Friday, June 18

Acts 10:34-48: Among the polarities employed in the Bible’s treatment of salvation, that of universality and holiness is perhaps the easiest to describe. Universality is wide, and holiness narrow. We are bidden by the former, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28), while the latter declares, “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). The first is inclusive and brims with encouragement, whereas the second is restrictive and hurls out a challenge. Thus, when the principle of universality proclaims that
God “desires all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4), the principle of holiness answers that “narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14).

The tension inherent in this polarity is first theological, to be sure, hinting at the mysterious confrontation of God’s freedom with man’s. But because salvation is worked out in history, we are not surprised to find the tension between universality and holiness taking shape in discrete contingent forms. For example, against the backdrop of the Roman Empire’s political universality, the Acts of the Apostles portrays the strain that the early Church felt between her universal call to mission within that world and the stern demand laid upon her to be a people set apart from it. That is to say, the theological tension assumes flesh as a tension of history, and then again, issuing from the pen of St. Luke, a tension of narrative.

Within Luke’s lengthy account of how that theological tension was maintained by the counterweights of history, the conversion of Cornelius and his friends is of central importance. So the story is worth revisiting under the aspect of that consideration.

Cornelius’s entrance into the Christian Church is especially significant, not only because he is a Gentile, but also because, in his military office, he represents the Roman Empire. In this representation Cornelius is prefigured by Luke’s earlier centurion at the foot of the Cross, who pronounced Rome’s final verdict, as it were, on Jesus of Nazareth: “Certainly this was a righteous man!” (Contrast Luke 23:47 with Matthew
27:54 and Mark 15:39.) In this adjudication the representative of a political universality receives the grace to discern, by the light of universal norms of righteousness, that Jesus at least meets the common standards of a moral claim. In this respect he takes Rome’s first step in favor
of Jesus and is, thereby, the forerunner of Cornelius. It is for this reason
that the Acts of the Apostles will end in Rome (28:13–16).

The story of Cornelius is told with great care. Indeed, it is told twice: once by Luke as narrator and once by Cornelius himself. (Peter’s part is also told twice, by the way—once by Luke and once by Peter.) As angelic announcements solemnly indicated the beginning of the Gospel (Luke 1:11, 26; 2:9), so this coming mission to the Roman Empire is announced by an angel (Acts 10:3). The calling of Cornelius is, for Luke, a decisive step in the universalizing of the Gospel, foreseen by the prophetic Simeon’s “light to bring revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32). It is Peter’s reception of this centurion into the Church that prepares the universal mission (and trip to Rome) of Paul, himself converted in the previous chapter.

In the tale of Cornelius, even the time frame is easy to find. Since we know that the angel instructed him on one of the weekly Jewish fast days (Monday or Thursday), and since we should presume that Peter would not have traveled from Joppa to Caesarea on a Sabbath, we may be quite sure that the “four days” of the story began on a Monday (Acts 10:9, 24, 30).

These references to fast days (and the maintenance of the “canonical hours” —10:3, 30) are also relevant to our theme, for they indicate the “holiness” pole in the tension of salvation. Cornelius represents, not only the universality of grace, but the restricting efforts of spiritual discipline. Luke describes him as “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always” (10:2). Praying, fasting, and giving alms are not incidental to the story. Cornelius is told, on the contrary, “your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God” (10:31). Both universality and holiness pertain to the picture.

Saturday, June 19

Acts 11:1-18: From the perspective of those whose lives had been governed by strict adherence to the strictures of the Mosaic Law, Peter had played a bold hand at Caesarea, and they require an explanation from him (verses 2-3).

His explanation permits Luke to tell once again the story of Peter’s heavenly vision, along with the subsequent events at Caesarea. Thus, every aspect of this story is told once again. Indeed, more, because Peter even tells again the story of Cornelius’s own vision (verses 13-14) — the third time this story has been included in the Book of Acts. Obviously Luke is taking considerable pains to demonstrate that what was done at Caesarea was done under divine guidance.

In this connection Peter comments that what happened at Cornelius’s house reminded him of what Jesus had earlier asserted with respect to the Holy Spirit (verse 16; cf. 1:5). Moreover, one of the Spirit’s chief gifts is that of reminding Christians of the teaching of Jesus and throwing further light thereon (cf. John 2:17,22; 14:26).

