May 24 - Acts 28.16-31, 1 Samuel 6-7 and Psalm 53

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Paul in Rome

Acts 28 16We arrived in Rome, and Paul was allowed to live in a house by himself with a soldier to guard him.
17Three days after we got there, Paul called together some of the Jewish leaders and said:
My friends, I have never done anything to hurt our people, and I have never gone against the customs of our ancestors. But in Jerusalem I was handed over as a prisoner to the Romans. 18They looked into the charges against me and wanted to release me. They found that I had not done anything deserving death. 19The Jewish leaders disagreed, so I asked to be tried by the Emperor.
But I don't have anything to say against my own nation. 20I am bound by these chains because of what we people of Israel hope for. That's why I have called you here to talk about this hope of ours.

21The leaders replied, "No one from Judea has written us a letter about you. And not one of them has come here to report on you or to say anything against you. 22But we would like to hear what you have to say. We understand that people everywhere are against this new group."
23They agreed on a time to meet with Paul, and many of them came to his house. From early morning until late in the afternoon, Paul talked to them about God's kingdom. He used the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets to try to win them over to Jesus.
24Some of the leaders agreed with what Paul said, but others did not. 25Since they could not agree among themselves, they started leaving. But Paul said, "The Holy Spirit said the right thing when he sent Isaiah the prophet 26to tell our ancestors,
'Go to these people and tell them:
You will listen and listen,
but never understand.
You will look and look, but never see.
27All of you have stubborn hearts.
Your ears are stopped up, and your eyes are covered.
You cannot see or hear or understand.
If you could,
you would turn to me, and I would heal you.' "
28-29Paul said, "You may be sure that God wants to save the Gentiles! And they will listen."
30For two years Paul stayed in a rented house and welcomed everyone who came to see him. 31He bravely preached about God's kingdom and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ, and no one tried to stop him.

1 Samuel 6 After the sacred chest had been in Philistia for seven months, 2the Philistines called in their priests and fortunetellers, and asked, "What should we do with this sacred chest? Tell us how to send it back where it belongs!"
3"Don't send it back without a gift," the priests and fortunetellers answered. "Send along something to Israel's God to make up for taking the chest in the first place. Then you will be healed, and you will find out why the LORD was causing you so much trouble."
4"What should we send?" the Philistines asked.
The priests and fortunetellers answered:
There are five Philistine rulers, and they all have the same disease that you have. 5So make five gold models of the sores and five gold models of the rats that are wiping out your crops. If you honor the God of Israel with this gift, maybe he will stop causing trouble for you and your gods and your crops. 6Don't be like the Egyptians and their king. They were stubborn, but when Israel's God was finished with them, they had to let Israel go.
7Get a new cart and two cows that have young calves and that have never pulled a cart. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take the calves back to their barn. 8Then put the chest on the cart. Put the gold rats and sores into a bag and put it on the cart next to the chest. Then send it on its way.
9Watch to see if the chest goes on up the road to the Israelite town of Beth-Shemesh. If it goes back to its own country, you will know that it was the LORD who made us suffer so badly. But if the chest doesn't go back to its own country, then the LORD had nothing to do with the disease that hit us--it was simply bad luck.

10The Philistines followed their advice. They hitched up the two cows to the cart, but they kept their calves in a barn. 11Then they put the chest on the cart, along with the bag that had the gold rats and sores in it.
12The cows went straight up the road toward Beth-Shemesh, mooing as they went. The Philistine rulers followed them until they got close to Beth-Shemesh.
13The people of Beth-Shemesh were harvesting their wheat in the valley. When they looked up and saw the chest, they were so happy that they stopped working and started celebrating.
14-15The cows left the road and pulled the cart into a field that belonged to Joshua from Beth-Shemesh, and they stopped beside a huge rock. Some men from the tribe of Levi were there. So they took the chest off the cart and placed it on the rock, and then they did the same thing with the bag of gold rats and sores. A few other people chopped up the cart and made a fire. They killed the cows and burned them as sacrifices to the LORD. After that, they offered more sacrifices.
16When the five rulers of the Philistines saw what had happened, they went back to Ekron that same day.
17That is how the Philistines sent gifts to the LORD to make up for taking the sacred chest. They sent five gold sores, one each for their towns of Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron. 18They also sent one gold rat for each walled town and for every village that the five Philistine rulers controlled. The huge stone where the Levites set the chest is still there in Joshua's field as a reminder of what happened.

