What we are reading this week (beginning Thursday, April 15, 2021):
• Genesis 15-21
• Isaiah 15-21
• Matthew 15-21
• Psalms 15-21
Hope you are all getting back into the flow! It’s always an adjustment after an easy March, with two, then one, then none chapters a day!
Notes on Genesis
In chapter 16, Sarah tries to help Abraham help God fulfill his promise by giving her slave Hagar to him in order to have Hagar bear children for her. Hagar actually became Abraham’s second wife (16.3). Of course, we all know this resulted in Ishmael and a huge conflict erupted between Sarah and Hagar that endures to this day. This was not God’s plan! Sarah blamed Abraham for the conflict (v 5). *** In 16.7, we have the first Old Testament appearance of the Angel of the Lord. When we read of THE angel of the Lord, instead of AN angel of the Lord, this means that we are seeing Jesus himself in what we call his pre-incarnate form (before-earth-birth, so to say). The theological term is “theophany”. We know when this happens, for in these encounters, the Angel of the Lord is referred to as deity in some way or other. Hagar called the Lord El Roi, “the God who sees me”. Abram is struggling with the promise God gave him about obtaining an enduring family legacy. It seems as though he tried to put Lot into place as his descendant. Now in chapter 15, he considers his servant Eliezer. But God said, no, a son “of your own flesh and blood” (v 4). Abram’s response is so powerful, it will be quoted numerous times in the New Testament. And it points to the central theme of salvation: Faith. It’s found in 15.6: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” That is, the righteousness we need for salvation comes through faith in God, not in doing the actual works of righteousness. This is the basis for salvation in both the old covenant and the new.
Though Isaac is the child born of the promise, God made enduring promises for Ishmael as well, since he was Abraham’s son (17.20). Abraham held out for Ishmael to be “the one” (17.18), but the child of the promise would be born of Sarah. Sodom must have been quite wicked to not have even ten righteous people within. America seems more and more like Sodom each year as I read chapter 19 again. Sexual parameters that God has established are not only ignored…those who would not agree with what the prevailing culture has approved are ridiculed, harassed (“Now he wants to play the judge!”) and criticized as being judgmental (v 9). And “they kept bringing pressure on Lot…” What a wicked world then…and now. Lot’s sons-in-law did not seem to have much spiritual sense. As Lot begged them to leave because of the impending judgment, they thought he was joking (19.14). However, we see by the actions of Lot and his daughters at the end of the chapter, they had absorbed some very ugly sexual ideas from the culture they had lived in, softening their sense of sin to a remarkable degree. Abraham, the “father of the faithful” was not a perfect man. Several times he tried to pass his wife off as his sister to save his own skin, not seeming to care about the implications of what would happen to her if the ruse were successful (see 20.2). In chapter 16, Hagar fled from Sarah because of her abuse. Apparently, she returned, but this time, in chapter 21, Sarah sent her away for good. Once again, the Angel of the Lord met her in the desert (21.17). Promises were made once again for her son’s future dynasty.
Notes on Isaiah A Messianic prophecy is given in 16.5, establishing the Anointed One as from the house of David (though this is not the first time); there is also mention that his throne will be established in love. Watching the news regarding Syria these days, the prophecy in 17.1 is frightening: “Damascus will no longer be a city, but will become a heap of ruins.” May it not be in our day!
The Israelites could not fathom God loving other nations or having any plan for them at all. Even the apostles in the book of Acts struggled with this. However, in places like chapter 19, God shows that he definitely does have other nations in mind, and shows favor to them (“Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork…” 19.25).
Notice Isaiah’s call to action to represent the three years of Egyptian exile in 20.1-4. Must have been a lot of days that the prophet woke up and thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” The Lord gave words to Isaiah for many nations. In chapter 21, he prophesies against Babylon, Edom, and Arabia. These are all negative rebukes.
