Monday, February 8, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible, Part 21

Old Testament

Genesis 41 and 42

Genesis 41:51-52—“Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: ‘For God has made me forget all my toil and all my father's house.’ And the name of the second he called Ephraim: ‘For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.’"  This is the chapter that records Pharaoh’s two dreams and Joseph’s interpretation thereof (through God’s revelation, of course). Egypt will have seven years of plenty and then seven years of famine. I’ll discuss that more on the “Old Testament Chapter Summaries” blog in due course. In these two verses, we see the birth, via an Egyptian woman, of Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, who will become two of the 12 tribes in Israel. Interestingly, there was no “tribe of Joseph” that received an allotment of land. The tribe of Levi became the priestly tribe and thus was given no specific geographical region; therefore, Joseph’s two sons became recipients of land to make up the total distribution of 12 shares. During the Divided Kingdom period (after Solomon) the tribe of Ephraim will become the most powerful in the northern kingdom, so much so that that kingdom will often be referred to as “Ephraim.” “Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone,” (Hosea 4:17).

Notice that the names Joseph gives to his two sons indicate that he is well aware of the distress he had endured through 13 years of hardship—slavery and imprisonment—but that, through his faith in God, he had been delivered. Waiting for the Lord can be so hard, but so rewarding.

Genesis 42:6—“Now Joseph was governor over the land; and it was he who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph's brothers came and bowed down before him with their faces to the earth.” Har har har. Remember snotty-nosed Joseph’s two dreams about his family in Genesis 37? “So [Joseph] said to [his brothers], ‘Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf,’” (Genesis 37:7; the second dream is recorded in verse 9). Over twenty years have passed since those dreams and now they are being fulfilled. The famine that struck Egypt was severe in Canaan, too, so Jacob had sent his sons (minus the youngest, Benjamin) to Egypt to buy food. And lo and behold, there is the brother whom they sold into slavery! The 10 brothers don’t recognize him, but Joseph knows them. He doesn’t trust them, so he puts them through an interesting test that won’t be completed until the following year. See my “Bible Blog” article “Who Can Say to Him, ‘What Are You Doing?’ Number 7” for a full overview of this fascinating story about Joseph and the workings of God’s providence.

New Testament

Matthew 23

Matthew 23:38—“’Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.’” This is the chapter where Jesus severely rebukes the scribes and Pharisees: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” He repeatedly denounces them for their corrupt religious attitudes and actions. After 1,500 years of spiritual obtuseness and disobedience, the Lord is finally fed up with the Jews. They have rejected Him, opposed Him, tried to turn the masses against Him, and, in a few days, are going to kill Him. Notice closely what Jesus says here in verse 38: “Behold, YOUR house [the temple] is left unto you desolate.” It’s not God’s house any more. This sets the stage for Matthew 24, which is perhaps the most misunderstood—or abused—chapter in the Bible. Stay tuned, here and in the “New Testament Chapter Summaries” blog. I’m going to try to catch up there very soon to where I am on this blog.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible, Part Twenty

A brief note: Since I’ve started a “Chapter Summary” blog, I’m going to (try to) keep these posts a little shorter and go into greater chapter detail on the “summary” blog. I’m not going to ignore this blog, but I am going to press the other one a little to try to catch up. That way the reader can have the summary first, then look at any specific verses I analyze here. Check “Mark’s Bible Blog” for updates to all my blogs.

Old Testament

Genesis 39 and 40

Genesis 39:12—“She caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me.’ But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside.” Joseph did what we all ought to do when confronted by sin and temptation—run. One writer suggested that Potiphar was mad, not because he believed Joseph had tried to seduce his wife, but because he suspected the truth—that she had tried to seduce Joseph, and thus Potiphar lost a very good servant. He could have had Joseph executed rather than tossed into prison, and this also implies that he might have deduced what really happened. But he had to keep peace with his wife.

