Archives for January 2019

Psalm 18:31–37; 2 Chronicles 1,2; Acts 17:29–18:7

Originally published 2/1/2017. Revised and updated 1/31/2019.

Psalm 18:31–37: Our psalmist finally asks the all-important question that every person on a serious spiritual journey must ask at some point during his or her lifetime:
For who is god except the Lord,
and who is the Rock except our God?

We are surrounded by so many things that can too easily become our small-g gods: power, wealth, social acceptance; the list is endless. But if we do not ask this all-important question and then answer as the psalmist has, that there is only God alone, then we have doubtless succumbed to following a different small-g god.  In the same way that Luther realized that in some ways we must be baptized daily, I think we must ask—and answer— this question about who is our God on a daily basis.

Our psalmist answers his rhetorical question by reflecting on how God has so positively impacted his life:
The God who girds me with might
and keeps my way blameless,
makes my legs like a gazelle’s,
and stands me on the heights,
trains my hands for combat,
and makes my arms bends a bow of bronze. (33-35)

God is the source of David’s physical strength, his impressive skills, and his spiritual well-being. God has given him physical might and he can run like a gazelle. God provides him with the motivation to train for battle and the ability to shoot with a heavy bow. It’s the same for us: God gives us strength for the day and the desire to never stop learning new things. Above all, my desire for delving into scripture comes not from some inner motivation but it is a gift from God.

David says it best as he acknowledges that everything he is—his very being—comes from God:
You gave me Your shield of rescue,
Your right hand did sustain me.

And while we may not be training for a physical battle, God continues to train us for daily life. Indeed, it is God who has
lengthened my strides beneath me
and my feet did not trip. (37)

Without faith in the one true God—our Rock—we will only trip, stumble and fall, and make a mess of our lives.

2 Chronicles 1,2: This second history book opens with Solomon as king and more importantly, the relationship between God and Solomon. One night, God appears to Solomon and “said to him,Ask what I should give you.” (1:7) Solomon replies, “Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can rule this great people of yours?” (1:10) God is quite pleased at this wise request, and tells the king that because he has “not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life,” (1:11) God will indeed grant him wisdom and knowledge. As a bonus, God will “also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.” (1:12)

The moral of this encounter is clear: besides our very salvation through Jesus Christ, God’s greatest gift, if we but ask for it, is wisdom and knowledge. But it’s wisdom and knowledge that comes from God; it is not generated within ourselves. Only when we are willing to submit our will to God’s do we even have a chance at making it through life with a modicum of wisdom and knowledge.

As they love to do so often, our authors proceed to give us a description of the wealth that comes to Solomon: 1400 chariots and 12,000 horses. A wise leader brings bounty to his subjects and not just to himself. Thus, Solomon “made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah.” (1:15)

Now that Israel itself has become a strong and wealthy nation, Solomon turns his attention to the great project that confronts him: building the temple. Many of the materials required for this great structure must be imported. Solomon establishes an alliance with King Huram of Tyre. He asks that king provide skilled labor, “an artisan skilled to work in gold, silver, bronze, and iron, and in purple, crimson, and blue fabrics, trained also in engraving, to join the skilled workers who are with me in Judah and Jerusalem.” (2:7) He then asks to import materials—”cedar, cypress, and algum timber from Lebanon” (2:8)—along with the skilled labor to work the timber. Solomon entices this labor to Israel with an attractive reward: “I will provide for your servants, those who cut the timber, twenty thousand cors of crushed wheat, twenty thousand cors of barley, twenty thousand baths of wine, and twenty thousand baths of oil.” (2:10)

The king of Tyre agrees to the deal and effusively praises the “God of Israel, who made heaven and earth, who has given King David a wise son, endowed with discretion and understanding, who will build a temple for the Lord, and a royal palace for himself.” (2:12) Not to be cynical but one suspects the King of Tyre did well financially in this trade deal with Solomon.

Then Solomon takes a census. Uh, Oh. But avoiding his father’s grievous error, Solomon doesn’t count the citizens of Israel, who belong to God, and bring God’s wrath down on his head. Rather, he counts but the resident aliens. There are 153,600 of them. 70,000 laborers, 80,000 stone cutters and 3600 overseers “to make the people work.” (2:18) With the mention of “overseers” we’re left with the impression that not all the labor that will be building the temple was voluntary…

Acts 17:29–18:7: Paul continues his sermon on the Areopagus. He takes the interesting angle that historically, God has been overlooking “the times of human ignorance.” (30) He goes on to tell his listeners that they need to repent “because [God] has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (31).

To the Athenian philosophers, everything has probably seemed an interesting new idea, but then when Paul mentions resurrection from the dead he loses much of his audience. According to the received philosophical wisdom in Greece, people don’t rise from the dead, so to their ears this Paul is speaking foolishness.

I think Paul’s experience in Athens must be what led him to write in the opening chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians that God’s wisdom will seem like foolishness to human ears.

On balance, Paul’s time in Athens did not yield the fruit of many believers that he had seen in other places. Athens was the New York or the Bay Area of the day—far too blase’ and sophisticated to give much credence to what this bumpkin from Tarsus had to say. As Jesus made all too clear, the Good News will often fall on rocky soil.

Paul heads south to Corinth and meets up with Aquila and his wife Priscilla, also newly arrived at Corinth “because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome.” (18:2) Happily, Paul and Aquila share the same tent making trade, so Paul basically moves in with them.

Silas and Timothy rendezvous with Paul  in Corinth and find him in the synagogue “proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus.” (18:5) However, the Jews of Corinth “opposed and reviled him,” and Paul leaves the synagogue. We can almost see him walking out, turning his head over his shoulder and shouting, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” (6) And Paul heads next door to the house of a Gentile, a Titus Justus, whose eponymous book we will come to later in the New Testament.

