Archives for February 2017

Psalm 31:7–10; 2 Chronicles 35; Acts 26:28–27:8

Psalm 31:7–10: Our psalmist continues his reflection, which almost seem to come in no particular order as he asserts his loyalty and thanksgiving to God. First, he rejects those people “who look to vaporous lies,” which I have to admit is a nice turn of phrase. Instead of being shrouded in lies, he asserts, “As for me, I trust in the Lord.” (7)

Then there is gratitude for the healing he has experienced because God knows his every aspect, including the trouble he was in:
Let me exult and rejoice in Your kindness,
that You saw my affliction,
You knew the straits of my life.” (8)

Moreover, God preserved him from his enemies:
And You did not yield me to my enemy’s hand,
You set my feet in a wide-open place.” (9)

I like the idea of freedom that the phrase “wide-open space” evokes, especially when I’m felling closed in—not necessarily by enemies, but just by the density of where I live, especially the traffic!

Nevertheless, despite the healing and rescue that God has granted him thus far, our psalmist is still under stress. Even though God has done all the wonderful things he’s just described, he remains under a cloud of frustration and seeks still more from God:
Grant me grace, Lord, for I am distressed.
My eye is worn out in vexation,
my throat and my belly.” (10)

We doubtless will find out the root cause of this vexation as we read on. But the point that comes to my mind is that like the psalmist, we can keep on asking God for more even though we are thankful fir all that he has already given us. God is indeed limitless and we do not need to ration our supplications to him.

2 Chronicles 35: With the temple restored, Josiah and all Jerusalem celebrates Passover. Josiah is generous and “contributed to the people, as passover offerings for all that were present, lambs and kids from the flock to the number of thirty thousand, and three thousand bulls; these were from the king’s possessions.” (7) His court officials follow suit. Every protocol of Passover is followed scrupulously. The priests do their duty; the Levites theirs. There are singers, who are descendants fof Asaph and there are gatekeepers, as well.  Not only is all of Judah present for Passover, but a remnant from Israel, as well.

Our authors are impressed and note that “No passover like it had been kept in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel; none of the kings of Israel had kept such a passover as was kept by Josiah, by the priests and the Levites, by all Judah and Israel who were present, and by the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” (18)

Some time after this remarkable Passover, the Pharaoh Neco of Egypt “went up to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates.” (20). Apparently bored by his success, Josiah eagerly announces he wants to join Neco. However, Neco sends envoys to tell Josiah that this is not his battle. In fact, Neco’s envoys tell Josiah, “Cease opposing God, who is with me, so that he will not destroy you.” (21)

Alas, “Josiah would not turn away from him, but disguised himself in order to fight with him. He did not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God, but joined battle in the plain of Megiddo.” (22) [which by the way, is what we today call Armageddon.] Even though he disguises himself, God has the last word and Josiah is mortally wounded by an arrow. We can disguise ourselves all we want but God’s arrow will eventually find us.

All Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah. Jeremiah also uttered a lament for Josiah, and all the singing men and singing women have spoken of Josiah in their laments to this day.” (24, 25) I’m guessing that Jeremiah’s laments are recorded in the book of Lamentations, which we’ll be encountering later.

The lesson here is clear. In terms of leading a godly life, Josiah was unsurpassed. But leading a godly life requires that we constantly listen and discern the voice of God, even when it comes from an unexpected source as it did here. God communicates to us in many ways and we ignore those communications at our peril. Josiah was a wonderful man, but he allowed his pride and yes, his enthusiasm, to blot out his discernment. It only took one lapse to lead to a bad outcome. Which is a sobering lesson for us indeed.  We don’t build up protective credits for our past acts of holiness.

Acts 26:28–27:8: Following Paul’s rather brilliant sermon, Agrippa asks, “Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?” (26:29). Paul replies in one of the great altar calls of all time,“Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today might become such as I am—except for these chains.” (30).

So close, yet so far. Agrippa, Festus, and Bernice get up and leave. On the way out the door, Agrippa remarks to Festus, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” (31) Paul’s argument has carried the day as far as establishing his innocence. But he does not carry the day (as far as we know) in persuading the group to follow The Way. There’s an old hymn about those who are like Agrippa. Close but not quite close enough: Almost Persuaded, whose lines include, ” Some more convenient day/ on Thee I’ll call.” And then later, “Sad, sad that bitter wail— “Almost—but lost!” Almost is not good enough.

In the end, it is Agrippa’s decision. There is nothing more Paul can do. Just as we cannot force others to “accept Jesus.”

Festus speaks the bittersweet words, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to the emperor.” (32) But had Paul not eventually gone to Rome think of how much we would have missed. Without Paul’s epistles written from Rome, the church would have turned out far differently.

Luke launches into descriptive travel mode as he describes the rather roundabout way they are getting to Rome by ship. He must have been a sailor since he knows nautical terminology, “Putting out to sea from there, we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us.” (27:4)

Paul is under the watchful eye of a centurion named Julius, who has the responsibility of getting Paul and his party to Rome. The centurion finds “an Alexandrian ship bound for Italy and put us on board.” (6) But the passage is slow “as the wind was against us, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone.” (7)

Finally, they arrive at “a place called Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea.” (8) They’re still a fair distance from Rome. I’m struck by the name, “Fair Havens.” I wonder if Tolkien has Fair Havens in mind when he named a town “Grey Havens,” which sat in the far west, whence Bilbo Baggins departs Middle-Earth at the end of the LOTR trilogy.

Psalm 31:1–6; 2 Chronicles 34:8–33; Acts 26:15–27

Psalm 31:1–6: To be blunt, this psalm of supplication appears to have borrowed many of its tropes from other psalms—almost to the point of predictability. After a brief introduction stating, “In You, O Lord, I shelter,/ let me never be shamed,” our psalmist asks God to listen, and then to rescue him with a certain urgency:
In Your bounty, O free me.
Incline Your ear to me.
Quick, save me.
Be my stronghold of rock,
a fort-house to rescue me.” (2, 3)

The next verse echoes Psalm 23:
For You are my crag and bastion,
and for Your name’s sake guide me and lead me.” (4)

Perhaps it’s my mood this morning, but I don’t sense the anxious desperation that we encounter in other psalms of supplication. Perhaps it’s because we’ve read these same phrases too many times already.

