Psalm 17:8–15; 1 Chronicles 24; Acts 16:4–15

Originally published 1/26/2017. Revised and updated 1/25/2019.

Psalm 17:8–15: Our psalmist first asks for God’s protection from the wicked people that surround him:
Guard me like the apple of the eye,
in the shadow of Your wings conceal me
from the wicked who have despoiled me

my deadly enemies drawn round me. (8, 9)

He then memorably describes his enemies:
Their fat has covered their heart.
With their dewlaps they speak haughty words.” (10)

For me, the fat represents a self-righteous prosperity and/or social position that in their eyes grants the wicked the authority to lord it over the less fortunate, including our psalmist. This image of haughtiness is amplified by the image of dewlaps—fat beneath the chin—announcing their self-proclaimed superiority over others. We have all met these people and they are especially popular on cable TV.

These people are dangerous. Our psalmist feels constrained by them on all sides as they seek out their prey, an image made all the more threatening by the metaphor of a hungry lion ready to pounce:
My steps now they hem in,
their eyes they cast over the land.
He is like a lion longing for prey,
like the king of beasts lying in wait.” (11, 12)

Having described his imminent danger, our psalmist pleads with God:
Rise, Lord, head him off, bring him down,
save my life from the wicked with Your sword.
 (13)

After all, he reminds God, these bloody-minded enemies are mere mortals, far weaker than God himself:
[save my life] from men, by Your hand, from men,
from those fleeting of portion in life.
 (14a)

This is an important aspect for us to remember: even though the wiliest enemy may set himself up as superior, he is still mortal and subject to God’s judgement.  This reality becomes an underlying theme of the book of Revelation.

The question, of course, is can we pray for the destruction of our enemies by God? Jesus has cancelled this kind of prayer, it seems, by requiring us to love our enemies. That said, however, I think we can still pray that God’s will be done and that God will protect us from the depredations of our enemies.

1 Chronicles 24: Now we come to the priestly organization chart as our authors describe exactly who was given what priestly responsibility by David: “Along with Zadok of the sons of Eleazar, and Ahimelech of the sons of Ithamar, David organized them according to the appointed duties in their service.” (3) This includes sixteen men from the ancestral house of Eleazar but only eight from the house of Ithamar “Since more chief men were found among the sons of Eleazar than among the sons of Ithamar.” (4). One has the feeling our authors come from the Eleazar line.

The positions are assigned by lot, and our authors carefully record the name of every person assigned to every lot. The listing the continues with describing “the rest of the sons of Levi: of the sons of Amram, Shubael; of the sons of Shubael, Jehdeiah,” (20) who were not of the priestly clan. They “also cast lots corresponding to their kindred, the descendants of Aaron, in the presence of King David.” (31)

So, did David actually conduct this rather detailed assignment of priests? As I noted yesterday it really doesn’t matter if David actually did this or not. By attaching all these names (and their descendants down to the time our authors were writing in Babylon) to David he becomes the firm root by which all priestly authority derives. We see this same assignment of legitimacy through David in the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke.

Acts 16:4–15: Paul and Silas go from town to town in delivering “to them [the churches] for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem.” (4) This would be the happy news that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised in order to join the church. Having removed the barrier of circumcision, there’s no question that the resolution of this issue resulted in the happy reality that “the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.” (5)

Luke informs us that there was nothing random about the missionary work of Paul and Silas, but that it is the Holy Spirit that is guiding them every step of the way, “having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.” (6) As well as Bithynia.

Paul has a vision: “there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” (9)  Paul and Silas head to Europe, “being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.” (10)

Suddenly, Luke, who must have accompanied Paul and Silas, begins speaking in the first person after they arrive at Philippi, “We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there.” (12b, 13) They seem to have abandoned the strategy of starting out by speaking in the synagogues, but head directly to speak with Gentiles wherever they happen to be. 

We don’t think much today about exactly how revolutionary it was for two Jewish men to converse with Gentile women. This unprecedented act was as unexpected as Jesus speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well recorded in John’s gospel.

They meet Lydia down by the river. She is a businesswoman, “a dealer in purple cloth.” (14a) Luke tells us that “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” (14b) and she and her household are baptized. Lydia invites the two missionaries to stay at her house.

There is a number of remarkable things going on here, but perhaps the most remarkable is that the first recorded convert in Europe is a Gentile businesswoman. It’s almost as if Luke is telling us that if a Gentile woman has responded then Jesus’ revolutionary message, then the gospel is about to reach—and affect— everyone in the Roman empire. Which of course ultimately is exactly what happened.

Psalm 17:1–7; 1 Chronicles 23; Acts 15:32–16:3

Originally published 1/25/2017. Revised and updated 1/24/2019.

Psalm 17:1–7: This psalm of supplication opens with an anodyne request for God to “listen well” to his “guileless prayer.” (1) Our psalmist knows that it is God who judges because God is the source of all righteousness:
From before You my judgement will come,
Your eyes behold rightness
. (2)

He feels that God has tested him, including even in his dreams, and that he has passed the test:
You have probed my heart, come upon me by night,
You have tried me, and found no wrong in me.
 (3a)

Above all, he has guarded his speech as if having been muzzled by God: “I barred my mouth to let nothing pass.” (3a)

Not only speech, but his actions are guarded as well as he responds to God’s direction, avoiding the temptation to sin:
As for human acts—by the word of Your lips!
I have kept from the tracks of the brute
. (4)

However, it’s not clear to me who the “brute” is. Satan? Some specific enemy? Or maybe he was referring to his own formerly sinful self.

He asks God to continue to keep him on the path of righteousness:
Set firm my steps on Your pathways,
so my feet will not stumble
. (5)

In this state of carefully following of God’s will, the psalmist feels justified in calling on God and is assured that God will answer:
I called You, for You will answer me, God.
Incline Your ear, O hear my utterance.
 (6)

He expands the perspective from himself to all persons who follow God and are thereby protected from their enemies:
Make Your mercies abound, O rescuer of those who shelter
from foes at Your right hand.
” (7)

I am impressed by how carefully our psalmist has followed the path that God has laid out for him. What’s less clear to me, however, is exactly what path God has laid out for me. I see great evidence God’s work in my life retrospectively, but it’s more difficult to see what God has in mind prospectively. I guess that’s what faith is all about.

1 Chronicles 23: Something that I had not realized before is that David appoints Solomon as king while he is still alive: “When David was old and full of days, he made his son Solomon king over Israel.” (1) I’m pretty sure that’s the first and only time the crown is passed while the king is still alive. It certainly reduces the court intrigue that always ensues when the king dies and several potential successors are contending for the throne.

