Archives for November 2017

Psalm 137; Hosea 10,11,12; Revelation 3:19–4:8

Psalm 137: This beautiful psalm, so full of sadness yet remarkable beauty, was doubtless composed shortly after the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem. The opening verse fairly teems with fond remembrance of a former joyous life for the psalmist and his friends—and all that has been lost:
By Babylon’s streams
there we sat, oh we wept,
when we recalled Zion
On the poplars there
we hung our lyres.” (1, 2)

This psalm has doubtless been sung down through the centuries by Jews who have been exiled from their homeland. It has an emotional force that for me, anyway, is unequaled in all the book of Psalms.

And now in a cruel irony the Babylonians ask them to sing a song that only intensifies the pain of remembrance of what once was:
For there our captors had asked of us
words of song
and our plunderers—rejoicing:
‘Sing us from Zion’s songs.’ (3)

But in the intense pain of memory the poet vows,
How can we sing a song of the Lord
on foreign soil?
Should I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand wither.
May my tongue cleave to my palate
if I do not recall you,
If I do not set Jerusalem”above my chief joy.” (4-6)

It is this vow that rings down through the ages in the traditional Jewish toast, “Next year in Jerusalem!”

The pain of loss transforms from bitter memory into hateful anger as our psalmist recalls how the Edomites encouraged the Babylonians to completely destroy Jerusalem:
Recall, O Lord, the Edomites,
on the day of Jerusalem, saying:
‘Raze it, raze it,
to its foundation!’ (7)

Hatred intensifies into a wish for revenge in one of the ugliest verses in all the Psalms:
Daughter of Babylon the despoiler,
happy who pays you back in kind,
for what you did to us.
Happy who seizes and smashes
your infants against the rock.” (8, 9)

If we ever needed an example of how a psalm can describe the deepest possible emotions it is right here. It’s worth noting that emotion, including the most intense possible anger and hatred is channeled through poetry and song and not in violent action.

Hosea 10,11,12: Hosea describes an Israel that has wandered far from its promise to follow God as he catalogs their various idols, weaving in the promise of their eventual destruction:
Their heart is deceitful,
    and now they must bear their guilt.
The Lord will demolish their altars
    and destroy their sacred stones.” (10:2)

The northern kingdom of Israel and its idols will meet a bitter end:
The people who live in Samaria fear
    for the calf-idol of Beth Aven.
Its people will mourn over it,
    and so will its idolatrous priests,
those who had rejoiced over its splendor,
    because it is taken from them into exile.
It will be carried to Assyria
    as tribute for the great king.” (10:5, 6)

As always, it all boils down to human pride:
But you have planted wickedness,
    you have reaped evil,
    you have eaten the fruit of deception.
Because you have depended on your own strength
    and on your many warriors,” (10:13)

But despite the manifold sins of Israel, God still loves them:
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, Israel?

My heart is changed within me;
    all my compassion is aroused.” (11:8)

Hosea composes a fascinating interior dialog of God debates to himself:
I will not carry out my fierce anger,
    nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
For I am God, and not a man—
    the Holy One among you.
    I will not come against their cities.” (11:9)

But, God continues, there are still the manifold sins of these stubborn, wayward people:
Ephraim has surrounded me with lies,
    Israel with deceit.
And Judah is unruly against God,
    even against the faithful Holy One.” (11:12)

Then again, God continues to reflect, these people have always been rebellious, starting out with their patriarch, Jacob. It’s in their very nature:
The Lord has a charge to bring against Judah;
    he will punish Jacob  according to his ways
    and repay him according to his deeds.
In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel;

    as a man he struggled with God.
He struggled with the angel and overcame him;
    he wept and begged for his favor.” (12: 2-4)

Nevertheless, Hosea writes,  God demands repentance and obedience.
But you must return to your God;
    maintain love and justice,
    and wait for your God always.”  (12:6)

The chapter ends on a grim note of an unhappy God who will mete out the punishment these stubborn people deserve:
But Ephraim has aroused his bitter anger;
    his Lord will leave on him the guilt of his bloodshed
    and will repay him for his contempt.” (12:14)

What’s fascinating to me in these chapters is how God seems to oscillate between anger and love, which is a pretty human quality. The Old Testament God is a God of many emotions—displaying far more human qualities, even vacillation, than the God of pure justice and love we encounter in the New Testament.

Revelation 3:19–4:8: Like Hosea, John knows that God demands repentance. And in a verse that is a favorite among evangelicals John gives us the famous image of a patient Jesus who comes to us and awaits or decision to “open the door of our hearts” and ask Jesus in and to begin a relationship with him: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (3:20)

Continuing with the door metaphor, John, having completed his message to the specific churches, enters through a door into the very throne room of heaven: “After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” (4:1) And thus begins the most fantastic and creative narrative in the Bible, topping even Daniel’s visions.

The very first thing John sees is a throne but its splendor is such that he cannot really identify who is sitting on it, only that “A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne.” (4:3) The throne is surrounded by 24 other thrones “and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.” (4:4)  Many people interpret these as the 12 disciples and 12 Jewish patriarchs.

It’s certainly a noisy place: “From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing.” (4:5) We meet the four living creatures, not very dissimilar to Daniel’s vision: “The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle” (4:7)  We can be sure that John was quite familiar with that book.  The 6-winged, eye-covered creatures are leading a never ending worship, singing,
“‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,
who was, and is, and is to come.
” (4:8)

Much ink has been spilled in trying to interpret the 24 elders, the seven spirits of God, and the four creatures, whose faces by the way, now represent the four gospels. As far as I am concerned, I think I’ll just sit back and enjoy the fantastic images.