We get a hint from the psalmist, speaking as David, that enemies are conspiring against him, but it almost seems a passing reference before he changes the subject:
Get me out of the net that they laid for me,
for You are my stronghold.” (5)

Suddenly, just six verses in there seems to be an out-of-place benediction of sorts:
In Your hand I commend my spirit.
You redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth.” (6)

Yes, there is giving his being over to God and the acknowledgement that God has redeemed him. But I just can’t get over the feeling that our psalmist has just phoned this in. We’ll see how things progress tomorrow.

2 Chronicles 34:8–33: Having been desecrated so many times and, I presume, subject to lots of deferred maintenance, the temple at Jerusalem is pretty much in a shambles. In the 18th year of his reign, Josiah has collected funds “from Manasseh and Ephraim and from all the remnant of Israel and from all Judah and Benjamin and from the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (9) to restore the temple.  As the workman set about repairing the house of God, “the priest Hilkiah found the book of the law of the Lord given through Moses.” (14) He gives it to his secretary, Shaphan, who brings it to Josiah.

Upon hearing the word of the Lord, Josiah tears his clothes and asks the high priest and a couple of servants to “Go, inquire of the Lord for me and for those who are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that has been found.” (21a) Josiah rather correctly fears that the punishment for the sins of their ancestors will be meted upon them, “for the wrath of the Lord that is poured out on us is great, because our ancestors did not keep the word of the Lord.” (21b)

Their inquiry leads them to the prophet Huldah, a female prophetess, the wife of the king’s wardrobe master. She confirms Josiah’s fear that because of the apostasy of their ancestors, “Tell the man who sent you to me, Thus says the Lord: I will indeed bring disaster upon this place and upon its inhabitants, all the curses that are written in the book that was read before the king of Judah.” (24)

However, because Josiah’s “heart was penitent and you humbled yourself before God when you heard his words against this place and its inhabitants, and you have humbled yourself before me, and have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, says the Lord.” (27) God grants a delay for the punishment to come to Josiah and Judah: “your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring on this place and its inhabitants.” (28)

Obviously the disaster to come was the final conquest of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon, which is where our authors are writing from.

Upon hearing this, as well as more words from the book, “the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book.” (31) Josiah makes all of Jerusalem and Benjamin take the same oath and for the reminder of the Josiah’s time of the throne, “All his days they did not turn away from following the Lord the God of their ancestors.” (33)

The clear message here is that the sins of the father are indeed visited upon the children. Judah has been saved for the time being, but the consequences of all the evil in Judah’s history will indeed bear bitter fruit. I believe this principle is still very much in operation today. There will be consequences upon our progeny for the sins our generation has committed—and continues to commit.

Acts 26:15–27: Paul relates to Agrippa that his Damascus Road experience was a holy commission directly from God, “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (18)

Paul goes on to relate how he has carried out that commission by speaking first to Jews and then to Gentiles. However, regardless of the audience, the message was always the same: “that they should repent and turn to God and do deeds consistent with repentance.” (20) Paul seems to be telling Agrippa (and us) that it was because he carried this message to the Gentiles that “the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.” (21) But he continues to insist that he has done nothing more than to declare that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of “what the prophets and Moses said would take place: that the Messiah must suffer, and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.” (22, 23)

Festus, who is listening to Paul’s disquisition, finds this theology all a bit confusing and accuses Paul, “You are out of your mind, Paul! Too much learning is driving you insane!” (24) —certainly one of the more dramatic moments in Acts, and a clear message to the readers of Acts that many besides Festus had also probably declared Paul insane.

But Paul stands his ground: “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking the sober truth.” (25) he points out that Agrippa is well aware of what Moses and the prophets had said.

Paul then famously asks Agrippa for the order: “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” (27) How will Agrippa respond? How would we respond?

Psalm 30:7–13; 2 Chronicles 33:1–34:7; Acts 26:2–14

Psalm 30:7–13: Our psalmist continues his argument that he’s more useful to God than being dead. First, though, he argues that he could lead a sinless life by hewing to God. But then, God disappeared and he became ill:
As for me, I thought in my quiet days,
‘Never will I stumble.’
Lord, in Your pleasure You made me stand mountain-strong.
—When You hid Your face I was stricken.” (7,8)

He prays to his apparently disappeared God, posing the question at the center of the psalm, to wit, that God will lose a faithful follower who will be of no use in worshipping if God allows him to die:
To You, Lord, I call,
and to the Master I plead.
What profit in my blood,
in my going down deathward?
Will dust acclaim You,
will it tell the truth?” (9, 10)

I have to admit that’s pretty compelling logic. And God does indeed answer his prayer as he is returned to health—definitely an occasion of rejoicing and faithful worship:
You have turned my dirge to a dance for me,
undone my sackcloth and bound me with joy.
O, let my heart hymn You and be not still,
Lord, my God, for all time I acclaim You.” (12, 13)

If we take these verses metaphorically, these last two verses point to the sheer transformative power of a relationship with God. One day we are depressed and worried and when we turn toward God and ask his help, he inevitably shows up to do just that: to turn our dirges into dancing.

2 Chronicles 33:1–34:7: It strikes me as odd that good kings like Solomon and Hezekiah sire evil offspring. Manasseh is a mere twelve year old lad when he begins his 55 year reign. Alas, “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.” (33:2) Of course he manages to commit the ultimate abomination by placing the carved image of an idol in the house of God (the temple). Indeed,Manasseh sets some kind of record for wrong doing, and the people of Judah are close behind him as “Manasseh misled Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that they did more evil than the nations whom the Lord had destroyed before the people of Israel.” (33:9)

So, as a result of all this evil, God allows the Assyrian army to again show up at Jerusalem’s doorstep, whereupon, it “took Manasseh captive in manacles, bound him with fetters, and brought him to Babylon.” (33:11) In chains in Babylon, Manasseh has a change of heart and repents, and “God received his entreaty, heard his plea, and restored him again to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord indeed was God.” (33:13)

To Manasseh’s credit “He also restored the altar of the Lord and offered on it sacrifices of well-being and of thanksgiving; and he commanded Judah to serve the Lord the God of Israel.” (16)

I like the story of Manasseh because it is a testament to the power of repentance, of turning back to God. Even when we have led a dissolute life and had other small-g gods as our priorities, there is always hope. This of course is exactly the promise that Jesus Christ makes to all of us.

Manasseh is succeed by his son Amon, who must have missed the message about the power of repentance because (no surprise here) he follows the evil son rule and “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as his father Manasseh had done.” (33:22) But unlike his father, “He did not humble himself before the Lord, as his father Manasseh had humbled himself, but this Amon incurred more and more guilt.” (33:23), which of course is the price that’s paid when there is no realization of one’s sinfulness and consequent repentance. Amon was such an awful king that he is assassinated by his servants. However, for this act, the people in turn kill the servants and set up Amon’s son, Josiah, as king.

