Tag Archives: Nations

Blogging the Bible 360 – Revelation 6:1-8:5 – Together at the end of time

Whether it’s looking at the events of John’s day, the decades that were to follow or the whole span of human history, it’s clear as the scene unfolds before John’s eyes that things are changing, and painfully. The four horsemen ride out – but this doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re at the final end of things. war, death and famine haven’t exactly been strangers to the earth over the last 2000 years, after all. This could be a representation simply of the dark side of human history, with disasters happening time after time.

Then in John’s vision the sky is shaken and the stars fall. I don’t think this is meant to be taken literally, any more than is anything else that is to come. But it’s apparent that earthshaking events are indeed about to follow. But first God’s people must be safe.

And once again, we see the pattern I’ve seen afresh through this reading of the whole Bible. The numbering of the saints begins with the twelve tribes of Israel (ten long-gone before John’s day) and then explodes to the multitude of all nations, numbers beyond counting, who join with them before God’s throne. One last time, the nations are drawn through Jesus into the covenant of God and Israel which we have seen to be unfolding throughout history. Together they worship Israel’s God and his Messiah, joining their prayers to those of the angels.

In response to their praise, and to their lives of faith, the saints receive the beautiful promise,

For this reason they are before the throne of God,
   and worship him day and night within his temple,
   and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
   the sun will not strike them,
   nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,
   and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ (Rev. 7:15-17)

And then…

Silence.

In heaven.

For half an hour.

In a way I find that silence more awe-inspiring than all of the vivid imagery that surrounds it. Apart from anything, John is the evangelist of the ‘Word’, by whom God speaks all things into being and sustains creation. If there is silence, then the world is still as well. For half an hour, God does not speak.

What must that silence have been like?

The eternal song of praise is silenced. Then the prayers of the saints are heard. And the world changes.

Blogging the Bible 235 – Habbakuk – idols and oceans

There’s a powerful contrast here.

The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. (Habbakuk 2:14)

What use is an idol once its maker has shaped it?…For its maker trusts in what has been made, thought the product is only an idol that cannot speak! (Habbakuk 2:18)

We may not make and set up statues to worship, but we’re just as prone to idolatry as were the people of Habbakuk’s day. We set celebrities on pillars until we choose to tear them down. We rely on the ‘product’ to make our lives better, whether it’s a new toothpaste, a lifestyle or a whole political and economic system. Or, even more dangerously, we rely on an idea of Religion or of God which is itself a product – of our own minds of of the culture of which we are part.

No idea of God, however reverent and well meant, can save us. Only the true God who speaks through the Bible and shows himself in person in Jesus, can save us. Anything else is a product, at risk of becoming an idol.

What is in danger of replacing the glorious wonder of God in my life? Have I traded oceans of glory for a silver plated statue?

Blogging the Bible 234 – Nahum – Jonah would have loved this!

It looks like Nineveh’s repentance at Jonah’s preaching didn’t last. He must have been relieved. Nahum saw business as usual, a corrupt city, and prophesied judgement.

Hard though it may be to see at times, God’s judgement is not opposed to his mercy, but here Nahum sees that it is in mercy for the righteous that God overthrows the wicked.

The LORD is good, a stronghold in a day of trouble; he protects those who take refuge in him, even in a rushing flood. He will make a full end of his adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness. (Nahum 1:7-8)

In the wars and conflicts of the Ancient Near East, there was not much space for neutrality – and the LORD took sides to protect those who turned to him. When we’re dealing with the affairs of nations, things happen on a grand scale, with the fall of cities and whole societies.

Where can I see God stepping into the smaller conflicts of our own communities? How can I find enough clarity of vision to work alongside him?

 

Blogging the Bible 232 – Micah 1-4 – Swords to Ploughshares

Micah stands out in his proclamation of hope – that a day will come when war will be such a distant memory that weapons will be made into something more useful – swords made into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks. It’s part of a wider vision where the Temple mount will draw all peoples, coming to learn the ways of God.

It’s a rich and powerful image, and it’s one of a unity which doesn’t come through force but through attraction and example. Micah has denounced the injustices of the rulers of Israel, kings, priests and prophets, who have been concerned only for themselves at the expense of others.

It’s hard to avoid the impression that in Micah’s eyes, one of the things that will draw the nations to the Temple is that it will be the heart of a new, just society.

If we are to be a temple which draws in the peoples of the world, it will not be through force or persuasion but as God works through us to build a new, renewed society. And in the meantime, while we wait for him to do his bit, we do ours, regardless of what’s happening around us.

I love the strength of Micah 4:8 –

For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever.

Amen.

Blogging the Bible 229 – Obadiah – Don’t gloat over others’ suffering

The shortest book in the Old Testament has one message – Edom will be judged because she rejoiced in the suffering of Israel rather than coming to her aid.

As always, there’s a sharpening of God’s anger because it is his chosen nation over whose suffering Edom gloats. But the principle stands more widely. We cut ourselves off from God  when we enjoy the suffering of others. Even when they deserve it.

It’s all too easy for the media to write off or demonise a nation of group of people – migrants are the current preferred target, whether they are a ‘swarm’ or a ‘bunch’. But even when the target is a ‘hostile’ nation, those who suffer when its forms turn are generally ordinary people much like ourselves.

There is no sensible room or reason to rejoice in others’ suffering – and The LORD is pretty clear that it’s not a good option.

Blogging the Bible 227 – Amos 1-4 -Justice for all

For three transgressions of Damascus… of Gaza… of Tyre… ofEdom… of the Ammonites… of Moab… Amos’ hearers must have been with him by this point, as he denounced all of their neighbours and enemies, for each calling to mind particular offences against God and humanity. It would probably be like a populist speaker railing in turn against Russia, Syria, North Korea, Brussels or Washington (depending on personal politics) and getting the crowd fired up with the declaration of anger and impending disaster.

Then the speaker turns to home – For three transgressions of Judah…of Israel…

It’s as if the speaker who’s just yelled about the wrongs of Moscow and Damascus suddenly turned to Birmingham and Wolverhampton.

This was not how the prophecy was supposed to go. Though of course anyone who’d read the other prophets might have seen it coming. God’s choice of Israel and Judah didn’t let them off his judgement, it set a higher standard for their national life, as they were called to bear witness to the LORD’s ways and promises.

Here the LORD charges Israel and Judah with their failure to listen when, time and again, he has given warning – first through Nazirites and prophets, then through the coming of the disasters that they have foretold. Now there is an even graver warning – but God has no confidence that they will listen.

What warnings and signs of God’s will have I missed? How can I be more alert to them today? I want to be open not only to his warnings but also to his leadings and encouragements!

Blogging the Bible 216 – Ezekiel 27-32 – The Fall of Empires

The winners in conflicts and world affairs generally get to write the history. They shouldn’t get to write the theology as well.
In these chapters the LORD speaks to and through Ezekiel to announce and lament the fall of Tyre and Egypt to the Babylonians. The new superpower is taking over, and the LORD has his own part in that, though in the case of Tyre it brings him sorrow – a reminder that his care and guidance were never only for Israel.
If this account had been written in Babylonian sacred texts, we would probably dismiss it as propaganda. But it’s written as part of the Scripture of Israel, in the setting of the prophecy of the judgement to fall on Jerusalem. There’s no triumph here, just a recognition that Israel’s suffering is not apart from that of other nations – either in human experience or in God’s plan.
Perhaps we should pray more to see world events through God’s eyes today. But we probably need first to give up the assumption that we as a nation of culture are necessarily on the winning side.