Psalm 23; 2 Chronicles 19:1–20:19; Acts 21:31–22:2

Psalm 23: What can be written or said about this psalm that has not already been written or said? God as shepherd must have been an earth-shattering metaphor when this psalm was written. Shepherds were at the bottom rung of society, seen by others as nere-do-wells unsuited for other positions than to spend the nights in the cold and dark with sheep–surely among the stupidest of large mammals.

Yet, Jesus in telling the parable of the shepherd and then proclaiming himself the Good Shepherd elevated this psalm even higher. Like everything else about him, he turned the world upside down, just as this metaphor here turns the understanding of God as majestic, powerful, and awesome upside down. God as shepherd, as companion.

We think of this psalm as gentle, comforting–something to be read at funerals. And it is. We think of the last verse–“And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever”–as heaven, our final resting place. Although, as Alter translates it, what we read as ‘forever’ he translates as “for many long days.” Since the OT has no particular concept of heaven, this could simply be a statement of David longing to be back at the Tabernacle. In short, the end of the verse is not about death, it’s about worship.

Far from being a valedictory, something to be read at funerals, it is the description of the living relationship between God and us. It is about life, not death.

2 Chronicles 19:1–20:19: After the abortive alliance with Ahab and Israel, Jehoshaphat returns to Jerusalem chastened. Even Hanani the seer admits, “Nevertheless, some good is found in you,.” (19:3) Jehoshaphat redoubles his efforts to be a good king, establishing a judicial system and warning the judges, ““Consider what you are doing, for you judge not on behalf of human beings but on the Lord’s behalf; he is with you in giving judgment. Now, let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take care what you do, for there is no perversion of justice with the Lord our God, or partiality, or taking of bribes.” (6, 7)

The Moabites and Ammonites plan to invade from the east. “ Jehoshaphat was afraid; he set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord;” (20:4) The king prays, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (20:12) This is true humility: admitting that “we do not know what to do” and turning to God. Jehoshaphat comes to God free of pride. Unlike so many others, he does not already have a plan in mind and comes to God asking for approval of what he’s already figured out. The king has abandoned himself completely to God.

Before the men of Judah, including “their little ones, their wives, and their children.” Jahaziel, son of Zechariah comes forward and speaks with the spirit of the Lord on him: “Thus says the Lord to you: ‘Do not fear or be dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God’s.” (20:15) and “Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.” (20:17)

There it is: the battle is not ours but God’s. And yet, I hold on to my plan, my ideas, so fiercely. In this time of crisis, Jehoshaphat and Judah turn it all over to God. To be blunt, in this way, Solomon’s grandson was much wiser than Solomon himself.  Can I abandon my plans and my pride the way this king and country did?

Acts 21:31–22:2: In the midst of the riot while the Jews were trying to kill Paul, order is restored by the Roman tribune, who arrests Paul, but have no idea what he’s done wrong. The crowd is no help: “Some in the crowd shouted one thing, some another; and as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks.” The mob–eerily reminiscent of another mob in Jerusalem some years before–wants Paul to be killed.

Paul asks the tribune if he can speak– in Greek. Surprised, the Tribune, who clearly did not understand Hebrew, asks if Paul is the “Egyptian who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?” (38). Paul replies with his bon fides and asks, “I beg you, let me speak to the people.” Paul calms the crowd and begins speaking in Hebrew…

Luke gives us a brilliant picture of the tension between Rome and the Jews. We see the critical importance of language and understanding. The Roman authorities do not understand the language–much less the culture–of the people they are ruling. The lesson here for us: unless there is understanding at the most basic level, there is no hope of understanding at a higher level. It becomes all mobs and riots. Today, we do our shouting and rioting on the Internet… But our misunderstanding of others is just as great.

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