Genesis 40:8—“And they said to him, ‘We each have had a dream, and there is no interpreter of it.’ So Joseph said to them, ‘Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell them to me, please.’” Joseph had done absolutely nothing wrong, yet he had been sold into slavery by his brothers, wrongly accused of trying to seduce a man’s wife, and tossed into prison because of it. How many people would have been very angry with God—to say the least. But not Joseph. He still has his faith rooted in Jehovah. We do not know, for sure, how much time had passed between Joseph being sold into slavery and the events of this chapter, but if my calculations are correct, that we are looking at roughly 10 years. Given what had happened to him, it had to have been tough to keep one’s faith for that long, especially at Joseph’s tender age, but he was obviously an exceptionally spiritual young man. Plus, as I have written about extensively on my Bible blog (see the “Who Can Say To Him, What Are You Doing?” series), God works in His own time and we must be patient and trust Him when our prayers are delayed in being answered.

New Testament

Matthew 22

Matthew 22:12-13—“So he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” Among the Asiatics of Jesus’ day, those invited to a wedding feast were given a special garment to wear. To not wear it was a sign of disrespect and impertinence and the offender was removed from the scene. If we do not “clothe” ourselves properly in the kingdom of God, we, too, will be “cast into outer darkness.” Romans 13:14 tells us to “put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Matthew 22:21—“And He said to them, ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.’” Like most of us, the Jews hated to pay taxes, especially, in their case, to a foreign master (the Romans). But Jesus didn’t come to overturn the social order or foment societal rebellion. He was not a “community organizer.” His mission was “to seek and to save that which was lost," (Luke 19:10). Jesus came down from heaven, and He knew what was truly important in life—being right with God and preparing for the Judgment Day. He wasn’t out marching the streets, agitating for “social justice;” there were plenty of “causes” in His day (such as slavery) that He could have “marched” for if that were His purpose on earth. I was recently told by a former student that she had been talking to one of her professors who said that if Jesus were on earth today, He’d be pushing for Obama’s health care reform. Sigh. Jesus was above that because He knew the vital imperative of life—“fear God and keep His commandments,” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). “For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil,” (Eccl. 12:14). Thus, “render to Caesar…”, and let’s get on with what God intends for us to do on this earth—live for Him. How many of us, 100 years from now, are going to care about Obama’s health plan?

I will say, however, that if people would truly adhere to Christ’s teachings, we could end every social/political/moral problem in this country. I challenge the reader to name me one problem in America today—yea, the world—that could not be solved by a proper, and universal, application of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. And that includes health care reform.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible, Part Nineteen

Old Testament

Genesis 37 and 38

Genesis 37:28—“Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.” This is the beginning of the marvelous story of Joseph, and how the children of Israel ended up in Egypt, prior to 400 years of slavery. If you have not done so, let me urge you to go to my Bible blog and read “Who Can Say to Him, What Are You Doing? Number 7" where I discuss this entire event in the context of God’s ways and doings. As I mentioned in an earlier post (chapter 34), Jacob’s sons—at least 10 of them—were extremely wicked in their youth; if I figure correctly, none of them could have been more than 25 years old. They will grow, but it will take awhile. They first intended to kill Joseph, but Reuben talked them out of that; so they sold him to some passing Midianites who took him to Egypt and sold him into slavery. He was 17 years old, according to verse 2 of this chapter. We’ll pick up Joseph’s story beginning in chapter 39. In the meantime, there is a Messianic interlude…

Chapter 38:29—“Then it happened, as he drew back his hand, that his brother came out unexpectedly; and she said, "How did you break through? This breach be upon you!" Therefore his name was called Perez.”  Perez was the son of Judah by his daughter-in-law Tamar—a sordid tale if there ever was one. But the whole chapter is basically aiming at this point—Perez will be in the line of David and thus in the line of Christ. Keep in mind the theme of the Old Testament—Christ is coming. Adam—Seth—Noah—Shem—Abraham—Isaac—Jacob—Judah—Perez….We won’t see all of the line born, but this does establish the foundation, which is the purpose of the book of Genesis. This is a fascinating chapter that shows the utter debauchery of Judah. But he was young, perhaps only a teenager when he first got married. Almost assuredly, the events of this chapter did not take place right after chapter 37, although it probably laps over; the chronology just wouldn’t fit, and obviously a number of years pass during this chapter. Ancient writers weren’t always as concerned with exact chronology as historians are today. As we will see later on, Judah grows up into a much better man than he shows in this chapter. Read it if you aren’t familiar with the details. You won’t be bored, I assure you.

