Psalm 4; 1 Chronicles 5:1–22; Acts 9:36–10:8

Originally published 1/5/2017. Revised and updated 1/4/2019.

Psalm 4: Its opening verse lets us know that this “David psalm” is a psalm of supplication:
When I call out, answer me, my righteous God.
In the straits You set me free.
Have mercy upon me and hear my prayer.” (2)

As usual, there is a clear bifurcation between wickedness and righteousness. Clearly, David’s enemies are in the former camp  as compared to David’s own position:
You love vain things and seek out lies.
But know that the Lord set apart His faithful.” (3b, 4a)

We are either with God or against him; we are either righteous or not. There is no ambiguous middle ground. Speaking as David, our psalmist is assured that “The Lord will hear when I call to Him.” (4b) Although we are to fear God and approach him in due reverence—”Quake, and do not offend” (5a)—God is nonetheless approachable and our prayers can be spoken with peaceful assurance God is listening: “Speak in your hearts on your beds, and be still.” (5b)

Our relationship with God extends beyond prayer:
Offer righteous sacrifices
and trust in the Lord
. (6)

Trusting God is what faith is all about. When doubters, who lack this trust, ask, God will respond to the call:
Who will show us good things?
Lift up the light of Your face to us, Lord” (7)

Best of all, David says, “You put joy in my heart.” (8a) Moreover, the joy of God brings inner peace and restoration:
In peace, all whole, let me lie down and sleep.
For You, Lord, alone, do set me down safely
.” (9)

Indeed, God cares for us and we need only trust him. This psalm reminds us that while we must approach God in reverence and obedience, he is the one who will ultimately bring inner peace. Something to remember in these fraught times.

1 Chronicles 5:1–22: Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, comes next in the genealogies. However, our authors are quick to point out parenthetically that “He was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father’s bed his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel, so that he is not enrolled in the genealogy according to the birthright.” (1) I’m struck that someone named their son “Baal.” (5) The authors seem to skip multiple generations leaping from Reuben across the centuries to the very end of the Northern Kingdom: “Beerah his son, whom King Tilgath-pilneser of Assyria carried away into exile.” (6) There’s a clear implication that the sins of the father are carried to the sons with the clear implication that Reuben’s sin lit inexorably to the downfall of the Northern Kingdom.

Gad’s genealogy follows. This is one of the tribes that remained on the far side of the Jordan when Israel arrived at Canaan: “they lived in Gilead, in Bashan and in its towns, and in all the pasture lands of Sharon to their limits.” (16) Apparently there was some kind of census along the way: “All of these were enrolled by genealogies in the days of King Jotham of Judah, and in the days of King Jeroboam of Israel.” (17)

Along with the Reubenites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, the Gadites are commended because they “had valiant warriors, who carried shield and sword, and drew the bow, expert in war, forty-four thousand seven hundred sixty, ready for service.” (18) Even better, when at war, “they cried to God in the battle, and he granted their entreaty because they trusted in him.” (20) As a result of this trust in battle against the Hagrites, they “captured their livestock: fifty thousand of their camels, two hundred fifty thousand sheep, two thousand donkeys, and one hundred thousand captives.” (21) Even in this tedious genealogy we find gems and commendation of those ancestors who, like the psalmist above, put their trust in God.

Acts 9:36–10:8: Like a movie director running several stories in parallel, Luke leaves Paul and once again turns his lens toward Peter and the early church. In this story of Dorcas (aka Tabitha) we finally learn that women are a key part of the early church. The disciples at Joppa, hearing that Peter is nearby, send for him. Dorcas has apparently died and when Peter “arrived, they took him to the room upstairs” where the body was laid out. Weeping widows show Peter “tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them.” (9:39) Peter shoos everyone outside and says, “Tabitha, get up.” (40) which she promptly does. This resuscitation “became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.” (9:42) While our author is fairly oblique here, I’m pretty sure that unlike Jesus, Peter did not bring anyone back to life, but rather revived a comatose woman.

The scene now shifts to a certain Cornelius, “a centurion of the Italian Cohort,” who, although a Gentile, “was a devout man who feared God with all his household [and] he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.” (10:2). Cornelius has a vision for which our author rather puzzlingly records the time of day: 3 p.m.  This is approximately the same hour Jesus died on the cross. Is there some kind of symbolic connection here?

In any event, he “saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” (3) If we needed proof that angelic visitations can be frightening events, we have it right here: “He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” (4a) After all, Cornelius is a battle-hardened centurion who has seen many sights. The angel he saw was certainly not the romantic cherub with wings that the pre-renaissance painters depicted, but to Cornelius’ credit he recognizes his vision as coming from God.

The angel informs Cornelius that “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.” (4b) and instructs Cornelius to send “two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him,” (7) to Joppa and to bring Peter to him. At this point, Cornelius would have had little idea who this Simon fellow was or why he was supposed to have the apostle come to him. Cornelius not only has faith but he then acts on faith. As James has it in his eponymous epistle, faith without works (or action) is dead. Like Cornelius, we are to act in faith even though we don’t necessarily know what the outcome will be. Cornelius gave up trying to control the circumstances. Rather, as Oswald Hoffman has it so often, he abandoned himself to the will of God. I wonder what my own reaction in Cornelius’s circumstances would have been?

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