War breaks out in heaven

The scene presented in reading from Revelation 12:7-17 is at odds with any perception we may have of heaven as a place of peace and tranquillity.

At a point described in Daniel 12 as the mid-point of the great tribulation the Archangel Michael and his faithful army of angels are locked in a battle with the dragon and his fallen angels that will finally deny Satan access to heaven (see Job 1:12; Zechariah 3:1; Luke 10:18).

How is this battle fought? We know this is a real fight; while our battle with Satan and his demons is spiritual, among angels, it is possible that there is a material battle to be fought in a way we can only imagine.

Note the various titles and descriptions in verse 9 – dragon, serpent of old (Genesis 3), the Devil, Satan, who deceives the whole world; he is vicious, an adversary, an accuser and a deceiver.

Verse 11 provides three keys to the saint’s victory over Satan:

  • The blood overcomes Satan’s accusations – those accusations mean nothing against us because the price has already been paid by Jesus Christ. We may be even worse than Satan accuses us of being, but we are still are made righteous by the work of Jesus on the cross (Ephesians 1:7Hebrews 9:14)
  • The word of their testimony overcomes Satan’s deceptions; they need not be deceived because they have known and remembered the work that God has done in their lives. As faithful witnesses, they have a testimony to bear – and because they know what they have seen and heard and experienced from God, they cannot be deceived by Satan’s lies telling them it isn’t true.
  • Loving not their lives overcomes Satan’s violence; if they do not cling to their own earthly lives, then there really is no threat Satan can bring against them.

While Heaven rejoices at the eviction of Satan the wrath of the dragon is focused against God’s people on earth. Satan attacks the woman (v.13-16) but God protects her and delivers her to a place in the wilderness where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time (Daniel 12:7).

There are various interpretations about these verses as to what, who and when. Some have taught that the woman is a symbol that represents all the people of God, including faithful Israel and the church; they use this to advance the idea that the church is here during the tribulation period. Others see her as Israel in general, or Messianic Jews in particular.

Satan’s power is real and terrifying, but not because he is triumphant, but because he knows he is beaten and has a short time left – like a wounded, cornered animal, he can fight with great ferociousness. We may ask if he is defeated – why doesn’t he just give up? But we should remember that Satan is utterly depraved – he may have deceived even himself into thinking that he has a chance.

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Mash up

Psalm 108 is not a new Psalm but rather a new arrangement – in today’s musical terms what would be referred to as a “mash-up”. Verses 1-5 are derived almost verbatim from Psalm 57:7-11 and verses 6-13 from Psalm 60:5-12. One alteration being the use of the great name of Jehovah in Psalm 108:3 instead of Adonai in Psalm 57:9.

In doing so, the writer (be that David himself or a later compiler) discards the laments that begin the original Psalms and therefore their historical contexts – David hunted in Psalm 57 and defeated in Psalm 60. Thus we are left with those portions which express confidence in the Lord.

The new Psalm positively positions David firstly as the composer / musician drawing his inspiration from his relationship with God – he will sing to the Lord his songs of praise – be that at the break of dawn, amongst the nations or up to the highest heavens v1-5.

One commentator states that the two joined fragments “offer a striking instance of true biblical faith. Human steadfastness (v1) rests upon divine steadfastness (v4). Divine steadfastness is expressed in the great promises (v7-9) which give confidence in coming victories (v10-13).”

God you are the greatest

Psalm 104 echoes the creation story from Genesis, beginning with the glory of God before creation (v1-2) and then moves to reflect on God’s act of bringing order out of chaos (v3-9). It calls us to look around at God’s creation and to worship him for it.

“Psalm 104 gives an interpretation to the many voices of nature, and sings sweetly both of creation and providence. The poem contains a complete cosmos: sea and land, cloud and sunlight, plant and animal, light and darkness, life and death, are all proved to be expressive of the presence of the Lord.” – Charles Spurgeon

God is the creator and ultimate owner of everything. It is His earth – every single thing in this biodiverse creation belongs to God. And so to worship the God who made the earth means having a new respect as we handle and use the earth that God has made. Verse 24 (in The Message) sums it up by simply stating ‘What a wildly wonderful world, God!’

