While there can be no doubt that competing religions of the Ancient Near East were sometimes crassly ridiculed and trashed in Israelite Scripture and worship (Ps. 31:6; 96:5; 97:7; 115:4; 135:15; cf. Isa. 44:18-20), the Psalter of Israel was sung largely by Israelites, for fellow Israelites. Like Revelation, many statements of Hebrew Scripture celebrate God’s destruction of his enemies, often for the sake of Israel. There is no escaping this fact that there is explicit liturgical trash talk in the Old Testament and in the book of Revelation. To the point, the liturgical term “Hallelujah” occurs only four times in the entire New Testament, and all of these are in Rev. 19:1-6. There we see that 3 of the 4 occurrences of Hallelujah in the New Testament are explicitly celebrating the judgment of the “great whore,” the smoke of whose ruin “goes up from her for ever and ever” (Rev. 19:3). Perhaps John was spiritually astute enough to see this inseparable connection between God’s brutal judgment of a pagan empire and a celebratory “Praise the Lord” because of his meditations upon texts of Scripture such as Psalm 104:35, “But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more. Praise the LORD, my soul. Praise the LORD.” The prophet John would surely have known the song celebrating the destruction of the pagan population and institutions in Canaan celebrated in Psa. 105:44-45, “He gave them the lands of the nations, and they fell heir to what others had toiled for—that they might keep his precepts and observe his laws. Praise the LORD.”
Part of the “Praise the Lord” of Psa. 135 is that Yahweh,
struck down the firstborn of Egypt, both human beings and animals; he sent signs and wonders into your midst, O Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants. He struck down many nations and killed mighty kings—Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, and all the kingdoms of Canaan—and gave their land as a heritage, a heritage to his people Israel (135:8-12).
A similar point is poignantly made in Psa. 149, but not always recognized by modern readers. Those who are interested in moving Churches of Christ from a capella to instrumental worship often quote phrases like “praise his name with dancing, with tamborne and lyre” (Ps. 149:3). (And, of course, all those throughout the centuries who have embraced congregational a capella singing, like myself, also know these verses and what they describe about temple worship in Judaism). More to my topic, it would be truly sad to read this Psalm only for contemporary discussions of Christian worship styles. I am certain that John would be especially perturbed by later Christians who failed to even notice the association that Psalm 149 makes between “Hallelujah” and the judgment of God.
Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples . . . to execute on them the judgment decreed. This is glory for all his faithful ones. Praise the LORD! (149:6-7, 9)
Certainly, without doubt, there are profound differences between the way God advanced his kingdom through ancient Israel and how he does it now through the followers of the Lamb. It is more than disturbing that contemporary Premillennial Dispensationalists teach that these verses of Ps. 149 depict murderous Christian militias during the “millennial age.” I personally reject all such forms of “christian” Crusades and Cru-sadism, regardless of the dispensation in which the follower of the Lamb ministers. My primary intent is to point out the similarity of piety and spirituality of John and the Psalmist, both of whom rejoice in the downfall of an oppressive pagan system and culture.
I personally doubt that John expected or even cared whether many Graeco-Roman pagans heard his trenchant ridicule and criticism of Rome, her values, and her imperial aspirations. I do think, however, that some certainly did hear, and that is why John ended up on Patmos. Irrespective of what pagan outsiders may or may not have known of early Christian views in John’s time and place, it is important for us, in the 21st century, to realize that John’s depiction of the new creation is built upon the intentional and comprehensive destruction of the aspirations and values of the old creation. John, like Jesus himself, taught that God’s kingdom could not fully come into a home, into a city, or into an empire without the removal of other competitors. This is why the first commandment of the Torah brooks no competitors, no other gods and no other kingdoms (Exod. 20:3).
Almost through . . . .