Arrrrgh. More lists! Of the 38,000 Levites who are thirty years or older, David assigns 24,000 of them to be associated with religious rites and “have charge of the work in the house of the Lord.” (4) The labor is divided down further:

  • Officers & judges: 6,000
  • Gatekeepers: 4,000
  • Musicians & singers: 4,000

David, in a valedictory fit of administrative energy, “organized them in divisions corresponding to the sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.” (6) The lists of names then follows, proving once again that the authors of this book were themselves Levites.

David then makes an important announcement: The Lord, the God of Israel, has given rest to his people; and he resides in Jerusalem forever. And so the Levites no longer need to carry the tabernacle or any of the things for its service.” (25, 26) Instead, now that God is firmly ensconced at Jerusalem, they have a new job description. The duty of the Levites “shall be to assist the descendants of Aaron for the service of the house of the Lord, having the care of the courts and the chambers, the cleansing of all that is holy, and any work for the service of the house of God.” (28) They also assist with the holy bread, and “shall stand every morning, thanking and praising the Lord, and likewise at evening,” (30)

I’m left with the very firm impression that the Levites who wrote this book are quite specifically codifying the roles and responsibilities of the Levites once they return from exile in Babylon back to Jerusalem. By asserting that the greatest king of Israel had decreed these tasks makes it clear that no dissent will be brooked by the levitical officials who will shortly be in charge of the temple. In short: If David said so, then thus it shall ever be.

Acts 15:32–16:3: We lear the fascinating fact that Judas and Silas are “themselves prophets and said much to encourage and strengthen the believers” (15:32) while in Antioch. After a while they leave and Paul and Barnabas remain. In one of those incidents that convinces me that we are reading history and not some fictional story, Paul and Barnabas get into a serious disagreement. Paul wants to retrace the first missionary journey “in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” (36) Barnabas agrees but wants to take John Mark with them. We get a glimpse into Paul’s ability to hold a grudge when he refuses because  John Mark “had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work.” (38) As Luke succinctly puts it, “the disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.” (39) So Paul chooses Silas as his companion and they set out “through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” (41)

This incident is a good lesson to us in the church today. There will always be disagreements over strategy and often over doctrine. Sometimes it’s better to just split up and move on. I’ve always wondered if Luther had Paul and Barnabas in mind when he posted his 95 Theses .on the Wittenburg wall.

So, Paul and Silas head off to Derbe and Lystra, where they meet uncircumcised Timothy. Tim is the son of a mixed marriage, and Paul wants him to join them. Then Paul does something that seems counter to the entire point of the Council of Jerusalem: he “had [Timothy] circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.” (16:3)

So did Paul abandon his principle that Gentiles didn’t need to be circumcised in order to become Christians? Or was he just being expedient?

I suspect the latter since the task at hand was to carry the gospel to many more cities. The missionary strategy was to preach at the synagogues and let things take their course from there. There is no way Timothy could even enter the synagogue without having been circumcised. We don’t get to hear what Timothy had to say in this matter, but he obviously agreed to undergo the less-than-pleasant procedure as an adult. Nevertheless, I don’t think we should be too hard on Paul in this matter. Sometimes it’s important to bow to custom in order to have credibility with the natives.

Psalm 16:7–11; 1 Chronicles 21:27–22:19; Acts 15:19–31

Originally published 1/24/2017. Revised and updated 1/23/2019.

Psalm 16:7–11: In the second half of this psalm, our psalmist writes that because God has brought him to his senses about the futility of worshipping the small-g gods, his life is now suffused with a peaceful conscience:
I shall bless the Lord who gave me counsel
through the nights that my conscience would lash me.
 (7)

God has become the guide of his entire being; the key to living an upright life:
I set the Lord always before me,
on my right hand, that I not stumble
. (8)

Which is enormously good advice for us, as well. It is when we hew to the small-g gods in our own lives that we drift away from God and inevitably into a guilty conscience.

The concluding verses are an expression of the joy that permeates the psalmist’s entire being—an image that’s intensified by the references to his heart and the blood that pulses in him:
So my heart rejoices and my pulse beats with joy,
my whole body abides secure.
 (9)

This verse resonates because it demonstrates so clearly that a right relationship with God is not just an abstract spiritual feeling, but that true joy in God can be an uplifting physical experience as well.

Our psalmist has total assurance that God will always be with him—that he is indeed saved from an awful fate:
For You will not forsake my life to Sheol
You won’t let Your faithful one see the Pit.
 (10)

Instead, God is about a life well lived where joy rather than a a guilty conscience is the order of the day:
Make me know the path of life.
Joys overflow in Your presence,
delights in Your right hand forever.” (11)

A right relationship with God means joy, rarely fear, and above all, never a guilty conscience. This is certainly a “go to” psalm when things in the world seem to be terminally messed up.

1 Chronicles 21:27–22:19: God answers David’s fervent prayer to save Israel from the pestilence and “the Lord commanded the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath.” (21:27) God’s angel has struck fear into David and he is now afraid to go before God in the tabernacle currently located at Gibeon. Instead, David determines that the threshing floor of Ornan is where the permanent structure of a temple is to be located. Which suggests that Ornan’s threshing floor was atop what is now called Temple Mount in the middle of Jerusalem.

Among David’s final acts as king is to assemble and prepare the materials for the temple, which will be built by his son Solomon. He “set stonecutters to prepare dressed stones for building the house of God. David also provided great stores of iron for nails for the doors of the gates and for clamps, as well as bronze in quantities beyond weighing, and cedar logs without number.” (22:2-4) It’s just like our accountant authors to provide a fairly complete inventory of building materials!

Now that those details have been taken care of, David “called for his son Solomon and charged him to build a house for the Lord, the God of Israel,” (22:6) explaining that he cannot build because God told him that “you [David] have shed so much blood in my sight on the earth.” (22:8)

David goes on to tell Solomon that God has given his son, the future king, a great promise: “I will give peace  and quiet to Israel in his days. He shall build a house for my name. He shall be a son to me, and I will be a father to him, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever.’” (22:9, 10)

David advises Solomon, “may the Lord grant you discretion and understanding, so that when he gives you charge over Israel you may keep the law of the Lord your God.” (22:12) Solomon will have ample resources to work with as our accountants happily relate in their usual detailed fashion that David has “provided for the house of the Lord one hundred thousand talents of gold, one million talents of silver, and bronze and iron beyond weighing, for there is so much of it; timber and stone too I have provided.” (14) David has also provided an abundance of labor, “stonecutters, masons, carpenters, and all kinds of artisans without number, skilled in working gold, silver, bronze, and iron” (15, 16a).

