: The beautiful little psalm is the poet’s reflection on humility:
Lord, my heart has not been haughty,
nor have my eyes looked too high,
nor have I striven for great things,
nor for things too wondrous for me. (1)

Imagine what peace we would bring to our lives if we ceased our ambitions and could truly say “my heart has not been haughty.” Imagine the beautiful relationships that could result: between husband and wife, between parents and children, among members of a church. There would be no agendas, hidden or otherwise, just the simple joy of being together.

When I look back on my own life I realize how much time I wasted trying to impress others; trying to get ahead. How much anxiety I experienced in order to achieve and acquire when I could have said with the psalmist: “But I have calmed and contented myself/ like a weaned babe on its mother.” (2a) What a marvelous image of a contented baby having taken what it needs from his mother’s breast and now peacefully asleep. It would be difficult to find a better metaphor for contentment that comes with true humility.

It took cancer to slow me down and reflect on the joys of humility–and even now I am nowhere near the peace the poet expressed here. In the context of this psalm, the American dream of “getting ahead” and “keeping up” is revealed for the empty exercise and waste of time that it is. I look at politicians and leaders vying for my attention and realizes it is I, not they, who have the greater joy.

Daniel 9:1–10:7: Daniel prays for the people of Israel after studying the book of Jeremiah and determining that Israel will remain in exile for 70 years. (Again, this seems to be retrospective history written as foretelling prophecy.) Like the prophets before him, Daniel prays, first confessing, “we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances.” (9:5) In fact, confessing many times during this prayer. But finally in supplication, “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay! For your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people bear your name!” (9:19)

As Daniel “was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen before in a vision, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice.” Gabriel announces that Daniel’s prayer will be answered and explains what will happen in a seemingly simple, yet one of the most puzzling and controversial prophecies in this controversial book: “Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city: to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. (9:24) There are 7 weeks during which Jerusalem is rebuilt, followed by 69 weeks of relative peace but “in a troubled time.” (25). Then during the last week, “the troops of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. : (9:26). Then in the final week the conqueror “shall make sacrifice and offering cease; and in their place[f] shall be an abomination that desolates,” (27).

Much has been made of this passage as an end-time prophecy; that we are now living in the 69 weeks (which certainly qualifies as a troubled time). Then in the last week, disaster comes, a period many have assumed is the 7-year Great Tribulation at the end of history, which is described in Revelation. Of course that requires interpreting what a “week” means, and some zealous souls have used this and other prophecies to predict the precise end of the world and Christ’s second coming–the last such attempt being in 2011, as I recall.

Personally, I think it is once again retrospective history cast as prophecy, and the reference is to Antiochus Ephiphanes, who conquered Jerusalem and sacrificed a pig in the temple–truly the “abomination that desolates.” At the end of this prophecy is a promise: “until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator.” The desolator is conquered, which is what happened. This is the beauty of prophecy: there are enormous trials, but as Daniel has prayed, God listens and tribulation eventually ceases.  For nations and for us as individuals.

Jude 1:11–25: Like the “desolator” in Daniel, Jude asserts that the people corrupting the church will meet their deserved fates: “Woe to them! For they go the way of Cain, and abandon themselves to Balaam’s error for the sake of gain, and perish in Korah’s rebellion.” (12a) Jude follows with a marvelous sequence of metaphors to drive home the emptiness and eventual fate of these corrupters: “They are waterless clouds carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved forever.” (12b, 13) Just to make sure we get the point, Jude then describes these people’s negative personal qualities: “These are grumblers and malcontents; they indulge their own lusts; they are bombastic in speech, flattering people to their own advantage.” (16)

Nevertheless, we must be on our guard as Jude reminds us what the Apostles said, “In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.” (18) Which certainly seems an apt description of where the Church finds itself today in American culture. But Jude does not advise–contrary to what some Christian hand-wringers advise us today–to complain about the culture or to decry the fate of dying church. Our duty is simple and clear: “But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” (20, 21) In short, the culture is what it is. People will always be attempting to corrupt the church. Yes, we must pay attention and always be on guard, but more importantly, we must keep ourselves in the love of God.

Our duty is not to fight these people or the surrounding culture. Instead, our clear duty is to “have mercy on some who are wavering; save others by snatching them out of the fire.” (22, 23a) We are to look out for each other in community and to bring others into the Body of Christ. Our task is really quite simple.

Psalm 130; Daniel 7:23–8:27; Jude 1:1–10

Psalm 130: The opening lines of this psalm have been uttered across the centuries by those in deepest despair: “From the depths I called You, Lord./ Master, hear my voice.” (1, 2) Alter tells us that this refers to the depths of the sea, which in turn is an image of being on the threshold of death.

