Archives for February 2019

Psalm 28; 2 Chronicles 29:20–30:27; Acts 24:17–27

Originally published 2/22/2017. Revised and updated 2/21/2019.

Psalm 28: This David psalm of supplication gets right to the point:
To You, O Lord, I call.
My rock, do not be deaf to me.
 (1a)

Our psalmist’s logic is that if God cannot hear his supplication, God will not speak and he might as well be dead:
Lest You be mute to me
and I be like those gone down to the Pit
. (1b)

After he repeats his plea for God to hear him, he confesses that rather than being on the mountain with God, his deepest fear would be to be trapped among conniving evildoers steeped in falsehoods:
Do not pull me down with the wicked,
and with the wrongdoers,
who speak peace to their fellows
with foulness in their heart. (3)

Now we arrive at the heart of the prayer, which is for the evildoers to receive their comeuppance as the psalmist asks God to provide retribution on his behalf:
Pay them back for their acts
and for the evil of their schemings.
Their handiwork give them back in kind.
Pay back what is coming to them. (4)

Of course the eternal question this type of retributive prayer raises is, are we to pray for evil to come upon those who have wronged us, or more generally, those who have wronged their fellow man? Overturning centuries of tradition, Jesus makes it clear that we are to pray for our enemies but not for their destruction.

But as for our psalmist, God’s punishment is the only logical possibility because evildoers are oblivious to God’s creative action in the world:
For they understand not the acts of the Lord
and His handwork they would destroy and not build
. (5)

Well, here we have it. Count among evildoers those who would desecrate the earth; those who destroy rather than build. In short, we are to be stewards, not destroyers of the earth. Civilization seems never to have learned that lesson. Although today there is certainly a growing awareness that we have injured the planet to the extent of possibly creating the demise—or at least diminution—of the human race itself.

Nevertheless, the psalm concludes on the optimistic note that God has indeed “heard the sound of my pleading.” (6) God is assuredly not deaf. In fact, the psalmist exclaims, “The Lord is my strength and my shield. In Him my heart trusts.” (7a)

As a result of God’s action, our psalmist responds as always, in worship:
I was helped and my heart rejoiced,
and with my song I acclaim Him.
 (7b)

And he speaking as if from David’s kingly position, he asks that God’s blessing is to be extended to all people in his kingdom:
Rescue Your people 
and bless Your estate.
Tend them, bear them up for all time.

What a tremendous promise. And we know that through Jesus Christ God indeed bears us up for all time.

2 Chronicles 29:20–30:27: With the temple restored and re-sanctified, Hezekiah “rose early, assembled the officials of the city, and went up to the house of the Lord.” (29:20) There, the assembly commences an immense ritual of sacrifice “For the king commanded that the burnt offering and the sin offering should be made for all Israel.” (29:24)  There is music and worship: “the whole assembly worshiped, the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded; all this continued until the burnt offering was finished.” (29:28)

In fact, there are so many sacrifices, that the priests cannot complete the task themselves as not enough priests have been sanctified. So they call in Levites to help. We can tell where our authors’ loyalties lay—they were obviously Levites themselves—when they editorialize that “the Levites were more conscientious than the priests in sanctifying themselves.” (28:34)

Hezekiah is so inspired by the restoration of the temple that he invites the northern kingdom, Israel, to join the party. He sends couriers throughout Israel “with letters from the king and his officials, as the king had commanded, saying, “O people of Israel, return to the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, so that he may turn again to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria.” (30:6) But the couriers mainly encounter derision in Israel. “Only a few from Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem.” (30:11).

Many of those from Israel who came had no knowledge of the Levitical laws and “had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the passover otherwise than as prescribed.” (30:18) Hezekiah understands their ignorance and rather than punishing them for breaking the rules, prays to God, The good Lord pardon all who set their hearts to seek God, the Lord the God of their ancestors, even though not in accordance with the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.” (30:19) And as our psalmist today wished, God heard Hezekiah and “healed the people.” 

Because they have followed God and invited their enemies to join them in the great Passover, “There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the time of Solomon son of King David of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem.” (30:26)

We tend to think of the Old Covenant as being strictly black and white rule following. Yet here we see a sublime example of generosity of Judah toward its sworn enemy to the north. God’s grace. Grace is not a New Testament invention. And what Jesus said about loving one’s enemies turns out not to be so radical after all.

Acts 24:17–27:  Paul accurately describes the events at the temple, telling Felix that “they found me in the temple, completing the rite of purification, without any crowd or disturbance.” (18) He tells Felix that his accusers were Jews from Asia and makes the rather valid point that “they ought to be here before you to make an accusation, if they have anything against me.” (19) As for the Jewish accusers who are present in court, Paul says, the only feasible accusation against him is theological not judicial, specifically, “the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.’” (21)

Luke tells us that Felix is already pretty well informed about “the Way.” The procurator adjourns court, stating that he awaits the arrival of Lysias the tribune (at last: his name!) to provide further testimony.

A few days later, Felix sends for Paul “and heard him speak concerning faith in Christ Jesus.” (24) Paul is obviously a convincing speaker and “as [Paul] discussed justice, self-control, and the coming judgment, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present; when I have an opportunity, I will send for you.” (25)

But something more sinister than  a disputation about theology is afoot with Felix. He sends for Paul repeatedly, hoping that Paul will offer the procurator a bribe in order to gain his freedom. This goes on for two years(!) Portus Festus succeeds Felix and “since he wanted to grant the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.” (27) Alas, in the end Felix is merely a petty and corrupt bureaucrat.

In the story of Paul’s ersatz trial in Caesarea, we learn that the Jewish hierarchy and the Roman system of justice are both corrupt at their heart. Paul obviously knows this. We are beginning to suspect that Paul has a greater purpose in mind.

Psalm 27:7–14; 2 Chronicles 28:9–29:19; Acts 24:4–16

Originally published 2/21/2017. Revised and updated 2/20/2019.

Psalm 27:7–14: Up to this point, our psalmist seems completely confident in his trust in God. But, being human, a scintilla of doubt remains as our poet moves into full supplication mode:
Hear, O Lord, my voice when I call,
and grant me grace and answer me.” (7)

and

Your face, Lord, do I seek.
do not hide Your face from me,
do not turn Your servant away in wrath. (8b, 9)

The lesson here for me is that even with the most profound trust in a God who loves us we will always experience pangs of feeling abandoned by God. Like a young child in bed in a darkened room crying out for his parents, we will still cry out even though deep down we know that God is standing by us—and that like our parents, he loves us deeply.