Perez.  You didn't know Jesus had an Hispanic in his ancestry, did you?  Ha ha.  Just a little joke there.  I'm not sure how this "Perez" would have been pronounced, but probably fairly close to the modern Hispanic pronunciation.

New Testament

Matthew 21

Matthew 21:5—“Tell the daughter of Zion, 'Behold, your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.” There are a couple of verses I’d like to look at from this chapter. Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem—the context of verse 5—was predicted over 500 years previously by the prophet Zechariah (Zech. 9:9). Here’s more evidence of the inspiration of the Bible. How did Zechariah know, 500 years in advance, that Jesus would come riding into Jerusalem on a donkey? The only way he could have known is if God, Who can see the future as well as the past, told him. See my article “A Prophetic Moment” on my Bible blog for other information about predictive prophecy and Biblical inspiration. I also have a couple of videos on the subject on that blog as well.

Matthew 21:24-25—“But Jesus answered and said to them, ‘I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John--where was it from? From heaven or from men?’" The religious leaders of the day were always trying to trap Jesus somehow, in order to destroy His influence with the multitudes. They never succeeded. In this instance, they asked Him where He acquired the authority for what He did. Jesus brilliantly turns the tables on them in the passage related above. “Where did John the Baptist get his authority?” They couldn’t answer Him because they would be ensnared either way—they didn’t honor John, so if they said he got his authority from heaven, Jesus would ask, “Then why didn’t you obey him?” But if the leaders said John obtained his authority from men, that would destroy their influence with the people, because the masses believed that John was a prophet. So they said, “We don’t know,” and that humiliated them and ended the debate.

A major key here, though, is that Jesus teaches there are only two sources of religious authority—God or man. If we aren’t getting our religious practices from God, then we are getting them from man, and it’s obvious from this context—and every other context in the Bible—that we should do only those things which are authorized by Jehovah. In Matthew 15:9, a verse we examined earlier, Jesus said “And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” Let us be very, very sure that what we are doing has God’s authority behind it.

A Journey Through the Bible, Part Eighteen

Old Testament

Genesis 35 and 36

Genesis 35:2—“And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves...’” After the fiasco at Shechem (chapter 34), God commanded Jacob to go to Bethel and build an altar. Jacob is firmly committed to the one, true God now, and he isn’t going to tolerate any idolatry in his household. I’m sure that means Rachel, too, who, as the reader will recall, swiped her father’s idols when they all fled from him (chapter 31). This chapter ends on two sad notes—the death of Rachel as she was giving birth to Jacob’s last son, Benjamin, (v. 18), and the death of Isaac in verse 27.

Genesis 36:1—“Now this is the genealogy of Esau, who is Edom.” This chapter is given wholly to the genealogy of Esau, so if you love reading all those strange Bible names, this would be a good chapter for you to study. The key point here is found in verse 1, and mentioned a couple of other times in the chapter—the descendents of Esau became the Edomites, who dwelt south of Israel and who will be in frequent, usually negative, contact with the Jews for several centuries afterwards.

New Testament

Matthew 20

Matthew 20:1-4—“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went.” We have a chapter break between chapters 19 and 20 that really is not good. This parable is actually a continuation of the account of the rich young ruler in chapter 19. I won’t recount all the details, but you might recall that the young man loved his money more than he loved the Lord, and went away sorrowfully. Jesus then responded about how hard it was for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven, a thought which amazed the apostles who were operating under the false Jewish conception that the rich must be the blessed of God or they wouldn’t be rich. It’s the poor who must be wicked, so if the wealthy can’t get to heaven, who can? More on that in another context. In 19:27, Peter said, “’See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?’" Jesus responds in two ways. First, by confirming that those who indeed leave all will be well-blessed in this life and the hereafter. But His second answer produces the parable of “laborers in the vineyard” in chapter 20.

