Psalm 29; 2 Chronicles 31; Acts 25:1–15

Psalm 29: The psalm opens with a verb that is rarely used in the psalms, but occurs in the first three lines here:
Grant to the Lord, O sons of God,
grant to the Lord glory and strength!
Grant to the Lord His name’s glory.
Bow to the Lord in holy majesty!” (1,2)

We use “grant” as in “allow” or “permit.” But is our psalmist really saying, “permit God glory and strength?” I guess I have to be satisfied that this is a bit of poetic license in the use of this verb as it is certainly the other way around: God who grants things to us.

This is also one of the noisiest psalms as the poet enumerates the ways God, acting through nature, makes himself heard in power and glory in a series of short exclamations that evoke thunder and trees crashing in the forest:
The Lord’s voice is over the waters.
The God of glory thunders.
The Lord is over the mighty waters.
The Lord’s voice in power,
the Lord’s voice in majesty,
the Lord’s voice breaking cedars.
the Lord shatters the Lebanon cedars.” (3,4,5)

Our poet continues in this vein with images of God’s power expressed verbally through images of fire (7), earthquakes, (8) and deforestation (9b). God’s voice even initiates birth: as “The Lord’s voice brings on the birth-pangs of does.” (9a)

Finally, our psalmist reflects on God’s eternal nature:
The Lord was enthroned at the flood
and the Lord is enthroned as king for all time.” (10)

Today, the most popular image of God seems to be one of a gentle parent or worse, an avuncular old man. This psalm does a memorable job of reminding us that God is also all-powerful and deserves our reverence, respect and worship. Which is one reason I object to the anodyne style of worship we seem to experience too often. We need to reflect more often about all-powerful God and his majesty as we come to worship in awe and reverence not in casual bonhomie.

2 Chronicles 31: The people of Israel who came to Jerusalem to worship at the temple are inspired to worship only God. They “broke down the pillars, hewed down the sacred poles,[a] and pulled down the high places and the altars throughout all Judah and Benjamin, and in Ephraim and Manasseh, until they had destroyed them all.” (1) Then they return home to Samaria. The question is, did their mountaintop experience in Jerusalem have a long-lasting impact on their neighbors? Or as happens so often to us, did the enthusiasm of the mountaintop experience fade into the quotidian concerns of ordinary life?

Hezekiah continues to organize the priesthood at Jerusalem and ask for offerings from the inhabitants of Judah, including the people from Israel, who apparently stayed in Judah. They respond generously: “As soon as the word spread, the people of Israel gave in abundance the first fruits of grain, wine, oil, honey, and of all the produce of the field; and they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything.” (5) In fact there are so many gifts and tithes that the they end up in heaps that require four months to organize. “Hezekiah questioned the priests and the Levites about the heaps,” (9) and is told by the high priest Azariah that “we have had enough to eat and have plenty to spare; for the Lord has blessed his people, so that we have this great supply left over.” (10)

This incident, which would be a good sermon topic for a stewardship Sunday, is a powerful reminder that when we are truly worshipping God, we are inwardly compelled to give generously.

Hezekiah seems to be the best king since David and Solomon as the people “Faithfully brought in the contributions, the tithes and the dedicated things.” (12) He organizes both the priests and the Levites to carry out sacrifices and worship. What’s interesting to me here is that “The priests were enrolled with all their little children, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, the whole multitude; for they were faithful in keeping themselves holy.” (18) In other words, a family affair. One wonders how the Catholic policy of celibacy squares with these OT priests who had families who worshipped together.

Our authors cannot say enough good things about king Hezekiah: “he did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God, and in accordance with the law and the commandments, to seek his God, he did with all his heart; and he prospered.” (20, 21) The lesson our authors are communicating here is crystalline: God provides in abundance if we are serious about placing God first in our lives. 

Acts 25:1–15: The new procurator, Festus travels to Jerusalem “where the chief priests and the leaders of the Jews gave him a report against Paul.” (2) The Jews ask Festus to send Paul to Jerusalem, but as Luke points out, “They were, in fact, planning an ambush to kill him along the way.” (3) However, Festus declines the request and tells the Jews to come to Caesarea. Upon returning to Caesarea, Festus has Paul brought before him and for what I see as a preliminary hearing.

Paul asserts his innocence, but like his predecessor, Festus is more interested in currying favor with the Jews and asks Paul if he wants to go to Jerusalem for the trial. Paul asserts his Roman citizenship and demands a hearing before the Emperor’s tribunal in Rome. Festus issues his terse order, “You have appealed to the emperor; to the emperor you will go.” (12)

Coincidentally, the Jewish puppet king, Agrippa, arrives in Caesarea with his wife. Festus outlines the Paul case to him as the reading.

We’ll read Agrippa’s reply tomorrow. Stay tuned for the next exciting chapter in the adventures of Paul the wrongly accused missionary.

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