So, we can cry out with the psalmist as he once again is trusts that God is indeed at his side:
If I but trust to see the Lord’s goodness,
in the land of the loving—
Hope for the Lord!
Let your heart be firm and bold,
and hope for the Lord. (13, 14)

This is among my favorite psalms because it deals with those moments of doubt about God’s presence and benevolence that I believe come to any believer during his journey with Jesus and God. IMHO, anyone who claims a complete unalterable confidence in God that never wavers without those doubts arising—especially in times of trouble— is failing to understand what the Creator/Creature relationship is really all about.

2 Chronicles 28:9–29:19: Because of the apostasy of Judah under Ahaz, Judah has been soundly defeated in battle by Israel. It would appear that the kingdom of Judah will soon be history. However, a prophet named Oded meets the returning Samaritan army and points out that they have defeated Judah because “the Lord, the God of your ancestors, was angry with Judah, he gave them into your hand, but you have killed them in a rage that has reached up to heaven.” (28:10) He warns them to send the captives back to Judah “for the fierce wrath of the Lord is upon you.” (28:11)

In addition to Oded’s warning, several Ephramite chiefs “stood up against those who were coming from the war,” (12) and warn the others that “You shall not bring the captives in here, for you propose to bring on us guilt against the Lord in addition to our present sins and guilt. For our guilt is already great, and there is fierce wrath against Israel.” (28:13) This proves that even in the most evil empire there are still men of good will who follow God and wish to hew to the Covenant. They are the few that “get it.”

Their persuasion was apparently successful and the Ephramites “took the captives, and with the booty they clothed all that were naked among them; they clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, and anointed them; and carrying all the feeble among them on donkeys, they brought them to their kindred at Jericho, the city of palm trees.” (15) I have to believe that Jesus had exactly this event in mind when he told the story of the good Samaritan because these men were indeed good Samaritans. I wonder of any in Jesus’ audience remembered this historical incident when he told the story? Certainly the Pharisees should have recalled it.

Ahaz and Judah are saved by the grace of God, but unlike the Ephramites, Ahaz still doesn’t get it. He attempts to establish an alliance with the king of Assyria. But still faithless, Ahaz brings only disaster on Judah as “King Tilgath-pilneser of Assyria came against him, and oppressed him instead of strengthening him.” (28:20) But Ahaz continues to persist in his willful stupidity against God. and he turns now to the small-g gods of Aram. He closes the temple at Jerusalem and “made himself altars in every corner of Jerusalem.” (28:24) Judah is certainly at its lowest point by this time. He finally dies. It’s difficult to imagine any other king of Judah who tested God’s restraint and the promise of an “everlasting kingdom” that he had made to David more than Ahaz. The corrupt king finally dies and our authors observe that “but they did not bring him into the tombs of the kings of Israel.” (28:27)

Ahaz’s son, Hezekiah, whose mother was a daughter of Zechariah, ascends the throne of Judah. His first act in the first month of his reign is to reopen and repair the temple doors and restore the Levitical priesthood to its rightful place. Unlike his predecessor, Hezekiah “gets it” and tells the people that because of their apostasy, “the wrath of the Lord came upon Judah and Jerusalem, and he has made them an object of horror, of astonishment, and of hissing, as you see with your own eyes.” (29:8)

Hezekiah vows to “make a covenant with the Lord, the God of Israel, so that his fierce anger may turn away from us.” (29:10) The priests tend to the Herculean task of cleaning out the temple. They dispose of the “unclean things” by tossing the garbage into the Kidron valley—the same place where hundreds of years later Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane. This task takes eight days and another eight days to once again sanctify the temple. Things are finally looking up in Judah.

Acts 24:4–16: The Jewish lawyer, “a certain Tertullus” gives his fawning opening statement about how grateful the Jews are to live under the benevolent dictatorship of the Romans. Uh huh. Right. I’m pretty sure Felix saw through that one.

Tertullus casts Paul as a rabble-rouser of the first order—”We have, in fact, found this man a pestilent fellow.” (5a) Worse, as “an agitator among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” (5) Then, Tertullus accuses Paul of trying to profane the temple—a blatant lie, but a serious charge. The Jews who are with Tertullus bear false witness and “also joined in the charge by asserting that all this was true.” (9)

Paul, acting as his own defense counsel, stands up and speaks, asserting that if Felix cares to investigate, he would find that he only appeared in Jerusalem to worship at the temple a mere twelve days ago. Moreover, Paul asserts, “They did not find me disputing with anyone in the temple or stirring up a crowd either in the synagogues or throughout the city.” (12) and that the Jewish charge cannot be proved.

However, when it comes to matters of theology, Paul does admit “that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our ancestors, believing everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets.” (14) He then explains that he has “a hope in God—a hope that they themselves also accept—that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” (15) This is an excellent reminder to the Jews who are present—and to us— that far from being heretical, Paul in fact has exactly the same theological views they do—if they were willing to admit it, which I suspect they will not.

Having heard both sides, what will Felix decide?

Psalm 27:1-6; 2 Chronicles 26:16-28:8; Acts 23:25–24:3

Originally published 2/20/2017. Revised and updated 2/19/2019.

Psalm 27: This psalm opens with among the most encouraging—and most famous—verse in the Psalms:
The Lord is my light and my rescue.
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is my life’s stronghold.
Of whom shall I be afraid? (1)

Once again using the 2-line/ 2-line verse structure of repeating the same thought but using different words in the second verse (this is the essence Hebrew poetry), our psalmist tells us once again that no matter how powerful the enemy he will remain protected by God because he trusts in God:
Though a camp is marshalled against me,
my heart shall not fear.
Though battle is roused against me,
nonetheless do I trust. (3)

If we really took these verses to heart just think of how different our lives would be. Think of the peace we’d enjoy if we lived in complete assurance that God protects us and that we do not have to fight our enemies on our own. But I always seem to want to conduct the fight on my own. It’s all about control in the end, isn’t it?

Having established his trust in God and belief that he resides under God’s benevolent protection, the poet asks that he be granted respite from his enemies in order to worship God for the remainder of his life:
One thing do I ask of the Lord,
it is this that I seek—
that I dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life
to behold the Lord’s sweetness
and to gaze on His palace. (4)

But in the meantime before that much longed-for day arrives, our psalmist finds himself in the midst of battle surrounded by enemies. Nevertheless, his confidence in relying on God remains strong :
For He hides me in His shelter,
on the day of evil.
He conceals me in the recess of His tent,
of a rock He raises me up. (5)

The alternating verses that praise God’s protection and then anticipate a future of peaceful worship continue as we read again of his desire to be at peace so he can worship God:
Let me offer in His tent
sacrifices with joyous shouts.
Let me sing and hymn to the Lord. (6)

For me, this is a psalm to return to again and again when I forget God’s faithfulness and my doubts seem to make more sense than faith.