Until I discovered that chapter 20 was actually a continuation of chapter 19, I had always been bothered by Peter’s question. “Lord, look what we’ve done. What are we going to get for it?” It sounded—and sounds—to me like Peter is laboring just for what he can get out of it, for his own personal benefit. And thus Jesus, while verifying that those who leave all will be truly blessed, cannot leave Peter’s attitude untouched. So chapter 19 ends with Christ saying, ”But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Notice the “but”; that means something else is coming. And the parable in chapter 20 is that something else.

The first four verses of chapter 20, reproduced at the beginning of this section, give the key thought. The first men hired bargained with the landowner—just like Peter. “Ok, we’ll work for you, but what are we going to get for it?” But notice what the landowner told the second group employed: “You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.” In other words, these men simply trusted in the goodness and beneficence of the master. They didn’t “bargain” with him; they believed that, if they worked in his vineyard, he would provide “whatever is right.” Of course, the landowner in the parable represents God, and the laborers represent us. And, truly, the first men hired, the ones who bargained, got their denarius, as agreed. But the ones who were hired later got the same pay, the same reward, because that’s what the Master will give anyone who labors faithfully in his kingdom

So, yes, faithful service to Him will indeed be rewarded. But if we labor only for the rewards, chances are we aren’t going to do much more than whatever it takes to get paid. Jesus is teaching us to strive to put our service on a higher plane and greater motive—trusting in the goodness of God. He will not let us down.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible, Part Seventeen

Old Testament

Genesis 33 and 34

Genesis 33:4—“But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” Good for Esau, he finally got something right. I mentioned in the Genesis 32 post that Jacob was very concerned when he heard that Esau was coming towards him with 400 men. But the older brother finally shows some spiritual maturity. This is pretty much the last we’ll see of Esau as a person; he will show up again in chapter 35 to bury Isaac, and his genealogy will be given in chapter 36. His descendants become very important players in much of the rest of the Old Testament, though, because they settle south of Israel and become the Edomites—people of the land of Edom. They were a thorn in the flesh of Israel almost the entirety of their history, until God finally put an end to them by the Babylonian invasion. So the early infighting between Jacob and Esau, not the final reconciliation, will be what prevails between their offspring.

At the end of the chapter, Jacob buys a parcel of land near the city of Shechem and settles there. But not for long....

Genesis 34:25—“Now it came to pass on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, each took his sword and came boldly upon the city and killed all the males.” This is a sorry tale all around. A young man in the city of Shechem, confusingly named Shechem, saw Dinah, and raped her. But he loved her and wanted her for his wife; at least he was going to do the honorable thing and marry her, and the Bible mentions that (v. 19). His father approached Jacob and his sons about it. Whatever Jacob agreed or disagreed to, his sons had their own ideas. They deceitfully accepted the plea, but only on the condition that all the men of the city of Shechem be circumcised. This provision was accepted, but during the time of their recovery from that operation, Simeon and Levi, as verse 25 above says, went into the city and killed all the defenseless males, including Dinah’s husband-to-be (we aren't told what Dinah thought about all of this). Jacob was extremely grieved at what the two sons had done, fearing that the men of the area would seek revenge, which they would likely have done had God not commanded the patriarch in the next chapter to move to Bethel. Jacob reproved his sons, but they only responded that their sister shouldn’t have been treated like a harlot. Certainly, the abuse of Dinah was a gross sin by Shechem, but it does not justify wholesale murder by Simeon and Levi. As we shall see in the next few chapters, Jacob’s sons, at least in their youth, were very wild and very wicked. Part of it had to do with the jealousy centering around the polygamous relationship of their birth, but apparently Jacob and his wives and concubines simply did not do a very good job raising them. It’s another reason why Abraham was such a great man. In Genesis 18:19, Jehovah said, “For I have known him [Abraham], in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice.” His son, Isaac, and his grandsons Jacob and Esau, were apprently not quite as diligent with their offspring.

