This Sunday in the church year, we are back to a certain number of Sundays after Pentecost. If you have forgotten, we are currently at twenty-two. But on this Sunday, there is certainly a memorable Old Testament text. God comes to Moses in the burning bush [Exodus 3:1-15].
Before we look at that text, it is also important to look at the context. The last three verses (23-25) of chapter two are a significant summary of a lot that has happened, although they are not so well known:
During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew (The Lutheran Study Bible, ESV, Concordia Publishing House, 2009, page 99).
Knowing the context is usually very helpful. The reason God comes to Moses is significant. God is on a special rescue mission. This mission begins on a mountain, and then it moves to a tabernacle, and then it moves to the temple, and then it moves on to Jesus. And then Jesus moves to his special ‘mountain’ to finish that mission.
The ESV translation actually follows the Hebrew quite well. You might notice the emphasis on the noun ‘God’. And there are a couple of important verbs which God does.
One of those verbs is ‘to remember’. Do you remember that this verb is extremely important in Genesis? It is part of the sentence which turns entire structures around. In the account of the Flood, there are lots of bad things happening. And then, at Genesis 8:1, the text says, ‘And God remembered Noah….’ And then good things start to happen. This happens again at 19:29 and 30:22. By the use of the word ‘remember’, God reminds his people that no one can stand in his presence because of sin; they all need help. And when God helps, that is a significant thing.
Another important verb is ‘to know’. Adam ‘knew’ his wife (Genesis 4:1), and they had a child. That was a very good thing. There was a king in Egypt who ‘knew not Joseph’ (Exodus 1:8). And that was a very bad thing. Knowing something is usually very important. And the Exodus text says that God knew….
God knew what? God knows everything! But you probably already knew that. The text is there to say that he is going to do something about it. Just as the word ‘remember’ points to an action, so, also, to ‘know’ points to an action as well. Little actions mean a lot when you are talking about the living God.
The action of the text for this Sunday ultimately focuses on God. Here are a couple verses from the text: And the angel of the LORD appeared to [Moses] in the flame of the fire… (ESV; v. 2). When the LORD saw that [Moses] turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush… (ESV; v. 4).
Whether God or an angel does something, it still is a significant event. An angel is a messenger. And whether God does something himself or he sends a messenger, that action is very important. And this close connection between what God does and what an angel does occurs elsewhere.
In Genesis 22, when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, Isaac, the text says, ‘…the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy and do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me (ESV; v. 11-12).’ Then the text says that the angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time. This time he says the following: ‘By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you … and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice (ESV; v.15-18).’
In Genesis 24, the servant of Abraham was looking for a wife for Isaac, and Abraham says to him, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, “To your offspring I will give this land,” he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there (ESV; v. 7).’ Later, when the wife is found, the text says that the servant bowed his head and worshiped the LORD [this is the first time these two verbs appear together], and then he said, ‘Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the LORD has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen (ESV; v. 27).’
Is there a confusion between what an angel does and what the Lord does? Not if the LORD is a loving Lord who is willing to get involved when it comes to saving his people.
This Sunday, the Sunday when we observe All Saints’ Day, is like the previous Sunday with its unique texts. And the gospel text for this Sunday is a very special one from the Gospel according to Matthew [5:1-12].
This gospel text contains some well-known verses. When Jesus says that a certain group of people is blessed, the Latin word for that is ‘beatus’. The ‘Beatitudes’ are known as some of the first words from Jesus’ mouth in his first of five special sermons or discourses in this account (this first one is usually called ‘the Sermon on the Mount’).
Now in a few short weeks, the gospel texts will, for MANY Sundays, be from the Gospel according to Matthew. So, it might be a good thing to look a little at the account’s overall structure.
All the gospel accounts look at the life of Jesus in a basic, chronological way. At the beginning of the account, Jesus is young; then he gets older, and then he dies.
There are significant differences among the four accounts. And what makes this gospel account very distinctive is its five sermons or discourses that are placed within the account. Here is a extremely basic layout of the Gospel according to Matthew:
Chapter: 1 10 20 28
Divisions: 4:17 16:21
5-7 Sermon on the Mount
10 Mission Discourse
24-25 Last Days…
Although this is very basic, hopefully it is helpful in seeing the ‘big picture’. The ‘Chapter’ divisions are laid out in a simple way, but the ‘Divisions’ are much more specific. At these two verses (4:17 & 16:21), Jesus starts something new—and the details of that are given below. And the numbers and descriptions below those two references are the basic chapters where you find the five unique discourses within this gospel account (and these discourses have been given various names).
