Scene 7 - "God's Triumph"
42. Secco recitative (Tenor)
He that dwelleth in the heaven shall laugh them to scorn: the Lord shall have them in derision. (Psalm 2:4, Book of Common Prayer)
Note: This is God's quick and strong response to the arrogance of the nations.
43. Aria (Tenor)
Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. (Psalm 2:9)
Note: There is an emphasis on "break" and "dash" as the Lord responds in righteous anger and tells Jesus what He, as His anointed, will do to the nations.
Yesterday David asked why the nations rebelled against God, and we heard that the nations wanted to cast God's yoke away and be free, but they really could never be free. God was still in control no matter how much they thought they were in control.
In Scene 7, we hear God's response to that desire. God is big and the nations are small (Isaiah 40:6-8; 12-17). He laughs in contempt at their bravado. What were the nations thinking? God asserts that He is in control over all things.
Not many people like to look at this side of God who can "break" and "dash"! The immediate context are pagan nations who oppose Israel in the Old Testament, but "them" could be anyone who does not listen and respond to the "company of preachers" (Psalm 68:18) bringing the "gospel of peace" (Romans 10:15; Isaiah 52:7) to "the ends of the world" (Romans 10:18; Psalm 19:4) portrayed in Scene 5.
The image of the breaking of pottery is probably an allusion to when Egyptian Pharaohs used their royal scepters to smash pottery that represented cities and nations that had rebelled against their authority, guaranteeing the help of their gods to defeat their enemies.
God is referred to as the potter and His people as the clay throughout Scripture (Isaiah 29:16; 45:9; 64:8; Jeremiah 18; 19:1, 11; Lamentations 4:2; Romans 9:21; Revelation 2:27). There is a time where we can be remolded into something new by the hand of the Master Potter. God is patient and wants no one to perish and all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), but there will come a time when this can no longer be possible and the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (2 Peter 3:10), and it will be a terrible things for those who do not know Him.
If we are tempted to think that the idea of God himself actually "hardening" anyone's heart contradicts his stated purpose of bringing everyone to redemption, it might help to reflect on a curious natural phenomenon. If you put a lump of butter and a lump of clay out under a hot sun, you will see that one melts and the other hardens. But it is the same sun in both cases. The difference lies in the material it works on. Cold, unbelieving hearts are hardened, even by God's love. Warm, trusting hearts are melted by it."
Winter, David; Forty Days with the Messiah, p. 104. I corresponded with the author in order to get permission to quote him. He is an Oxford Anglican priest who was flattered that I would want to quote him!We all have a choice. Jesus will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords in the end, and all who oppose Him will be crushed (Revelation 2:27; 12:5; 19:15), but there is a choice. The final verse in Psalm 2 sums up that choice perfectly:
Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him! (Psalm 2:12)
"There is a way which seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death."
Jennens wrote Messiah at a time when Deism was prevalent in England. Deism is defined as:
A movement or system of thought advocating natural religion, emphasizing morality, and in the 18th century denying the interference of the Creator with the laws of the universe.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (10th ed.)Portraying the reality of God's wrath in Messiah was probably intended to address the spiritual condition of England at the time:
But Jennens and Handel believed in the reality of the God they portrayed, and they hoped to convince the Deists, atheists, and complacent Christians in their audience that this angry God is "dreadfully provoked," and that "his wrath ... burns like fire."
Those last words come from Jonathan Edwards's most famous, or notorious, sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." (Coincidentally, he preached it on 8 July 1741, just two days before Jennens wrote to Holdsworth saying that he hoped to persuade Handel "to set another.... The Subject is Messiah.") "Thou shalt break them" is in some ways a Jennens/Handel version of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." Both depict an angry God "who must condemn sinners because they are in rebellion against God and hence hate what is truly good."
(Calvin R. Stapert. Handel's Messiah: Comfort for God's People (Kindle Locations 1357-1361). Kindle Edition. Quote within this quote is from Jennens' letter to Holdsworth published in Handel: Messiah by Donald Burrows, Cambridge Music Handbooks, gen. ed. Julian Rushton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 11.)
As I said before, Psalm 2 is a Messianic psalm that points to a future time when, because of God's great love for us, He would send His only begotten Son to be the atoning blood sacrifice that averts His wrath. God gives us the free choice to believe it or chose to rebel in unbelief (Hebrews 3:7-19; Psalm 95:6-11).
It is so hard to tackle the wrath of God, and most of Messiah is so much about God's love and His free offer of grace, but we must convey both His love and His holy wrath because that is part of who He is.
(Reminder: Transformation occurs when we put elbow grease to our soul searching through “strength stretching” application of what God has spoken to us through His word. What is your “I will” statement for today?)
If you are reading this according to the December schedule, this was not a very cheery subject to tackle on Christmas Eve, of all days; but maybe you are going to be around relatives who do not believe, and this might encourage you to keep pressing on in prayer and proclamation for them.
I came from a non-believing home, and holidays were hard once I surrendered my whole life to God. In the middle of my sophomore year in college and a great time of growth in the Lord, I came back to the reality of my family with the drinking, dirty jokes, and foul language around the holiday table. Jesus was nowhere in our celebration. On top of all of this, my grandmother was openly hostile toward my growing faith, and we usually spent Christmas Eve at her house. It made me feel very sad and alone.
I remember going into my grandmother's bathroom crying. I felt so overwhelmed and defeated in this group of strong non-believers. When my mother came in, and I told her how much I struggled with how this family does not honor Christ as Christmas.
My mother said the most profound thing she ever said to me: "Carol, don't you think God put you in this family for a reason?"
That shocked me coming from my mother, but it was from the Lord and jolted me out of my pity party, causing me to face my family with a new attitude and purpose. I prayed tirelessly for their salvation for years, but left it in God's hands to sort out whose heart was "like butter" and whose was "like clay." Over the next ten years, all but my grandmother and oldest brother came to faith in Jesus Christ.
I only say that to encourage you to consider that God's wrath is real and that God has placed you in your family for a reason.
Have a wonderful Christmas Eve!