Josiah is a mere 8 years old when he ascends to the throne at Jerusalem. The happy news is that he breaks the evil son rule and “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the ways of his ancestor David; he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.” (34:2) You know that when our authors mention that someone “walked in the ways of his ancestor David” that they consider him to be a truly good king. They underscore Josiah’s righteousness by noting that he turned “neither to the right nor the left,” i.e., he hewed the straight and narrow.

At the age of 16, Josiah “seeks the God of his ancestor David” and by the time he’s 20, “he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the sacred poles, and the carved and the cast images.” (34:3) He does not fool around, nor does he show mercy to the idol worshippers and priests as he “burned the bones of the priests on their altars, and purged Judah and Jerusalem.” (34:5) The cleansing is effective beyond Judah itself, reaching to the Israel towns of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, and as far as Naphtali. Idol worship is effectively wiped from the face of the earth in Judah and Israel: “he broke down the altars, beat the sacred poles and the images into powder, and demolished all the incense altars throughout all the land of Israel.” (7) In short, Josiah carries out the same instructions that God gave to Israel when they crossed the Jordan so many centuries ago.

The lesson here is that unless idols are completely wiped out they will always find a way to return. We shall see whether or not if Josiah was successful in the long run.

Acts 26:2–14: Now that he is speaking to a fellow Jew rather than a Gentile Roman, Paul unleashes his considerable theological powers as he tells King Agrippa, “because you are especially familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews; therefore I beg of you to listen to me patiently.” (3) He reminds the king that Jews who are accusing him “know my way of life from my youth, a life spent from the beginning among my own people and in Jerusalem.” (4) Moreover, were they to testify honestly, his accusers would be forced to admit, “that I have belonged to the strictest sect of our religion and lived as a Pharisee.” (5)

He states that he is on trial, not because of fair accusations, but “on account of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors, a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship day and night.” (6,7) Paul summarizes his logic chain: why would he be on trial for having exactly the same hope that every pious Jew has?

He goes on to further affirm his Jewish bona fides by reminding the king that “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is what I did in Jerusalem.” (8) Moreover, he did executed the high priest’s mission with his with the full “authority received from the chief priests. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison, but I also cast my vote against them when they were being condemned to death.” (9,10) In short, he was more Jewish than the Jews now accusing him.

With this as background, Paul relates his Damascus Road experience. At last! This is the autobiography we have been waiting for all through the book of Acts. It is here at Paul’s own statement where we find out exactly what happened that day. Paul sees a bright light, “brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions.” (13) And then there is the voice that only he could hear.

What will Agrippa make of this rather dramatic testimony? Is Paul telling the truth? Or is he simply a ious Jew who’s lost his marbles?

Psalm 30:1–6; 2 Chronicles 32; Acts 25:16–26:1

Psalm 30:1–6: This psalm of thanksgiving exudes a quiet joy as the psalmist thanks God for his recent healing from a  disease. As well, apparently his enemies would have preferred that he die of the illness:
I shall exalt You, Lord, for You drew me up,
and You gave no joy to my enemies>
Lord, my God,
I cried to You and You healed me.” (2,3)

Clearly, this healing was from a near-death experience:
“Lord, You brought me up from Sheol,
gave me life from those gone down to the pit.” (5)

In light of this almost miraculous healing, our psalmist can have only one possible response: worship.
Hymn to the Lord, O his faithful,
acclaim His holy name.” (5)

Following the act of worship, our psalmist turns reflective:
But a moment in His wrath,
life in His pleasure.” (6a)

He observes that we will from time to time experience the wrath of God—here in the form of disease— remembering the deuteronomic outlook that disease was seen as God’s punishment. But in comparison to the far greater periods of life’s joys that come from God, suffering lasts but a moment.  This idea is captured memorably in the latter half of this verse:
At evening one beds down weeping,
and in the morning, glad song.” (6b)

Not only is sleep physically healing, it metaphorically tells us that God will always waken us in peace and even joy.

We might ask about those who suffer over a long period of time. How do these verses apply to them? I think the answer is that even in ongoing suffering, God will bring peace. I know this has been true of two men with whom I’ve walked along side as they suffered from disease that indeed carried them to death. Yet, along the way they both found the quiet joy in God that our poet describes here.

2 Chronicles 32: Even though Hezekiah and Judah have followed God assiduously, that is no guarantee that there will not be hard times. We read that “After these things and these acts of faithfulness, King Sennacherib of Assyria came and invaded Judah and encamped against the fortified cities, thinking to win them for himself.” (1)

But Hezekiah does not panic, but rather responds cooly to the threat. First, they cut off all the water flowing outside the fortified Jerusalem, depriving Sennacherib and his army of water. Hezekiah then sees that the city walls are repaired and fortified and goes on to organize the army.

But perhaps most impressive of all is that Hezekiah demonstrates the true leadership that comes from a man who knows and follows God: “Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to them, saying, “Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him; for there is one greater with us than with him.” (7)

Sennacherib sends his servants to Jerusalem in an attempt to discourage Hezekiah and all Jerusalem from the overwhelming force that surrounds them. He mocks their belief in God, sarcastically intoning, “‘The Lord our God will save us from the hand of the king of Assyria’?” (11) The Assyrian king then attempts to turn the court officials against Hezekiah, warning them that he remains undefeated: “do not let Hezekiah deceive you or mislead you in this fashion, and do not believe him, for no god of any nation or kingdom has been able to save his people from my hand or from the hand of my ancestors.” (15)

Still unable to persuade Hezekiah or Judah to surrender, the Assyrians shout at the people in their native tongue that “the God of Jerusalem [was] like the gods of the peoples of the earth, which are the work of human hands.” (19)

Hezekiah and Isaiah “cried to heaven.” God responds and “the Lord sent an angel who cut off all the mighty warriors and commanders and officers in the camp of the king of Assyria.” (21) Sennacherib returns in disgrace to Assyria. and in anger promptly kills some of his own sons—a vile act inspired by his belief in the false gods who apparently have betrayed him.

Then comes a reminder that it was God and not Hezekiah who accomplished this great victory, “Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death.” (24) However, as our authors point out, Hezekiah had become prideful. But he at least had the good sense to have “humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the Lord did not come upon them in the days of Hezekiah.” (26)

Our authors conclude the story of Hezekiah noting that “Hezekiah had very great riches and honor; and he made for himself treasuries for silver, for gold, for precious stones, for spices, for shields, and for all kinds of costly objects.” (27) He also executes an engineering project: “Hezekiah closed the upper outlet of the waters of Gihon and directed them down to the west side of the city of David. Hezekiah prospered in all his works.” (30) This same tunnel was rediscovered in Jerusalem in the 1980s.