It is truly one of the tragedies of the early church—and the church today— that Jews could not be persuaded that Jesus was the Messiah. But in abandoning the Jews for the Gentiles, Paul’s impact on the world became immeasurably greater.



Psalm 18:26–30; 1 Chronicles 28,29; Acts 17:16–28

Originally published 1/31/2017. Revised and updated 1/31/2019.

Psalm 18:26—30: After describing how God rescued him from his enemies, our psalmist provides a general theological overview to all those who follow God by showing how God reciprocates in exactly the same way we approach him:
With the faithful You deal faithfully,
with a blameless man, [You] act without blame.
With the pure one, You deal purely,
with the perverse man, [You] deal in twists.” (26, 27)

He writes about one of the great themes of the Hebrew scriptures, that God cares for the lowly and rejects the self-centered mighty:
For it is You Who rescues the lowly folk
and haughty eyes You bring low. (28)

The subtext here is that if we do not approach God in humility, then God will seem irrelevant to us. And we certainly see that in abundance in a society where individual rights are paramount and God (and community) is pushed into the background.

In a powerful metaphor, the psalmist expresses how God is the sole source of guidance as we follow life’s dark and twisty path:
For You light up my lamp, O Lord
my God illumines my darkness.

We cannot make it through life on our own. We must remember that when we encounter obstacles, it is God who helps us leap over them:
For through You I rush at a barrier,
through my God I can vault a wall.
” (30)

This last metaphor reminds me of how we had to get over a tall wall with no handholds when I was at OCS. To surmount this obstacle we had to run right toward the wall and then take off on the right foot to clear it. Here, in a wonderful metaphor of the Christian life we are encouraged to run with all our might toward—not away from— the obstacle, confidently faithful that God will help us over. With faith in God we do not have to be stymied by the hurdles that life throws at us, confident that with faith in God all things are indeed possible.

1 Chronicles 28,29: Sometimes I do not understand the Moravians. We plod one chapter at a time through the endless lists and now that we finally come to the narrative we have to rush through it…

David gathers his staff together and announces that while he had planned to build the temple himself, God intervened telling the king, “‘You shall not build a house for my name, for you are a warrior and have shed blood.’” (28:3). Then he tells the assembly that it is God—not him— who has chosen Solomon from among David’s many sons to be the next king. David tells “all Israel, the assembly of the Lord, and in the hearing of our God, observe and search out all the commandments of the Lord your God; that you may possess this good land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children after you forever.” (28:8) Once again, we have the terms of the covenant stated for all to hear: observe and search out all the commandments of the Lord your God.

David may not be able to build the temple but he has been its funder and its architect as he hands Solomon “the plan of all that he had in mind: for the courts of the house of the Lord, all the surrounding chambers, the treasuries of the house of God, and the treasuries for dedicated gifts.” (28:12) In addition, he hands over the organization charts as well as “all the vessels for the service in the house of the Lord,” (13) He makes sure that Solomon and all listening clearly understand that this is God’s plan, telling them,“All this, in writing at the Lord’s direction, he made clear to me—the plan of all the works.” (28:19)

Realizing his work is nearly done, David bestows a final blessing on his son: “Be strong and of good courage, and act. Do not be afraid or dismayed; for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.” (28:20) This is the fatherly blessing that I think every son wants to hear.

The king then turns to everyone assembled there and asks them to assist his inexperienced son, telling them, “My son Solomon, whom alone God has chosen, is young and inexperienced, and the work is great.” (29:2) He tells everyone how much he has contributed to the funds required to build the temple and asks each person there, “Who then will offer willingly, consecrating themselves today to the Lord?” (29:5) This is an excellent example of a leader having made his own substantial contribution before asking it of others. Something that TV evangelists seem to fail to do.

The next verse would be a terrific passage on which to base a stewardship sermon as our authors write, “Then the people rejoiced because these had given willingly, for with single mind they had offered freely to the Lord; King David also rejoiced greatly.” (9) What a terrific description of a true free-will offering!

The offering complete, David prays one of the greatest prayers in Scripture. In that prayer he observes that in God’s big picture we humans are mere ephemera: “For we are aliens and transients before you, as were all our ancestors; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope.” (15) This is a theme that Peter picks up in his eponymous letter about we Christians being resident aliens here on earth.

David concludes his prayer by asking God to “Grant to my son Solomon that with single mind he may keep your commandments, your decrees, and your statutes, performing all of them, and that he may build the temple for which I have made provision.” (19) The people in attendance “bowed their heads and prostrated themselves before the Lord and the king.” (20)

The next day is filled with the offering of sacrifices and everyone “ate and drank before the Lord on that day with great joy.” (22) This is a reminder that worship is at the center of our lives, but that God also wants us to have a party afterwards.

Solomon sits on the throne and all pledge their allegiance to him as our authors remind us that “The Lord highly exalted Solomon in the sight of all Israel, and bestowed upon him such royal majesty as had not been on any king before him in Israel.” (25)

Acts 17:16–28: Paul arrives in Athens and “was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” (16) Paul, being Paul, “argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.” (17) Some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debate him, but Paul seems to have met his intellectual match and some call him a “babbler.” The Athenians are interested in what Paul has to say more for its academic interest than anything having to do with faith in God. Which is certainly how much of the world views Christianity today—or at least that portion of the world that doesn’t view Christianity as a threat to world peace or to newly-defined minorities.

Paul uses the altar “to an unknown god” as his launch point to tell them that “God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands,” (24)  Given the plentitude of shrines on the Acropolis, this was doubtless a new concept to them. Paul then uses logic to move from point to point, announcing that those who “would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.” (27) That statement probably makes sense to their philosophical minds, but then Paul says,  “‘In him we live and move and have our being’” and attempts to tie that idea to one of their own poets, observing that “some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’” (28).

The question at this point is can people be saved by Paul’s supremely logical argument? So far, Paul seems to think so—or at least he’s giving this approach to proclaiming the gospel the old college try.