Psalm 136: After three introductory verses that call for the praise of God, one may distinguish three stanzas in Psalm 136 (135 in Greek and Latin):

Stanza 1, verses 4–9, we may think of as the “cosmic stanza,” because it deals with God’s work of Creation described in the opening verses of Genesis. This stanza is structured on four verbs (descriptive participles in Hebrew): “does great wonders . . . made the heavens . . . laid out the earth . . . made great lights.” Verses 8 and 9 are a continuation of verse 7 (“the sun to rule by day . . . the moon and stars to rule by night”) and bring the “cosmic” portion of the psalm to a close.

But Creation is the stage on which God makes history, so in stanza 2, verses 10–22, we move from Genesis to Exodus. This we may think of as the “history stanza,” containing material from the Books of Exodus, Numbers, and Joshua. In this stanza likewise there is a fourfold series of verbs (again, descriptive participles in Hebrew), this time mainly in pairs, that describe God’s redemptive activity for His people: (1) “struck Egypt . . . and brought out Israel;” (2) “divided the Red Sea . . . and made Israel pass through;” (3) “overthrew Pharaoh . . . led His people through the wilderness;” (4) “struck down great kings . . . slew famous kings . . . and gave their land as a heritage.”

Finally, stanza 3, verses 23–26, speaks of God’s continuing care for His people down through the ages. He is not simply a God of the past, but of “us,” the present generation of believers. The last part of the psalm is about here and now: “remembered us in our lowly estate . . . rescued us from our enemies . . . gives food to all flesh.”

Thus, Psalm 136 pursues a threefold theme: creation, deliverance, and the continued care of the redeemed. In this respect, the triple structure of our psalm is identical with that of the Nicene Creed: God made us, God saved us, God stays and provides for us all days unto the end. In the Creed, this structure is explicitly Trinitarian: “one God, the Father Almighty, the Creator . . . one Lord, Jesus Christ . . . the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life.”

Psalm 136 insists—literally in every verse—that the root of all of God’s activity in this world, beginning even with the world’s creation, is mercy—hesed. This mercy is eternal—le‘olam—“forever.” Mercy is the cause and reason of all that God does. He does nothing, absolutely nothing, except as an expression of His mercy. His mercy stretches out to both extremes of infinity. “For His mercy endures forever” is the palimpsest that lies under each line of Holy Scripture. Thus, too, from beginning to end of any Orthodox service, the word “mercy” appears more than any other word. The encounter with God’s mercy is the root of all Christian worship. Everything else that can be said of God is but an aspect of His mercy. Mercy is the defining explanation of everything that God has revealed of Himself.

Sunday, June 20

Mark 3:7-12: Jesus now makes His third trip to the sea (verse 7). On each occasion He has called disciples, this time a great number from a very wide area, from as far south as Idumea (in the Negev Desert) to as far north as Tyre and Sidon (in contemporary Lebanon), and even from east of the Jordan River.

To this image of the sea Mark now adds that of the boat (mentioned in passing in 1:20), which Jesus uses to escape the press of the crowd (3:9). In the next chapter the boat itself will become the place of catechesis (4:1).

Although Jesus’ human enemies are absent from the present scene, His demonic enemies are once again very much in evidence, and their perception of Jesus has become more defined. Whereas they had earlier called Him “the Holy One of God” (1:24), they now address Him very specifically as “the Son of God” (3:11 and again in 5:7). What the Pharisees cannot bring themselves to see is becoming unmistakable to the demons. This is the fifth instance in which Mark has spoken of them.

Acts 11:19-26: Having narrated the conversion of Saul, and Peter’s proclamation to Cornelius, Luke now goes back to the dispersion of the Christians at the murder of Stephen (cf. 8:1,4). His intent is to focus on Antioch, where so many Jews and Gentiles had joined in such close fellowship that a new name had to be devised to identify them, "Christians."

This communion of Jews and Gentiles in the Church was beginning to put considerable strain on the Church’s relationship to Judaism. It was becoming more difficult to think of the latter as simply containing the former. The situation was also causing strain in the consciences of some Jewish Christians who still felt obliged to observe the Mosaic Law, particularly the regulations about kosher foods and abstention from close contact with Gentiles.

Concerned about this, the apostles sent the ever-trusted Barnabas to Antioch to investigate the situation. Barnabas, realizing the great potential for further growth and evange
lism represented in Antioch, went on to Tarsus to find his energetic friend Saul (cf. 9:3). Together they spend a year at Antioch, that year apparently being A.D. 45-46.

