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.



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