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.
For the last few weeks we have been looking at the last chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews. And this week is the last week that the Epistle text will be from that work (13:1-17). Much could be said about the epistle’s title of a ‘word of exhortation (13:22)’, especially since that epistle contains a number of exhortations. So which ones are secondary?
I think, though, that the Book of Proverbs may be even more interesting than the Epistle to the Hebrews; and that book is only read from a very small number of times throughout the three-year series. And this Sunday is one of those times (25:2-10).
I remember, when I was young, my pastor led the congregation through that book in a bible class; it took a long time. And I thought it was worth it. I would highly recommend this book, especially for the younger generation.
At first glance, it seems to have no structure. I hope to dispel that myth.
Although I would like to look at the first verses of the book—which are often an indication as to the structure of the entire work—I would like to focus on an aspect which I think is extremely interesting.
The vast majority of the notes in the Concordia Self-Study Bible were not written by Lutherans, so I am usually very attentive for that note that has a cross at its beginning. The following note is one by a non-Lutheran, and I am very glad that I came upon it (page 959):
10:1 The proverbs of Solomon. The title of a collection of individual proverbs that extends through 22:16. The numerical values of the consonants in the Hebrew word for “Solomon” total 375—the exact number of verses in 10:1-22:16; 375 of Solomon’s proverbs were selected from a much larger number (cf. 1 Kings 4:32).
I guess that my only problem with that statement is that I have a hard time believing that these are ‘individual’ proverbs. I am seeing a contemporary problem with that word. Is there anyone or anything who/which is not connected to someone or something else? Besides, I am seeing a pattern within these proverbs.
Although a Hebrew literary structure may mean a lot of things (and this is one of the reasons that there is such great depth to the structure of the Gospel according to Matthew), one of the first things that comes to my mind is the importance of a middle point. When dealing with the number of 375, the middle point is essentially 187-188. And that is a middle point where the four previous proverbs/verses all have the name LORD (Yahweh) in them, and the four proverbs/verses which follow also have the same thing (15:33-16:7). And that extensive consistency is not found elsewhere within the work. The LORD is the turning point, and he is an appropriate one.
I also do not think it is a coincidence that the word ‘king’ comes up frequently after that middle point. It appears in chapter 16 in verses 10, 12, 13, 14, and 15. And the word ‘king’ comes up frequently also within our text (verses 2, 3, 5, and 6). Perhaps the writer/editor had this proverb in mind: ‘My son, fear the LORD and the king…(24:21).’
The importance of a king is unknown to most of Western culture (and we are certainly losing the importance of the LORD within our modern culture), and the idea that words can also equal numbers is also unknown. We have letters for words and numbers for amounts, and, at least in our part of Western culture, those two groups are usually quite unrelated. But what would we do if we did not have numbers to tell us some amounts? That would make for an interesting language. And we might learn something more about the language of the bible.
Recently we have been looking the Epistle to the Hebrews. And the culmination that the Epistle text for this Sunday gives (12:4-24, with the option of also including verses 25-29) has essentially two possible ending points for the reader or listener. The writer has downplayed the importance of the ark of the covenant, along with Mount Sinai—where that ark and tabernacle/temple was started—and he puts forward the importance of Mount Zion and, of course, Jesus. In short, the text says that you have not come to Mount Sinai (although that mountain was not named in the text—almost as if it were too holy to be spoken); you have come to Mount Zion.
I think it is helpful that the writer lays out those two options, since both are significantly different. And that idea of a division, with only two possibilities, is certainly frequent in scripture, and it will also be true for what will happen at the end of time—heaven or hell.
With that in mind, I hope you will not mind a slightly different direction with this week’s ‘journey’. That idea of a division or two possibilities is also frequent in writings which are outside of scripture.
I do not think it to be a bad thing that Christians are introduced to writings that may be of a similar time period to the writings of the New Testament, but those writings do not appear in the typical Bible. In the Old Testament, there are the books of the Apocrypha. But, in the New Testament, while there are others, there is the document called ‘The Didache’ (pronounced ‘did-ah-KAY’). It is the Greek word for ‘teaching’.
For much the same reason that confirmation students benefit by learning what the other churches are teaching, the Christian will also benefit by learning at least a little about the other books that were written about the same time as the New Testament. The New Testament was written within a context, and not only the context of the Old Testament, but the context of other Jewish-Christian writings. And ‘The Didache’ is one of the most well-known of those.
As Holmes, the editor, states in his introduction to the text [In his book, The Apostolic Fathers], ‘A remarkably wide range of dates, extending from before AD 50 to the third century or later, has been proposed for this document (page 337).’ Later he gives more detail: ‘’The Didache’ may have been put into its present form as late as 150, though a date considerably closer to the end of the first century seems more probable. The materials from which it was composed reflect the state of the church at an even earlier time (page 337).’
This document very much emphasizes the division, the two ways. In fact, the first verse of the text goes this way: ‘There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between these two ways (1.1).’