David then gives his son a final fatherly command: “Now begin the work, and the Lord be with you.” (16b). Just to make sure we get the point that it was David who decided where the temple was going to be built, who performed a lot of pre-construction work, and most importantly that he was Israel’s greatest king, David gives a final instruction to “the leaders of Israel to help his son Solomon, saying, “Is not the Lord your God with you? Has he not given you peace on every side? For he has delivered the inhabitants of the land into my hand; and the land is subdued before the Lord and his people.” (18)  David may have blood on his hands, but to our authors he was also a holy man of God, who in the end accepts he will not have the honor of building the temple for the God whom he loves. The question is, would I be so willing to forego a project on which my heart was so firmly set and leave the glory to my heirs?

Acts 15:19–31: The Jerusalem conference issues its communique that insofar as circumcision is concerned, Peter has “reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God.” (19) However, he does ask them to follow some sensible Jewish dietary laws: “we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood.” (20)

To make sure that the Gentiles at Antioch fully understand that the Jerusalem church has made this all-important decision, Judas Barsabbas and Silas accompany Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch. The four men have the church’s letter in hand as well as Judas and Silas as witnesses in order to make it clear Paul and Barnabas are not making this up.

Luke helpfully quotes the letter, which after a lengthy introduction of who Judas Barsabbas and Silas are, gets to the meat: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.” (28, 29)

To say that the members of the Antioch congregation were happy is something of an understatement as Luke somewhat drily observes, “When its members read it, they rejoiced at the exhortation.” (31) Good news indeed. For the church at Antioch and every gentile Christian. Although we’ll find out via Paul’s various epistles that the letter from Jerusalem did not completely put the circumcision issue to rest.

Psalm 16:1–6; 1 Chronicles 21:1–26; Acts 15:6–18

Originally published 1/23/2017. Revised and updated 1/22/2019.

Psalm 16:1–6: This psalm opens with an affirmation of the psalmist’s faith in God”
Guard me, O God,
for I shelter in You.
I said to the Lord,
‘My Master You are.
My good is only through You.’ (1,2)

It appears that he has only recently turned back to God, abandoning idol worship. He confesses that before finding God, idols were for him,
the holy ones in the land
and the mighty who were all my desire.
 (3)

We assume that he is speaking ironically when he refers to those false gods as “holy ones” and “the mighty.” He once believed they were holy and mighty, but now having rediscovered faith in the real God, they are worthless. Which is exactly what we should be doing when we realize that Jesus has come to us. But putting away the false gods in our lives is a difficult business.

The psalmist continues in this ironic tone by suggesting the small-g gods will be sorrowful because he has abandoned them:
let their [i.e., the gods] sorrows abound—
another did they betroth.
” (4a)

The latter phrase suggests that other people are still following these false gods, even to the point of being married to them. [But we have to admit these lines are pretty obscure, so I’m guessing here.]

Things become clearer at the latter half of verse 4 as the psalmist states that he has turned away from worshiping or even speaking of these small-g gods:
I will not pour their libations with blood,
I will not bear their names on my lips.
 (4b)

Now that he is rid of the gods he once worshipped, he can worship the true God with all his heart. He realizes that whatever may happen in the future his entire life is now under God’s protection:
The Lord is my portion and lot,
it is You Who will sustain my fate
. (5)

Then, he uses a lawyeresque metaphor of how he has now been written into God’s last will and testament:
An inheritance fell to me with delight,
my estate, too, is lovely to me
. (6)

This verse speaks to everyone of us who believes in God through Jesus Christ. Through him we have acquired the inheritance of faith that indeed “is lovely.” In short, we have been written into what in the book of Revelation is called the “Book of Life.”

1 Chronicles 21:1–26: King David foolishly asks his military leader Joab to conduct a census of Israel and Judah. Joab objects, telling David that the act of counting will bring guilt on Israel. “But the king’s word prevailed against Joab.” (4) Joab returns with the count: 1.1 million men under arms “who drew the sword” and 470,000 more soldiers in Judah. However, Joab “did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, for the king’s command was abhorrent to Joab.” (6)

As to why a census was so abhorrent, I have to assume it’s because David has trespassed onto God’s sole right to number his creation. After all, Israel belongs to God not to David, and God cannot abide that kind of presumption—even from beloved David. When we think about this prohibition of a census and the census of Israel demanded by Augustus at the time Jesus was born, we can imagine the abhorrence with which the emperor’s order was received in Israel.

Joab is not the only one who is displeased by David’s insistence on a census: “God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel.” (7) The cost of this effrontery before God is high. David must choose among three awful punishments: 3 years of famine, 3 months of “devastation by your foes,” or 3 days of pestilence. David chooses the latter “and seventy thousand persons fell in Israel.” God sends an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but then decides to spare the city at the last minute.

Here is where we see why David was the greatest king of Israel. He is willing to take God’s entire punishment on himself, telling God that he is solely responsible for this grievous sin and that as far as his people are concerned, “these sheep, what have they done? Let your hand, I pray, O Lord my God, be against me and against my father’s house; but do not let your people be plagued!” (17) As Christians, we certainly see this act of self-sacrifice as a pre-echo for what Jesus has done for us sheep.

As penance, the angel commands David to “erect an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.” (18) The floor of an altar?!? Sometimes, God can seem awfully capricious. Ornan, seeing the king, offers to give it to him, but David insists on paying full price, 600 shekels, telling Ornan, “I will not take for the Lord what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” (24) David builds the altar and prays to God, who answers, “with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering.” (26)

What’s clear here is that the authors of Chronicles wish to paint David in the best possible editorial light. So, when he commits the egregious sin of conducting the census, he comes to God and begs forgiveness. The story of Ornan’s threshing floor and his willingness to pay a fair price for it, is a proof of David’s intrinsic righteousness and fairness.

Acts 15:6–18: The council at Jerusalem composed of the original apostles considers the fraught question of whether or not Gentiles must be circumcised in order to become Christians. Peter points out that he was the original missionary to the Gentiles, called by God to Cornelius: “in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers.” (7) He goes on to say that the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit just like the Jews, implicitly suggesting that the Holy Spirit is indifferent to the matter of circumcision. He accuses the pro-circumcisers of putting God to the test and that “On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (11) Which of course is the primary message in the New Testament—and what Luther finally came to realize: “By grace are you saved.”