Psalm 67: Twice during Psalm 67 (Greek and Latin 66) comes the double refrain: “May the peoples bless You, O Lord, may all the peoples bless You.” Just as God begins, at the opening of the day, to cause His sun to shine alike on both the just and the unjust, all the earth is invited to laud His universal mercy.

The God of the Bible, in the definitive covenant that He has given us in Christ, has brought to perfection and fulfillment the promises contained in all of the earlier, preparatory covenants of sacred history. One of the earliest of these was the covenant with Noah, that primeval compact of God with “every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” This ancient arrangement of grace, described in Genesis 9:16 as berith ’olam, “a covenant forever,” has never been abrogated, nor can it be, for it rests solely on the infallible promise of a gracious God. Using the specific technical expressions “give” () and “establish” (haqim), Genesis describes this covenant as both gratuitous and permanent (cf. 9:9, 11, 12, 17).

Symbolized in that heavenly “sign” (’oth) of the rainbow, it is God’s covenant with creation itself: “While the earth remains, / Seedtime and harvest, / Cold and heat, / Winter and summer, / And day and night / Shall not cease” (Gen. 8:22). As such, it is a universal covenant, for Noah is the father of us all. God’s covenant with Noah, moreover, is universal in two ways—in space and in time.

First, space, and all that it contains. The covenant with Noah is the Lord’s guarantee that His disposition toward His creation will forever stay gracious, that His grace will be hierarchically expressed in the very structure of the natural universe, linking higher and lower natures in a wise and eternal order, and placing all of it under the governance of a provident God.

In particular, the human being, who stands near the top of this covenanted hierarchy of natures, remains forever the special object of God’s salvific attention, and the contract with Noah found its fulfillment in the Incarnation, the Redemption, and the preaching of the Gospel. The very movement of the sun across the sky was regarded by St. Paul as symbolizing the advance of the apostolic proclamation (cf. Rom. 10:18). God’s everlasting mercy is written in the heavens.

Second, time. As we have seen, Genesis 9 lays particular stress on the permanence of God’s covenant with Noah. It is the contract that binds each generation to both the generations gone before and those yet to appear. History itself thus becomes hierarchical, as each new generation, learning its language (and therefore the structured patterns of thought and evaluation) from the one preceding it, submits in faith to the accumulated wisdom of ages past, and then, it is hoped, enhances and further refines that wisdom for the children still to come. The covenant with Noah is, thus, our sacred partnership with history—what Edmund Burke calls “the contract of eternal society,” extending down through the centuries, joining the living with those who have already passed on, with those yet unborn, but most of all with the God who wills all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

This permanent and universal covenant with Noah is the foundation for what the Romans called “piety,” the cultivated, deep, heartfelt respect for our stewardship of tradition, for the ancestral associations whence derives our identity, and for the gracious God above who sanctions the order of the world and invests it with the majesty of His wisdom.

Monday, June 21

Mark 3:13-19: The “authority” (exsousia) that Jesus has manifested in teaching (1:22) and in driving out demons (1:27) is now shared with the Twelve (3:14-15), who are promptly named. Accounts of these Twelve are found here and in 6:7-13, and in both instances these accounts appear in proximity to stories of Jesus’ blood relatives (3:21 and 6:1-6), as though to suggest that this group of disciples are to be His new family.

The selection of these Twelve may profitably be compared to Numbers 1:1-15. For example, Peter’s name, “Rock,” finds a correspondence in the names of two of Moses’ companions: Eliesur (“God is my rock”) and Surisadai (“the Almighty is my rock”). Similarly, like James and John, two of Moses companions are blood brothers. Moreover, as in the Book of Numbers, Jesus chooses these Twelve on the mountain (verse 13). We should also note that this list of the Twelve ends on the theme of the Lord’s Passion: “and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him” (verse 19).

Acts 11:27—12:4: The famine mentioned here (verse 28) fell in the reign of Claudius (A.D. 41-54), evidently the year 46 (cf. Josephus, Antiquities 20.101). In prophesying this famine, Agabus is the spiritual heir of ancient Joseph in Egypt. The transfer of this charitable donation to relieve the famine (verse 29) becomes the occasion of Saul's’ second visit to Jerusalem since his conversion.

Acts 12, from the perspective of chronology, is something of a "flashback." Luke’s narrative so far has taken us up to the year 46. Now, however, he looks back to the reign of Herod Agrippa I (A.D. 37-44), and more specifically to the end of that reign. He will return us to A.D. 46 at the end of this chapter.

