Psalm 149; Zechariah 13:7–14:21; Malachi 1; Revelation 21:9–22:7

Psalm 149: Alter suggests that “Sing to the Lord a new song” (1) is a kind of self advertisement on the part of the psalmist, saying “here’s a new song I’ve written that you haven’t heard before.” In any event it is certainly upbeat and joyful: “Let Israel rejoice in its Maker,/ Zion’s sons exult in its king.” (2) We shortly learn that this psalm celebrates a military victory and God has definitely been on their side: “For the Lord looks with favor on His people,/ He adorns the lowly with victory.” (4) Verse 5–“”Let the faithful delight in glory,/ sing gladly on their couches.”–certainly suggests the setting for singing this song was a post-victory party. And it was probably soldiers who were doing the celebrating: “Exultations of God in their their throat/ and a double-edged sword in their hand,” (6).

The image of rejoicing over its victory turns darker as the psalmist evokes the harsh punishment meted to the losing side: “…to wreak vengeance upon the nations,/ punishment on the peoples,/ to bind their kings in fetters,/ and their nobles in iron chains.” (7, 8) We can imagine that songs of this sort have accompanied parties following military victories down through the ages. But then in the final verse our psalmist circles back to God, making it clear that this victory has served the purpose of executing God’s justice and they have been the instruments of that justice: “to exact from justice as written–/ it is grandeur for all His faithful./ Hallelujah.” (9)

Sometimes a psalm makes us uncomfortable because even though it is praising God there’s a strong whiff of human pride along side that praise. Something that all humans have done down through the ages. We praise God, but we also make sure he understands the victory was accomplished with our efforts.

Zechariah 13:7–14:21: The final poem in this book focuses on how God punishes the unfaithful but also that a remnant is saved:
In the whole land, says the Lord,
       two-thirds shall be cut off and perish,
       and one-third shall be left alive. (13:8)

And it is those who are left that have been “refined as one refines silver/ and tested as gold is tested.” (13:9a) Those are the ones who
will call on my name,
       and I will answer them.
    I will say, “They are my people”;
       and they will say, “The Lord is our God.” (13:9b)

If ever we needed a reminder that trials and testing accompany our faith, it is right here. But as I can attest from my own experience, it is in that testing that we are indeed refined to a stronger faith and able to say, “The Lord is our God.”

The final chapter of this book is pure eschatology, describing a future disastrous battle against Jerusalem where the nations have gathered and “and the city shall be taken and the houses looted and the women raped. ” (14: 2a) But in keeping with the promise from the previous chapter that some will be saved, “half the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city.” (2b) We can certainly see John’s inspiration of a new eternal Jerusalem as Zechariah promises, “it shall be inhabited, for never again shall it be doomed to destruction; Jerusalem shall abide in security.” (14:11)

Those who fight against Jerusalem will experience “a great panic from the Lord” (13) as a plague decimates the opposing armies. Those enemies “who survive of the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the festival of booths.” (14:16)

The final verse describes a new order in the Temple where “every cooking pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be sacred to the Lord of hosts,…And there shall no longer be traders  in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day.” This is Zechariah’s ending note: that the corruption and trading in the Temple will cease. And of course that was exactly  Jesus’ intention when he turns over the moneychanger’s tables in the Temple. Corruption in the Temple has been going on for centuries when Jesus arrives. And one wonders if such an event occurred in Zechariah’s time.

Malachi 1: The editors who determined the order of the Hebrew Scriptures were no dummies. Just as Zechariah ends on the promise of eventually ending corruption in the Temple, Malachi opens by describing an even deeper problem: corrupt priests who offer blighted sacrifices such as blind animals. In short, they are offering not the best, but the very worst to God. Malachi’s voice of God asks rhetorically, “Try presenting that to your governor; will he be pleased with you or show you favor?” (1:8) Hypocrisy is rife and Malachi opines that “Oh, that someone among you would shut the temple  doors, so that you would not kindle fire on my altar in vain!” (1:10)  Worse, the priests are disrespectful, and God says, “you sniff at me… You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering!” Wow. Talk about cutting to the heart of the problem!

Of course this hypocrisy of not offering God our best continues down to the present day. I certainly know that I am guilty of giving to God only what has been left over, rather than my first fruits.

Revelation 21:9–22:7: After the battles. the plagues, the dreadful images of dreadful monsters, awful events and judgements that occupy most of Revelation we come at last to John’s vision of a New Jerusalem. “Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal.” (21:10, 11) John’s vision of a new Jerusalem is far grander than Zechariah’s vision of sacred pots and an uncorrupted priesthood. Day and night are eliminated and its size is enormous: the city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width; and he measured the city with his rod, fifteen hundred miles;  its length and width and height are equal.” (21:16)

John’s New Jerusalem has eliminated the old temple altogether and “its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” (21:22)  But now the entirety of the New Jerusalem is a sacred space and “nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (21:27)

John’s final image is “the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.” (22:1,2) There’s a beautiful symmetry here as John’s words invoke the images of Genesis. Only here the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil has been replaced by the Tree of Life, with its twelve kinds of fruit–one for each month of the year and whose “leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Peace finally comes. Not through humankind’s own feeble efforts but from the only source of peace: “throne of God and of the Lamb.”

We can almost hear the glorious end title music rising as John concludes his vision, telling us, “there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (22:5) And then the final eschatological promise of Jesus Christ: “See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” (22:7)

Although we still wait. But in waiting we have John’s reliable encouragement of far, far better days to come.

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