Archives for January 2017

Psalm 2; 1 Chronicles 4:1–23; Acts 9:10–22

Psalm 2: If we ever wanted an opening line that perfectly describes today’s world, it would be hard to top this one: “What are the nations aroused,/ and the peoples murmur vain things?” (1) There may not have been Twitter and Facebook back then, but people still complained and focused on the wrong things. Our psalmist then goes on to perfectly describe today’s political and social hostility to God:
Kings of earth take their stand,
and princes conspire together
against the Lord and against His anointed.” (2)

This psalm is doubtless describing a political uprising and mockingly writes of the conspirator’s plans to free themselves from God’s provenance and establish a new more enlightened leadership: “Let us tear off their fetters,/ let us fling away their bonds!” (3) This is exactly what is happening today as America continues to abandon the “fetters” and “bonds” of a moral society—all in the name of individual freedom.

The psalmist reminds his audience—and us—that God will laugh at this temerity and then repay them for their sins:
He who dwells in the heavens will laugh,
the Master derides them.
Then will He speak to them in His wrath,
in His burning anger dismay them.” (4,5)

Today, we may not see a direct intervention by God, but I believe we are beginning to experience the doleful consequences of a spiritually unmoored society.

In the second half of the psalm, God’s speaks directly to his anointed king: “And I—I appointed My king/ on Zion, My holy mountain.” (6) Then, in a passage that addresses the political circumstances, the psalmist describes the king as God’s son. But from our Christian perspective, this statement is also a pre-echo of Jesus Christ: “He [God] said to me: ‘You are my son./ I Myself today dod beget You.” (7)

We can read the verses that follow both as a description of the then-current political situation, but also as a striking eschatological description of the end of history as we read it in John’s Revelation: “You will smash them with a rod of iron,/ like a potter’s jar you will dash them.” (9) And in words that are completely relevant today:
And now, O you kings, pay mind,/ be chastened, you rulers of the earth.” (10)

As God’s creatures we are not only called to acknowledge him, but to worship with deep reverence: “Worship the Lord in fear,/ and exult in trembling.” (11) Ultimately, only those who acknowledge God will find true joy: “Happy, all who shelter in Him.” (12)

1 Chronicles 4:1–23: That our authors Judeans becomes perfectly clear in this exhaustingly detailed description of the descendants of Jacob’s son, Judah.

Who knew that Ephrathah was the father of Bethlehem? (4) Or that “Jabez was honored more than his brothers; and his mother named him Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.” (9)

It is in this chapter that we encounter the so-called prayer of Jabez, made famous by author Bruce Wilkinson in his 2001 book, The Prayer of Jabez: Devotional: “Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from hurt and harm!” And God granted what he asked.” (10)

This prayer has been claimed by many as one of the foundational justifications of the so-called “prosperity gospel.” There’s no question that the prayer worked for Jabez but it’s a good example of being careful to understand context. The authors do not make any editorial comment about the general applicability or efficacy of this prayer; they are noting it only as an interesting historical footnote.

Acts 9:10–22: A Jesus disciple in Damascus receives a vision from God. God simply says his name, “Ananias,” and “He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” (10). This answer is of course an example for all of us. If we claim to be Jesus followers, our response when asked should always be, “Here I am, Lord.”

God instructs Ananias to lay hands on Saul so that he will regain his sight. Understandably, Ananias is not highly enthusiastic: Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” (13, 14) It might have ended right there. But God goes on to explain, Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (15, 16) In this respect Ananias was fortunate. When we feel we are being led in a certain direction by God, God is usually remains frustratingly silent. [This is a frustration we encounter frequently in the Psalms, as well.]

Ananias obeys and lays his hands on Saul and intones, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (17) By being filled with the Holy Spirit it is here that Saul becomes an official apostle and his eyesight is not only restored, but it’s clear he sees the Christians around him in a completely new and different way. The Holy Spirit has a way of doing that… Our author is making it clear that when Jesus comes to us we see the world and people around us in a new way.