Paul and Barnabas then provide supporting testimony as “they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles.” (12) James then takes the floor and pretty much wraps up the issue by quoting the prophet Jeremiah, who said, “that all other peoples may seek the Lord—/ even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called.” (17)

It appears that the circumcision issue is being laid to rest at the highest level of the church—and our author, Luke, wants to make sure we understand that by citing three independent proofs: (1) Peter, the senior apostle, being called to go to the Gentiles; (2) Paul’s and Barnabas’ testimony re the power of the Holy Spirit working among the Gentiles; and (3) A proof text from the Hebrew scripture.

But as we know from the numerous references in Paul’s letters, the issue of Gentile circumcision issue continued to be contentious throughout his entire ministry to the Gentiles..

 

Psalm 15; 1 Chronicles 19,20; Acts 14:21–15:5

Originally published 1/21/2015. Revised and updated 1/21/2019.

Psalm 15: This psalm is a refreshing contrast to the previous psalm that focused on those who said there is no God. Here, by contrast, it is all about “Lord-fearers” (4) who come to the pre-Temple tabernacle atop  Mount Zion in Jerusalem. They ask rhetorically,
LORD, who will sojourn in Your tent,
who will dwell on Your holy mountain? (1)

The answer follows quickly, as the psalmist outlines the qualities of the good man:
He who walks blameless 
and does justice
and speaks the truth in his heart. (2).

Unlike those who use their tongues to do great harm by denying God and demeaning others, the Lord-fearer is one,
Who slanders not with his tongue
nor does to his fellow man evil
nor bears reproach for his kin. (3)

Notice that as usual, the tongue is mentioned ahead of other sins, reminding us that it is what we say that can be the greatest sin of all.

Our psalmist contrasts the good man’s attitude toward the evil man to his own actions, which also speak to his inherent righteousness:
The debased in his eyes is repugnant
but to the Lord-fearers he accords honor
When he vows to his fellow man,
he does not revoke it. (4)

The good man does not use his wealth to oppress others:
His money he does not give at interest
and no bribe for the innocent takes. (5a)

The beneficial outcome of this man’s good words and deeds is summarized succinctly in the last couplet of the psalm:
He who does these
will never stumble. (5b)

The problem of course is that we are incapable of leading a completely holy and righteous life described here–especially in matters of the tongue. Only Jesus was able to do that. That is why we have confession and forgiveness through Jesus Christ who forgives our sins. But this psalm stands as a stark reminder of what God’s standards of righteous behavior are.

1 Chronicles 19,20: David continues to build his kingdom via still more military victories. The Chronicler gives us the backstories such as the humiliation of David’s emissaries by the Ammonite king. The Ammonites and Arameans decide to go to war with David, who sends his greatest general, Joab, to fight. He splits the Army in two, one side against the Ammonites, the other against the Areamean. This strategy pays off as each army sees the other fleeing. The Arameans retreat but then bring in fresh troops “from beyond the Euphrates,” but they, too, are defeated, this time by David himself.

As always, the Chronicler includes God’s role in this as Joab says, “Be strong, and let us be courageous for our people and for the cities of our God; and may the Lord do what seems good to him.” (19:13) Which I find e to ba far more satisfying and honest attitude than the usual “God is on our side.”

Warrior kings like David and those who surrounded Israel saw their primary duty as warmaking. The Chronicler reminds us of this with the famous opening line of chapter 20: “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle.” This time, David achieves final victory over the Ammonites and captures their capital of Rabbah, collecting, among other booty, the Ammonite king’s crown “that weighed a talent of gold, and in it was a precious stone; and it was placed on David’s head.” (20:2)

Then on to a final defeat of the ever-warring Philistines, including (who knew!) the slaying of Lahmi, Goliath’s (apparently younger) brother. Still more giants “descended from the giants in Gath,” including a guy with 12 fingers and 12 toes, “fell by the hand of David and his servants.” (20:8) Given the detail with which the Chronicler recounts these battles, we have to accept that these giants did in fact exist in David’s time.

Acts 14:21–15:5: Paul and Barnabas, having learned their lesson about performing miracles at Lystra, now focus on preaching and encouragement as they “strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, ‘It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.’” (14:22)

Luke describes their itinerary in great detail: they went back to Lystra and Iconium, then returned to Antioch. Then back out again to Pisidia, Pamphylia, Perga, Attalia and returning to Antioch, which was what we would now call the “sending church.” Paul and Barnabas have indeed “opened a door of faith for the Gentiles.” (14:28)

But some of the Jewish Christians in Judea, while accepting that Gentiles can join the church, but insist that like other Gentiles who convert to Judaism, they must be circumcised first. “Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them,” (15:2) in Antioch, and agree to go to Jerusalem to discuss the matter further. But no trip is wasted, and they continue to convert Gentiles along the way, this time in Phoenicia and Samaria as they travel south to Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem church welcomes them, and Paul and Barnabas “reported all that God had done with them.” (15:4). But then it’s down to business as “some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.” (15:5). Thus, the Council at Jerusalem commences discussion over the first great disagreement within the church.

Psalm 14; 1 Chronicles 18; Acts 14:8–20

Originally published 1/20/2017. Revised and updated 1/19/2019.

Psalm 14: The first two lines of opening appear to describe an atheist:
The scoundrel has said in his heart,
‘There is no God.
‘ (1a)

But the lines that follow make it clear that this is a moral judgement by the psalmist, not a theological statement:
They corrupt, they make loathsome their acts.
There is none who does good. (1b)

This scoundrel believes that there is no God looking down on his evil acts and that therefore he can get away with whatever he pleases.  In fact, as far as our psalmist is concerned, no person who rejects God does good.

In what appears to be a pre-diluvian world full of only evil and corruption, our psalmist evokes an image of God who appears to be seeking out a Noah:
The Lord from the heavens looked down
on the sons of humankind
to see, is there someone discerning,
someone seeking out God.
 (2)

But what God finds (or doesn’t find) is pretty discouraging. There is not even a Noah to be found in our psalmist’s dark almost cynical world view:
All turn astray.
altogether befouled.
There is none who does good.
There is not even one.
 (3)

We need to remember that it is the psalmist is speaking, not God. In his deep discouragement he believes that the entire nation of Israel has been put under the collective thumb of the corrupt, who occupy every position of power. Just as many do today when they survey the landscape of American culture. And many view the current president as the apotheosis of that corruption.

