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. 

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