2 Chronicles 26:16-28:8: Uzziah is feeling his kingly oats and believes he is fully qualified to offer sacrifices in the temple by himself. 80 priests restrain him from committing this sacrilege, pointing out that “It is not for you, Uzziah, to make offering to the Lord, but for the priests the descendants of Aaron.” (26:18) This makes Uzziah angry but God moves fast and causes him to become leprous. Unfortunately for him, it appears very publicly on his forehead. As a result, “Uzziah was leprous[c] to the day of his death, and being leprous lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the Lord.” (26:21)

Of course the root sin here is pride. Uzziah believed he was such an excellent God-follower that God would automatically grant him the ability to do whatever he pleased since it was about religious observance. We often see the same pride in churches where someone believes they’re uniquely qualified to be God’s direct intercessory. And we encounter those same folks today—whence the term “holier than thou.”

At the age of 25, Uzziah’s son, Jotham, becomes king. Happily, “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord just as his father Uzziah had done.” As if to remind us of the consequences of Uzziah’s pride, our authors slyly append the comment, “—only he did not invade the temple of the Lord.” (27:2) Jotham reigns for 16 years and “built cities in the hill country of Judah, and forts and towers on the wooded hills.” (27:4) He also defeats the Ammonites in battle, who are forced to pay heavy reparations. The people of Judah must have been happy under Jotham to spared the usual leadership drama for 16 years.

Jotham’s son Ahaz ascends the throne and like so many sons of powerful people is a complete ne’re-do-well: “He did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord, as his ancestor David had done, but he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel.” (1,2) Worse, he erects Baal idols and abuses his children and, “made his sons pass through fire, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.” (3)

We can hear the resigned sighs in their voices as our authors point out that God’s punishment of Ahaz was inevitable: “Therefore the Lord his God gave him into the hand of the king of Aram, who defeated him and took captive a great number of his people and brought them to Damascus.” (27:5)

Later, Ahaz is defeated by Israel and “the people of Israel took captive two hundred thousand of their kin, women, sons, and daughters; they also took much booty from them and brought the booty to Samaria.” (8) As always, the moral of the story is all too crystal clear. When leadership fails, those who are led also fail. This is a lesson that I think is fully on display in our present age.

Acts 23:25-24:3: Paul barely escapes with his life as the tribune sends him off to Caesarea accompanied by a letter from the tribune, which explains that the Jews accused him of heresy. However, upon examination, and noting that Paul was a Roman citizen, the tribune writes, “I found that he was accused concerning questions of their law, but was charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment.” (23:29) In other words, as far as the tribune is concerned, Paul is innocent, but the Jews nonetheless deserve a hearing, as he tells Felix, the procurator, that “I sent [Paul] to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they have against him.” (23:30)

Five days later, “the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and an attorney, a certain Tertullus, and they reported their case against Paul to the governor.” (24:1) Ah, a lawyer. Now we know there will be problems for Paul, who will naturally insist on defending himself without counsel.

As is their wont, the attorney begins his opening statement by flattering Felix: “because of you we have long enjoyed peace, and reforms have been made for this people because of your foresight.” (24:2) I think we can figure out where this is going…

Psalm 26; 2 Chronicles 25:5–26:15; Acts 23:12–24

Originally published 2/18/2017. Revised and updated 2/18/2019.

Psalm 26: Our psalmist proclaims his loyalty to God and is confident enough in that trust to tell God to test him:
…And the Lord I have trusted.
I shall not stumble.
Test me, O Lord, and try me.
Burn pure conscience and my heart. (1b, 2)

I’m pretty sure I’ve never had the nerve to pray to God to test me since the tests seem to come frequently enough as it is. Are they all from God? I really don’t think so.

But our psalmist asserts that he has walked in God’s truth and avoided, as the Catholics put it, ‘occasions of sin:’
I have not sat with lying folk
nor with furtive men have dealt.
I despised the assembly of evildoers,
nor with the wicked I have sat. (4,5)

Therefore, ritually and morally clean, he sees that he is eligible to worship God at the temple as he provides a detailed picture of what temple worship must have looked like:
Let me wash my palms in cleanness
and go round Your altar, Lord,
to utter aloud a thanksgiving
and to recount all Your wonders.
Lord, I love the abode of Your house
and the place where Your glory dwells. (6,7,8)

This psalm reminds us of what it was like to be a God-follower before grace came to us via Jesus Christ. It’s endlessly—and unending— difficult work. Of course simply because we live under the terms of grace we also need to remember what Paul said about not sinning so that “grace abounds.” It’s worth following the path the psalmist has even as we know we do not have to earn God’s grace.

The final part of this psalm is a prayer of supplication, and specifically that God enables him to avoid the temptations offered by the evil men all around him:
Do not take my life’s breath with offenders
nor with blood-guilty men my life,
in whose hands there are plots,
their right hand full of bribes. (9,10)

No, our psalmist asserts, that will not happen because “I shall walk in my wholeness./ Redeem me, grant me grace.” (11) In the end, he will receive God’s grace because he continues to follow the law and tells us that “My foot stands on level ground.” (12) The question for us, of course, is are we walking on the level ground of righteousness or allowing the temptations all around cause us to fall into the metaphorical pit?

2 Chronicles 25:5–26:15: King Amaziah of Judah plans to go to war against the Edomites. He assembles an army of 300,00o Judeans and then plans to hire an additional 100,000 men from Israel. However, a prophet warns the king against the mercenaries, because “the Lord is not with Israel.” (25:7) and this would pollute the entire enterprise.

It’s worth noting here that the authors of Chronicles are focused on—and rooting for—Judah. Unlike the authors of I & II Kings, these authors have written Israel off as a hopeless case except when it’s a useful foil for events in Judah—or to contrast Judah’s righteousness against Israel’s evil. It’s certainly easy to see why the Samaritans—the descendants of Israel—were so despised in Jesus’ time.

Amaziah follows the prophet’s advice and “discharged the army that had come to him from Ephraim, letting them go home again.” (25:10) However, having lost the opportunity to collect a lot of booty, the army from Israel departs in anger.

Nevertheless, Amaziah “took courage” and leads the army in a victorious battle over Edom where they kill 10,000 men from Seir, tosses another 10,000 off a cliff and kills an additional 300,000 Edomites.

But then Amaziah screws up and “he brought the gods of the people of Seir, set them up as his gods, and worshiped them, making offerings to them.” (25:14) A prophet tells Amaziah who rather logically asks, “Why have you resorted to a people’s gods who could not deliver their own people from your hand?” (25:15) Amaziah angrily dismisses the prophet doubtless because he knew the prophet was right.

Of course there are grim consequences arising from that rashness. King Joash of Israel wants to set up an alliance with Judah via a royal marriage. Amaziah refuses as our authors note that Joash’s offer “was God’s doing, in order to hand them over, because they had sought the gods of Edom.” (25:20) So Joash, obviously God’s pawn to demonstrate the folly of Judah’s and its king’s ways invades and defeats Judah and pillages the temple.