Psalm 136; Hosea 8,9; Revelation 3:7–18

Psalm 136: The Moravians must be doing catch-up by assigning us all 26 verses of this psalm. However, since every other line is “for His kindness is forever,” its content is really only 13 verses worth. With the repeated refrain following every line, it’s clear that this psalm of thanksgiving was sung antiphonally—much in the same way that many congregations today read (or sing) psalms responsively

The theme of the opening stanza is God’s creativity and his steadfast faithfulness:
Acclaim the greatest Master
for His kindness is forever.
Who alone performs great wonders,
for His kindness is forever.” (3,4)

The following stanza reprises God’s creation of the universe as it parallels the Genesis story (we’ll omit the refrain):
Who makes the heavens in wisdom,
Who stamps firm the earth on the waters,
Who makes the great lights,
The sun for dominion of day
The moon and stars for dominion of night.” (5-9)

Then the psalm recounts Israel’s national story: its escape from Egypt:
Who strikes Egypt in its firstborn,
And brings out Israel from their midst,
With a string and an outstretched arm,
Who split the Reed Sea into parts,” (10-13)

Then, wilderness journey and conquering Canaan, including naming the kings that they defeated:
Who struck down the great kings,
And killed mighty kings
Sihon, king of the Amorites,
And Og, king of Bashan,
And gave their land as an estate,
An estate for Israel His servant,” (17-22)

The psalm remembers how God rescued Israel:
Who recalled us when we were low,
And delivered us from our foes.” (23-24)

Having moved through the creation story and Israel’s history, the psalm closes on a general thanksgiving for God’s providence:
Who gives bread to all flesh,
Acclaim the God of the heavens.” (25-26)

The ultimate effect of this psalm is unity. Depsite individual differences, in this psalm all Israel was united in acknowledging God’s action in creation and their national history. One cannot come away from this psalm without a feeling of strength and patriotism. I think if we Americans could somehow sing our own national history in unison as the Jews did here there would be greater understanding of where we came from, who we are, and a reminder that we have much more in common than the politics that rips us apart.

Hosea 8,9: Hosea continues his narration in God’s voice as  he catalogs Israel’s collective sin of idolatry and its failure to follow God’s law—as well as its hypocrisy:
Israel cries out to me,
‘Our God, we acknowledge you!’
But Israel has rejected what is good;
    an enemy will pursue him.” (8:2, 3)

For their egregious sins, God’s punishment is inevitable as it is memorably decsribed in the famous verse,
They sow the wind
    and reap the whirlwind.”  (8:7)

Both Israel and Judah are relying on their own efforts rather than trusting God. Out of this pride of self-sufficiency will come the whirlwind:
Israel has forgotten their Maker
    and built palaces;
    Judah has fortified many towns.
But I will send fire on their cities
    that will consume their fortresses.” (8:14)

Needless to say, there’s a contemporary lesson here: Human pride and its attitude that God is superfluous will inevitably bring nations to a bad end. Which is the entire point of chapter 9 as Hosea, still speaking in Gd’s voice, outlines Israel’s dreadful fate:
Do not rejoice, Israel;
    do not be jubilant like the other nations.
For you have been unfaithful to your God;
    you love the wages of a prostitute
    at every threshing floor.” (9:1)

And for its sins,
The days of punishment are coming,
    the days of reckoning are at hand.
    Let Israel know this.
Because your sins are so many
    and your hostility so great,
the prophet is considered a fool,
    the inspired person a maniac.” (9:7)

Notice the personal note there. Obviously Hosea was considered to be a lunatic for speaking the truth. Which is exactly how we discount dire warnings today. I wonder how long we can get away with that attitude? Will we meet the same fate as Israel? The final verse of this chapter describes exactly what happened after AD70 and the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem:
My God will reject them
    because they have not obeyed him;
    they will be wanderers among the nations.” (9:17)

Even prophecies that appear to be lunacy can come true.

Revelation 3:7–18: The churches at Philadelphia and Laodicea are today’s targets. Like Hosea, John speaks in God’s (or actually, I think, Christ’s) voice, describing the conditions at Philadelphia: “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (8) Sounding just like Ezekiel or Hosea, there are apparently some false believers “of the synagogue of Satan,” who will meet their deserved fate: “I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.” (9) But notice how different their fate will be under Christ rather than the angry OT God: they will “acknowledge that I (Christ) have loved you.” The terms of the New Covenant are certainly preferable to the old!

There’s an apocalyptic interlude here as John, eager to get on writing about his visions, promises Jesus’ imminent return to earth: “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” (11) And he gives us a hint of what will come in greater detail at the end of this book: “the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God.” (12) In effect, he’s telling the church to stay tuned. And of course 2000 years later, we are still waiting. But as always, we must remain alert.

John is less complimentary about the church at Laodicea, as he famously notes it is stuck in the middle—” I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (15, 16) The problem here is that the members of this church have deluded themselves, thinking they are all set theologically and “do not need a thing.” But it’s clear that this church has forgotten about compassion for its neighbors as we hear an echo of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: “you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (17) In short, they are focused on the things that really don’t matter but ignoring the things that do.

Which pretty much describes most churches today, I’m afraid.

Psalm 135:13–21; Hosea 5,6,7; Revelation 2:24–3:6

Psalm 135:13–21: This psalm continues to praise an eternal God who shows mercy:
“Lord, Your name is forever,
Lord, Your fame for all generations
For the Lord champions His people,
and for His servants He shows change of heart.” (13, 14)

Against this magnificence our psalmist describes the pointlessness of idolatry in words that certainly seem apropos today’s American culture:
The nations’ idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
A mouth they have and they do not speak,
eyes they have and they do not see.
Ears they have and they do not hear,
nor is there breath in their mouth.” (15-17)

Our psalmist is describing how these lifeless statues may look human but unlike God-created humans they are blind, deaf, and dumb.  Today, we have advanced (or declined) beyond the need for gold and silver made into small statues. Instead, we worship gold and silver itself. Wealth has become the great measure of a person’s wealth. But in the end trust in these dead objects or objectives is pointless. Our psalmist reminds us that when we trust only in dead things, we are transmuted into the dead objects we worship:
Like them may their makers be,
all who trust in them.” (18)

And like those statues, wealth or power is a mere simulacrum—a pathetic and ultimately dead imitation of God’s true purpose for our lives.

