Psalm 31:7–10; 2 Chronicles 35; Acts 26:28–27:8

Psalm 31:7–10: Our psalmist continues his reflection, which almost seem to come in no particular order as he asserts his loyalty and thanksgiving to God. First, he rejects those people “who look to vaporous lies,” which I have to admit is a nice turn of phrase. Instead of being shrouded in lies, he asserts, “As for me, I trust in the Lord.” (7)

Then there is gratitude for the healing he has experienced because God knows his every aspect, including the trouble he was in:
Let me exult and rejoice in Your kindness,
that You saw my affliction,
You knew the straits of my life.” (8)

Moreover, God preserved him from his enemies:
And You did not yield me to my enemy’s hand,
You set my feet in a wide-open place.” (9)

I like the idea of freedom that the phrase “wide-open space” evokes, especially when I’m felling closed in—not necessarily by enemies, but just by the density of where I live, especially the traffic!

Nevertheless, despite the healing and rescue that God has granted him thus far, our psalmist is still under stress. Even though God has done all the wonderful things he’s just described, he remains under a cloud of frustration and seeks still more from God:
Grant me grace, Lord, for I am distressed.
My eye is worn out in vexation,
my throat and my belly.” (10)

We doubtless will find out the root cause of this vexation as we read on. But the point that comes to my mind is that like the psalmist, we can keep on asking God for more even though we are thankful fir all that he has already given us. God is indeed limitless and we do not need to ration our supplications to him.

2 Chronicles 35: With the temple restored, Josiah and all Jerusalem celebrates Passover. Josiah is generous and “contributed to the people, as passover offerings for all that were present, lambs and kids from the flock to the number of thirty thousand, and three thousand bulls; these were from the king’s possessions.” (7) His court officials follow suit. Every protocol of Passover is followed scrupulously. The priests do their duty; the Levites theirs. There are singers, who are descendants fof Asaph and there are gatekeepers, as well.  Not only is all of Judah present for Passover, but a remnant from Israel, as well.

Our authors are impressed and note that “No passover like it had been kept in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel; none of the kings of Israel had kept such a passover as was kept by Josiah, by the priests and the Levites, by all Judah and Israel who were present, and by the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” (18)

Some time after this remarkable Passover, the Pharaoh Neco of Egypt “went up to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates.” (20). Apparently bored by his success, Josiah eagerly announces he wants to join Neco. However, Neco sends envoys to tell Josiah that this is not his battle. In fact, Neco’s envoys tell Josiah, “Cease opposing God, who is with me, so that he will not destroy you.” (21)

Alas, “Josiah would not turn away from him, but disguised himself in order to fight with him. He did not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God, but joined battle in the plain of Megiddo.” (22) [which by the way, is what we today call Armageddon.] Even though he disguises himself, God has the last word and Josiah is mortally wounded by an arrow. We can disguise ourselves all we want but God’s arrow will eventually find us.

All Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah. Jeremiah also uttered a lament for Josiah, and all the singing men and singing women have spoken of Josiah in their laments to this day.” (24, 25) I’m guessing that Jeremiah’s laments are recorded in the book of Lamentations, which we’ll be encountering later.

The lesson here is clear. In terms of leading a godly life, Josiah was unsurpassed. But leading a godly life requires that we constantly listen and discern the voice of God, even when it comes from an unexpected source as it did here. God communicates to us in many ways and we ignore those communications at our peril. Josiah was a wonderful man, but he allowed his pride and yes, his enthusiasm, to blot out his discernment. It only took one lapse to lead to a bad outcome. Which is a sobering lesson for us indeed.  We don’t build up protective credits for our past acts of holiness.

Acts 26:28–27:8: Following Paul’s rather brilliant sermon, Agrippa asks, “Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?” (26:29). Paul replies in one of the great altar calls of all time,“Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today might become such as I am—except for these chains.” (30).

So close, yet so far. Agrippa, Festus, and Bernice get up and leave. On the way out the door, Agrippa remarks to Festus, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” (31) Paul’s argument has carried the day as far as establishing his innocence. But he does not carry the day (as far as we know) in persuading the group to follow The Way. There’s an old hymn about those who are like Agrippa. Close but not quite close enough: Almost Persuaded, whose lines include, ” Some more convenient day/ on Thee I’ll call.” And then later, “Sad, sad that bitter wail— “Almost—but lost!” Almost is not good enough.

In the end, it is Agrippa’s decision. There is nothing more Paul can do. Just as we cannot force others to “accept Jesus.”

Festus speaks the bittersweet words, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to the emperor.” (32) But had Paul not eventually gone to Rome think of how much we would have missed. Without Paul’s epistles written from Rome, the church would have turned out far differently.

Luke launches into descriptive travel mode as he describes the rather roundabout way they are getting to Rome by ship. He must have been a sailor since he knows nautical terminology, “Putting out to sea from there, we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us.” (27:4)

Paul is under the watchful eye of a centurion named Julius, who has the responsibility of getting Paul and his party to Rome. The centurion finds “an Alexandrian ship bound for Italy and put us on board.” (6) But the passage is slow “as the wind was against us, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone.” (7)

Finally, they arrive at “a place called Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea.” (8) They’re still a fair distance from Rome. I’m struck by the name, “Fair Havens.” I wonder if Tolkien has Fair Havens in mind when he named a town “Grey Havens,” which sat in the far west, whence Bilbo Baggins departs Middle-Earth at the end of the LOTR trilogy.

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