Sometimes the question is asked, ‘Why was this document not included in the New Testament?’ Sometimes the people of ancient times are looked upon as ignorant or, worse yet, biased!
This document certainly contains words that may be connected to the Old Testament, and there are things which may be connected to the New Testament. But there are significant differences between these texts and scripture.
You may be able to see these differences by the use of some titles within this document. A teacher of mine used to ask, ‘Who is doing the verbs?’ In other words, who is the focus? And the titles of the main persons working within the text can help show the focus.
The secondary title of the work is ‘The Teaching of the Lord…’, but, after that, the next time the word ‘Lord’ is used is all the way in chapter four.
My child, remember night and day the one who preaches God’s word to you, and honor him as though he were the Lord. For wherever the Lord’s nature [the essential aspect of being Lord; see BDAG, page 579] is preached, there the Lord is. Moreover, you shall seek out daily the presence [literally, ‘face’] of the saints, so that you may find support in their words (4.1-2; the word ‘face’ is used two more times after this and is translated as ‘partiality’ and ‘reputation’; sections 3 & 10 respectively).’
Much later in the work, about the same amount from the end of the document (chapter 11), there is a surprisingly similar connection to the quote above, with a person who teaches to be connected to the Lord.
So, if anyone should come and teach you all these things that have just been mentioned above, welcome him. But if the teacher himself goes astray and teaches a different teaching that undermines all this, do not listen to him. However, if his teaching contributes to righteousness and knowledge of the Lord, welcome him as you would the Lord. Now concerning the apostles and prophets, deal with them as follows in accordance with the rule [literally, ‘dogma’] of the gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be welcomed as if he were the Lord (11.1-4).
Instead of putting forward the face and presence of the risen Lord Jesus and what he says and does—and this, in the New Testament, is often done by using the present tense (and usually called the ‘historical present’)—in the above document the connection to the Lord is one that the reader or listener is to make to the Lord’s preacher, teacher, or apostle. In The Didache, the face of the saints is the face that you are to seek out. Perhaps this, more than anything else, shows the secondary—yet still important—nature of this document.
It is still a very good read.
he Epistle text for this Sunday helps us continue our journey into the Epistle to the Hebrews. Last week I made the point that Noah’s ark was an important one—it was the fourth or middle one of a list of seven people or groups who walked by faith (verses 1-16; we, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Abraham—with a different aspect, and Sarah).
Perhaps you knew that there were other arks in the bible. Arguably the most famous one, even more famous than Noah’s ark, is the so-called ‘ark of the covenant’. You might want to think of it as the footstool for God. If God is sitting on his throne, depending on the size of the throne, he might want to have his feet on something so that they are not just hanging down off his fancy chair. A footstool is really just a fancy box.
An ark is a very special box. In Hebrews 11:22, there is a reference to Joseph giving instructions concerning his bones, and the text at the end of Genesis (50:26) says that he was put into a ‘coffin’, but the word is ‘ark’ and is the exact same one in Hebrew as with the ark of the covenant. And so, in Hebrews 11:23, immediately following the words regarding Joseph, there is a note regarding Moses when he was a baby. And the same word in Hebrew for Noah’s ark is also used for the ‘basket’ that Moses was in when his mother put him into the Nile River (See Exodus 2:3 and the footnote in The Lutheran Study Bible, page 98).
I do not think that all these oblique references to an ark are a coincidence. The epistle to the Hebrews previously talked about the very famous ark of the covenant, but then the writer abruptly stops focusing on it (Hebrews 9:1-10). There are more important things to talk about—Jesus being one of them.
I hope I do not lose many of you, but I think it is a significant thing when, in verse 28, the text says that ‘By faith he [Moses] kept the Passover....' The verb ‘kept’ is an important one, even though it is hard to tell with this translation. A better translation of the verb would have been ‘has kept’. The verb is in the perfect tense, and it usually means some sort of ramifications for the present. (For those who are interested in more detail, see the book by Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, page 582.)
Most of the verbs in this chapter are in the past, but this one has ramifications for the present. And Jesus certainly changed the extremely ancient and important festival of the Passover into something so incredibly significant for today with his death and resurrection—not to mention his institution of the Lord’s Supper.
Perhaps I am making too much of this, but Moses with his Passover is the fourth person mentioned from the end to have done something by faith. As the fourth person of this distinguished line of people who lived by faith was Noah, the fourth from the end was the one who HAS kept the Passover—and has made that festival important for today. (The last three are the ‘they who went through the Red Sea’, those who were involved in the fall of the walls of Jericho, and Rahab—verses 29-31.)
This entire group of people, in chapter 12:1, is called a ‘cloud of witnesses’; this is not to be confused with a ‘crowd of witnesses’. The ‘cloud’ is a reference to the glory that stayed with the ark of the covenant. (If you want to see a significant contrast, please read Exodus 40:34-38, the last few verses of Exodus, and compare that with Exodus 24:15-18, a section approximately in the middle of the book.) The cloud stayed with the people, and through the scriptures, that cloud described in Hebrews 11 stays with us.