Psalm 18:17–25; 1 Chronicles 27; Acts 17:4–15

Originally published 1/30/2017. Revised and updated 1/30/2019.

Psalm 18:17–25: Amidst the natural chaos—earthquakes, violent storms, volcanic eruptions—that our psalmist has described as God “tilting the heavens” and coming down to earth, there is a personal rescue as from drowning:
He reached down from on high and took me,
pulled me out of the many waters.
He save me from my daunting enemy
and from my foes who were stronger than I.” (17, 18)

But it has been a close run thing. His enemies have already attacked but God has arrived at the very last moment:
They came at me on my day of disaster,
the Lord became my support
and brought me out to a wide-open space,
set me free, for His pleasure I was
.” (19, 20)

At first, the word  ‘pleasure’ seems oddly out of place. David is rescued because he brings pleasure to God? The next verses tell us exactly why David was God’s ‘pleasure’ as we encounter the Old Covenant’s deuteronomic bargain. David has followed God and therefore has become God’s pleasure, worthy of rescue:
The Lord dealt with me by my merit,
for my cleanness of hands He requited me.
For I kept the ways of the Lord
and did no evil before my God.” (21, 22)

We arrive at one of the foundational themes that course through Psalms. If we keep God’s law diligently, God will reciprocate and provide rescue in our times of trouble:
For all His laws were before me.
From His statutes I did not swerve.
And I was blameless before Him,
and kept myself from crime.” (23, 24)

The deuteronomic logic is irrefutable. David has kept himself “from crime,” and therefore,
…the Lord requited me for my merit,
for my cleanness of hands in His eyes.

Well, David may have been able to do that most—but not all— of the time, because we know he committed some big time sins. How much better the New Covenant is for us: to be saved through grace by Jesus Christ.

1 Chronicles 27: It’s beginning to look like no citizen of Israel will go unmentioned by the authors of Chronicles as list follows relentlessly upon list.

At least our authors are straightforward and simply call it for what it is: “This is the list of the people of Israel, the heads of families, the commanders of the thousands and the hundreds, and their officers who served the king in all matters…” (1) Twelve divisions of 24,000 men each rotates through David’s court, each serving for a month.

There’s a parallel leadership structure in Israel. The military that reports to David as commander -in-chief and then there are the tribal heads, which seem more like state governors. After listing the leaders, our authors remind us once again of David’s perfidy in going against God and performing a census: “David did not count those below twenty years of age, for the Lord had promised to make Israel as numerous as the stars of heaven.” (23) But as if for completeness, our authors mention the hapless Joab who “began to count them, but did not finish; yet wrath came upon Israel for this, and the number was not entered into the account of the Annals of King David.” (24) I feel sorry for poor Joab: caught between a demanding king and an angry God.

There is another civic structure described here. This one is the various officials that form something like a cabinet or heads of various ministries for the king. These include:

  • the treasuries,
  • work of the field (farmers),
  • vineyards,
  • “produce of the vineyards,” i.e. the wine cellars,
  • olive and sycamore trees,
  • oil (presumably olive oil)
  • herds that pastured in Sharon
  • herds in the valleys
  • camels
  • donkeys
  • flocks of sheep

Each head held the title of steward and “All these were stewards of King David’s property.” (31)

Finally, “Jonathan, David’s uncle, was a counselor, being a man of understanding and a scribe; Jehiel son of Hachmoni attended the king’s sons.” (32)

I cannot fail to be impressed at the level of organizational sophistication that is described here. When it comes to bureaucracies, there truly is nothing new under the sun.

Acts 17:1–15: Paul and Silas appear to be having great success in Thessalonica. But in describing the events there Luke gives us another clue as to Paul’s persuasive but equally abrasive personality: “Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.” (2,3)  

The Gentiles (“Greeks”) and women basically flock to Paul’s message but “the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar.” (5) [I love the word ‘ruffians!’] Paul and Silas cannot be found, so the mob attacks Jason’s house, who having once entertained Paul and Silas as guests, becomes the handy target for outrage. Some things just never change about protests that turn into riots. 

Jason is freed on bail, but to get the officials off the church’s back, the Thessalonian Christians “sent Paul and Silas off to Beroea; and when they arrived, they went to the Jewish synagogue.” (10) Here, there is greater success among the Jews who “welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so.” (11) Also, a number of Gentiles, including “men of high standing” become believers.

However, the Thessalonian Jews hear about this and head on over to Beroea “to stir up and incite the crowds.” (13) which they succeed in doing. The Beroean believers see that Paul is definitely the Thessalonian Jew’s target and they “immediately sent Paul away to the coast, but Silas and Timothy remained behind.” (14)

The bottom line here is that Paul was an outstanding theologian and clearly bested anyone who chose to argue against him—always a great way to create enmity. However, it’s also clear that he was an abrasive personality that stirred deep passions and one which had to be hustled off to the next town in order to prevent riots and hurting the church in whatever town he visited. Now wonder Paul started writing letters to the churches.

Paul sounds a lot like a certain abrasive personality now heading the executive branch. Unfortunately, unlike Paul, it’s going to be hard to hustle him off to the next town.

Psalm 18:8–16; 1 Chronicles 26; Acts 16:30–17:3

Originally published 1/29/2017. Revised and updated 1/30/2019.

Psalm 18:8–16: David has cried out to God in his distress and God hears him:
He heard from His palace my voice,
and my outcry before Him came to His ears.

