Psalm 27:1–6; 2 Chronicles 26:16–28:8; Acts 23:25–24:3

Psalm 27:1–6: These famous opening lines–“The Lord is my light and my rescue./ Whom shall I fear?”–speak to me in some ways more powerfully than even the opening line of Psalm 23. Here, there is an enemy at the gate, not just an abstract sense of being protected and a much starker sense of imminent danger but then of escape: “When evildoers draw near me to to eat my flesh–/ my foes and my enemies are they–/they trip and fall.” (2)

And unlike Psalm 23, the speaker here is engaged in warfare. There is immediate existential threat: “Though a camp is marshaled against me,/ my heart shall not fear./ Though battle is roused against me,/ nonetheless do I trust.” (3)

I have to believe that these first three verses have been quoted from memory by thousands upon thousands of soldiers and sailors down through the millennia since these words were written. That chaplains have spoken them softly to men about to head out on a dangerous mission and confront the enemy.

They are not empty or sentimental words because in the midst of mortal danger there is the assurance of God’s protection: “He hides me in His shelter/ on the day of evil./ He conceals me in the recesses of His tent.” (5). But the psalmist does not just hide there, he goes to battle as we see in this remarkable image of a soldier crouched behind a rock and carefully looking out to survey the battlefield: “now my head rises/ over my enemies around me.”

But seeing none, there is victory and worship is the immediate response to God’s protection: Let me offer in his tent/ sacrifices with joyous shouts./ Let me sing and hymn to the Lord.” Every military person hopes to have exactly the same experience: to experience God’s all-encompassing protection. As do each of us when we confront any enemy of a different sort in our own lives, be it disease or loss.

2 Chronicles 26:16–28:8: King Uzziah, despite his godly beginning, has now enjoyed personal success. It goes completely to his head and he has the effrontery to enter the temple and try to offer a sacrifice on his own. Eighty priests confront him, saying “It is not for you, Uzziah, to make offering to the Lord, but for the priests the descendants of Aaron, …Go out of the sanctuary; for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the Lord God.” (26:18). Rather than going out, the king becomes angry. But God is more powerful and he immediately struck with leprosy “to the day of his death, and being leprous lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the Lord.” (21) Arrogance and pride have no place in general. Perhaps a prideful king can get away with it in the world, but never in worship. If we needed an good example of “pride that goes before a fall,” Uzziah would serve nicely.

His son Jotham takes over even before Uzziah dies, but does not become actual king until his father’s death. The Chronicler gives him a mixed review: “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord just as his father Uzziah had done… But the people still followed corrupt practices.” So, Jotham may have been personally a follower of God, but as leader he has a greater responsibility to bring the people along with him. Nevertheless, “Jotham became strong because he ordered his ways before the Lord his God.” (27:8) After reigning relatively successfully for sixteen years, Jotham passes from the scene without further remark.

Jotham’s son, Ahaz succeeds him, and like his father, reigns for sixteen years. However, he behaves like his grandfather and “He did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord, as his ancestor David had done,.” Worse, as far as the Chronicler is concerned, “he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel.” (28:2) Aram, the king of Damascus invades and defeats Judah,”and took captive a great number of his people and brought them to Damascus.” And then true catastrophe strikes. Ahaz “was also given into the hand of the king of Israel, who defeated him with great slaughter.”  One hundred twenty thousand warriors of Judah die in a single day “because they had abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors.” (28:6) Plus, “people of Israel took captive two hundred thousand of their kin, women, sons, and daughters; they also took much booty from them and brought the booty to Samaria.” Between Aram and Israel it would seem that Judah is decimated–never to rise again. The cost of kingly pride and failure of leadership has been immense.

A thought in passing: the historians describe enormous armies and enormous bloodbaths like 120,000 soldiers killed in a day and 200,00 captives. What are we to make of this slaughter and captivity so casually described again and again?

Acts 23:25–24:3: The tribune has written a letter to accompany Paul on his night ride to the governor, Felix, at Casearea. It is a model of clarity and should serve as an example of how to communicate facts without embellishment or bureaucratese. The tribune observes that Paul is accused of not conforming to Jewish religious law, “but was charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment.”

However, the case against Paul cannot be dropped–probably because to do so would create further rioting among the Jews at Jerusalem. So, the tribune asks the governor to adjudicate, who upon reading the letter asks Paul where he is from, probably to establish his citizenship. (Although I have long wondered what documentary proof Paul had of being a Roman citizen. Although his knowledge of Greek certainly would partly substantiate his claim.)

The Jews have gotten their act together and bring the first attorney we meet on the Bible, “a certain Tertullus” with them. The tribunal is brought to order, Paul is brought in, and Tertullus, the prosecutor, begins his opening statement with the same sort of obsequious flourishes we hear today, as he addresses the governor, “Your Excellency, because of you we have long enjoyed peace, and reforms have been made for this people because of your foresight.” (24:2) But his purposes for Paul, who is now basically on trial for his life, are darker. At last, the Jews have Paul where they want him: Paul is in the dock. This is their last best chance to rid themselves of this blasphemous but brilliant heretic forever.

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