All in all, Hezekiah’s is the most successful reign since Solomon—and all because Hezekiah and the people remained faithful and followed God. No one reading this history in Babylon and tempted to abandon God can miss the moral of this story…

Acts 25:16–26:1: Festus is truly confused about Paul’s case. In conversation with King Agrippa, it’s clear he’s trying to figure out these strange Jewish customs that seem to fly in the face of the Roman legal system. He tells Agrippa, “you see this man about whom the whole Jewish community petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. But I found that he had done nothing deserving death.” (24, 25a) This sounds exactly like the conundrum that Pilate faced with Jesus—a coincidence that surely was not lost on our author, Luke.

Now that Paul has appealed to the Emperor, Festus has to write up the case and charges against Paul—and he is at a loss of what to write, remarking, “it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner without indicating the charges against him.” (27)  Festus asks Agrippa to hear Paul out to see what charges may be brought out of this strange very Jewish situation of people demanding a man’s death for the relatively trivial (in Roman eyes, anyway) of blasphemy.

Festus is certainly a wiser man than Pilate who gave into the crowd’s anger. Of course, he was not facing a riot on his doorstep the way Pilate was.

Paul rises to speak to Agrippa…


Psalm 29; 2 Chronicles 31; Acts 25:1–15

Psalm 29: The psalm opens with a verb that is rarely used in the psalms, but occurs in the first three lines here:
Grant to the Lord, O sons of God,
grant to the Lord glory and strength!
Grant to the Lord His name’s glory.
Bow to the Lord in holy majesty!” (1,2)

We use “grant” as in “allow” or “permit.” But is our psalmist really saying, “permit God glory and strength?” I guess I have to be satisfied that this is a bit of poetic license in the use of this verb as it is certainly the other way around: God who grants things to us.

This is also one of the noisiest psalms as the poet enumerates the ways God, acting through nature, makes himself heard in power and glory in a series of short exclamations that evoke thunder and trees crashing in the forest:
The Lord’s voice is over the waters.
The God of glory thunders.
The Lord is over the mighty waters.
The Lord’s voice in power,
the Lord’s voice in majesty,
the Lord’s voice breaking cedars.
the Lord shatters the Lebanon cedars.” (3,4,5)

Our poet continues in this vein with images of God’s power expressed verbally through images of fire (7), earthquakes, (8) and deforestation (9b). God’s voice even initiates birth: as “The Lord’s voice brings on the birth-pangs of does.” (9a)

Finally, our psalmist reflects on God’s eternal nature:
The Lord was enthroned at the flood
and the Lord is enthroned as king for all time.” (10)

Today, the most popular image of God seems to be one of a gentle parent or worse, an avuncular old man. This psalm does a memorable job of reminding us that God is also all-powerful and deserves our reverence, respect and worship. Which is one reason I object to the anodyne style of worship we seem to experience too often. We need to reflect more often about all-powerful God and his majesty as we come to worship in awe and reverence not in casual bonhomie.

2 Chronicles 31: The people of Israel who came to Jerusalem to worship at the temple are inspired to worship only God. They “broke down the pillars, hewed down the sacred poles,[a] and pulled down the high places and the altars throughout all Judah and Benjamin, and in Ephraim and Manasseh, until they had destroyed them all.” (1) Then they return home to Samaria. The question is, did their mountaintop experience in Jerusalem have a long-lasting impact on their neighbors? Or as happens so often to us, did the enthusiasm of the mountaintop experience fade into the quotidian concerns of ordinary life?

Hezekiah continues to organize the priesthood at Jerusalem and ask for offerings from the inhabitants of Judah, including the people from Israel, who apparently stayed in Judah. They respond generously: “As soon as the word spread, the people of Israel gave in abundance the first fruits of grain, wine, oil, honey, and of all the produce of the field; and they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything.” (5) In fact there are so many gifts and tithes that the they end up in heaps that require four months to organize. “Hezekiah questioned the priests and the Levites about the heaps,” (9) and is told by the high priest Azariah that “we have had enough to eat and have plenty to spare; for the Lord has blessed his people, so that we have this great supply left over.” (10)

This incident, which would be a good sermon topic for a stewardship Sunday, is a powerful reminder that when we are truly worshipping God, we are inwardly compelled to give generously.

Hezekiah seems to be the best king since David and Solomon as the people “Faithfully brought in the contributions, the tithes and the dedicated things.” (12) He organizes both the priests and the Levites to carry out sacrifices and worship. What’s interesting to me here is that “The priests were enrolled with all their little children, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, the whole multitude; for they were faithful in keeping themselves holy.” (18) In other words, a family affair. One wonders how the Catholic policy of celibacy squares with these OT priests who had families who worshipped together.

Our authors cannot say enough good things about king Hezekiah: “he did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God, and in accordance with the law and the commandments, to seek his God, he did with all his heart; and he prospered.” (20, 21) The lesson our authors are communicating here is crystalline: God provides in abundance if we are serious about placing God first in our lives. 

Acts 25:1–15: The new procurator, Festus travels to Jerusalem “where the chief priests and the leaders of the Jews gave him a report against Paul.” (2) The Jews ask Festus to send Paul to Jerusalem, but as Luke points out, “They were, in fact, planning an ambush to kill him along the way.” (3) However, Festus declines the request and tells the Jews to come to Caesarea. Upon returning to Caesarea, Festus has Paul brought before him and for what I see as a preliminary hearing.

Paul asserts his innocence, but like his predecessor, Festus is more interested in currying favor with the Jews and asks Paul if he wants to go to Jerusalem for the trial. Paul asserts his Roman citizenship and demands a hearing before the Emperor’s tribunal in Rome. Festus issues his terse order, “You have appealed to the emperor; to the emperor you will go.” (12)

Coincidentally, the Jewish puppet king, Agrippa, arrives in Caesarea with his wife. Festus outlines the Paul case to him as the reading.

We’ll read Agrippa’s reply tomorrow. Stay tuned for the next exciting chapter in the adventures of Paul the wrongly accused missionary.