Once again, our authors remind their readers with this story: do not under any circumstances worship anyone but God. Or the consequences will be dire.

Sixteen year old Uzziah takes over as king after his father, Amaziah, dies. He reigns for 52 years and happily, “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done.” (26:4) Uzziah is positively influenced by the prophet Zechariah, whose eponymous book we will read later this year.

Because he follows God, Uzziah is militarily successful and fortifies the cities of Judah. Uzziah becomes the strongest king since Solomon as he rebuilds the wealth and power of Judah. His army is impressively large: 2600 officers and 375,000 soldiers.

He also trusts engineers—I like that!—and employs the latest defensive technology and in “Jerusalem he set up machines, invented by skilled workers, on the towers and the corners for shooting arrows and large stones.” (26:15)

So far, so good for Uzziah as “his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped until he became strong.” (26:15) The message from our authors is consistent: Follow God and good things happen. Abandon God and the consequences are grim.

Acts 23:12–24: Speaking of consequences. Paul’s Spirit-led decision to return to Jerusalem has proven even grimmer than I think he imagined. I’ve always wondered if Paul felt that his oratorical powers were so powerful that he became over-confident in his ability to influence any audience, even hostile Jews.

However, the Jews were having none of Paul, and  “in the morning the Jews joined in a conspiracy and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink until they had killed Paul.” (12) They are so angry they vow to fast until they have killed this heretical thorn in their sides. They ask the tribune to send Paul back to the temple on the pretext of further theological discussions.

However, Paul’s nephew (and why doesn’t he even rate being identified by name for his courage here?) hears of the plot and warns Paul, who sends him to the tribune. The nephew warns the tribune about the plot that “more than forty of their men are lying in ambush for him.” (21) Upon hearing this news, “the tribune dismissed the young man, ordering him, “Tell no one that you have informed me of this.” (22)

The tribune (and why doesn’t Luke give us his name, as well?), who has respect for Paul the Roman citizen, and more importantly doubtless wishes to avoid riots and turmoil in Jerusalem, assembles a cohort of “two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen” (23), provides Paul a horse, and they all depart Jerusalem under cover of darkness (9:00 p.m.) and head to Caesarea and to Paul’s famous meeting with Felix the governor.

One of the things that I take away from this is that even though Paul felt led by the Holy Spirit to return to Jerusalem, at this point it does not appear to have been a wise course. Of course we know how the story turns out. Had Paul not gone to Jerusalem, he would never have ended up a prisoner in Rome and written all those epistles. This is a reminder that God often works good ends out of bad circumstances. I certainly feel that my experience with cancer has had similar salutary consequences.

 

 

Psalm 25:8–22; 2 Chronicles 24:1–25:4; Acts 22:30–23:11

Originally published 2/17/2015. Revised and updated 2/16/2019.

Psalm 25:8–22: Alter informs us that this psalm is one of the nine alphabetical acrostics in the Psalms, where the first word of the line is a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. He suggests that this may have been a way for singers and speakers to remember their lines. Psalm 119 is of course the most famous of these.

This psalm reminds one of 119 because many  of the same themes occur here. A major one is how God guides us in his ways:
All the Lord’s paths are kindness and truth. (10) and
Whoever the man who fears the Lord,
He will guide him in the way he would choose.(12)

Oddly, sandwiched between these rather anodyne verses is a plea for God’s forgiveness—almost as if the psalmist’s inner conscience cannot be silenced amidst the formulaic statements that surround it:
For the sake of Your name, O Lord,
May You forgive my crime, which is great. (11)

Of course, for the man who does in fact follow God, there is reward, especially the most valuable earthy reward if all,progeny:
His life will repose in bounty,
and his seed inherit the earth. (13)

Then comes the familiar idea of a contract between God and the man who follows God’s path:
The Lord’s counsel is for those who fear him,
and His pact He makes known to them. (14)

But the cover of scholarly equanimity cannot last. The last few verses veer from formula and evolve into a psalm of supplication for a man who in a dire situation:
The distress of my heart has grown great. 
From my straits bring me out.
See my affliction and suffering
and forgive all my offenses. (17, 18)

His distress appears to arise from a well-know place:
…my enemies who are many
and with outrageous hatred despise me. (19)

Which is why the psalmist (and we) pray to God to save us and preserve us:
Guard my life and save me. 
…for I shelter in You
…for in You do I hope.
” (20, 21)

I prefer this psalm to 119 not only because it is shorter, but it behind the abstractions of paths and pacts it reveals the heart of a man in trouble, praying to God and resting all his hope on him. There is a visible transition from the head to the heart, which makes the psalm—and the psalmist—feel far more authentic.

2 Chronicles 24:1–25:4: Joash was only seven when he began his 40-year reign. And the Chronicler lets us know right at verse 2, “Joash did what was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of the priest Jehoiada.” Joash’s big project is the restoration of the temple. When it appears things are not going quickly enough, Joash decides to speed things up with a temple tax, collected in a big chest at the entrance to the temple. It becomes a roaring success; God is worshipped and things go well—but only as long as Jehoiada, Joash’s priest-counselor remains alive. But the priest, who is obviously influencing Judah’s and Joash’s actions, dies at the ripe old age of 130.

Almost immediately, Judah “abandoned the house of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and served the sacred poles and the idols.” (24:18). Things go rapidly downhill. The prophet Zechariah, Jehoiada’s son announces, “Thus says God: Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has also forsaken you.” (20) For delivering the bad news, Zechariah is stoned to death, but “he was dying, he said, “May the Lord see and avenge!” (22).

Which is exactly what happens: Judah is invaded by Aram, which though its army was outnumbered triumphs because “the Lord delivered into their hand a very great army, because they [Judah] had abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors.” (24) Already wounded, followers of Zechariah then kill Joash in bed.

Why does a king with such promise who follows God turn bad? It seems clear that when Jehoiada was alive, Joash followed him, and from the age of seven. But I suspect Joash never developed as a leader. Even though he was king, he was a follower. And after Jehoiada dies, Joash is too easily influenced by darker forces.

Joash’s son, Amaziah, takes the throne, but as the Chronicler observes, “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, yet not with a true heart.” (25:2) This does not bode well for Amaziah’s reign.

Acts 22:30–23:11: The tribune, probably somewhat panicked by finding he had a Roman citizen as prisoner, “wanted to find out what Paul was being accused of by the Jews,” (22:30) He orders the Jewish council to meet and for Paul to “stand before them.” Paul, being Paul, is fearless and while “looking intently at the council he said, “Brothers, up to this day I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God.” (23:1) The priest Ananias orders that Paul be struck on the mouth, apparently for blasphemy. Paul responds, obviously with more than a little anger, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting there to judge me according to the law, and yet in violation of the law you order me to be struck?” (3) Paul apologizes, ““I did not realize, brothers, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a leader of your people.’” (5).