An amazing description follows, which is essentially cinematic as this brilliant poetry evokes incredible images of power. God not only hears he acts. And there’s nothing subtle about God’s response for it affects all nature, beginning with a violent earthquake:
The earth heaved and shuddered,
the mountains’ foundations were shaken. (9a)

Followed by a volcanic eruption:
They heaved, for smoke rose from His nostrils
and fire from His mouth consumed,
coals blazed up around Him. (9b)

So, the question becomes, is this theophany an actual description of God’s power or is our psalmist simply giving us a dramatic metaphor for God’s power? To me, the details in the verses seem to suggest an eyewitness account. Whether or not these events actually happened doesn’t really matter. We are given a marvelous reminder of God’s power that many believed (and many still believe) is expressed through natural phenomena.

Then comes a remarkable image of heaven “up there” intersecting with earth as God seems to be flyng around above our heads:
He tilted the heavens, came down,
dense mist beneath His feet.

He mounted a cherub and flew,
and He soared on the wings of the wind
. (10, 11)

But amidst all this sturm und drang, God still remains hidden from view:
He set darkness His hiding place around him, (12a)

Then, with dark foreboding God sneaks up on David’s enemies:
His abode water-massing, the clouds of the skies.” (12b)

I take this image to be something like a giant thunderhead reaching far up into the atmosphere. David’s enemies can see that something awful is about to happen because God is suddenly visible as the skies open:
From the brilliance before Him His clouds moved ahead—
hail and fiery coals.

[We encounter similar dramatic images later in Revelation, leading me to believe that the author knew this psalm well.] Then it happens. God in all his terror acts against David’s enemies who are no match for God’s power as they flee in terror:
He let loose His arrows, and scattered them,
lightning bolts shot, and He panicked them. (15)

This theophany becomes even more apocalyptic as earth seems transformed back to its primordial origins:
The channels of water were exposed,
and the world’s foundations laid bare
from the Lord’s roaring,
from the blast of Your nostril’s breath. (16)

These verses are important to recall while we call God, “Abba,” it is easy to forget that God is no ordinary father. To be sure, God loves us, but he is also the source of unimaginable power.

1 Chronicles 26: The endless organization chart continues with the names and organization of the gatekeeper, who are split into three divisions, and guard the entrances to Jerusalem.

Then come the treasurers, accountants, and judges. “The sons of Jehieli, Zetham and his brother Joel, were in charge of the treasuries of the house of the Lord.” (22) The treasury is divided into two parts: [1] the gifts brought by David and the leaders of the army (26) and [2] the gifts from the past: “all that Samuel the seer, and Saul son of Kish, and Abner son of Ner, and Joab son of Zeruiah had dedicated.” (28)

Then, “Chenaniah and his sons were appointed to outside duties for Israel, as officers and judges.” (29) In addition, 1700 “men of ability, had the oversight of Israel west of the Jordan for all the work of the Lord and for the service of the king.” (30) It would be great to be designated a “man of ability.”  The key here is that responsible people were put in charge. We can only hope for the same in our own day…

Acts 16:30–17:3: Rescued from suicide, the Philippian jailer asks Paul a simple but all-important question. And it’s the question every person really has to ask one way or another at some point in his or her life: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (3) Paul’s answer is equally simple and straightforward: “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (31) The jailer and his family are quickly baptized and then there a party. Notice there are no complicated statements of doctrine or theological discussions or other hoops through which the jailer must jump—especially the circumcision hoop.

Apparently someone at the Philippi city hall came to his senses and word was sent that “The magistrates sent word to let you go; therefore come out now and go in peace.” (36) The officials would be only too happy to shove the wretched affair under the proverbial rug, but Paul would have nothing of it: “They have beaten us in public, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they going to discharge us in secret? Certainly not!” (37)

So, the fearful authorities apologize to Paul and Silas and asked them to leave Philippi. However, Paul and Silas return to Lydia’s house and only then, “when they had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters there, they departed.” (40) This is a great example of Paul’s fearlessness and the fact that he did not submit to false authority.

So, what are the lessons here? One is that sometimes there really is justice and as so many psalms remind us, the wicked do indeed get their comeuppance. The other more important lesson, I think, is that one does not need to be a theologian to be saved. One needs only to believe on Jesus Christ and accept the wonderful gift he has given us. And then throw a party. For that is what grace is all about: salvation and the joy that comes from the knowledge we are indeed saved.

Psalm 18:1–7; 1 Chronicles 25; Acts 16:16–29

Originally published 1/27/2017. Revised and updated 1/26/2019.

Psalm 18:1–7: The superscription of this poem is extraordinarily long providing the back-story about the circumstances that led David to proclaim this victory psalm: “For the lead player, for the LORD’s servant, for David, who spoke to the LORD the words of this song on the day the LORD saved him from the grasp of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.” (1)  Alter points out that this psalm is almost exactly (but not quite) the same as David’s song of thanksgiving in 2 Samuel 22.

The joyfully confident opening line firmly establishes the joyful emotions that suffuse the psalm: “I am impassioned of You, Lord, my strength!” (2) Have I ever felt this passionately toward God?

Our poet then has David expressing several metaphors that make it clear that it was David’s trust— his sheltering—in God which brought him victory and saved his life:
The Lord is my crag and bastion,
and my deliverer, my God, my rock where I shelter, (3a)

The poet then shifts to military metaphors to describe how God saved him for certain death:
my shield and the horn of my rescue, my fortress. (3b)

David’s gratitude is all the greater because God’s rescue came just in the nick of time:
The cords of death wrapped round me,
and the torrents of perdition dismayed me
. (5)

I think that ‘torrents of perdition’ is perhaps one of the greatest metaphors in all of Psalms! What a marvelous image of a rushing deluge of evil approaching and then washing over us—but that God protects us from all of it.

The next verse emphasizes how close David was to death, so close that he could see his doom, apparently having been trapped by the enemy, perhaps even Saul himself, on the battlefield:
The cords of Sheol encircled me,
the traps of death sprung upon me.

