Week 30

17-23 December

Psalms 144 - 150,  Daniel, Esther, Jonah,  Revelation 17 - 22

17 December
Daniel 1 - 3Revelation 17
18 December
Daniel 4 - 6Revelation 18
19 December
Daniel 7 - 9Revelation 19
20 December
Daniel 10 - 12Revelation 20
21 December
Esther 1 - 4Revelation 21
22 December
Ps 149Esther 5 - 8
Esther 9 - 10
Revelation 22
23 December
Jonah 1
Jonah 2 - 3
Jonah 4


Psalm 144 is a royal psalm, composed for use in ceremonies involving the king, similar to Psalm 18.  Where Psalm 18 speaks of David, this appears to be a reappropriation of it for later kings.
Psalm 145 is a song of praise, frequently used in Christian worship today.  It is an acrostic poem, with lines starting with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
It is also the first psalm in the final section of the Psalter.  The following psalms are all hymns of praise, starting and finishing with an 'Alleluia!'.
Psalm 148 (together with passages from Daniel) forms the basis for the Benedicite, an alternative canticle to the Te Deum in Morning Prayer (Matins) in the Book of Common Prayer.
The final Psalm in the Psalter, 150, ends by calling on everything that has breath to praise the Lord


Daniel appears to be about the Babylonian occupation of Judah and the period of the exile.  It is a book of two parts.  The first contains well-known stories about Daniel, and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  The second part is apocalyptic in style, with symbolic beasts, heavenly beings and heavenly judgement scenes.  It was probably written down, very likely by more than one author, in the 2nd century BC, at a time when the Jews were a struggling, persecuted minority, with the first part based on traditional stories.  Part was written in Aramaic, part in late Hebrew.
The hero, Daniel, is the ideal God-fearing man, whose whole life is lived in obedience to God.  He and his three friends demonstrate the virtues of wisdom, piety and trust, people who keep God's law.
Biblical apocalyptic literature is part of a broader category of writing, known as eschatology.  Eschatology concerns itself with the crisis of the End (in Greek, the eschaton).  The Israelite prophets identify this with the Day of the Lord, the time when God's chosen people will be reconciled to him once and for all.  The difference between the prophets we read of in the Old Testament and Daniel 7-12 (and to a lesser extent Isaiah 24-27, Zechariah 9-14, Joel 2.28-3.21) is the difference between say, Jeremiah, writing of a time when God will write his law directly into people's hearts (31.33) and accounts of cosmic catastrophes.  The predominant themes of apocalyptic are the final Conflict and Judgement, the coming Golden Age and the action of a Saviour or Messiah.
The background to the book is a persecution known as the Antiochan persecution.  After Alexander the Great conquered much of north Africa and the near east, he left behind a number of successor kingdoms.  One, based in Syria, the Seleucid dynasty, featured a particularly unpleasant king, Antiochus Epiphanes IV, desecrated the temple and forbade all Jewish religious practices.  The Jews resisted in the Maccabean Revolt (167BC) and eventually won.  The book of Daniel was written during the Revolt.
We can see the Revelation as a Christian re-interpretation of the book of Daniel.


Jews and Protestant Christians read a version of the book of Esther based on a Hebrew text passed down by rabbis.  Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians read a version based on a Greek translation.  Many differences are minor, but the Greek version contains six passages, 107 verses, which are not in the Hebrew text.
The story is set in the reign of the Persian king Ahasureus (also known as Xerxes I), 486-465 BC.  However, it was very probably written later than this, and has much in common with other later works, such as Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles, all dated around 400-300 BC.  But while the Jews in this book are under threat, they do not appear to be suffering outright persecution, which suggests that it was written before the Seleucid period described above, so before 200BC.
It has been suggested that this is a 'burlesque', a comedy which conveys a more serious message.  It is read aloud at the carnival-like Jewish festival of Purim.
An important theme in the book is the lack of restraint of Ahasuerus and his court, especially Haman.  By contrast, Esther acts with due restraint and shows a sense of what is sensible and reasonable.  The story concerns the difficulty of living a life faithful to God in a culture of excess which does not know God, so perhaps provided diaspora Jews with teaching on how to resist the effects of the prevailing culture at a point when they have very limited power (as Mordecai has).
Where Vashti (the queen) and Mordecai (a Jewish man who has managed to rise to the position of courtier) resist openly, Esther employs a more flexible approach.  Another group who occupy an important role in the story are the eunuchs, who also have limited power, but use what power they have mostly to benefit Esther and the Jewish people – by waiting for the right moment, rather than openly rebelling.
It isn't obvious where God fits into this story, but the fact that he isn't openly referred to doesn't mean he is absent.  His presence can be seen in the 'coincidences' which occur, in help which mysteriously arrives at just the right moment.


Although the book of Jonah is placed with the prophetic literature, it is, like the first part of Daniel and Esther, a story, rather than the record of a prophet's work of speaking for God.  It is set in the reign of king Jeroboam II of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (786-746BC).  The major power on the world stage at the time was Assyria, in which Nineveh was an important city, and the capital from the time of Sennacherib (704BC).  The book was probably written down much later, in the post-exilic period, perhaps in the 5th century BC.  It also occurs, with a few differences, in the Qur'an.
God wants Jonah to go to Nineveh to prophesy against the city because of its wickedness.  Jonah instead chooses to go in the opposite direction.  When the boat he is on is threatened by a huge storm, Jonah tells them to throw him overboard because he's the cause of the storm.  He then spends three days and nights in the belly of a great fish.  When he prays to God, God causes the fish to spit Jonah out.  So Jonah goes to Nineveh, with the result that the people repent and God spares them.  Cross about this, Jonah waits to see what will happen, ending with a discussion with God in which God explains about mercy.

Revelation 17 - end

The final chapters of Revelation describe the holy city and the new creation which will inhabit it.  It ends with a vision of a restored creation worshipping God.  Revelation gives us a vivid picture of what salvation, enjoying eternal life with God, will be like.  At times, John seems to suggest that all creation will be restored and brought into eternal life, and at other times, he seems to suggest that there will be limits.  We can understand this by agreeing that for John, God is all merciful, all forgiving, and does indeed intend all creation to be renewed and restored to life with him.  However, human beings have been given a free choice, and so should be considered responsible for the decisions they make, including the decision to reject God.  It is God who saves, through Jesus Christ, and who desired all creation to be reconciled to him – but that does not take away from us the need to accept our salvation, and it does not deny the reality of judgement on sin.
So we cannot think that there is nothing for the church to do, since all will be saved anyway.  Taking our part in God's mission is vitally important.

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