The psalm concludes with a hearty praise chorus, reminding the singers that the true and living God lives in Jerusalem:
“House of Israel, bless the Lord,
House of Aaron, bless the Lord.
House of Levi, bless the Lord.
Those who fear the Lord, bless the Lord.
Blessed is the Lord from Zion,
Who dwells in Jerusalem.
Hallelujah!”  (19-21)

Hosea 5,6,7: The Moravians are certainly not looking to linger in this rather strange prophetic book that uses prostitutes as its main running metaphor:
Their deeds do not permit them
    to return to their God.
For the spirit of whoredom is within them,
    and they do not know the Lord.” (5:4)

There is a certain despair that hovers over this book as Hosea names the primary sin of the people: pride:
Israel’s pride testifies against him;
    Ephraim  stumbles in his guilt;
    Judah also stumbles with them.” (5:5)

Hosea outlines some of the historical events that occurred when Judah was under siege by Babylon, noting that without God, efforts are futile:
then Ephraim went to Assyria,
    and sent to the great king.
But he is not able to cure you.”

Hosea, seemingly shouting into the wind, says there is only way that Judah can be rescued and that is by turning to God, who promises that,
I will return again to my place
    until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face.
    In their distress they will beg my favor:” (5:15)

Which is just as true for us today. As we can see easily from current events, human pride and the wanton exercise of power untethered from faith in God leads ultimately to downfall.

We encounter a remarkable verse in chapter 6 as Hosea continues to plead with Israel to repent:
After two days [God] will revive us;
    on the third day he will raise us up,
    that we may live before him.” (6:2)

That third day rescue by God is certainly a parallel to Jesus’ three days in the tomb and then resurrection, although we know that Hosea wrote those lines with no knowledge of what was to come. Only God knew that.

But Hosea’s purpose here is to call priests and officials to account as chastises them in the strongest possible terms:
As robbers lie in wait for someone,
    so the priests are banded together;
they murder on the road to Shechem,
    they commit a monstrous crime.” (6:9)

His diatribe against the priesthood continues on into the next chapter with a new simile: an over-heated oven:
As robbers lie in wait for someone,
    so the priests are banded together;
they murder on the road to Shechem,
    they commit a monstrous crime.

For they are kindled like an oven, their heart burns within them;
    all night their anger smolders;
    in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire.” (7:4, 6)

Just as the psalmist excoriates those who worship idols, Hosea tells us that the efforts of these priests and officials will come to naught because they have not turned back to God. Another reminder that human effort—especially speech—that ignores God is ultimately doomed to failure:
They turn to that which does not profit;
    they have become like a defective bow;
their officials shall fall by the sword
    because of the rage of their tongue.
So much for their babbling in the land of Egypt.” (7:16)

Revelation 2:24–3:6: John advises those in the church at Thyatira to hang in there despite those espousing corrupt theology, or as John puts it colorfully, ‘the deep things of Satan,’ (2:24) Instead, they are to “only hold fast to what you have until I come.” (2:25) Inasmuch as John was a political prisoner on an obscure island in the Aegean Sea, his arrival could be a long time coming…

There’s a coded promise taken from the Old testament that God will eventually overthrow the clay pots of the Roman empire and reign in its place:
I will give authority over the nations;
to rule them with an iron rod,
    as when clay pots are shattered—” (2:27)

Which eventually came true under Constantine some 200 years after John wrote. I wonder f the church at Thyatira held out that long?

If John was reasonably kind to the people at Thyatira, he has fewer nice things to say about the apparently comatose church at Sardis: ““I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead.” (3:1) Doubtless, there are lots of comatose churches floating around today.

In a reference to Jesus’ final warnings to be alert, it looks as everyone there has forgotten his promise that he will return: “Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.” (3:3) But it’s not quite clear to me if the “I” in this sentence is referring to John or to Jesus. I’ll go with Jesus on this one.

Apparently the faithful remnant at Sardis that have hewed to orthodoxy is quite small: “Yet you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.” (3:4) That’s a nice metaphor: heterodoxy as soiled clothing. There’s doubtless a lot of soiled clothing in American churches. The pertinent question of course, is my clothing soiled?

Psalm 135:1–12; Hosea 2:16–4:19; Revelation 2:12–23

Psalm 135:1–12: This lyrical psalm of thanksgiving rejoices that God has chosen Israel (aka “Jacob” in this stanza) as his special people:
Praise Yah for the Lord is good,
hymn His name, for it is sweet.
For Yah has chosen for Himself Jacob,
Israel is His treasure.” (3, 4)

It’s worth remembering that God has chosen us through Jesus Christ. I grew up in a church that talked about the necessity of people making “decisions for Christ.” The clear implication was that it was we who choose to accept or reject Jesus Christ. Not until I was in the Lutheran church did I come to fully understand that it’s exactly the other way round. Jesus has chosen us first. We may accept or reject, but we cannot be so arrogant as to assume we’re in control of our destiny.

This sense of God being in control of all creation is intensified in the verses that follow:
All that the Lord desired He did
in the heavens and on the earth,
in the seas and all the depths.” (6)

Not only does God control nature, but as the psalmist recalls, it is God who created the circumstances that resulted in Israel’s release from Egypt through the plagues and the Passover:
[It was God] Who struck down the firstborn of Egypt
from humankind to beast,
Sent forth signs and portent in the midst of Egypt
against Pharaoh and all his servants.” (8,9)

Likewise, it was God who conquered the inhabitants of Canaan that enabled Israel to settle there:
[It was God] Who struck down many nations
and killed mighty kings—

And gave their land as an estate,
an estate to Israel, His people.” (10, 12)

We would do well to look around and see exactly how God is enabling us in our quotidian lives. There’s no question he’s at work in all kinds of ways.

Hosea 2:16–4:19: God continues to speak through Hosea in the giant metaphor of Israel being God’s wife. A day will come, God promises, where the Baals are gone forever and “ I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy.  I will take you for my wife in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord.” (2: 19, 20) This metaphor suggests where the idea of the Christian church as the “Bride of Christ” came from. 

