Psalm 14; 1 Chronicles 18; Acts 14:8–20

Psalm 14: At first glance the first two lines opening verse seems to describe an atheist: “The scoundrel has said in his heart,/ ‘There is no God.‘” But the lines that follow make it clear that this is a moral judgement by the psalmist, not a theological statement: “They corrupt, they make loathsome their acts.” This scoundrel believes that there is no God looking down on his evil acts and that therefore he can get away with whatever he pleases. In fact, as far as our psalmist is concerned, the world seems to be populated exclusively by evil-doers: “There is none who does good.

In what appears to be a pre-diluvian world full of only evil and corruption, our psalmist evokes an image of God who appears to be seeking out a Noah: “The Lord from the heavens looked down/ on the sons of humankind/ to see, is there someone discerning,/ someone seeking out God.” (2) But what God finds (or doesn’t find) is pretty discouraging. There is not even a Noah to be found in this dark almost cynical world view: “All turn astray./ altogether befouled./ There is none who does good./ There is not even one.” (3) We need to remember that it is the psalmist is speaking, not God. In his deep discouragement he believes that the entire nation of Israel has been put under the collective thumb of the corrupt, who occupy every position of power. Just as many do today when they survey the landscape of American culture. And many view the recently inaugurated president as the very symbol of that corruption.

But there is hope. The evildoers will eventually receive their comeuppance as our psalmist reflects, “Do they not know,/ all wrongdoers?/…They did not call the Lord.” (4) And for not acknowledging God is on the side of righteousness, their punishment will come at the hands of those who believe God will act on behalf of the righteous: “There did they sorely fear,/ for God is with the righteous band.” (5)

Now we also learn the nature of their sin. It is one of the worst: exploiting the poor: “In your plot against the poor you [the wrongdoers] are shamed,/ for the Lord is his shelter.” (6) Clearly, this psalm seems to have been written at some point of widespread oppression of the weak by the powerful. The nation appears to be under the thumb of a tyrant and his lackeys.

The psalm concludes with the usual plea for God to make his appearance and once again set things aright in Israel: “Oh, may from Zion come Israel’s rescue/ when the Lord restores His people’s condition.’ (7a) When that happens there will be rejoicing: “May Jacob exult,/ May Israel rejoice.” (7b) At the end of virtualy every psalm there is always a ray of hope.

1 Chronicles 18: This chapter is devoted to a summary of David as warrior-king and his many battles and victories. David attacks and subdues:

  • The Philistines (1)
  • Moab (2)
  • King Hadadezer of Zobah (3)
  • Arameans from Damascus (5, 6)
  • Edomites (12)

When a certain King Tou of Hamath “heard that David had defeated the whole army of King Hadadezer of Zobah, he sent his son Hadoram to King David, to greet him and to congratulate him.” (9) Smart man that King Tou. Because David acknowledges that it was “the Lord [who] gave victory to David wherever he went.” (12)

Our authors are careful to note that in every victory, David dedicated the spoils of war to God. I suspect this wealth became the basis of Solomon’s wealth used to build the temple.

Needless to say, no chapter in Chronicles would be complete without a list of names. Here, we read who is head of the army, the recorder, and the priests, as well as “David’s sons [who] were the chief officials in the service of the king.” (17) Our authors are definitely David fans.

Acts 14:8–20: Paul and Barnabas arrive at Lystra, where a crippled man “listened to Paul as he was speaking.” (9) Paul, “seeing that he had faith to be healed, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet. And the man sprang up and began to walk.” (9, 10) However, retrospectively this was a mistake on Paul’s part. The crowds do not understand that faith in Jesus was the reason behind the man’s healing and “they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” (11) They even name Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes, “because he was the chief speaker.” (12) 

Things start to get out of hand when the priest of Zeus wants to offer a sacrifice before Paul and Barnabas. A distraught Paul tries to calm the crowd by telling them, “We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.” (15) But as our author rather tartly observes, “Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.” (18)

Just when we think that things will settle down and Paul and Barnabas will successfully convert many to Jesus, the Jews from Antioch and Iconium show up. This easily swayed crowd is reminiscent of the crowds in Jerusalem during last Jesus’ last week there. They quickly turn from exaltation to execration and actually stone Paul, leaving him for dead. Happily, he is apparently uninjured (or perhaps miraculously healed) and as “the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city.” (20)

There are several lessons for the church here in this story. First, miracles, however benign their intent, do not necessarily produce the desired outcome of converting people to Jesus because they can be easily ,misunderstood. I suspect that following this incident Paul became far more judicious in using the power of the Holy Spirit to heal people.

Second, the church has always had—and always will have—enemies who will do everything in their power to quash the good news. Why so many people delude themselves into thinking America is a “Christian nation” and therefore should be different than what happened to Paul and Barnabas Lystra remains a mystery to me.

Third, even where there is persecution and the gospel appears to have been defeated there will still be followers such as the disciples who surrounded the apparently dead Paul. The Holy Spirit can never be completely quenched.

 

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