Order is restored and then Paul does something insanely clever. Recognizing that the assembly includes both Pharisees and Sadducees, he tells them he’s a Pharisee and then raises the issue of the resurrection. This creates what we can ironically term as lively dissension between the two groups over this theological issue. The Pharisees side with their man, Paul, arguing “We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” (9) The Sadducees are incensed and once again a riot ensues among these supposedly religious men, and Paul is again rescued by the Roman soldiers.

But then a verse I’ve never noticed before:  “That night the Lord stood near him and said, “Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.” (11) Even though riots have ensued, Luke reminds us that Paul has carried out God’s plan faithfully. He has testified about Jesus in Jerusalem. But it’s clear that like so many who have gone before him—especially Jesus—he is a prophet without honor in his own country. Just as the priest’s ancestors had killed Zechariah, they would kill Paul if they have a chance. But Paul has done the important thing: he has courageously testified. This is what God asks of prophets.

Psalm 25:1–7; 2 Chronicles 21:18–23:21; Acts 22:17–29

Originally published 2/16/2017. Revised and updated 2/15/2019.

Psalm 25:1–7: The first stanza of this psalm provides us an beautiful example of an intimate prayer to God. Even though it’s unlikely that David actually wrote this psalm, its tone is certainly consistent with the king we have come to know—a king who followed God, but was nevertheless a sinner who recognizes his sins:
To You, O Lord, I lift my heart.
My God, in You I trust. Let me not be shamed,
let my enemies not gloat over me. (1b,2)

Shame arises when we recognize that we have sinned and feel we are unworthy—a recognition that seems to occur less and less among public figures in our modern culture. Our psalmist extends this supplication to not be ashamed to everyone who comes to God n prayer:
Yes, let all who hope in You be not shamed.” (3a)

This is an invitation that the psalmist has extended to each of us. But it requires recognizing that we, like David, are sinners. Disrupting this humility, though, David goes on to pray, “Let the treacherous be shamed, empty-handed.” (3b) Of course now as then, the treacherous—the sociopaths among us never seem to know shame.

The tone of the prayer shifts to a more intellectual footing as the psalmist prays to learn—and follow—God’s truth and God’s law:
Your ways, O Lord, inform me,
Your paths, instruct me.
Lead me in Your truth and instruct me… (4,5a)

But above all else, God is where rescue and hope is found:
…for You are the God of my rescue.
In You do I hope every day.” (5b)

That hope arises from memory—ours to be sure, but the psalmist also calls upon God’s own memory, and notes that God has forgiven past sins
Recall Your mercies, O Lord,
and Your kindnesses—they are forever. (6)

At the same time, we see that it is entirely proper to pray for God’s forgiveness, expressed here as God forgetting our previous wrongdoings:
My youth’s offenses and my crimes recall not.
In Your kindness, recall me—You;
for the sake of Your goodness, O Lord. (7)

There are two great themes that come together here: our recognition that we have sinned and God’s forgiveness expressed as God forgetting that we have sinned. But it’s worth noting that while God may forgive and forget our sins, we cannot escape the consequences of our sins.

2 Chronicles 21:18–23:21: King Jehoram dies an agonizing death, whose symptoms sound like colon cancer. But perhaps even worse than death itself is that after a disastrous eight year reign, his subjects were glad to see him go: “He departed with no one’s regret.” (21:20) In fact they deny him the honor of being buried in the tomb of the kings.

Ahaziah is crowned king by the inhabitants of Jerusalem but reigns only one year as “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” (22:4a) He was obviously a morally weak character and “after the death of his father [the followers of Ahab] were his counselors, to his ruin.” (22:4b) Our authors are incredulous at Azahiah’s credulity in following the advice of the Ahab counselors: “He even followed their advice, and went with Jehoram son of King Ahab of Israel to make war against King Hazael of Aram at Ramoth-gilead.” (22:5)

However, it was not the battle that causes Ahaziah’s downfall, rather “it was ordained by God that the downfall of Ahaziah should come about through his going to visit Joram.” (22:7)  There, Jehu kills Ahaziah and as a result there was no successor “able to rule the kingdom.” (22:9)

In this power vacuum, Ahaziah’s mother, Athaliah,  seizes the throne and “set about to destroy all the royal family of the house of Judah.” (22:10) But the Jeroham’s daughter “took Joash son of Ahaziah, and stole him away” (22:11) thus saving one heir from the line of David by hiding him with the priest Jehoiada.

Six years later, “Jehoiada took courage” and gathers the leaders of Judah and “the whole assembly made a covenant with the king in the house of God.” (23:2) I’m sure that they had suffered enough under Athaliah and were only too happy to undertake a palace coup. The assembly crowns Joash as king and they form a continuous guard around Joash since they knew Athaliah would seek to kill him.

Athaliah hears the rejoicing now that Joash has been crowned king and cries,”Treason, Treason.” (23:13) But she has no allies. They seize her but Jehoida instructs the soldiers not to kill her in the temple. Instead, they take her out to a city gate and murder her.

Jehoiada made a covenant between himself and all the people and the king that they should be the Lord’s people.” (23:17) The Baal idols are torn down, Joash is placed on the throne and “all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was quiet after Athaliah had been killed with the sword.” (22:21) Thus, once again an ancestor of David reigns in Judah, but it was certainly a close call.

Acts 22:17–29: Paul continues reciting his autobiography to the Jewish crowd, relating how while he was praying in the temple at Jerusalem, “I fell into a trance and saw Jesus saying to me, ‘Hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’” (17, 18) He then tells the Jewish crowd that Jesus sent him to the Gentiles.

This story enrages the Jewish crowd. They shout, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” (22) Paul is dragged to the Roman barracks and about to be flogged so the tribune could learn the reason for the riot. After they tie him up, ready to be flogged, Paul rather calmly asks, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who is uncondemned?” (25) The centurion carries the news to the tribune, who comes and asks Paul if he’s a Roman citizen. Paul replies that he was born a Roman citizen, (unlike the tribune who had to buy his citizenship).

The fact of Paul’s Roman citizenship causes the tribune to be afraid, “for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.” (29)

But I’ve always wondered: did Paul have documentation showing he was a Roman citizen or was simply verbally asserting Roman citizenship sufficient to prove the fact?

Psalm 24; 2 Chronicles 20:20–21:17; Acts 22:3–16

Originally published 2/15/2017. Revised and updated 2/14/2019.

