Psalm 33:1–5; Ezra 4; Acts 28:7–16

Psalm 33:1–5: There seems little question that this psalm is an actual hymn that was probably sung with choir and accompanying instruments. And it is self-referential: a hymn about singing: “Sing gladly, O righteous, of the Lord/ for the upright, praise is befitting.” (1)  The instruments include the lyre and the ten-stringed lute.  Notice that it is the “righteous” and “upright” that are singing. Worship occurs after confession. We praise God with clean hearts.

Then the most famous verse in the psalm: “Sing Him a new song,/ play deftly with joyous shout.” (3) Alter notes that this is the writer telling us that he’s composed a new hymn for this occasion. But it’s also a challenge to all of us to step out in faith and try new things along with new songs. Yes, we are comfortable with the known, but to worship God with only what’s familiar is to miss the excitement, the joy, and the energy in God–a joy that even new songs can only partially hint at.

Because God loves us and “The Lord’s kindness fills the earth,” our response is to step out into the unknown. No matter where we go or what we try, God will be right there with us. A new song is simply a metaphor for new things, new risks taken in God’s name.

Ezra 4: All is not sweetness and light as Israel returns and begins rebuilding. The people, who appear to be displaced Samaritans, and who occupied the land during the 70 years of exile are (somewhat understandably) miffed at the pretensions of those who returned. After they fail to persuade the returning Jews that they, too, “worship your God as you do” and are excluded form the rebuilding project, the inhabitants “made them afraid to build, and they bribed officials to frustrate their plan throughout the reign of King Cyrus of Persia and until the reign of King Darius of Persia.” (5) Resistance to immigrants and attempts to build new things are hardly recent phenomena!

The inhabitants send a letter of protest to King Artaxeres, contending that the Jews will create a defensive headache for the king and fail to pay taxes: “They are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city; they are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations. Now may it be known to the king that, if this city is rebuilt and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll, and the royal revenue will be reduced.” (13) Wow. Protests that a certain action will weaken defenses, create a new enemy, and/or reduce governmental revenue are certainly nothing new to our time! 

Unfortunately for the returning Jews, the protests are effective. The king issues an order “that these people be made to cease, and that this city not be rebuilt, until I make a decree.” (21) (This sounds like the process of getting building permits form the city of Walnut Creek to build the new buildings at Saint Matthew!) So, “the work on the house of God in Jerusalem stopped and was discontinued until the second year of the reign of King Darius of Persia.” (24) Even our plans to honor God will be met with worldly obstacles that require patience.

Acts 28:7–16: If I’m not mistaken, even today the people of Malta will say that it was the shipwreck that brought Paul to Malta, who brought Christianity to those people. After Paul heals a certain Publius, a leader on the island, “the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured.” (9)

They remain in Malta for three months before setting out for Rome on “an Alexandrian ship with the Twin Brothers as its figurehead.” (11). I’m intrigued as to this particular detail. Why does Luke tell us the name of the ship? Perhaps because he’s grateful that it carried them safely to Puteoli by a route through Syracuse and Rhegium. (Again, so much travel detail!).

Paul, Luke and the others arrive safely in Italy at last and we find out that there are believers scattered all over Italy. They remain among believers in Puteoli for a week, and then they arrive in Rome, where word has spread that the famous Paul has arrived and “The believers from there, when they heard of us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us.” (15). Luke tells us, that on “seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage.” (15b).

We can imagine how it heartened Paul that after the hostility in Jerusalem and the dangerous voyage and shipwreck, to be welcomed by new friends. That’s the joy of Christian community. That no matter where in the world we go, we will find brothers and sisters and be welcomed there.

The final line of Acts tells us that when “we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.” And Luke’s history ends. God has used Paul, who has traveled with the Holy Spirit from Damascus through the much of the Roman empire spreading the gospel to rejection in Jerusalem to Rome to a new beginning for the church as Paul’s writings help shape a church that changes the world through the powerful message of Jesus Christ.


Speak Your Mind