Psalm 28; 2 Chronicles 29:20–30:27; Acts 24:17–27

Psalm 28: This David psalm of supplication gets right to the point:”To You, O Lord, I call./ My rock, do not be deaf to me.” (1a) The psalmist’s logic is that if God cannot hear his supplication, God will not speak and he might as well be dead: “Lest You be mute to me/ and I be like those gone down to the Pit.” (1b)

After he repeats his plea for God to hear him. he articulates his deepest fear that he would be trapped among conniving evildoers steeped in falsehoods rather than on the mountain with God:
Do not pull me down with the wicked,
and with the wrongdoers,
who speak peace to their fellows
with foulness in their heart.” (3)

Now we arrive at the heart of the prayer, which is for the evildoers to receive their comeuppance as the psalmist asks God to provide retribution on his behalf:
Pay them back for their acts
and for the evil of their schemings.
Their handiwork give them back in kind.
Pay back what is coming to them.” (4)

Of course the eternal question this type of retributive prayer raises is, are we to pray for evil to come upon those who have wronged us, or more generally, those who have wronged their fellow man? Jesus makes it clear that we are to pray for our enemies but not for their destruction.

But for our psalmist, God’s punishment is the only logical possibility because evildoers are oblivious to God’s action in the world: “For they understand not the acts of the Lord/ and His handwork they would destroy and not build.” (5) Well, here we have it: count among evildoers those who would desecrate the earth; those who destroy rather than build. In short, we are to be stewards, not destroyers of the earth. Civilization seems never to have learned that lesson.

The psalm concludes on the optimistic note that God has indeed “heard the sound of my pleading.” (6) God is assuredly not deaf. In fact, the psalmist exclaims, “The Lord is my strength and my shield. In Him my heart trusts.” (7a) And as a result of God’s action, he responds. as always, in worship: “I was helped and my heart rejoiced,/ and with my song I acclaim Him.” (7b) And our psalmist employs David’s kingly position and asks that God’s blessing is to be extended to all people in his kingdom:
Rescue Your people 
and bless Your estate.
Tend them, bear them up for all time.”

What a tremendous promise: that through Jesus Christ God indeed bears us up for all time.

2 Chronicles 29:20–30:27: With the temple restored and re-sanctified, Hezekiah “rose early, assembled the officials of the city, and went up to the house of the Lord.” (29:20) There, the assembly commences an enormous sacrifice “For the king commanded that the burnt offering and the sin offering should be made for all Israel.” (29:24)  There is music and worship: “the whole assembly worshiped, the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded; all this continued until the burnt offering was finished.” (29:28)

In fact, there are so many sacrifices, that the priests cannot do the task themselves because not enough priests have been sanctified. So they call in Levites to help. We can tell where our authors’ loyalties lay—they were obviously Levites themselves—when they editorialize that “the Levites were more conscientious than the priests in sanctifying themselves.” (28:34)

Hezekiah is so inspired by the restoration of the temple that he invites Israel to join the party. He sends couriers throughout Israel “with letters from the king and his officials, as the king had commanded, saying, “O people of Israel, return to the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, so that he may turn again to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria.” (30:6) But the couriers mostly meet derision in Israel. “Only a few from Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem.” (30:11).

Many of those from Israel who came had no knowledge of the Levitical laws and “had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the passover otherwise than as prescribed.” (30:18) Hezekiah understands their ignorance and rather than punishing them for breaking the rules, prays to God, The good Lord pardon all who set their hearts to seek God, the Lord the God of their ancestors, even though not in accordance with the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.” (30:19) And as our psalmist today wished, God heard Hezekiah and “healed the people.” 

We tend to think of the Old Covenant as being strictly black and white, yet here we see a sublime example of God’s grace. Grace is not a New Testament invention.

Acts 24:17–27:  Paul accurately describes the events at the temple, telling Felix that “they found me in the temple, completing the rite of purification, without any crowd or disturbance.” (18) He tells Felix that his accusers were Jews from Asia and makes the rather valid point that “they ought to be here before you to make an accusation, if they have anything against me.” (19) As for the Jewish accusers who are present in court, Paul says, the only feasible accusation against him is theological not judicial, specifically, “the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.’” (21)

Luke tells us that Felix is already pretty well informed about “the Way.” The procurator adjourns court, stating that he awaits the arrival of Lysias the tribune (at last: his name!) to provide further testimony.

A few days later, Felix sends for Paul “and heard him speak concerning faith in Christ Jesus.” (24) Paul is obviously a convincing speaker and “as [Paul] discussed justice, self-control, and the coming judgment, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present; when I have an opportunity, I will send for you.” (25)

But something more sinister than  a disputation about theology is afoot with Felix. He sends for Paul repeatedly, hoping that Paul will offer the procurator a bribe in order to gain his freedom. This goes on for two years(!) Portus Festus succeeds Felix and “since he wanted to grant the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.” (27) In the end, Felix is merely a petty and corrupt bureaucrat.

In the story of Paul’s ersatz trial in Caesarea, we learn that the Jewish hierarchy and the Roman system of justice are both corrupt at their heart. Paul obviously knows this. We are beginning to suspect that Paul has a greater purpose in mind.

Psalm 27:7–14; 2 Chronicles 28:9–29:19; Acts 24:4–16

Psalm 27:7–14: See yesterday’s post.

2 Chronicles 28:9–29:19: Because of the apostasy of Judah under Ahaz, Judah has been soundly defeated in battle by Israel. It would appear that the kingdom of Judah will soon be history. However, a prophet named Oded meets the returning Samaritan army and points out that they have defeated Judah because “the Lord, the God of your ancestors, was angry with Judah, he gave them into your hand, but you have killed them in a rage that has reached up to heaven.” (28:10) He warns them to send the captives back to Judah “for the fierce wrath of the Lord is upon you.” (28:11)

In addition to Oded’s warning, several Ephramite chiefs “stood up against those who were coming from the war,” (12) and warn the others that “You shall not bring the captives in here, for you propose to bring on us guilt against the Lord in addition to our present sins and guilt. For our guilt is already great, and there is fierce wrath against Israel.” (28:13) This proves that even in the most evil empire there are still men of good will who follow God and wish to hew to the Covenant. The “get it.”

Their persuasion was apparently successful and the Ephramites “took the captives, and with the booty they clothed all that were naked among them; they clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, and anointed them; and carrying all the feeble among them on donkeys, they brought them to their kindred at Jericho, the city of palm trees.” (15) I have to believe that Jesus had exactly this event in mind when he told the story of the good Samaritan because these men were indeed good Samaritans. I wonder of any in Jesus’ audience remembered this historical incident when he told the story? Certainly the Pharisees should have recalled it.