One last thought here--nothing justifies the sin of Simeon and Levi, but I think it should be pointed out that the men of Shechem were less than pure in their motives for being circumcised.  They saw this as perhaps an opportunity to plunder Jacob's wealth: "Will not their livestock, their property, and every animal of theirs be ours? Only let us consent to them, and they will dwell with us," (verse 23).  But, again, nothing excuses the wanton slaughter of an entire city.

New Testament

Matthew 19:14—“But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’" Jesus, of course, is teaching the kind of attitude we must have in order to be successful servants of God in His kingdom—the simpleness and trust of a child. There is almost nothing a child won’t believe of an adult if the youngster truly thinks the older person is serious. “If you go outside, there is a purple snake that will eat you up,” the young one is told. And for a moment, and perhaps even longer, the child will believe. That’s the kind of unquestioning faith we should have in God (though, naturally, we should never get to the point of doubting--and Jehovah never fibs to us to get us to obey). Children obviously at times disobey their parents, as we do our heavenly Father. But the principle of trust is what’s important. Just as the child never even thinks about whether a worthy parent will provide for his/her needs, we should never question that our Father in heaven will supply all our needs as well. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). One of the great tragedies of our modern culture is the breakdown of the family and the loss of this great lesson of trust on the children of America today.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible, Part Sixteen

Old Testament

Genesis 31 and 32

Genesis 31:19—“Now Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel had stolen the household idols that were her father's.“ I mentioned in an earlier post that Abraham had grown up in a pagan family; part of his greatness lies in his rejection of that paganism to accept the one true God, Well, that paganism and idol worship obviously remained in some of Abraham’s family (Laban was the grandson of Abraham’s brother, Nahor). And, obviously, Jacob hadn’t washed the idolatry out of his own beloved wife—unless we want to give her the benefit of the doubt and say that she just stole them out of spite, to keep Laban from being able to worship them. Some commentators do suggest that was the reason, but I’m not inclined to believe it. If she grew up with those idols, then it is distinctly possible that she would still believe in them, marriage to Jacob notwithstanding. We’ve already seen that she had a rather immature, petulant character.

Genesis 31:43—“And Laban answered and said to Jacob, "’These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and this flock is my flock; all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day to these my daughters or to their children whom they have borne?’” Do what??  “All that you see is mine"?  What a liar.  Jacob had worked hard for what he had and his wives were his. When we first meet him (Genesis 24), Laban is a pretty likable fellow. By the time we reach this point in the story, it’s hard not to despise the guy.

Genesis 32:28—“And He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.’" Jacob hears that his brother Esau is coming towards him with 400 men. The younger brother, because he had cheated the older brother twice, fears Esau is out for revenge. So the night before they meet, Jacob has this wrestling match with what appears to be a human manifestation of God. The patriarch’s name is changed from Jacob to Israel, which means “struggle with God,” or “wrestle with God,” or something like that. The Hebrew word “El” is one of their words for God, so any time you see it attached to something, it has reference to God (e.g., Bethel, means “house of God”). Jacob will still be referred to in Scripture, often, with his given name, but he has the added name of Israel now.

New Testament

Matthew 18

Matthew 18:18—“Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” This statement, which Jesus made to Peter in Matthew 16:19, is now expanded to apply to all of the apostles. They aren’t given any legislative power here apart from God. The phrase “will be bound” is, in the Greek, in the future perfect tense, which actually means “will already have been bound” in heaven. So all the apostles will be doing is passing on the diktats from on high. Incidentally, Jesus’ statement in verse 20, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them,” has reference to the apostles and their authority on this earth. That’s the context and that’s whom Jesus is speaking to. We hear this verse quoted often as applying to any of the Lord’s people when they gather together in His name, and in principle, there is truth in it. But that’s not the meaning in the context.

