Psalm 17:8–15; 1 Chronicles 24; Acts 16:4–15

Psalm 17:8–15: Asking for God’s protection from the wicked people that surround him—”Guard me like the apple of the eye,/ in the shadow of Your wings conceal me” (8)—our psalmist memorably describes his enemies:
Their fat has covered their heart.
With their dewlaps they speak haughty words.” (10)

For me, the fat represents a self-righteous prosperity and/or social position that in their eyes grants the wicked the authority to lord it over the less fortunate, including our psalmist. This image of haughtiness is amplified by the image of dewlaps—fat beneath the chin—announcing their self-proclaimed superiority over others. We have all met these people and they are especially popular on cable TV.

These people are dangerous. Our psalmist feels constrained by them on all sides as they seek out their prey, an image made all the more threatening by the metaphor of a hungry lion ready to pounce:
My steps now they hem in,
their eyes they cast over the land.
He is like a lion longing for prey,
like the king of beasts lying in wait.” (11, 12)

Having described his imminent danger, our psalmist pleads with God to “Rise, Lord, head him off, bring him down,/ save my life from the wicked with Your sword.” (13) After all, he reminds God, these bloody-minded enemies are still mortals, far weaker than God himself: “from men, by Your hand, from men,/ from those fleeting of portion in life.” (14a) This is an important aspect for us to remember: even though the wiliest enemy may set himself up as superior, he is still mortal and subject to God’s judgement.  This reality becomes an underlying theme of the book of Revelation.

The question, of course, is can we pray for the destruction of our enemies by God? Jesus has cancelled this kind of prayer, it seems, by requiring us to love our enemies. That said, however, I think we can still pray that God’s will be done and that God will protect us from the depredations of our enemies.

1 Chronicles 24: Now we come to the priestly organization chart as our authors describe exactly who was given what priestly responsibility by David: “Along with Zadok of the sons of Eleazar, and Ahimelech of the sons of Ithamar, David organized them according to the appointed duties in their service.” (3) This includes 16 heads form the ancestral house of Eleazar but only 8 from the house of Ithamar “Since more chief men were found among the sons of Eleazar than among the sons of Ithamar.” (4). One has the feeling our authors stem from the Eleazar line.

The positions are assigned by lot, and our authors carefully record the name of every person assigned to every lot. The listing the continues with describing “the rest of the sons of Levi: of the sons of Amram, Shubael; of the sons of Shubael, Jehdeiah,” (20) who were not of the priestly clan. They “also cast lots corresponding to their kindred, the descendants of Aaron, in the presence of King David.” (31)

So, did David actually conduct this rather detailed assignment? As I noted yesterday it really doesn’t matter if he did this historically. By attaching all these names (and their descendants down to the time our authors were writing in Babylon) to David it really doesn’t matter. David has become the firm root by which all priestly authority derives. We see this same assignment of legitimacy through David in the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke.

Acts 16:4–15: Paul and Silas go from town to town in delivering “to them [the churches] for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem.” (4) This would be the happy news that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised in order to join the church. There’s no question that the resolution of this issue resulted in the happy reality that “the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.” (5)

Luke informs us that there was nothing random about the missionary work of Paul and Silas, but that it is the Holy Spirit that is guiding them every step of the way, “having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.” (6) As well as Bithynia.

Paul has a vision: “there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” (9)  Paul and Silas head to Europe, “being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.” (10)

Suddenly, Paul (or Silas) begins speaking in the first person after they arrive at Philippi, “We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there.” (12b, 13) They seem to have abandoned the strategy of starting out by speaking in the synagogues, but head directly to speak with Gentiles. 

We don’t think much today about exactly how revolutionary it was for two Jewish men to converse with Gentile women. This unprecedented act was as unexpected as Jesus speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well recorded in John’s gospel.

They meet Lydia down by the river. She is a businesswoman, “a dealer in purple cloth.” (14a) Luke tells us that “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” (14b) and she and her household are baptized. Lydia invites the two missionaries to stay at her house.

There is a number of remarkable things going on here, but perhaps the most remarkable is that the first recorded convert in Europe is a Gentile businesswoman. It’s almost as if Luke is telling us that if a Gentile woman has responded then Jesus’ revolutionary message, then the gospel is about to reach—and affect— everyone in the Roman empire. Which of course ultimately is exactly what happened.

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