Psalm 147:7–14; Zechariah 8,9; Revelation 19:9–21

Originally published 12/26/2017. Revised and updated 12/25/2019.

Psalm 147:7–14: As always, worship is our response to the incredible reality of who God is and what he has done for us:
Call out to the Lord in Thanksgiving,
hymn to our God on the lyre. (7)

Our psalmist cannot contain himself as he continues his catalog of God’s mighty works, this time turning to nature and how God sustains all life, beginning high in the clouds with the rain descending to earth and its creatures:
Who covers the heavens with clouds,
readies rain for the earth,
makes mountains flourish with grass.
gives the beast its food,
in the raven’s young who call. (8, 9)

Nature also provides for humankind—not just sustenance, but military might and technology. But man’s use of these powers does not impress God. Our mightiest acts are puny compared to God’s:
Not the might of the horse He desires,
not by a man’s thighs is he pleases. (10)

I take “might of the horse” to be a reference to a soldier riding a horse in battle and the reference to thighs as a veiled hint at sexual prowess. But power and might are not what pleases God. Instead, it is living a righteous life and worshipping him:
The Lord is pleased by those who fear Him,
those who long for for His kindness.
Extol, O Jerusalem, the Lord,
praise Your God, o Zion. (11, 12)

For when we love and worship God and hew to his path of righteousness, blessings—both physical and spiritual—will surely come:
For He strengthens the the bars of your gates,
blesses your children in your midst.
He bestows peace in your land,
He sates you with choice wheat. (13, 14)

How well we would do to remember that true blessings come from God, not from humankind’s hands. All of man’s works—especially his technology— bear a light side and a dark side. Only God can bless us without cost and without a downside.

Zechariah 8,9: The remnant of Israel has returned to Jerusalem after 70 years of exile in Babylon. Jerusalem is a mess and Zechariah proclaims that God will bring better days to this once great city: “Thus says the Lord: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city,” (8:3) There are good things to come as Jerusalem is repopulated: “Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.” (8:4, 5) 

As the people stand amidst the ruins, this restoration seems impossible . But God asks them, “Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me, says the Lord of hosts?” (8:6) Of course we know the answer to that question.

God calls the people to work: “Let your hands be strong” (8:9) And he establishes the principles of restoring a God-fearing nation: “These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace, do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath” (8:16, 17) Which is a pretty good recipe for any culture that wishes to flourish. Alas, as I look at this list I see an American culture in its inevitable decline.

As we know, both the city and the temple were rebuilt. And even today, Jerusalem remains at the center of God’s concerns—and a flashpoint for Israel’s many enemies.

So there’s always the next chapter. Chapter 9 is a pretty routine polemic against Israel’s many enemies. These include

  • the land of Hadrach,
  • Damascus (some things never change),
  • Hamath,
  • Tyre,
  • Sidon,
  • Ashkelon,
  • Gaza,
  • Ekron,
  • Ashdod (where “mongrel people will settle”)
  • Philistia,

Besides destruction there is also a messianic promise, which is dramatic and militaristic. But what is most striking about this messianic king, who is yet to come is:
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (9:9)

Obviously, the symbology of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey was not lost on the religious leaders who certainly knew what Zechariah had to say about the Messiah.

Unsurprisingly for a prophet, Zechariah turns all apocalyptic at the end of history:
Then the Lord will appear over them,
    and his arrow go forth like lightning;
the Lord God will sound the trumpet
    and march forth in the whirlwinds of the south. (9:14)

Nevertheless, he ends on an optimistic note of Israel’s rescue, which in Revelation, John has transformed into the rescue of the Church:
On that day the Lord their God will save them
    for they are the flock of his people;
for like the jewels of a crown
    they shall shine on his land. (9:16)

And the promise of new hope of a restored people. Not just at the end of time, but in the immediate future as well:
For what goodness and beauty are his!
    Grain shall make the young men flourish,
    and new wine the young women. (9:17)

Which is exactly what God did under the leadership of Nehemiah and Ezra. All the people of Israel restored the city with strong hands.

Revelation 19:9–21: John is so taken by the scene of worship that the angel has showed him that he falls to his feet to worship the angel. Not surprisingly, the angel replies, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (10) Because there is yet another vision to come. This one much more joyful than the ones that have preceded it.

John looks up and sees a white horse: “Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.” (11) This rider “is clothed in a robe dipped in[f]blood, and his name is called The Word of God.” (13) Here’s one of those places where “the Word of God” would mean nothing to Romans who happened to read John’s manuscript, but it would have profound meaning for Christians. The “word of the Lord” tells them that the rider is none other than Jesus Christ himself.

This is a far more aggressive vision of Jesus Christ than any we have seen up to this point. In fact it all sounds as if it were lifted right from Zechariah: “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” (15) I think the sword is actually the Holy Spirit. Paul uses this same metaphor for the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 6.

Just to make sure we know exactly who John is describing, he adds one more detail: “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” (16) …And another line for Handel as he wrote the Hallelujah Chorus.

Needless to say Jesus triumphs over evil. The dead bodies of the defeated army become carrion: with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly in midheaven, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of the mighty, the flesh of horses and their riders—flesh of all, both free and slave, both small and great.” (17, 18)

The beast and the false prophet are also captured, who are famously “thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.” (20) Everyone else is killed by the rider and the sword of the Spirit. In the end, only the birds who “were gorged with [the fallen soldiers] flesh.” (21) remain.

Although John’s description of Jesus’ triumph is breathtaking, it is startlingly militaristic. But then again, this is the end of history and evil will not go quietly into the night.

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