OT: I Kings 8:1-66
Wow--not one, but two songs are based on verses from Solomon's prayer. The devo song, "Covenant of Love," is lifted from verse 23, and Third Day has a song that quotes verse 27. Not only do songwriters apparently enjoy this prayer, I think that God probably approved of it, as well. It is a good one. It beseeches God to be involved in every aspect of the people's lives, and to be merciful to them. One of my favorite lines is found at the end of verse 30: "Hear from heaven, your dwelling pace, and when you hear, forgive." Amen.
My favorite section of the prayer is in verses 41-43, and I think I am going to type the whole thing out to better focus on it: "As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name--for men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm--when he comes and prays toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have build bears you Name." There is so much that is remarkable about that part of the prayer, but if I could sum up the reason for my amazement, I would say that it really gets at the heart and ultimate intentions of God. Thinking of a book I read called, Mission of God, I am reminded that truly, the overarching mission of God throughout Scripture is that all men would come to know Him. I am not totally sure how decimating towns figures into that plan, but I do believe that that is the big picture. Thus, when Solomon requests that God reveal Himself to the foreigner in order that "all the peoples of the earth may know your name," I believe that he is getting near to the heart of God. Rather than get distracted too much by tribalism and ethnic pride, he takes a global view, which is pretty remarkable, given the historical setting.
One interesting thing that struck me is Solomon's repeated assertion that disaster comes upon the people because of their own sin. On the one hand, that is a very humbling viewpoint. Humans are always tempted to play the victim or to shift the blame for their misfortune to others. Solomon, on the other hand, takes responsibility for the people's suffering. On the other hand, I can see how such a viewpoint would be empowering. Rather than being hapless pawns in the hands of an arbitrary God, Solomon views his people as being in charge of their own destiny. It is their choice to sin which causes their suffering and exile. The existence of both humility and empowerment in that idea is interesting to me.
NT: Acts 7: 51-8:13
After a lengthy history, Stephen finally lays the smack down in today's reading. It does not go over well, and he is put to death. When I read this section, I always think of the observation that a Sunday school teacher made in class. When Stephen says, "Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God," my teacher mentioned that this is the only picture we get of Jesus standing in heaven. Every other time, He is sitting at the right hand of God. Though his application was kind of cliche-sounding, I still liked it: When you stand up for Christ, He stands up for you. Again, cliche...yet biblical.
I also was more interested in 8:1 than a normal person would probably be. Of all the verses in this reading, this verse is what captivated me the most. I have noted that the early Christians did not pray for safety or beg for their lives. When persecution came, though, most of them fled. I find that to be oddly comforting. While their physical lives were not their top priority, they were not suicidal, either. Without compromising their beliefs, they took practical steps to remain among the living. Good to know. I do love that they turned their persecution to good by preaching the good news wherever they went. Rather than being overwhelmed or disillusioned with complete displacement, they used their turned-upside-down lives to God's glory.
Of course, on the other hand, not everyone fled the city. The verse says, "On that day, a great persecution struck, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria." The leaders of the church, the strongest Christians, remained where they were. Wow. That is impressive.
Psalm 129: 1-8
Verse 1 is one that I truly want to remember for the times when I get involved with people struggling to overcome horrific backgrounds:
"They have greatly oppressed me from my youth--
let Israel say--
they have greatly oppressed me from my youth,
but they have not gained victory over me."
That's a great verse.
It reminds me of the section in 2 Corinthians that says, "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed" (4:8-9).
Verse 1 is on a roll today, because I absolutely love this one, too. "Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife." I cannot emphasize enough how much I completely and literally agree with this verse. I deeply value peace.