People have debated which divisions are more important—Is it the life of Jesus or is it his teachings? Of course, it is important that Jesus went to the cross in that key city of Jerusalem. But Matthew lays out Jesus’ steps to Jerusalem very much as a teacher. The way in which these two verses are laid out makes them both teaching tools. When Jesus started to preach repentance, that is teaching. When Jesus started to ‘show’ his disciples what was going to come, that is also teaching. Here are those two verses:
4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
16:21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised (compare to Mark 8:31).
The similarities between the first few words of both verses make for a strong connection. And, as mentioned above, the words ‘preach’ and ‘show’ are ultimately both teaching words. Jesus, within this account, is a very unique and special teacher; he is good at what he does.
This emphasis on teaching connects to the discourses. But the question has often been asked, ‘Why FIVE discourses?’
When this is compared to the Gospel according to Mark, the answer may be something like, ‘Jesus loved to teach’. He obviously taught a lot. But I think there is some merit to seeing some connections between the five discourses and the first five books of the bible (Genesis through Deuteronomy). Those are some very special and important books. (The Jews called these five books the ‘Torah’, and that word means instruction or teaching.)
Obviously, such a connection would take too much time to be a brief ‘Sabbath Day’s journey with the text’. But perhaps it would be good just to look at one word: Blessed.
In the creation account of Genesis, we often look at the things that God created. We often acknowledge them as good—as does the text. But we tend to overlook when things are blessed. God did not just slow down creation into six days just to teach us to work and rest, he slowed things down so that he could bless. Both blessing and creating took time—and words.
The first time the word ‘blessed’ occurs is when he blesses the creatures in the sea and in the air (Genesis 1:22). And God takes the time to bless them both. But on the last day of creation, God ends up blessing only the man and woman. To think of all the animals that he created on that day, but no blessing of them is mentioned. The importance of both man and woman on that day should be obvious.
It is a great thing to have Jesus’ first words in these discourses be ‘Blessed….’ The text slows down significantly when it first describes Jesus as seeing the crowds, and then after that, he walks to a particular place, then he sits down and opens up his mouth. Jesus takes the time to bless. He then blesses various groups of people. And he especially blesses groups of people that you would not expect.
Jesus did not start out the discourses by giving commands, even in the third-person, ‘Let there be….’ Certainly, he will end up giving some commands. But they are to be understood, literally, within a GOSPEL context.
That perspective helps to understand some of Jesus’ last words in this gospel account, the so-called ‘Great Commission’. Jesus’ followers are to make disciples of all nations by baptizing and ‘teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Matthew 28:20a).’ I like the comment in The Lutheran Study Bible that deals with the word ‘observe’ in the text (that, in some translations, is ‘obey’): ‘Christians are called to do more than ‘obey’; they are called to treasure God’s Word in their hearts (Concordia Publishing House, 2009, page 1650).’ The focus is much more comforting when it is on God—and, especially, Jesus.
On this Sunday we observe the anniversary of the Reformation. And the texts are significantly different.
Instead of an Old Testament text, the First Reading is from the Book of Revelation [14:6-7]. It is an important text when it comes to the Reformation. When Bugenhagen was speaking at the funeral of Luther, he connected Luther to the angel within this text.
This angel is a very special angel. He is flying and 'gospeling' an eternal gospel. Or, if you want to say it a different way, he is evangelizing an 'eternal evangelism'. Either way, you can see some significant emphasis on this special word, EUAGGELION, usually translated as 'gospel'.
That this is a special angel can also be seen in the angel's location. In the ESV, the text says that the angel is flying 'directly overhead'. Literally (and you can see this in some translations), the angel is in 'mid-heaven'. Technically, this angel is not in heaven or on earth.
Why is that significant? I think it is important because the Lamb has just been described as standing on Mount Zion (see 14:1). I cannot think of any other place where one could be 'mid-heaven' than the temple. And on Mount Zion was the temple, and in the temple is where God and man came together. And Jesus had a special bond with that temple.
I mentioned above that this gospel has also been described in a special way in that text--eternal. That is certainly an unusual description; in no other place in the New Testament is it described in that way. I do not think it is a coincidence that the last time the word 'eternal' was used was in describing the length of the reign of Jesus (see 11:15).