Ahaz and Judah are saved by the grace of God, but unlike the Ephramites, Ahaz still doesn’t get it. He attempts to establish an alliance with the king of Assyria. But still faithless, Ahaz brings only disaster on Judah as “King Tilgath-pilneser of Assyria came against him, and oppressed him instead of strengthening him.” (28:20) But Ahaz continues to persist in his willful faithlessness against God. and he turns now to the small-g gods of Aram. He closes the temple at Jerusalem and “made himself altars in every corner of Jerusalem.” (28:24) Judah is certainly at its lowest point by this time. He finally dies. It’s difficult to imagine any other king of Judah who tested God’s restraint and the promise of an “everlasting kingdom” that he had made to David more than Ahaz.

Rather than being ruled by any of Ahaz’s progeny, Hezekiah, whose mother was a daughter of Zechariah, ascends the throne of Judah. His first act in the first month of his reign is to reopen and repair the temple doors and restore the Levitical priesthood to its rightful place. Unlike his predecessor, Hezekiah “gets it” and tells the people that because of their apostasy, “the wrath of the Lord came upon Judah and Jerusalem, and he has made them an object of horror, of astonishment, and of hissing, as you see with your own eyes.” (29:8)

Hezekiah vows to “make a covenant with the Lord, the God of Israel, so that his fierce anger may turn away from us.” (29:10) The priests tend to the Herculean task of cleaning out the temple. It takes eight days and another eight days to once again sanctify the temple. Things are finally looking up in Judah.

Acts 24:4–16: The Jewish lawyer, “a certain Tertullus” gives his fawning opening statement about how grateful the Jews are to live under the benevolent dictatorship of the Romans. Uh huh. Right. I’m pretty sure Felix saw through that one.

Tertullus casts Paul as a rabble-rouser of the first order. Worse, as “an agitator among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” (5) Then, Tertullus accuses Paul of trying to profane the temple—a blatant lie, but a serious charge. The Jews who are with Tertullus bear false witness and “also joined in the charge by asserting that all this was true.” (9)

Paul, acting as his own defense counsel, stands up and speaks, asserting that if Felix cares to investigate, he would find that he only appeared in Jerusalem to worship at the temple a mere twelve days ago. Moreover, Paul asserts, “They did not find me disputing with anyone in the temple or stirring up a crowd either in the synagogues or throughout the city.” (12) and that the Jewish charge cannot be proved.

However, when it comes to matters of theology, Paul does admit “that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our ancestors, believing everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets.” (14) He then explains that he has “a hope in God—a hope that they themselves also accept—that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” (15) This is an excellent reminder to the Jews who are present—and to us— that far from being heretical, Paul in fact has exactly the same theological views they do—if they were willing to admit it, which I suspect they will not.

Having heard both sides, what will Felix decide?

Psalm 27; 2 Chronicles 26:16-28:8;

Psalm 27: With the exception of the 23rd Psalm, this psalm opens with among the most encouraging—and most famous—verse in the book:
The Lord is my light and my rescue.
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is my life’s stronghold.
Of whom shall I be afraid?” (1)

Once again using the 2-line/ 2-line verse structure of repeating the same thought but using different words in the second verse (this is the essence Hebrew poetry), our psalmist tells us once again that no matter how powerful the enemy he will remain protected by God because he trusts in God:
Though a camp is marshalled against me,
my heart shall not fear.
Though battle is roused against me,
nonetheless do I trust.” (3)

If we really took these verses to heart just think of how our lives would be different. Living in complete assurance that God protects us and that we do not have to fight our enemies on our own. But I always seem to want to conduct the fight on my own. It’s all about control in the end, isn’t it?

Having established his trust in God and belief that he resides under God’s benevolent protection, the poet asks that he be granted respite from his enemies in order to worship God for the remainder of his life:
One thing do I ask of the Lord,
it is this that I seek—
that I dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life
to behold the Lord’s sweetness
and to gaze on His palace.” (4)

But in the meantime before that much desired day comes, our psalmist finds himself in the midst of battle surrounded by enemies. Nevertheless, his confidence on God remains strong :
For He hides me in His shelter,
on the day of evil.
He conceals me in the recess of His tent,
of a rock He raises me up.” (5)

The alternating verses that praise God’s protection and then anticipate the future of peaceful worship continue as we read again of his desire to be at peace so he can worship God:
Let me offer in His tent
sacrifices with joyous shouts.
Let me sing and hymn to the Lord.” (6)

But there is still a scintilla of doubt as our poet moves into full supplication mode:
Hear, O Lord, my voice when I call,
and grant me grace and answer me.” (7)


Your face, Lord, do I seek.
do not hide Your face from me,
do not turn Your servant away in wrath.” (8b, 9)

The lesson here for me is that even with the most profound trust in a God who loves us we will always experience pangs of feeling abandoned by God. Like a young child in bed in a darkened room crying out for his parents, we will still cry out even though deep down we know that God is standing by us—and like our parents that he loves us.

So, we can cry out with the psalmist as he once again is trusts that God is indeed at his side:
If I but trust to see the Lord’s goodness,
in the land of the loving—
Hope for the Lord!
Let your heart be firm and bold,
and hope for the Lord.” (13, 14)

This is perhaps my favorite psalm because it deals with those moments of doubt about God’s presence and benevolence that I believe come to any believer in his journey with Jesus and God. IMHO, anyone who claims a complete unalterable confidence in God that never wavers without those doubts arising—especially in times of trouble— is failing to understand what the Creator/Creature relationship is really all about.

2 Chronicles 26:16-28:8: Uzziah is feeling his kingly oats and believes he is fully qualified to offer sacrifices in the temple by himself. 80 priests restrain him from committing this sacrilege, pointing out that “It is not for you, Uzziah, to make offering to the Lord, but for the priests the descendants of Aaron.” (26:18) This makes Uzziah angry but God moves fast and causes him to become leprous. Unfortunately for him, it appears very publicly on his forehead. As a result, “Uzziah was leprous[c] to the day of his death, and being leprous lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the Lord.” (26:21)

Of course the root sin here is pride. Uzziah believed he was such an excellent God-follower that God would automatically grant him the ability to do whatever he pleased since it was about religious observance. We often see the same pride in churches where someone believes they’re uniquely qualified to be God’s direct intercessory. And we encounter those same folks today—whence the term “holier than thou.”