Psalm 89 (Greek and Latin 88): This psalm is composed of three parts. The first has to do with God’s activity in the creation of the heavens and the earth, the second with His covenant and promise with respect to the house of David, and the third with certain crises of history that threaten that covenant and put its promise at peril. All three themes are organically connected. In fact, all of God’s dealings with this world are of whole cloth, including the grace of creation. All the historical covenants are expressions of the one covenant. From the beginning of time there has been only one God, one Lord, one faith.

One especially observes the recurrence of two expressions in this psalm: mercy (five times) and truth (seven times).

Tuesday, June 22

Mark 3:20-30: In response to His exorcisms in Chapters 1 and 3, Jesus’ critics advance the accusation that He is using demonic force to expel demons.

The Lord’s answer breaks into three parts: (1) Their accusation violates logic, implying that the demonic world had radically turned on itself (verses 23-26); (2) The expulsion of the demons is much more plausibly explained by their having met a superior force (verse 27); (3) The accusation itself is an act of blasphemy, because it ascribes to the demons what is in truth accomplished by the Holy Spirit.

Such a confusion of light and darkness indicates total intellectual and moral depravity—so radical a commitment to evil as to preclude repentance. The scribes’ accusation of blasphemy (2:7) is thus turned back on them (3:29).

In the course of His argument, Jesus uses certain plays on Aramaic words that are rather lost in translation (whether English or the inspired Greek!). For example, the “house” in verse 25 is zebul in Aramaic, which is part of the name “Beelzebul” (“lord of the house”). Similarly, the verb “divide” (verses 24-26) is pharas, which is the root of the word “Pharisee.”

Acts 12:5-19: For a proper understanding of this story of Peter’s imprisonment, it is important to make note of the time when the event happens. Peter is delivered from prison at the Passover, the very night commemorating Israel’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt. As the angel of the Lord came through the land that night to remove Israel’s chains by slaying the first-born of Israel’s oppressors, so the delivering angel returns to strike the fetters from Peter’s hands and le
ad him forth from the dungeon.

And as Israel’s earlier liberation foreshadowed that Paschal Mystery whereby Jesus our Lord led all of us from our servitude to the satanic Pharaoh by rising from the dead, so we observe aspects of the Resurrection in Peter’s deliverance from prison. Like the tomb of Jesus, Peter’s cell is guarded by soldiers (verses 4,6). That cell, again like the tomb of Jesus, is invaded by a radiant angelic presence, and the very command to Peter is to "arise" (anasta —verse 7). It is no wonder that in regarding Rafael’s famous chiaroscuro depiction of this scene in the apartments in the Vatican (over the window in the Stanza of Heliodorus), the viewer must look very closely, for his first impression is that he is looking at a traditional portrayal of the Lord’s Resurrection.

And what is the Church doing during all that night of the Passover? Praying (verses 5,12); indeed, it is our first record of a Paschal Vigil Service. Peter’s guards, alas, must share the fate of Egypt’s first-born sons (verse 19).

Wednesday, June 23

Mark 3:31-35: The Lord’s own blood relatives have already been introduced in a negative way in 3:21, assessing Jesus as “out of His mind” (exseste; cf. the same assessment of the Apostle Paul in Acts 26:24 and 2 Corinthians 5:13).

In the present scene these relatives are endeavoring to reach Jesus, but the press of the crowd, as seems often to have been the case (cf. 2:2; 5:31), prevents their entrance into the house where He is teaching. They remain “outside” (3:32). Mark thus introduces the distinction between “outsiders” (hoi exso) and “insiders” (hoi esso), which will function in Jesus’ teaching in parables. The “outsiders” are those to whom it has not “been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God” (4:11). In the present scene the Lord’s own relatives, because they have not yet understood Him, fall into that category. Jesus’ real family, He says, is made up of those who do the will of God (3:35). Fortunately, as we know, even the Lord’s relatives will become “insiders” to the kingdom in due course (cf. Acts 1:14), but the principle remains that true kinship in Jesus is a matter of the Spirit and not of the flesh.