When I hear that description of the word 'gospel', I find it distracting when people say that a certain gospel account is the Gospel OF Matthew, etc. This is much bigger than any one person, or even of four people! People die. These men died. And these four men basically wanted their writings to be anonymous. An account is better described as 'The Gospel ACCORDING to....' There is one gospel, and it is an amazing thing, and we get to have four different perspectives on it. It is better to connect that word to the Lord, and the Lord is certainly eternal.
Very few things are eternal. Sometimes people like to exaggerate and say that something is going to last 'forever'. But very few people say that things are going to last 'eternally'.
This may be a good time to reiterate that the word 'gospel' is also an Old Testament word. It is a word that was used when there was important news to be delivered. Usually it was put in place by a king or someone with great authority. The first time it is used is 1 Samuel 4:17. There is a man that brings the news of a defeat to Eli, the guy in charge, and the man is described as 'He who brought the news....'
Obviously that was NOT good news in 1 Samuel 4, but it certainly was important news. And a king wants to know the important news, and he sometimes has important news of his own.
The four parts of the message of the angel in Revelation could all be connected to the importance of a king. The angel said (with a loud voice): 'Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him....'
One should obviously fear a king. He has the power to get of the people that he wants to get rid of. You can see that happened in the Old Testament sometimes. And a king's throne was a symbol of his authority and glory. He obviously had a nice place to sit, and this thing he sat on would show his glory. The king may also serve as a judge. If you want to check out the wisdom of King Solomon as a judge sometime, read 1 Kings 3:16-28. And the word 'worship' literally means to bend the knee toward. That is what was usually done before a king.
The words of that angel do not sound like 'gospel' right away, but they do fit with the message of the most important King of all time. He is the King that is reigning eternally. And he has an eternal gospel, like he is eternal. And that Gospel is very important, like he is important.
It is also interesting that this special angel is evangelizing or 'gospelling' upon the ones SITTING on earth (the ESV says those who 'dwell' on earth). What a great reversal! God is certainly the King. He is eternal and has an eternal gospel. He deserves to be the one sitting. And yet, some people who are kings are the ones who are sitting.
An even greater reversal happened on the cross. We should be there, being punished for our sins. We end up doing a lot of sitting around, thinking that we are great, and we often pretend that we are the king of something. (The soldiers sat around while they guarded--literally 'kept'--Jesus; see Matthew 27:36). Jesus, the Lamb, was in his temple, on that cross, paying the price for us.
God certainly knows how to make his goodness overflow. That is an important message you do not hear from the world. That is the eternal God's eternal 'good news'.
Some of Luther's last words were, 'We are beggars.' This is most certainly true.
The Old Testament text [Genesis 32:22-30] for this Sunday is memorable. It certainly makes you think, especially when the title is something like ‘Jacob wrestles with God (see the ESV)’.
That sort of title invites us to make a guess as to who is going to win the wrestling match. But the story does not turn out as you might expect—and some people say the same thing about the life of Jesus.
For someone to wrestle with God is certainly unique. And Jacob not only wrestles with God, but God looks like a man. (Jacob says that he ‘saw God face to face’ in verse 30.) That gets people starting to talk about Jesus again, the Second Person of the Trinity. He was the appointed messenger to come from the Father’s throne. And so, you might call this ‘Jesus makes an early appearance’.
The typical point of the angel of the LORD showing up is that he has some kind of message to give. The word ‘angel’ means messenger. Sometimes when that angel appears, there is also a miracle. But in this text, we not only have a miracle, but it is a miracle with some significant ramifications, up to the present—literally.
The two wrestled for a long time, and then the ‘man’ touched the socket of Jacob’s hip and dislocated it (see verse 25). The biblical text also says this somewhat unique fact: ‘Therefore TO THIS DAY the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh (emphasis added; verse 32).’
That miracle had significant ramifications, up to the present day that the text was written. And, because of that fact, I see this manifestation of God (and one may think of this being a manifestation of the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son) as a manifestation that may be connected to the Gospel according to John. As that ‘man’ did something that affected the present day of the writer; Jesus, that miraculous messenger man, did something to make an effect on our present day, and that effect was recorded with that special perspective.
The Gospel according to John is the only gospel account where the writer speaks to those in the present. John did not say that he was writing these things so that ‘future Christians’ would believe. He wrote: ‘…these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (20:31).’ With these words, the writer is connecting the significant ramifications of Jesus’ actions to the present day.
