Psalm 18:31–37; 2 Chronicles 1,2; Acts 17:29–18:7

Originally published 2/1/2017. Revised and updated 1/31/2019.

Psalm 18:31–37: Our psalmist finally asks the all-important question that every person on a serious spiritual journey must ask at some point during his or her lifetime:
For who is god except the Lord,
and who is the Rock except our God?
 (32)

We are surrounded by so many things that can too easily become our small-g gods: power, wealth, social acceptance; the list is endless. But if we do not ask this all-important question and then answer as the psalmist has, that there is only God alone, then we have doubtless succumbed to following a different small-g god.  In the same way that Luther realized that in some ways we must be baptized daily, I think we must ask—and answer— this question about who is our God on a daily basis.

Our psalmist answers his rhetorical question by reflecting on how God has so positively impacted his life:
The God who girds me with might
and keeps my way blameless,
makes my legs like a gazelle’s,
and stands me on the heights,
trains my hands for combat,
and makes my arms bends a bow of bronze. (33-35)

God is the source of David’s physical strength, his impressive skills, and his spiritual well-being. God has given him physical might and he can run like a gazelle. God provides him with the motivation to train for battle and the ability to shoot with a heavy bow. It’s the same for us: God gives us strength for the day and the desire to never stop learning new things. Above all, my desire for delving into scripture comes not from some inner motivation but it is a gift from God.

David says it best as he acknowledges that everything he is—his very being—comes from God:
You gave me Your shield of rescue,
Your right hand did sustain me.
 (36)

And while we may not be training for a physical battle, God continues to train us for daily life. Indeed, it is God who has
lengthened my strides beneath me
and my feet did not trip. (37)

Without faith in the one true God—our Rock—we will only trip, stumble and fall, and make a mess of our lives.

2 Chronicles 1,2: This second history book opens with Solomon as king and more importantly, the relationship between God and Solomon. One night, God appears to Solomon and “said to him,Ask what I should give you.” (1:7) Solomon replies, “Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can rule this great people of yours?” (1:10) God is quite pleased at this wise request, and tells the king that because he has “not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life,” (1:11) God will indeed grant him wisdom and knowledge. As a bonus, God will “also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.” (1:12)

The moral of this encounter is clear: besides our very salvation through Jesus Christ, God’s greatest gift, if we but ask for it, is wisdom and knowledge. But it’s wisdom and knowledge that comes from God; it is not generated within ourselves. Only when we are willing to submit our will to God’s do we even have a chance at making it through life with a modicum of wisdom and knowledge.

As they love to do so often, our authors proceed to give us a description of the wealth that comes to Solomon: 1400 chariots and 12,000 horses. A wise leader brings bounty to his subjects and not just to himself. Thus, Solomon “made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah.” (1:15)

Now that Israel itself has become a strong and wealthy nation, Solomon turns his attention to the great project that confronts him: building the temple. Many of the materials required for this great structure must be imported. Solomon establishes an alliance with King Huram of Tyre. He asks that king provide skilled labor, “an artisan skilled to work in gold, silver, bronze, and iron, and in purple, crimson, and blue fabrics, trained also in engraving, to join the skilled workers who are with me in Judah and Jerusalem.” (2:7) He then asks to import materials—”cedar, cypress, and algum timber from Lebanon” (2:8)—along with the skilled labor to work the timber. Solomon entices this labor to Israel with an attractive reward: “I will provide for your servants, those who cut the timber, twenty thousand cors of crushed wheat, twenty thousand cors of barley, twenty thousand baths of wine, and twenty thousand baths of oil.” (2:10)

The king of Tyre agrees to the deal and effusively praises the “God of Israel, who made heaven and earth, who has given King David a wise son, endowed with discretion and understanding, who will build a temple for the Lord, and a royal palace for himself.” (2:12) Not to be cynical but one suspects the King of Tyre did well financially in this trade deal with Solomon.

Then Solomon takes a census. Uh, Oh. But avoiding his father’s grievous error, Solomon doesn’t count the citizens of Israel, who belong to God, and bring God’s wrath down on his head. Rather, he counts but the resident aliens. There are 153,600 of them. 70,000 laborers, 80,000 stone cutters and 3600 overseers “to make the people work.” (2:18) With the mention of “overseers” we’re left with the impression that not all the labor that will be building the temple was voluntary…

Acts 17:29–18:7: Paul continues his sermon on the Areopagus. He takes the interesting angle that historically, God has been overlooking “the times of human ignorance.” (30) He goes on to tell his listeners that they need to repent “because [God] has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (31).

To the Athenian philosophers, everything has probably seemed an interesting new idea, but then when Paul mentions resurrection from the dead he loses much of his audience. According to the received philosophical wisdom in Greece, people don’t rise from the dead, so to their ears this Paul is speaking foolishness.

I think Paul’s experience in Athens must be what led him to write in the opening chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians that God’s wisdom will seem like foolishness to human ears.

On balance, Paul’s time in Athens did not yield the fruit of many believers that he had seen in other places. Athens was the New York or the Bay Area of the day—far too blase’ and sophisticated to give much credence to what this bumpkin from Tarsus had to say. As Jesus made all too clear, the Good News will often fall on rocky soil.

Paul heads south to Corinth and meets up with Aquila and his wife Priscilla, also newly arrived at Corinth “because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome.” (18:2) Happily, Paul and Aquila share the same tent making trade, so Paul basically moves in with them.

Silas and Timothy rendezvous with Paul  in Corinth and find him in the synagogue “proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus.” (18:5) However, the Jews of Corinth “opposed and reviled him,” and Paul leaves the synagogue. We can almost see him walking out, turning his head over his shoulder and shouting, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” (6) And Paul heads next door to the house of a Gentile, a Titus Justus, whose eponymous book we will come to later in the New Testament.

It is truly one of the tragedies of the early church—and the church today— that Jews could not be persuaded that Jesus was the Messiah. But in abandoning the Jews for the Gentiles, Paul’s impact on the world became immeasurably greater.

 

 

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