Monday, October 29: Jonah 1:17-2:10; Psalm 52; Revelation 11:1-14; Luke 11:14-26
Though Jonah did not obey God’s call, the great fish does, and gives Jonah time to think over his rebellious behavior. What follows is a psalm that may at first seem a bit out of order as it presumes what comes at the end: the fish spewing Jonah out on dry land, and for the moment, that has yet to happen. The psalm is, however, a classic prayer for deliverance and works out of the conviction that the Lord hears and answers our prayers, even in the darkest and most hopeless of circumstances. And can you think of anything more hopeless than being in the belly of a great fish for three days and three nights! The psalm is actually a composite of others in the psalter calling on the Lord for deliverance; virtually every one of its lines can be found elsewhere in the psalms. However, it is also unique to Jonah’s circumstances. Notice how intentionally theological it is: it is the Lord who tossed him into the deep, not the sailors! And, as the billows pass over him and the weeds wrap around his head, Jonah goes down to the land whose bars closed upon him forever—the belly of Sheol, not the fish—the land of the dead. Verse 6 is the pivot point, as almost all psalms of lament and prayers for deliverance pivot to psalms of praise. Jonah goes down to the deep and the Lord hears and lifts him out of the pit. As his life is ebbing away, Jonah remembers and calls out to the Lord, who heard his voice—his prayer has come to the Lord’s holy temple; God’s dwelling place. After a summary condemnation of those who worship falsely, praying to vain idols, there is a promise to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and pay has vow. With one final affirmation of assurance in the Lord’s deliverance, the fish spews Jonah on to the dry land.
This psalm is less a prayer than a confession of confidence in God to protect us from those whose lying tongues are like razors and whose deceitful ways are filled with treachery, who plot the destruction of the godly. They love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth. But God will break them down forever, snatch them from their tents and uproot them from the land of the living. As that happens, the righteous will see and fear—even laugh!—at the evildoer, proclaiming that those who refuse to take refuge in God, but prefer to trust in their own riches, shall be so destroyed. The psalmist then confesses to having taken refuge in God and become like a green olive tree in the courts of the Temple. (Olive trees may lose branches and limbs that wither and die, but their roots continue to produce new sprouts, giving the tree long life and making it a biblical symbol for long, abundant, even eternal life.) The psalm concludes with an expression of trust in the steadfast love of God, thanking God for what he has done and promising to proclaim God’s name, for it is good. Interestingly enough, the word for God throughout this psalm is the generic Elohim or El, rather than Yahweh. Nonetheless, it should be fair warning to the talking heads of the media world who indulge in character assassination with their invidious speech against others in the public view.
John is given a measuring rod and sent forth to calculate the dimensions of the Temple and its altar, as well as those who worship there, but not its outer court. That is to be left out because the nations will trample over it for forty-two month (a number symbolic of a limited amount of time). During this time two witnesses will be granted authority to prophesy for 1,260 days—the end of the time of tribulation. Referred to as two olives trees amid two lampstands, it is a reference, not to two specific individuals but to the prophetic ministry of the church, the olive trees from Zechariah 4:3, 14, and the lampstand the symbol of the churches (Rev. 1:20). The witnesses are reminiscent of Moses, Elijah and Jeremiah, and like Jesus, are faithful martyrs. At the end of their appointed time of tribulation the beast (power of evil) emerges from the bottomless pit to make war on them, conquer and kill them, leaving their rotting bodies in the streets. But after three and a half days (short time), God breathes life back into them and they stand on their feet, terrifying all who see them. At that point a loud voice from heaven calls them up in a cloud while their enemies watch. As that happens a great earthquake occurs destroying a tenth of the city, with seven thousand killed in the quake, and the remaining so terrified that they give glory to God in heaven. The second woe is past; the third is coming soon.
Jesus continues his healing ministry, casting a mute spirit out of a man, and when the spirit is gone the man speaks. The majority of the crowd is astonished but some say Jesus is doing this by the spirit of Satan: Beelzebul—“the Lord of the flies”—the ruler of demons. Others in the crowd want to continue to test him (putting to the test is, after all, Satan’s work), demanding signs from heaven. Knowing what they are thinking Jesus tells the parable of the kingdom divided against itself and asks that if Satan is so divided, and working through Jesus and against himself, how can his house stand? Further, if Jesus is casting out demons by Satan, by whose power are their local exorcists casting out demons? What is going on is a battle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan, and they are watching it take place—speaking of signs from heaven. The strong man has arrived who has the ability to overpower Satan, take away his armor and plunder his kingdom. Then Jesus issues a judgment: whoever is not with him is against him, and whoever does not gather with him, scatters. The lesson ends with a final warning: having a demon cast out is not a guarantee that it will not return, and if it does, it brings seven others with it, making the person’s life worse that it was before the first exorcism. The point is less one of exorcisms; not even that is enough to insure protection against future evil. This is a question of allegiance. Are we following and serving the one who gathers or the one who scatters?
Author: The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson
Created: June 21, 2012
The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson, Pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, offers thoughts on today’s lectionary readings.