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?

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