Psalm 144:9–15; Habakkuk 2,3; Revelation 16:1–11

Psalm 144:9–15: Our psalmist turns to worship– “God, a new song I would sing to You,/ on a ten-stringed lute I would hymn to You.” (9)–as the thanksgiving for God’s rescue of David continues: “Who grants rescue to kings,/ redeems David His servant from the evil sword.” (10)

However, an odd interlude of supplication amidst the joy follows: “Redeem me and save me from the foreigners’ hand,/ whose mouth speaks falsely,/ and whose right hand is a right hand of lies.” (11) Assuming this is a psalm of thanksgiving about David as king, this verse suggests the reality that enemies are still out there although they are presently being held at bay. But at the moment the defenses of the land remain secure and at peace. There is bounty: Our granaries are full,/ dispensing food of every kind./ Our flocks are in the thousands,/ ten thousands in the fields.” (13) There is security: “There is no breach and none goes out,/ and no screaming in the squares.” (14) A prosperous and secure land ruled by a gracious king who worships God is the best of all possible worlds as the conclusion of the psalm tells us: “Happy the people who has it thus,/ happy the people whose God is the Lord.” (15)

Above all, though, peace and security yield the greatest treasures: sons and daughters. The psalmist’s similes are at once sweet and striking. Sons “are like saplings, / tended in their youth.” Sons who are well-tended by their parents do indeed grow to be strong trees.  Daughters are “like corner-pillars hewn for the shape of a pa;ace.” I presume these corner pillars were carved into shapely attractive elements, and in the patriarchal land, one could ask for nothing better than comely daughters, who would become married wives.  As a father, watching my son and daughter become caring, giving adults is the greatest reward of all.

Habakkuk 2,3: God answers Habakkuk’s plea, telling him, “Write the vision;/ make it plain on tablets.” (2:2) God reminds Habakkuk to “Look at the proud!/ Their spirit is not right in them,/ but the righteous live by their faith.” (2:4) Living by faith is always better because “Pride will never endure” and “Moreover, wealth is treacherous;/ the arrogant do not endure.” (2:5) As always, pride and arrogance will come to a bad end and the prophet spends the remainder of this chapter cataloging the woes that come to the wicked, “Alas for you who build a town by bloodshed,/and found a city on iniquity!” (2:12) and that the wicked will be “sated with contempt instead of glory.” (2:16) Idolatry is ultimately empty and lifeless:
Alas for you who say to the wood, “Wake up!”
       to silent stone, “Rouse yourself!”
    Can it teach?
        See, it is gold and silver plated,
       and there is no breath in it at all. (2:19)

The lessons of Habakkuk are lessons for our present age that is prideful, arrogant and obsessed with the idols it has created: celebrity, technology, and above all wealth. It is existentially empty, leading only to despair.

But there is always hope and this book ends on a far more optimistic note than Nahum’s. Chapter 3 is Habakkuk’s prayer for revival among the people:
O Lord, I have heard of your renown,
    and I stand in awe, O Lord, of your work.
In our own time revive it;
    in our own time make it known;
    in wrath may you remember mercy. (3:2)

The prophet knows that disaster is not far away: “I wait quietly for the day of calamity/ to come upon the people who attack us.” (3:16). But in this psalm of thanksgiving spoken in the midst of impending doom, Habakkuk holds on to the One Sure Thing:
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
       I will exult in the God of my salvation.
   God, the Lord, is my strength;
       he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
       and makes me tread upon the heights. (3:18, 19)

And in the midst of culture disintegrating before our eyes, so must we cling to the rock that is Jesus Christ.

Revelation 16:1–11: It would seem by this point that the earth has seen enough battles, disasters, and death. But John persists in his catalog of woes as the bowls of wrath are poured out one by one.

Bowl 1: “foul and painful sores” (2) come to those who worshipped the 666 beast.
Bowl 2: the sea “became like the blood of a corpse” (3) killing everything in it. I will take this as some sort of dreadful pollution. And in John’s time perhaps he had witnessed a deadly algae bloom.
Bowl 3:  Fresh water also becomes hopelessly polluted. The angel makes it clear that the water punishments of bowls 2 and 3 are just desserts for the 666 people “because they shed the blood of saints and prophets.” (6)
Bowl 4: The sun scorches people with fire in what must be a prolonged heat wave.
Bowl 5: Darkness (an eclipse perhaps) overcomes the earth and “people gnawed their tongues in agony, and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and sores. (10,11)

One has the feeling that John witnessed various disasters during his lifetime and has decided to list them in dramatically amplified form as sure signs of the end of history. Which I’m sure he expected to see come shortly. Which it eventually did as the seemingly unconquerable Roman Empire decays from within and is ultimately vanquished several hundred years after John wrote. But to borrow from TS Eliot, it didn’t end with the bang John forecasts, but with the whimper of internal decay.

The punishment is just because as John observes, “they did not repent of their deeds.” (11). These bowls of wrath are plainly recompense for the sins of the people who refused to acknowledge their misdeeds and repent. One wonders if John has attempted to preach to people who refused to listen and taunted him. In any event, there is certainly no shortage of acts of God’s vengeance here and one wonders why grace has disappeared. Are John’s vision the result of a deep-seated anger?

In any event he is certainly demonstrating to his readers that while they may be suffering now, their oppressors will come to a dreadful end. Like Habakkuk, detailing his list of woes, John uses dramatic imagery to make his point that failing to repent and follow God will come only to an unhappy and painful end.

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