For Israel, God’s greatest promise is fulfilled when after they reject the small-g gods, God will say to them, “You are my people”;/ and he shall say, “You are my God.” (2:23)

God the commands Hosea to go hire a prostitute and after he pays her 15 shekels, tell her, “You must remain as mine for many days; you shall not play the whore, you shall not have intercourse with a man, nor I with you.” (3:3) Likewise, Israel, which the prostitute represents here, “shall remain many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or teraphim.” (3:4) After this time of forgetting the small-g Gods, Israel will return to the one true God: “Afterward the Israelites shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; they shall come in awe to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.” (3:5)

Chapter 4 is a long poem that recalls Israel’s descent into idolatry with an intense focus on the evils of Baal worship, including that
the men themselves go aside with whores,
    and sacrifice with temple prostitutes;
thus a people without understanding comes to ruin.” (4:14)

But perhaps the greatest sin is that the people worship false idols becaise they have not stopped to think about the implications of what they are doing. They worship Baal because they have not remembered what God has commanded:
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
    because you have rejected knowledge,
    I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
    I also will forget your children.” (4:6)

These verses are an ominous parallel to today as the cultural knowledge of the Christian roots of western civilization and the creation of the scientific method are being forgotten and replaced by the false idols of technology and celebrity. Alas, ignorance of the kind Hosea describes is growing all around us.

Revelation 2:12–23: John continues his messages to the various churches in Asia. He commends the church at Pergamum, which is “where Satan’s throne is,” for “holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me” (14) even when one of their members, a certain Antipas, was martyred. Nevertheless, he continues, “I have a few things against you,” (14a) His complaint is that there are some “who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication.” (14b) This is proof that some idols just never go away—including today in our age of individual spiritualism and the Oprah gospel that we can find all the resources we need if we just look inside ourselves.

Moreover, there “are some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.”  (15)Which I take to be an aberrant, even heretical, form of Christianity. In short, the heresies that infected the church then still infect parts of the church today.

John takes the same “here’s-what-I-like-about-you-but-you-have-some-problems” approach to the church at Thyatira. They have sterling qualities—“your love, faith, service, and patient endurance” (19)—but apparnetly are in the thrall of a female prophetess—”you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants  to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols.” (20) I’m guessing that Jezebel wasn’t her real name and that John is making his point in pretty harsh terms.

Like Thyatira, too many churches today are held in thrall by false prophets. The entire edifice of the Prosperity Gospel and those Televangelists who claim to heal people come to mind.

Psalm 134; Daniel 12:8–Hosea 2:15; Revelation 2:1–11

Psalm 134: This very succinct psalm looks like it’s directed to those who remain at the temple overnight:
Look, bless the Lord,
all you servants of the Lord,
who stand in the Lord’s house through the nights.
Lift up your hands toward the holy place
and bless the Lord.” (1, 2)

Perhaps these are the people who tend the fires that are never extinguished, or even perhaps the those who cleaned the public areas at night. It’s a helpful reminder that churches require tending to: maintenance, security, cleaning—all the things that go on behind the scenes to ensure a place to worship that reflects our desire to present our very best to God.

Moreover, these folks also worship God through their quotidian but highly necessary tasks and are worthy of our complete respect. With the psalmist we should say to them when we encounter them,
May the Lord bless you from Zion,
He who makes heaven and earth.” (3)

Daniel 12:8–Hosea 2:15: Perhaps the Moravians just want to torture us one last time with one last snippet from the frustrating book of Daniel before allowing us to move on to the minor prophets…

This weird chapter and this odd book end with one last pronouncement and one last very specific prophecy by the angel as Daniel stands down at the bank of the Tigris. The angel’s pronouncement is eternally true: “Many shall be purified, cleansed, and refined, but the wicked shall continue to act wickedly. None of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand.” (12:10) Which certainly seems like an apt description of our present governmental leadership. Except I’m not sure there are any wise men left in Washington…

The final prophecy is strikingly precise, which I suppose is what the authors did in rder to give it an air of authenticity. Or perhaps they wrote this after the fact: “From the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that desolates is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred ninety days. Happy are those who persevere and attain the thousand three hundred thirty-five days.” (12:11, 12) Once again, my take is that this os a prophecy (or perhaps a recounting) of the desecration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes (2290 days hence) and his eventual overthrow by the Maccabean revolt (3335 days). Or maybe it means something completely different…

But what the angel says to Daniel in the book’s last line seems also appropriate for those who have struggled to understand it: “But you, go your way,[a] and rest; you shall rise for your reward at the end of the days.” (12:13)

And so we meet Hosea which opens just as weirdly as the book of Daniel concluded. God commands the prophet, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” (2) Hosea, being a obedient prophet, marries a certain Gomer who bears him a son, which God commands Hosea to Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel.” (1:4)

Then he fathers a daughter to be named “Lo-ruhamah,[ for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them.” (1:6) A third child arrives and God commands, “Name him Lo-ammi,[d] for you are not my people and I am not your God.” (1:8) I’m pretty sure that unlike Hosea I would strongly resist having to give my children whose names that are essentially an early form of tweeting a message to all Israel…

But even though God is truly angry at Israel, he always holds out hope of the nation’s eventual redemption: “in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” (1:10)

Chapter 2 is a long poem which appears to be written in God’s voice. A disobedient wife is to be a metaphor for the nation of Israel and will be duly punished:
I will strip her naked
    and expose her as in the day she was born,
and make her like a wilderness,
    and turn her into a parched land,
    and kill her with thirst.
Upon her children also I will have no pity,
    because they are children of whoredom.” (2:3, 4)

And the (in)famous line:
For their mother has played the whore;
    she who conceived them has acted shamefully.” (2:5)

As usual, the problem is Israel’s predilection to worship small-g gods and worse, forget about the true God:
I will punish her for the festival days of the Baals,
    when she offered incense to them

    and forgot me, says the Lord.” (2:13)

But as always there is a glimmer of hope amidst the curses:
Therefore, I will now allure her,
    and bring her into the wilderness,
    and speak tenderly to her.
From there I will give her her vineyards,
    and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.” (2:14, 15)

God never ever gives up on Israel—and he never ever gives up on us.

Revelation 2:1–11: Chapters 2 and 3 are seven brief  sermons, one each to each of the seven churches. What’s strikes me on reading this is that every one of the seven churches could read what John wrote not only to themselves but to the other six churches as well. I wonder how each church felt having its dirty laundry aired to a bunch of other churches?