Nevertheless, there is hope. The evildoers will eventually receive their comeuppance as our psalmist reflects,
Do they not know,
all wrongdoers?
…They did not call the Lord.
 (4)

And for failing to acknowledge that God is the source of righteousness, they will be punished by the God-believers:
There did they sorely fear,
for God is with the righteous band.
” (5)

Now we also learn the nature of their sin. It is one of the worst: exploiting the poor:
In your plot against the poor you [the wrongdoers] are shamed,
for the Lord is his shelter
. (6)

Clearly, this psalm seems to have been written at some point of widespread oppression of the weak by the powerful. The nation appears to be under the thumb of a tyrant and his lackeys.

This angry psalm concludes with the usual plea for God to make his appearance and once again set things aright in Israel:
Oh, may from Zion come Israel’s rescue
when the Lord restores His people’s condition.’
(7a)

When that finally happens there will be tremendous rejoicing by all:
May Jacob exult,
May Israel rejoice.
” (7b)

At least at the end [and like virtually every psalm], there is a ray of hope that people will come to their senses and worship God.

1 Chronicles 18: This chapter is devoted to a summary of David as warrior-king and his many battles and victories. David attacks and subdues:

  • The Philistines (1)
  • Moab (2)
  • King Hadadezer of Zobah (3)
  • Arameans from Damascus (5, 6)
  • Edomites (12)

When a certain King Tou of Hamath “heard that David had defeated the whole army of King Hadadezer of Zobah, he sent his son Hadoram to King David, to greet him and to congratulate him.” (9) Smart man that King Tou. Because David acknowledges that it was “the Lord [who] gave victory to David wherever he went.” (12)

Our authors are careful to note that in every victory, David dedicated the spoils of war to God. I suspect this wealth became the basis of Solomon’s wealth that he used to build the temple.

Needless to say, no chapter in Chronicles would be complete without a list of names. Here, we read who is head of the army, the recorder, and the priests, as well as “David’s sons [who] were the chief officials in the service of the king.” (17) Our authors are definitely David fans.

Acts 14:8–20: Paul and Barnabas arrive at Lystra, where a crippled man “listened to Paul as he was speaking.” (9) Paul, “seeing that he had faith to be healed, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet. And the man sprang up and began to walk.” (9, 10) However, retrospectively this was a mistake on Paul’s part. The crowds do not understand that faith in Jesus was the reason behind the man’s healing and “they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” (11) They even name Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes, “because he was the chief speaker.” (12) 

Things start to get out of hand when the priest of Zeus wants to offer a sacrifice before Paul and Barnabas. A distraught Paul tries to calm the crowd by telling them, “We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.” (15) But as our author rather tartly observes, “Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.” (18)

Just when we think that things will settle down and Paul and Barnabas will successfully convert many to Jesus, the Jews from Antioch and Iconium show up. This easily swayed crowd is reminiscent of the crowds in Jerusalem during last Jesus’ last week there. They quickly turn from exaltation to execration and actually stone Paul, leaving him for dead. Happily, he is apparently uninjured (or perhaps miraculously healed) and as “the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city.” (20)

There are several lessons for the church here in this story. First, miracles, however benign their intent, do not necessarily produce the desired outcome of converting people to Jesus because they can be easily misunderstood. I suspect that following this incident Paul became far more judicious in using the power of the Holy Spirit to heal people.

Second, the church has always had—and always will have—enemies who will do everything in their power to quash the good news. Why so many people delude themselves into thinking America is a “Christian nation” and therefore should be different than what happened to Paul and Barnabas Lystra remains a mystery to me.

Third, even where there is persecution and the gospel appears to have been defeated there will still be followers such as the disciples who surrounded the apparently dead Paul. The Holy Spirit can never be completely quenched.

 

Psalm 13; 1 Chronicles 16:37–17:27; Acts 13:48–14:7

Originally published 1/19/2017. Revised and updated 1/18/2019.

Psalm 13: This is a classic psalm of supplication that opens with an agonized cry:
How long, O Lord, will You forget me always?
How long hide Your face from me?
 (2)

It is clear from the psalmist’s point of view that he has been in his desperate straits for what seems like years. God seems simply and permanently to have gone silent. This verse has echoed down the centuries by those who suffer, especially at the hands of enemies and who have concluded that God has abandoned them.

Compounding his suffering, our supplicant feels he is completely alone and abandoned by God as he asks,
How long shall I cast about for counsel,
sorrow in my heart all day
? (3a)

Even worse, he feels personally threatened: “How long will my enemy loom over me?” (3b)

This is his final desperate plea before he lays down and dies. Even though his faith in God has been put to the ultimate test, he turns to God because there is no one else to turn to:
Regard, answer me, Lord, my God.
Light up my eyes, lest I sleep death
 (4)

He points out to God that even worse his death would give his enemy the satisfaction of triumph:
lest my enemy say, ‘I’ve prevailed over him,’
lest my foes exult when I stumble.
 (5)

And yet. Although his faith wavers, he still trusts that God will come through in the end as this agonized prayer concludes with a simple statement of trust that God will indeed come to his rescue:
But I in Your kindness do trust,
my heart exults in Your rescue.
 (6a)

And once he is rescued there can be worship:
Let me sing to the Lord,
for He requited me.
 (6b)

I know that I would certainly pray for God’s rescue in my hour of agony. But would I have the courage and faith to so trust that God will rescue me and I will be able to worship? I fear far too many prayers that begin in desperation do not end in worshipful exultation because I (and others) have been unwilling to completely trust that God will indeed rescue us. The psalmist’s unshakable faith is an inspiration to me. Wuld that my faith were equally unshakable.

1 Chronicles 16:37–17:27: We can certainly tell that Chronicles was written by Levite priests who had been active in worship at the temple in Jerusalem before being exiled. They devote yet another lengthy passage to naming the priests, most notably the famous Zadok, who maintained worship at the tabernacle that is now located in Jerusalem. What’s interesting to me here is the concept that individuals are called by God to the priesthood: “With them were Heman and Jeduthun, and the rest of those chosen and expressly named to render thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (16:41) This of course is also the basis on which we “call” pastors today.

We arrive once again at David’s great dilemma: “David said to the prophet Nathan, “I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of the Lord is under a tent.”‘ (17:1) David believes God should have the greater glory and Nathan agrees, advising him, “Do all that you have in mind, for God is with you.” (17:2)

However, “that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan,” (3) that he should instruct David that he “shall not build me a house to live in.” (4) God remains perfectly happy to live in a tent and reviews all he has done for Israel since arriving at Canaan even though he has lacked a “house.”

