Week 28

3-9 December

Psalms 133 - 137, Joel, Obadiah, Job 1 - 15,  Revelation 1 - 8, Proverbs 30

3 December

Joel 1
Joel 2
Revelation 1
4 December
Joel 3
Revelation 2
5 December
Job 1 - 4Revelation 3 - 4
6 December
Job 5 - 7Revelation 530.1-16
7 December
Job 8 - 10Revelation 630.17-end
8 December
Ps 136.10-endJob 11 - 13Revelation 7
9 December
Job 14 - 15Revelation 8


Psalms 133 and 134 are the last songs of ascent in this collection.
Psalm 133 speaks of Zion as a place of blessing, delighting in the experience of the whole group of pilgrims gathering together as one family there.
Psalm 134 is the final psalm in this collection, and the shortest, bringing together God's blessing of the congregation and the community's blessing of God.  To bless God means to praise him and to give thanks to him for his gift in creating and sustaining life.
Psalm 135 is a hymn of praise together with Psalm 136.  Both recite God's saving deeds.
Psalm 137 laments the loss of Jerusalem at the fall of Judah, when the people were deported to Babylon.  It is full of pain and anguish.  However, it also contains one of the most shocking (to our ears) curses in the Bible, calling for the elimination of the Babylonian population, right down to the babies.  Babylon as a symbol for all that is the opposite of Jerusalem is a theme picked up in the book of Revelation.

Joel and Obadiah

Historical background to the Old Testament prophets

These are the most recent of the prophetic books of the Old Testament, written after the return from Babylon against the background of Ezra and Nehemiah's reforms.
Joel means 'Yahweh is God'.  His book tells us a crisis and deliverance from that crisis - in this case, a terrible plague of locusts, which has resulted in famine.  It is almost liturgical in form, to be recited as part of the saving history of Israel.  Each generation needs to hear afresh what God has done, and to find their own story in his story.
Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament.  The name 'Obadiah' means 'servant of the Lord'.  The prophet takes an older saying, from Jer 49.14-16, 9, and reapplies it to his own situation.  The central concern is Edom, a small territory to the south of the Dead Sea.  The Edomites saw the destruction of Judah by the Babylonians.  When some of the survivors sought sanctuary in Edom, they were handed over to the invaders.  Rather than standing with their neighbours, they stood by and watched their destruction, an attitude which Obadiah condemns.


The book of Job seeks to understand undeserved suffering, so concerns issues which we can all relate to all too well.  It seeks also to understand the character of God, and Israel's calling to be his people and what that means.  
It starts by considering the question - why is Job, a good, righteous man, so good and righteous?  Is it just that he has been fortunate to be blessed so far in life?  Suffering is sent to test him.  At first, he copes well, but when his three friends arrive on the scene, things start to unravel.
The friends offer different advice.  Later a young man, Elihu, also tries to help.  None are successful.  Finally, God, who has remained silent prior to this answers Job - but only by asking more questions.  Resolution comes when Job confesses his dependence on God, and his deeper understanding of both God and his own calling to humility in the face of God's majesty.
At the end of the book, Job is restored to his former fortune, but he has been transformed by all that has happened.
The book of Job charts a deepening of Israel's understanding of her role as the people of God, and of her understanding of creation, covenant and God's place in history.  What does it mean for people to be 'adam, made of earth or dust?  What does it mean to be made in God's image?  How are these two to be held together?
The book of Job is notoriously difficult to translate, and different versions of the Bible therefore differ more than in many other cases.

The Revelation of St John the Divine

John wrote a pastoral letter to Christians in churches in Asia (now modern Turkey) in the late first century, who were facing persecution by the Roman state.  Following the fall of the Jewish state, and the destruction of the temple (for the second time) in 66-70AD, there was considerable emigration of Jews from the area around Jerusalem out to Jewish communities elsewhere.  There were tensions between groups of Jewish Christians and other Jews, and with the deaths of the first generation of apostles and teachers, the church was in a period of transition.
It has always been a controversial book, rejected as scripture by some, taken as a blueprint for the end of the world by others, right from the second century to present times.  The violence of some of the images, including the violence of God, his armies and Christ, can be difficult for us to stomach.  It contains apocalyptic language and prophecy, which are very difficult for us almost 2000 years later to understand.
John wrote it for groups of Christians he knew, and for whom he felt a responsibility.  It was written to be read aloud to congregations in worship, to catch their imaginations.
A major theme is the end of history, the consummation of God's plan for creation, when his kingdom will become actual.  'Babylon' is code for Rome, the symbol of this world, which is coming to an end.  The Empire had suffered defeat and rebellions, Vesuvius had erupted, causing great devastation, events seemed cataclysmic.  In such a situation, what did it mean to claim God's sovereignty?  What did it mean to claim that Jesus was Messiah?

Proverbs 30

Some of the sayings in this chapter echo ideas found in the psalms about the transcendence of God.  It also reiterates the necessity to be truthful, and to honour one's father and mother.  The latter part of the chapter recites sets of three and four things which are too difficult to understand.

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