Psalm 139:17–24; 2 Kings 4:38–5:14; Acts 1:1–14

Originally published 12/06/2016. Revised and updated 12/06/2018.

Psalm 139:17–24: Our psalmist returns to describing God’s qualities. He realizes that God knows everything about him: from his physical being to every thought, feeling and plan. As a result, the sheer number and enormity of God’s thoughts are incomprehensible to him both in his dreams and in his waking hours:
As for me, how weighty are Your thoughts, O God.
how numerous their sum.
Should I count them, they would be more than the sand.
I awake, and am still with you. (17, 18)

Suddenly, the tone of the psalm shifts from quiet reflection to anger that evil exists and dismay that God allows this evil to exist. He wishes God would act on this gross misjustice:
Would You but slay the wicked, God—
O men of blood, turn away from me!
 (19)

These are the people who connive with the temerity to use God’s name in their conspiracies. Our psalmist asserts he hates them as much as God does:
Why, those who hate You, Lord, I hate
and those against You, I despise.
 (20)

Surely these verses crossed Jesus’ mind as he disputed with the Pharisees and while he was being tried by the Sanhedrin.

Our psalmist goes on to amplify his hatred of evildoers, almost as if to make sure God understands that he is on God’s side:
Why, those who hate You, Lord, I hate,
and those against You I despise.
With utter hatred do I hate them,
they become my enemies.
 (21, 22)

Following this emotional‚and pretty irrational—outburst, he calms down somewhat and returns to reflecting on the state of his own attitude, challenging God to find some fault in the purity of his thoughts:
Search me, God, and know my heart,
probe me and know my mind
. (23)

He is confident (overconfident, perhaps?) that he is pure before the Lord, as he continues to challenge God:
And see if a vexing way be in me,
and lead me on the eternal way.
 (24)

The bottom line question for me is, are my thoughts as pure? Would I be willing to have God probe my mind and heart and discover that there are no impure thoughts or motives, especially against those whom I dislike? I somehow doubt I would pass the test.

2 Kings 4:38–5:14: Elisha is surely the prophet of miscellaneous miracles. But at the heart of of all of them is his concern for the welfare of those whom he encounters. In an amusing story, he is hosting a company of prophets. His helpful but thoughtless servant prepares a pot of stew and puts some unknown vegetables in it. Obviously, whatever they were did not enhance the taste and one of the prophets eating it cries out that it’s poisoned: “O man of God, there is death in the pot!” (4:40) Among Elisha’s other talents is cooking and herbology. He instructs the servant to pour flour into the pot and whatever is bad now becomes good. My own theory is that there was no poison, just a bad taste that the flour ameliorated. On the other hand, we can read it symbolically: that the “flour” of the Holy Spirit enters into us and makes us whole.

We see that Jesus was not the first person to feed a large crowd with little food. Elisha receives a first fruits gift of “twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack.” (4:42), which he tells his servant to use to feed 100 people. The servant—like Jesus’ disciples—doubt the food is sufficient to feed the crowd, but is proved wrong. Elisha reminds his servant that “thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” (43) The lesson here is to have faith that God will do what he says he will do. Nevertheless, I still tend to be on the servant’s side here…

Perhaps Elisha’s most famous miracle is the healing of Naaman. And perhaps the most remarkable thing about this story is that Naaman is a general in the army of Aram, Israel’s sworn enemy and recently victorious over Israel. As the authors tell us, “The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.” (5:1) An Israeli slave, a servant of Naaman’s wife advises him to go visit a prophet (obviously Elisha) in Israel. Naaman know he cannot just show up, but brings a letter and quite a bit of money to the king of Israel.

The king’s hostile reaction is not unexpected. He “read [Naaman’s] letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy?” (5:7) Worse, he suspects it’s a ruse to infiltrate Israel. Elisha hears about the king tearing his clothes and sends a message to the king asking why. The king refers Naaman to Elisha’s house whereupon the prophet sends out a servant instructing Naaman to “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” (10)

Naaman is insulted by these instructions to wash in the Jordan. He desires the big-time personal healing he’s heard this guy Elisha can perform: “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!” (11) He turns away in a rage. But Namaan’s servant is more patient and asks Naaman, “if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” (13)

As we know, Naaman washes himself and “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.” (5:14)

We are all Naaman. We get angry when we’re instructed to do something that is contrary to what we think we should do—or are fixated on how God should intervene in our lives. We want to be in control. And of course this story is also the exemplar of baptism. Our old Adam is replaced by the Holy Spirit when we are baptized. As the old song has it, we are washed in the blood of Jesus and made clean.

Acts 1:1–14: We return to Luke and his second book, Acts, where we once again have an introduction that lays out his intent here: “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.” (1, 2) Luke then backtracks a bit and describes Jesus’ orders to the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (5)

The disciples never gave up hope that Jesus would establish an earthly kingdom and ask “is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (6) Jesus replies that it’s not for them to know his Father’s business. Once again, he promises the arrival of the Holy Spirit and he’s lifted up into heaven. Unlike Elijah, there’s no need for a chariot of fire to carry Jesus to heaven.

Angels appear as the disciples were gazing up toward heaven. They promise the disciples, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (11)—the Parousia for which we still wait some 2000 years later.

Following Jesus’ instructions the disciples return to Jerusalem to await the arrival of the Holy Spirit. While waiting they “were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.” (14) 

Which is exactly the point. We are to wait alert, knowing the promise will be fulfilled. In the meantime, like the disciples, we are not just to sit around impatiently, but to pray. And tone of those prayers is but the three words I’m sure the disciples uttered: “Come, Lord Jesus.”

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