Psalm 144:5–8; 2 Kings 15; Acts 4:23–37

Psalm 144:5–8: On comparison to ephemeral humanity, God is the apotheosis of power and we see it here in mages of volcanoes, thunder and lightning as our psalmist asks for some serious intervention on his behalf:
Lord, tilt Your heavens and come down,
but touch the mountains, that they smoke.” (5)

The prayer is that God uses his infinite power expressed as lightning strikes to smite the poet’s enemies:
Crack lightning and scatter them,
send forth Your bolts and panic them.” (6)

In the meantime, our psalmist seeks intervention and rescue from his perilous situation:
Send forth Your hand from on high,
redeem me and save me from the many waters,
from the foreigners’ hand.” (7)

We assume that “many waters” would be a reference to drowning should God not act. “Foreigners’ hands” suggests that this is indeed David pleading for God’s help in a dangerous situation where not only he but the entire nation of Israel is in peril. In any event these foreigners have dealt with him with falsehood and treachery: “whose mouth speaks falsely,/ and whose right hand is a right hand of lies.” (8) Betrayal, perhaps over a treaty, has created this dangerous situation. David believes he has dealt honestly and fairly by raising his own right hand—the hand we still raise today when making a formal vow. But the other parties have been underhanded, even as they proffered their right hand deceitfully with no intention of honoring their vows.

We see much of the same behavior today on the public stage and frankly, it would be satisfying to see some dishonest politician struck by lighting.

2 Kings 15: This history moves into brief listings of the successive kings of Israel while Azariah reigns over Judah. Azariah ascended the throne at 16 year old and reigns for 52 years. Like his father, “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord” (3) But also like his father’s inaction, “the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places.” (4). Azariah is mainly notable for the fact that he became leprous at some point in his reign “to the day of his death, and lived in a separate house.” (5) Hs son Jotham ran the show during this time.

Meanwhile up north in Israel:

Zechariah, son of Jeroboam II, “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as his ancestors had done.” (9) and is assassinated for his troubles by a certain Shallum, who “struck him down in public and killed him, and reigned in place of him.” (10)

Shallum the usurper reigns but one month before he is assassinated by Menahem son of Gadi. Menahaem sacks the territory of Tizrah and in an especially barbaric act, “He ripped open all the pregnant women in it.” (16) This Menahem character reigns for ten years and in keeping with tradition, “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not depart all his days from any of the sins of Jeroboam.” (18)  The king of Assyria, in a foretaste of what was to eventually befall Israel, tries to invade, but Memnhem pays him off with “a thousand talents of silver, so that he might help him confirm his hold on the royal power.” (19) This money was confiscated from all the wealthy of Israel.

Menhem’s son, Pekahiah, takes over as king of Israel and reigns but two years. In what must have felt like a boring litany to our authors, like father like son: “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord;” (24) Pekahiah is murdered by his captian, Pekah, who usurps the throne and reigns twenty years. Unsurprisingly, “He [also] did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” (28)

During Pekah’s reign “King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali; and he carried the people captive to Assyria.” (29)  A certain Hoshea assassinates Pekah and reigns over the few pieces of what was left of Israel. But as a nation Israel is now basically history.

Back down in Judah, Jotham comes to the throne at age twenty-five and reigns sixteen years. Even though “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord” (34), but as before, “the high places were not removed; the people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places.” (35) During Jotham’s reign Judah has to fend off attacks by both Aram and Israel. But it seems as if our authors are losing interest in the whole sordid history and they do not even bother to tell us what the outcome of those invasions was. We assume Judah successfully defended itself.

Acts 4:23–37: Peter and John arrive back at Christian headquarters and report what the temple officials had done and said. The folks respond in prayer and by quoting Psalm 2, where they credit the Holy Spirit speaking through David:
“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
    and the peoples imagine vain things?
The kings of the earth took their stand,
    and the rulers have gathered together
        against the Lord and against his Messiah.’” (25, 26)

The point here being that “both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus.” (27) Which of course is still the case today. Nevertheless, this reality does not deter the Jesus followers, who pray for boldness, which comes forthwith as “the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.” (31) The point of course is that this Jesus movement was not going to die down like so many other movements had before. And here we are, two millennia later and the church is still going strong. The more personal question of course is, am I willing to be bold in the face of the growing opposition in an increasingly secular culture?

These folks were so fired up by the Holy Spirit that they “were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.” (32) There were no needy people in the group because “as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold,” (34) and “laid it at the apostles’ feet [and] it was distributed to each as any had need.” (35) Luke makes special mention of a Levite named Jospeh, whom the apostles renamed Barnabas. We shall be hearing more of him later.

The eternal question of course is why have all subsequent attempts at Christians holding property in common failed—and generally failed miserably? The same question can be asked about the healing as well? Was the launch of the church a more Holy Spirit-infused event than it is today? How do we account for the difference? Or are we all just less fired up by the Holy Spirit than that first church in Jerusalem, which it’s worth noting, eventually passed from the scene.

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