Acts 12:20—13:3: This scene of Herod meeting with the Phoenician delegation is also described by another writer contemporary to the event, Flavius Josephus, who includes a gripping depiction of Herod’s silver robe glistening in the sunlight. Like Luke, Josephus mentions their addressing him as a "god." The action of the angel who kills Herod Agrippa I in verse 23 stands in contrast to the angelic liberation of Peter, narrated earlier in this chapter. The description of Herod’s death is usefully compared to the death of the blaspheming Antiochus Epiphanes IV in 2 Maccabees 9:5-28.

Immediately after telling the story, Luke takes us forward again to A.D. 46. Barnabas and Saul, having delivered the collection for the famine to the church at Jerusalem (11:30), leave to return to Antioch, taking with them John Mark, a younger kinsman of Barnabas (12:25; cf. Colossians 4:10).

Then begins the story of Paul’s three missionary journeys, which will occupy the next several chapters. We observe that Antioch has now risen to the status of a missionary center (which it has remained unto this day). Indeed, the very severe political climate in Jerusalem in the late 60s, culminating in the destruction of that city by the Romans in the year 70, caused Antioch to surpass Jerusalem as a missionary center in the East. In the year 325, these three churches (Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch) were made the patriarchal churches, each having oversight of the other churches in those three continents that shape the Mediterranean Sea.

Thursday, June 24

Newborn John: In 1050 a monk named Guido died in his hometown of Arezzo in Italy. Few people nowadays have heard of him, but Guido d'Arezzo is one of the most important names in cultural history. Nearly anyone with even a nursery level education is in debt to Guido d’Arezzo. It was Guido that invented the system of staff notation used in music to the present day. He is also the inventor of solfeggio to designate the notes of the diatonic scale. His name, Guido, provides the first note used in solfeggio—the note “do.”

Now, just why are we talking about Guido d’Arezzo on the feast of St. John the Baptist? Well, three hundred years before Guido there lived another monk named Paul the Deacon. This monk is best known for his history of the Lombards, but he also composed liturgical hymns in his spare time. One of those hymns he wrote for today’s feast, the birth of St. John the Baptist. The first stanza of that hymn goes like this:

"Ut queant laxis" = "so that your servants"
"Resonare fibris" = "may sing with relaxed throats"
"Mira gestorum" = "of the marvels"
"Famuli tuorum" = "of your works,"
"Solve poluti" = "dissolve the stain"
"Labii reatum" = "from their lips,"
"Sancte Johannes" = "Holy John"

If you look closely at each of these seven lines, you find that the second to the seventh line read: “re-mi-fa-so-la-si.” Each of these syllables moves up one note each on the diatonic scale. When, three centuries later, Guido d’Arezzo worked out the details of his solfeggio, he took each note from the first syllables of Paul the Deacon’s hymn of the feast of John the Baptist.

Because of this very important point in the history of culture, perhaps we may begin our reflections on John the Baptist on this point.

First, John the Baptist was a distinctly cultured man. In fact, today’s Gospel says a great deal about the roots of culture. John was a Jewish priest by inheritance and blood. His mother was from the tribe of Levi, and of his father we read that he was a priest of “the division of Abijah.” He was the heir of a great spiritual legacy, and very early in life he began to assimilate that inheritance.

How early? According to today’s Gospel he was in his sixth month of gestation. Even at that age, however, he had already assimilated enough of his religious inheritance that he leaped in his mother’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice and the approach of the Son of God that she carried.

That is to say, even three months before he was born, and without the slightest ability to reflect critically on his existence, he was already a believer. He already had faith, a faith proportionate to his age and condition. He was in possession of an infant’s faith, the only kind of faith of which he was capable. This is why, eight days after his birth, he was circumcised as a member of God’s people.

This infant faith has been essential to the history of the Christian Church, because it is a fact that the great majority of Christians did not come to the Christian faith as adults, but as infants and children. We baptize the infant members of the Church for exactly the same reason that John the Baptist was circumcised eight days after his birth. That is to say, such children are already believers, just as John the Baptist was a believer.

In the case of John the Baptist, moreover, this faith began before he was born. His ears could already hear the prayers of his mother and father. He could already listen to the hymns they sang at home and in the temple. The sounds of their voices were already giving shape to his soul. In proportion to his tiny abilities, his culture was already taking shape. He was already assuming his place in history.

This must be true of all the children that we raise in the Church of God. Through all five of their senses, we instruct them about who they are and what they believe. We give them their faith. Because they are already believers, we baptize them, we chrismate them, we place the Holy Communion in their little mouths. We hand these children their inherited culture. We insert them into salvation history.

