Psalm 33:6–11; Ezra 5:1–6:12; Acts 28:17–31

Psalm 33:6–11: The second stanza of this new song takes up the reality of God as Creator, who spoke creation into existence: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,” (6a), including a very creative description of God separating the waters form the dry land: “He gathers like a mound the sea’s waters.” (7a).

But then the poet skips right over all the other steps of creation, landing on mankind’s response to this God: “All the earth fears the Lord,/ all the world’s dwellers dread Him.” (8) And in this case given the second line of the couplet that includes “dread,” I think the psalmist is using “fears” as in “afraid of,” not the usual Biblical sense of “reveres and worships.”)

Why is humankind afraid? Because they are getting their minds around the fact that God simply speaks and creation happens: “For He did speak and it came to be,/ He commanded and it stood.” (9).

Then, a marvelous comparison of God’s wisdom and might compared to man’s puny efforts: “The Lord thwarted the counsel of nations,/ overturned the devisings of peoples.” (10) It would be difficult to think of a more compact and direct way of expressing the arrogance of our assumptions and the futility of our attempts to control outcomes–our belief that if we do “A” then “B” will happen. This ranges from men trying to control their wives and children on up to treaties between nations. (E.g., between the west and Iran currently in the works.)

Only one thing stands through time: “The Lord’s counsel will stand forever,” (11a) There is only one plan that endures and it comes straight form God’s heart, straight form his love for us humans, his greatest creation: “His heart’s devisings for all generations.” (11b)

Ezra 5:1–6:12: We meet “the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them.” (5:1). While Ezra does not say so directly, they apparently prophesied that things would be OK if work on restoring the temple resumed, which has happened because “Tattenai the governor of the province Beyond the River and Shethar-bozenai and their associates” (3) object to the resumption of work and send a letter to Darius, the new king of the Persians, that when they asked the Jews who gave them permission to resume work, they replied that it was Darius’ predecessor, Cyrus. Tattenai et al are challenging the veracity of that claim.

Finally, the reply from Darius arrives. It is not good news for Tattenai and “his associates.” The letter says that indeed the scroll with Cyrus’ edict was found, and it was exactly as the Jews had claimed. To add insult to injury for Tattenai, he is commanded by the king, “I make a decree regarding what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for the rebuilding of this house of God: the cost is to be paid to these people, in full and without delay, from the royal revenue, the tribute of the province Beyond the River.” (6:8)  Darius adds a postscript: “Furthermore I decree that if anyone alters this edict, a beam shall be pulled out of the house of the perpetrator, who then shall be impaled on it. The house shall be made a dunghill.” (6:11) Cool.

The lesson here is that the Jews stood up for their rights but they did so because they knew the decree had been made by Cyrus. They followed good order. Unlike so many groups and causes today, they did not simply claim the moral high ground without proof. They had the documentation.

Acts 28:17–31: In Rome just three days, Paul “called together the local leaders of the Jews” and explains his case, explaining that the Jews in Jerusalem had accused him but there was no case against him. Nevertheless, having appealed to the emperor, he was now a prisoner in Rome. Paul, being Paul, says, “it is for the sake of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.” (20b). The Jews reply they know nothing about what went on in Jerusalem, but “we would like to hear from you what you think, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.” (22).

So, whatever word about “the Way” that arrived in Rome was distorted and Paul begins preaching to the Roman Jews: “testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets.” (23) As Luke notes, “ Some were convinced by what he had said, while others refused to believe.” (24) As the skeptics were leaving Paul quotes Isaiah,”You will indeed listen, but never understand, /and you will indeed look, but never perceive./ For this people’s heart has grown dull, /and their ears are hard of hearing,” (26,27a)

Paul’s final recorded words are, “Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” (28).

And thus, the Good News has indeed come to us, the Gentiles. And what Paul said about the Jews in Rome is just as true today: a missed opportunity that if, as Isaiah said, they would but “listen with their ears,/ and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’” (27b)

This extraordinary history ends on a  brilliant note, the spotlight on Paul, but for all who followed Paul dow to the present day: “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” (30)



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