Psalm 19:1–7; 2 Chronicles 6:24–7:22; Acts 19:6–20

Originally published 2/4/2017. Revised and updated 2/4/2019.

Psalm 19:1–7: This wonderfully contemplative and worshipful psalm opens with famous lines celebrating the glories of God’s creation:
The heavens tell God’s glory,
and His handiwork [the] sky declares.
 (2)

The next verse is perfect for our scientific age of discovery as our psalmist asserts that God’s creation contains all there is to know and understand:
Day to day breathes utterance
and night to night pronounces knowledge.
 (3)

I have to believe that more than a few astronomers have taken up the second line of this verse—”night to night pronounces knowledge“—as their watchword as the nights have brought us the ability to see the stars back to the very beginning of time.

Our psalmist knows that there is an unspoken language of the universe that is beyond mere words:
There is no utterance and there are no words,
their voice is never heard
. (4)

It’s truly wonderful to see how the Bible has anticipated that one day we would seek to understand the language of creation, particularly the idea that the laws of physics apply everywhere in the universe, as well as DNA being the basic building block of life. I believe these are the voiceless words of which he speaks:
There is no utterance and there are no words,
their voice is never heard.
 (5)

While creation may not speak human language and seems silents, it speaks in words that are so much more profound than mere human speech.

Our psalmist employs a marvelous metaphor of the sun as a groom sleeping at night in a tent and rising with eager anticipation and great energy on his wedding morning:
For the sun He set up a tent in them—
and he like a groom from from his canopy comes,
exults like a warrior running his course. (6)

From our poet’s perspective it is the sun which transits the sky, moving in its eternal rhythm:
From the ends of heavens his going out
and his circuit to their ends.
and nothing can hide from his heat. (7)

This last line is a perfect description of a summer day in semi-arid Israel. What strikes me most about this passage is its untrammeled energy and out of that energy emerges a wonderful undercurrent of joy.

2 Chronicles 6:24–7:22: Solomon’s rather lengthy prayer before the newly-completed temple outlines the deuteronomic terms of the covenant between God and Israel.

There is confession for sins: “When your people Israel, having sinned against you, are defeated before an enemy but turn again to you, confess your name, pray and plead with you in this house, may you hear from heaven, and forgive the sin of your people Israel.” (6:24) This of course becomes the key to all that follows as Israel continually abandons God under the rule of evil kings. But God is a God of forbearance, and as history shows, God answers Solomon’s prayer each time Israel repents.

The operating assumption is that the people’s sins will have natural consequences and repentance is required to reinstate God’s favor: “When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you, and then they pray toward this place, confess your name, and turn from their sin, because you punish them, may you hear in heaven, forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel.” (6:26)

Similar repentance is called for in times of “famine in the land, if there is plague, blight, mildew, locust, or caterpillar; if their enemies besiege them in any of the settlements of the lands; whatever suffering, whatever sickness there is.” (6:28) While we may no longer be under these deuteronomic terms, we do well to remember that our actions—our sins—always have consequences, just as they did in Solomon’s time.

What’s especially fascinating in the xenophobic times we now live in is how Solomon especially asks for the welfare of “foreigners, who are not of your people Israel, come from a distant land because of your great name, and your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm, when they come and pray toward this house.” (6:22) Of course it’s worth noting that the foreigners come to worship Israel’s God not to bring a foreign belief system with them.

Solomon’s prayer has a dramatic impact—almost a theophany: “When Solomon had ended his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the temple.” (7:1) God’s glory is so intense here that no one can enter the temple. The awestruck crowd can only bow down “with their faces to the ground, and worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (7:3)

The dedication of the temple lasts a full week and “and all Israel [was] with him, a very great congregation, from Lebo-hamath to the Wadi of Egypt.” (7:8) Following the dedication, God appeared to Solomon and promised that when Israel is in distress from natural catastrophes or enemies, and if Israel calls on God, “then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (7:14). God also reaffirms the covenant he made with David, repeating his promise to Solomon that, ‘You shall never lack a successor to rule over Israel.’” (7:18) Which of course for us Christians is the promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

However, it’s not all sweetness and light as God warns Solomon that Israel will be brought low should it “ turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them.” (7:19) If they abandon God, God will abandon them. We can be grateful once again that we live as Christ-followers under the terms of the New Covenant rather than the old for God never abandons us. 

Unlike Solomon, our authors writing from Babylon, know all too well that with the exception of only a few people, Israel did indeed abandon God—and suffered the consequences outlined in this chapter.

Acts 18:24 —19:20: Perhaps the reason that Paul did not spend much time in Ephesus the first time he was there is because Apollos, “an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures” (18:24) was already preaching there. In an example that Paul was not the only one with proper theology, when “Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately.” (18:26) Thus, Apollos becomes an effective preacher and arriving in Corinth, “he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.” (18:28) We’ll hear more about Apollos in 1 Corinthians 1.

After some peregrinations around the Mediterranean, Paul returns to Ephesus and discovers some folks who believe in John the Baptist, but know nothing of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Paul tells them that “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” (19:4) Upon hearing such good news, this group of twelve(!) is baptized and “the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” (19:6)

After speaking (and arguing) in the Ephesus synagogue for three months, Paul gives up on some of the more stubborn Jews and repairs to the lecture hall of Tyrannus, where he holds forth for two more years(!) As Paul’s fame spread people must have come from far and wide to hear him, “so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.” (19:10) Unlike today’s televangelists, however, Paul did not ask for hefty “freewill offerings” in order to build a big house in the suburbs and enjoy a plush lifestyle, (I’m talking about you, Joel Osteen).

The Holy Spirit is definitely at work in Paul and Luke tells us, “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them.” (19:11, 12) Seven itinerant Jewish exorcists, “sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva,” try to use the name of Jesus to accomplish the same thing, but are overtaken by an evil spirit, which Paul exorcises. This results in many magicians burning their books and “the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.” (19:20)

Luke’s point here, I think, is that we re not free to use the power of the Holy Spirit to our own (sometimes nefarious) ends. I wish that Benny Hinn and all the other fake TV healers would have read and taken this passage to heart. The Holy Spirit will work where it will; it cannot be commanded by mere mortals.

 

 

Speak Your Mind

*