Psalm 18:1–7; 1 Chronicles 25; Acts 16:16–29

Psalm 18:1–7: The superscription of this poem is extraordinarily long providing the back-story about the circumstances that led David to proclaim this victory psalm: “For the lead player, for the LORD’s servant, for David, who spoke to the LORD the words of this song on the day the LORD saved him from the grasp of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.” (1)  Alter also points out that this psalm is almost exactly (but not quite) the same as David’s song of thanksgiving in 2 Samuel 22.

The joyfully confident opening line firmly establishes the joyful emotions that suffuse the psalm: “I am impassioned of You, Lord, my strength!” (2) Have I ever felt this passionately toward God?

Our poet then has David expressing several metaphors that make it clear that it was David’s trust— his sheltering—in God was what brought him victory and saved his life:
The Lord is my crag and bastion,
and my deliverer, my God, my rock where I shelter,” (3a)

He then shifts to military metaphors to describe how God saved him for certain death: “my shield and the horn of my rescue, my fortress.” (3b)

David’s gratitude is all the greater because God’s rescue came just in the nick of time: “The cords of death wrapped round me,. and the torrents of perdition dismayed me.” (5) I think that ‘Torrents of perdition’ is perhaps one of the greatest metaphors in all of Psalms! What a marvelous image of a deluge of evil approaching and then washing over us—but that God protects us from all of it.

The next verse emphasizes how close David was to death, so close that he could see his doom, apparently having been trapped by the enemy, perhaps even Saul himself, on the battlefield: “The cords of Sheol encircled me,/ the traps of death sprung upon me.” (6) In this desperate situation there is only one thing David can do: “In my strait I called to the Lord,/ to my God I cried out.” (7)

We are sometimes tempted to deride so-called ‘foxhole prayers.’ Yet, here is the greatest warrior king of Israel doing exactly that. God does not take our circumstances into account when we pray. Whether we are praying from the silence of the cloister or the middle of a blood-soaked battlefield, God hears us.

1 Chronicles 25: More lists of the vast organizational apparatus that our authors assert was established by David himself. This time it’s the temple musicians. “David and the officers of the army also set apart for the service the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy with lyres, harps, and cymbals.” (1)

What strikes me here is that the playing of musical instruments can also be prophecy, not just speech. Clearly, our authors understood how music can stir emotions, frequently with greater power than words. Which is one reason why I think music at worship is so crucially important—and also how music can become fraught and divisive in a congregation. Different music stirs different emotions. Perhaps if we thought more often of music having prophetic power we would pay close attention to the lyrics of what we sing: are the words speaking as if from God—like the words of this psalm— or are they therapeutic ditties too focused on our own self esteem and feelings?

A certain Heman is father to 14 sons and 3 daughters, all of whom “were under the direction of their father for the music in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the house of God.”  (6) Moreover, he was director of a large choir: “They and their kindred, who were trained in singing to the Lord, all of whom were skillful, numbered two hundred eighty-eight. (7). The remainder of the chapter details how that group was divided.

If ever we needed a reminder that music is to be played and sung with skill and reverent feeling, it is right here. This is what should set worship music apart from secular music—and why I personally find too great a focus on the musicians rather than on God to be distressful.

Acts 16:16–29: Paul and Silas seem to be having great success in Philippi. In one of the most famous stories Silas himself narrates the events that landed Paul and him in prison. It all starts with a demon-possessed slave girl who apparently has the powers of divination. “Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.” (18)

The slave girl’s owners, seeing “that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities.” (20) Rather than the usual fairly trivial charges of disturbing the peace, the owners accuse Paul and Silas of sedition against Rome. A kangaroo court ensues and they are found guilty as charged. Paul & Silas are stripped, beaten, tossed into the innermost cell of the prison, and locked up in stocks.

None of this discourages the pair from singing and praying as the famous earthquake occurs around midnight, “so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.” (26)

Assuming the prisoners had escaped the jailer was about to commit suicide when Paul shouts, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” (28) The jailer “called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.” (29)

One of the things I’ve always wondered about is why didn’t the other prisoners escape? I understand why Paul and Silas stayed put but what force would hold the other prisoners back? Was the Holy Spirit somehow involved here?

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