What we are reading this week (beginning Thursday, April 29, 2021):
• Genesis 29-35
• Isaiah 29-35
• Mark 1-6
• Psalms 29-35
We have completed our first book already!
Make sure to not get discouraged when you get behind, but to just press on, catch up, and enjoy the ride.
Notes on Genesis
Even though Jacob worked seven years for the hand of each of Laban’s daughters, the weddings were held only one week apart (29.28). How difficult this must have been for Leah to know that her husband loved her less than her sister! However, Jacob did not totally ignore her. She gave birth to six sons for him. The meaning of the names of all of Jacob’s sons are very important. These will be the twelve patriarchs of Israel, the namesakes of the twelve tribes.
Jacob had one messed up family. Rachel, his favorite wife, was complaining that he did not give her children, though he was capable of getting everyone else around him pregnant. She was his favorite, so I think we can rest assured he it wasn’t because he didn’t try. Rachel gave him her servant, Bilhah. Several times. I cannot even imagine what a family meal would have been like around that table. In spite of the fact that things turned out just as planned, I would have a hard time thinking all of these wives had loving, affirming, and stable relationships with one another. Leah, after bearing six sons, didn’t think that was enough, so another woman, Leah’s servant Zilpah is brought in. Two more sons, so now there are ten sons by three different women. Imagine the conflicts this created between the sons as they grew up. And these are the “pillars”, the beginning of the tribes of Israel (the name that Jacob would soon be given). Dinah is the only daughter of Jacob that we read about (30.21). There were undoubtedly others, but because of events that will transpire later, we are told about her now. Jacob was such a conniver! He complained about his wages being changed ten times by Laban (31.7). I wonder how many of those times he actually received a raise? And then he mourns about only taking the specked and streaked animals, when he himself manipulated the breeding to create these, making himself prosperous, and sticking Laban with a greatly reduced herd. In spite of his terrible behavior, Jacob retained the favor of God throughout his life (e.g, 31.24). Jacob made a very rash and stupid statement which nearly cost him the life of his favorite wife, though it is hard to think that Laban would actually have put her to death. See 31.9, 30-32. Jacob continues his whining in 31.40. By this point, it’s really hard for me to find any pity for him about anything. A name of God not found elsewhere in the Bible is in 31.53: “the Fear of his father Isaac.” In chapter 32, Jacob finds out he will be meeting his brother Esau, who has men with him. A time to worry! He divides his possessions in half, so that if one group is destroyed, he can at least keep half of his stuff. He splits his two wives up, and puts Rachel in the second group to face his brother, and the one that he is in, of course. As he waits, he is confronted with a “man” who wrestles with him all night. This is a theophany, Jesus himself once again. Jacob asks, “What is your name?” The “man” says, “Why do you ask?” Jacob soon realizes that this was God himself that he was wrestling (v 30). There is a great picture of prayer here: struggling with God until he blesses us! See verse 26. After earning only the most hostile responses from his brother, Jacob instead finds a subdued, forgiving attitude when he finally meets up with Esau. Esau seems eager to be reunited with his brother, but Jacob never trusts him, and deflects all of Esau’s attempts to share time and space. See 33.12-13, 16-17.
Jacob’s collection of women sent a poor message to his sons, who ended up with a number of sexually-driven problems of their own. The first we read of (and certainly not the last) is found in 35.22, where his first-born, Reuben, slept with Bilhah, the mother of his step-brothers Dan and Naphtali. After this came to light, there must have been quite a charged atmosphere in the fields the next day, as they all worked together as shepherds.
In chapter 35, Jacob returns to Bethel, but his beloved wife Rachel dies in childbirth with Benjamin. This takes place just north of Bethlehem, and her tomb today is on the list of National Heritage Sites of Israel. After Isaac dies, his sons Jacob and Esau come together one last time to bury him (35.29).
Notes on Isaiah
Chapter 29 is addressed the people of Jerusalem (AKA Ariel), who suffer from the “Religion of Man”… following rules with no heart intent, hoping to earn their own salvation without investing anything of themselves in the process.
The Lord never has been pleased with any rote religious ritual, not in Old Testament times, not in New Testament time, and not now. His frustration with such empty worship is stated in 29.13.
Though they had the Lord God at their disposal, along with all of his wisdom and power, the people of Judah looked more and more to Pharaoh and Egypt to help them in their distress as Judah approached the end (e.g., 30.15, all of chapter 31). This pursuit did not end well.
Running to Egypt for help is a continuing issue throughout the Old Testament. The Lord rebukes that attitude in 30.1-2, and all of chapter 31.
