Psalm 147:15–20; Zechariah 10,11; Revelation 20:1–10

Originally published 12/27/2017. Revised and updated 12/26/2019.

Psalm 147:15–20: Our psalmist is describing the winter in the Judean hills, always reminding us that God is in charge of nature in three brilliantly evocative verses rich in creative simile:
He pours forth snow like fleece,
   scatters frost like ash.
He flings His ice like bread crumbs.
   in the face of His cold who can endure?
He sends out His word and melts them,
   He lets his breath blow—the waters flow.” (16-18)

Sitting here in warmth but looking out into the dark and cold pre-dawn morning, these verses beautifully describe a cold, windy winter’s day. But God does not allow winter to remain. The fresh breezes of spring—God’s breath—melt the ice and the streams flow once again. These verses are also a metaphor for us: We may be frozen in our worries or our self-absorption, but it is God’s breath—the Holy Spirit—that comes to us an melts our icy hearts, replacing it with the fresh waters of baptism and our daily walk with God.

The two concluding verses remind the Jewish people of Israel’s special status as the unique beloved of God:
He tells His word to Jacob,
   His statutes and laws to Israel.
He did not thus to all nations,
   and they knew not the laws. (19, 20)

This is a succinct summary of the Old Covenant. Happily in the New Covenant under Jesus Christ this last verse is no longer operative. People of all nations have received the Good News. And as Paul points out in his letter to Rome, the Law is no longer how God relates to us, but he relates instead in love through our intercessor, Jesus Christ.

Zechariah 10,11: Chapter 10 is a poetic oracle that opens by castigating Judah’s prideful, greedy leadership, especially its so-called prophets, which have failed in their duties to the people. In short, Judah has been a land of lies and inept leadership because they have trusted in idols rather than God:
For the teraphim [idols]  utter nonsense,
    and the diviners see lies;
the dreamers tell false dreams,
    and give empty consolation.
Therefore the people wander like sheep;
    they suffer for lack of a shepherd.” (10:2)

Because of their dereliction, God plans to punish the leaders but promises a new beginning for the people of Judah who have returned from the foreign lands of exile. 
I will strengthen the house of Judah,
    and I will save the house of Joseph.
I will bring them back because I have compassion on them,
    and they shall be as though I had not rejected them;
    for I am the Lord their God and I will answer them. (10:6)

However, God is not going to just wave his magic wand and restore the status quo ante. There will be suffering as Judah turns back to God, but as Zechariah points out, these tribulations will strengthen them:
They  shall pass through the sea of distress,
    and the waves of the sea shall be struck down,
    and all the depths of the Nile dried up.”
I will make them strong in the Lord,
    and they shall walk in his name,
says the Lord(10:11a, 12)

I can imagine that these words were of great encouragement to the Jews who did indeed return and retake Palestine after World War II. However, Israel today is basically secular, Not all of Zechariah’s prophecy has yet come true.

In chapter 11, Zechariah, speaking in God’s voice, describes a bitter end to history: “I will no longer have pity on the inhabitants of the earth, says the Lord. I will cause them, every one, to fall each into the hand of a neighbor, and each into the hand of the king; and they shall devastate the earth, and I will deliver no one from their hand.” (11:6) Once again, we can see source material for John as he embellishes Zechariah’s prophecy in Revelation.

Zechariah sarcastically calls the failed leadership of Judah “the sheep merchants,” suggesting the leaders were more interested in transactions that increased their wealth as over against effectively leading the people to follow God, who are now “doomed to slaughter.” (11:7). God elaborates his point with a metaphor of two shepherds. The first shepherd, obviously God himself, has two shepherd’s staffs: one named Favor (i.e., his preference for Israel) and the other, Unity, for a reunited Israel in the north and Judah in the south.  But according to Zechariah, God breaks both staffs.

God then demands that the sheep merchants give him his wages and they dole out 30 shekels of silver, which he tosses into the treasury, amid more sarcasm, “this lordly price at which I was valued by them.” (11:13) Which is exactly the “lordly price” that the priests in Jerusalem paid Judas to betray Jesus.

The chapter ends on an ominous note describing how God is “now raising up in the land a shepherd who does not care for the perishing, or seek the wandering, or heal the maimed, or nourish the healthy but devours the flesh of the fat ones, tearing off even their hoofs.” (11:16) This doleful prophecy came true in the form of the Greeks and their leader, Antiochus Epiphanes, who invaded and ruled Jerusalem during the “silent 400 years” between the end of the Old Testament and Jesus’ arrival on earth. I think it is also more source material for John as he describes the false leader working for the beast.

Revelation 20:1–10: John describes the famous millenium of peace when the angel “seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended.” (2) However, John continues, “After that he must be let out for a little while.” This is the basis of belief of “postmillennialists,” who believe Jesus will come to earth and reign for 1000 years before the final 7-year tribulation (“a little while”) comes to pass. 

Lest we wonder what will be happening during those 1000 years, John asserts that the martyred dead who resisted the Antichrist and remained faithful will come back to life and enjoy the Millenium: “I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus  and for the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands.” (4) These folks “will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years.” (6)

At the end of the 1000 years, Satan returns and deceives the nations “at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, in order to gather them for battle; they are as numerous as the sands of the sea.”(8) ‘Gog & Magog’ refers to the traditional enemies of Israel. Needless to say, many over-interpreters believe this to be the Arab states that surround modern-day Israel. I don’t think that’s what John had in mind. I think he is trying to encourage those seven churches to persevere under the Roman tyranny for a great reward eventually awaits them.

As these evil forces surround “the beloved City,” which I take to be the New Jerusalem, “fire came down from heaven and consumed them. And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (9, 10) And this is where we get our picture of a fiery hell, perhaps most memorably illustrated by Hieronymus Bosch:

In the end, God alway defeats evil.

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