Old Testament Readings: 2 Samuel 13-24; 1 Chronicles 21
We concluded last week’s readings with the prophet Nathan’s pronouncement of God’s judgment against King David for his sin with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite. Through Nathan the Lord had declared, “the sword shall never depart from your house” (2 Samuel 12:10). This prophecy works out painfully in the events we read this week.
Chapter 13 recounts the rape of his sister Tamar by David’s son Amnon. Her words of protest voice the story’s moral judgment on Amnon: “No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing” (13:12). The incest and rape seem to have compounded David’s sexual sin, a narrative example of the proverbial “sins of the fathers visited upon the later generations.” Amnon aggravates the immorality by banishing Tamar, who is received “a desolate woman” (13:20) in the house of her brother Absalom. Two years later Absalom avenges Tamar’s violation and murders Amnon.
Absalom’s vengeance causes him to flee, and though he returns for a reconciliation with David (14:33), the restoration is uneasy and shortlived. Absalom musters support for himself, then proclaims himself king. David is forced to flee Jerusalem (reminiscent of his prior escape from Saul), and Absalom glories in his power over his father. Pitching a tent on the roof, “Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel” (16:22), fulfilling Nathan’s prophecy that “your neighbor . . . shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun” (12:11). So the narrative again expresses God’s judgment on David’s sin with Bathsheba, which is the abuse of regal power and the perversion of his role as God’s ruler for Israel.
Absalom’s gruesome death in battle (ch.18) causes profound grief for David. With prodding from his commander Joab, David resumes his rule in Jerusalem, but there is nothing triumphant in his subsequent rule. His restoration stokes regional resentment between Judah and the other tribes (19:41-47), a tension exploited by Sheba in his rebellion (ch.20). David’s forces quell the threat, but they cannot eliminate the tension, which portends the formal, permanent division of the kingdom after Solomon’s reign.
New Testament Readings: Acts 28; Romans 1-4
Our reading of the Acts of the Apostles concludes with Paul’s safe arrival in Rome after the harrowing sea journey recounted in ch. 27. Paul lives for two years at his own expense, in his own quarters, under house arrest. Unable to go to the Roman synagogues, Paul invites the local Jewish leaders to his home, where he testifies to them with mixed results. The quotation from Isaiah 6 (Acts 28:26-27) suggests Paul’s (and Luke’s) definitive and final judgment on and about the Jewish leaders’ rejection of the proclamation about Jesus. “Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (28:28).
Luke’s account does not mention Paul’s eventual death (tradition says he was martyred in Rome), though his narration indicates this awareness (see 20:25,38; 21:13; 25:11). More important for Luke is to portray Paul’s faithful proclamation from “Jerusalem . . . to the end of the earth” (1:8).
As we turn the page from Acts to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, we read the mature fruit of Paul’s life in Christ’s service. He likely writes this epistle from Philippi, before he heads to Jerusalem (see Acts 20:1-5). He intends the letter to precede him to Rome, as he plans to head further west in his future travels: not just to Macedonia and Achaia, as before, but to Rome and eventually to Spain (Romans 15:24). Paul writes to the Romans, “I long to see you, that I might impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you” (1:11). This majestic letter certainly would qualify as such a gift.
The epistle offers an extended presentation of the good news of God’s salvation, offered through Jesus Christ and accessed through belief in Christ. Paul states the theme of his letter in 1:16-17:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
God’s righteousness, demonstrated in the death of Jesus Christ, is the center of the good news. Faith—our trust in God’s saving work in Christ—is the key that unlocks the treasure. God proves his righteousness in redeeming us from our sins; we prove to be righteous when we trust in Christ and accept our forgiveness.
After this thesis statement, chapters 1-4 deal with the wrath of God against human sin. Paul starts with the Gentiles or Greeks (non-Jews) in view. Since the creation reveals evidence of God, all people are without excuse in their sin (1:18-20). The essence of this sin is idolatry: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (1:22-23). God’s judgment against sin is to leave human beings to the consequences of their sin.
Paul then proceeds to consider the Jews, who may think themselves as righteous (rightly related to God) because of their status as God’s covenant people. The Law is an important product of that covenant, and it functions in Paul’s argument both morally (a code of divinely-mandated conduct to uphold) and culturally (a symbol of Jewish identity and belonging to God). Paul argues in chapters 2-3 that Jews are not exempt from God’s wrath against sin. Despite their judging the gentiles for sin, some Jews commit the same sins and deserve the same penalty (2:1-5). The Law brings an awareness of sin that lays greater responsibility upon the Jew than upon the Greek (2:17-24). And since adherence to God’s will is more an internal spiritual matter than an external demonstration (2:25-29), and hence available to both Greeks and Jews, the Law creates no advantage for the Jews.
In summary, “all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin. . . ‘None is righteous, no not one’” (3:9-10). God’s responds to this problem of universal human sin in his righteousness—not through the Law, but through the offering of Jesus Christ. Study the magnificent presentation of the atonement in 3:21-26. Christ’s death shows God’s righteousness against sin by judging it in human flesh: sin exacts its cost, and Christ bears that cost. In the same act Christ shows God’s righteousness toward human beings by expiating the sin, removing it. In Christ, God is both “just [righteous] and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (3:26).
Faith, then, not works of the Law or cultural identity, is the operative element for human beings. In chapter 4 Paul argues that faith, not adherence to the law, is the means to righteousness with God. He cleverly uses the indisputable example of Jewish righteousness, Abraham, to make his point. Abraham’s “faith was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and since he lived before the giving of the Law, the Law could not have been the source of his justification.
Reading in Romans is dense but rewarding. By working to understand the elemental Biblical arguments about our Christian faith, you are building muscle and bone for your life with God.
Psalms: 3, 63, 34, 18
The headnote of each of these psalms ascribes it to a particular moment in the life of David. As we have seen before, this biographical application does not limit its application to the lives of all of God’s people. Within each psalm the situations are sufficiently general to connect to common realities we all may face.
Psalm 3 is an individual prayer for help. The “foes” are unspecified, but they are numerous, ubiquitous, and “wicked” (vv.6-7). The threat to the speaker is not only their aggression, but also their claim that “there is no salvation for him in God” (v.2). In the face of this threat the psalmist proclaims trust in the Lord, who “answered me from his holy hill” (v.4) with strength to “break the teeth of the wicked” (v.7). The psalm concludes with a ringing affirmation of God’s salvation and blessing.
Psalm 63 highlights the spiritual sustenance that upholds those who trust in the Lord. The psalm focuses less on the external threat (“those who seek to destroy my life” v.9) than on the internal need of the soul that thirsts and hungers for God. The balance of the psalm celebrates the sureness of God’s spiritual provision. The fruit of worship (vv.2-4) is the satisfaction of intimacy with God, portrayed in the image of the feast (vv.5-7). Note the stunning claim of v.3: “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.”
Psalm 34 is an acrostic psalm, constructed so that each line begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It provides a call to praise (v.1-3) and the content of that praise. The Lord deserves glory for his essential goodness (v.8), caring provision (vv.9-10, 11-12) and saving power (vv. 4-7, 17-20, 22). This comprehensive celebration of God’s generous rule indeeds calls for our praise!
Psalm 18 is found in 2 Samuel 22 as David’s victory song after defeating all his enemies. The opening pours forth images of the Lord as the place of refuge and the one who secures the psalmist. Noteworthy is the portrayal of salvation in vv.7-29: God’s help comes from on high in earthshaking power. This description invokes the image of God as Creator, reminding us that our salvation rests in the same loving power that created the world and gives us life. We can pray confidently for help from this loving Lord.