In this desperate situation there is only one thing David can do:
In my strait I called to the Lord,
to my God I cried out.
” (7)

We are sometimes tempted to deride so-called ‘foxhole prayers.’ Yet, here is the greatest warrior king of Israel doing exactly that. But David know one important thing: God does not take our circumstances into account when we pray. Whether we are praying from the silence of the cloister or the middle of a blood-soaked battlefield, God hears us. A good lesson for all of us.

1 Chronicles 25: More lists of the vast organizational apparatus that our authors assert was established by David himself. This time it’s the temple musicians. “David and the officers of the army also set apart for the service the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy with lyres, harps, and cymbals.” (1)

What strikes me here is that speech is not the only medium that conveys prophecy, but that the playing of musical instruments calso qualifies. Clearly, our authors understood how music can stir emotions, frequently with greater power than words. Which is one reason why I think music at worship is so crucially important—and also how music can become fraught and divisive in a congregation. Different music stirs different emotions. Perhaps if we thought more often of music having prophetic power we would pay close attention to the lyrics of what we sing: are the words speaking as if from God—like the words of this psalm— or are they therapeutic ditties too focused on our own self esteem and feelings?

A certain Heman is father to 14 sons and 3 daughters, all of whom “were under the direction of their father for the music in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the house of God.”  (6) Moreover, he was director of a large choir: “They and their kindred, who were trained in singing to the Lord, all of whom were skillful, numbered two hundred eighty-eight. (7). The remainder of the chapter details how that group was divided.

If ever we needed a reminder that music is to be played and sung with skill and reverent feeling, it is right here. This is what should set worship music apart from secular music—and why I personally find too great a focus on the musicians rather than on the music for God to be distressful.

Acts 16:16–29: Paul and Silas seem to be having great success in Philippi. In one of the most famous stories in Acts, Luke narrates the events that landed Paul and Silas in prison. It all starts with a demon-possessed slave girl who apparently has the powers of divination. “Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.” (18)

The slave girl’s owners, seeing “that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities.” (20) Rather than the usual fairly trivial charges of disturbing the peace, the owners accuse Paul and Silas of sedition against Rome. A kangaroo court ensues and they are found guilty as charged. Paul & Silas are stripped, beaten, tossed into the innermost cell of the prison, and locked up in stocks.

None of this discourages the pair from singing and praying as the famous earthquake occurs around midnight, “so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.” (26)

Assuming the prisoners had escaped the jailer was about to commit suicide when Paul shouts, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” (28) The jailer “called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.” (29)

One of the things I’ve always wondered about is why didn’t the other prisoners escape? I understand why Paul and Silas stayed put but what force would hold the other prisoners back? I  the feeling that somehow the Holy Spirit somehow involved here?

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

Originally published 1/26/2017. Revised and updated 1/25/2019.

Psalm 17:8–15: Our psalmist first asks 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
from the wicked who have despoiled me

my deadly enemies drawn round me. (8, 9)

He then 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:
Rise, Lord, head him off, bring him down,
save my life from the wicked with Your sword.

After all, he reminds God, these bloody-minded enemies are mere mortals, far weaker than God himself:
[save my life] from men, by Your hand, from men,
from those fleeting of portion in life.

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 sixteen men from the ancestral house of Eleazar but only eight 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 come 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 of priests? As I noted yesterday it really doesn’t matter if David actually did this or not. By attaching all these names (and their descendants down to the time our authors were writing in Babylon) to David he becomes 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. Having removed the barrier of circumcision, 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, Luke, who must have accompanied Paul and 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 wherever they happen to be. 

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.

Psalm 17:1–7; 1 Chronicles 23; Acts 15:32–16:3

Originally published 1/25/2017. Revised and updated 1/24/2019.

Psalm 17:1–7: This psalm of supplication opens with an anodyne request for God to “listen well” to his “guileless prayer.” (1) Our psalmist knows that it is God who judges because God is the source of all righteousness:
From before You my judgement will come,
Your eyes behold rightness
. (2)

He feels that God has tested him, including even in his dreams, and that he has passed the test:
You have probed my heart, come upon me by night,
You have tried me, and found no wrong in me.

Above all, he has guarded his speech as if having been muzzled by God: “I barred my mouth to let nothing pass.” (3a)

Not only speech, but his actions are guarded as well as he responds to God’s direction, avoiding the temptation to sin:
As for human acts—by the word of Your lips!
I have kept from the tracks of the brute
. (4)

However, it’s not clear to me who the “brute” is. Satan? Some specific enemy? Or maybe he was referring to his own formerly sinful self.

He asks God to continue to keep him on the path of righteousness:
Set firm my steps on Your pathways,
so my feet will not stumble
. (5)

In this state of carefully following of God’s will, the psalmist feels justified in calling on God and is assured that God will answer:
I called You, for You will answer me, God.
Incline Your ear, O hear my utterance.

He expands the perspective from himself to all persons who follow God and are thereby protected from their enemies:
Make Your mercies abound, O rescuer of those who shelter
from foes at Your right hand.
” (7)

I am impressed by how carefully our psalmist has followed the path that God has laid out for him. What’s less clear to me, however, is exactly what path God has laid out for me. I see great evidence God’s work in my life retrospectively, but it’s more difficult to see what God has in mind prospectively. I guess that’s what faith is all about.

1 Chronicles 23: Something that I had not realized before is that David appoints Solomon as king while he is still alive: “When David was old and full of days, he made his son Solomon king over Israel.” (1) I’m pretty sure that’s the first and only time the crown is passed while the king is still alive. It certainly reduces the court intrigue that always ensues when the king dies and several potential successors are contending for the throne.

Arrrrgh. More lists! Of the 38,000 Levites who are thirty years or older, David assigns 24,000 of them to be associated with religious rites and “have charge of the work in the house of the Lord.” (4) The labor is divided down further:

  • Officers & judges: 6,000
  • Gatekeepers: 4,000
  • Musicians & singers: 4,000

David, in a valedictory fit of administrative energy, “organized them in divisions corresponding to the sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.” (6) The lists of names then follows, proving once again that the authors of this book were themselves Levites.

