What we are reading this week (beginning Friday, May 6, 2022):
• Genesis 36-42
• Isaiah 36-42
• Mark 8-14
• Psalms 36-42
We have already read ten percent of the Bible! I can’t believe how fast this goes every year.
Notes on Genesis
There is an extended genealogy of Esau in chapter 36. Then the story of Joseph and his brothers selling him into slavery begins in chapter 37.
Here all of Jacob’s bad familial decisions come to a head. He has a favorite wife, and therefore, favorite children, effectively ostracizing 75% of his wives, and ten of his sons. Joseph also lacked discernment at this point, telling everybody about his dream—where they all bow down to him. Not a smart move (see 37.3-11). The Ishmaelites are the first recorded slave traders that we can find in all of human history, I believe (37.28). Every culture and nation since has followed suit. The deception of the brothers is terrible, never quite lying: “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not” (37.32). They don’t even identify Joseph by name (“your son’s…”) as their brother. Throughout history, women have been given a much lower status than men. Judah promises death to his daughter-in-law for adultery, until he is exposed to having committed the same sin (and with her). Then everything changes and the goalposts are moved (38.24-26). The other servants in Potiphar’s house had to be aware of the harassment of his wife toward Joseph, and of Joseph's noble character. In 39.19, Potiphar’s anger was kindled, but probably toward his wife. If he truly believed her story, Joseph, a slave, would have been put to death quickly. Joseph prospered in prison. He had attained quite a level of spiritual maturity. I always get a kick out of 40.7: “Why are your faces downcast today?” The answer would seem simple: “We’re in jail for another day!” But Joseph was paying close attention to those around him. Being forgotten yet again after interpreting the two dreams, those two years (41.1) must have gone by very slowly… After a few weeks and then a month or two, he could be assured that he had been completely forgotten. You have to wonder if he might have doubted if his interpretations were true when there was no follow up. In any case, his hope of rescue had completely dissipated. However, even if the cupbearer had remembered him the first time, there would have been no compelling reason for Pharaoh to fetch him when he had his dream. The timing of his dream was exactly what Joseph needed to be delivered (41.12). In my youthful innocence, I always imagined that Joseph was thrilled from the beginning to see his brothers again (42.7) and was just playing them for fun and drama. But they had parted with some very serious issues between them! A huge emotion of pain surely swept over him along with his love for them when he saw them. It would have been the epitome of bittersweet. In verse 13, they at least acknowledged his existence in saying that there had once been twelve of them. They could have easily just said eleven (or even ten) and left it at that. How painful to listen to them speak of his “demise” yet refreshing that he had not been forgotten by them, and that they still carried serious guilt about what they had done to him (42.22-23).
Notes on Isaiah
Isaiah takes a really radical turn in chapter 36, where we begin this week, going into an historical account. Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, is knocking on the door of Judah. Assyria has taken out nation after nation, including—recently—the northern kingdom of Israel. There doesn’t seem to be any power on earth able to resist them. But the humble and steadfast faith of Hezekiah unleashes the power of Almighty God on Judah’s behalf.
As the bad king continued to threaten the good king, Hezekiah took the letter of intimidation sent to him by Sennacherib and simply spread it out before the Lord in the Temple (37.14). Good move, Hezekiah. God reacted strongly to this move by the godly king and destroyed Sennacherib. The destroying angel was actually the angel of the Lord (37.36), Jesus himself. This is another theophany. And in this case, Jesus is not “nice”. Hezekiah produces an interesting metaphor for forgiveness: “you have put all my sins behind your back” (38.17). In chapter 40, we go back to the prophetic norm of the book. There is a marked transition here, so great that many scholars think the second part of the book (chapters 40-66) were written by an entirely different author. Of course I object to that view!