God’s promises for his people through the storm may be a good reminder for us today:
“My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. Though hail flattens the forest and the city is leveled completely, how blessed you will be, sowing your seed by every stream, and letting your cattle and donkeys range free” (32.18-20). This theme continues through chapter 33. The key to triumph in the day of distress is to “see the king in his beauty and view a land that stretches afar” (17) and to “Look on Zion… a peaceful abode, a tent that will not be moved” (20). The Lord is our judge, lawgiver, king, and the one who will save us (22).
God made a promise to Abraham that those who blessed him would be blessed, and those who curse him would be cursed. History has borne that out often and powerfully. But that promise still stands, and a day is coming that will be very ugly for those nations who oppose his people: “For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution, to uphold Zion’s cause.” (34.8). The rest of the chapter fills in the gory details. Chapter 35 is a breath of millennial fresh air, as the Joy of the Redeemed is the theme. Verses 9b-10 form the text for an old chorus that we sang a million times: “Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads. They shall obtain gladness and joy. And sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”
Notes on Mark
Mark is written for a Gentile/Roman audience. There are only 16 chapters, but a lot of detail in each one. Chapter One covers an entire year, and the broad spectrum of most of what Jesus did in his ministry.
Every year I point this out, so I’ll do it again: Verse 35 shows us that Jesus was not need-driven. With a large group of people waiting at his door in serious need, Jesus walks past them all and leaves town. “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there. That is why I have come” (38). He was led by the Spirit, not driven by the needs around him.
At the beginning of chapter three, we see one of many instances where Jesus was accused of breaking the Sabbath, a particularly bad no-no in the Jewish world (see verse 2). What I find interesting is that at his trial before the crucifixion, when they were desperate to find a charge against him, breaking the Sabbath was never brought up, though it was lodged against him so many times throughout the gospels. This shows that the accusers really knew all along that their criticisms in this regard were empty and invalid.
Levi is Matthew. Levi is probably his Hebrew name, Matthew the nickname. Wonder if Jesus gave him that name? We don’t know.
Demons recognized who Jesus was, but he would not let them bear witness at all. See 3.11-12. Who knows what they might say later? Their words are completely unreliable, they are not the ones you want as witnesses.
John is often pictured as a young, soft, kind type of person. But he and his brother James were called “Sons of Thunder” (3.17). This doesn’t sound like he is the quiet “nice guy” we’ve been led to believe. Mary and Jesus’ brothers thought he was insane, and came to take him home (3.21). His own mother did not truly understand who he was until after the resurrection. The waves and wind still know his name! (4.35-41). Jesus destroyed an entire herd of pigs, about two thousand of them (5.13). This could have completely destroyed someone’s business. But pigs were unclean animals, even though Gadarenes was just east of the Sea of Galilee, outside of Israel. Jesus found out the names of demons before he cast them out. People were more afraid of the one who had authority over demons than the demons themselves. See 5.17. The mourners at Jairus’ house went from “crying and wailing loudly” (5.38) to laughing (5.40) within seconds. How so? They were professional mourners hired to fulfill the time frame of mourning in proxy for the family, with no emotional investment whatsoever. Legalism at its finest. Jesus had four brothers and at least two sisters (6.3). Efforts to redefine these relationships as cousins (in order to keep Mary a perpetual virgin) are quite weak. The disciples had very effective ministry on their first time out (6.12-13). Realizing just how clueless they were about spiritual things at that time, this is quite remarkable. The feeding of the five thousand would have been a very big deal, with a lot of work involved and a lot of stress in distribution. However, the entire episode came up unplanned, out of an attempt for Jesus and the disciples to get away for a short break. See 5.31-44. Jesus was in great distress on the death of John the Baptist. He apparently was walking on the water to find a place where NO ONE could bother him (48b “…he was about to pass by…”). However… The encounter with the Syrophoenician woman is remarkable. She is not Jewish, but has an understanding of spiritual things that surpassed many who grew up in Hebrew school. See 6.24-30. Her account has a lot of parallels to the centurion we read about at the beginning of Matthew 8. Jesus feed four thousand miraculously, and then is immediately asked by the Pharisees to “show them a sign”. Go figure. We are not even halfway through Mark, but Jesus’ earthly life is already winding down here.
Notes on Psalms
A verse that Eileen have come to cherish, both for ourselves and in ministering to others, is that last part of 30.5: “Weeping may stay for the night; but joy comes in the morning!”
God desires that we hear his voice and simply obey; not to be guided by circumstances so that he has to put up a wall every time we end up walking the wrong way. See 32.8-9.
I love the words of 34.8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” I have often prayed this for others (especially my children), asking God that they would taste and see just how good God is, so that they never desire anything else. Another verse that I have gotten particularly high mileage out of is just a little further down the page, at 34.16: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”