You might say that the word ‘written’ in that verse has a hidden meaning that supports this perspective. If you are interested in grammar (not many people are—congratulations if you are one of the very few!), the verb tense is called the ‘perfect’ tense. The focus in this tense is on the result of the action. In terms of time, in one grammar book it says that the ‘focus is on a current condition, the present result of a past action (the italics are in the original; James Voelz, Fundamental Greek Grammar, fourth edition, page 151).’
Although this verb tense is in other places, it is also at the beginning of this gospel account, at the start of the very first quotation. See John 1:15: (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) Although this is not clear in the translation, the crying out (loud) of John the Baptist is in that perfect tense, with the focus on the present.
I do not think it is a coincidence that this verse is also the first time in which the writer has chosen to use the historical present. Literally, the first words of that verse are this: ‘John bears witness….’ There is a double emphasis within this verse that the present is an important time. (The other accounts also use historical presents, but they use them in different ways than this account. Also, this gospel account emphasizes the word ‘answer’ more than the other accounts, and that is a word which is based on the meaning of ‘to turn toward’, as if, at that time, someone is turning toward God, but I can write about that some other time.)
If that were not enough, the unique ‘I am’ statements of Jesus within this gospel account also make a statement in the present. When Jesus says something like, ‘I am the light of the world’, etc., that is true for ALL time.
How did I get on the topic of the present when I started with the oldest book of the bible? We have the same, loving Lord, all the way through.
Like last Sunday, the Old Testament text for this Sunday is also from a rarely used book, the book of Ruth. The text is also from the start of this book [1:1-19a], but I would like to look at the end of the work. (Attention: Spoiler Alert!)
Here are the last few words of the book: ‘Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David (ESV; 4:18-22).’
Those words are called a genealogy. They occur in several other places in scripture (see, for example, Genesis 5, 10, and 1 Chronicles 1-9). And they are usually quickly dismissed as unimportant. But they were important to people—especially those at the end of the line! What I thought was interesting was the footnote in The Lutheran Study Bible regarding the above passage: ‘Boaz is the seventh ancestor named. Ancient genealogies reserved the seventh spot as a place of special honor and importance (Concordia Publishing House, 2009; page 430).’
Our modern culture does not make a connection between words and numbers like the people did in the Old Testament. For the Jews, their numbers WERE letters, and so it was hard to get away from connecting letters to numbers. I have mentioned in the past that the name ‘Solomon’ also means the number three hundred and seventy-five (and that is the number of proverbs in the section of Proverbs 10:1-22:16). And perhaps you already knew that the name ‘David’ means fourteen.
I mention that because the genealogy that occurs at the beginning of the Gospel according to Matthew makes a big deal of the number fourteen. And since you have probably overlooked this section of scripture for most of your life, I am giving it here in its entirety.
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations (verses 2-17).
Congratulations to anyone who actually read that! Seriously though, it IS an important part of biblical history. Jesus did not just descend from heaven; a stork certainly did not bring him. ALL of these people are important to God. Did you notice that even Ruth, a Moabite, is mentioned? And the writer includes a very interesting piece of information with a concluding emphasis on the number fourteen.
So where was the writer going with that number? Since we cannot interview the writer, all our conclusions must be tentative.
The reader of the above quote may have noticed that, in the first two paragraphs, I italicized some of the words. These words are extra words that did not have to be included. Where the writer is going with these words we also cannot know for sure, but you probably guessed that there have been some guesses.
Rather than list all those guesses, I would like to make the point that they could basically ALL be true. Writing is an extremely multifaceted enterprise. But I have not yet found someone point out that, despite the different additions to the first and second paragraphs, in the original language of the text, the number of words of both paragraphs are exactly the same—eighty-two.
Now that certainly could be a coincidence. But what is even more interesting is that there are thirteen and not fourteen generations listed in the last paragraph. You can count them if you like. And also, if you like, you could read more about this; see Jeffrey Gibbs’ commentary, Matthew 1:1-11:1, the section starting on page 83, entitled ‘Could Matthew Count?’ (By the way, Gibbs mentions in a footnote someone who basically does not think so; can you believe that?)
Although Dr. Gibbs gives some very good alternatives to the thirteen generations in the last section, I would like to add one more. In essence, the writer of this gospel account does NOT want us to focus on the words, but on the Word (see John 1:1).
