Psalm 145:8–16; Haggai 2; Revelation 17:9–18

Originally published 12/21/2017. Revised and updated 12/20/2019.

Psalm 145:8–16: I’m sure the editors who compiled the Psalms in this order put this terrific psalm near the end of the canon because it is both magnificent poetry and a wonderful summary of many psalms that preceded it. And naturally, it contains some well-known verses, perhaps none more famous than this paean to God’s greatness, his kindness, and his mercy:
Gracious and merciful is the Lord,
slow to anger, great in kindness.
Good is the Lord to all,
His mercy is over all his creatures. (8, 9)

My, this certainly seems like a different God compared to the angry God of the prophets. But God, being God, can be experienced from an infinite variety of perspectives because he is even greater than the summation of every conceivable human thought and feeling and action. Needless to say, I prefer this perspective to the God the prophets write about..

This being a psalm of praise, our poet captures the qualities and actions of our response to God’s beneficence in our worship:
All Your creatures, Lord, acclaim You,
and Your faithful ones bless You.
The glory of Your kingship they say,
and of Your might they speak
to make known to humankind His mighty acts
and the grandeur of His kingship’s glory. (10-12)

Notice that following worship we witness God’s glory to all around us, “making known to all humankind,” which was exactly Jesus’ command at the end of Matthew’s gospel about going into the world with the Good News.

But this psalm also recognizes that we are fallen creatures who fail all the time. And we can be assured that God will rescue us and sustain us because God is a God of hope:
The Lord props up all who fall
and makes all who are bent stand erect.
The eyes of all look in hope to You
and You give them food in its season,
opening Your hand
and sating to their pleasure all living things. (14-16)

We fall and God picks us up again. When we are hungry we are fed—which Jesus carried out in real space and real time when he fed the four thousand and the five thousand.

And God’s generosity includes not just we humans but as the second line of verse 16 notes, God takes care of “all living things”—another reminder that God cares for all creation, which is something we should remember when we’re tempted to destroy nature. The earth is here for far more than humankind’s immediate gratification. We must never forget we are God’s creatures and that we must be stewards of all creation.

Haggai 2: God sends Haggai to ask Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, and  Joshua, the high priest, if anyone remembers what the temple looked like before it was destroyed. And rather than yelling at these men as most prophets would do, Haggai brings a message of hope from God—exactly what our pslamist has just been talking about: “Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear.” (4, 5)

Even in the midst of the ruined temple, God reminds them that he is there and will take care of them. And that will happen pretty dramatically as God promises some sort of earthquake that will result in “the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor,” (7) God goes on to make a pretty wonderful promise: “The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.” (9)

The tone shifts and we see Haggai standing before the high priest asking him a seemingly irrelevant question, “If one who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” (13) The priest answers in the affirmative and Haggai moves into angry prophet mode: “So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, says the Lord; and so with every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean.” (14) and that even when God “struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and mildew and hail; yet you did not return to me,” (17)

But now that the people have repented God promises, “From this day on I will bless you.” (19) Here we have a clear view the deuteronomic Old Testament God: there is always a quid pro quo under the terms of the Old Covenant: disobey and I’ll punish you; repent and I’ll reward you.

Haggai then goes to Zerubbabel and announces that just as God is bringing blessing to the religious side of the nation by the rebuilding of the temple, he will do likewise in the political sphere as Haggai promises that God will “shake the heavens and the earth, and overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders; ” (21, 22) Moreover, Haggai tells Zerubbabel, he will become God’s anointed governor: “I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, son of Shealtiel, says the Lord, and make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you, says the Lord of hosts.” (23)

This is one prophetic book that ends on an upbeat note. And we can read about what happened in the book of Nehemiah and Ezra as both the temple and Jerusalem were rebuilt. It was a fraught task but the men persisted in the face of many obstacles and God did indeed bless them.

Revelation 17:9–18: Perhaps there’s some unintended irony here that in the midst of this confusing passage, the angel states, “This calls for a mind that has wisdom.” (9) as he proceeds to explain all these symbols to John.

I don’t think the angel does a particularly good job as a confusing disquisition follows that involves seven heads being “the seven mountains on which the woman is seated.” (9b) Which may be a reference to Rome. Then there’s some business about five kings having fallen, one living and one yet to come, but which will also “go to destruction.” (11) Then there’s the business about the ten horns being ten future kings who “yield their power” to the beast/ Satan and they “will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them.” (13)

The angel’s explanation creates even more confusion as he tells John that “The waters that you saw, where the whore is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.” (15)  The ten kings, allied with the beast, “will hate the whore; they will make her desolate and naked; they will devour her flesh and burn her up with fire.” (16) Assuming that the whore is Rome, John seems to be predicting the eventual downfall of the Roman empire.

The angel tries to clear things up when he says, “The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.” (18) Again, this seems like a reference to Rome.

But not everyone agrees. I remember hearing some interpretation of this passage many years ago that interpreted the ten kings as the European common market (what is now the EU) and the beast as Russia—all of which were defeated by the US because God was on our side. This is just one example of the interpretive free-for-all that this passage has created down through the ages. All I can do is sit back and watch in some amusement as people try to interpret that which cannot be interpreted.

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