The first letter to the church at Ephesus commends them for “your works, your toil and your patient endurance.” (2) and that they do not tolerate “evildoers.” But everything is not hunky dory: “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” (4) There is a clear lesson here for us: there’s no point in even having a church if it is not a loving church. And I suspect that so large majority of congregations today could easily have these same charges leveled against them.

Next comes the church at Smyrna and John does not mince words: “I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich.” (9) We assume the affliction and poverty is not about economic issues but about an absence of love. John warns them of tougher times yet to come—doubtless persecution by the Romans: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (10, 11)

My take is that of we in the church are focused on trivialities and not on Jesus and on love for each other, we will be unable to stand up against political pressure of both the prevailing culture and the state. I suspect that the American church will bear some resemblance to the church at Smyrna in the years to come.


Psalm 133; Daniel 11:20–12:7; Revelation 1:9–20

Psalm 133: This compact psalm celebrates the pleasures of a group of men, perhaps priests, in fellowship together:
Look, how good and how pleasant
is the dwelling of brothers together.” (1)

Of course in today’s culture we would be looking suspiciously at a group of men gathered around enjoying each other’s company, especially when we we read the simile that follows:
Like goodly oil on the head
coming down over the beard,
Aaron’s beard that comes down
over the opening of his robe.” (2)

Apparently anointing one’s head with olive oil was a luxury of the time. Today of course we call that aroma-therapy. This verse also reveals that Aaron (and I suspect all high priests that succeeded him) had a very long beard…

Our psalmist emphasizes the pleasure of the anointing with another simile that reminds us that God is behind this pleasure, just as God is behind all the pleasures the psalmist enjoys—and that we enjoy:
Like Hermon’s dew that comes down
on the parched mountains
For there the Lord ordained the blessing—
life forevermore.” (3, 4)

This psalm is truly an oasis and reminds us that sometimes we should just sit back and enjoy the blessings God has given us—a highly appropriate there for this Thanksgiving season.

Daniel 11:20–12:7: This endless speech by the angel explaining what Daniel’s vision was all about certainly provides ample fodder for those who like to speculate what may happen at the end of history. There are ongoing battles between the king of the north and the king of the south. —and further amplification about the desolating abomination and its charismatic leader: “Forces sent by him shall occupy and profane the temple and fortress. They shall abolish the regular burnt offering and set up the abomination that makes desolate.” (11:31) Happily, though, not everyone will be fooled by the pretence of this leader: “He shall seduce with intrigue those who violate the covenant; but the people who are loyal to their God shall stand firm and take action.” (11:32)

There seems to be a pretty clear description of the rule of Antiochus Epiphanes: “The king shall act as he pleases. He shall exalt himself and consider himself greater than any god, and shall speak horrendous things against the God of gods. He shall prosper until the period of wrath is completed, for what is determined shall be done. (11:36)

Finally, though, the end comes: “At the time of the end the king of the south shall attack him. But the king of the north shall rush upon him like a whirlwind, with chariots and horsemen, and with many ships.” (11:40) And at last the rule of this tyrant will cease: “He shall pitch his palatial tents between the sea and the beautiful holy mountain. Yet he shall come to his end, with no one to help him.” (11:45)

This all makes me wonder if this passage—especially about the “people who are loyal to their God shall stand firm and take action” is a reference to the Maccabean revolt, 167 to 160 BCE.

There is a sudden shift in chapter 12 to what many evangelicals believe is a description of the 7 year Tribulation that will occur at the end of history, including a resurrection of the dead—everyone, both good and bad: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (12:2) I have to admit it’s difficult to square this section with history since it’s clear no resurrection of the dead has yet occurred. But I think it’s pretty foolhardy to rely on this cryptic passage as a clear interpretaton of what will occur at the end of history.

Daniel is sternly instructed to “keep the words secret and the book sealed until the time of the end. Many shall be running back and forth, and evil shall increase.” (12:4) I have to confess that it certainly feels like there is an abnormal amount of “running back and forth” in our present American culture. Is evil on the rise? Who knows? Of course that phrase has been levied against all kinds of horrors down through history.

Revelation 1:9–20: John of Patmos describes exactly how he was inspired to write this book—and like what is to follow, it was quite dramatic. What we should take as an angelic proclamation came to him a what I take to be a trance-like state: “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” (10)

OK, there have been lots of angelic visitations, including the really long one we’re reading about in Daniel. But what John describes next is unprecedently dramatic—it kind of makes Daniel’s vision down by the Tigris River look pretty wimpy: “Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands,  and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest.” (13) John goes on to describe the Son of man’s appearance: white hair, eyes like a flame, feet like burnished bronze and holding seven stars. But then what I think is the most dramatic if ather bizarre image of all: from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.” (16)

John’s vision is clearly that of Jesus Christ, who as heavenly visitors always do, first reassured John “Do not be afraid” He continues, ” I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades.” (18) If we ever needed a description of the unfathomable power of the resurrected Jesus it’s right here.

The Son of Man helpfully interprets part of the vision: “As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” (20) Unfortunately, as this book continues Jesus will not show up to interpret things. We’ll be pretty much on our own.

Psalm 132; Daniel 10:8–11:19; Revelation 1:1–8

Thanksgiving 2017

Psalm 132: This psalm celebrates David and his unflagging efforts to bring the Ark if the Covenant to Jerusalem, which Alter informs us is recounted in 2 Samuel 6 and 7. The psalm’s opening verses describe David’s single-minded dedication:
“Recall, O Lord, for David
all his torment
when he swore to the Lord,
vowed to Jacob’s Champion:

I will not give sleep to my eyes
nor slumber to my lids
until I find a place for the Lord,
a dwelling for Jacob’s Champion.” (1-5)

“Jacob’s champion” is a name for God I’ve not heard before and it must refer to the incident in Genesis where Jacob wrestled with God—and God won. It’s worth remembering that as far as the Jews were concerned, God was not omni-present but quite literally dwelled in one place: the Ark, hence the requirement for a permanent holy place for the Ark to rest.

