Psalm 8; 1 Chronicles 9:1–34; Acts 11:11–24

Originally published 1/11/2017. Revised and updated 1/10/2019.

Psalm 8: This psalm, which has produced a popular hymn, celebrates God’s name as it is expressed in humans, babies, the heavens. More importantly, it clearly lays out the hierarchy of God as Creator and master of heaven and earth over against humans as God’s created ones or creatures:
Lord, our Master,
how majestic is Your name in all the earth!
Whose splendor was told over the heavens.” (2)

While the next verse opens with a phrase that has become a well-known saying, it’s actual meaning is rather less obvious:
From the mouth of babes and sucklings
You founded strength.
” (3a)

My take is that a suckling child grows up to become a strong man.

We focus on the God/human hierarchy at the next justly famous verse. Our psalmist compares the glories of the heavens that God has flung into place as over against we humans, who are seemingly but small blips in God’s vast creation. Recent discoveries of new planetary systems certainly suggest that we humans may not be as unique as we think we are. But because of the vast distances we have little chance of finding out. But God is greater than all of it.

When I see Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars You fixed firm,
‘What is man that You should note him,
and the human creature, that You pay him heed.” (4b, 5a)

In starker terms we ask, why does God care about us, we insignificant beings in a vast universe? While God has made us “a little less than the [small-g] gods” (6a) we have nevertheless received God’s highest accolade as he has crowned us “with glory and grandeur.” (6b)

In point of fact, God has positioned humankind over the remainder of his creation:
You make him rule over the work of Your hands.
All things You set under his feet. 
(7)

For the psalmist, humans are the rulers over all living creatures:
Sheep and oxen all together,
and also the beasts of the field,
birds of the heavens and fish of the seas. (8,9)

We sit atop natural creation because we have been created imago Deo. But with this exalted position comes great responsibility—a responsibility we have too often failed to live up to as we have harmed God’s natural creation in awful ways down through the centuries. One hopes that we are becoming increasingly aware of that responsibility for being stewards over the earth rather than exploiters.

The psalm ends as it began, with a glorious chorus:
Lord, our Master,
how majestic Your name in all the earth. 
(10) A great line for a hymn…

1 Chronicles 9:1–34: Our authors have brought us now-exhausted readers/ listeners to their present day, where they observe correctly that “Judah was taken into exile in Babylon because of their unfaithfulness.” (1b) The lists of names that follow are “the first to live again in their possessions in their towns [who] were Israelites, priests, Levites, and temple servants.” (2)

We then move to yet another list; this time it is the post-exilic inhabitants who returned to Israel, beginning with 956 “heads of families according to their ancestral houses.” (9) Our accountants continue relentlessly, stating that 1760 priestly families, “qualified for the work of the service of the house of God” (13) have also returned.

Then come the Levitical families, beginning with the 212 gatekeepers “stationed previously in the king’s gate on the east side.” (18) We are reminded that “the Korahites, were in charge of the work of the service, …as their ancestors had been in charge of the camp [tabernacle] of the Lord, guardians of the entrance.” (19)

Then come the Levitical families, who  had to take daily inventory as they “had charge of the utensils of service, for they were required to count them when they were brought in and taken out.” (28) Division of labor is by no means a new concept. There are Levites “appointed over the furniture, and over all the holy utensils, also over the choice flour, the wine, the oil, the incense, and the spices.” (29) Not to be confused with those assigned to mix the spices (30) and others in “charge of the rows of bread, to prepare them for each sabbath.” (32)

Nor are musicians forgotten, who as it turns out, are on call for worship 24/7: “these are the singers, the heads of ancestral houses of the Levites, living in the chambers of the temple free from other service, for they were on duty day and night.” (33)

What strikes me here is how there is nothing random about how the Judeans returned to Jerusalem from exile. Brilliant organization is key here. Everyone has an assigned job. And all the jobs, regardless of what prominence they may or may not have  entailed, were important enough to be recorded.

For me, this means that everyone in a community like a church must have a role to play. Having professionalized many of its duties with staff, too many churches today have made many people mere audience members, mere observers. Without a clear sense of purpose of how they contribute to the life of the community it is little wonder that people eventually drift away from the church.

Acts 11:11–24: Peter continues to explain to the others in Jerusalem the justification for his visit to Caesarea and the house of Cornelius. He makes it clear that it was at the behest of the Holy Spirit, not something he just thought up: “The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.” (12) He underscores the role of the Holy Spirit, telling the Jerusalem disciples, “as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning.” (15) He concludes by observing that if this is what God wants, so be it: “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” (17)

The Jerusalem disciples accept Peter’s explanation and “they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” (18). This is a real example to us: the disciples were willing to accept that the Holy Spirit did something completely unexpected by inviting Gentiles into the “repentance that leads to life.” What a contrast to those of us who remain skeptical about the working of the Holy Spirit, especially when something happens that does not conform to our own agenda about how  and on whom the Holy Spirit should be operating.

Luke now shifts his narrative gaze to how even more Gentiles beyond Cornelius and his family came into the church. Stephen’s death was the beginning of persecution that resulted in many Jerusalem Jews, who believed in Jesus, being scattered “as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, [where] they spoke the word to no one except Jews.” (19) But then, “among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus.” (20) Many Gentiles [Hellenists] were converted at Antioch. Word of these Gentile conversions trickled back to Jerusalem, whereupon they sent Barnabas to check things out. In Antioch, Barnabas sees that God has clearly included Gentiles as equal members of the church. Barnabas exhorts the Gentiles to “remain faithful with steadfast devotion.” (23) In an aside, Luke compliments Barnabas here: “he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith,” (24a). We presume he brought the good news back to Jerusalem that in Antioch, “a great many people were brought to the Lord” (24b) .

Again, the question for us is would we be as happy as Barnabas and the Jewish church at how God worked so unexpectedly through the Holy Spirit doing something so culturally alien to our entire experience? Could I be Barnabas?

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