Psalm 146; Zechariah 3–5; Revelation 18:11–24

Originally published 12/23/2017. Revised and updated 12/23/2019.

Psalm 146: The editors of Psalms stuck all the psalms of praise at the back of the book, so here’s another one. I’ll just hit on its highlights.

Do not trust in princes,
in a human who offers no rescue.
His breath depart, he returns to the dust.
on that day his plans are naught. (3, 4)

Talk about an immutable truth! And yet our post-Christian American culture, having rejected God, seeks “the good life” and equity for everybody through human endeavors, particularly the government, which they call on to solve every problem. But all human endeavor is intrinsically flawed, and as our psalmist notes, eventually comes to naught.

In the end, he observes, only God, who acts via the people of God,
does justice for the oppressed,
gives bread to the hungry,
the Lord looses those in fetters. (6,7)

Good intentions and money poured at a special problem are insufficient. It is the human heart which must be transformed.

Our psalmist makes the obvious point that “the Lord loves the righteous” (8) but also,
The Lord guards sojourners,
orphan and widow He sustains. (9a)

It is always gratifying to see this all-important theme emerge just about everywhere in the Old Testament. Frankly, providing succor to sojourners (immigrants), widows and orphans, and the poor is just as important as saving souls for Jesus Christ.

There is only one eternal constant in the universe. Everything else is change and ultimately mortal—even the universe itself:
The Lord shall reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Zechariah 3–5: Zechariah’s fourth vision is of the original Joshua with “Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.” (3:1) Joshua is dressed in dirty clothes and the angel commands other angels (I presume) who are standing around to take off his dirty clothes and replace them with clean ones, whereupon the angel tells him, “See, I have taken your guilt away from you, and I will clothe you with festal apparel.” (3:3) I take Joshua as a symbol of the Jewish religious leaders having been corrupted by Satan and idolatry and dressed in the filthy rags of guilt.

Then there is a messianic forecast as the angel says, “I am going to bring my servant the Branch. For on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven facets, I will engrave its inscription, says the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the guilt of this land in a single day.” (3:9) I don’t know about the stone with seven facets (Revelation John should have used that somewhere!) but as for the guilt being absolved in a single day, we could certainly see that happening as the crucifixion of Jesus.

But wait. There’s more. In a fifth vision, Zechariah sees “a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it; there are seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it.”  (4:2) More Revelation source material since both lampstands and bowls show up in John’s visions!

These are surrounded by two olive trees. The angel explains that “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (4:6) which I consider to be the theological heart of this book. God does not have to act by power or might, although he is certainly capable of doing so, but quietly and in completely unexpected ways via the Holy Spirit. And we can certainly say that the incarnation of Jesus Christ is God’s greatest demonstration of an unexpected, non-powerful way of changing the world, even though Jesus’ own disciples would have preferred Jesus to choose power and might in order to overthrow the established order.

The sixth vision is pretty amusing: a gigantic flying scroll, which seems to be some sort of symbol of God’s justice: “This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole land; for everyone who steals shall be cut off according to the writing on one side, and everyone who swears falsely shall be cut off according to the writing on the other side.” (5:3) One wonders if the sinner is to read the scroll or that given its enormous size, that it simply smacks the sinner on the side of his head.

The seventh vision (echoes of John again!) is a woman sitting in a basket. The angel explains that, ““This is Wickedness.” So he thrust her back into the basket, and pressed the leaden weight down on its mouth” (5:8) Two winged women appear and lift the basket “between the earth and the sky.” (5:9) The angel explains that the winged women is taking the basket “To the land of Shinar, to build a house for it; and when this is prepared, they will set the basket  down there on its base.” (5:10)

Wow. You can’t make this stuff up. But with apologies to the inerrancy crowd, you can’t take this literally, either.

Revelation 18:11–24: John rather logically believed that the overthrow of “Babylon” would result in economic catastrophe, causing “the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore,” (11) He creates a lovely catalog of consumer goods no longer available for sale: “gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves—and human lives.” (12, 13) Notice the last item: slaves.

John is really is relishing the agony of these now-destitute merchants and even writes a little poem for them:
Alas, alas, the great city,
    clothed in fine linen,
        in purple and scarlet,
    adorned with gold,
        with jewels, and with pearls!
For in one hour all this wealth has been laid waste! (16, 17)

The service industry is equally devastated: “And all shipmasters and seafarers, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning,

“What city was like the great city?” (17, 18)

But as for believers, the destruction of Rome is a whole different story: “Rejoice over her, O heaven, you saints and apostles and prophets! For God has given judgment for you against her.” (20) whereupon an angel tosses a millstone, representing commerce, I think, into the sea and sings a song that ends with the grisly verse reminding the merchants and everyone else,
for your merchants were the magnates of the earth,
    and all nations were deceived by your sorcery.
And in you  was found the blood of prophets and of saints,
    and of all who have been slaughtered on earth. (23, 24)

Which is why we shouldn’t put our trust in worldly goods. And it’s a brilliant description of the revolutions that have shaken cultures down through history.

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