To have fourteen, fourteen, and then thirteen generations is to have a grand total of forty-one, and that number doubled is eighty-two. Matthew certainly would know how to count—he was a tax collector! But the writer has crafted the genealogy in such a way that he does not want us to focus on the past of certain peoples and their traditions, especially on their long-lasting connections between words and numbers. More importantly is THE ONE to whom Matthew is pointing. He pointed just like John the Baptist did, just like those of the Old Testament, just like those mentioned in the rest of the New Testament, and, hopefully, just like your pastor.
The Old Testament text for this Sunday is from the generally obscure book of Habakkuk [1:1-4, 2:1-4]. With that in mind, I thought it would be good to look at that text from a larger perspective.
To be more specific, I would like to look at the use of questions in the Old Testament. The text for this week, immediately after the introduction, has some pretty serious questions: ‘O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?’
Are these questions important? Definitely!
Sometimes in the text, people are asking questions. And sometimes in the text, it is God who is asking the questions. More specifically, it is usually the LORD who asks questions. The name God is usually used when there are commands involved. The LORD is the One who interacts with his people. To ask a question is to show love and concern—and also patience.
Near the beginning of the book of Genesis, the LORD God has a whole series of questions. He asks the man where he is. He asks him who told him he was naked. He asks him if he ate from the tree that he was commanded not to eat. Then he asks the woman what she did.
Regarding the LORD’s dealings with Cain, he asks him why he is angry and why his face is sad. Then, after the murder, he asks Cain where his brother is. Finally, he asks him what he did.
Perhaps there is a reason that the questions asked by the LORD are not so frequent after that. Certainly, other questions will follow. But the answer to that final question—the same question to both the woman and Cain—is a significant fork in the road.
One can certainly go a lot of different places from there. It is also very easy simply to stay there and reflect upon one’s sinfulness, rather than see the wonderful answer in the gospel, God’s great gift.
One of the further questions by the LORD, farther ‘down the road’, was the following question that he asks himself(!) when talking to Abraham: ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do…(18:17)?’ The LORD certainly showed concern and got involved in THAT situation.
That makes the dual question that comes up near the middle and end of Genesis quite appropriate: ‘Am I in the place of God?’ It was asked by both Jacob and Joseph (30:2; 50:19). And it is never ‘officially’ answered, but the LORD God certainly became even more involved after that.
The end of Genesis leaves the reader or listener with the following big question, although it is not stated literally: When will the children of Israel make it back to the ‘Promised Land’? What is worse is that, at the end of the ‘Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament)’, the movement into the Promised Land has not yet happened. Yet they were SO close.
The historical books sometimes have questions like ‘Regarding this particular person, are not the details about him written in this other book?’ (See, for example, 1 Kings 16:27.) The second-last verse of the huge section of historical books has that question. (See Esther10:2.) I assume that the answers to those questions are all ‘Yes’. And that type of question is meant to keep the reader or listener going and learning more.
Now the so-called ‘Book of the Twelve’ is an interesting work. We usually call them the ‘minor prophets’, although one can easily misunderstand that title and think that their message is unimportant. They are only minor when compared to the ‘major’ prophets, the five books of Isaiah through Daniel. (By the way, near the very end of Daniel are some questions about the end times. At Daniel 12:6 is ‘How long shall it be till the end of these wonders?’ And at Daniel 12:8 is ‘O my lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?’)
These twelve important speakers for the LORD are arranged what in what was considered their chronological order, although there is a great amount of debate about when some of those writings came to be. One can say with some certainty though that the earlier prophets are near the beginning of the book, and the later ones are near the end.
Often the length of a work makes a difference in its placement. This is true in some of the ways that the New Testament documents were put together. With the earliest Greek version of the Old Testament (called the Septuagint), the order of the first three books is Hosea, Amos, and Micah (the three longest books that were among the earliest), all in decreasing order.
Below is the name of the prophet (in the order you are most familiar with), the APPROXIMATE century of the work (B.C.; this number is rounded and has been taken from The Lutheran Study Bible), and the number of verses in the work.
