Psalm 12; 1 Chronicles 16:1–36; Acts 13:34–47

Psalm 12: This psalm sounds like a prophet declaring doom even though it opens on a note of supplication as it describes a moral desert: “Rescue, O Lord! For the faithful is gone,/ for vanished is trust from sons of man.” (2) The idea that no one trusts anyone else certainly reflects today’s political climate. The next verse is even more relevant to our culture as it perfectly describes the politicians who have surrounded us for years now: “Falsehood every man speaks to his fellow,/ smooth talk, with two hearts they speak.” (3) If ever we wanted a perfect description of the duplicitous qualities of conventional politicians, it is captured perfectly in the phrase, “smooth talk, with two hearts they speak.” I believe it is the focus-group-tested smooth talk of politicians like Obama and Clinton that people finally tired of and thereby elected a man who for better or worse disdains smooth talk as the empty rhetoric it is.

Using a rather stark image, our psalmist is sure that God will eventually intervene: “The Lord will cut off all smooth-talking lips,/ the tongue that speaks of big things.” (4) Of course the root problem is human pride, as it always is, as our psalmist describes the overweening pride of those who believe they are greater than God: “those who said, ‘Let us make our tongue great,/ our own lips are with us—who is master to us?” (5) Certainly sounds familiar today.

Ultimately, their punishment will arise from an unexpected direction: “From the plunder of the poor, from the wretched men’s groans,/ now I will rise,” says the Lord.” (6) While it is certainly over-interpretation on my part, for me, this verse describes the unexpected direction from which the “wrong person” won the recent presidential election. The smooth-talkers were defeated by the poor rising up and saying they had had enough.

In the next verse the point of view shifts from a culture to an individual who is being oppressed by his “smooth-talking” enemies as God himself speaks, “‘I will set up for rescue a witness for him.‘” (7a) Again, possible over-interpretation, but God certainly sent Jesus to rescue us.

The psalmist’s voice returns with a contrast between the “smooth talkers” and God’s pure speech: “The Lord’s sayings—pure sayings,/ silver tried in a kiln in the earth/ refined sevenfold.” (7b) How much more pure are the words of the Lord than the treacly speeches of smooth-talking politicians if two hearts.

In the end, God will protect those who are oppressed by the smooth talkers: “You, Lord, will guard him,/ will keep him from this age for all time.” (8)

The psalm concludes with a verse that seems completely out of place as it describes the actions of the wicked—”All around go the wicked,/ they have dug deep pits for the sons of men.” It feels like someone accidentally dropped a scroll and this verse wound up being misplaced. It would certainly make more sense following verse 3.

1 Chronicles 16:1–36: The party moves to its concluding stages as “They brought in the ark of God, and set it inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and they offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before God.” (1) David also seems to originated the custom of party bags as “he distributed to every person in Israel—man and woman alike—to each a loaf of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins.” (3)

No chapter in this book would be complete with out a list of names, and here our authors duly record the Levites who are appointed by David to be “ministers before the ark of the Lord, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the Lord, the God of Israel.” (4)

The reminder of the chapter records David’s justly famous psalm of thanksgiving. [One wonders why it did not end up in the book of Psalms.] It would be wonderful to hear the opening verses as a hymn that we could sing ourselves:
O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
    make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him,
    tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.” (8-10)

The body of David’s psalm recounts Israel’s history beginning with Abraham, continuing to the promise to Jacob and the promise of Caanan. Israel once was “wandering from nation to nation,/ from one kingdom to another people,” (20) But God was always watching over them and “he allowed no one to oppress them;/he rebuked kings on their account.” (21)

The words and promises of this psalm are not only for ancient Israel, but also for us here today:
Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
    Tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous works among all the peoples.” (23-24)

David concludes on the highest possible note, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,/ from everlasting to everlasting.” (36a) And in response, “all the people said “Amen!” and praised the Lord.” (36b) If we ever needed a model for grateful worship it is right here: we could come into the sanctuary and read this psalm in unison and know that we had truly worshipped God. No sermon, no songs, no hymns, no announcements. Just pure worship.

Acts 13:34–47: Paul continues his sermon by quoting scripture that was doubtless well known to his Jewish audience. And in one of those interesting Moravian parallels between readings, Paul points out that even revered David was a sinner and died like all other men: “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died, was laid beside his ancestors, and experienced corruption.” (36) By contrast, Paul asserts, “he [Jesus] whom God raised up experienced no corruption.” (37)

Paul is much more the theologian than Peter, and some key theology follows as Paul argues that because Jesus was free of human corruption, he is the agent of God’s forgiveness: “Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” (38) And therefore, “by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” (40) This is the very core of the Good News.

Paul concludes by warning his listeners with a quote from the prophet Habakuk that they are not to scoff, but that God has now fulfilled the prophet’s promise with “a work that you will never believe, even if someone tells you.’” (41)

This sermon generates a lot of enthusiasm among Paul’s listeners, who invite Barnabas and him back for more next week.  And, “many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.” (42)

However, many other Jews “saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul.” (45) And this is the crucial turning point in Paul’s life—and in the church itself. Inasmuch as the Jews “reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles.” (46)

Retrospectively, we can see why the Jewish Christian church ultimately died away. The Good News was simply too radical, too contrary to a belief system that had been in place for the 100 years since David. The weight of a culture that refused to accept something new was simply too much to withstand.

Paul, being Paul, makes his point by again quoting scripture. This time Isaiah: “I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles,/so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” Christianity was no longer a Jewish sect; it was now more than ever, Good News for all the world.

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