David then makes an important announcement: The Lord, the God of Israel, has given rest to his people; and he resides in Jerusalem forever. And so the Levites no longer need to carry the tabernacle or any of the things for its service.” (25, 26) Instead, now that God is firmly ensconced at Jerusalem, they have a new job description. The duty of the Levites “shall be to assist the descendants of Aaron for the service of the house of the Lord, having the care of the courts and the chambers, the cleansing of all that is holy, and any work for the service of the house of God.” (28) They also assist with the holy bread, and “shall stand every morning, thanking and praising the Lord, and likewise at evening,” (30)

I’m left with the very firm impression that the Levites who wrote this book are quite specifically codifying the roles and responsibilities of the Levites once they return from exile in Babylon back to Jerusalem. By asserting that the greatest king of Israel had decreed these tasks makes it clear that no dissent will be brooked by the levitical officials who will shortly be in charge of the temple. In short: If David said so, then thus it shall ever be.

Acts 15:32–16:3: We lear the fascinating fact that Judas and Silas are “themselves prophets and said much to encourage and strengthen the believers” (15:32) while in Antioch. After a while they leave and Paul and Barnabas remain. In one of those incidents that convinces me that we are reading history and not some fictional story, Paul and Barnabas get into a serious disagreement. Paul wants to retrace the first missionary journey “in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” (36) Barnabas agrees but wants to take John Mark with them. We get a glimpse into Paul’s ability to hold a grudge when he refuses because  John Mark “had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work.” (38) As Luke succinctly puts it, “the disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.” (39) So Paul chooses Silas as his companion and they set out “through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” (41)

This incident is a good lesson to us in the church today. There will always be disagreements over strategy and often over doctrine. Sometimes it’s better to just split up and move on. I’ve always wondered if Luther had Paul and Barnabas in mind when he posted his 95 Theses .on the Wittenburg wall.

So, Paul and Silas head off to Derbe and Lystra, where they meet uncircumcised Timothy. Tim is the son of a mixed marriage, and Paul wants him to join them. Then Paul does something that seems counter to the entire point of the Council of Jerusalem: he “had [Timothy] circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.” (16:3)

So did Paul abandon his principle that Gentiles didn’t need to be circumcised in order to become Christians? Or was he just being expedient?

I suspect the latter since the task at hand was to carry the gospel to many more cities. The missionary strategy was to preach at the synagogues and let things take their course from there. There is no way Timothy could even enter the synagogue without having been circumcised. We don’t get to hear what Timothy had to say in this matter, but he obviously agreed to undergo the less-than-pleasant procedure as an adult. Nevertheless, I don’t think we should be too hard on Paul in this matter. Sometimes it’s important to bow to custom in order to have credibility with the natives.

Psalm 16:7–11; 1 Chronicles 21:27–22:19; Acts 15:19–31

Originally published 1/24/2017. Revised and updated 1/23/2019.

Psalm 16:7–11: In the second half of this psalm, our psalmist writes that because God has brought him to his senses about the futility of worshipping the small-g gods, his life is now suffused with a peaceful conscience:
I shall bless the Lord who gave me counsel
through the nights that my conscience would lash me.

God has become the guide of his entire being; the key to living an upright life:
I set the Lord always before me,
on my right hand, that I not stumble
. (8)

Which is enormously good advice for us, as well. It is when we hew to the small-g gods in our own lives that we drift away from God and inevitably into a guilty conscience.

The concluding verses are an expression of the joy that permeates the psalmist’s entire being—an image that’s intensified by the references to his heart and the blood that pulses in him:
So my heart rejoices and my pulse beats with joy,
my whole body abides secure.

This verse resonates because it demonstrates so clearly that a right relationship with God is not just an abstract spiritual feeling, but that true joy in God can be an uplifting physical experience as well.

Our psalmist has total assurance that God will always be with him—that he is indeed saved from an awful fate:
For You will not forsake my life to Sheol
You won’t let Your faithful one see the Pit.

Instead, God is about a life well lived where joy rather than a a guilty conscience is the order of the day:
Make me know the path of life.
Joys overflow in Your presence,
delights in Your right hand forever.” (11)

A right relationship with God means joy, rarely fear, and above all, never a guilty conscience. This is certainly a “go to” psalm when things in the world seem to be terminally messed up.

1 Chronicles 21:27–22:19: God answers David’s fervent prayer to save Israel from the pestilence and “the Lord commanded the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath.” (21:27) God’s angel has struck fear into David and he is now afraid to go before God in the tabernacle currently located at Gibeon. Instead, David determines that the threshing floor of Ornan is where the permanent structure of a temple is to be located. Which suggests that Ornan’s threshing floor was atop what is now called Temple Mount in the middle of Jerusalem.

Among David’s final acts as king is to assemble and prepare the materials for the temple, which will be built by his son Solomon. He “set stonecutters to prepare dressed stones for building the house of God. David also provided great stores of iron for nails for the doors of the gates and for clamps, as well as bronze in quantities beyond weighing, and cedar logs without number.” (22:2-4) It’s just like our accountant authors to provide a fairly complete inventory of building materials!

Now that those details have been taken care of, David “called for his son Solomon and charged him to build a house for the Lord, the God of Israel,” (22:6) explaining that he cannot build because God told him that “you [David] have shed so much blood in my sight on the earth.” (22:8)

David goes on to tell Solomon that God has given his son, the future king, a great promise: “I will give peace  and quiet to Israel in his days. He shall build a house for my name. He shall be a son to me, and I will be a father to him, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever.’” (22:9, 10)

David advises Solomon, “may the Lord grant you discretion and understanding, so that when he gives you charge over Israel you may keep the law of the Lord your God.” (22:12) Solomon will have ample resources to work with as our accountants happily relate in their usual detailed fashion that David has “provided for the house of the Lord one hundred thousand talents of gold, one million talents of silver, and bronze and iron beyond weighing, for there is so much of it; timber and stone too I have provided.” (14) David has also provided an abundance of labor, “stonecutters, masons, carpenters, and all kinds of artisans without number, skilled in working gold, silver, bronze, and iron” (15, 16a).