The Sacred Chest Is Sent to Kiriath-Jearim

19Some of the men of Beth-Shemesh looked inside the sacred chest, and the LORD God killed seventy of them. This made the people of Beth-Shemesh very sad, 20and they started saying, "No other God is like the LORD! Who can go near him and still live? We'll have to send the chest away from here. But where can we send it?"
21They sent messengers to tell the people of Kiriath-Jearim, "The Philistines have sent back the sacred chest. Why don't you take it and keep it there with you?"
1 Samuel 7 The people of Kiriath-Jearim got the chest and took it to Abinadab's house, which was on a hill in their town. They chose his son Eleazar to take care of it, 2and it stayed there for twenty years.
During this time everyone in Israel was very sad and begged the LORD for help.

The People of Israel Turn Back to the LORD

3One day, Samuel told all the people of Israel, "If you really want to turn back to the LORD, then prove it. Get rid of your foreign idols, including the ones of the goddess Astarte. Turn to the LORD with all your heart and worship only him. Then he will rescue you from the Philistines."
4The people got rid of their idols of Baal and Astarte and began worshiping only the LORD.
5Then Samuel said, "Tell everyone in Israel to meet together at Mizpah, and I will pray to the LORD for you."
6The Israelites met together at Mizpah with Samuel as their leader. They drew water from the well and poured it out as an offering to the LORD. On that same day they went without eating to show their sorrow, and they confessed they had been unfaithful to the LORD.

The Philistines Attack Israel

7When the Philistine rulers found out about the meeting at Mizpah, they sent an army there to attack the people of Israel.
The Israelites were afraid when they heard that the Philistines were coming. 8"Don't stop praying!" they told Samuel. "Ask the LORD our God to rescue us."
9-10Samuel begged the LORD to rescue Israel, then he sacrificed a young lamb to the LORD. Samuel had not even finished offering the sacrifice when the Philistines started to attack. But the LORD answered his prayer and made thunder crash all around them. The Philistines panicked and ran away. 11The men of Israel left Mizpah and went after them as far as the hillside below Beth-Car, killing every enemy soldier they caught.
12-13The Philistines were so badly beaten that it was quite a while before they attacked Israel again. After the battle, Samuel set up a monument between Mizpah and the rocky cliffs. He named it "Help Monument" to remind Israel how much the LORD had helped them.
For as long as Samuel lived, the LORD helped Israel fight the Philistines. 14The Israelites were even able to recapture their towns and territory between Ekron and Gath.
Israel was also at peace with the Amorites.

Samuel Is a Leader in Israel

15Samuel was a leader in Israel all his life. 16Every year he would go around to the towns of Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah where he served as judge for the people. 17Then he would go back to his home in Ramah and do the same thing there. He also had an altar built for the LORD at Ramah.

Psalm 53
[A special psalm by David for the music leader. To the tune "Mahalath." ]
No One Can Ignore God

1Only a fool would say, "There is no God!"
People like that are worthless!
They are heartless and cruel and never do right.

2From heaven God looks down to see
if anyone is wise enough to search for him.
3But all of them are crooked and corrupt.
Not one of them does right.

4Won't you lawbreakers learn? You refuse to pray,
and you gobble down the people of God.
5But you will be terrified worse than ever before.
God will scatter the bones of his enemies,
and you will be ashamed when God rejects you.

6I long for someone from Zion to come and save Israel!
Our God, when you bless your people again,
Jacob's family will be glad, and Israel will celebrate.

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This reading is from The Holy Bible, Contemporary English Version, copyright © American Bible Society, 1995.

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