What we are reading this week (beginning Wednesday, April 22, 2020:
• Genesis 22-28
• Isaiah 22-28
• Matthew 22-28
• Psalms 22-28
We finish our first book this week! Matthew will be our first completion. Of course, Psalms and Isaiah are the two longest books of the entire Bible, and Genesis is fourth. I always like April because I can tell where we are in the reading by the date. But those days will be gone soon!
Notes on Genesis
In chapter 21, Isaac is born, and Hagar and Ishmael are sent away on short order. Ishmael was 13 years old, and was mocking his little step-brother. Sarai noticed, and that pushed her very fragile tolerance of the pair over the line.
In chapter 22 we find the remarkable account of Abraham offering Isaac on the altar. The lessons and layers are many.
Child sacrifice was common in that day across the religious board. Abraham loved and trusted God so much that he was willing to offer his son’s life on the altar—the only son he and Sarah would ever have.
After showing his willingness, Jesus stepped in (the angel of the Lord). God would show himself to be vastly different than the other gods, one who would not tolerate human sacrifice. But a picture was painted of the eventual sacrifice of the Messiah. And the ram was so incredibly symbolic here, as well.
All of this took place on Mount Moriah, where the Temple would one day stand. Some scholars believe that the place of Abraham’s altar is the exact spot where the holy of holies would someday be located within the Temple. I subscribe to that view.
Sarah dies and is entombed in chapter 23. The place where she is interred will eventually hold Abraham as well, along with Isaac and Jacob, and their wives Rebekah and Leah.
It is called the Cave of Machpelah, or Cave of the Patriarchs, is located in Hebron, Israel, and you can visit it today. https://www.britannica.com/place/Cave-of-Machpelah
In chapter twenty-four, Abraham sends his good and faithful servant (Eliezer?) far away to find a wife for Isaac. He found Rebekah and brought her back with him. Notice the way the servant speaks to the Lord in order to find God’s will in this most critical assignment. Abraham's strong faith and walk with God is seen in those who surrounded him.
Abraham dies in chapter 25, and we see Isaac and Ishmael come together to bury him in what I believe is the only positive interaction the two ever have.
Isaac and Rebekah, like Abraham and Sarah, were also childless. This is a condition that does not normally run in families very long!
Though not quite as spectacular as the birth of Isaac, Rebekah does give birth to twins, Jacob and Esau. They will be as different as night and day, and conflicts will abound, eventually dividing the family.
At the end of chapter 25 and then in 27 Jacob manipulates to take away from Esau (who is the very slightly older twin) both the birthright and blessing. The fallout from these decisions will force Jacob to leave home. However, in spite of his treacherous ways, he will live with God’s blessing upon his life.
The descendants of Esau will be the Edomites, another family branch that will eventually become another perennial enemy of Israel.
We find Jacob’s famous dream in chapter 28, where God renews the covenant that he had made with Abraham and Isaac. God will be known and is known as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
This is not due to the trio's stellar spiritual condition, but simply to identify the route of the promise. Abraham is the father of the nation, Isaac is the son of the promise, and Jacob’s name will be changed to Israel, becoming the namesake of God's chosen people.
Notes on Isaiah
Much as this is my favorite book in the Bible, there are some more obscure prophecies and passages, and we will be reading through some of these this week. However, there are wonderful (and otherwise interesting) verses scattered throughout all of it.
The well-known phrase, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” comes from 22.13.
The devastation of the earth detailed in chapter 24 is sprinkled with psalms of praise in vv 14-16a and 23b.
The entire chapter 25 is a psalm. Verse one reads like a song.
This psalm-like rhythm (back and forth between God’s judgments and songs of praise), we find some very sobering and dark thoughts that the end of chapter 26. I believe they speak clearly to our age of the horrors of abortion:
17 As a pregnant woman about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pain, so were we in your presence, Lord.
18 We were with child, we writhed in labor, but we gave birth to wind.
We have not brought salvation to the earth, and the people of the world have not come to life.
19 But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise—let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy—your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.
20 Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by.
21 See, the Lord is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins. The earth will disclose the blood shed on it; the earth will conceal its slain no longer.
A word of hope that God will restore and return Israel (the northern kingdom) from their dispersion in Assyria is laid out in chapter 27, specifically in verses 12-13.
God rebukes both the northern kingdom (Ephraim) and the southern (Judah/Jerusalem) in chapter 28. In the midst of this, a Messianic prophecy: “I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation” (28.16).
Notes on Matthew
Already in chapter 21 we have begun the last week of Jesus’ life. One fourth of this gospel will focus on the last eight days (continuing through from Palm Sunday to the resurrection on the following Sunday).
The question Jesus was asked about the marriage and the resurrection in 22.24 is probably a seminary staple: one of those popular hypothetical scenarios that theologians liked to debate in their spare time.
Jesus unloads on the Pharisees and teachers of the law in chapter 23. They will have him killed in a matter of hours, and he is giving them one last chance to see their own hypocrisy.
Matthew 24 is the most intense end-times teaching from Jesus himself that we will find.
As Jesus is right at the very end, we should take note of the parables that he saved for this moment: the Ten Virgins, the Bags of Gold, the Sheep and the Goats. All in chapter 25.
Everything moving into place in chapter 26 for the final showdown. The bad guys assemble in the palace of the high priest, Jesus is anointed at Bethany, Judas offers his services to the chief priests, Jesus hosts the Last Supper.
Jesus is arrested in Gethsemane, and is taken before the kangaroo court of the Sanhedrin.
Peter denies Jesus. Do you wonder if he thought that he was the one Jesus was speaking of at the last supper who would betray him?
The crucifixion takes place in chapter 27. Judas kills himself. I wrote a piece about Judas that you may find in the Files section of this FB page titled, “The Judas we don’t want to know.”
In the final chapter of Matthew, resurrection! But we also find the Great Commission in 28.19-20.
A few other thoughts on this chapter:
How could anyone be more completely hardhearted and unteachable than those who would pay money to deny the most incredible miracle in history? (28.12)
Why did some of Jesus' own disciples doubt when he was standing right there? How is this even possible? (see verse 17).
Jesus would remain on the earth for forty day following the resurrection. I sure wish we would have more narrative on what happened during those days. The Great Commission is not the very last thing Jesus told them. His last words are recorded in Acts 1. This narrative here may have taken place days or weeks before his ascension.
Notes on Psalms
Psalm 22 is an amazing chapter, a Messianic psalm that vividly describes the tortures of crucifixion (22.14-16), which had yet to be created, and was still 500 years in the future. The very taunts written here were given at the cross by those who would have been familiar with David’s words here (22.8).
Somehow, at least at my age, I will never be able to get over reading Psalm 23 in the KJV. It’s the only chapter or verses left for me in this regard, but there it is.
There is a great song to be written from the words of Psalm 24 that has not been written yet, I’m convinced.
The names and attributes of God given through all of our psalms this week are worthy of note. The psalms as well as the names of God are wonderful spiritual elements to bring along with us into our prayer closets.