A Journey Through the Bible, Part Fifteen

Old Testament

Genesis 29 and 30

Genesis 29:25—“It came to pass in the morning, that behold, it was Leah. And he said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served you? Why then have you deceived me?’" There’s a touch of humor here, though doubtless Jacob didn’t find it funny. He arrived in Padam Aram, and immediately fell in love with Rachel, the daughter of Laban, who was Rebekah’s brother. So that makes Jacob and Rachel cousins. But again, such close intermarriage was not unknown among the ancients. Jacob loves Rachel so much that he offers to serve Laban seven years for her, to which Laban agrees. When the seven years are up, Jacob wants his girl. The wedding is held, but the next morning, “behold, it was Leah.” Leah was Rachel’s older sister, and obviously not Jacob’s choice. How he did not know, during the night, that he wasn’t with Rachel is…peculiar to say the least. Perhaps he became so inebriated during the wedding feast that he didn’t know what he was doing. Anyway, he understandably complains about it to Laban, whose reasoning was that the custom of Mesopotamia was that the older daughter must be married before the younger. And he was correct about that custom; he was guilty, however, of great deception by not telling Jacob about it beforehand. Obviously, Laban saw an opportunity to get Leah married off, something that apparently wasn’t in the cards otherwise. Well, there wasn’t anything Jacob could do about it, but after he fulfills Leah’s week, Laban gives Rachel to him. Each also had handmaid in the deal, so Jacob ends up with a couple of wives and two concubines. Thirteen children will be born from the four women—12 sons, who become the 12 tribes of Israel, and one daughter, Dinah. The chapter ends by listing the first four sons of Leah—Rueben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. Poor Jacob will end up being a ping-pong ball among these four ladies.

Genesis 30:1—“Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister, and said to Jacob, ‘Give me children, or else I die!’" That was rather childish of Rachel, of course; there was nothing Jacob could do about it. But it’s not surprising that Rachel had some major faults, given the scoundrel that her father was. The first half of this chapter gets the rest of the children born, except for the very youngest, Benjamin. Leah ends up having seven of the thirteen children—six sons and the daughter. Each of the two handmaids, Bilhah and Zilpah, will have two sons, and Rachel will end up eventually having two sons as well—Joseph and Benjamin. Joseph is mentioned here, Benjamin not; sadly, Rachel will die giving birth to the final son.

New Testament

Matthew 17

Matthew 17:5--"While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!’” This is during the event called the “Transfiguration” of Christ. Other than the written description, we aren’t exactly sure what happens here, but that’s not the most important aspect of this account. Moses and Elijah appear at the scene—the great Jewish lawgiver and the great Jewish prophet—and Peter wants to build a tabernacle for all three of them. But the voice from heaven says “Hear Jesus!” He, His will, His law, is what we must adhere to today, not the Law of Moses or the Old Testament prophets. A greater than Moses and Elijah had come.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Journey Through The Bible, Part Fourteen

Old Testament

Genesis 27 and 28

Genesis 27:1-4—“Now it came to pass, when Isaac was old and his eyes were so dim that he could not see, that he called Esau his older son and said to him, ‘My son.’ And he answered him, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, ‘Behold now, I am old. I do not know the day of my death. Now therefore, please take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me. And make me savory food, such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.’"  What Isaac is doing is wrong. Through some aspect of God’s will, a “blessing” from one of the patriarchs was prophetic in nature; notice especially Jacob blessing his 12 sons in Genesis 49. So what Isaac proposes to do here is give Esau, his firstborn, a greater blessing—a better future, in effect—than Jacob. But God has already told Isaac that Jacob was to have the preeminent position. So for Isaac to give Esau a superior blessing was contrary to what God wanted.

Well, Jacob, the little deceiver, with the help of his mother Rebekah, stole the blessing anyway. Rebekah must have been some kind of cook if she could make goat meat taste like game from the field (can you do that, mom?). But Isaac couldn’t see well, thus mother and youngest son were able to trick the old man into doing what God intended in the first place. It doesn’t appear that Rebekah and Jacob had God’s purposes in mind here; the Bible had earlier said “And Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob,” (Genesis 25:28). So she’s just trying to get something for Jacob that Isaac wanted to give Esau. But it worked out the way God planned all along. Men, even great men like Isaac, cannot defeat the purposes of God. Humans will never learn that while this earth exists.

