Psalm 17:1–7; 1 Chronicles 23; Acts 15:19–16:3

Psalm 17:1–7: In this psalm of supplication, the psalmist begins by asking God to listen: “Hear, O LORD, a just thing./ Listen well to my song.” (1). He also assures God that he is praying without a hidden agenda: “Hearken to my guileless prayer.,” knowing that it is God who is the ultimate judge of all things: “From before You my judgment will come,/ Your eyes behold rightness.” (2)

This raises an interesting point. I tend to assume that God is always listening, so if I just open my mouth and start praying. God will hear me. And I’m sure he does. But in the same way that we would ask someone close to us if they have a moment to talk about something significant, so too, with God. Besides, asking God to listen is a reminder to us that prayer is a conversation and that we know in our heart that God will indeed listen to us. As usual, we need more reminding than God does.

Our psalmist seems to be in some distress, which he does not describe. But it has been significant enough that he has felt God test him during a dark night of the soul: “You have probed my heart, come upon me by night,” and he has been found worthy as a God-follower: “You have tried me, and found no wrong in me.” Moreover, he has remained faithful, “I barred my mouth to let nothing pass.”(3)

The question is, can I say to God that I have not betrayed my faith and not cursed God for allowing bad things to happen to me? In the end, will I have the faith of the psalmist, who writes, “I called You, for You will answer me, God?” (6)

1 Chronicles 22, 23: David has called upon his son Solomon to undertake the building of the Temple (22:6 and forward). This is something I don’t recall reading in the other histories, but above all others, for our Chronicler, David is at the center of the Israel story because it is David who is the Man of God, and wh constantly reminds everyone around him, ““Is not the Lord your God with you? Has he not given you peace on every side?” (22:18) as he sets Solomon and indeed, the nation, on this solemn task: “Go and build the sanctuary of the Lord God so that the ark of the covenant of the Lord and the holy vessels of God may be brought into a house built for the name of the Lord.” (22:19).

At the beginning of the 23rd chapter, there is a peaceful transition of power: “When David was old and full of days, he made his son Solomon king over Israel.” (23:1) But not without some final organizational activities “David assembled all the leaders of Israel and the priests and the Levites.” (2) as he organizes 38,000 Levites and defines their roles in who will “do the work for the service of the house of the Lord.” (24)

Our Chronicler is an inveterate list maker, who desires above all to make sure that every person who has played a role in the great story of Israel is accounted for–and now we read the name of each of the Levitical families, who will become the Temple priests and other workers–and what their duties will be, down to the smallest detail, including the baking of the bread. But there is one duty that is common to all of them: “they shall stand every morning, thanking and praising the Lord, and likewise at evening,” (30).

Which is a reminder to us: that while each of us engages in different work, as a Christian community, we have one thing in common: to worship God with all our hearts.

Acts 15:19–16:3: The Council after hearing Peter, Paul Barnabas, and James comes to a grace-filled conclusion for the Gentile who have heard and received the Good News: “we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. (15:19, 20). They communicate this decision in a letter, not only telling the Gentiles that some unauthorized persons have “have unsettled your minds,” raising the spectre of adult circumcision and adherence to Jewish dietary laws, but that “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials.”

The church at Jerusalem appoints Judas Barsabbas and Silas to accompany John and Barnabas back to Antioch to make the official announcement. We see now that the church is taking on needed organizational structure, especially in terms of those authorized to speak on behalf of the Apostles. This of course eventually leads to the ordained priesthood, which despite its various problems, and which together with the Holy Spirit has been essential in creating what is now the world’s oldest continuous organization. Witness to the wisdom of these early Apostles and to the power of the Holy Spirit.

But amidst this comity are also signs of the disputes and splits that have tortured the church through the ages. Barnabas wants John Mark to accompany Paul and him on their next journey, but Paul is still angry over John Mark’s apparent desertion in Pamphylia. Alas, “The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company.” (39) Barnabas takes John Mark an sails to Cyprus, but Luke keeps his focus on Paul as he now partners with Silas.

Timothy, a Gentile, joins them. Paul has Timothy circumcised because “of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.” (16:3).  I suppose this was a wise act in terms of Paul’s desire for the Jews not to be distracted by Timothy, but it certainly seems to fly in the face of the great wisdom displayed by the Council in Jerusalem.

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