Psalm 141:1–4; Obadiah 1; Jonah 1,2; Revelation 11:1–14

Psalm 141:1–4: This prayer of supplication begins with the usual formula asking God to come and listen: “O Lord, I call You. Hasten to me./ Hearken to my voice when I call You.” (1) To make sure God gets his point, he emphasizes his posture of holiness, which unlike praying on one’s knees in a gesture of humility is standing, arms raised, looking up toward heaven: “May my prayer stand as incense before You,/ my uplifted hands as the evening offering.” (2)  Here, prayer is compared to a sweet-smelling sacrifice, an act of formal worship.

More important than his posture is the content of his prayer–and what he asks for right off the bat: “Place, O Lord, a watch on my mouth,/ a guard at the door of my lips.” (3) As usual, it is what we say that can do the most damage and our psalmist opens his prayer by asking God to help him speak with thoughtfulness and even caution. No matter how benign our thoughts may be when we open our mouths to speak, it is the words that come out of our mouth and are heard by others that define our relationships and how we are seen by others. To try to excuse ourselves and say, “that really isn’t what I meant to say” may help, but too often the damage has been done.

The psalmist seems to realize this as he asks God to “incline not my heart to an evil word/ to plot wicked acts.” (4a). In fact, he is asking to avoid the temptation of falling in with those who are “wrongdoing men/ and let me not feast on their delicacies.” (4) I don’t think “delicacies” here refers to what they eat, but their plotting and conniving against others.

What we learn here is that we can go to God and pray for wisdom in what we say aloud and for God to “lead us not into temptation” and fall in with the wrong crowd.

Obadiah 1; Jonah 1,2: At first glance we may wonder why Obadiah is even in the OT canon. The entirety of his single chapter is about how Edom will be conquered and how the Edomites will get their just desserts for their longstanding cruelty against Israel.
On that day, says the Lord,
I will destroy the wise out of Edom,
and understanding out of Mount Esau. (8)

The inhabitants of Edom are the descendants of Esau, the twin of Jacob. And as Esau and Jacob’s relationship did not come to a good end, so too Israel and Edom. Obadiah reminds us of the fruits of that broken relationship as Edom stands aside as the Israel (the Northern Kingdom) is invaded by the Assyrians and then Judah by the Babylonians. He reminds them that “you should not have gloated over your brother
on the day of his misfortune;/ you should not have rejoiced over the people of Judah/on the day of their ruin;” (12) Because now they are meeting the same fate.

The clear lesson to us is to never gloat or be happy at another’s misfortune because the same things is all too likely to happen to us.

If gloating over another’s misfortune comes to a bad end, so does trying to run away from God. We all know Jonah’s story as he heads by boat to Tarshish, in the opposite direction from Ninevah. What we don’t learn in Sunday school is that when the storm comes, the frightened sailors cast lots to see whose fault the storm is and cast lots “and the lot fell on Jonah.” Unlucky or God-inspired, part of his larger plan?

Jonah admits he’s a Hebrew and “Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.” (1:10) After they toss Jonah into the sea and the storm abates, “the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.” (16). While the men’s action may have looked like murder for self-preservation, the author’s point here is that God has a plan for Jonah and God has also deeply impacted these men, who come to see who the True God is compared to the small-g gods to whom they prayer earlier for rescue.

Jonah’s residence in the big fish leads him to prayer and he promises to sacrifice to God, saying, “what I have vowed I will pay./ Deliverance belongs to the Lord!” What’s interesting here is that it is not a prayer of desperation but a beautiful psalm of thanksgiving. It’s one of the aspects of Jonah’s story to lead me to believe we are not reading history, but a marvelous story of our relationship with God, who indeed loves us and whom we should not fear even when we’re asked to do tough things.

As Christians, we see the “three days and three nights” Jonah is in the belly of the fish and then his deliverance as predictive of Jesus death and resurrection. But I’ve always wondered if this is over-interpretation.

Revelation 11:1–14: A measuring rod again. Is it the same one we saw in Ezekiel? Like Ezekiel, John is invited by the angel to “Come and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there,” (11:1)  Then the two witnesses appear, who have the “authority to prophesy for one thousand two hundred sixty days, wearing sackcloth.” (3). Once again we have the precision of numbers juxtaposed against remarkable imagery. These witnesses are apparently prophets sent directly from God, and they have been given great power to consume by fire anyone who opposes them. They also have the power to “to shut the sky, so that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying” (6) as well as replicate the plagues that befell Egypt so long ago.

But like the prophets of old, and despite their power, most people do not even listen to them. Once that 3 1/2 year period of witness ends, the “the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that is prophetically  called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. (7,8). As if this isn’t bizarre enough,there is a grisly image where “For three and a half days members of the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb” (9) Is this a perverse and distorted reenactment of Jesus death?

Like the Edomites in Obadiah, “the inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them.” And then in what seems like a perverted Christmas, they will also “celebrate and exchange presents.” (10) But John reminds us that “these two prophets had been a torment to the inhabitants of the earth.” (10b). We just don’t like prophets who tell us things we don’t want to hear. But like the Edomites, the people get what’s coming to them. After these 3 1/2 days, the prophets are resurrected (resuscitated?) and “those who saw them were terrified.” (11) An earthquake then kills 7,000 people.

So, what is this about? It seems to be some sort of distorted mirror image of Jesus’ ministry on earth. But perhaps the lesson is much simpler: even prophets who come directly from God are ignored by gloating, self-centered humans who think God is unnecessary and probably doesn’t even exist. That attitude certainly sounds awfully modern.

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