Psalm 10:1–11; 1 Chronicles 12; Acts 12:20–13:7

Originally published 1/14/2015. Revised and updated 1/14/2019.

Psalm 10:1–11: Our translator, Robert Alter, tells us that like the preceding psalm, the received text for this one appears to have been damaged. Consequently, the meaning of the original Hebrew in many verses is unclear. Nevertheless, the overall theme seems clear: it is a wonderful description of the wicked and their schemes, which ultimately lead to their downfall:
In the wicked man’s pride he pursues the poor,
but is caught in the schemes he devised. (2)

The root cause of this wickedness is obvious:
‘There is no God’ is all his schemes. (4b)

And as usual, pride—the conviction that he is the one in control—is at the bottom of the wicked man’s overweening (and misplaced!) confidence:
He said in his heart, ‘I will not stumble, 
for all time I will not come to harm.‘ (6)

At his root, he is a con man:
His mouth is full of oaths,
beneath his tongue are guile and deceit,
mischief and misdeed. (7)

Worst of all, this con man preys on the innocent and the poor:
He waits in ambush in a sheltered place,
from a covert he kills the blameless,
for the wretched his eyes look out.
He lies in wait in a covert like a lion in his lair,
lies in wait to snatch up the poor,
snatch the poor as he pulls with his net. (8, 9)

And alas, it is the lowly [who] bow down,/ and the wretched fall into his traps. (10)

Is there a greater evil than what we see around us today where financial cons designed to prey on the insecure and elderly rob them of both wealth and dignity? Yet, right here in the psalms is a perfect description of those evil men; the kind of evildoers who have been with us for three millennia.

1 Chronicles 12: Once again, where the author of Samuel focuses on the plot and motivations of Saul in his pursuit of David, our Chronicler focuses on—and carefully names—the men who surrounded David and fought with him. Our author wants us to understand that David is not a superman but grew in strength because of the warriors who came to join his side.

We see how the original core of named warriors (vss 2-7) is augmented by the arrival of some Gadites, who are “mighty and experienced warriors, expert with shield and spear, whose faces were like the faces of lions, and who were swift as gazelles on the mountains.” (8). These men are  also named. Then, “Some Benjaminites and Judahites came to the stronghold to David.” (16). David warns them “if you have come to betray me to my adversaries, though my hands have done no wrong, then may the God of our ancestors see and give judgment.” (17b)  But “the spirit came upon Amasi, chief of the Thirty” and states the theme of this movement to David’s side, “For your God is the one who helps you.” (18). This culminates in “people kept coming to David to help him, until there was a great army, like an army of God.” (22)

Then, since at heart he is a list-maker, our author lists the “numbers and divisions of the armed troops who came to David in Hebron to turn the kingdom of Saul over to him, according to the word of the Lord.” (23).  Here in Chronicles, we get a much richer picture of the shift of loyalty from Saul to David by the most powerful men in the country. These numbers of named soldiers undergirds the inevitability to David’s triumph over Saul as the Chronicler ends the story by saying “there was joy in Israel.” (40)

I like how we see the detailed politics and sheer strength that aligns with David–it gives us a sense that David is not some magic king, but a real man to whom major portions of the nation give their allegiance. Yes, God is on David’s side because he is a man of God, but it takes real people with real loyalty and skill to bring David to the throne.

Acts 12:20–13:7: Even after Herod’s disappointment with Peter, the king believes the apostle is basically a god. For reasons Luke doesn’t spell out, “Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon,” (12:20) who come begging for food.  They appeal to his vanity by “shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a mortal!””  (12:22) Herod apparently believes his own press releases and for a variety of reasons, I suppose, he meets a fairly dreadful end, “an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.” (12:23).  Herod’s death removes a major political obstacle out of the way for the early church. and “the word of God continued to advance and gain adherents.” (12:24).

We see that Antioch was a vital part of the early church as Luke names some of its more prominent prophets and teachers. The Holy Spirit intervenes in the proceedings and tells them (I presume through the prophets) to “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (13:2). Luke makes it clear that Saul and Barnabas did not just wake up one morning and decide to be missionaries. They have been called by the Holy Spirit as the community dispatches them to carry the Good News far and wide.

Which is why we must still listen for the call of the Holy Spirit. Even though we may think we have certain talents which will serve the church well, in the end it is the Holy Spirit that decides. Which is also why we need to listen carefully for the voice of God and be able to discern that call.

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