Hosea 8 197
Joel 9 73
Amos 8 146
Obadiah 6 21
Jonah 8 48
Micah 8/7 105
Nahum 7 47
Habakkuk 7 56
Zephaniah 7 53
Haggai 6 38
Zechariah 6 211
Malachi 5 55
There are questions throughout these books. Many of them are obvious and answered immediately. I am thinking particularly of Zechariah, when the prophet sees something, and then the question is asked, ‘What do you see?’ (See, for example, Zechariah 5:2.) But there are more significant questions as well.
The book of Jonah ends with a series of serious questions. The LORD does NOT destroy Nineveh, and Jonah basically asks, ‘Is not this what I said was going to happen when I was still at home?’ (For the record, there is no record of him asking this question.) Then the LORD essentially asks this same question two times: ‘Do you have a right to be angry?’ And then, at the very end, the LORD basically asks the following question: ‘Should not I be concerned about those in Nineveh?’
The book of Nahum also ends with a question (3:19c): ‘For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?’ It is a short question, but that is the very end of the book, and so there is an element of uncertainty. And the very next book, Habakkuk, starts with those few but important questions that were mentioned above.
The fifth book of the group (Jonah) ends with a significant question and the fifth from the end (Habakkuk) begins with a significant question (and there is the question at the end of Nahum, right next to the beginning of Habakkuk). That ‘pattern’ may be a coincidence. But, whatever the structure, those questions are important, and they help to push the reader or listener forward to find some answers. And the answers to those important questions can be found in the New Testament more than the Old.
This Sunday is quite special. Each year, on the 29th of September, the festival of Saint Michael and All Angels is celebrated by the Church. It is a festival that has significant connections to Christ and his work, and so, when that day occurs on a Sunday, it takes over the readings and the other ‘details’.
The Gospel text makes the point that some angels see the face of God (Matthew 18:10). That particular characteristic makes those angels quite special. Both the Old Testament and the Epistle texts mention Michael, an archangel. His name means, ‘Who is like God’. In both texts, he plays a major role. Some people see him as Jesus.
The Epistle text is from the book of Revelation [12:7-12]. It speaks of a great war in heaven, ‘Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon (verse 7).’ The dragon—the devil, Satan—was defeated. In the words of the text, ‘he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him (verse 9).’
We usually do not have such a focus on the devil. Usually the scriptures focus on Jesus! Martin Luther noticed this and has some helpful words of advice regarding this particular enemy.
"When, I say, [Satan] comes to you and accuses you not only of failing to do anything good but of transgressing against the Law of God, then you must say: ‘You are troubling me with the memory of past sins; in addition, you have told me that I have not done anything good. This does not concern me. For if I either trusted in my performance of good works or lost my trust because I failed to perform them, in either case Christ would be of no avail to me. Therefore whether you base your objection to me on my sins or on my good works, I do not care; for I put both of them out of sight and depend only on the freedom for which Christ has set me free (American Edition, Volume 27, page 11; this quotation is also found in The Lutheran Study Bible)."
The devil is real. And the solution Luther proposes is also very real. You might say that it is ‘down to earth’.
The concrete reality of that goodness may also be found in the Lord’s Prayer. I brought that up recently, that the middle word (usually translated as ‘daily’) is significant, but it is a word that we truly do not know what it means; it has no previous history. Since it is in the prayer, and since it is in that important middle spot, it significantly changes our perspective of the rest of that prayer. The rest of the prayer brings up negative things—this is unusual since a Hebrew structure has the negative part at the beginning—but since there is also the combination of God the Father’s significant involvement and, therefore, his gracious presence, the negative things that are brought up are not really that bad.
When trespasses are forgiven, that is a ‘sign’ (to use Luther’s word) of our Father’s gracious, giving presence. God must present, doing a miracle, since only God can truly forgive. (See what Martin Luther says in his Large Catechism for more detail.)
I have also mentioned recently that the Roman Catholic Church has changed the wording about the petition for the Father not leading us into temptation. Martin Luther gets the Small Catechism right when he says that God tempts no one. The main point is similar to what is above, that if the Father is leading, that type of action is significant, and that also shows his gracious presence.
The final petition is to deliver us from evil. Luther saw this petition as a summary. And the gracious presence of the Father is certainly confessed with the action of deliverance, and this is essentially salvation.
That gracious reality is dependent upon a gracious God. And in the Book of Revelation, that gracious God is often seen on his throne. That is also where Jesus, the Lamb, is. And his four living creatures, his main angels, are around that throne.