The psalmist is in desperate circumstances, near death, and God remains utterly silent as he begs again, “Master, hear my voice,” and again, “May Your ears listen close to the voice of my plea.” (2b). He–we–find ourselves in circumstances and we wonder if God has abandoned his post when we need him most: “Were You, O Yah, to watch for wrongs,/ Master, who could endure?” (3)

This psalm squarely faces the eternal existential question: why does God seem to disappear when we need him most? But even in silence we are left with one thing: hope as we wait: “I hoped for the Lord, my being hoped, / and for His word I waited.” (5) This is not just a casual theological reference, but rises from the very core of existence: “My being for the Master–/ more than the dawn-watchers watch for the dawn.” (6) These verses once again remind us that we can call out to God, a God who seems to have disappeared, but one thing remains: hope. And it is hope to which the psalmist–and we–cling.

In fact, it is hope that is God’s response. And as we focus on hope, we come realize that even in his silence, God has answered. And as always, the hope brings us to the realization that in our waiting we see that “the Lord is steadfast kindness and great redemption is with Him.” (7) These verses begin in despair and end in hope. That is the lesson of life packed into these few verses. God may be silent, but hope in him never disappears.

Daniel 7:23–8:27: Much has been made of Daniel’s dream as many have attempted to align it with history. One beast may be the Greek empire, another the Roman, the ten horns have even been compared to the Holy Roman Empire. I believe that during World War II, Hitler was seen as the “little horn” that arose and “shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law.” Or perhaps it’s the United States… Much has also been made of the enigmatic phrase, “ for a time, two times, and half a time.” If a “time” is a year, this could be the first 3 1/2 years of the Great Tribulation. Or perhaps a “time” is a century. Or a millennium. In the end, we must be content with the single fact that Daniel experienced and (someone) wrote down one of the scariest dreams ever recorded. We can only agree with Daniel: “As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly terrified me, and my face turned pale; but I kept the matter in my mind.” (7:28)

But wait! Daniel has another dream! This time it’s a battle between a Ram with two long horns and a goat with a horn in between its eyes. The goat wins and “grew exceedingly great; but at the height of its power, the great horn was broken, and in its place there came up four prominent horns toward the four winds of heaven.” (7:8) Another horn emerges and this horn “acted arrogantly; it took the regular burnt offering away from him and overthrew the place of his sanctuary.” (7:11) The Temple will stand desecrated for “two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.” (7:14)

This time the dream is interpreted by the angel Gabriel, who explains everything about the Medes and Persians, as well as the Greeks. There is a long passage about a “a king of bold countenance shall arise,/ skilled in intrigue./He shall grow strong in power,shall cause fearful destruction,” (7:23, 24)   To me, this seems to be an obvious reference to Antiochus Epiphanes desecrating the temple at Jerusalem and also why I believe the book of Daniel was not written by Daniel, but much later during the occupation of Israel by the Greeks. Even though Gabriel’s command to Daniel is to “seal up the vision, for it refers to many days from now.” (7:26) I think we are reading apocalyptic history rather than future prophecy. Obviously, given the popularity of end times books, not everyone agrees with me.

Jude 1:1–10: I think Thomas Hardy named his novel, “Jude the Obscure,” in honor of the biblical Jude, about whom we know almost nothing other than that he is the brother of the estimable James. Once again, as in the letters form Peter and John, there’s trouble in the church as others espousing heresy seem to be on the ascendant. Judes writes in the strongest possible terms, “For certain intruders have stolen in among you, people who long ago were designated for this condemnation as ungodly, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (4)

Jude minces no words, reminding his listeners that God, “who once for all saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” (5) Then, he talks ominously about the fallen angels who, having “left their proper dwelling, he [God] has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great day.” (6) And just make sure we get his point, Jude reminds us that “Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”  All these seem a direct reference to the Jews who saw the early church as apostate.

There is real anger here: “But these people slander whatever they do not understand, and they are destroyed by those things that, like irrational animals, they know by instinct.” (10) The thought that occurs to me is that apostasy and heresy were critically important issues that could easily have ripped the early church apart. But today, we are far too casual in our acceptance of false gospels like the prosperity gospel or the Joel Osteen variety of “think good thoughts and you’ll be great” pablum. 

