Psalm 25:8–22; 2 Chronicles 24:1–25:4; Acts 22:30–23:11

Psalm 25:8–22: Alter informs us that this psalm is one of nine alphabetical acrostics in the Psalms, where the first word of the line is a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. He suggests that this may have been a way for singers and speakers to remember their lines. Psalm 119 is of course the most famous of these.

This psalm reminds one of 119 because many  of the same themes occur here. A major one is how God guides us in his ways: All the Lord’s paths are kindness and truth.” (10) and “Whoever the man who fears the Lord,/ He will guide him in the way he would choose.” (12)  And for the man who does in fact follow God, there is reward: “His life will repose in bounty,/ and his seed inherit the earth.” (13) Then, the familiar idea of a contract between God and the man who follows God’s path: “The Lord’s counsel is for those who fear him,/ and His pact He makes known to them.”

The last few verses veer form this formula and evolve into a psalm of supplication for the man in a dire situation: “The distress of my heart has grown great. / From my straits bring me out.” (1) There are the usual enemies “who are many/ and with outrageous hatred despise me.” (19) Which is why we pray to God: “Guard my life and save me. / …for I shelter in You…for in You do I hope.” (20, 21)

I prefer this psalm to 119 not only because it is shorter, but it moves from the abstractions of paths and pacts to that of a man in trouble, praying to God and resting all his hope on him. There is a visible transition from the head to the heart, which makes the psalm –and the psalmist–feel far more authentic.

2 Chronicles 24:1–25:4: Joash was only seven when he began his 40-year reign. And the Chronicler lets us know right at verse 2, “Joash did what was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of the priest Jehoiada.” Joash’s big project is the restoration of the temple. When it appears things are not going quickly enough, Joash decides to speed things up with a temple tax, collected in a big chest at the entrance to the temple. It becomes a roaring success; God is worshipped and things go well– but only as long as Jehoiada, Joash’s priest-counselor remains alive. But the priest dies at the ripe age of 130.

Almost immediately, Judah “abandoned the house of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and served the sacred poles and the idols.” (24:18). Things go rapidly downhill. The prophet Zechariah, Jehoiada’s son said, ““Thus says God: Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has also forsaken you.” (20) For delivering the bad news, Zechariah is stoned to death, but “he was dying, he said, “May the Lord see and avenge!” (22).

Which is exactly what happens: Judah is invaded by Aram, which though its army was outnumbered triumphs because “the Lord delivered into their hand a very great army, because they [Judah] had abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors.” (24) Already wounded, followers of Zechariah then kill Joash in bed.

Why does a king with such promise who follows God turn bad? It seems clear that when Jehoiada was alive, Joash followed him, and from the age of seven, I suspect Joash never developed as a leader. Even though he was king, he was a follower. And after Jehoiada dies, Joash is too easily influenced by darker forces.

Joash’s son, Amaziah, takes the throne, but as the Chronicler observes, “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, yet not with a true heart.” (25:2) This does not bode well for Amaziah’s reign.

Acts 22:30–23:11: The tribune “wanted to find out what Paul was being accused of by the Jews,” (22:30) and orders the Jewish council to meet and for Paul to “stand before them.” Paul, being Paul, is fearless and while “looking intently at the council he said, “Brothers, up to this day I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God.” (23:1) The priest Ananias orders that Paul be struck on the mouth, apparently for blasphemy. Paul responds, doubtless quite angrily, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting there to judge me according to the law, and yet in violation of the law you order me to be struck?” (3) Paul apologizes, ““I did not realize, brothers, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a leader of your people.’” (5).

Order is restored and then Paul does something insanely clever. Recognizing that the assembly includes both Pharisees and Sadducees, he tells them he’s a Pharisee and then raises the issue of the resurrection. This creates what we can ironically term as lively dissension between the two groups over this theological issue. The Pharisees side with their man, Paul, arguing “We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” (9) The Sadducees are incensed and once again a riot ensues among these supposedly religious men, and Paul is again rescued by the Roman soldiers.

But then a verse I’ve never noticed before:  “That night the Lord stood near him and said, “Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.” (11) Even though riots have ensued, Luke reminds us that Paul has carried out God’s plan faithfully. He has testified about Jesus in Jerusalem. But it’s clear that he is a prophet without honor in his own country–and just as the priest’s ancestors had killed Zechariah, they would kill Paul if they have a chance. But Paul has done the important thing: he has courageously testified. This is what God asks of prophets.

Just as we see courageous people such as Kaya Mueller testify today.

Speak Your Mind