At the age of 25, Uzziah’s son, Jotham, becomes king. Happily, “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord just as his father Uzziah had done.” Our authors slyly append the comment, “—only he did not invade the temple of the Lord.” (27:2) Jotham reigns for 16 years and “built cities in the hill country of Judah, and forts and towers on the wooded hills.” (27:4) He also defeats the Ammonotes in battle, who are forced to pay heavy reparations. The people of Judah must have been happy under Jotham to spared the usual leadership drama for 16 years.

Jotham’s son Ahaz ascends the throne and is a complete ne’re-do-well: “He did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord, as his ancestor David had done, but he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel.” (1,2) Worse, he erects Baal idols and abuses his children and, “made his sons pass through fire, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.” (3)

We can hear the resigned sighs in their voices as our authors point out that God punished Ahaz: “Therefore the Lord his God gave him into the hand of the king of Aram, who defeated him and took captive a great number of his people and brought them to Damascus.” (27:5) Later, Ahaz is defeated by Israel and “the people of Israel took captive two hundred thousand of their kin, women, sons, and daughters; they also took much booty from them and brought the booty to Samaria.” (8) As always, the moral of the story is all crystal clear. When leadership fails, those who are led also fail.

Acts 23:25-24:3: Paul barely escapes with his life as the tribune sends him off to Caesarea accompanied by a letter from the tribune, which explains that while the Jews accused him of heresy but upon examination, and noting that Paul was a Roman citizen, the tribune writes, “I found that he was accused concerning questions of their law, but was charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment.” (23:29) In other words, as far as the tribune is concerned, Paul is innocent, but the Jews still deserve a hearing, as he tells Felix, the procurator, that “I sent [Paul] to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they have against him.” (23:30)

Five days later, “the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and an attorney, a certain Tertullus, and they reported their case against Paul to the governor.” (24:1) Ah, a lawyer. Now we know there will be problems for Paul, who will naturally insist on defending himself.

As is their wont, the attorney begins his opening statement by flattering Felix: “because of you we have long enjoyed peace, and reforms have been made for this people because of your foresight.” (24:2) I think we can figure out where this is going…

Psalm 26; 2 Chronicles 25:5–26:15; Acts 23:12–24

Psalm 26: Our psalmist proclaims his loyalty to God and is confident enough in that trust to tell God to test him:
The Lord I have trusted.
I shall not stumble.
Test me, O Lord, and try me.
Burn pure conscience and my heart.” (1b, 2)

I’m pretty sure I’ve never had the nerve to pray to God to test me since the tests seem to come frequently enough as it is. Are they all from God? I really don’t think so.

But our psalmist asserts that he has walked in God’s truth and avoided, as the Catholics put it, ‘occasions of sin:’
I have not sat with lying folk
nor with furtive men have dealt.
I despised the assembly of evildoers,
nor with the wicked I have sat.” (4,5)

Therefore, ritually and morally clean, he sees that he is eligible to worship God at the temple:
Let me wash my palms in cleanness
and go round Your altar, Lord,
to utter aloud a thanksgiving
and to recount all Your wonders.
Lord, I love the abode of Your house
and the place where Your glory dwells.” (6,7,8)

This psalm reminds us of what it was like to be a God-follower before grace came to us via Jesus Christ. It’s endlessly difficult work. Of course simply because we live under the terms of grace we also need to remember what Paul said about not sinning so that “grace abounds.” It’s worth following the path the psalmist has even as we know we do not have to earn grace.

The final part of this psalm is a prayer of supplication, and specifically that he avoid the temptations offered by the evil men all around him:
Do not take my life’s breath with offenders
nor with blood-guilty men my life,
in whose hands there are plots,
their right hand full of bribes.” (9,10)

No, our psalmist asserts, that will not happen because “I shall walk in my wholeness. Redeem me, grant me grace.” (11) In the end, he will receive God’s grace because he continues to follow the law and tells us that “My foot stands on level ground.” (12) The question for us, of course, is are we walking on the level ground of righteousness or allowing the temptations all around cause us to fall into the metaphorical pit?

2 Chronicles 25:5–26:15: King Amaziah of Judah plans to go to war against the Edomites. He assembles an army of 300,00o Judeans and then plans to hire an additional 100,000 men from Israel. However, a prophet warns the king against the mercenaries, because “the Lord is not with Israel.” (25:7) and this would pollute the entire enterprise.

It’s worth noting here that the authors of Chronicles are focused on—and rooting for—Judah. Unlike the authors of I & II Kings, these authors have written Israel off as a hopeless case except when it’s a useful foil for events in Judah. It’s certainly easy to see why the Samaritans—descendants of Israel—were so despised in Jesus’ time.

Amaziah follows the prophet’s advice and “discharged the army that had come to him from Ephraim, letting them go home again.” (25:10) However, having lost the opportunity to collect a lot of booty, the army from Israel departs in anger.

Nevertheless, Amaziah “took courage” and leads the army in a victorious battle over Edom where they kill 10,000 men from Seir, tosses another 10,000 off a cliff and kills an additional 300,000 Edomites.

But then Amaziah screws up and “he brought the gods of the people of Seir, set them up as his gods, and worshiped them, making offerings to them.” (25:14) A prophet tells Amaziah who rather logically asks, “Why have you resorted to a people’s gods who could not deliver their own people from your hand?” (25:15) Amaziah angrily dismisses the prophet doubtless because he knew the prophet was right.

Of course there are grim consequences arising from that rashness. King Joash of Israel wants to set up an alliance with Judah via a royal marriage. Amaziah refuses as our authors note that Joash’s offer “was God’s doing, in order to hand them over, because they had sought the gods of Edom.” (25:20) So Joash, obviously God’s pawn at this point invades and defeats Judah and pillages the temple.

Once again, our authors chide their readers with this story: do not under any circumstances worship anyone but God. Or the consequences will be dire.

Sixteen year old Uzziah takes over as king after his father, Amaziah, dies. He reigns for 52 years and happily, “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done.” (26:4) Uzziah is positively influenced by the prophet Zechariah, whose eponymous book we will read later this year.

Because he follows God, Uzziah is militarily successful and fortifies the cities of Judah. Uzziah becomes the strongest king since Solomon as he rebuilds the wealth and power of Judah. His army is impressively large: 2600 officers and 375,000 soldiers.

He also trusts engineers—I like that!—and employs the latest defensive technology and in “Jerusalem he set up machines, invented by skilled workers, on the towers and the corners for shooting arrows and large stones.” (26:15)

So far so good for Uzziah as “his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped until he became strong.” (26:15) The message from our authors is consistent: Follow God and good things happen. Abandon God and the consequences are grim.

