Posted: 18 Dec 2010 11:00 PM PST
MANY IMAGES IN THE BOOK OF Revelation are drawn from the Old Testament. The antecedent to the scroll that John eats (Rev. 10:8–11) is a similar image in Jeremiah 15:16; Ezekiel 2:8–3:3.
Each of the three passages develops the notion of eating God's words a little differently. Jeremiah contrasts himself with his persecutors and tormentors, with "the company of revelers" (Jer. 15:17) with whom he never made common cause. How could he? He sat alone because the hand of God was upon him. He perceived the sin in the land and the judgment that were threatening, and he was filled with indignation. What was it that gave him this stance? "When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart's delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty" (Jer. 15:16).
In his vision Ezekiel is shown a scroll written on both sides with "words of lament and mourning and woe" (Ezek. 2:10). God tells him to open his mouth and eat the scroll, and then go and speak to the house of Israel (Ezek. 3:1). "So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth" (Ezek. 3:3). The context makes clear the meaning. Even though the message Ezekiel conveyed was full of judgment and lament, even though he explained the sins of Jerusalem to the exilic community and predicted the catastrophic fall of city and temple alike, Ezekiel was to be so aligned with God's perspective that he found God's words sweet. However hard the message, God's words of judgment, if they really are God's words, Ezekiel will find sweeter than all of the words of the received opinion of self-justifying sinners.
In his vision, John the seer is instructed to take a scroll and eat it. He is told that it will taste as sweet as honey, but that it will turn sour in his stomach (Rev. 10:9–10). The content is again judgment: John "must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings" (Rev. 10:11). But here the symbolism works out a little differently. It is still important for this scroll to taste sweet in John's mouth, i.e., for him so to align himself with God and his truth that he finds God's ways and words to be sweet. But now an extra layer is added: however important and right it is to side with God's perspective, however vital it is to say "Amen!" to God's good and necessary judgment, nevertheless judgment is still judgment. There cannot finally be pleasure at the prospect of the wrath of God, as utterly righteous as that wrath is, for the sin that has called it forth is utterly tragic both in its own reality and in the consequences it elicits.
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