Speaking through Nathan, God gives David a great promise: “I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom…I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.” (11, 14) Of course the immediate reference is to Solomon, but as Christians we also remember God’s promise that Jesus would arise out of the house of David. And even though the earthly kingdom of Israel has long since passed away King Jesus continues to reign—God never fails to fulfil his promises.

What makes David so extraordinary from his predecessor (and the vast majority of kings who follow him) is his humility before God. David prays to God and offers the example of servant leadership that we see in Jesus: “For your servant’s sake, O Lord, and according to your own heart, you have done all these great deeds, making known all these great things. There is no one like you, O Lord, and there is no God besides you.” (17:19)

David graciously accepts God’s decision that he will not have the honor of building God’s house. The question is, would I accept as graciously as David if God were telling me to not do something that I felt called to do? Or would I just ignore God and forge ahead? I know I have done the latter more times in my life than the former.

Acts 13:48–14:7: Although the Gentiles are thrilled to hear that the good news of Jesus applies to them as well as the Jews, the Jews in Antioch are none too pleased: “The Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their region.” (13:50) What’s terribly important to note here is that in the face of this fierce opposition Paul and Barnabas simply left town: “they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium.” (51) But they did not leave a spiritual vacuum behind them. The disciples who remained “were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (52)

Luke is making it extremely clear here that it is the Holy Spirit doing the work of building the church. Paul and Barnabas are simply the catalyst that helps light the fire of the Holy Spirit inside others. On fire for Jesus, they are the ones who build the community that is the heart of the church. Too often, leaders linger too far beyond their time. Then, it is too often their personality and charisma—rather than the Holy Spirit—that becomes the focal point of the community. Since the Holy Spirit has been shunted aside in favor of a human personality, when that personality retires or dies the community withers away. A recent example was the Crystal Cathedral, which had centered itself around the personality of its founder, Bob Schuller. After he passed on, the church faded from existence.

As far as the Jews are concerned, Paul and Barnabas are definitely rabble rousers, hated, I suspect, for including Gentiles as full-fledged members of what the Jews saw as a strictly Jewish sect. They felt their religion itself was threatened by this Jesus. “The same thing occurred in Iconium, where Paul and Barnabas went into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.”  (14:1, 2)

Nevertheless, the missionaries remain for some months, “speaking boldly for the Lord,” (14:3) but they manage only to further divide the city into polarized camps, where “some [Gentiles] sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles.” (14:4) When Paul and Barnabas learn of a plot to kill them, they “fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country,” (6) But they never, ever give up. They simply “continued proclaiming the good news.” (7)

The early adventures of Paul and Barnabas give us a flavor of just how radical and revolutionary the Gospel message really was. The established order of Jewish-Gentile relationships throughout the Roman world was being unexpectedly upset. People, who had assumed the status quo ante would continue just as they wanted to, were extremely upset. Just as many are today at the upsetting of their perception of how the arc of history should proceed because something unexpected and to their mind, radical and distasteful, has occurred. Worse, they see are losing control of the narrative, just as the Jews lost control of their narrative in Antioch and Iconium. Polarization is certainly nothing new.

Psalm 12; 1 Chronicles 16:1–36; Acts 13:34–47

Originally published 1/18/2017. Revised and updated 1/17/2019.

Psalm 12: Although this psalm opens on a note of supplication it sounds like a prophet declaring doom as he describes a moral desert—not unlike the moral desert that seems to be overtaking American culture:
Rescue, O Lord! For the faithful is gone,
for vanished is trust from sons of man
. (2)

The idea that no one trusts anyone else certainly reflects today’s political climate. The next verse is even more relevant to our culture as it perfectly describes the politicians who have surrounded us for years now:
Falsehood every man speaks to his fellow,
smooth talk, with two hearts they speak. 
(3)

If ever we wanted a perfect description of the duplicitous qualities of conventional politicians, it is captured perfectly in the phrase, “smooth talk, with two hearts they speak.” I believe it is the focus-group-tested smooth talk of politicians like Obama and Clinton that people finally tired of and thereby elected a man, who for better or worse, disdains smooth talk as the empty rhetoric it is.

Using a rather stark image, our psalmist is convinced that God will eventually intervene:
The Lord will cut off all smooth-talking lips,
the tongue that speaks of big things
. (4)

As usual, the root problem is human pride, as it always is, as our psalmist describes the overweening pride of those who believe they are greater than God—words that certainly sound familiar today:
…those who said, ‘Let us make our tongue great,
our own lips are with us—who is master to us?
 (5).

Ultimately, their punishment will arise from an unexpected direction:
From the plunder of the poor, from the wretched men’s groans,
now I will rise,” says the Lord.
 (6)

While it is certainly over-interpretation on my part, for me, this verse describes the unexpected direction from which the “wrong person” won the 2016 presidential election. The smooth-talkers were defeated by the middle class poor rising up and saying they had had enough.

The point of view shifts in the next verse from describing a culture to an individual who is being oppressed by his “smooth-talking” enemies. God himself now speaks
I will set up for rescue a witness for him.‘ (7a)

Again, a possible over-interpretation, but God certainly sent Jesus to rescue us. The psalmist’s voice returns with a contrast between the “smooth talkers” and God’s pure speech:
The Lord’s sayings—pure sayings,
silver tried in a kiln in the earth
refined sevenfold.
 (7b)

How much more pure are the words of the Lord than the treacly speeches of smooth-talking politicians of two hearts. In the end, God will protect those who are oppressed by the smooth talkers:
You, Lord, will guard him,
will keep him from this age for all time.
 (8)

The psalm concludes with a verse that seems completely out of place as it describes the actions of the wicked—
All around go the wicked,
they have dug deep pits for the sons of men.

It feels like someone accidentally dropped a scroll and this verse wound up being misplaced. It would certainly make more sense following verse 3. Nevertheless, the thrust and theme of the psalm are crystal clear: Smooth talkers will get their comeuppance.

