Psalm 148:1–6; 2 Kings 25; Acts 8:1–8

Psalm 148:1–6: The structure of this majestic psalm of praise reminds us that we are not the only creatures who worship him. Following an initial shout of “Hallelujah“, our psalmist initiates his command to praise God at heaven itself:
Praise the Lord from the heavens,
praise Him on the heights.” (1)

An excellent description of the ‘heavenly host’ follows as the army of angels worship God:
Praise Him, all His messengers,
praise Him, all His armies.” (2)

Natural creation itself worships God beginning with the visible universe and moving inexorably downward to earth’s atmosphere:
Praise  Him, sun and moon,
praise Him, all you stars of light.
Praise Him, utmost heavens,
and the waters above the heavens.” (3,4)

The vastness of creation is under God’s command and everything that is exists is there to do one thing: praise God: “Let them praise the Lord’s name,/ for He commanded, and they were created.” (5) I believe this reality is why we experience feelings of transcendence when we are alone in nature away from civilization’s puny imitations of God’s created order, especially when we see the stars on a dark night and realize that creation was no random accident.

Creation and eternity are congruent: “And He made them stand forever, for all time.” (6a) Which is what we have come to understand in the mystery of an ever-expanding universe. It does indeed seem to stand for all time. And as his creatures it is God’s everlasting creative power that must be the object of our worship—not our personal feelings.

2 Kings 25: Our authors, who were probably writing from Babylon, describe the conquest of Jerusalem in precise, heart-rending detail—doubtless because they themselves had experienced these events. They describe the exact day —the ninth year of [king Zedekiah’s] reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month (1)—that Nebuchadnezzar’s army arrives at Jerusalem and begins a siege that lasts two years resulting in severe famine. The Chaldeans (Babylonians) finally breach Jerusalem’s walls, destroy the remnants of the army of Judah, and take king Zedekiah captive. The victors kill Zedekiah’s sons and blind him. He is led away in chains to Babylon. With the exception of “the poorest people of the land to be vinedressers and tillers of the soil” (12) the remaining population of Jerusalem—its middle class—is carried away to exile.

In the eyes of the authors, an even greater tragedy is the destruction and pillaging of the Solomon’s temple itself, which they describe in excruciating (both senses of the word) detail. They describe the immensity of the place and the richness of its materials in a kind of reverse inventory of what we read in 2 Samuel during its construction, as e.g., “The height of the one pillar was eighteen cubits, and on it was a bronze capital; the height of the capital was three cubits; latticework and pomegranates, all of bronze, were on the capital all around.” (17)

Finally, the administrative apparatus of Judah’s government and the the priests themselves are executed by the captain of the Babylonian guard. The fall of Judah is complete.

Nevertheless, a few inhabitants of Judah remain and Shapahn’s grandson, Gedaliah, is appointed governor by Babylon. He wisely instructs his subjects, “Do not be afraid because of the Chaldean officials; live in the land, serve the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you.” (24). But a group of malcontents could not leave well enough alone and they assassinate Gedaliah and his retainers. Many of those still alive flee to Egypt.

But the Chaldeans are astute and show mercy to the defeated Jews. Nebuchadnezzar’s successor, Evil-merodach, releases King Jehoiachin of Judah from prison and “spoke kindly to him, and gave him a seat above the other seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon.” (28)  I’m pretty sure this was mostly a wise political calculation that ensured that the Jews living in Babylonian exile would be content with their lot and not foment a rebellion.

Acts 8:1–8: Stephen’s lengthy sermon of excoriation was clearly a bridge too far and the temple authorities decide they need to get things under control by exiling everyone who belonged to this fast-growing, potentially dangerous Jesus-cult: “That day [of Stephen’s stoning] a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.” (1)

Chief among those carrying out the persecution was a certain Saul, who “was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.” (8) Of course this is the grand irony of the New Testament. But at this point things are looking grim for this new church.

On the other hand, it is the very act of sending its members into exile that begins the spread of the early church far and wide: “Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word.” (4) As an example of this early missionary work, we meet Philip. In what has to be an intentional irony, knowing that Jerusalem will not listen, he headed to the capital of the people the Jews hate, the city of Samaria, and preached there. Unlike at Jerusalem, “the crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did.” (6) Luke completes the irony by telling us that unlike Jerusalem, “there was great joy in that city.” (8).

We recall what Jesus said about missionary work when he sent his disciples out two by two: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.” (Matthew 10:4) Obviously, those words were not lost on Philip and his colleagues. And it’s good advice for the modern church as well. We need to accept that not everyone who hears will respond.


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