Psalm 144:1–4: 2 Kings 14; Acts 4:13–22

Psalm 144:1–4: This psalm, “For David,” opens with gratitude for how God has readied David for battle:
Blessed is the Lord, my rock,
Who trains my hands for battle,
my fingers for the fray.” (1)

This gratitude is followed by an abundance of military metaphors describing God as protector:
My strength and my bastion,
my fortress and my deliverer.
My shield in which I shelter…“(2a)

But this verse ends with a disturbing image of God, “Who tramples down people beneath me.” (2b) This is certainly not the friendly father image of God that we seem to prefer these days. God is, after all, God.

A complete change of subject follows these militaristic images: Human insignificance compared to God’s mighty power, causing the psalmist to wonder why God even pays attention to humans and their affairs:
Lord, what is a human creature that You should know him,
the son of man, that You pay him mind? (3)

There are distinct echoes of the themes of Psalm 139 here, but this verse also the implies question of why God even bothers with humankind. Of course we know the answer form Genesis, but when one reflects on the vastness of creation—especially looking up at the stars at night form a dark vantage point—this is a perfectly reasonable question. We humans are an insignificant blip on God’s radar screen. And yet, God loves us very much.

Moreover, we humans are evanescent; mere brief flashes on the scene that quickly fade: “The human life is like unto breath,/ his days like a passing shadow.” (4) At this point the psalmist has made it clear that from one perspective at least, whatever help we might receive from God is not because we deserve it, but that it is God who desires to act on our behalf. Of course, his greatest act is the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

2 Kings 14: Upon Joash’s death, his son Amaziah ascends the throne of Judah at the age of 25, where he reigns for 29 years. He follows his father’s footsteps but like his father, he is no David: “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, yet not like his ancestor David; in all things he did as his father Joash had done.” (3) This is because like his father, he did not remove the “high places” in Judah where idols continued to be worshipped.

As soon as the royal power was firmly in his hand” (5) Amaziah dispatches the servants that assassinated his father. However, following the rules laid down in Leviticus he does not kill the assassins’ children. One is given the impression that this mercy was the exception rather than the rule.

After a couple of quick military victories, Amaziah is feeling his oats and challenges king Jehoash of Israel to battle. Jehoash sends a scoffing reply using a metaphor that Judah is a mere thorn bush compared to Israel’s great strength represented as a cedar of Lebanon. The young king of Judah fails to heed this wise advice, and “Judah was defeated by Israel; everyone fled home.” (12) King Jehoash captures Amaziah and plunders Jerusalem, taking hostages with him back to Samaria. [One begins to understand the deep roots of enmity between Judah and Samaria in Jesus’ time.]

Jehoash dies and 15 years later, Amaziah dies. Jeohoash is succeeded by his son Jeroboam II. Amaziah is succeeded by his son Azariah, who ascends the throne at the tender age of 16.

Jeroboam II ruled Israel as his father, grandfather and all who came before him: “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he caused Israel to sin.” (24) Despite the evil abounding everywhere in Israel, God continues to be merciful to the kingdom, which in the eyes of our authors deserved to be exterminated for its manifest sinfulness: “the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam son of Joash.” (27) Beyond that, the authors have nothing more to say about Jeroboam II.

Acts 4:13–22: Peter has just given the boldest sermon of his life in front of the temple officials and “when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus.” (13) The officials “had nothing to say in opposition” to the evidence of the healed man standing beside Peter. They dismiss Peter, John and the healed man and begin deliberating.

They are hard pressed to figure out what to do. The people of Jerusalem are well aware of the miracle that has just occurred in their midst and likely to riot of sever punishment is meted out to Peter and John. So they come up with the hare-brained idea that in order “to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this [Jesus’] name.” (17) Right. Sure. That’ll work.

They call Peter and John back and “ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” (18) Peter rather logically replies that the officials have to decide for themselves, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God.” (19) But speaking for himself (and we presume all the disciples) Peter announces, “we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (20) The Holy Spirit trumps official religious practice.

The lesson is clear: if the Holy Spirit truly lives in us, then we also cannot “keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” The other thing to note here is that the crowd that demanded Jesus’ crucifixion and the release of Barabbas is doubtless the pretty much the same crowd that a couple of months later is praising God. Such is the transformative power of the Holy Spirit.

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