Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope your day is filled with blessings.
OT: Zechariah 8:1-23
This has probably been true for awhile, but it hit me while reading today that Zechariah is giving good news to the people. That is definitely a reversal from the typical prophecies we have been reading. But the remnant is now back from exile and ready to rebuild the Temple, and Zechariah's words are full of encouragement and hope.
The overall picture from today's reading is one of reunification. Zechariah paints an image of God's scattered people all coming back together in Jerusalem and living in harmony and peace:
"This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'I will save my people from the countries of the east and the west. I will bring them back to live in Jerusalem; they will be my people, and I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God'" (7-8).
It occurs to me that this imagery is very similar to how I picture heaven. I know that I have brothers and sisters scattered across the globe and across time. Some have been brutally ripped from this earth and others pass peacefully, but the bottom line, the hope, is that we will all be brought together in heaven, much like these Israelites were brought together in Jerusalem.
Two verses I read that made me feel very blessed were verses 4-5:
"This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with cane in hand because of his age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.'"
Right now, I'm celebrating Christmas with my husband's parents and his grandmother. His grandmother will be 85 years old on Sunday, and she often uses a cane. And she is celebrating Christmas with my 4 year old and 2 year old, who play around her while she rests in a chair. This picture, as normal as it seems to me, is an indication of a stable, peaceful society. When societies are in turmoil, infant mortality rates are high, and people don't live as long. Thus, Zechariah's prophecy of a city filled with old people and children is a prophecy of stability and peace. I know that that should be obvious, but I guess I am so used to that type of society that I take it for granted. Reading that passage made me very thankful for my society.
NT: Revelation 16:1-21
Well, even though things were looking up in Zechariah's day, all is not well here in the end times. The seven plagues are poured out of their bowls onto the earth, and they are very reminiscent of the plagues that struck Egypt in Moses' day. People break out into painful sores, rivers (and even oceans) turn to blood, darkness comes upon the earth, and demon frogs are unleashed. In addition, the sun scorches people and there is a giant earthquake. Oh, and there is also hail, which was an Egyptian plague.
Like the Exodus story, these plagues seem to continue because of the people's refusal to repent and turn to God (9,11). In the Exodus story, it was Pharoah who refused to repent, but here, it is the people as a whole. And like the Exodus story, there is some confusion over what is driving the plagues: in both stories, it seems to be some combination of God's will and man's stubbornness.
In the end, Babylon is destroyed.
David asks for God to rescue him, even while understanding the fleeting nature of life:
"O Lord, what is man that you care for him,
the son of man that you think of him?
Man is like a breath;
his days are like a fleeting shadow" (3-4).
Like yesterday, today's reading is another set of four, which is also an ode to strong animals.