Psalm 19:8–15; 2 Chronicles 8:1–9:12; Acts 19:21–31

Originally published 2/6/2017. Revised and updated 2/5/2019.

Psalm 19:8–15: The concluding half of this psalm is in essence the roadmap to a well-lived life. It gives us a mini version of Psalm 119 as it speaks to God’s faithfulness and the positive effects of following God and hewing to six “life qualities.” The first quality is education:
The Lord’s teaching is perfect,
restoring to life.
 (8a) T

hat teaching and learning is restorative is not how we usually think about the process of education, But what God teaches us is essential to our lives.

Second, God never fails to keep his covenantal promises:
The Lord’s pact is steadfast,
it makes the fool wise.
 (8b)

In other words, if we are steadfast in what we promise to others, even in our foolishness, we too will become wise.

Third, keeping God’s law is a source of joy:
The Lord’s precepts are upright,
delighting the heart. (9a)

Fourth, God’s perfect commands are what bring us true life as symbolized here by the light in our eyes:
The Lord’s command unblemished,
giving light to the eyes.”
(9b)

Fifth, reverence toward God keeps us holy throughout our lives and beyond:
The Lord’s fear is pure,
outlasting all time.
 (10a)

Finally, God is the very definition of justice because in God, truth and justice are the same thing:
The Lord’s judgements are truth,
all of them just.
 (10b)

Our psalmist knows that these qualities are
More desired than gold,
than abundant fine gold
and sweeter than honey,
quintessence of bees.
(11)

By following God in all these aspects, we receive life’s true reward:
In keeping them—[there is] great reward. (12)

But even the most pure God-following life can be marred, even unknowingly:
Unwitting sins who can grasp? (13a)

But our psalmist seeks forgiveness for these two and asks God to protect him from the depredations of evil men around him:
Of unknown actions clear me.
From willful men preserve Your servant,
let them not rule over me.
 (13b, 14a)

Only through God’s mercy can the pure life even begin to be lived:
Then shall I be blameless
and clear of great crime.
” (14b)

How grateful I am for the grace that comes from Jesus Christ. Leading a steadfast blameless life as described here is nigh unto impossible. The issue of free will—of willing to lead a steadfast life—was at the core of the conflict between Erasmus, who believed that humans could to will do good—and Luther, who saw us as completely fallen and always given to sin that could only be erased by Jesus’ grace. For me, it is much better to follow God, knowing we will sin either overtly or unknowingly, but then to be able to confess and to be forgiven.

2 Chronicles 8:1–9:12: Following the completion of the temple, Solomon continues to do great things, not least of which is to rebuild cities and to build new ones: “He built Tadmor in the wilderness and all the storage towns that he built in Hamath. He also built Upper Beth-horon and Lower Beth-horon, fortified cities, with walls, gates, and bars, and Baalath, as well as all Solomon’s storage towns, and all the towns for his chariots, the towns for his cavalry, and whatever Solomon desired to build, in Jerusalem, in Lebanon, and in all the land of his dominion.” (8:4-6)

We encounter one of those practices, common to that time, that make us squirm uncomfortably today: “All the people who were left of the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, who were not of Israel,…whom the people of Israel had not destroyed—these Solomon conscripted for forced labor, as is still the case today.” (7, 8) But we need to be careful not to impose our value system on a historical culture, committing the fallacy of “presentism.”

All through Solomon’s reign vassal kings continue to bring wealth to Solomon: “Huram sent [Solomon], in the care of his servants, ships and servants familiar with the sea…four hundred fifty talents of gold and brought it to King Solomon.” (8:18)

Solomon’s most famous foreign visitor is of course the Queen of Sheba, who “came to Jerusalem to test him with hard questions, …[and] she discussed with him all that was on her mind.” (9:1)  Solomon answers every question, and she could not trip him up in any way.

The queen believes she is superior to Solomon in wisdom and wealth, but when she “observed the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, and their clothing, his valets, and their clothing, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more spirit left in her.” (9:2)

The queen nicely sums up the magnificence of Solomon and the kingdom of Israel, telling Solomon that she had not believed all she had heard about his glories, but is now a true believer. It is through Sheba that our authors pronounce the reasons why Solomon and Israel have achieved the glory. It has been the work of the “Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on his throne as king for the Lord your God. Because your God loved Israel and would establish them forever, he has made you king over them, that you may execute justice and righteousness.” (9:8) At that point Sheba presents Solomon with even more gifts, including exotic spices before returning to her own land.

The Sheba incident is a wonderful way for our authors to tell the story of how great Israel was under the wisdom of Solomon. We can almost hear the regret in their words as they describe a wonderful kingdom that followed God and was rewarded mightily. But alas, it is now distant history and in the Babylon exile it seems that all that was greatness has been lost. Or has it?

Acts 19:21–31: Paul’s radical message of Jesus Christ—the “Way”— has substantial social and economic consequences. Paul continues his sojourn in Ephesus when it dawns on a silversmith named Demetrius, who makes his loving crafting “silver shrines of Artemus” realizes that his source if income is fading away as everyone flocks to the idol-free “Way.” He gathers his colleagues together and warns them, “there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be scorned, and she will be deprived of her majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her.” (27) Which is to put a religious spin on the very real fact that the real issue is economic: the silver shrine market is quickly fading away.

So the silversmith guild starts a riot, and as Luke tersely notes, “The city was filled with the confusion.” (29) The mob drags Paul’s companions, Gaius and Aristarchus, into the theatre. Paul of course sees this as a great opportunity for preaching. However, cooler heads prevail and keep Paul out of the theatre. Even officials “of the province of Asia, who were friendly to him, sent him a message urging him not to venture into the theater.” (31)

What’s clear here is that the spread of Christianity is beginning to have a profound impact on the culture at large—which of course is exactly what has happened down to the present day. A few hundred years after the turmoil at Ephesus, Constantine will establish Christianity as the state religion and Christendom will be born. Out of that those so-called “dark ages” will emerge western civilization as we know it. Today, alas, we see western civilization in decline but the message of Jesus Christ that Paul delivered is still as powerful as ever—and it still causes protests and riots, as witness the culture war” that continues to inflame both sides.

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