1 Chronicles 16:1–36: The celebration of the return of the Ark moves to its concluding stages as “They brought in the ark of God, and set it inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and they offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before God.” (1) David also seems to originated the custom of party bags as “he distributed to every person in Israel—man and woman alike—to each a loaf of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins.” (3)

No chapter in this book would be complete without a list of names, and here our authors duly record the names of the Levites who are appointed by David to be “ministers before the ark of the Lord, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the Lord, the God of Israel.” (4)

The reminder of the chapter records David’s justly famous psalm of thanksgiving. [One wonders why it did not end up in the book of Psalms.] It would be wonderful to hear the opening verses as a hymn that we could sing ourselves:
O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
    make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him,
    tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.” (8-10)

The body of David’s psalm recounts Israel’s history beginning with Abraham, continuing to the promise to Jacob and the promise of Caanan. Israel once was “wandering from nation to nation,/ from one kingdom to another people,” (20) But God was always watching over them and “he allowed no one to oppress them;/he rebuked kings on their account.” (21)

Many of the words and promises of this psalm are not only for ancient Israel, but also for us here today:
Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
    Tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous works among all the peoples.” (23-24)

David concludes on the highest possible note, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,/ from everlasting to everlasting.” (36a) And in response, “all the people said “Amen!” and praised the Lord.” (36b) If we ever needed a model for grateful worship it is right here: we could come into the sanctuary and read this psalm in unison and know that we had truly worshipped God. No sermon, no songs, no hymns, no announcements. Just pure worship.

Acts 13:34–47: Paul continues his sermon by quoting scripture that was doubtless well known to his Jewish audience. And in one of those interesting Moravian parallels between readings, Paul points out that even revered David was a sinner and died like all other mortal men: “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died, was laid beside his ancestors, and experienced corruption.” (36) By contrast, Paul asserts, “he [Jesus] whom God raised up experienced no corruption.” (37)

Paul is much more the theologian than Peter, and some key theological argumentation follows as Paul states that because Jesus was free of human corruption, he is the agent of God’s forgiveness: “Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” (38) And therefore, “by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” (40) This is the very core of the Good News.

Paul concludes by warning his listeners with a quote from the prophet Habakuk that they are not to scoff, but that God has now fulfilled the prophet’s promise with “a work that you will never believe, even if someone tells you.’” (41)

This sermon generates a lot of enthusiasm among Paul’s listeners, who invite Barnabas and him back for more next week.  And, “many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.” (42)

However, many other Jews “saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul.” (45) And this is the crucial turning point in Paul’s life—and in the church itself. Inasmuch as the Jews “reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles.” (46)

Retrospectively, we can see why the Jewish Christian church ultimately died away. The Good News was simply too radical, too contrary to a belief system that had been in place for the centuries since David. The weight of a culture that refused to accept something new was simply too much for the Jerusalem church to withstand.

Paul, being Paul, makes his point by again quoting scripture. This time Isaiah: “I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles,/so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” Christianity was no longer a Jewish sect; it was now more than ever, Good News for all the world. And Paul becomes the man who brings the Good News to the Gentile world.

Psalm 11; 1 Chronicles 14:8–15:29; Acts 13:20b–33

Originally published 1/17/2017. Revised and updated 1/16/2019.

Psalm 11: Our psalmist, speaking as David, is conducting a dialog with his friends, who have advised him to flee his enemies. But he resists, telling them:
How could you say to me,
‘Off to the hills like a bird!
‘ (1)

Nevertheless, his friends remain adamant, pointing out that the psalmist is about to be attacked by the conspirators:
For, look, the wicked bend back the bow,
they fix to the string their arrow
to shoot from the gloom at the up right.
 (2)

In fact, they despair that a righteous man has no option but to flee a world populated by evil men and their wicked deeds that has undermined the culture, which certainly sounds like a warning appropriate for our present time:
The foundations destroyed,
what can a righteous man do?
(3)

Not so, David replies, for he has assurance that God still reigns:
The Lord is in His holy palace,
The Lord in the heavens His throne.
 (4a)

In point of fact, from his position up in heaven God is looking down at every man—good or evil—and judging them accordingly. God sees everything; every person and every deed:
His eyes behold,
His look probes the sons of man.
The Lord probes the righteous and  wicked,
and the lover of havoc He utterly hates. (4b, 5)

Ultimately, God declares his justice as the wicked receive their just desserts. Our psalmist chooses an image that instantly recalls the punishing doom experienced by the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah:
He rains fiery coals on the wicked,
sulphur and gale-winds their lot. (6)

We arrive the moral of the psalm. As usual there is no middle ground. God hates evil and loves righteousness, because God is the source of righteousness and therefore cannot abide evil. Thus, the righteous man enjoys God’s favor:
For righteous the Lord is,
righteous acts He does love.
The upright behold His face. (7)

The last line wraps up the core theology of this psalm. Only the righteous can see God and receive his favor. Happily for us, when we stray from righteousness, we can confess our sins through Jesus Christ and restore our right relationship with God.

1 Chronicles 14:8–15:29: Our authors continue with the story of David as the warrior king who never failed to ask God for guidance. The Philistines have raided a valley in Israel. rather than just going out and attacking them, “David inquired of God, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you give them into my hand?” ” (14:10a) God answers David: “Go up, and I will give them into your hand.” (14:10b) David reminds his troops that“God has burst out against my enemies by my hand, like a bursting flood.” (14:11) and burns the idols of the Philistines.

Our authors follow with another example of how attentive David was to God’s leading and guidance. There is a subsequent raid by the Philistines. Once again, David inquired of God and God even provided battle strategy: “You shall not go up after them; go around and come on them opposite the balsam trees.” (14:14) Once again, by following God’s explicit orders, David is victorious and “The fame of David went out into all lands, and the Lord brought the fear of him on all nations.” (14:17)

Back in Jerusalem, and now king, David builds his palace and “he prepared a place for the ark of God and pitched a tent for it.” (15:1) He then calls the leaders of Israel together. [And this being 1 Chronicles that never fails to name everyone involved, especially the Levites, the leaders are all duly identified.] David points out that after the unfortunate incident of Uzzah touching the Ark, they must be more careful about how and who deals with the Ark: “Because you did not carry it the first time, the Lord our God burst out against us, because we did not give it proper care.” (15:13) The Levites sanctify themselves and rather than putting the Ark on a wagon, they “carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the Lord.” (15:15) God like it when he is obeyed to the letter of the law.

The act of bringing the Ark into the newly erected tabernacle at Jerusalem is also an occasion of worship, and David “commanded the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their kindred as the singers to play on musical instruments, on harps and lyres and cymbals, to raise loud sounds of joy.” (15:16) [Once again, this being 1 Chronicles, all the players and participants are named.] A party accompanies the successful delivery of the Ark to the tabernacle in Jerusalem: “So all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting, to the sound of the horn, trumpets, and cymbals, and made loud music on harps and lyres.” (15:28)

But there is one person who is unhappy as the reading concludes on a dark note: “As the ark of the covenant of the Lord came to the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing; and she despised him in her heart.” (15:29) Proof that as always, no matter how great the rejoicing, discontent and hatred is never far off in the distance.

