Psalm 17:1–7; 1 Chronicles 23; Acts 15:32–16:3

Psalm 17:1–7: This psalm of supplication opens with a fairly anodyne request for God to listen to his “guileless prayer.” (1) He knows that it is God who judges because God is the source of all righteousness: “From before You my judgement will come,/ Your eyes behold rightness.” (2)

He feels that God has tested him, including in his dreams, and that he has passed the test: “You have probed my heart, come upon me by night,/ You have tried me, and found no wrong in me.” (3a) Above all, he has guarded his speech as if having been muzzled by God: “I barred my mouth to let nothing pass.” (3a)

Not only speech, but his actions are guarded as well as he responds to God’s direction, avoiding the temptation to sin: “As for human acts—by the word of Your lips!/ I have kept from the tracks of the brute.” (4) However, it’s not clear to me who the “brute” is. Satan? Some specific enemy? Or maybe he was referring to his own sinful self.

He asks God to continue to keep him on the path of righteousness: “Set firm my steps on Your pathways,/ so my feet will not stumble.” (5) In this state of carefully following of God’s will, the psalmist feels justified in calling on God and is assured that God will answer: “I called You, for You will answer me, God./ Incline Your ear, O hear my utterance.” (6)

He expands the perspective from himself to all persons who follow God and are thereby protected from their enemies: “Make Your mercies abound, O rescuer of those who shelter/ from foes at Your right hand.” (7)

I am impressed by how carefully our psalmist has followed the path that God has laid out for him. What’s not so clear to me, however, is what path God has laid out for me. I see great evidence God’s work in my life retrospectively, but it’s more difficult to see what God has in mind prospectively. I guess that’s what faith is all about.

1 Chronicles 23: Arrrrgh. More lists! Of the 38,000 Levites who are thirty years or older, David assigns 24,000 of them to be associated with religious rites and “have charge of the work in the house of the Lord.” (4) The labor is divided down further:

  • Officers & judges: 6,000
  • Gatekeepers: 4,000
  • Musicians & singers: 4,000

David, in a valedictory fit of administrative energy, “organized them in divisions corresponding to the sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.” (6) The lists of names then follows, proving once again that the authors of this book were themselves Levites.

David then makes an important announcement: The Lord, the God of Israel, has given rest to his people; and he resides in Jerusalem forever. And so the Levites no longer need to carry the tabernacle or any of the things for its service.” (25, 26) Instead, now that God is firmly ensconced at Jerusalem, they have a new job description. The duty of the Levites “shall be to assist the descendants of Aaron for the service of the house of the Lord, having the care of the courts and the chambers, the cleansing of all that is holy, and any work for the service of the house of God.” (28) They also assist with the holy bread, and “shall stand every morning, thanking and praising the Lord, and likewise at evening,” (30)

I’m left with the very firm impression that the Levites who wrote this book are quite specifically codifying the roles and responsibilities of the Levites once they return from exile in Babylon back to Jerusalem. By asserting that the greatest king of Israel had decreed these tasks makes it clear that no appeal will be brooked by the levitical officials who will shortly be in charge of the temple. In short: If David said so, then thus it shall ever be.

Acts 15:32–16:3: Judas and Silas “said much to encourage and strengthen the believers” (32) while in Antioch. After a while they leave and Paul and Barnabas remain. In one of those incidents that convinces me that we are reading history and not some fictional story, Paul and Barnabas get into a serious disagreement. Paul wants to retrace the first missionary journey “in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” (36) Barnabas agrees but wants to take John Mark with them. We get a glimpse into Paul’s ability to hold a grudge when he refuses because  John Mark “had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work.” (38) As Luke succinctly puts it, “the disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.” (39) So Paul chooses Silas as his companion and they set out “through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” (41)

This incident is a good lesson to us in the church today. There will always be disagreements over strategy and often over doctrine. Sometimes it’s better to just split up and move on. I’ve always wondered if Luther had Paul and Barnabas in mind when he posted his 95 Theses.

So, Paul and Silas head off to Derbe and Lystra, where they meet uncircumcised Timothy. Tim is the son of a mixed marriage, and Paul wants him to join them. Then Paul does something that seems counter to the entire point of the Council of Jerusalem: he “had [Timothy] circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.” (16:3)

So did Paul abandon his principle that Gentiles didn’t need to be circumcised in order to become Christians? Or was he just being expedient?

I suspect the latter since the task at hand was to carry the gospel to many more cities. The missionary strategy was to preach at the synagogues and let things take their course from there. There is no way Timothy could even enter the synagogue without having been circumcised. We don’t get to hear what Timothy had to say in this matter, but he obviously agreed to undergo the less-than-pleasant procedure as an adult. Nevertheless, I don’t think we should be too hard on Paul in this matter. Sometimes it’s important to bow to custom in order to have credibility.

Speak Your Mind