Thursday: Nahum 1:15-2:12; Psalm 59; Revelation 12:7-17; Luke 11:53-12:12
Chapter one ends with a hinge verse in 15, announcing the feet of a messenger on the mountains bringing good tidings—proclaiming peace! (This same image is later borrowed by the Prophet Isaiah (53:7), that is, in turn, used by Paul in Romans 10:15—an example of how biblical images develop lives of their own in various portions of the tradition.) But peace will come only after that battle portrayed in chapter two, therefore Judah is to celebrate its festival and pay its vow, remembering that never again will the wicked invade, for they are utterly cut off (God has spoken, it is already a fact). Then the text addresses the people of Nineveh with a vivid description of the attack being led by none other than the Lord, who is restoring the majesty of Jacob and Israel. Nineveh will be drained like a pool whose waters run off and leave it dry, with its warriors staggering in the streets. With the devastation, desolation and destruction (imperatives that call the action into being) their hearts faint and knees tremble. What was once a lion’s den has done its damage long enough. Plunder the silver, plunder the gold! There is no end of treasure and abundance of everything for the victor’s taking.
Named a psalm of David which he prayed when king Saul had ordered his house watched in order to kill him, (1 Samuel 19:11), this prayer for deliverance for enemies may well have originated with David, (notice the royal dimension, for the enemies are national as well as personal), but has much wider application. From pleading for protection from personal enemies who lie in wait, and whose violence is not retribution for David’s sin, but simply their attempt to stir up strife against him, he cries out “Rouse yourself, come to my help and see! You, Lord God of hosts (the ancient warrior name for God), are also the God of Israel.” Awake to punish all the nations that rise against Israel. Then the enemy is characterized as howling dogs (objects of derision in Israel), that come back each evening to prowl the streets, to bark and terrorize, howling sharp words while thinking, God does not hear, as they ask, “Who will hear us?” But God does hear, and laughs at them, holding the nations in derision (Psalm 2:4), and from that affirmation comes a confession of trust. God is personal strength and defender, and, because of God’s steadfast love, he will let David look in triumph over his enemies. It is a pleasure the psalmist wants, asking God not to kill his enemies but simply to strip them of all power so that they will totter and fall in order that other may know the power of the God of Jacob to be their shield. The refrain returns to the howling dogs, roaring about in search of food, growling because they do not get their fill. But for the psalmist, he will sing of God’s might, sing aloud of the Lord’s steadfast love in the morning. God has been his fortress and refuge in the day of distress, a fortress of steadfast love.
War breaks out in heaven: the Arch Angel Michael and his hosts fight against the dragon, who with his angels fight back but are defeated and the dragon and his hosts are driven out of heaven. Satan and his minions are no longer in heaven to test, accuse and testify against humanity. Then another loud voice is heard from heaven singing of the salvation, victory, power and reign of God, and the authority of God’s Messiah. The accuser has been thrown down, never again to accuse the saints, for he has been conquered for them by the blood of the lamb and by their own testimony. Because they did not cling to their lives even in the face of death, they are now the victors. It is a word intended to be both comfort and encouragement to the suffering church. Another call goes out to those in heaven to rejoice, and it is quickly followed by a word of woe to the earth and sea: the devil has come down to them with great wrath because he knows his time his short. So the dragon pursues the woman who had given birth to the male child. She, the church, is given the two wings of the great eagle so she can fly from the serpent into the wilderness for “time, times and half a time (3 & ½)—a limited time. Remember, in the Bible, the wilderness is the place of God’s nurture and wooing. The serpent continued to pour forth floods from his mouth in order to wash her away, but the earth comes to her help and opens its mouth and swallowed up the dragon’s flood. And so, the dragon, in his anger, goes off to make war with the rest of the woman’s children—those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus. The scene ends with the dragon standing on the edge of the sea—the source of chaos that is thought of as the abyss—awaiting the emerging of the beast from the sea. The war fought in heaven defeating Satan, must now be enacted on earth.
From that dinner party on, the Pharisees turn hostile to Jesus, cross-examining him whenever they can, and lying in wait to catch him. Meanwhile, the crowds are gathering “by the thousands” even trampling on one another. Jesus speaks first to his disciples warning of the yeast of the Pharisees and their hypocrisy. Everything is going to come to the surface and be known, so that what they say in the dark will come to light, and what they whisper behind closed doors will be shouted from the rooftops. Hypocrisy simply will no longer do and must be abandoned. But do not fear those who kill the body, and thereafter can do you no real harm. Fear the one who, after he is killed, has authority to cast you into hell—fear him! Remember, even the sparrows that fall to the earth are noted by God, but more, the hairs of the disciples’ heads are all counted. They are not to fear, they are far more precious to God than sparrows. All who acknowledge Jesus before others, he—the Son of Man—will also acknowledge before God’s angels. But whoever denies Jesus before others will themselves be denied by him before God. Whoever speaks a word of insult against the Son of Man, as the Pharisees are doing, will be forgiven. There is still time to repent and acknowledge who Jesus is. But, whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, in that final moment of accountability will not be forgiven. When they haul you before the synagogue to try you about your loyalty to Jesus, do not worry about how to defend yourselves. The Holy Spirit will give you, in that moment, the words that you are to speak.
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.