Psalm 129; Daniel 6:19–7:22; 3 John

Psalm 129: This psalm, written in the first person, begins with a complaint about those who have bullied the psalmist: “Much they beset me from my youth.” (2a) but his tormenters did not win in the end: “yet they did not prevail over me.” (2b) Although his tormentors did not prevail, they have nonetheless wreaked damage as we encounter one of the more gruesome agricultural metaphors in the Psalms: “My back the harrowers harrowed,/ they drew a long furrow.” (3) But God has intervened just as dramatically to free him from his torment: “The lord is just./ He has slashed the bonds of the wicked.” (4)

Who are the tormenters? They are the enemies of Israel (and one might suggest, all anti-Semites everywhere.) Now freed by God, the psalmist flings an imprecation at them: May they be shamed and fall back,/ all the haters of Zion.” (5)

Another agricultural metaphor, the curse is that those who hate him “be like grass on the rooftops/ that the east wind withers.” (6) I assume this is a reference to dry thatch. This thatch consists of the sheaves of grain that have been rejected as being useless for their intended purpose and “with which no reaper fills his hand,/ no binder of sheaves in his bosom.” (7) The strong implication here is that his enemies have been rejected by Israel, and denied God’s blessing, as the psalm concludes, “no passers-by say, “The Lord’s blessing upon you!/ We bless you in the name of the Lord.” (8)

So, what do we make of a psalm that includes torture and curses? As is so often the case, the psalms are how the poet can express his deepest feelings and we feel his anger palpably here. We sense the psalmist’s almost perverse joy that his enemies will dry up and blow away like the dead grass on the rooftop. Jesus may have advised us to love our enemies, but psalms like these are under no such constraint.

Daniel 6:19–7:22: We all know and love the happy ending of the Daniel-in-the-lion-den story. The distraught king hurries to the den the next morning and is overjoyed to find Daniel alive. As usual, it is Daniel who speaks the lesson: “My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong.” (6:22). Daniel’s accusers–and their entire families–are tossed into the den where “Before they reached the bottom of the den the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces.” (6:24b)

I think the reason this story resonates so strongly down through the centuries is that justice triumphs over injustice. And those who have committed injustice pay with their lives. It’s a perfect illustration of the theme of God’s justice that courses through the entire Old Testament–and a lesson for those who plot injustice. Too often, it seems that injustice prevails, but as my Dad used to say, “eventually, the chickens come home to roost.” We must have faith that even in the present reign of seeming injustice, God’s justice will prevail in the end.

Daniel is indeed wise and an interpreter of other’s dreams, but in a way, he is cursed with his own dreams and the vision of the four beasts arising out of the sea is particularly dramatic:- a lion with eagle’s wings; a bear with three tusks; a leopard with four wings; and a monster with iron teeth and ten horns and then the appearance of a “little horn”  covered in eyes. That would certainly be enough to wake me up in fright!

An apocalyptic vision of the”ancient one” on his throne and streams of fire caps the dream.  Surrounded by thousands of servants, there is a throne room judgement as “he court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.” (6:10) The beasts are destroyed, and then the great vision of Daniel;
  I saw one like a human being[e]
       coming with the clouds of heaven.
   And he came to the Ancient One
       and was presented before him.
   To him was given dominion
       and glory and kingship,
   that all peoples, nations, and languages
      should serve him.

I think most Christians see this as the throne room judgement of God–the Ancient One– at the end of history and the “one like a human being” as being Jesus Christ glorified. Books have been written about what each symbol and beast stands for, including theories that the ten-horned beast represents Europe and the little horn, the rise of the United States. For me, this is all entertaining but useless speculation. I think that like John’s Revelation, these images are attempts to express the inexpressible. We should just sit back and let them wash over us, knowing that one day their true meaning will be revealed to us.

3 John: This short little letter is one of those that give us insight into some of the personalities of the early church. At a casual level, wonders why this basically personal thank-you note, thanking Gaius for his hospitality, made it into the Canon. But as we read, there is much more here.

John tells Gaius–and us–to provide support those who do the Lord’s work: “Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the friends, even though they are strangers to you; they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on in a manner worthy of God.” (5, 6) Even though all of us don’t go out, “we ought to support such people, so that we may become co-workers with the truth.” (8) Which is why every church must have a “mission beyond” program. 

The latter half of this letter deals with Diotrephes, who appears to be a church leader, who has rejected John’s authority and and is acting capriciously, having decided that Demetrius is  perosna non grata in the church, and is “spreading false charges against us. And not content with those charges, he refuses to welcome the friends, and even prevents those who want to do so and expels them from the church.” (10)

And once again, John has to make the same point he makes over and over in his epistles: “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.” (11) We need to be reminded of this every day, it seems.

From its earliest days, the church has been beset with conflict. While we should not take encouragement in that when we experience conflict in our own church today, it helps us realize that human nature is pretty immutable–and that it takes serious will to act on John’s command that we not imitate what is evil, but imitate what is good. As Luther said so well, we are simultaneously saints and sinners.