Creation is dependence upon God (v27-30). The psalmist makes the point that not only our food, but also our very breath, comes to us from the hand of God. In a week when many stop and marvel at Enon Musk’s attempt to fly to another world – this is incomparable to the works of the creator. Stop for a moment to consider how much of creation we take for granted – what a wonderful thing is a breathable atmosphere! How impossible life would be without it! It is the basic gift of God to the earth, the thing that made it possible for life to grow here in the first place.

Finally, the psalm encourages us to take our place in God’s plan for his creation. The two sides of this are spelled out in verses 34-35. Positively the Psalmist asks “May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord”. The Psalmist is then compelled to consider the dark consequences due to those who rejected the creator God in his request that “sinners be consumed from the earth and let the wicked be no more!” This may seem a strange and solemn declaration but it is the logical consequence for those who reject God as creator – a thought that the apostle Paul develops in Romans 1:18-32.

But the Psalmist does not let such a remarkable psalm end on a dark note. Instead he ends with another rousing call to His own soul to bless the Lord, and to praise the Lord. This is the fitting response of the creature to the Creator. God indeed you are the greatest and worthy of our praise.

 

Shout for joy to the Lord

Sometimes when we read scripture, a familiar expression like the opening phrase like today’s reading from Psalm 100 jumps out at us.

What does it mean to “Make a joyful noise to the Lord”? or as the NIV translates “Shout for joy to the Lord”.

We all have cause to shout occasionally – either calling out to someone distant or close by failing to listen or as a warning or in anger or in celebration. The dictionary defines shouting as “utter a loud cry, typically as an expression of a strong emotion”.

So how do we “Shout for joy to the Lord”? The Psalmist also uses this exact invocation in Psalms 66.1; 98:4 & 6, and other Psalms speak about “shouting for joy” in the context of praising God.

A joyful noise is not merely noise for its own sake. The world is filled with noise (especially our Australian summer) – much of it harmful or distracting.

The Bible reveals that a joyful noise is a bold declaration of God’s glorious name and nature, that often includes music, such as singing, playing instruments, and dancing (Psalm 95:1; 98:6; 149:3; 1 Chronicles 15:28) and other outward expressions of praise.

While there is a time for quiet reverence in the presence of the Lord (Psalm 5:7; 95:6), God also delights in our outward displays of joyful abandon as we worship Him with all we have. Scripture is filled with examples of God’s servants praising Him in a variety of ways, many of them noisy and active. David danced (2 Samuel 6:14); Miriam played the tambourine, singing and dancing (Exodus 15:20–21); the children of Israel shouted and sang (2 Chronicles 15:14); Solomon lifted hands before all the people (1 Kings 8:22); Paul and Silas sang loudly in jail (Acts 16:25); and Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem with loud shouts of joy (John 12:13).

Often what prevents us in our praise and worship from taking the opportunity to make a joyful noise to the Lord is that we worry about “What will other people think?” rather than focusing on praising God. Why is it that most people who feel too reserved to make a joyful noise to the Lord, would think nothing of shouting, clapping, and cheering at their favourite sporting event or music concert?

While our corporate worship should always be “done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40), they should never stifle the joyful expression of praise brought before the Lord by his people. When the fear of man either prompts or stymies any type of outward expression, we are not doing “all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

When the fruit of the Spirit dominates our lives, we cannot help but express it—and part of that fruit is joy (Galatians 5:20). God wants us to find such joy and excitement in Him that we cannot contain it. Ephesians 5:18–19 instructs us to “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.”

When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we desire to sing to the Lord and edify others. Our musical talent has nothing to do with it. A joyful noise incorporates many creative expressions of praise: dancing, singing, clapping, shouting, raising hands, as well as playing instruments. When the focus of our hearts is God and His greatness, our noise is a sweet sound to His ears.

