Psalm 9:12–21; 1 Chronicles 11:4–47; Acts 12:6–19

Originally published 1/13/2017. Revised and updated 1/12/2019.

Psalm 9:12–21: The latter half of this psalm is a juxtaposition of worship, thanksgiving and supplication, which of course are the elements we should also include in our own prayers. Worship:
Hymn to the Lord Who dwells in Zion,
tell among the peoples his deeds.
For the Requiter of blood recalled them,
He forgot not the cry of the lowly.” (12, 13)

Note that as always, God cares most for the powerless.

Supplication follows:
Grant me grace, O Lord,
see my torment by my foes,
You Who raise me from the gates of death.” (14)

Then thanksgiving:
So that I may tell all Your praise
in the gates of the daughter of Zion.
Let me exult in Your rescue.” (15)

At this point, our psalmist veers off into observations contrasting God’s justice with the fate of the wicked persons and nations, observing correctly, in my opinion, that their downfall is inevitably of their own making:
The nations sank down in the trap that they made,
in the snare that they made their foot was caught.” (16)

By his own handiwork was the wicked ensnared.” (17)

What stands out to me at this point in our own history at this point is the simple phrase,
The wicked will turn back to Sheol,
all the nations forgetful of God.

Which of course is exactly what is happening in the here and now. As always, the cause of this is overweening pride as individuals and collectively as a nation—all of which will eventually come to God’s negative judgement:
Arise, O Lord, let not man flaunt his strength,
let nations be judged in Your presence.

Men and nations fall because we are mortal and flawed. The lesson here is as the psalmist suggests in the last line: it would be good if we remembered our own weaknesses rather than trying to pretend we are better than God—or worse, that we do not need God:
O Lord, put fear upon them
let the nations know they are mortal.
” (21)

1 Chronicles 11:4–47: We tend to forget that before David, Jerusalem was held by the Jebusites and not Israel. Our authors recount David’s clever ploy to take the city, offering that “Whoever attacks the Jebusites first shall be chief and commander.” (6) Joab takes David up on the offer and becomes chief of the army. David moves into the stronghold of the city and builds its wall. As our authors do so often, they point out that David’s success arises for exactly one reason: “David became greater and greater, for the Lord of hosts was with him.” (9)

David’s chiefs also get their historical due as the authors title the next section, “This is an account of David’s mighty warriors:” (11) The passage highlight the exploits of Jashobeam, who kills 300 men at one time; and Eleazar (son of—wait for it—Dodo), who with David, saves a plot of barley from the pillaging Philistines.

Other adventures are recounted as well, including the reconquest of Bethlehem, whose well water the warriors bring to David, doubtless remembering that it was his hometown. “But David would not drink of it; he poured it out to the Lord, and said, “My God forbid that I should do this. Can I drink the blood of these men? For at the risk of their lives they brought it.” (18, 19) David never forgot the sacrifices that his men had made.

Other exploits are followed, as we might expect in this book, by a lengthy list of names of the warriors. (26-47) Once again, naming the names is crucial for this is how these men have been remembered down through the generations. The names also remind us that Israel’s history is not myth but that these were real people who acted in real history.

The act of naming—from Adam’s original duty in the Garden down to this book—is a central organizational principle in the Bible. That’s why God knows us by name. We are each unique individuals occurring only once in all of history. We are assured through Jesus that God will remember us as well.

Acts 12:6–19: In one of the most famous events in the book of Acts, Peter languishes in prison, doubtless awaiting his execution. But, “Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his wrists.” (7) The angel tells Peter to get dressed and to follow him out of the prison. Peter, rather understandably, thinks this is all a dream and “did not realize that what was happening with the angel’s help was real.” (9) Only when the doors open of their own accord and Peter is standing outside in the night air after the angel vanishes does he realize “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” (11)

Peter rushes to Mary’s house, knocks on the gate, and “a maid named Rhoda came to answer” (13) Rhoda recognizes Peter but is so overjoyed that she neglects to admit him and “ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate.” (14) Needless to say, everyone is pretty skeptical about Rhoda’s announcement. In an almost comical scene, Peter keeps knocking until someone else finally comes and opens the gate and in the excitement of seeing Peter, things become quite loud. He motions with his hand for silence and relates the story of what happened. Telling them to get word to James, Peter departs for “another place“—doubtless a smart move since the authorities would probably look for him at Mary’s house.

This lovely story has a serious downside: the guards who were with Peter pay for the angelic intervention and Peter’s escape with their lives. This certainly demonstrates Herod’s innate cruelty, but it also reminds us that when God intervenes there is not necessarily a happy ending for everyone. We may wonder why the angel didn’t help the guards escape. But I suggest that if that had happened, Peter’s release would have become even more mythic and unbelievable. For me, the death of the guards substantiates the event’s historicity.

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