David succeeds in the task and there is rejoicing:
“Rise, O Lord, to Your resting place,
You and the Ark of Your strength.
Let Your priests don victory,
and let Your faithful sing gladly.” (8, 9)

At this point the psalm recalls how the Davidic dynasty was God-ordained:
“The Lord swore to David
a true oath from which He will not turn back:
‘From the fruit of your loins
I will set up a throne for you.” (11, 12)

Crucially, the psalmist reminds us that the dynasty remains in power only, “If your sons keep My pact/ and My precept that I shall teach them,/ their sons, too, forevermore/ shall sit on the throne that is yours” (12) Of course by reading the Histories, we know how well that turned out…

The psalm then returns to the topic at hand, which is that as long as the Ark remains at Jerusalem, all will be well. Writing in God’s voice, the psalmist asserts that all will be well:
‘This is my resting place evermore,
Here I dwell, for I desired it.
I will surely bless its provisions,
its needy I will sate with bread.” (14, 15)

Alas, it’s tragic that the great promise of this psalm was undermined by the failure of Israel to continue to worship God. But we need to remember that God didn’t abandon his side of the promise.

Daniel 10:8–11:19: For me this passage is much more valuable as a description of Daniel’s emotions—mainly fear— than the content of the vision. An angel appears to Daniel and encourages him. Like most angelic visitations, there’s the invocation not to be afraid: “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.” (10:12)

But Daniel replies, My lord, because of the vision such pains have come upon me that I retain no strength. How can my lord’s servant talk with my lord? For I am shaking, no strength remains in me, and no breath is left in me.” (10:16, 17) Once again, the angel encourages Daniel, “Do not fear, greatly beloved, you are safe. Be strong and courageous!”  (10:19)

With Daniel apparently recovered, there’s a really long discourse about kingdoms rising and being broken apart. There is a king from the south who makes an alliance with a king from the north via an arranged marriage. The princess will have a son, and “He shall come against the army and enter the fortress of the king of the north, and he shall take action against them and prevail.” (11:7)  I wouldn’t be surprised if someone out there has tried to make this a prophecy about Jesus, but that seems pretty farfetched to me.

Anyway, our eyes glaze over as we read of still more there are lots of battles, another marriage and ultimately defeat: “Then he shall turn back toward the fortresses of his own land, but he shall stumble and fall, and shall not be found.” (11:19)

This is one of those places in the Bible where one can only wonder why it’s there. It must have had meaning to the author’s contemporaries, but it seems a futile effort to try and sort all this out and align it to actual events, which I’m pretty sure have been lost to history.

Revelation 1:1–8: As if the puzzlement of Daniel weren’t enough, we now embark on the wild ride that is Revelation. A political prisoner named John (certainly not the same John of the eponymous gospel or epistles) writes to seven churches in Asia.

Things start out calmly enough as John reprises the Gospel message in an opening invocation: “To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made  us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” (5b, 6) 

But then John shifts his view up toward heaven and the second coming, giving us a brief introduction to the apocalyptic feast to come:
Look! He is coming with the clouds;
    every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
    and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.” (7)

This sense that we about to encounter something greater than mere theology is intensified when he focuses on God’s eternality over all things: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (8) We are left with the feeling that just as God knows no boundaries in spacetime, so too, what John is about to write will also transcend the boundaries of the quotidian world in which we live.

Psalm 131; Daniel 9:1–10:7; Jude 1:11–25

Psalm 131: This psalm evokes the humility that all of us would do well to emulate:
Lord, my heart has not been haughty,
nor have my eyes looked too high,
nor have I striven for great things,
nor for things too wondrous for me.” (1)

This is pretty much the opposite state that our ambitious culture espouses. “Reach for greatness,” we tell our youth. We judge financial success and celebrity as the ne plus ultra of achievement. But this kind of achievement leads too often to self-centeredness and pride. And as we watch celebrities and politicians implode due to accusations of sexual harassment, we all should learn the lesson that pride and a sense that one has power over others inevitably leads to a fall.

Rather we should follow the psalmist:
But I have calmed and contented myself
like a weaned babe on its mother–
like a weaned babe I am with myself.” (2)

Think about that image: a contented humility that brings the peace of a baby asleep on its mothers shoulder. Am I calmed and contented with myself? Am I humble? Too often I have considered myself to be pretty good, pretty smart, pretty accomplished. This psalm is a wake-up call for me. And it should be a wake-up call for our culture.

Daniel 9:1–10:7: We encounter a welcome interlude from bizarre visions and interpretations as Daniel  prays for Israel’s forgiveness—a prayer that seems completely appropriate to American society today: “To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by following his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.” (9:9, 10) He continues, observing that ” this calamity has come upon us. We did not entreat the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and reflecting on his  fidelity.” (9:13)

We can see Daniel down on his knees, begging God to forgive Israel, clothed in the he humility of the psalmist above: “We do not present our supplication before you on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies.” (9:19) Something we need to remember: grace comes from God, not by anything we ourselves have said or done.

Alas, the interlude of prayer ends and we are back to vision-land. Gabriel comes to Daniel in a vision and tells him his prayer will be answered because “you are greatly beloved.” (9:23)

Gabriel tells Daniel that Jerusalem will be an interval of seven weeks “from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince” (9:25a) Then “for sixty-two weeks [Jerusalem] shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time.” (9:25b) But at the end of this 62 weeks, “[Jerusalem’s] end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed.” (9:26)

As if this isn’t enough, this anointed prince will “make a strong covenant with many for one week,” For half a week things will be normal activity at the temple, but then the anointed prince will place “abomination that desolates, until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator.” (9:27)

Much has been made of the 7, 62, and 1/2 weeks: the conventional interpretation is that a “week” equals 7 years. This vision again seems to refer to Antiochus Epiphanes who by virtue of sacrificing a pig in the temple did indeed create an “abominable desolation.” But many conservative evangelicals interpret this vision is a prediction about the Antichrist and events such as the Tribulation that will occur at the end of history, i.e., events still to come. As before, I go with the Antiochus Epiphanes interpretation.

Today’s reading ends with yet another Daniel vision: “I looked up and saw a man clothed in linen, with a belt of gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like beryl, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the roar of a multitude.” (10:5, 6) Even though Daniel is amidst a crowd he (unsurprisingly) is the only ne who sees and hears this vision. 

