Psalm 20; 2 Chronicles 9:13–10:19; Acts 19:32–20:3

Originally published 2/7/2017. Revised and updated 2/6/2019.

Psalm 20: This “royal psalm” prays or the welfare of the king, presumably David. It opens with what we normally think of as a benediction rather than an invocation:
May the LORD answer you on the day of distress,
the name of Jacob’s God make you safe.
May He send help to you from the sanctum,
and from Zion may He sustain you. (2, 3)

Our psalmist prays that God will remember the king’s grain offerings and burnt offerings (4) and the God will indeed “grant [to the king] what your heart would want.” (5)

The psalm has apparently been written shortly before or after God has rescued David—perhaps from the straits that are described in the preceding psalm. This is—or will be—a cause for rejoicing by all the king’s subjects:
Let us sing gladly for Your rescue
and in our God’s name our banner raise
. (6)

Halfway through, the psalm moves from benedictory wishes to the assurance that God has indeed fulfilled all the things that have been prayed for. [We need to be careful here with the psalmist’s overuse of pronouns.  The capitalized ones refer to God.]
Now do I know
that the Lord has rescued His anointed [the king].
He has answered him from His holy heavens.
in the might of His right hand’s rescue. (7)

The psalm goes on to note the joy that the defeat of the enemy and God’s rescue has brought to the previously despairing subjects of the king:
They have tumbled and fallen
be we arose and took heart. (9)

But then this rejoicing seems contradicted by the very last verse, which is again a plea for rescue, suggesting that the rejoicing of the previous verse is either premature or a description of rejoicing yet to come:
O Lord, rescue the king.
May He answer us on the day we call. (10)

It’s important to remember that the psalms are poetry and that their timelines them are not necessarily linear but have poetic twists and loops. In any event, God will rescue the king and there will be rejoicing.

2 Chronicles 9:13–10:19: This final chapter about Solomon is, as we would expect from our accountant authors, basically an inventory of Solomon’s unimaginably great wealth that has flowed into Israel under the wise king’s leadership:

  • 666 talents of gold (8:13)
  • 200 large shields of beaten gold (8:15) each containing 600 shekels of beaten gold (16)
  • Another 300 shields, each containing 300 shekels of gold (16)
  • A gold-covered ivory throne (17 with a footstool of gold with decorative lions on either side (18, 19)
  • Drinking vessels of pure gold with the amusing note that “silver was not considered as anything in the days of Solomon.” (20)
  • 4000 stalls for horses and chariots and 12,000 horses (25)
  • Our authors make it clear that no one on earth was richer than Solomon as Israel was at its apogee of influence, wealth and power and the extent of its territory: “He ruled over all the kings from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines, and to the border of Egypt.” (26)

Again, we sense the regretful nostalgia as our authors write of this grandeur, fully aware of just how low Israel has sunken as they write from Babylonian exile.

Depsite his wisdom, power, and wealth, Solomon is a mortal like other men and he dies. Solomon’s son Rehoboam ascends to the throne and trouble commences immediately. Rehoboam famously rejects the plea to “lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.” (10:4) because he ignores the wise counsel of the older men and foolishly follows the advice of the young sycophants that surround him. This is also a reminder that life as a commoner under Solomon’s “enlightened” rule was no bed of roses.

Our authors editorialize on the consequences of Rehoboam’s unwise decision: “So the king did not listen to the people, because it was a turn of affairs brought about by God so that the Lord might fulfill his word.” (10:15) As a result, the people of Israel withdraw their loyalty to the king and “departed to their tents.” (16) Rehoboam sends his taskmaster to oppress the people of Judah, who promptly stone him to death.

As our authors observe, “So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.”  (19) And Solomon’s once-great empire begins its centuries-long decline under a series of evil and/or incompetent kings—a descent offset by only one or two kings that follow God.

Acts 19:32–20:3: Ephesus is in chaos over the potential economic damage to the silversmiths that build Artemis idols caused by increasing numbers of adherents to “the Way” preached by Paul and others. In a pithy summary of every mob since this one in Ephesus, Luke driy observes, “Meanwhile, some were shouting one thing, some another; for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together.” (19:32) Alexander, who is Jewish, attempts to calm the crowd but they “recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours all of them shouted in unison, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (19:34)

Finally, the city clerk quiets the crowd by pointing out that Ephesus is world famous for the temple to Artemis and they should not do anything “rash” to sully Ephesus’ reputation as a pilgrimage destination. He correctly suggests that Demetrius and his silversmith colleagues use the justice system “since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.”  (19:40)

Clearly, nothing has changed in 2000 years. Do we have rioters at universities, damaging the reputation of the university, or do we pursue our vision of justice using the courts (as witness the current lawsuits over Trump’s various orders)? Do we have adult dialog or the unceasing deluge of Twitter rants? I think the questions answers themselves.

Once the Ephesian riot is quelled, Paul  heads off to Macedonia. There he “had given the believers much encouragement” (20:2) and arrives back in Greece, probably Corinth. After three months his plans to sail directly to Syria (Antioch) are disrupted by “a plot was made against him by the Jews, and so he decided to return through Macedonia.” (20:3)

In this Ephesian incident we see a more mature Paul who seems to have finally figured out that not everyone is going to accept his message about Christ—or himself—with enthusiasm. Which is also a lesson for Christians today, who are oppressed by the increasingly hostile culture in which they live. We know that riots are not the answer.

 

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