Psalm 147:7-14; 2 Kings 23:21-24:20; Acts 7:30-43

Psalm 147:1-14: This psalm of praise reminds us not only of God’s power, but of his attention to creative detail: “He counts the number of the stars,/ to all of them gives names.” (4) and “Who covers the heavens with clouds, /readies rain for the earth, /makes mountains flourish with grass.” (8) But above all, he cares for–and brings justice to– the lowliest members of his greatest creation: “The LORD sustains the lowly, / casts the wicked to the ground.” (6)

God is not interested in power or even our idea of beauty, “Not the might of the horse He desires, / not by a man’s thighs is He pleased.” (10). Rather, “The LORD is pleased by those who fear Him, / those who long for His kindness.” God desires the worship he deserves, which is why the psalmist calls all Israel–and us–to “Extol, O Jerusalem, the LORD, / praise your God, O Zion.” (12) Of course this requires us to make God rather than ourselves the center of our lives. Which is always more difficult than we think…

2 Kings 23:21-24:20: King Josiah has cleansed both Judah and Samaria of the idolatrous “high places” that had so offended God. The priests of those places met a grisly end, slaughtered and their bones burned on their deposed altars. Josiah returns to Jerusalem and celebrates Passover, which remarkably had not been “kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, even during all the days of the kings of Israel and of the kings of Judah.” (23) Josiah receives the highest possible praise from our historian: “ Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him.” (25) Alas, Josiah’s efforts to not satisfy God’s anger, who announces, “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel; and I will reject this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.” (27)

Josiah is killed in battle; his son Jehoahaz takes the throne, but reverts to evil ways. He is rpelaced by his brother Jehoiakim by the Pharaoh who conquered Josiah. Things go from bad to worse for Judah. Jehokiam becomes the vassal of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon for three years, rebels and is promptly attacked by all the neighboring tribes.  The historian speculates, “Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the Lord, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, for all that he had committed.” Which would be the unforgivable sin of “the innocent blood that he had shed; for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord was not willing to pardon.”(24:4)

Judah begins to meet its ignominious end with Nebuchadnezzar’s first invasion, who carries off the “men of valor” and the artisans, leaving only a vassal king, “Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in his place, and changed his name to Zedekiah.” The reading ends on an ominous note, “Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.” (24:20)

Acts 7:30-43: Stephen’s great speech to the Council is a great recounts the history of Israel and how God intervened with Israel again and again–in front of men who surely knew the story. Here, he tells how Moses rescued Israel from Egypt, but the Israelites reject their leader. Stephen also reminds the leaders that “This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up a prophet for you from your own people as he raised me up.’” (37).

We can see where this is going as Stephen is transformed from a mere apostle to a prophet not unlike Isaiah or Jeremiah, telling people what they assuredly do not want to hear.

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