Second, John the Baptist was a man of character. We observe that John was never shaky about who he was. The lines of his identity were firmly in place; he had what the Greeks called “character.” He was severely tried over the course of his life, but he seems never to have had an identity crisis. He appears in the Gospels as a man of unusual self-confidence—enough self-confidence to call his whole generation to repentance! He was not afraid of the religious authorities in Judaism, and he was not the least intimidated by the political authorities that would eventually take his life.

He held his identity as a matter of memory, memory earlier than his ability to recall critically. This memory, for John, was primitive, more aboriginal than mere recollection. The man that finally placed his neck on the block for his beheading is the same person as the child that was awakened by the voice of the Virgin Mary as he nestled in his mother’s womb. Through all the vicissitudes of his life, there was a personal continuity in John the Baptist.

Third, John the Baptist was a humble man. Knowing quite clearly who he was, he was equally clear about who he wasn’t. In fact, John was much queried on this point: “Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” He said: ‘I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord.’”

Because he devoted his life to the service of God, it was obvious to John that he was not God. Knowing who he was, and being faithful to who he was, John did not try to be somebody else. Of his cousin, Jesus of Nazareth, John said, “He must increase, and I must decrease.”

Because he knew the identity of the Christ, and indeed identified Christ to his contemporaries, John did not think of himself as very important. That is to say, he was a humble man. And in John’s case we perceive that humility has nothing to do with self-doubt or a lack of self-assurance. His humility came from his relation to Christ; it was not some sort of psychological game that he played with himself.

For this reason, John continued to grow, as the Evangelist Luke wrote of him. He increased in character as he grew in humility.

Friday, June 25

Second Samuel 13: David, it seems, was not the ideal father, and this chapter presents us with first evidence that all was not going well on the home front. Incestuous rape and murder are not favorable signs. Indeed, the tragedies in the present chapter put the reader in mind of David’s own actions with respect to Bathsheba and Uriah, a sexual offense followed by a murder.

Ammon himself was the crown prince of the realm, David’s heir apparent, and the devout reader will discern the hand of God in his removal from the scene. A man that would rape his half-sister was no fit heir to the throne. Unlike his father, Ammon did not repent; indeed, he did not even perform the minimum obligations toward Tamar required in the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

Arguably worse in the context, however, was the neglect of David himself, who refused to deal with the terrible situation. David became angry, but that was all (verse 21). This failure to deal discipline with his son puts the reader in mind of Eli at Shiloh, who also was indulgent toward his sinning offspring. David’s own moral failures had evidently deprived him of the moral authority to chastise his own children, and this failure eventually led to rebellion and civil war.

Having waited two years in vain for David to deal with the situation (verse 23), the frustrated Absalom, Tamar’s full-brother, decided at last to take charge of the matter himself. He was able to do this because he sensed a vacuum of authority in the realm, a vacuum that he tempt him, we know, even further in the near future. David’s kingdom will soon come unraveled.

Acts 13:4-12: Chapters 13-14 narrate Paul’s first missionary journey during the years 47-48, also mentioned in 2 Timothy 3:11. The apostles depart from the port of Seleucia, which, sitting sixteen miles west, served the city of Antioch. They first visited the homeland of Barnabas, the island of Cyprus, which had a good number of Jewish inhabitants (cf. 1 Maccabees 15:23). The ruins of the ancient city of Salamis, on the east coast of the island, can easily be reached by taxi from the nearby modern city of Famagusta, and, if the visitor is as fortunate as myself, the taxi driver will include a private tour and some local fresh oranges for a reasonable price.

It will be standard practice for the apostle Paul, when he comes to evangelize any new city, to pay his first visit to "the synagogue of the Jews" (13:5,14; 14:1; 16:13; 17:10,17; 18:4,19; 19:8; 28:17,23). (Indeed, this expression, "synagogue of the Jews," is preserved on a small marble plaque that once adorned the synagogue at Corinth; it may be seen today in the small museum in that city.)

Traversing the length of Cyprus, the apostles arrive at Paphos on the island’s southwest coast. Here they make the right impression on the local proconsul, Sergius Paulus, by putting a false prophet in his proper place. Sergius Paulus, of the illustrious Roman family Paula, was well known in his day and is mentioned by name in inscriptions from Cyprus, Antioch in Pisidia, and Rome. Easily ranking the Centurion Cornelius of Caesarea, Sergius Paulus becomes the most highly placed Roman official to join the Church.