That brings up another interesting aspect of Revelation, the placement of the four living creatures when they are first mentioned. In Revelation 4:6, the ESV translation reads like this: ‘And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures…..’ The NIV translation, surprisingly, is much more literal: ‘In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures… (this is also close to the NASB translation).’
People obviously have discussed this phrase for a long time, and therefore, some translations try to interpret the meaning of the text. How can the four living creatures be in the center of and around the throne at the same time?
How about the following answer: In the Old Testament, sometimes an angel acted like God and did a miracle, either a supernatural act or a supernatural prediction. And sometimes the people who saw that angel said that they saw God. What made them say that, we obviously do not know—and we cannot interview them now. And also sometimes, the Second Person of the Trinity acted like an angel, a messenger. He certainly was a messenger in the New Testament. Jesus, the messenger, delivered salvation to his people. What a great gift.
For the last few weeks, I have been focusing on either the Epistle or the Old Testament text. Now the Epistle text will continue with 1 Timothy. But a sentence from the Old Testament text for this Sunday may catch your attention. It is from the Old Testament ‘minor’ prophet who is the most frequently used of those twelve prophets in the three-year series, the prophet Amos.
This is the last verse of the text from Amos 8: ‘The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds (verse 7).”’ Now what did he just say? What about those verses that say that LORD will NOT remember sins? Jeremiah 31:34 is a good example of this: “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
The context is almost always important. In fact, the book of Jeremiah is not chronologically ordered, but all the ‘good news’ parts are close to the center of the work. That is the main reason that the book of Jeremiah is treated so highly in the Gospel according to Matthew; basically, that same ‘Hebrew’ structure is followed.
With the prophet Amos, you basically have to wait for the very end of the book to get to the good news. But it is a significant amount of good news and definitely worth the wait. Near the very end of the book is even a verse that has an appearance in Acts 15, when the early Christian leaders are trying to figure what the gospel is. Should it involve some laws, such as circumcision? Or should it be an entirely free gift? In the words of the apostle Peter, ‘we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus…(Acts 15:11).’ In other words, the gospel is TRULY good news. Amos 9:11-12 is quoted, but with some slight differences. The one thing that is clear in both places is that the LORD is interested in saving ALL people.
So, what would make the LORD never forget some things? It is important to note that the sin of pride is involved—the ‘pride of Jacob’. Pride is like being thankful to yourself and not to God. And pride often does go before a fall.
Something similar could be said about the word ‘never’—basically ‘forever’—in the Amos text. I hope I am not getting too technical, but this word can be connected to five basic meanings: gleam, distinguish, conquer, be permanent, and supervise—this is basically the word that comes up at the beginning of over fifty Psalms when it talks about the ‘director of music’ or ‘choirmaster’ (Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, volume 5, page 530). There are essentially two themes that come together with this word: the temple and permanence.
How would you feel if you lived near the place where God had his temple? If God was living forever, you might start to think that his temple would be around forever. I can see how pride would be a significant problem with the people of Israel. I can also see why Jesus talked about his temple being destroyed.
Jesus was destroyed and rebuilt in three days for us and for our salvation. This keeps our perspective regarding those important words like ‘forever’. There is a much better gleam to that temple.
Last week I looked at the Epistle text, and this week I would like to do the same thing. The Epistle text for this week is 1 Timothy 1:12-17, with the option of adding verses 5-11.
There are two things to note when dealing with such an epistle. The first is that this letter was meant for more people than just Timothy. The fact that we are reading it today is a good indication of that. (And with the blessing at the very end of each epistle, with the use of the word ‘you’, that word ‘you’ is in the plural in the most reliable manuscripts.) The second thing to note is that the letter is about more than just being a pastor. This epistle is the first of what some call ‘The Pastoral Epistles’—and they usually mean 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. (This title, ‘The Pastoral Epistles’, is actually relatively new and only about three hundred years old.) They may have been written TO AND ABOUT one person, but they were actually written FOR AND ABOUT many.
A better term for this group of writings, although certainly not a positive one, might be ‘The Problem Epistles’. There are significant problems described in each of these letters. Each letter tries to deal with the issue at hand and move toward a solution that would be helpful within such a sinful world. Often the leaders are involved when there is a significant problem to tackle, and so that is the reason for the letters being addressed to Timothy and Titus. The nice thing about this title, with this broader description, the Epistle to Philemon could also be included, since one of the main problems was that Onesimus, the Christian and runaway slave, really should go back to Philemon, his ‘master’ (and fellow Christian).
