Psalm 140:7–14; 2 Kings 6:24–7:20; Acts 2:1–13

Psalm 140:6–13: Having described his woeful situation as the object of a deadly conspiracy, our psalmist (as David) turns to God as his rescuer and recalls what he prayed: “I said to the Lord, ‘My God are You.”/ Hearken, O Lord, to the sound of my pleas.” (7)

He then prays for God as “Master, my rescuing strength” (8a) to block the evil wishes of his enemy(ies): “Do not grant, O Lord, the desires of the wicked,/ do not fill his devising.” (9) In a series of colorful imprecations, he asks God to turn their own speech and their own plots back against them so they suffer the consequences they wish on the psalmist: “May the mischief of their own lips/ cover the heads of those who come round me.” (10) He asks God that they suffer physically, even to their own destruction:
May He rain coals of fire upon them,
make them fall into ravines, never to rise.
May no slanderer stand firm in the land,
may the violent man be trapped in pitfalls.” (11, 12)

As a man of faith, he expresses confidence that God will act because God always intervenes on behalf of the poor and weak: “I know that the Lord will take up/ the cause of the lowly, the case of the needy.” (13) [Which causes me to conclude that the psalmist is asking God on his own behalf, not King David’s.] The psalm concludes with an implied quid pro quo. If God will do these things, then, “Yes, the righteous will acclaim Your name,/ the upright will dwell in Your presence.” (14)

The obvious question is, can we really pray to God for bad things to happen to our enemies? Or should we take this entire psalm more as an utterance of deep fear and frustration? Certainly since the Jesus, the answer is clearly ‘No.’ We are to love our enemies and turn the other cheek. But I think if I were in the psalmist’s situation, I wouldn’t hesitate to pray this prayer anyway, even knowing it could not come to pass.

2 Kings 6:24–7:20: The ever-persistent Arameans under King Ben-hadad are holding the city of Samaria under siege, resulting in famine and hardship for the city’s inhabitants. As the king of Israel walks on the city walls, a woman cries out, “Help, my lord king!” (6:26) He asks the woman what has happened and her answer is horrifying: This woman said to me, ‘Give up your son; we will eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ So we cooked my son and ate him.” (28) But the next day when it was the other woman’s turn to offer her son for dinner, she had hidden him. 

Of course, making sure to duck personal responsibility, the king holds Elisha to blame for Samaria’s dreadful situation and plans to send men to decapitate him. The king and his captain arrive at Elisha’s door and before anyone could strike him, Elisha prophesies: “Hear the word of the Lord: thus says the Lord, Tomorrow about this time a measure of choice meal shall be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria.” (7:1) The captain remains skeptical of this prophecy and says, “Even if the Lord were to make windows in the sky, could such a thing happen?” (7:2) Elisha replies that “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat from it.” (7:2b)

Meanwhile, four lepers sitting outside the city gate (because that’s where lepers were forced to live) know there is no food in the city, so they decide to sneak into the Aramean camp at night. They are resigned to their fate if discovered, but hunger trumps caution: “Therefore, let us desert to the Aramean camp; if they spare our lives, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die.” (4)

The four lepers head to the camp and while doing so, “the Lord had caused the Aramean army to hear the sound of chariots, and of horses, the sound of a great army.” (6) Everyone in the Aramean army decides that they are outnumbered because “The king of Israel has hired the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Egypt to fight against us.” (6b) In panic, they “abandoned their tents, their horses, and their donkeys leaving the camp just as it was, and fled for their lives.” (7)

The lepers discover the deserted camp still stocked with gold, weapons and food. After helping themselves, they wisely decide to come back to the king with the good news. But the king thinks it’s a trap to get them to come out of the city and be slaughtered. As usual, the king’s servants are smarter than he and they recommend that five riders set out on the last remaining horse in the city to see what happened. The riders discover that what the lepers said was true and “the whole way was littered with garments and equipment that the Arameans had thrown away in their haste.” (15)

So everyone runs out of the city, and as Elisha had predicted, “a measure of choice meal was sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the Lord.” (16) But as for the skeptical captain, he sees the food but cannot eat because he’s crushed to death by the mob running out of the city gate, thus fulfilling Elisha’s prophecy, “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat from it.” (19)

This story certainly tells us that being skeptical about what prophets say can have bad consequences. But it also tells us that simply hiding out in what appears to be a safe place can be far worse than setting out to see what the actual situation is. That lepers were willing to step out in resigned courage rather than the cowardly king who huddled behind the city walls sends a clear message that inaction by cowardly leaders cause substantial damage to the people they lead.

Acts 2:1–13: Pentecost! Luke’s memorable description of the arrival of the Holy Spirit is the best depiction we have: “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house.” (2) What I hadn’t realized before now is that the HS arrives first at the house where the 12? 120? disciples were “together in one place..where they were sitting.” (1, 2) A tongue of fire—what some now call the “baptism of the HS”—was over the head of each person there.

And, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (4) I think it’s crucial to point out that the arrival of the HS—a kind of reverse Babel, if you will—gave each person the “ability” to speak in another human language. This is not the babbling glossalia that too many charismatics believe is a gift of the HS, but intelligible language.

After this anointing, the disciples head out into the crowded streets, where Jews from all over the Roman empire have gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover. Much to the astonishment of the multi-cultural crowd, the disciples are speaking their own language. After all, as many point out, these men are mere Galileans, hicks from the northern country, not the sophisticates of Jerusalem. Everyone’s “amazed and perplexed,” (12). But as always, there are skeptics who simply assert they’re drunk, “filled with new wine.” (13)

I think the clear message here is that the Holy Spirit is has come for every person who is willing to believe. This is the very beginning of the church that is about to change the world. And at its root is worship of God, which is the gift of the Jews; the belief in Jesus being who he said he is; and the undeniable presence of the Holy Spirit. Absent all these three things, the church is nothing more than a social club.

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