Bible: The rider on a pale horse

Apr 20, 2020 by

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So this is how the world ends: not with a bang or a whimper but with the sound of your last square of toilet paper going down the tubes.

Roth

Roth

God’s people have been here before (sort of) — enemies from within and without, economic collapse, famine and scarcity, up to their elbows in devouring locusts. Pandemic.

In truth, God’s people are always here. Whether you realize it or not just depends on your ZIP code.

In this new old-fashioned way, now our society faces gathering shadows as the rider on a pale horse gallops across the world (Rev. 6:8). Maybe we thought he was a horseman for other days and other places. But now it’s our nursing homes in lockdown, our medical professionals under siege, our coughing and our anxiety.

Do not congregate. Stay six feet away. Catch you online sometime.
It’s time to read Zephaniah, that king’s son with a prophet’s heart (Zeph. 1:1). He spoke of the end of Judah as the Babylonians trod south to devour Ethiopia and Assyria and set their sights on beloved Jerusalem (2:12-3:7).

Zephaniah describes them as the leading edge of a wave of uncreation, Genesis in reverse: humans, animals, birds, fish — “I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth, says the Lord” (1:2-3). People become like lions and wolves (3:3-4). We’re all vectors to each other.

Yet there’s more to the prophetic message. God’s mercies are new every morning, and just when it seemed that all was lost and God’s kingdom project had gone down the tubes, another prophet, Zechariah, stepped onto the scene after the great exile and wrote of a renewed community.

Seventy long years had passed in Babylon and then Persia, and Zechariah lived to see God’s people restored to the city and the land (Ezra 6:14). He spoke of society reknitting, old men and old women emerging to sit in the streets of Jerusalem as children played (Zech. 8:5-6).

What’s more, in deep time “the shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse“ and the Christ-Branch shall be born (Isaiah 11:1; Zech. 6:12).

“Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me? says the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 8:6).

Zephaniah too, who after his grim words of woe, said this: “The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more” (3:15).

The Lord is a warrior who gives the victory, who erases disaster, who saves from oppressors and gathers in the outcast (3:17-19).

The Lord lifts up his children and swings them in his arms. “He will rejoice over you in his love” (3:17).

Do we have the courage to claim God’s promises? The hospital torrent will slow. The wheeze of respirators will taper off. We’ll roust our children from their video games and online geometry and push them out blinking into the summer sun.

Through this season of sheltering in place, this malignant version of an introvert’s dream, we’ll have had the time to pray and to think and to remember silence.

We’ll have begun to learn just how right Pascal was when he said: “Humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Maybe then we’ll be able to hear God’s word through Zech­ariah again: “They shall be my people and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness” (8:8).

Brad Roth is pastor of West Zion Mennonite Church in Mound­ridge, Kan., and author of God’s Country: Faith, Hope and the ­Future of the Rural Church ­(Herald Press). He blogs at ­DoxologyProject.com.


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