David then gives his son a final fatherly command: “Now begin the work, and the Lord be with you.” (16b). Just to make sure we get the point that it was David who decided where the temple was going to be built, who performed a lot of pre-construction work, and most importantly that he was Israel’s greatest king, David gives a final instruction to “the leaders of Israel to help his son Solomon, saying, “Is not the Lord your God with you? Has he not given you peace on every side? For he has delivered the inhabitants of the land into my hand; and the land is subdued before the Lord and his people.” (18)  David may have blood on his hands, but to our authors he was also a holy man of God, who in the end accepts he will not have the honor of building the temple for the God whom he loves. The question is, would I be so willing to forego a project on which my heart was so firmly set and leave the glory to my heirs?

Acts 15:19–31: The Jerusalem conference issues its communique that insofar as circumcision is concerned, Peter has “reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God.” (19) However, he does ask them to follow some sensible Jewish dietary laws: “we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood.” (20)

To make sure that the Gentiles at Antioch fully understand that the Jerusalem church has made this all-important decision, Judas Barsabbas and Silas accompany Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch. The four men have the church’s letter in hand as well as Judas and Silas as witnesses in order to make it clear Paul and Barnabas are not making this up.

Luke helpfully quotes the letter, which after a lengthy introduction of who Judas Barsabbas and Silas are, gets to the meat: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.” (28, 29)

To say that the members of the Antioch congregation were happy is something of an understatement as Luke somewhat drily observes, “When its members read it, they rejoiced at the exhortation.” (31) Good news indeed. For the church at Antioch and every gentile Christian. Although we’ll find out via Paul’s various epistles that the letter from Jerusalem did not completely put the circumcision issue to rest.

Psalm 16:1–6; 1 Chronicles 21:1–26; Acts 15:6–18

Originally published 1/23/2017. Revised and updated 1/22/2019.

Psalm 16:1–6: This psalm opens with an affirmation of the psalmist’s faith in God”
Guard me, O God,
for I shelter in You.
I said to the Lord,
‘My Master You are.
My good is only through You.’ (1,2)

It appears that he has only recently turned back to God, abandoning idol worship. He confesses that before finding God, idols were for him,
the holy ones in the land
and the mighty who were all my desire.

We assume that he is speaking ironically when he refers to those false gods as “holy ones” and “the mighty.” He once believed they were holy and mighty, but now having rediscovered faith in the real God, they are worthless. Which is exactly what we should be doing when we realize that Jesus has come to us. But putting away the false gods in our lives is a difficult business.

The psalmist continues in this ironic tone by suggesting the small-g gods will be sorrowful because he has abandoned them:
let their [i.e., the gods] sorrows abound—
another did they betroth.
” (4a)

The latter phrase suggests that other people are still following these false gods, even to the point of being married to them. [But we have to admit these lines are pretty obscure, so I’m guessing here.]

Things become clearer at the latter half of verse 4 as the psalmist states that he has turned away from worshiping or even speaking of these small-g gods:
I will not pour their libations with blood,
I will not bear their names on my lips.

Now that he is rid of the gods he once worshipped, he can worship the true God with all his heart. He realizes that whatever may happen in the future his entire life is now under God’s protection:
The Lord is my portion and lot,
it is You Who will sustain my fate
. (5)

Then, he uses a lawyeresque metaphor of how he has now been written into God’s last will and testament:
An inheritance fell to me with delight,
my estate, too, is lovely to me
. (6)

This verse speaks to everyone of us who believes in God through Jesus Christ. Through him we have acquired the inheritance of faith that indeed “is lovely.” In short, we have been written into what in the book of Revelation is called the “Book of Life.”

1 Chronicles 21:1–26: King David foolishly asks his military leader Joab to conduct a census of Israel and Judah. Joab objects, telling David that the act of counting will bring guilt on Israel. “But the king’s word prevailed against Joab.” (4) Joab returns with the count: 1.1 million men under arms “who drew the sword” and 470,000 more soldiers in Judah. However, Joab “did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, for the king’s command was abhorrent to Joab.” (6)

As to why a census was so abhorrent, I have to assume it’s because David has trespassed onto God’s sole right to number his creation. After all, Israel belongs to God not to David, and God cannot abide that kind of presumption—even from beloved David. When we think about this prohibition of a census and the census of Israel demanded by Augustus at the time Jesus was born, we can imagine the abhorrence with which the emperor’s order was received in Israel.

Joab is not the only one who is displeased by David’s insistence on a census: “God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel.” (7) The cost of this effrontery before God is high. David must choose among three awful punishments: 3 years of famine, 3 months of “devastation by your foes,” or 3 days of pestilence. David chooses the latter “and seventy thousand persons fell in Israel.” God sends an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but then decides to spare the city at the last minute.

Here is where we see why David was the greatest king of Israel. He is willing to take God’s entire punishment on himself, telling God that he is solely responsible for this grievous sin and that as far as his people are concerned, “these sheep, what have they done? Let your hand, I pray, O Lord my God, be against me and against my father’s house; but do not let your people be plagued!” (17) As Christians, we certainly see this act of self-sacrifice as a pre-echo for what Jesus has done for us sheep.

As penance, the angel commands David to “erect an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.” (18) The floor of an altar?!? Sometimes, God can seem awfully capricious. Ornan, seeing the king, offers to give it to him, but David insists on paying full price, 600 shekels, telling Ornan, “I will not take for the Lord what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” (24) David builds the altar and prays to God, who answers, “with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering.” (26)

What’s clear here is that the authors of Chronicles wish to paint David in the best possible editorial light. So, when he commits the egregious sin of conducting the census, he comes to God and begs forgiveness. The story of Ornan’s threshing floor and his willingness to pay a fair price for it, is a proof of David’s intrinsic righteousness and fairness.