This epistle text of 1 Timothy 1 happens to be in the Hebrew literary style of being negative, then having a significant turning point, and then being positive. I usually do not do this, but I would like to lay out the entire text below, emphasizing all the negative words (the words like ‘no’ or ‘not’—since sometimes these words are not so clear within the translation), and then to point out that there is the turning point which is near that special word of—surprise, surprise—the ‘gospel’. And, then, there are positive points after that. Hopefully this layout is helpful for you. I will even add verses 3 and 4, since that only adds a small amount, and that starts us at the actual beginning of the main part of the letter.
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons NOT to teach any different doctrine, NOR to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, WITHOUT understanding either what they are saying OR the things about which they make confident assertions.
Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is NOT laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious GOSPEL of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen (The Lutheran Study Bible, pages 2068-9).
Last week I also gave the example of a ‘gospel’ midpoint being important, and this week, there is not only that same midpoint, but a negative emphasis on one side of that section.
Another good example of this the Lord’s Prayer. The nice thing about the Lord’s Prayer is that the first and the last words of that prayer may also be connected to the structure (I also pointed this out last week).
The first word in that prayer, in the original language of the New Testament, in the Gospel according to Matthew, is the word ‘Father’. That is certainly a significant word for God. And the last word is ‘evil’. Now the middle word is a word that, honestly, we are not sure what it means. From the evidence we have, it looks like Jesus made it up. It is a description of the bread for which we are asking. (Usually we say it is ‘daily’.)
What kind of bread do you want? What kind of bread do you NEED? Perhaps it is better to let God, our Father in heaven, decide those issues. And, after the mention of that special bread, there are negative things mentioned, things like people trespassing (sinning!) and needing forgiveness, being led into temptation (the Roman Catholic Church is trying to get away from this translation), and being delivered from evil.
The author of this prayer knew what it was like in this world. He knew what it was like to eat bread. He also knew the trespasses, the temptation, and the evil. And he turned things completely around for us on the cross. Now that is the gospel.
For the last few weeks I have been writing about either the Old Testament or the Epistle text, the latter of which happened to be from the Epistle to the Hebrews. In both of those places, the Hebrew literary style is usually somewhat easy to spot.
The literary style of an epistle or letter is not so easy. (The Epistle to the Hebrews was easy because it was called a ‘word of exhortation’, and this same type of speech is in Acts 13.) With a letter or epistle, there is the introduction at the beginning; and then there is the conclusion at the end. In some ways, those are the most memorable things.
What is in the middle can often be forgotten or easily passed over. And that is what makes one aspect of the Hebrew literary style so helpful. Often there is something in the middle as a marker, to attract the reader’s attention. And, usually, something at the beginning is an indicator of what you might be getting in the middle.
Adam’s first recorded words focus on his wife, Eve (although this was not yet her name), and they are a good example of a Hebrew structure. In Genesis 2:23, in the original language, Adam is quoted as saying thirteen words, and the first and the last are exactly the same (‘this’), and the middle word contains that same word (‘to this’). In the most extreme literary fashion, his words go this way:
This the-now bone from-my-bones and-flesh from-my-flesh
She-shall-be-called woman for from-man she-was-taken this.
Often the structure is not that obvious. And, since something important is in the middle, it is sometimes passed over quite quickly. I did want to highlight something in the Epistle text for this Sunday that I thought was interesting.
This week, the Epistle text is almost the entire letter of Paul to Philemon [1-21]. And within the entire text, a whole 25 verses, near the middle, in verse 13, we have the only time the word ‘gospel’ is used within that letter.
Paul writes: ‘I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel….’ What is also interesting is that the phrase at the end, ‘imprisonment for the gospel’ is literally ‘imprisonment (or ‘bondage’) OF the gospel’. That phrase is in stark contrast to the language of freedom that Paul connects to the gospel in his first four epistles.
At the very beginning of the Epistle to Philemon, Paul describes himself as a ‘prisoner of Christ Jesus’. He brings up that word ‘prisoner’ a few times. Is he focusing on the negative? Not when that word is connected to Christ and his gospel!
We are so used to the word 'gospel' that its appearance can be easily passed over. But think of its virtual absence in the Old Testament. And then you have the first four books of the New Testament called a 'gospel'. And then you have the word's extremely frequent appearance in the Pauline Epistles. It is a word you do not want to pass by too quickly.