Psalm 24: As is the case with many others, this psalm opens with a reference to the creation story and also with the clear assertion that all creation belongs to God:
The Lord’s is the earth and its fullness,
The world and the dwellers within it.
 (1)

God began the act of creation in water—which is certainly consistent with where we believe life began:
For He on the seas did found it,
and on the torrents set it firm.
 (2)

Then, in an image that evokes a liturgical procession to the temple, the psalmist poses the question:
Who shall go up on the mount of the Lord,
and who shall stand up in His holy place? (3)

The response is what we would expect:
The clean of hands and the pure of heart,
who has given no oath in lie
and has sworn not in deceit. (4)

Those who seek after God are the ones who,
shall bear blessing from the Lord
and bounty from his rescuing God
. (5)

Notice that it is we who seek and it is God who rescues, which is certainly the underlying structure of psalms of supplication. Arriving at the temple entrance, the crowd exclaims,
Lift up your heads, O gates,
and rise up, eternal portals
That the king of glory may enter. (7)

I have to think that these words were very much on the people’s hearts and minds on Palm Sunday as Jesus entered through the gates of Jerusalem.

The liturgical question—Who is the king of glory?— is answered immediately (and the chorus in Handel’s Messiah comes instantly to mind):
The Lord most potent and valiant
The Lord who is valiant in battle. (8)

The psalm concludes by repeating the magnificent question and its even greater answer:
Who is he, the king of glory?
The Lord of armies, He is the king of glory. (10)

Of course for those of us living under the New Covenant, our answer is even better than that: the King of Glory is Jesus Christ himself.

2 Chronicles 20:20–21:17: Jehoshaphat is a faithful follower of God and he is also an inspiring leader as he encourages the troops before battle, “Listen to me, O Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God and you will be established; believe his prophets.” (20:20) This proclamation is followed by worship. While they are worshipping God, the enemies of Judah, the Ammonites, Moab, and inhabitants of Mount Seir all ambush each other, managing to destroy each other without the army of Judah having to raise a hand. As always, this has been God’s work.

Jehoshaphat and his troops come to the battleground and spend three days recovering booty from the armies who has annihilated each other. At this good fortune there is once again worship: “On the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Beracah, for there they blessed the Lord;” (20:26) With the assumption that Judah had soundly defeated the Ammonites et al, even though in actuality, the army of Judah had done nothing, news of this immense victory spreads to neighboring countries and, “The fear of God came on all the kingdoms of the countries when they heard that the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel.” (20:29)

Peace comes to Judah, and credit goes to Jehoshaphat because “he walked in the way of his father Asa and did not turn aside from it, doing what was right in the sight of the Lord.”(20:32a) One exception is noted: he once mistakenly tried to do business with evil King Ahaziah of Israel, a shipbuilding venture which came to naught because, as Eliezer the prophet tells him, “you have joined with Ahaziah, the Lord will destroy what you have made.” (20:37)

Jehoshaphat may have followed God, but all was not well in Judah as “the high places were not removed; the people had not yet set their hearts upon the God of their ancestors.” (20:32b) A sign of bad things to come.

Jehoshaphat is succeeded by his son Jehoram who begins his reign by killing his brothers—never a good omen for future success. He marries Ahab’s daughter and “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” (21:7) Our authors note that the only reason God did not destroy Judah is “because of the covenant that he had made with David, and since he had promised to give a lamp to him and to his descendants forever.” (21:7)

But God finds other ways to punish Jehoram. Edom, which had been ruled by Judah, rebels and sets up its own kingdom, which is a consequence of Jehoram having “forsaken the Lord, the God of his ancestors.” (21:10)

Things are going poorly in Judah and Elijah sends Jehoram a letter, telling him the because of his evil deeds—especially killing his brothers—”the Lord will bring a great plague on your people, your children, your wives, and all your possessions” (21:14) as well as terminal dysentary for the king himself. Ugh.

Just when it seems things can’t get worse, God “aroused against Jehoram the anger of the Philistines and of the Arabs who are near the Ethiopian.s” (21:16) They invade Judah and “carried away all the possessions they found that belonged to the king’s house, along with his sons and his wives, so that no son was left to him except Jehoahaz, his youngest son.” (21:17)

Our authors continue relentlessly to hammer home the moral of Judah’s story under both good and evil kings. Follow God and all will be well. Worship idols and commit the kinds of evil that Jehoram did and God will ensure punishment and ultimately, an unhappy end.

Acts 22:3–16: Paul testifies before the crowd that would kill him. Luke uses Paul’s speech as biography with him beginning with his early history of how he persecuted the Jesus followers and provides a dramatic recounting of his Damascus Road conversion: “I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Then he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’” (7,8)

Paul describes his healing by “a certain Ananias” and gives him credit as the man by whom God gave Paul his mission: “Then he said, ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear his own voice; for you will be his witness to all the world of what you have seen and heard.” (14, 15) Which of course is exactly what Paul has done.

I have to admit that Paul’s testimony is compelling and this is the clearest insight we have in Acts into Paul’s personal testimony. Paul is telling all who will listen that “the Way” is a completely new way of approaching God through Jesus Christ. By giving his personal testimony I think he feels that the Jews in audience will see both the logic and the passion of being a Jewish Jesus follower—that they will not only release him but also follow Jesus. But will he succeed?

 

Psalm 23; 2 Chronicles 19:1–20:19; Acts 21:31–22:2

Originally published 2/13/2015. Psalm published 2/12/2016. Revised and updated 2/13/2019.

Psalm 23: What can be said about this most beloved of Psalms that hasn’t been said or written already? The metaphor of God as shepherd occurs in many other psalms, but here there is a powerful simplicity and tenderness that captures our hearts. I am unsure as to why this psalm is read mostly at funerals because it is entirely life-affirming and really has far more to do with how God guides and shepherds us through the vicissitudes of our lives than as a benediction at its end.

If we’re willing to see ourselves as God’s sheep, our psalmist highlights the various events and trials that we encounter during our life and describes in this greatest of metaphors how God aids us.

  • It is God who ensures that I will not lack for the necessities of life: “I shall not want.” (1b)
  • God brings us rest and reflection when we’re exhausted: “In grass meadows He makes me lie down/ by quiet waters he guides me.” (2)
  • God brings healing from emotional and physical disease: “My life He brings back.” (3a)
  • God guides us away for  evil and toward righteousness: “He leads me on the  pathways of justice/ for His name’s sake.” (3b)
  • God is our protector in dangerous times and places:
    Though I walk in the vale of death’s shadow,
    I fear no harm
    for You are with me.
     (4a)
  • God is our guide and comfort in the darkest of times, directing our life with both gentleness and vigor:
    Your rod and Your staff—
    it is they that console me. (4b)
  • God protects us from our enemies:
    You set out a table before me
    in the face of my foes. (5a)
  • God supplies us with our physical and spiritual needs to the point of excess:
    You moisten my head with oil,
    my cup overflows. (5b)

In short, this psalm addresses just about every way in which God is faithfully at our side in our quotidian lives. No wonder that when we reflect on God’s goodness and all he does for us that we exclaim with David,
Let but goodness and kindness pursue me
all the days of my life.
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
for many long days. (6)

This psalm is so much more than life’s benediction. Rather, it is a celebration of God’s presence in every aspect of our life—and a beautiful reminder of how much richer and blessed our lives are with God alongside than without him. After reading this psalm it’s difficult to comprehend the emptiness of a life that has rejected God and believes that we are simply an accident of evolution.

