Psalm 144:9–15; 2 Kings 16:1–17:6; Acts 5:1–11

Psalm 144:9–15: Our psalmist adds an attitude of worship to his desperate supplication: “God, a new song I would sing to You,/ on a ten-stringed lute I would hymn to You.” (9) In what we call a “preemptive close,” our psalmist has the faith that God will rescue him as he did David: “Who grants rescue to kings,/ redeems David from the evil sword.” (10) So, too, he seeks a similar rescue, reiterating the treachery of his enemies who swore false vows: “Redeem me and save me form the foreigners’ hand,/whose mouth speaks falsely,/ and whose right hand is a hand of lies.” (11)

Suddenly, the psalm shifts from supplication to thanksgiving in a radical change of tone, subject, and style—almost as if these last verses have been welded onto the orginal psalm. Here the mood is celebratory:
While our sons are like saplings
tended from their youth;
our daughters like corner-pillars 
hewn for the shape of a palace.” (12)

Not only are his progeny winsome and beautiful, our psalmist (perhaps speaking for the entire nation) is wealthy and well fed, as well:
Our granaries are full,
dispensing food of every kind.
Our flocks are in the thousands,
ten thousands in our fields,
Our cattle, big with young.” (13)

The land is at peace; the cries of war but a faint echo form the past:
There is no breach and none goes out,
and no screaming in our squares.
Happy the people who have it thus,
happy the people whose God is the Lord.” (14, 15)

For me the question is are these last verses a remembrance of a peace and abundance long past as our poet reflects back on far happier days? Or is this an idyllic present because God has indeed rescued him and set the world aright? Or is it both? After all, God makes all things right in the end.

2 Kings 16:1–17:6: The endless succession of kings of Judah and Israel rambles on—and Israel meets its destiny…

King Jothan’s son, Ahaz, ascends the throne of Judah at the age of twenty. Unlike his father and grandfather and great-grandfather, “He did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord his God, as his ancestor David had done.” (16:2) Worse, “He even made his son pass through fire, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.” (16:3)

Once again, Aram and Israel attempt to overthrow Judea but they fail. Nevertheless, feeling threatened, Ahaz seeks an alliance with far stronger Assyria. As usual, payments of gold are the means to achieve that end. The king of Assyria obliges, and conquers Aram’s capital, Damascus. Ahaz visits Damascus and really likes the altar there, which he has duplicated down in Jerusalem. The king then orders the high priest Uriah to rearrange the temple furniture and Ahaz even alters the temple itself, which of course is desecration. As our authors point out, “He did this because of the king of Assyria.” (16:18) I don’t think the Assyrian king ordered this. Rather, I think Ahaz was entranced by a celebrity king of Assyria.

Meanwhile up in Israel, Hoshea reigns for nine years. Apparently he was not quite as bad as the kings of Israel who preceded him: “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, yet not like the kings of Israel who were before him.” (17:2) Nevertheless, Israel becomes a vassal state to Assyria and “the king of Assyria found treachery in Hoshea” (4) because Hoshea failed to send his annual tribute to Assyria.

As a result, “the king of Assyria invaded all the land and came to Samaria; for three years he besieged it.” (17:5) Samaria eventually falls to Assyria; its inhabitants are exiled, and once-great Israel is no more. The authors do not need to tell us why. Its gradual downfall occurs because its successive kings never failed to do evil in the sight of the Lord. Thus do empires fall. Even modern ones that seem strong and impregnable.

Acts 5:1–11: The cautionary tale of Ananias and Sapphira is a lesson to the early church and of course to all of us. The story is well known: “a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” (1,2) Peter, well aware of Ananias’ deceit, challenges him. The key sin of Ananias is straightforward: “You did not lie to us but to God!” (4) Ananias drops dead before he can even utter a word in defense. 

This incident is not lost on the community and “great fear seized all who heard of it.” (5) Three hours later, Ananias’ unsuspecting wife arrives and Peter challenges her by quoting the understated price that her husband had told Peter earlier. She replies, “Yes, that was the price.” (8) Peter points out that the corpse being removed is her late husband and the same people will now be removing her. “Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.” (10)

Luke tells us again, “great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.” (11) My surmise is that fear of being found lying to God trumped generosity. As a result, I think the communal aspect of church, i.e., the sharing of all goods and money, began falling apart after this incident. Yes, it’s not good to lie to God, but I have to confess the punishment certainly seems unduly harsh. I suspect this incident cooled a lot of evangelical ardor in that early church.


Speak Your Mind