Acts 23:12–24: Speaking of consequences. Paul’s Spirit-led decision to return to Jerusalem has proven even grimmer that I think he imagined. I’ve always wondered if Paul felt that his oratorical powers were so powerful that he became over-confident in his ability to influence any audience, even hostile Jews.

However, the Jews were having none of Paul and  “in the morning the Jews joined in a conspiracy and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink until they had killed Paul.” (12) They are so angry they vow to fast until they have killed this Pauline thorn in their sides. They ask the tribune to send Paul back to the temple on the pretext of further theological discussions.

However, Paul’s nephew (and why doesn’t he even rate being identified by name for his courage here?) hears of the plot and warns Paul, who sends him to the tribune. The nephew warns the tribune about the plot, and upon hearing it, “the tribune dismissed the young man, ordering him, “Tell no one that you have informed me of this.” (22)

The tribune (and why doesn’t Luke give us his name, as well?), who has respect for Paul the Roman citizen, and more importantly doubtless wishes to avoid riots and turmoil in Jerusalem, assembles a cohort of “two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen” (23), provides Paul a horse, and they all depart Jerusalem under cover of darkness (9:00 p.m.) and head to Caesarea.

One of the things that I take away from this is that even though Paul felt led by the Holy Spirit to return to Jerusalem, at this point it does not appear to have been a wise course. Of course we know how the story turns out and had Paul not gone to Jerusalem, he would never have ended up a prisoner in Rome and written all those epistles. This is a reminder that God often works good ends out of bad circumstances. I certainly feel that my experience with cancer has had similar salutary consequences.



Psalm 25:1–7; 2 Chronicles 21:18–23:21; Acts 22:17–29

Psalm 25:1–7: The first stanza of this psalm provides us an beautiful example of an intimate prayer to God. Even though it’s unlikely that David actually wrote this psalm, its tone is certainly consistent with the king we come to know—a king who followed God, but was nevertheless a sinner who recognizes his sins:
To You, O Lord, I lift my heart.
My God, in You I trust. Let me not be shamed,
let my enemies not gloat over me.” (1b,2)

Shame arises when we recognize that we have sinned—a recognition that seems to occur less and less among public figures in our culture. Our psalmist extends this supplication to not be shamed to everyone who comes to God n prayer: “Yes, let all who hope in You be not shamed.” (3a) This is an invitation that the psalmist has extended to each of us. But it requires recognizing that we, like David, are sinners.

On the other hand, David prays, “Let the treacherous be shamed, empty-handed.” (3b) Of course now as then, the treacherous never seem to know shame.

The tone of the prayer shifts to a more intellectual footing as the psalmist prays to learn—and follow—God’s truth and God’s law:
Your ways, O Lord, inform me,
Your paths, instruct me.
Lead me in Your truth and instruct me…” (4,5a)

But above all else, God is where rescue and hope is found:
…for You are the God of my rescue.
In You do I hope every day.” (5b)

That hope arises from memory—ours to be sure, but the psalmist also calls upon God’s memory, and how he has forgiven past sins
Recall Your mercies, O Lord,
and Your kindnesses—they are forever.” (6)

At the same time, we see that it is entirely proper to pray for God’s forgiveness, expressed here as God forgetting our previous wrongdoings:
My youth’s offenses and my crimes recall not.
In Your kindness, recall me—You;
for the sake of Your goodness, O Lord.” (7)

There are two great themes that come together here: our recognition that we have sinned and God’s forgiveness expressed as God forgetting that we have sinned. But it’s worth noting that while God may forget our sins, we cannot escape the have consequences of our sins.

2 Chronicles 21:18–23:21: King Jehoram dies an agonizing death, whose symptoms sound like colon cancer. But perhaps even worse than death itself is that after a disastrous eight year reign, his subjects were glad to see him go: “He departed with no one’s regret.” (21:20)

Ahaziah is crowned king by the inhabitants of Jerusalem but reigns only one year as “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” (22:4a) He was obviously a morally weak character and “after the death of his father [the followers of Ahab] were his counselors, to his ruin.” (22:4b) Our authors are incredulous at Azahiah’s credulity in following the advice of the Ahab counselors: “He even followed their advice, and went with Jehoram son of King Ahab of Israel to make war against King Hazael of Aram at Ramoth-gilead.” (22:5)

However, it was not the battle that causes Ahaziah’s downfall, rather “it was ordained by God that the downfall of Ahaziah should come about through his going to visit Joram.” (22:7)  There, Jehu kills Ahaziah and as a result there was no successor “able to rule the kingdom.” (9)

In this power vacuum, Ahaziah’s mother, Athaliah,  seizes the throne and “set about to destroy all the royal family of the house of Judah.” (10) But the Jeroham’s daughter “took Joash son of Ahaziah, and stole him away” (11) thus saving one heir from the line of David by hiding him with the priest Jehoiada.

Six years later, “Jehoiada took courage” and gathers the leaders of Judah and “the whole assembly made a covenant with the king in the house of God.” (23:2) I’m sure that they had suffered enough under Athaliah and were only too happy to undertake a palace coup. The assembly crowns Joash as king and they form a continuous guard around Joash since they knew Athaliah would seek to kill him.

Athaliah hears the rejoicing now that Joash has been crowned king and cries,”Treason, Treason.” (13) But she has no allies.They seize her and Jehoida instructs the soldiers not to kill her in the temple. They take her out to a city gate and murder her.

Jehoiada made a covenant between himself and all the people and the king that they should be the Lord’s people.” (17) The Baal idols are torn down, Joash is placed on the throne and “all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was quiet after Athaliah had been killed with the sword.” (21) Thus, once again an ancestor of David reigns in Judah, but it was certainly a close call.

Acts 22:17–29: Paul continues telling his autobiography to the Jewish crowd, relating how while he was praying in the temple at Jerusalem, “I fell into a trance and saw Jesus saying to me, ‘Hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’” (17, 18) He then tells the Jewish crowd that Jesus sent him to the Gentiles.

This story enrages the Jewish crowd. They shout, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” (22) Paul is dragged to the Roman barracks and about to be flogged so the tribune could learn the reason for the riot. After they tie him up, ready to be flogged, Paul rather calmly asks, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who is uncondemned?” (25) The centurion carries the news to the tribune, who comes and asks Paul if he’s a Roman citizen. Paul replies that he was born a Roman citizen, (unlike the tribune who had to buy his citizenship).

The fact of Paul’s Roman citizenship causes the tribune to be afraid, “for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.” (29)

But I’ve always wondered: did Paul have documentation showing he was a Roman citizen or was simply verbally asserting Roman citizenship sufficient?