I guess we’ll just have to wait until tomorrow to see what happens next….

Jude 1:11–25: Jude is on a tear as he excoriates those who are corrupting the Christian community to which he is writing by citing three OT examples of the fruits of corruption: “Woe to them! For they go the way of Cain, and abandon themselves to Balaam’s error for the sake of gain, and perish in Korah’s rebellion.” (11)

Then, he launches into some colorful metaphors as he struggles to communicate just how awful these apostates are: “They are waterless clouds carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved forever.” (12, 13)

At this point he gets downright apocalyptic, citing Enoch’s curse that these corrupters will meet a very bad end. Out of breath and metaphors at this point, he calls them “grumblers and malcontents; they indulge their own lusts; they are bombastic in speech, flattering people to their own advantage.” (16) Let’s hope we never get in Jude’s cross-hairs…

He concludes this passionate letter by addressing those who have remained faithful and giving advice that is pretty much the author’s message: “But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” (20, 21)

Equally important, we are to be merciful to others: “have mercy on some who are wavering; save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies.” (22, 23) In other words have mercy on people we intensely dislike and/or we see as hopeless sinners. 

These words of advice are a pretty good encapsulation of the faithful Christian life.

However, the implication that we have to do good in order to “keep yourselves in the love of God” suggests that God will cease loving us when we sin or stray from him. On the contrary, I think God always continues to love us; it is our own actions that pull us away from him. But there’s just a skosh too much Catholic works righteousness for me here. Jude is clearly not a Lutheran who sees grace in all that God does. 


Psalm 130; Daniel 7:23–8:27; Jude 1:1–10

Psalm 130: This psalm opens with the stark image of a person seeking God from a position that is very near to death:
From the depths I called You, Lord.
Master, hear my voice.” 
May Your ears listen close to the voice of my plea.” (1, 2)

The psalmist is grateful—as should we be—that God does not seek out to punish sinners as that would be too much to bear. Rather God is a God of forgiveness:
Were You, O Yah, to watch for wrongs,
Master, who could endure?
For forgiveness is Yours,
so that You may be feared.” (3, 4)

This is something that too many forget when all they see is a God of punishment and vengeance. Tis psalm reminds us that those qualities are not God’s essence.

As usual in a psalm of supplication there is also the reality of God’s silence. Here, the psalmist beautifully conveys the intensity of hope—hope that God will hear and forgive:
I hoped for the Lord, my being hoped,
and for His word I waited.” (5)

This anticipation consumes the poet’s entire being:
My being for the Master—
more than the dawn-watchers watch for the dawn.” (6)

The question for me, of course, is do I wait upon God with such intensity? The answer is clearly ‘no. ]’ I may pray, but the anticipation of God’s answer does not become the singular focus of my life. I think  that happens only when I relinquish my own ego and desire for control and let jesus take over my life. Alas, I am still very far away from that.

The psalm’s focus shifts from the cries of a single man to the entire nation of israel, which hopes forgiveness for its collective sins:
Wait, O Israel, for the Lord,
for with the Lord is steadfast kindness,
and great redemption is with Him.
And He will redeem Israel
from all its wrongs.” (7,8)

If we substitute the name of our particular Christian community for ‘Israel,’ we can see just how important collective confession becomes—and why it should be at the start of every time the community comes together to worship.

Daniel 7:23–8:27: It seems only proper that Daniel—the great interpreter of king’s dreams—would have his own dream interpreted for him. The watcher, or whoever is interpreting the dream, focuses on the fourth beast—the one with iron teeth:
there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth
    that shall be different from all the other kingdoms;
it shall devour the whole earth,
    and trample it down, and break it to pieces.” (7:23)

In any event, the talking horn—what some see as the Antichrist—will work against all that is holy:
He shall speak words against the Most High,
    shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High,
    and shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law;
and they shall be given into his power
    for a time, two times,[a] and half a time.” (7:25)

My own take is that this is a description of the subjugation of Israel under the Greek empire featuring Antiochus Epiphanes and his attempt to suppress Israel’s worship. Nevertheless, many prefer to interpret Daniel’s dream as a forecast of the end of history—or at least have a lot of fun doing so.

Not content with a bizzaro dream, Daniel then has a vision down by the riverside of a powerful ram “charging westward and northward and southward. All beasts were powerless to withstand it, and no one could rescue from its power; it did as it pleased and became strong.” (8:4) A goat with four horns then tackles the ram. Then—you guessed it—another little horn which “grew as high as the host of heaven. It threw down to the earth some of the host and some of the stars, and trampled on them.” (8:10)

The reference to suppressed worship seems quite clear: “it took the regular burnt offering away from him and overthrew the place of his sanctuary.” (8:11) Daniel now hears “the Holy One” speaking and he asks, “For how long is this vision concerning the regular burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled?” (8:13) The answer is strangely precise: “For two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.” (8:14)—or about six years.

Daniel is frustrated that he cannot interpret his own vision: “I tried to understand it.” So the Holy One (God?) sends the angel Gabriel to explain, who suddenly makes it quite clear that the vision is about the end of something. “Understand, O mortal, that the vision is for the time of the end.” (8:17) End of history? Or the end of Israel?

Gabriel then explains, “As for the ram that you saw with the two horns, these are the kings of Media and Persia. The male goat  is the king of Greece, and the great horn between its eyes is the first king.” (8:21) Greece then breaks apart and “a king of bold countenance shall arise,/ skilled in intrigue…By his cunning he shall make deceit prosper under his hand  and in his own mind he shall be great..” (8:23, 25)

Gabriel concludes that the vision “refers to many days from now.” (8:26)

Needless to say there have been all kinds of attempts to fit contemporary history into this scenario of end times. But again, I think it’s a reference to the Greek conquest of Israel and the desecration that happened then. But if you’d rather try to fit all these signs and symbols into a scenario for the end of history, have at it.

Jude 1:1–10: We know very little about Jude beyond surmising that he was an apostle that like Paul, Peter, James, John, et al was writing against those who would corrupt the early church. I’m pretty sure Thomas Hardy had this short book in mind when he titled one of his novels, “Jude the Obscure.” That title certainly seems to fit here. But then so would “Jude the Angry.”

