Psalm 31:22–25; Ezra 1,2; Acts 27:21–38

This is my 800th post.

Psalm 31:22–25: Our psalmist, still speaking as David, is deeply grateful for God’s favor:
Blessed is the Lord
for He has done me wondrous kindness
in a town under siege.” (22)

Is this an actual town—perhaps Jerusalem—or is it a metaphorical town? In any event, he realizes that even though God seemed not only absent but apparently had banished David from his presence, it turns out that God was actually there all the time:
And I had thought in my haste:
‘I am banished from before your eyes.’
Yet You heard the sound of my pleading
when I cried out to You.” (23)

This first couplet is so true! In difficult circumstances we think God is absent or even worse, that we are not worthy to be helped by God. Yet, if we look hard enough and listen hard enough, we discover that God not only shows up but that he was there all along!

And because we know that God is indeed with us—and that he loves us—we reciprocate that love. Even better, those who oppress us or plot against us will eventually receive their comeuppance:
Love the Lord, all His faithful,
steadfastness the Lord keeps
and pays back in good measure the haughty in acts.” (24)

With this knowledge in our minds and this love in our hearts, we can truly take the psalmist’s coda to heart:
Be strong, and let your heart be firm,
all who hope in the Lord.” (25)

May each day see increasing strength in my mind and increasing firmness in my heart that God is indeed present and active in my life.

Ezra 1,2: The editors who determined the order of the OT books were firm believers in linear history. tThe book of Ezra picks up where 2 Chronicles ended. I suspect it is the same authors because we again see their firm conviction that God acted through foreign leaders such as the Pharaoh Neco, King Nebuchadnezzar, and now, King Cyrus of Persia.

Here, the authors are quite explicit about how Cyrus came to decree the end of the Babylonian exile. Cyrus may have conquered Babylon on his own, but our authors assert that it was an act of God that caused him to allow the Jews to return to their land: “The Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom, and also in a written edict declared: “Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah.” (1:2)

Cyrus’s instructions are explicit. The return is to allow the Jews to “go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem.” Whether or not Cyrus actually said these things is not the point. The key is that Jewish identity was completely bound up in the temple at Jerusalem. And there is no more critically important task ahead than to rebuild the temple.

Not only are the Jews to return, but the decree goes on to instruct all the Gentiles among whom the Jews have been scattered to provide them “with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, besides freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.” (1:4)

To make sure everyone under Cyrus’s rule got his point, the king sets the example: “King Cyrus himself brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods.” (1:7)

Another proof that these are the same authors who wrote the Chronicles, they are excellent accountants: “And this was the inventory: gold basins, thirty; silver basins, one thousand; knives, twenty-nine; gold bowls, thirty; other silver bowls, four hundred ten; other vessels, one thousand; the total of the gold and silver vessels was five thousand four hundred.” (1:9-11)

Once the temple treasures have been inventoried, our authors then inventory the families  who returned, as well as the places they returned from. The list includes the priests, the Levites and the temple servants. However, there is one family, who “looked for their entries in the genealogical records, but they were not found there, and so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean.” (2:62)

Not only have our authors provided the names and numbers of each family returning, they give us the totals: “The whole assembly together was forty-two thousand three hundred sixty, besides their male and female servants, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred thirty-seven; and they had two hundred male and female singers.” (2:64-65) When we have read before of Israel’s armies of hundreds of thousands we realize just how small the population of returning Jews actually was.

BTW, I love that the choir members are included as a separate group!

Following a specific accounting of the horses, mules, camels, and donkeys, the total of the freewill offerings from the Jews themselves to the temple rebuilding fund comes to “sixty-one thousand darics of gold, five thousand minas of silver, and one hundred priestly robes.” (69)

Finally, the authors note that while the priests and Levites lived in or near Jerusalem, “the singers, the gatekeepers, and the temple servants lived in their towns, and all Israel in their towns.” (2:70) SO it’s not just Jerusalem that’s being repopulated.

How will Judah and Israel be reestablished from this relatively small number? Will they succeed in rebuilding the temple? We know the answers but it’s fun to revisit the process and trials they encounter along the way.

Acts 27:21–38: Obviously everyone aboard the seemingly doomed ship is terrified. Paul, having received an angelic vision that all would be well, encourages his companions and the sailors: “I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.” (22) and “So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.” (25)  Paul also says the only way for them to be saved is to run the ship aground.

After two weeks of drifting at sea, the ship finally comes near land in the middle of the night. Fearing the rocks they drop anchor, whereupon four sailors attempt to escape. Paul “said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” (31) So the soldiers cut the ropes holding the small boat casting the sailors adrift.

He advises everyone to eat their fill, since it’s been 14 days since anyone ate. There’s no question that without Paul taking the lead they all would have perished. What’s surprising to me is that the ship was much bigger than I thought. Luke tells us parenthetically: “(We were in all two hundred seventy-six persons in the ship.)” (37)

More adventures are to come. And of course we know that Paul and Luke survived to tell the story.




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