Week 29

10-16 December

Psalms 138 - 143,  Job 16 - 42,  Revelation 9 - 16, Proverbs 31

10 December
Job 16 - 19Revelation 9
11 December
Job 20 - 22Revelation 10
12 December
Job 23 - 28Revelation 11
13 December
Job 29 - 31Revelation 1231.1-9
14 December
Job 32 - 34Revelation 1331.10-end
15 December
Ps 142Job 35 - 38Revelation 14
16 December
Job 39 - 42Revelation 15 - 16


Psalm 138 is a song of thanksgiving for salvation, probably composed in the post-exilic period, when the restored community wanted to praise God for fulfilling the prophecies of restoration, particularly those in Isaiah 48-66.
Psalm 139 is the most beautiful expression of our relationship to God, the God who knows us completely and has done so since before our birth.  In this psalm, we see how God encompasses us in all ways.  There is a break between verses 18 and 19, with the final part concerned with the wicked and the possibility that all of us could be found there.  Whatever we are, God already knows, so we need never be ashamed of being in his presence.
Psalm 140 is a first person prayer for help.
Psalm 141 is a prayer for everyone who wants to escape the problems caused by the wicked by taking refuge in God.
Psalm 142 is a prayer for help made in the confident knowledge that God will hear and help.
Psalm 143 is one of the seven penitential psalms, moving from a request to be heard to the desire to escape God's judgement, because no one can stand before God unless he is merciful.

Job 16 - 42

These later chapters of Job show him in dialogue with his friends twice more, until finally their attempts to help Job understand what is going on break down.  In chapter 19, Job expresses his sense of being totally abandoned by friends, family and by God.  Even his own body can no longer be relied on.  In this extremity, he searches for someone who will redeem him.
Is he affirming a belief in bodily resurrection?  Maybe, maybe not, given the rejection of this in chapter 14.  But the faith to which Job clings, despite everything, his hope that ultimately God will be just, give us some of the best known lines of scripture, which Handel set to music in the Messiah:  "I know that my redeemer lives ...  From my flesh I shall see God ...".
After his relationship with his friends breaks down, Job meditates by himself on wisdom (chapter 28).  The wisdom he is looking for cannot be found on earth and is only to be found in God.  He then sums up everything that has happened (chapters 29-31).  But where his first meditation, in chapter 3, is full of raw emotion, this time he has reached a place of acceptance through deep reflection he has passed through in the meantime.
Then in chapter 32, a new voice appears, Elihu.  Elihu appears to speak for God, but much of what he says has already been said by Job's friends.  His role appears to be to set the stage for God himself to speak.
In chapters 39-41, God finally answers Job, but does not give any explanation for Job's suffering. What he does is to deny the accusation that he is not concerned about justice, and to ask Job 'Who are you?' 'Where were you?' 'Are you able?'  We might compare the words of Jesus: 'You do now know what you are asking.' and 'Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptised with the baptism with which I am baptised?' (Matthew 20.22).  In response, Job acknowledges that God is God and he is created by God.  He has indeed, in his flesh, met God.
The final verses of the book return to the initial drama in the court of heaven, where God defends his servant Job against the friends who failed Job, and then restores to Job all that has been stripped away from him and more.

Revelation 9 - 16

There is much violent imagery in these, and earlier, chapters, with catastrophic violence unleashed upon the earth and its people, and the source of all this is God and the Lamb.  What are we to make of this?  There is a real problem in reconciling the Lamb in front of whom sinners are tortured for ever with the Jesus who prayed for those who crucified him (Luke 23.34, and look also at Matthew 5.43-44).
John the Divine wrote from the perspective of present suffering.  One way to make sense of suffering in the present is to interpret it as part of the struggle between good and evil, between God and all who oppose him - we might compare Psalms 35, 55, 69, 109 and 137.  A community persecuted beyond endurance might quite naturally look for God to reverse things, to bring down the wicked.
The imagery used in Revelation can be compared with other apocalyptic writing of the time, in which ever present evil will oppose God in the end-times in mighty battles, before creation is finally rescued from the forces of chaos.
The wrath of God is not about a petty god prone to emotional outbursts, but God who is just and must oppose injustice.  The phenomena described, earthquakes, hail, and so on, occur because no one and nothing, including the earth, can stand unmoved in God's presence.  The plagues recall the exodus from Egypt, when God saved his people before.
'Satan' has become the proper name of one single adversary against God, but originally the word simply meant any adversary or an accuser, as in Job.  Later, dualistic religious ideas of good and evil from elsewhere in the Middle East were taken into apocalyptic writing, so that evil became personified as a fallen angel, so that by the time the New Testament books were being written, Satan had become the evil one who tempts human beings to disobey God.  For Christianity, this is a way of saying that evil is more than simply the accumulation of sins committed by people – whatever we think about the existence of 'Satan' as the personification of evil, we should be wary of losing a sense of the reality and pervasiveness of evil.
Against all this we must not lose sight of John's conviction that human beings are sinful, including Christians.  Salvation is assured by Jesus on the cross for all – the blood is that of Christ.

Proverbs 31

This final chapter of Proverbs is in two parts.  The first contains instructions attributed to a king's mother for future rulers.  The second is an acrostic poem (each line begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, in order) on the virtues of a good wife.  The book ends where it began, with the fear of the Lord.

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