Psalm 16:1–6; 1 Chronicles 21:1–26; Acts 15:6–18

Psalm 16:1–6: This psalm opens with an affirmation of the psalmist’s faith in God”
Guard me, O God,
for I shelter in You.
I said to the Lord,
‘My Master You are.
My good is only through You.’” (1,2)

It appears that he has only recently turned back to God from idol worship, saying that before finding God, idols were for him the “holy ones in the land/ and the mighty who were all my desire.” (3) We assume that he is speaking ironically when he refers to those false gods as “holy ones” and “the mighty.” He once believed they were holy and mighty, but now having found faith in the real God, they are worthless. Which is exactly what we should be doing when we realize that Jesus has come to us. But putting away false gods is often a difficult business.

The psalmist continues in this ironic tone by suggesting the small-g gods will be sorrowful because he has abandoned them: “let their [i.e., the gods] sorrows abound—/another did they betroth.” (4a) The latter phrase suggests that other people are still following these false gods, even to the point of being married to them. [But we have to admit these lines are pretty obscure, so I’m guessing here.]

Things become clearer at the latter half of verse 4 as the psalmist makes clear that he has turned away form worshiping or even speaking of these small-g gods: “I will not pour their libations with blood,/ I will not bear their names on my lips.” (4b)

Now that he is rid of the gods he once worshipped, he can worship the true God with all his heart, realizing that whatever may happen in the future his entire life is now under God’s protection: “The Lord is my portion and lot,/ it is You Who will sustain my fate.” (5)

Then, he uses a lawyeresque metaphor of how he has now been written into God’s last will and testament: “An inheritance fell to me with delight,/ my estate, too, is lovely to me.” (6) This verse speaks to everyone of us who believes in God through Jesus Christ. Through him we have acquired the inheritance of faith that indeed “is lovely.” In short, we have been written into what in the book of Revelation is called the “Book of Life.”

1 Chronicles 21:1–26: King David foolishly asks his military leader Joab to conduct a census of Israel and Judah. Joab objects, telling David that the act of counting will bring guilt on Israel. “But the king’s word prevailed against Joab.” (4) Joab returns with the count: 1.1 million men under arms “who drew the sword” and 470,000 more soldiers in Judah. However, Joab “did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, for the king’s command was abhorrent to Joab.” (6)

As to why a census was so abhorrent, I have to assume it’s because David has trespassed onto God’s sole right to number his creation. After all, Israel belongs to God not to David, and God cannot abide that kind of presumption—even from beloved David. When we think about this prohibition of a census and the census of Israel demanded by Augustus at the time Jesus was born, we can imagine the abhorrence with which the emperor’s order was received in Israel.

Joab is not the only one who is displeased by David’s insistence on a census: “God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel.” (7) The cost of this effrontery before God is high. David must choose among three awful punishments: 3 years of famine, 3 ,months of “devastation by your foes,” or 3 days of pestilence. David chooses the latter “and seventy thousand persons fell in Israel.” God sends an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but then decides to spare the city at the last minute.

Here is where we see why David was the greatest king of Israel. He is willing to take God’s entire punishment on himself, telling God that he is solely responsible for this grievous sin and that as far as his people are concerned, “these sheep, what have they done? Let your hand, I pray, O Lord my God, be against me and against my father’s house; but do not let your people be plagued!” (17) As Christians, we certainly see this act of self-sacrifice as a pre-echo for what Jesus has done for us sheep.

As penance, the angel commands David to “erect an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.” (18) The floor of an altar?!? Sometimes God can seem awfully capricious. Ornan, seeing the king, offers to give it to him, but David insists on paying full price, 600 shekels, telling Ornan, “I will not take for the Lord what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” (24) David build the altar, prays to God and God answers, “with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering.” (26)

What’s clear here is that the authors of Chronicles wish to paint David in the best possible editorial light. So, when he commits the egregious sin of conducting the census, he comes to God and begs forgiveness. The story of Ornan’s threshing floor is a proof of David’s intrinsic righteousness and fairness.

Acts 15:6–18: The council at Jerusalem composed of the original apostles considers the fraught question of whether or not Gentiles must be circumcised in order to become Christians. Peter points out that he was the original missionary to the Gentiles, called by God: “in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers.” (7) He goes on to say that the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit just like the Jews, implicitly suggesting that the Holy Spirit is indifferent to the matter of circumcision. He accuses the pro-circumcisers of putting God to the test and that “On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (11) Which of course is the primary message in the New Testament—and what Luther finally came to realize: “By grace are you saved.”

Paul and Barnabas then provide supporting testimony as “they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles.” (12) James then takes the floor and pretty much wraps up the issue by quoting the prophet Jeremiah, who said, “that all other peoples may seek the Lord—/ even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called.” (17)

It appears that the circumcision issue is being laid to rest at the highest level of the church—and our author Luke wants to make sure we understand that by citing three independent proofs: (1) Peter, the senior apostle, being called to go to the Gentiles; (2) Paul’s and Barnabas’ testimony re the power of the Holy Spirit working among the Gentiles; and (3) A proof text from the Hebrew scripture.

But as we know from the numerous references in Paul’s letters, the issue of Gentile circumcision issue continued to be contentious.


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