Psalm 24; 2 Chronicles 20:20–21:17; Acts 22:3–16

Psalm 24: We can imagine this psalm being sung as a procession of pilgrims winds its way up the mountain to the Temple. The psalm begins with God as Creator–and master of all creation: “The Lord’s is the earth and its fullness, / The world and the dwellers within it. / For He on the seas did found it.” (1,2a) making it clear that God and creation are separate.

Then, the rhetorical question, “Who shall go up on the mount of the Lord / and who shall stand in His holy place?” Who is worthy to enter the Temple? That would be “The clean of hands and pure of heart.” (4a) Now that those “who [have] given no oath a lie / and [have] sworn not in deceit” (4b) have arrived at the Temple, one imagines a moment of silence as all heads turn to the entrance and the singing: “Lift up your heads, O gates / and rise up, eternal portals / “that he king of glory may enter.”

This is exactly the image of warriors standing at attention waiting for their leader as the question just asked is answered: “The Lord, most potent and valiant, / The Lord Who is valiant in battle.” Or, for Israel, when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to the battlefield, as we see in the early chapters of 1 Samuel. The question is answered: it is God, “The Lord of armies, He is the king of glory.” (which lines are found in Handle’s Messiah)

This is a wonderful psalm on which to ponder when we think of God as small or when we try to put God into our little controllable boxes.What does it mean to be king of glory? That God is infinitely greater than even our imaginations.  God is the king of creation and we, even we who are pure of heart, are his creatures–whom he leads in battle, and whom he loves.

2 Chronicles 20:20–21:17: Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah have abandoned themselves completely to God, and now, ready for battle, “Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Listen to me, O Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God and you will be established; believe his prophets.” (20:20) and just as we read in psalm 24, a choir goes before the army singing, ““Give thanks to the Lord,/  for his steadfast love endures forever.” (21). The Judeans rout the enemy completely (or as our author has it, “the Lord set an ambush against the Ammonites, Moab, and Mount Seir”). The conquest is so complete that it takes three days to gather all the booty.

Jehoshaphat is Judah’s most successful king after David and Solomon because except for a few missteps out of which he learns his lesson, he has trusted God absolutely. But all good things come to an end. He dies and his son, Jehoram, takes the throne of Judah, who commences his reign by assassinating his six brothers and marrying the daughter of Ahab, aligning himself with Israel. Things go downhill from there, and the great curse of the historian is laid on him: “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” 921:6). But, doubtless unknowing since he was certainly not paying attention, Jehoram was spared because, “the Lord would not destroy the house of David because of the covenant that he had made with David,” (7)

The prophet Elijah enters Jehoram’s life via a letter the prophet sends to the king, telling him that because he has not followed God and has done evil things such as killing his brothers, “ the Lord will bring a great plague on your people, your children, your wives, and all your possessions, and you yourself will have a severe sickness with a disease of your bowels, until your bowels come out, day after day, because of the disease.” (14) And in the midst of Jehoram’s agony, the Philistine’s and Arabs invade, plunder and kill, leaving only Jehoahaz, Jehoram’s youngest son.”

Jehoram learns too late that actions have consequences, especially where God is concerned. We may not experience the one-to-one correspondence between abandoning God and disease and defeat the way Jehoram did, but it’s worth remembering that even when bad things happen, God is also merciful and keeps his side of the vow. Do we keep our side? Or are we like Jehoram?

Acts 22:3–16: Speaking in Hebrew on the steps of the Roman barracks, Luke gives us a tangible picture of the Jew who went to the Greeks in the Roman Empire. While we know everything Paul is about to say because Luke gave it to us in third person narrative early in this book, now Luke becomes court reporter and we hear Paul’s story in his own words, exactly as he told it.

Paul first gives his Jewish bona fides “brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God,” and then tells the crowd, ” just as all of you are today.” Brilliant. He is identifying with them. He recounts how he persecuted “to the point of death” the new converts to The Way. So far, Paul is saying, “I am exactly like all of you.”

This makes the story of his Damascus Road conversion and how he was blinded even more dramatic. From night to day. He gives credit to “a certain Ananais, who was also a Jew that had converted. Here, we learn that Ananais said much more to Paul than “Regain your sight,” but also, “The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear his own voice;” (14) Paul is brilliantly tightening the link between his (and Ananais’s) Jewishness, making it clear that turning to Jesus Christ is not just a new fad, but that it is a completely logical progression that reaches back to the foundation of Judaism.

Paul, in telling his own story using Ananais’s words, is inviting the Jewish crowd to do exactly the same thing: “And now why do you delay? Get up, be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name.’” (16).

Paul’s testimony is immensely powerful–not just for what his experience was, but that his experience can be exactly his listener’s experience. The most powerful testimonies are the ones that draw us in close so we can see ourselves: that what happened to Paul can just as well be our story, as well. He has drawn them in as close as he possibly can. What will the crowd do?

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