Isaiah draws huge pictures of the greatness of God, e.g., 40.12, 15, 17, 22-26. Throughout the next few chapters, the greatness of God is contrasted with idols, objects that are made by human hands, that then need to be carefully balanced or nailed down to keep them from toppling (41.7). What kind of god is that? We have our own idols in our present age—anything that takes the places in our lives that belong to God. All of our idols (money, position, et al) are also all man-made. Good verse to memorize: 41.10 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” The call is issued in 42.7 that Israel and the people of God are to be a light for the Gentiles. Somehow, the message of this verse was nearly completely lost not just on orthodox Judaism, but even in the New Testament church for quite a while. “Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one in covenant with me, blind like the servant of the Lord?” (42.19). Some think this refers to living in true faith, but this is an incorrect interpretation. Verse 20 is an immediate rebuke to the ones described here. God is mocking those who pretend to follow him but are as spiritually blind as bats (spiritual bats?). Another set of verses good to commit to memory: 43.10-11:
“You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior.”
Notes on Mark
The Pharisees ask for a sign right after Jesus miraculously feeds four thousand people. What did they expect that they had not already seen? See 8.11. The disciples, as typical males, could recite all the key statistics, but missed the entire point of the miracles themselves (8.15-21). In 8.22-25, we read of the only time Jesus prayed for a healing and it was not complete. Second time around, however, was full healing. How hard must it have been for Peter (especially since they had been arguing about who was the greatest) to be called, not wrongheaded, or a little off, or even out of line, but to be called SATAN—by Jesus! Well, that’s gotta hurt! Mark, in his highly charged style, mentions that the only reason that Peter talked about building shelters at the transfiguration was because he was so frightened. Jesus talked about being first, and being the greatest. Even though he describes the route quite differently than everyone else (“the first will be last and the last first,” and “anyone who would be great must be the servant of all”), he actually never says that wanting to be first or great is necessarily wrong. When Jesus answered the rich, young ruler about how to inherit eternal life, he told him that he needed to follow the commandments. Jesus already knew that that this young man had not violated any of them. He also knew that the young man realized that this was not enough. What a genius way to engage a conversation! However, when the man turns away, Jesus does not counteroffer. He gave him the hard truth and was unwilling to dilute it in any way in order to salvage the conversation. In Mark 10, Jesus asks the blind man what he wants. It would seem obvious. But it is not. We will see in the book of John Jesus healing someone who apparently didn’t want to be healed. More on that later! Hundreds of thousands, perhaps a couple million people attended Jerusalem for Passover every year. Housing was very hard to come by. Jesus and the disciples stayed in Bethany, a few miles outside of the city, and then made the short trip into the city every day during the feast. The teacher of the law who came to Jesus in 12.28 was one of the few leaders who approached Jesus in sincerity, not attempted to stump him or humiliate him. Nicodemus was another. Jesus refers to end times prophecies from Daniel in 13.14. The antichrist will go into the Temple and desecrate it—which means it will need to be rebuilt before Jesus returns. What kind of evil drives people to delight in the betrayal of an innocent person? See 14.11. And then, what a sight with Judas pretending to approach his friend, with a hundred armed military men coming up behind him. The young man referred to in 14.51 is generally thought to be Mark, the author of this book. Scholars assume that there is no other reason for this verse to appear in the text. Galileans, the rough guys from the north, had a distinctive accent, and this is what gives Peter away in his third denial of Jesus (14.70). Joseph of Arimathea really needed a lot of courage to approach Pilate. Pilate was a Roman ruler and lived far above the entire Jewish community. The Sadducees, who kissed up to the Romans and held the priesthood, were about the only ones who the Roman leader would talk to. So this move to ask for permission to take the body of Jesus was no small deal. Being the middle of a huge conflict between Rome and the Jews, this was extremely risky to get involved in any way at all.
Notes on Psalms
The wicked “in their own eyes flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin” (36.2). How true! And this is a warning to us.
Some of my favorite and most comforting verses were included in this week’s reading in the Psalms: Psalm 34.18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 37.4 “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” And Psalm 37.3 from the NASB: “Trust in the LORD and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.”