Acts 15:6–18: The council at Jerusalem composed of the original apostles considers the fraught question of whether or not Gentiles must be circumcised in order to become Christians. Peter points out that he was the original missionary to the Gentiles, called by God to Cornelius: “in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers.” (7) He goes on to say that the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit just like the Jews, implicitly suggesting that the Holy Spirit is indifferent to the matter of circumcision. He accuses the pro-circumcisers of putting God to the test and that “On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (11) Which of course is the primary message in the New Testament—and what Luther finally came to realize: “By grace are you saved.”

Paul and Barnabas then provide supporting testimony as “they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles.” (12) James then takes the floor and pretty much wraps up the issue by quoting the prophet Jeremiah, who said, “that all other peoples may seek the Lord—/ even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called.” (17)

It appears that the circumcision issue is being laid to rest at the highest level of the church—and our author, Luke, wants to make sure we understand that by citing three independent proofs: (1) Peter, the senior apostle, being called to go to the Gentiles; (2) Paul’s and Barnabas’ testimony re the power of the Holy Spirit working among the Gentiles; and (3) A proof text from the Hebrew scripture.

But as we know from the numerous references in Paul’s letters, the issue of Gentile circumcision issue continued to be contentious throughout his entire ministry to the Gentiles..


Psalm 15; 1 Chronicles 19,20; Acts 14:21–15:5

Originally published 1/21/2015. Revised and updated 1/21/2019.

Psalm 15: This psalm is a refreshing contrast to the previous psalm that focused on those who said there is no God. Here, by contrast, it is all about “Lord-fearers” (4) who come to the pre-Temple tabernacle atop  Mount Zion in Jerusalem. They ask rhetorically,
LORD, who will sojourn in Your tent,
who will dwell on Your holy mountain? (1)

The answer follows quickly, as the psalmist outlines the qualities of the good man:
He who walks blameless 
and does justice
and speaks the truth in his heart. (2).

Unlike those who use their tongues to do great harm by denying God and demeaning others, the Lord-fearer is one,
Who slanders not with his tongue
nor does to his fellow man evil
nor bears reproach for his kin. (3)

Notice that as usual, the tongue is mentioned ahead of other sins, reminding us that it is what we say that can be the greatest sin of all.

Our psalmist contrasts the good man’s attitude toward the evil man to his own actions, which also speak to his inherent righteousness:
The debased in his eyes is repugnant
but to the Lord-fearers he accords honor
When he vows to his fellow man,
he does not revoke it. (4)

The good man does not use his wealth to oppress others:
His money he does not give at interest
and no bribe for the innocent takes. (5a)

The beneficial outcome of this man’s good words and deeds is summarized succinctly in the last couplet of the psalm:
He who does these
will never stumble. (5b)

The problem of course is that we are incapable of leading a completely holy and righteous life described here–especially in matters of the tongue. Only Jesus was able to do that. That is why we have confession and forgiveness through Jesus Christ who forgives our sins. But this psalm stands as a stark reminder of what God’s standards of righteous behavior are.

1 Chronicles 19,20: David continues to build his kingdom via still more military victories. The Chronicler gives us the backstories such as the humiliation of David’s emissaries by the Ammonite king. The Ammonites and Arameans decide to go to war with David, who sends his greatest general, Joab, to fight. He splits the Army in two, one side against the Ammonites, the other against the Areamean. This strategy pays off as each army sees the other fleeing. The Arameans retreat but then bring in fresh troops “from beyond the Euphrates,” but they, too, are defeated, this time by David himself.

As always, the Chronicler includes God’s role in this as Joab says, “Be strong, and let us be courageous for our people and for the cities of our God; and may the Lord do what seems good to him.” (19:13) Which I find e to ba far more satisfying and honest attitude than the usual “God is on our side.”

Warrior kings like David and those who surrounded Israel saw their primary duty as warmaking. The Chronicler reminds us of this with the famous opening line of chapter 20: “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle.” This time, David achieves final victory over the Ammonites and captures their capital of Rabbah, collecting, among other booty, the Ammonite king’s crown “that weighed a talent of gold, and in it was a precious stone; and it was placed on David’s head.” (20:2)

Then on to a final defeat of the ever-warring Philistines, including (who knew!) the slaying of Lahmi, Goliath’s (apparently younger) brother. Still more giants “descended from the giants in Gath,” including a guy with 12 fingers and 12 toes, “fell by the hand of David and his servants.” (20:8) Given the detail with which the Chronicler recounts these battles, we have to accept that these giants did in fact exist in David’s time.

Acts 14:21–15:5: Paul and Barnabas, having learned their lesson about performing miracles at Lystra, now focus on preaching and encouragement as they “strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, ‘It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.’” (14:22)

Luke describes their itinerary in great detail: they went back to Lystra and Iconium, then returned to Antioch. Then back out again to Pisidia, Pamphylia, Perga, Attalia and returning to Antioch, which was what we would now call the “sending church.” Paul and Barnabas have indeed “opened a door of faith for the Gentiles.” (14:28)

But some of the Jewish Christians in Judea, while accepting that Gentiles can join the church, but insist that like other Gentiles who convert to Judaism, they must be circumcised first. “Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them,” (15:2) in Antioch, and agree to go to Jerusalem to discuss the matter further. But no trip is wasted, and they continue to convert Gentiles along the way, this time in Phoenicia and Samaria as they travel south to Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem church welcomes them, and Paul and Barnabas “reported all that God had done with them.” (15:4). But then it’s down to business as “some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.” (15:5). Thus, the Council at Jerusalem commences discussion over the first great disagreement within the church.