A box of summer fruit

For me one of the biggest clues that it is summer is the appearance of roadside fruit stalls at either end of the Princes Motorway or along Appin Road. We have all seen the signs along the road alerting us to the truck ahead – Mangos (spelt incorrectly) $10 a box.

I love the summer stone fruits – peaches, mangoes, nectarines, apricots and cherries!!! It is something I look forward to tasting this time every year. But not so in our Old Testament reading from Amos 8, where in the vision the prophet is confronted with of ripe summer fruit – ordinarily associated with the joys and provision of the harvest becomes a sign of mourning and judgement.

The connection between summer fruit and judgement is not readily apparent as we miss the play on words in the original language where the word for summer fruit “qayis” is similar in sound to the word “qes” which means end – or as the NIV ominously puts it in verse 2 – “The time is ripe for my people”.

In this scene from God’s courtroom, the verdict is handed down. Just as the apparent promise of summer fruit was turned into the assurance of Israel’s destruction, so the joyous temple hymns would give way to the wailing when the wrath of God’s judgement fell on them (v3).

The nation has been charged with exploiting and mistreating the poor and vulnerable. Merchants could not wait for the holy days to be over and the Sabbath to end so they could resume dishonest trading with short measures and inflated prices. The Message paraphrase of verses 4-6 puts it a modern context:
Listen to this, you who walk all over the weak, you who treat poor people as less than nothing,
Who say, “When’s my next pay cheque coming so I can go out and live it up?
How long till the weekend when I can go out and have a good time?”
Who give little and take much, and never do an honest day’s work.
You exploit the poor, using them—and then, when they’re used up, you discard them.

The judgement to follow will surely come because God does not allow his glory to be sullied. The metaphor of an earthquake (v8) represents the calamity that Amos has referred to throughout the book. Such catastrophic language is used to foreshadow the fear and dread in the hearts and minds of the people. The destruction of Samaria (v10-12) will be the cause of bitter of bitter mourning. Amos describes the event in terms of a funeral for an only son. He then goes on to depict a coming famine – not starving people searching for food and water but for the word of the Lord. They had rejected the word, not realising its great value, and had lost it forever.

In case we are under some allusion that such scenarios are strictly “Old Testament” – our New Testament reading from Luke 16:16-31 contains the equally confronting vision of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Again neglecting the needs of the poor are met with judgement. From his place of torment, the rich man makes a desperate appeal that his family might warned and spared. But Abraham answers him –
‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’

Let us heed the warning signs – that we too hear the words of prophets like Amos.

Hanging Haman

Go on admit it – we all like to see an evil villain get their just deserts – whether that be in a novel, movie or in the annals of history.

More than any other book in the Bible, Esther reads like the script of a TV mini-series. Each chapter drawing to a climax to be resolved in the next.

In yesterday’s episode Haman is forced to eat humble pie, his enemy Mordecai is honoured in his place. The moment of triumph he had plotted had blown up in his face. Humiliated Haman rushes home with his tail between his legs to vent to his wife and friends the injustice of it all but finds no sympathy. Those who had proposed his victorious scenario (5:14) – now don’t want to know him (6:13).

Esther 7 is the point in the story where everything comes out in the open

Before the chilling reality of those prophetic words could set in, the Kings’ eunuchs arrive to take him to the feast that Queen Esther had prepared (6:14).

Exploiting the King’s partiality for food and wine, Ahasuerus (Xerxes) is favourably disposed to hear what Esther wishes to request of him. He is shocked when Esther reveals her ethnicity and pleads that her life and those of her people to be spared.

What?? How can this be?? Who is responsible for this act of evil???

Esther points the finger of blame squarely on the shoulders of the deceitful Haman who had coerced the King into unwittingly pronouncing an irreversible degree which would bring about the genocide of the Jewish people throughout the kingdom.

