Psalm 146; Zechariah 1,2; Revelation 18:1–10

Psalm 146: This thanksgiving psalm is a celebration of God’s benevolence toward humankind. It includes a verse that should be placed on billboards, broadcast everywhere, posted on Facebook and tweeted frequently during the ever-advancing political season:
Do not trust in princes,
in a human who offers no rescue. (3)

While politicians of every stripe attempt to convince us about how they will solve every problem, our psalmist reminds us that they, too, are mere mortals: “His breath departs, he returns to the dust./ On that day his plans are naught.” (4) Instead of relying on the hollow words and inept plans of those seeking power, the psalmist reminds us that we find our joy in trusting God: “Happy [is he] whose help is Jacob’s God,/ his hope–for the Lord his God.” (5)

The psalmist then lists the marvelous qualities of the God in whom we trust, who is after all, “maker of heaven and earth,/ the sea, and of all that is in them.” (6a) Those are credentials no human–their boasting speeches notwithstanding–can hope to possess. God is:

  • Faithful: “Who keeps faith forever” (6b)
  • Seeks justice: “does justice for the oppressed.” (7a)
  • Feeds the poor: “gives bread to the hungry” (7b)
  • Healer: “Gives sight to the blind,” “makes the bent stand erect.” (8a)
  • Lover: “loves the righteous”
  • Provides for immigrants: “guards sojourners” (9a)

And as always, cares for those without a family to protect them: “orphan and widow he sustains.” (9b)

As we reflect on the life of Jesus we come to realize that he acted out all these qualities while here on earth. And his command to us is crystalline: we are to emulate these qualities in our relationships with everyone we encounter: our family, our friends, strangers, and above all, the dispossessed.

Zechariah 1,2: Zechariah appears to be a contemporary of Haggai since the word of the Lord comes to him at just about the same time (“In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius,”). His message is straight to the point: “Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.” (1:3). He pleads, “Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the former prophets proclaimed, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.” But they did not hear or heed me.” (4)

These are typical prophetic words but then things turn apocalyptic. He has a vision of a man riding a red horse “standing among the myrtle trees in the glen;” (1:8). There are other men on other horses as well. Zechariah understandably asks who they are and is told, “They are those whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth.” (1:10). The guardian elaborates, telling Zechariah that God is “extremely angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was only a little angry, they made the disaster worse.” (1:15) and that he will “again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.” (1:17)

Zechariah then has a second vision of four horns, which the explanatory angel tells him are the nations that have scattered Judah. “Then the Lord showed me four blacksmiths.” (20) who have come “to terrify them, to strike down the horns of the nations that lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter its people.” (1:21)

His third vision is of a man “with a measuring line in his hand.” (2:1) and is told by the angel he has come “to measure Jerusalem.” Another angel appears and tells the first angel to ““Run, say to that young man: Jerusalem shall be inhabited like villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and animals in it.” (2:4). And that this new Jerusalem will be protected by a wall of fire. Well, we can see that John of Patmos was not the first person to have a vision of a new Jerusalem!

Zechariah’s fourth vision is to the exiles that are dwelling in other nations to return to Jerusalem: “ Up! Escape to Zion, you that live with daughter Babylon.” (2:7) because God is “going to raise  my hand against them, and they shall become plunder for their own slaves.” (2:9) This is cause of great rejoicing and above all, God’s promise that “I will come and dwell in your midst, says the Lord.” (2:10.)

But once again we are reminded that God is God not just of his chosen people, but of all people: “ Many nations shall join themselves to the Lord on that day, and shall be my people; and I will dwell in your midst. And you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.” (2:11) This is one more proof that God cares for all of us, and as we know he demonstrates this love by sending his son to earth.

Revelation 18:1–10: These words must have been encouraging to the people reading John’s message as they suffered under Roman oppression. Like Zechariah’s positive message, we all want to hear how God will take down our enemy. And just as Zechariah called the exiles to come back to Jerusalem, John hears “another voice from heaven saying,

“Come out of her, my people,
    so that you do not take part in her sins,
and so that you do not share in her plagues;
   for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
    and God has remembered her iniquities.” (4,5)

Unlike Zechariah, though, there is a level of vengeance here against the conquering nation, Rome:
    Render to her as she herself has rendered,
       and repay her double for her deeds;
       mix a double draught for her in the cup she mixed. (6)

John’s vision of total destruction is of course the judgement of God:
   her plagues will come in a single day—
       pestilence and mourning and famine—
   and she will be burned with fire;
       for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.”

Not only will Rome fall, but all “the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning.” (9). While other nations may not meet the same dreadful fate. there is no question their world is unalterably changed. And with a final shout, John, reminds his listeners that as today’s psalm observes, the plans of mankind come to dust and now, the kings can only “stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,

   “Alas, alas, the great city,
       Babylon, the mighty city!
   For in one hour your judgment has come.” (10)

The question of course, that has been asked across the centuries since then, is are we the new Rome and will we fall? And as history demonstrates, the answer is usually “yes” as once mighty empires cease to exist. Are we the next in line?

Speak Your Mind