Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, “Take it, and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.” So I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter.
Then they said to me, “You must prophesy again about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”
Psalm 119: 14, 24, 72, 103, 111, 131
I delight in the way of your decrees
as much as in all riches.
Your decrees are my delight,
they are my counselors.
The law of your mouth is better to me
than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Your decrees are my heritage forever;
they are the joy of my heart.
With open mouth I pant,
because I long for your commandments.
Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, “It is written,
‘My house shall be a house of prayer’;
but you have made it a den of robbers.”
Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.
It’s curious to consider God telling John to eat a scroll. Consuming the written word is an analogy for receiving and believing God’s words, and then letting them transform you. But the word, or message, that John receives taste sweet at first, and then makes his stomach turn. How could the word of God have a sickening effect on man? The word that John received was a corrective word to the world about God’s judgement. At first reception, John would taste the sweetness of God’s laws. God established His law to keep us safe from harm, so to let them have a transformational effect on you would be pleasant. But the next step of receiving them, would be understanding how far humanity had fallen away in active disobedience. At this point in salvation history, Jesus has already sacrificed Himself, been resurrected, and redeemed humanity to the Lord. But that redemption, of course, relies on man’s cooperation. So John would be delivering a message of judgement to people who should have known better. John’s stomach turns sour because He is experiencing the pending wrath of judgement, and probably also the Lord’s disappointment in His people’s choices.
Another reason that John’s stomach turns, may be because it isn’t easy to deliver words of rebuke and correction to one another. John’s preaching of Christ led him into exile where he lived out the remainder of his days, so who knew how he felt prophesying about judgement. In general, rebuking another person has a the potential to impact our reputation or relationship with them. Few of us get a power trip over correcting another. In general, the build up to conflict resolution is unpleasant.
Corrective prophecy shows the hand of God’s mercy. By pointing someone back into God’s plan, we give them the opportunity to move off of the path of destruction, and into right relationship with God and man. Jesus cleansing the temple illustrates this. He corrected the wrongs of the Jewish leaders by removing the barriers to foreigners and Gentiles praying in the temple. In doing so, some were captivated by His words, and others sought to kill Him. We can expect both positive and negative reactions from people when they are rebuked. But either way, the prophet gives an opportunity for repentance when before there was none.
Today consider your role in the scripture stories. Do you taste the sweetness of God’s goodness through His word, or does your heart hurt for the salvation of others? Do you dread and avoid discussing hard truths with those you love, or do you willingly help them eliminate their barriers to Christ? This holiday weekend many of us are spending time with family and our differences often rise to the surface. If you are in a situation where you sense the Lord guiding you point a loved one back toward Christ, remember that Jesus will give you grace to do so. Remember also that God’s call to repentance is an act of love, so seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to aid you in speaking the truth in love. Let your words speak the sweetness of God’s law of love, and let Jesus use you to create a pathway for someone to return to Him.