Acts 13:20b–33: In a sermon suggesting that he dad listened carefully to Stephen’s sermon just before he was stoned, Paul continues to recount Israel’s history. He observes that after the last judge, Samuel, the people asked for a king. That would be Saul, who reigned for 40 years. Then came David, who Peter observes, God said, “‘I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.’” (22) The history lesson ends there as Peter leaps ahead in time to Jesus, stating that out of David’s “posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised.” (23) Peter then makes sure that everyone understands that John the Baptist was not—contrary to widespread rumor—the Messiah, but that John himself had made it clear that “one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet.’” (25)

Paul then relates that “Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets that are read every sabbath, they fulfilled those words by condemning him.” (27) This is crucial. Jesus fulfilled the prophet’s foretelling by virtue of being unrecognized for who he was—and for being killed by the authorities of Israel.

Paul goes on to describe Jesus ‘ resurrection, making it clear that it was not magic, not a resuscitation, nor a mere rumor, but that it was “God [who] raised him from the dead.” (30) Paul concludes by telling his audience that this is indeed “good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus.” (32, 33a) Paul caps off his sermon by quoting Psalm 2 as God being the one who is speaking:
You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.’ (33b)

We hear a lot about the “good news” but it is when we actually read Paul’s wonderful sermon that we really get it. There can be no better news than that Jesus died and rose from the dead. A promise to Israel’s ancestors has been fulfilled for the people to whom Paul is speaking—and the Good News remains a promise that has been fulfilled for all of us.

Psalm 10:12–18; 1 Chronicles 13:1–14:7; Acts 13:8–20a

Originally published 1/15/2015. Revised and updated 1/15/2019.

Psalm 10:12–18: Our psalmist turns to a prayer of supplication, asking God to remember the weak when it seems the wicked have all the power even though they have rejected God—a rejection that God is well aware of:
Rise, O LORD, raise Your hand, 
forget not the lowly.
Why has the wicked despised God,
has said in his heart, ‘You shall not seek out.’
For You have seen mischief

and have looked on vexation.(12, 13, 14a)

The reason God should remember the lowly is simple: the poor and the weak have nowhere else to turn as they are oppressed by the wicked who so openly despise God:
The wretched leaves his fate in Your hands.
It is You Who help the orphan. (14b)

Like many of these prayers, the psalmist reminds God—and reminds us—of what God can and will indeed at some point do:
Break the arm of the wicked,
and seek out evil, let wickedness not be found.
The Lord is King for all time,
nations are lost from His land. (15, 16)

But we must always remember that there is no doubt in the mind and heart of the psalmist that God would ever fail to accomplish these acts as he turns confidently to the assurance that God is truly listening to the prayers of the poor:
The desire of the poor You have heard, O LORD,
You make their heart firm, Your ear listens. (17)

And having listened, we are convinced that God will act:
To do justice for the orphan and the wretched, 
and let none still oppress man in the land. (18)

The question for me is, can I pray with the same remarkable assurance of the psalmist when I see injustice and oppression around me? Regardless, the lesson of this psalm is clear: pray confidently!

1 Chronicles 13:1–14:7: David has consolidated his power and he decides it’s time to bring the Ark up to Jerusalem. Apparently it has been sitting somewhere else, ignored, during the reign of Saul. Wise leader that he is, David consults “the commanders of the thousands and of the hundreds, with every leader.” (1) and asks if it’s a good idea. Happily, “it pleased all the people.” (4) Once again, we have an example of the leader, who by consulting with those he leads, finds this is an excellent way to gain agreement and along the way, to infuse them with the same enthusiasm for the project that the leader feels.

So, they build a new ox-cart and bring the Ark up to Jerusalem. This is a cause of great celebration, as “David and all Israel were dancing before God with all their might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets.” (8) But just as the ark cart reaches the threshing floor of Chidon, the oxen stumble. Afraid that the ark will fall off the cart, one of the drivers, Uzzah, reaches out to steady it. Not being a priest, he has broken the law and is immediately struck dead. David is outraged by this act of unfairness. After all, poor Uzzah was trying to do the right thing. Where’s the fairness in that?

David is angry at God (11) and then afraid of God (12), so he abandons his plan to bring the Ark to Jerusalem, leaving it the care of Obed-edom, whose household God blesses.

So, what gives with God? I’m on David’s side here. Yes, God’s law is to be followed, but this is the merciless OT side of God that like David, we are both angry at and afraid of. I’m pretty sure David didn’t go home and write a psalm praising God that night. If nothing else, though, we learn that like David, we can be people of God, but can still get angry at God for his seeming indifference—or worse, his seeming capriciousness, and yes, his seeming cruelty—to people who are only trying to do the right thing. But at this point in ISrael’s relationship with God, the Law was immutable and stern.

In any event, David settles down in Jerusalem and “took more wives in Jerusalem, and David became the father of more sons and daughters.” (14:3)

Acts 13:8–20a: Saul, now also called Paul, begins his first missionary journey. And immediately encounters Elymas the magician, trying to influence the proconsul with his magic. Luke makes it clear here that Paul is no magician whose magic trumps the other magician. Instead, Paul “filled with the Holy Spirit” (9) simply stares at Elymas and denouncing him, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?” (10) Whereupon Elymas goes blind.  Luke is making it clear that this is not Paul’s doing but the Holy Spirit’s.

Paul says something crucial we would do well to remember: we incessantly attempt to make the straight paths of the Lord crooked. There are infinite ways of making the simplicity of the Gospel message more complex than it is. We do this with complicated sermons that talk around the Kerygma rather than just saying it outright. We are capable of creating complex theology that causes people to misunderstand the Gospel message and lose their way. This statement is a fair warning to all who teach and lead others.

Paul and Barnabas, having converted the proconsul, head of to Perga in Pamphylia, while John Mark heads back to Jerusalem. The pair go to the synagogue on the Sabbath, whereupon they are invited “if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it.” (14:15) Which Paul does. I’m intrigued: Luke tells us that Paul “stood up and with a gesture began to speak.” (14:16) What was the gesture? It certainly must have been a friendly one.

Paul opens his speech with a history lesson about Israel. One has the impression that the Jews at the synagogue in Perga may not have been all that familiar with their ancestors’ history. Not unlike many in church today who do not know the roots and history of their Christian faith…