Incidentally, Isaac wasn’t as near death as he indicates here. He might have thought he was, but actually he will live at least 40 more years.

Genesis 28:12-14—“Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the LORD stood above it and said: ‘I am the LORD God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’” As He had done with Abraham and Isaac, Jehovah now assures Jacob that he is the son of promise.

When he had this famous dream, Jacob was on his way to Padan Aram, to the home of Laban, Rebekah’s brother. Isaac had told him to go and find a wife there, just as Abraham had found one for Isaac among his relatives, not wanting him to marry among the pagans of Canaan (compare the post on chapter 24). As we shall see in a subsequent chapter, Jacob will meet Rachel, fall in love with her, and the twists and turns in the story from that point on will be legion. One last thought from this chapter. After Isaac had sent Jacob on his mission, “Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan did not please his father Isaac. So Esau went to Ishmael and took Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham's son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife in addition to the wives he had,” (vs. 8-9).  Poor old Esau couldn’t do anything right—yet. Perhaps a daughter of Ishmael was better than the Hittite women he had. But not much.

New Testament

Matthew 16

Matthew 16:18-19—“’And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’" Peter had just made the grand confession, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and we get this significant response from Jesus. A few very noteworthy points.

1. Peter is not the rock upon which the church is built. Jesus simply uses his name as a play on words. In Greek, the word “Peter” (petros) means a small stone; the word Jesus uses for “rock” is petra, a huge boulder. Jesus wouldn’t build His church on something so unstable as a human being. The “rock” is Him and His unchanging deity. “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ,” (I Corinthians 3:11).

2. Upon that rock, “I will build My church.” Let me break down what Jesus said.

     --“I” will build My church. Jesus’ church is built by Him. He’s the one Who sets the conditions for entrance and adds people to it (Acts 2:38, 47). Man has no right or authority to build his own church. Any church built by man is not Jesus’ church.

     --I “will build” My church. The future tense here indicates that, as Jesus spoke, His church was not yet in existence. Subsequent reading of the New Testament reveals that the church began on the first Pentecost after His death, as recorded in Acts 2. There are those who have taught that the Christian church started with John the Baptist, or in some way was an extension of the Jewish “church” of the Old Testament. This isn’t what Jesus indicates here.

     --I will build “My” church. It’s Jesus’ church. He died for it, He built it, He adds people to it, it’s His. It ought to be called by His name. It is one of the reason—not the only one, by any means, but one reason—that I am a member of the church of Christ.

     --I will build My “church.” Notice the singular here. Not “churches,” as of many, but “church” as of one. The plethora of denominations that exist in the world today did not exist in the first century; there was only one church back then. We can trace the beginnings of all denominations down through history. This division is Christendom surely is not good. A couple of passages to indicate this: “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment,” (I Corinthians 1:10). No divisions. Speak the same thing. That doesn’t sound like Christendom today, but it’s what God wanted. Note also Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-21: “’I do not pray for these [apostles] alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” Christ wants His followers to be one, with the kind of unity found in heaven. It is difficult—no, impossible—for me to believe that the denominational squabbling we find on earth exists also in heaven. And the reason for this unity? “That the world may believe You sent me.” Nothing has done more damage to Christianity in the eyes of the skeptical world than the sad division within the religion. It has even led to bloody wars, and that is inexcusable.

3. One last thought from Matthew 16:18-19. Jesus promised Peter the “keys to the kingdom.” Peter is not standing at the gate of heaven, determining who will get in to see God. What do keys do? Keys open things. The meaning here, most likely, is that Peter was given the privilege of preaching the first gospel sermon to both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 2 and 10), thus “opening the door” of the kingdom to all of mankind. I don’t think we should be dogmatic here, because Jesus simply doesn’t explain His meaning. But that, to me, seems the best explanation. I’ll talk, in a couple of chapters, about the “binding and loosing” statement.

I think I should also mention that the "kingdom of God/heaven" on earth is the same as the church--different names, or metaphors if you will, for the people of God.  The kingdom is not some future institution; it exists right now.  More on that later.