Far from being a valedictory, something to be read at funerals, it is the description of the living relationship between God and us. It is all about life, not death.

2 Chronicles 19:1–20:19: After the abortive alliance with Ahab and Israel, a chastened Jehoshaphat returns to Jerusalem. Even Hanani the seer admits, “Nevertheless, some good is found in you,.” (19:3) Jehoshaphat redoubles his efforts to be a good king, establishing a judicial system and warning the judges, Consider what you are doing, for you judge not on behalf of human beings but on the Lord’s behalf; he is with you in giving judgment. Now, let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take care what you do, for there is no perversion of justice with the Lord our God, or partiality, or taking of bribes.” (6, 7) This verse reminds me that our system of laws and justice is based on exactly what Jeh warns his judges. Alas, as our culture increasingly abandons God I fear our system of justice will weaken even more.

The Moabites and Ammonites plan to invade from the east.  “Jehoshaphat was afraid; he set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord;” (20:4) The king prays, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (20:12) This is the true humility of a good leader: admitting that “we do not know what to do” and turning to God. Jehoshaphat comes to God free of pride. Unlike so many others, he does not already have a plan in mind and comes to God asking for approval of what he’s already figured out. The king has abandoned himself completely to God.

Before the men of Judah, including “their little ones, their wives, and their children” (20:14), Jahaziel, son of Zechariah comes forward and speaks with the spirit of the Lord on him: “Thus says the Lord to you: ‘Do not fear or be dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God’s.” (20:15) and “Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.” (20:17)

There it is: the battle is not ours but God’s. And yet, I always try hold on to my plan, my ideas, so fiercely. In this time of crisis, Jehoshaphat and Judah turn it all over to God. To be blunt, in this way, Solomon’s grandson was much wiser than Solomon himself.  Can I abandon my plans and my pride the way this king and country did?

Acts 21:31–22:2: In the midst of the riot while the Jews were trying to kill Paul, order is restored by the Roman tribune, who arrests Paul, but has no idea what he’s done wrong. The crowd is no help: “Some in the crowd shouted one thing, some another; and as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks.” (34) The mob–eerily reminiscent of another mob in Jerusalem some years before–clearly wants Paul to be executed. As always, there is a lesson to be learned about inflamed mobs: the hope of reasoning with them is absent.

Paul asks the tribune if he can speak–in Greek. Surprised, the Tribune, who clearly did not understand Hebrew, asks if Paul is the “Egyptian who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?” (38). Paul replies with his bona fides and asks, “I beg you, let me speak to the people.” (39) Paul calms the crowd and begins speaking in Hebrew…

Luke gives us a brilliant picture of the tension between Rome and the Jews. We see the critical importance of language and understanding. The Roman authorities do not understand the language—much less the culture—of the people they are ruling. The lesson here for us: unless there is understanding at the most basic level, there is no hope of understanding at a higher level. It becomes all mobs and riots. Today, we do our shouting and rioting on the Internet… But in our obsession to shout, knowing we are right, means our misunderstanding of others is just as great today as it was in the first century. Human nature is immutable.

Psalm 22:29–32; 2 Chronicles 18; Acts 21:17–30

Originally published 2/13/2017. Revised and updated 2/12/2019.

Psalm 22:29–32: In this concluding stanza, our psalmist describes the unfathomable breadth of God’s kingship:
For the Lord’s is the kingship—/
and He rules over the nations.
 (29)

Then, in an unusual movement downward, he asserts that God’s rule extends to the the realm of the dead:
Yes, to Him will bow down
all the netherworld’s sleepers.
Before Him will go down to the dust
whose life is undone.(30)

In every other psalm the inhabitants of the “netherworld”—Sheol—cannot worship God because they are dead. So I will take the poem here as hyperbolic that in the psalmist’s enthusiasm to describe the unimaginable breadth—and now depth—of God’s reign, that he includes the “netherworld” simply as a poetic device.

The final verse of this remarkable psalm brings us back to the surface of the earth and rushes forward in time as the poet, speaking here as David, proclaims that his progeny will be as equally obedient to God as he himself has been :
My seed will serve Him.
It [worship] will be told to the Master for generations to come. (31)

Moreover, God’s story and manifold blessings will be carried down through history by each succeeding generation:
They will proclaim His bounty to a people aborning,
for [all] He has done.
 (32)

Alas, as we know from reading 2 Chronicles, with few exceptions, the kings from David’s seed were bad. And of course the gigantic exception that makes these verses true: Jesus. Today, we worship God and tell his story through Jesus Christ some three millennia after this profound poem was written. Despite our individual suffering, God’s glory suffuses the heavens and earth and all that is in it.

2 Chronicles 18: Flush with success and wealth, king Jehoshaphat of Judah has arranged an alliance via marriage with Samaria (aka the northern kingdom of Israel). Our authors are silent on who that was. Ahab, king of Samaria, asks Jehoshaphat to ally with him in battle against the Arameans.

Jehoshaphat suggests that before undertaking the project of war that they “Inquire first for the word of the Lord.” (4) Ahab complies and gathers 400 prophets who affirm the king’s plan to go into battle. This is all a bit too sycophantically unanimous for Jeh. who asks “Is there no other prophet of the Lord here of whom we may inquire?” (6). Ahab replies, “There is still one other by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies anything favorable about me, but only disaster.” (7) Which certainly supports Jeh’s thesis that Ahab’s 400 prophets were skilled only in telling Ahab what he wanted to hear.  As proof of this sycophancy, one of the 400, a certain Zedekiah who is apparently the lead prophet, even goes to far as to forge iron horns, telling the two kings, “Thus says the Lord: With these you shall gore the Arameans until they are destroyed.” (10) We can see the other 399 prophets enthusiastically shaking their heads in assent to Zedekiah that victory would be the king’s.

The messengers sent to bring Micaiah back to the king tell the prophet it would be in his interest to fall in with the majority: “let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.” (12). As proof that Micaiah follows God rather than other humans, he replies, “As the Lord lives, whatever my God says, that I will speak.” (13) Which of course is the mark of a true prophet.

