Psalm 26; 2 Chronicles 25:5–26:15; Acts 23:12–24

Psalm 26: The psalm opens rather startlingly with the imperative, “Judge me, O Lord.” David asserts that he is ready to withstand God’s judgement because he has not sinned, “I have walked in my wholeness.” He is able to do this because “the Lord I have trusted,” and therefore, “I shall not stumble.” (1)

So, he’s ready and challenges God, “Test me, O Lord, and try me./ Burn my conscience and my heart.” (2). His conscience is clean because he has walked assiduously in God’s truth. The next verses are demonstrations of this truth-walking: “I have not sat with lying folk/ nor with furtive men have dealt.” (4) He has been careful to separate himself from those who do evil things: “I despised the assembly of evildoers,/ nor with the wicked have I sat.”

As a result, he is pure in heart and ready to worship: “Let me wash my palms in cleanness/ and go round Your altar, Lord, / to utter aloud a thanksgiving.” (6). The remainder of the psalm follows the same theme, only asking God to keep him away from “blood-guilty men…in whose hands there are plots, in whose hands there are bribes.” (10). He is committed to continue to “walk in my wholeness” (11) and thus, God will “Redeem me, grant me grace.” (11)

For me this psalm raises the idea that one effective way to avoid sin is to be diligent about separating ourselves from (as the Catholics put it), “occasions of sin.” In our society this is more about avoiding evil where it is easy to obtain, e.g. smutty (love that word!) movies, questionable acquaintances and activities, and many places on the Internet. In short, I think David is practicing what Paul said many centuries later: we are in the world but not of the world. But here in this psalm, we are given concrete practical advice about how to do that.

2 Chronicles 25:5–26:15: Amaziah, king of Judah, enters into an alliance with Israel (which our Chronicler, always on the side of Judah, tells us again and again, is a lost cause) by paying Israel ten talents of gold. A prophet comes and tells the king he’d be much better off without Israel, so Amaziah breaks off the agreement to invade the Edomites with a now very angry Israel.

Judah conquers the Edomites, but then Amaziah “brought the gods of the people of Seir, set them up as his gods, and worshiped them, making offerings to them.” God is understandably upset and sends another unnamed prophet, who tells him, “Why have you resorted to a people’s gods who could not deliver their own people from your hand?” (25:15). Amaziah tells the prophet to shut up or he will kill him. But the prophet gets in the final, rather courageous word: “I know that God has determined to destroy you, because you have done this and have not listened to my advice.” (16)

Israel, headed by King Joash of Israel (not Joah of Judah, Amaziah’s father) then promptly conquers and plunders Judah. Amaziah dies and is succeeded by his sixteen-year old son, Uzziah, who reigns for 52 long years. Again, another good start: “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done… and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.” (26:4,5)

Uzziah conquers the Philistines and the Ammonites pay tribute. Uzziah builds significant defensive fortifications throughout Judah and rebuilds and equips the army to a strength of 375,000. So far, so good. Uzziah’s “fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped until he became strong.” (26)

There is a relentless cyclicality here. Kings begin well and end badly–all for the simple reason that they abandon God. What will happen to Uzziah? Will he, like his father and grandfather believe his own press releases and abandon God?

Acts 23:12–24: Forty Jerusalem Jews, feeling thwarted by the Roman tribune, plot to kill Paul. Their plan is to ambush Paul as he is called to speak before the council again “on the pretext that you want to make a more thorough examination of his case.” (15)

Who knew? Paul has a sister, whose name we do not learn, whose son (Paul’s nephew) whose name we do not learn, who overhears the plot and get into the barracks to tell Paul. The young man (whom we presume is Jewish, not Christian) reports the plot to the tribune, who “dismissed the young man, ordering him, “Tell no one that you have informed me of this.” (22).

Clearly the tribune has had enough of Paul and the Jews and he solves his problem by getting Paul out of Jerusalem, ordering a night ride to Caesarea “with two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen. Also provide mounts for Paul to ride, and take him safely to Felix the governor.” (23,24) (Luke must have been in the party because he provides significant detail here.)

So, Paul escapes Jerusalem under cover of night and with a sizable armed guard, never to return. What was Paul thinking about on that night ride to Caesarea? Was he discouraged, thinking he had failed? Or was he thinking that God had made it abundantly clear that Paul’s mission was to the Gentiles and not to the Jews? My vote is for the latter.

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