For Haman – a bad day could not possibly get any worse (or could it?)

While the enraged, humilated and slightly inebriated King storms out of the room to cool his head in serenity of the palace garden; Haman throws himself at the reclining Queen Esther in the vain hope that she might show him some mercy. The returning King catches Haman in a compromising position and his fate is sealed.

Palace security cover his face and he is hauled off to be hung on the very gallows he had prepared for Mordecai.

We see in this passage justice being served – the wicked punished and those with integrity and godly character triumph. But in our experience this is not always the case. Our motivation for doing what is right is in understanding that justice will ultimately prevail. We may not witness justice in our lifetime, but we know from scripture that justice will be done as Psalm 73 reminds us that when we are frustrated with the lack of justice, we must go to the sanctuary of God for His perspective. We must continue to do what is right whether or not justice happens now.

Some translations state that Haman was impaled rather than hung. If you would like to explore why this may be so – I commend to you the interesting posting “Was Haman Hanged or Impaled?” by Benjamin Shaw.

The special purpose of the first born

Numbers 3 commences with a recount of Aaron the brother of Moses and high priest’s four sons. The two oldest Nadab and Abihu were struck down by the LORD for making unauthorised sacrifices (Leviticus 10:1-7). Their priestly roles were inherited by their younger brothers Eleazar and Ithamar and the priestly succession passed down to their sons after them.

The sons of Aaron, the anointed priests, whom he consecrated to minister as priests were only one small family among the Levites; to be a priest and a Levite were not the same thing at all. Only those who were descendants of Aaron could be priests.

What is readily apparent in our reading is that God desired order and organization in the way the Israelites were to worship him. The families of the Levites had certain callings they were to fulfill. There was no one man or family to do everything; God made them dependent on one another to accomplish the work.

Numbers 3:6-10 details the role of the tribe of Levi – serving the needs of Aaron and the priests, the needs of the congregation at large, and the needs of the tabernacle itself.
The Levites are a special possession to God. The firstborn belonged to God; a firstborn lamb from a ewe would be given to the LORD. Since God did no want human sacrifice, so He took the tribe of Levi as Israel’s firstborn (v.11-13).

In the census of the tribe of Levi (v.14-20), they were to be categorized by the families, with the main grouping according to Levi’s three sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.
The families of the Gershonites (numbering 7,500 males) were to camp behind the tabernacle westward (in between Judah and the tabernacle itself). The Gershonites were to take care of the skins that covered the tabernacle itself (v.21-26).

The Kohathites (8,600 males) were to camp southward to the tabernacle (in between Reuben and the tabernacle itself). Their duty included taking care of the furniture of the tabernacle: The ark of the covenant, the table of showbread, and so forth, under the direction of Eleazar the priest, son of Aaron (v.27-32).

The family of Merari (6,200 males) were to camp northward to the tabernacle (in between Dan and the tabernacle itself). Their appointed duty was to take care of the structural aspects of the tabernacle: The pillars, the boards, and so forth (v.33-37).

The family of Aaron, and Moses, were to camp on the east side of the tabernacle – closest to the entrance, which was on the east, keeping charge of the sanctuary (v.38-39).

In total they numbered 22,000 Levites(v.39). Although this does not tally with the totals of the individual clans given in verses 22, 28, 34 which come to 22,300. Scholars explain this discrepancy as a textual corruption in verse 28. The number of Kohathites may originally have been 8,300. 3 (Hebrew sls) could quite easily have been corrupted into 6 (ss).

Redemption of the Firstborn (Numbers 3:40-51)
The firstborn – which was always thought to be the best and the favoured – always belongs to God; so instead of giving the firstborn of Israel to God in sacrifice, the tribe of Levi was “given” to God as in place of each of the firstborn sons of Israel. However, there were 22,273 firstborn sons in Israel; and there were only 22,000 Levite males (Leviticus 3:39). The extra 273 were given a monetary value (five shekels for each one individually), and the money was given to the tabernacle as redemption money.