Notes on Matthew In chapter 15, Jesus opens by confronting and explaining again to the harsh legalists that God is far more interested in our heart condition than following any specific rule or law. The next part, the faith of the Canaanite woman, I find interesting for the way she challenges what Jesus said. He says, “It is not right to take the children’s (i.e., Jews) bread and give it to the dogs (Gentiles).” And she said, “YES IT IS!” Somehow she knew he was testing her, and she passed with flying colors, receiving her miracle. The feeding of the four thousand is found in Matthew and Mark. The feeding of the five thousand is in all four gospels. After all Jesus had already done, the Pharisees and Sadducees still ask for a sign from heaven (16.1). Jesus didn’t perform on demand, only what his Father told him to do. It’s not like there was anything he could have done that would have led them to believe, just further criticism. If you get criticized for healing people, casting out demons, and even raising the dead, you are dealing with a crowd very hard to please! As typical humans (and especially males), the disciples understood and crunched the numbers perfectly… yet missed entirely the point Jesus was making in using a simple analogy. See 16.5-12. Peter was the first of the twelve to say it: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” But within a few minutes, he messes up and suggests that Jesus bypass the suffering part. Jesus’ harsh rebuke makes me wonder if this reminded him of his encounter with Satan in the desert, where he was offered the quick, painless route to success. He had come this far, and though the horrible part was still to come, it would soon be over. Not only becoming like a child, but welcoming them is the stuff of the kingdom. How much our world could use both. See 18.1-5. When it comes to harming children, Jesus doesn’t talk about repentance. He talks about capital punishment, with the dark admonition that it would have been better if such people had never been born. Nowhere else does he lay out such severe words, not even for the Pharisees et al. Children have guardian angels. The Bible does not say anything about adults having them. See 18.10-11. The parable of the unmerciful servant (18.21-32) is IMHO the very best teaching on forgiveness you will find anywhere. It illustrates so clearly what God has done for us, and how much less anyone can sin against us as we do against God. The jail and the jailers (34) are not referring to hell, but to the torment we carry when we refuse to forgive. Jesus’ teaching on marriage is very clear (19.3-9). He affirms the Genesis model that God made marriage for one man and one woman. This had been violated in the Old Testament (one man and multiple women), but was never endorsed or considered God’s plan. Alternate arrangements today are likewise not biblical. And the only way out of a marriage is and was for marital unfaithfulness. I’ve seen many people work through even the severity of infidelity and yet still restore their marriages. People leave their marriages today for far less. Jesus made no attempt to counteroffer the rich young ruler (19.16-22). He asked him for a hard thing: “Give up everything you own.” When the young man turned away (a true seeker, by the way), Jesus let him go. Remembering how human the disciples were (and how diverse), we should expect that there would be some quarreling. And of course at the top of the list is, who here is top dog? See 20.28. Jesus would totally embarrass them for this silly game later. He laid out the concept of servant-leadership, an idea far off the radar of any human up to that point in history. Interesting that Jesus asks the two blind men what they want (20.29-34). It would seem obvious, but many times we fail to ask God for what it is we really need. We ask partially, or obtusely around the edges. For example, instead of asking for a better job for better pay because we are in dire need, we simply ask for our car not to break down again. These guys could have simply asked for more success in begging. Jesus’ messing up of the Temple was the second time he did this. He did it during his first Passover in his public ministry, and here in his last (21.12-13).
Notes on Psalms I have never memorized Psalm 15, but it is certainly worth considering doing so. It is a very practical and handy reminder of the kind of person we need to be. As all of us have the high privilege of growing up in America in this era—compared with all of world history and all other places— and knowing Jesus, 16.6 applies to us all: “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” David prays down some nasty stuff on his enemies. In Psalm 17, he asks God to take whatever it is he has stored up for the wicked and not only fill his enemies with it, but to gorge their children with it, and even have leftovers for the grandchildren! Look at all the names of God in 18.2 My strength, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold—all in verse 2. All people are responsible before God, since salvation is written in the skies (19.1-2). However, the spiritual darkness over the world keeps people from seeing it. Have you ever met anyone who got saved simply from seeing the glory of God in creation? We need supernatural revelation from God in order to believe.
And followers of Jesus have a mandate to follow up this revelation with witness and testimony to who God is and what he has done.