Following his baptism and a quick bite to eat, the converted Saul loses no time in heading to the synagogue and preaching that Jesus is the “son of God.” (20) Needless to say, the Jewish officials who had invited Saul to come and cleanse Damascus of this new heretical sect are less than pleased: “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” (21) But Saul is undeterred and “became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah.” (22)

With Saul’s conversion the focus of Acts will be shifting from the Jewish Christian church more and more to the Gentile Christian church, which is the express commission Saul has received from Jesus himself.

Psalm 1; 1 Chronicles 3; Acts 9:1–9

Psalm 1: This is the beginning of my sixth cycle through the Psalms. W

The very first verse of the very first psalm states one of the key running themes that inhabit this book: the benefits granted to those who follow God as opposed to the bad outcomes of consorting with the wicked. We will see the ideas of the first verse expressed over and over through many of the 149 psalms to follow:
Happy the mean who has not walked in the wicked’s counsel,
nor in the way of offenders has stood,
nor in the session of scoffers has sat.” (1)

The first key to a righteous life is to avoid taking up the temptations—and especially the words—of the wicked. Instead—and this is the second running theme—righteous comes from living a life that continually quests after learning God’s ways and God’s law. We have a hint of what is to come in Psalm 119 right here at the second verse: “But the Lord’s teaching is his desire,/ and His teaching he murmurs day and night.” (2)

This quest to learn and practice God’s law brings us to the first—and one of the most famous—metaphor in this book: “And he shall be like a tree planted by streams of water,” (3a) The quest of following God bears efficacious results: “that bears fruit in its season,” (3b) I have to think that Paul had this verse in mind when he writes of the fruit of the Spirit.

Following God brings reward: “and its leaf does not wither—/ and in all that he does he prospers.” (3c) This is the deuteronomic quid pro quo that we encounter over and over in the Psalms: live a life that follows God and we will prosper. But I think it’s important to note that “prosper” is not the same as “prosperity” or wealth, which too people many today have perverted into a promise that God will bless them with tangible goods. “Prosper” here is the inner peace and insights of righteousness that arise from following God.

Our psalmist contrasts this fruitful life with the first simile in Psalms: “Not so the wicked,/ but like chaff that the wind blows away.” (4) The psalm concludes with a clear statement concatenating the consequences of a righteous life following God or a dissolute life ignoring God. “For the Lord embraces the way of the righteous,/ and the way of the wicked is lost.” (6) In the end, it’s really just that simple.

1 Chronicles 3: It’s becoming increasingly clear that the authors of Chronicles are more accountants than writers as the tote up the progeny of David and Solomon. as well as keeping careful track of durations of kingly reigns.

This chapter lists the numerous sons of David, which are by both his wives and concubines. Six sons were born while he reigned in Hebron, “where he reigned for seven years and six months.” (4) While David reigns for 33 years in Jerusalem, four sons—including Solomon—are borne by Bath-shua, followed by an additional nine sons.  We at last find out about a sister of all these sons: Tamar (9) Fecundity, thy name is Bath-shua.

Then, the descendants of Solomon: sons (Abijah et al), grandsons (Johanan et al), great grandsons, and so on. The tragic reality of course is that all the sons, grandsons, great grandsons and on and on “did evil in the sight of the Lord” as we read over and over in 2 Kings. And probably in this book as well.

Acts 9:1–9: We arrive at the incident that instigated the conversion of Saul on his road trip to Damascus to arrest Christians there. Saul’s vision of a glorified Jesus, who asks the most famous question in this book—“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (4) leads eventually to the transformation of the church from a Jerusalem-based, primarily Jewish sect to a worldwide church of Gentiles.

Our author is careful to point out that Saul’s vision was for him alone, i.e., that Jesus reached out and specifically chose Saul, and Saul alone: “The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one.” (7)

Saul is blinded by the glory of the risen Christ and in a faint echo of Jesus’ time in the tomb, “three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (9) we know that Saul has indeed experienced a life-changing event. Many have experienced conversion experiences across the centuries, but I think none as transformative and impactful on history, with the sole exception of Jesus himself, as Saul on the road to Damascus.