Ahab demands Micaiah’s prophecy. At first the prophet answers sarcastically, “Go up and triumph; they will be given into your hand.” (15) But Ahab asks for Micaiah’s true and honest answer, which is far more dire: “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep without a shepherd; and the Lord said, ‘These have no master; let each one go home in peace.’” (16) Ahab turns to Jeh and remarks, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy anything favorable about me, but only disaster?” (17)

Micaiah underscores his prophecy by telling the kings that a lying spirit has infected the other prophets, which causes Zedekiah to slap him angrily, “Which way did the spirit of the Lord pass from me to speak to you?” (23) Since Micaiah was the bearer of bad news, Ahab orders him to be imprisoned. As he is led away we can see Micaiah turn and shout at Ahab, “If you return in peace, the Lord has not spoken by me.” (27) In this exchange we have one of the great constants of history: kill the messenger who tells us what we don’t want to hear. Denial is a powerful human drive, especially among leaders—right down to the present day.

Needless to say, things do not go well in battle. To escape, Ahab demand that Jeh and he exchange robes, thinking the enemy will kill the Judean king instead. But “Jehoshaphat cried out, and the Lord helped him. God drew them away from him.” (31) The enemy turns away and pursues Ahab, who is promptly speared through a gap in his armor. Mortally wounded, Ahab “propped himself up in his chariot facing the Arameans until evening; then at sunset he died.” (34)

This chapter drives its point home dramatically: Beware of false prophets telling us only what we want to hear.

Acts 21:17–30: Writing in the first person, Luke tells how “the brothers welcomed us warmly.” (17) Paul visits James and the other elders of the Jerusalem church. They tell of the perception floating around that the Jews in Jerusalem “have been told about you [Paul] that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs.” (21) The elders of the church suggest that Paul undergo a rite of public purification and that therefore the Jews “all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law.” (24) Paul agrees and “having purified himself, he entered the temple with them, making public the completion of the days of purification when the sacrifice would be made for each of them.” (26)

However, things don’t go well there. The Jews from Asia stir up the crowd and falsely accuse Paul as “the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place; more than that, he has actually brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” (28) The mob “seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut.” (30)

Thus begins Paul’s captivity as he is about to be brought up on the false charges that will forever change the course of history—and the church.

Psalm 22:22–28; 2 Chronicles 16,17; Acts 21:5–16

Originally published 2/11/2015. Revised and updated 2/11/2019.

Psalm 22:22–28: The emphasis of the psalm shifts from the trials of a single person—”Rescue me from the lion’s mouth” (22)—to telling his compatriots of God’s greatness.And from the assembly to the entire nation:
Let me tell Your name to my brothers, 
in the assembly let me praise You.
All the seed of Jacob revere Him! (23, 24a)

But remember, the psalmist warns, God is also to be feared: “And be afraid of Him, all Israel’s seed!” (24b) This seems a warning to those who have oppressed the downtrodden because God has certainly not forgotten about them:
For He has not spurned nor despised
the affliction of the lowly.
and has not hidden His face from him;
when he cried out to Him, He heard. (25)

Once again, as we do so frequently, we encounter, albeit briefly here, the underlying economic theme of the OT: FIrst of all, God cares for the poor, the widows, and orphans. And it is the psalmist, speaking as David, how remembers:
My vows I fulfill before those who fear Him. 
The lowly will eat and be sated. (27)

At this point the verses expand out from Israel (the seed of Jacob) to encompass all of creation:
All the far ends of the earth will remember
and return to the Lord.
All the clans of the nations 
will bow down before you. (28)

If we consider the prophetic nature of this psalm as speaking earlier of Christ’s death on the cross, then here in this expansion from Israel to all the world we can glimpse the message of the Good News ultimately overtaking the world—which of course is Jesus’ Great Commission.

2 Chronicles 16,17: But in the 36th year of Asa’s reign over Judah, Israel’s king Baasha begins to build fortifications, making it clear he’s going to attack Judah. Asa forms an alliance with King Ben-hadad of Aram, who is obviously not a Jew, in Damascus. The seer Hanani comes to Asa and says, “Because you relied on the king of Aram, and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Aram has escaped you.” (16:7). In a famous example of attacking the messenger who says what he does not want to hear, Asa “Asa was angry with the seer, and put him in the stocks, in prison, for he was in a rage with him because of this.” (16:10)

Three years later Asa has a severe foot disease, “yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but sought help from physicians.” (16:13). Would Asa have been healed if he turned to God? Our Chronicler is certainly suggesting that. For me, anyway, I’ll take the lesson as prayer and physicians. Medical science clearly does not know everything and prayer for healing should come alongside science.

Asa’s son, Jehoshaphat (J), comes to the throne and J “sought the God of his father and walked in his commandments, and not according to the ways of Israel.” (17:4) God is pleased about this and “Therefore the Lord established the kingdom in his hand.” (17:5) The remainder of this chapter describes the political power of Judah and the respect accorded to its king as “Jehoshaphat grew steadily greater.” (17:12).

We learn something about Asa’s son that was never said of his father: “His heart was courageous in the ways of the Lord.” (6) What an honor! It’s clear that ven today, there are courageous acts by courageous people. Back in 2015 a young American woman, Kayla Jean Mueller, went to help the poor and afflicted in Syria. She surely had a courageous heart in the ways of the Lord. She carried out what God has asked all of us to do: to care for the poor and the afflicted. For her troubles she was murdered by evil. But she is honored both on earth and on heaven for her vision, for her willingness to act on that vision and ultimately, for her courage. Could my heart be as courageous in the ways of the Lord?

Acts 21:5–16: Paul and his companions, including Luke, leave Tyre and journey to Caesarea to the house of Philip the evangelist, whom we have already met, who is most famous for converting the Ethiopian eunuch. Writing once again in the first person, Luke tells us that while they are staying there, the prophet Agabus “came down from Judea.” Luke provides us a remarkable—and very moving—eyewitness account of what Agabus does: “He came to us and took Paul’s belt, bound his own feet and hands with it, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” (11).

We can see Paul’s friends circling him and begging him not to go to Jerusalem. I’m sure that they told Paul how much more valuable he would be to the church if he continued  to preach in Gentile places far from Jerusalem. I’m sure they told him that there are so many who have not yet heard the Good News. I’m sure they couldn’t fathom Paul’s obsession with going to Jerusalem where danger and probably death awaits. If I were there, I know I wouldn’t.

Paul is distraught because he does not feel supported by his friends who are “breaking my heart” (12) in what he clearly sees as his mission, driven by the Holy Spirit. But finally, “Since he would not be persuaded, we remained silent except to say, “The Lord’s will be done.” (14).

How often have we tried to dissuade someone from going on what we think is a crazy, even dangerous path? I remember thinking how crazy my friends Larry and Linda were for becoming missionaries and taking their five kids with them to then dangerous Colombia. Yet, God has used Larry and Linda mightily in ways we could never have imagined. What seems so obvious to us is not always the way that God would have someone go. Just as I’m sure the friends of Kayla Mueller, killed by ISIS in Syria, pleaded with her exactly as Paul’s friends did.