Psalm 147:15-20; 2 Kings 25; Acts 7:44-60

Psalm 147:15-20: The final verses of this psalm extol God’s mastery of nature, as he speaks not just to us, but to all creation: “He sends down His utterance to earth, / quickly His word races.” And God’s word has real and immediate power, as the next few verses reveal:

He pours forth snow like fleece,
scatters frost like ash.
He flings His ice like bread crumbs.
In the face of His cold who can endure? (16,17)

Inasmuch as I am writing this from Madison, Wisconsin in December, these verses have special resonance. But God brings springtime and warmth as well: “He sends out His word and melts them, /He lets His breath blow—the waters flow.” (18). As usual, the psalmist reminds us that God does not do these things by mental telpathy or even by waving his arms, but by speaking, even though he would be perfectly capable of interacting with nature in that way. In contrast to the mute small-g gods of others, our God speaks and things happen. And of course at this time of year we remember God’s greatest speech, when he sent his Word into our space and our time in the form of a tiny human baby.

2 Kings 25: The story of the capture of Judah by Babylon is recent history to our historian and he writes with increasing detail–both in dates [“in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came with all his army against Jerusalem,” (1)] and names [“chief priest Seraiah, the second priest Zephaniah”(18)]. Following a two-year siege of Jerusalem, King Zedekiah is captured, forced to watch his sons slain, blinded and carried off in fetters.

We can feel the historian’s despair as he describes the destruction of Solomon’s temple and all the enormous amount of gold, silver and bronze that was carried back to Babylon. A governor, Gedaliah, is appointed to rule over the few people remaining in Judah, and even that goes awry as a certain Ismael rebels, killing him and the other Chaldeans there. Ismael and his band escape to Egypt, and the desolation of Judah is complete. The scattering of the descendants of the twelve tribes that came up out of Egypt with Moses is complete–their punishment for failing to heed what Moses had told their ancestors so many years ago.

The book ends on a somber but hopeful note as the historian tells us that King Jehoiachin of Judah is brought out of prison by Nebuchanezzar’s successor and given a place of honor and a pension. Perhaps all is not lost.

Acts 7:44-60: Stephen does not mince words and makes it clear that God no longer dwells in the Temple, but quotes the prophet, “Heaven is my throne,/ and the earth is my footstool.” (51). Probably knowing hehas nothing to lose, Stephen gets personal, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do.” (51) And then the greatest accusation of all: “You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.” (53) Stephen has become Isaiah, the prophet forthtelling what those in power definitely do not want to hear.

The officials drag Stephen out and stone him. Why is their anger so immense? Why do they grind their teeth?After all, it’s just some unwashed convert from some crazy new sect. I think that deep in their hearts they knew Stephen had identified exactly what they knew to be true. But anger trumps rational thought—and Stephen certainly did himself no favors by his accusation. There could be no other outcome.

Luke, in his brilliance as an author brings this first phase of the early church to a close with Stephen’s martyrdom. He adds the seemingly insignificant detail, “the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” The spotlight is about to shift, but not before we hear Stephen’s final words, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (60)

Unfortunately, the Christian church did indeed hold these things against the Jews, and its witness has been deeply marred for what happened over the next two millennia.

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