Psalm 13; 1 Chronicles 16:37–17:27; Acts 13:48–14:7

Psalm 13: Here we have a classical psalm of supplication that opens with an agonized cry: “How long, O Lord, will You forget me always?/ How long hide Your face from me?” (2) It is clear from the psalmist’s point of view that he has been in his desperate straits for what seems like years, and that God has simply and permanently gone silent. This verse has echoed down the centuries by those who suffer, especially at the hands of enemies and have concluded that God has abandoned them.

Compounding his suffering, our supplicant feels he is completely alone and abandoned by God as he asks, “How long shall I cast about for counsel,/ sorrow in my heart all day?” (3a) Even worse, he feels personally threatened: “How long will my enemy loom over me?” (3b)

This is his final desperate plea before he lays down and dies. Even though his faith in God has been put to the ultimate test, he turns to God because there is nowhere else to turn: “Regard, answer me, Lord, my God./ Light up my eyes, lest I sleep death.” (4) Perhaps even worse, our supplicant’s death would give his enemy the satisfaction of triumph: “lest my enemy say, ‘I’ve prevailed over him,’/ lest my foes exult when I stumble.” (5)

And yet. Although his faith wavers, he still trusts that God will come through in the end as this prayer of agony ends with a simple statement of trust that God will indeed come to his rescue: “But I in Your kindness do trust, my heart exults in Your rescue.” (6a) Because once he is rescued there can be worship: “Let me sing to the Lord,/ for He requited me.” (6b)

I know that I would certainly pray for God’s rescue in my hour of agony, but would I have the courage and faith to so trust that God will come through and I will be able to worship? I fear far too many prayers that begin in desperation do not end in worshipful exultation because I (and others) have been unwilling to completely trust that God will come through for us.

1 Chronicles 16:37–17:27: We can certainly tell that Chronicles was written by Levite priests who had been active in worship at the temple in Jerusalem before being exiled. They devote yet another lengthy passage to naming the priests, most notably the famous Zadok, who maintained worship at the tabernacle that is now located in Jerusalem. What’s interesting to me here is the concept that individuals are called to the priesthood: “With them were Heman and Jeduthun, and the rest of those chosen and expressly named to render thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (16:41) This of course is also the basis on which we “call” pastors today.

We arrive once again at David’s great dilemma: “David said to the prophet Nathan, “I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of the Lord is under a tent.”‘ (17:1) David believes God should have the greater glory and Nathan agrees, advising him, “Do all that you have in mind, for God is with you.” (17:2)

However, “that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan,” (3) that he should instruct David that he “shall not build me a house to live in.” (4) God remains perfectly happy to live in a tent and reviews all he has done for Israel since arriving at Canaan even though he lacked a “house.”

Speaking through Nathan, God gives David a great promise: “I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom…I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.” (11, 14) Of course the immediate reference is to Solomon, but as Christians we also remember God’s promise that Jesus would arise out of the ouse of David and that even though the earthly kingdom of Israel has long since passed away King Jesus continues to reign.

What makes David so extraordinary from his predecessor (and the vast majority of kings who follow him) is his humility before God. David prays to God and offers the example of servant leadership that we see in Jesus: “For your servant’s sake, O Lord, and according to your own heart, you have done all these great deeds, making known all these great things. There is no one like you, O Lord, and there is no God besides you.” (17:19)

David graciously accepts God’s decision that he will not have the honor of building God’s house. The question is, would I accept as graciously as David if God were telling me to not do something that I felt called to do? Or would I just ignore God and forge ahead? I know I have done the latter more times in my life than the former.

Acts 13:48–14:7: Although the Gentiles are thrilled to hear that the good news of Jesus applies to them as well as the Jews, the Jews in Antioch are none too pleased, and “the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their region.” (13:50) What’s terribly important to note here is that Paul and Barnabas simply left town: “they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium.” (51) But they did not leave a spiritual vacuum behind them. The disciples who remained “were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (52)

Luke is making it extremely clear here that it is the Holy Spirit doing the work of building the church. Paul and Barnabas are simply the catalyst that helps light the fire of the Holy Spirit inside others who then build community that is the heart of the church. Too often, leaders linger far beyond their time. Then, it is too often their personality and charisma—rather than the Holy Spirit—that becomes the focal point of the community. Since the Holy Spirit has been shunted aside in favor of a human personality, when that personality retires or dies the community withers away. A recent example was the Crystal Cathedral, which had centered itself around the personality of its founder, Bob Schuller. After he passed on, the church faded from existence.

As far as the Jews are concerned, Paul and Barnabas are definitely rabble rousers, hated mostly, I suppose, for including Gentiles as full-fledged members of what the Jews saw as a strictly Jewish sect. They felt their religion itself was threatened by this Jesus. “The same thing occurred in Iconium, where Paul and Barnabas went into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.”  (14:1, 2) The missionaries remain for some months, “speaking boldly for the Lord,” (14:3) but they manage only to further divide the city into polarized camps, where “some [Gentiles] sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles.” (14:4) When Paul and Barnabas learn of a plot to kill them, they “fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country,” (6) but the never ever give up. They simply “continued proclaiming the good news.” (7)

The early adventures of Paul and Barnabas give us a flavor of just how radical and revolutionary the Gospel message really was. The previous order of Jewish-Gentile relationships throughout the Roman world was being unexpectedly upset. People, who had assumed the status quo ante would continue just as they wanted to, were extremely upset. Just as many are today at the upsetting of their perception of how the arc of history should proceed because something unexpected and to their mind, radical and distasteful, has occurred. Worse, they are losing control of the narrative, just as the Jews lost control of their narrative in Antioch and Iconium.

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