Whatever church it is to which he is writing, Jude is quite direct. Apostasy is afoot: “I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. 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.” (3, 4)

Jude does not pussyfoot around. He cites some dramatic examples of how God punished wrongdoers: Even though God saved the Israelites, “he afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” (5) Likewise, he points out, Sodom and  Gomorrah “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” (7)

Something that in his opinion is just as bad is apparently going on at this church and Jude does not mince words: “Yet in the same way these dreamers also defile the flesh, reject authority, and slander the glorious ones.” (8) Jude goes on to accuse these miscreants not only of slander but also of ignorance: “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)

I suspect one of the reasons that this little letter is in the Canon is that it is a great example of the intensity with which the original battles were fought over what was orthodox and what was not. The first verses of this short book are a statement by the winners of the orthodoxy battles that the stakes continue to be very high and subsequent generations should stick to the straight and narrow and avoid Jude-like accusations of apostasy.


Psalm 129; Daniel 6:19–7:22; 3 John

Psalm 129: This song of ascents celebrates how despite their torturous methods Israel’s long-time enemies have not triumphed. Israel still stands tall:
Much as they beset me from my youth
–Let Israel now say—
uch as they beset me from my youth,
yet they did not prevail over me.
My back the harrowers harrowed,
they drew a long furrow.” (2, 3)

For me, this vivid agricultural image of a plow cutting open a lengthy laceration communicates searing pain more dramatically than almost any other metaphor in the psalms. And despite the pain, our psalmist can still celebrate God’s mercy in how the captives have been set free:
The Lord is just.
He has slashed the bonds of the wicked.
May they be shamed and fall back,
all the haters of Zion.” (4, 5)

The haters of Zion have persisted down through history, most tragically in the Holocaust. So we can be sympathetic to the psalmist’s wish that they will suffer mightily as the poet continues with the agricultural metaphors—only this time turned against the enemy:
May they be like the grass on rooftops
that the east wind withers,
which no reaper fills his hand,
no binder of sheaves his bosom.” (6, 7)

Worse than that, these enemies lie outside the realm of God’s favor and they will miss God’s blessing:
and no passers-by say, “The Lord’s blessing upon you!
We bless you in the name of the Lord.” (8)

For me, this separation from God is what sin is all about.

Daniel 6:19–7:22: Daniel keeps setting an example of the godly life and he keeps outwitting the wiles of his enemies in court, this time the satraps of King Darius. Once again an appeal to a king’s outsize ego and his narcissistic stupidity in singing an ordinance that everyone has to pray to him that cannot be rescinded lands Daniel in harm’s way. Since he prays only to God his jealous enemies see that he is tossed into the lion’s den. Darius wants to save Daniel, but there’s no escaping the legality of the law he’s signed. Daniel is famously tossed into the lion’s den, and anxiety-ridden Darius neither eats nor sleeps that night.

Next morning, the king rushes to the den, finds Daniel quite alive “because he had trusted in his God.” (6:23)  The king makes sure that Daniel’s accusers suffer the fate they had arranged for Daniel. Darius issues a decree that is actually a wonderful psalm, doubtless written by the authors of this book than by Darius:
For he is the living God,
    enduring forever.
His kingdom shall never be destroyed,
    and his dominion has no end.” (6:26)

For me, this famous story is all about trusting God in dire circumstances.

The lion’s den story would have been a great place to end this book. But alas, somebody—perhaps another author—has tacked on what is basically a postscript: Daniel’s own dream of things to come. It’s certainly an imaginative dream featuring four fearsome hybrid animals:

  • a lion with eagle’s wings which morphs into a human with a human mind.
  • a bear with three tusks that eats people
  • something like a leopard with four wings and four heads
  • a frightening ten-horned beast with iron teeth devouring everything in sight.

The ten-horned beast suddenly sprouts a “little horn…with eyes like human eyes in this horn, and a mouth speaking arrogantly.” (7:8)

Then there’s a throne room judgement scene—and we can see some of the source material used by the author of Revelation in the throne room scene:
A thousand thousands served him,
    and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgment,
    and the books were opened.” (7:10)

The three beasts are usually interpreted as the empires of Babylon, Persia and Greece. The fourth beast with iron teeth is the Roman empire. The talking horn is typically interpreted as the Antichrist. Needless to say, a lot of ink has been consumed by people attempting to link these images to world history—together multiple and IMHO, inevitably futile attempts at interpreting just who the little horn represents. One interpretation may be Antiochus Epiphanes, the Greek ruler who sacrificed pigs in the temple at Jerusalem.  Or perhaps someone yet to come. During the Reformation the pope served as a handy interpretation of the little horn.

But perhaps the strongest image in this passage is the one we could interpret as Jesus Christ come to earth as Daniel exclaims,
I saw one like a human being
    coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One[f]
    and was presented before him.
To him was given dominion
    and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
    should serve him.” (7:13, 14a)

I think we can leave it at that. God wins at the end of history by virtue of having sent Jesus into the world to save us.

3 John: I’m not sure why this short little letter is its own epistle in the NT. It’s essentially a thank you note to a certain Gaius whom John commends for how well he hews to the Gospel: “I was overjoyed when some of the friends arrived and testified to your faithfulness to the truth, namely how you walk in the truth.” (3)

On the other hand, there’s “Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.” (9a) Even more scurrilous than spreading “false charges against us” (9) is that he lacks hospitality and has arrogantly put himself in charge as “he refuses to welcome the friends, and even prevents those who want to do so and expels them from the church.” (10) However, John has the ultimate revenge as Diotrephes goes down in history as a miscreant. I strongly doubt if any Christian mother ever named her child Diotrephes.

The example of Diotrephes once again causes John to remind us, “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.” (11) Which I think is the theological heart of this little letter. In the end, if we imitate Christ himself we are on the right path.

Finally, John endorses a certain Demetrius, as “Everyone has testified favorably about [him], and so has the truth itself.” (12)

John concludes by telling his correspondents that he has much more to write, but “instead I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face.” (14) One of the great unanswered questions is whether or not that meeting actually took place.