Psalm 145:17–21; Zechariah 1,2; Revelation 18:1–10

Originally published 12/22/2017. Revised and updated 12/21/2019.

Psalm 145:17–21: Our psalmist continues to sing God’s praises as he makes his way through the Hebrew alphabet. These final verses reflect his utter confidence in God on every front:
Just is the Lord in all His ways,
and faithful in all His deeds.
Close is the Lord to all who call Him,
to all who call Him in truth. (17, 18)

We’ve read many psalms that proclaim God’s justice and his faithfulness, but the idea of God’s close proximity is a fresh thought for me. We are not shouting across an intergalactic distance when we pray and call on God. Our psalmist knows that God is in the same room right next to him—and so should we. But notice: God is close to those “who call Him in truth.” Hypocrites, who only appear to be praying are well-known to God and the clear implication here is that God will not be close to them. The key to calling on God is to call on him with open honesty, no hidden agendas, and above all, a willingness to abandon our own agenda and preconceived notions about what God should do. We must let God do what he will.

If we truly love God and come to him in complete honesty, he will listen; he will rescue; he will bring joy:
The pleasure of those who fear Him He performs,
and their outcry He hears and rescues them. (19)

We must always keep in mind that God’s rescue may not be the one we have in mind. But rescue of one kind or another will always come. As for the wicked, they will meet their deserved fate—again not always on the timetable or the manner we would prefer. But those who reject God are condemned to sit out eternity in separation from God’s love. Truly a horrific fate:
The Lord guards all who love Him,
and all the wicked He destroys. (20)

This is not necessarily destruction by an external enemy. Often, the destruction occurs within the heart of person who has rejected God’s love.

This beautiful psalm ends as it began—in communal worship with praise on our lips:
The Lord’s praise let my mouth speak,
and let all flesh bless His name. (21)

No more need be added.

Zechariah 1,2: We can see where Revelation John obtained some of his original material from this penultimate book of the Old Testament. Unlike Haggai, who seemed much more down-to-earth, Zechariah has visions.

The book opens, as prophetic books always do, with the word of the Lord coming to Zechariah. Here Zechariah tells anyone who would listen that “The Lord was very angry with your ancestors” (1;2) and that they should repent. There’s another chance, God is saying, “Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the former prophets proclaimed,… Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.” (1:4) Although those ancestors were stubborn, Zechariah tells his listeners (assuming there were any) that “they repented and said, “The Lord of hosts has dealt with us according to our ways and deeds, just as he planned to do.” (1:6) The clear implication is that the present generation to whom Zechariah is speaking had better pay attention to history.

At this point Zechariah starts describing his visions. As if to prove the legitimacy of these visions and that they occurred in a real pace and in a real time, the author gives us the precise day on which the first vision occurs: “On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah.” (2:1) The first vision is a man riding on a red horse, who “was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen; and behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses.” (1:8) Well, what do you know: four horses. Unlike John’s horsemen bringing doom to the earth, these four horse-mounted angels are “those whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth.” (1:10)

The angel tells Zechariah that God is “jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion,” and he 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) That’s certainly a telling indictment for today as well as nations increasingly ignore God and the world as a whole seems only to be making things worse. Nevertheless, there is a marvelous promise of restoration of Jerusalem—perhaps the model of John’s New Jerusalem: “I have returned to Jerusalem with compassion; my house shall be built in it, says the Lord of hosts… Proclaim further: Thus says the Lord of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity; the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.” (1:16-17)

The second vision is of horns laying around on the ground and Zechariah asks, ““What are these?” (1:19a) . As we know from other readings, horns represent the power of a nation and the angel answers Zechariah’s question: the horns are Judah’s historical enemies that have invaded, apparently down through history: “These are the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.” (1:19b) Then the angel shows Zechariah four blacksmiths(!) 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) In other words, the nations that attacked Judah will themselves be destroyed by these angelic blacksmiths who are working for God. Which of course, if we examine history, is exactly what happened.

Zechariah’s third vision is a man with a measuring line who “measure Jerusalem, to see what is its width and what is its length.” (2:2) (Shades of Ezekiel!) Apparently God needs to know the circumference of Jerusalem since he himself “will be a wall of fire all around it, says the Lord, and I will be the glory within it.” (2:5)

Before we get to the fourth vision, there is an intermission as Zechariah tells the exiles in Babylon, “Up! Escape to Zion, you that live with daughter Babylon.” (2:7) The simple reason is that God plans to destroy Babylon: “I am going to raise my hand against them, and they shall become plunder for their own slaves.” (2:9) This act will (rather naturally) occasion great rejoicing: “Many nations shall join themselves to the Lord on that day, and shall be my people; and I will dwell in your midst. ” (2:11) And Jerusalem will once again be God’s residence: “The Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem.” (2:12)

What’s striking here is just how much material John lifted from this book and then embroidered for his own purposes. Even the structure of visions interrupted by interludes of worship are found right here.

Revelation 18:1–10: It’s remarkable how much this reading in Revelation resembles the one in Zechariah. An angel comes and announces exactly what was promised in Zechariah: Babylon is to be destroyed:
Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
    It has become a dwelling place of demons, (18:2a)

Of course John’s Babylon is Rome. And just like in Zechariah, the other nations have been corrupted, certainly in an economic sense:
all the nations have drunk
    of the wine of the wrath of her fornication,
and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her,
    and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power  of her luxury.” (18:2b, 3)

Similar to Zechariah, there is also a call for God-followers—here Christians—to reject Rome and its culture at least in spirit and practice. As we shall see in a subsequent chapter, they should come to the New Jerusalem:
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)

The angel makes it clear that Rome will fall and it will fall quickly because of its manifold sins:
therefore 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. (8)

As Rome falls, John predicts, the other nations will stand and watch and “weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning;” (9) And in famous lines that could apply to our own time,
Alas, alas, the great city,
    Babylon, the mighty city!
For in one hour your judgment has come. (10)

Needless to say, many attempts have been made to cast this entire section as the yet-to-come downfall of some modern empire.  I’m sure that as America becomes ever more post-Christian and ever more resembling Rome in its decadence, these interpreters believe this must certainly be a prophecy for our own time. I think have a valid point.

Speak Your Mind