I can understand why the Jews wanted to emphasize not only the ark but also the temple. Both of those things were eventually lost, more specifically, were removed from the sight of the Jews. That was okay. It is also okay that God does not choose to be so obvious. That tends to scare people away.
God has chosen to use his words. And that tends to draw us closer.
Usually, I look at the gospel text for the week. For the last few Sundays, I have looked at the Old Testament text. This might surprise you that for the next three Sundays, I will be looking at the epistle texts. During this particular time of the three-year series, the epistle looks at the last part of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
I think the Epistle to the Hebrews is a fascinating work. It is like a gospel account in that it focuses on Jesus. It is also like an epistle—and obviously so, because of its title. It is also like the Old Testament, and that should also be obvious. If you increase your understanding of the Epistle to the Hebrews, you essentially increase your understanding of the entire scriptures.
Since this epistle does not have a regular epistle-like format, there is the chance for the literary style of the text to come through much more clearly. The introduction (1:1-4) has a structure which is reflected in the rest of the work. There is first the mention of a ‘Son’, and then there is the mention of him making ‘purification for sins’. As in the layout of the tabernacle or temple, there was, near the entrance, the place for making a sacrifice, and then, farther along, where that special blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled—the ‘holy of holies’ or the ‘most holy place’, and this is also the progression of the writer. The epistle has that special structure in a literary way, a way that shows how important it was that God and man came together in Jesus—and also how important it was to have Jesus’ death on the cross (and the curtain of the temple torn in two, from top to bottom).
What was, for a time, so special in this very special place of the tabernacle or temple was the so-called ‘ark of the covenant’. It also has other names, but I would like to focus on the title of ‘ark’. After all, it seems that the writer wants to focus on various arks in Hebrews 11.
This chapter is called ‘the faith chapter’, and that is an appropriate title. It seems like at the start of every paragraph (although that structure of paragraphs is not in the original text), the text says, ‘By faith…’ and then it gives an example of someone who lived by faith. Near the end of the text for this Sunday (verse 16), there are some summary points. But I thought it was interesting that the following people are mentioned along the way:
Verse 3: By faith we…. Verse 4: By faith Abel…. Verse 5: By faith Enoch….
Verse 7: By faith Noah….
Verse 8: By faith Abraham…. Verse 9: By faith he (Abraham)…. Verse 11: By faith Sarah….
In this case, the ark is at the center (of seven different kinds of faith, no less). We will see next week where an ark comes up again.
For the last two weeks, the Old Testament text has been from Genesis, and the two texts were nearly one right after the other. In another week, the text will AGAIN be from Genesis. But this present week is special. This is the week when the Old Testament text is from the book of Ecclesiastes. Now how different is that?
It is actually not so different.
Here is a text from the beginning of the book of Genesis, the second creation account, the one which focuses on the creation of man and woman:
When NO bush of the field was yet in the land and NO small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had NOT caused it to rain on the land, and there was NO man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground--then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food… (Genesis 2:5-9a).
I emphasized the negatives in the first half of the text because some of them are clearly in the text—and they do not appear in the second half of the text, after the turning point of the mist and the watering of the whole face of the ground. There are also implied negatives in this first half of the text. Adam works in a garden before the Fall into sin, but he works in a field after the Fall. And it also only rains after the Fall, during the Flood. The first part is certainly negative. And water is an important part of the turning point.
The first verses of Ecclesiastes have a similar structure. The text for this Sunday is from Ecclesiastes 1:2, then verses 12-14, and then 2:18-26. The following text is between the first two sections of the appointed reading (1:3-11):
What does man [adam] gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All the streams run to the sea, but the sea is NOT full; to the place when the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness; a man CANNOT utter it; the eye is NOT satisfied with seeing, NOR the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is NOTHING new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has been already in the ages before us. There is NO remembrance of former things [’first men’ or ‘men of old’], NOR will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.
Hopefully the similarities are noticeable. The main difference is that the negatives in the Genesis account are at the beginning, where, in the second text, they are at the end. Perhaps the intention of this structural difference is to take us back to the beginning, to help us to remember our history. The content certainly supports that message. And it seems that some people today could very much benefit from that advice.
Another difference is that the structure around the turning point does not seem so neatly arranged. To help a little with this difficulty, I added a few words in brackets above. The first word in brackets is the Hebrew word for man, and this is obviously where Adam got his name. The second set of brackets has a couple possible translations of the phrase ‘former things’, both of which might make a person think of Adam.
In both cases though, the water is in the middle.
Water is obviously an important thing. Our bodies are approximately sixty percent water. Water is a majority of who we are.
It is not surprising, then, that Jesus chose to be around water for a significant period of his life. He also chose some fishermen to follow him. And he also talked about being ‘living water’. And after his followers were around him for a while, he also talked about people drinking his blood. And then, at his death, blood and water poured out of him.
How is that for being at the center of things?
By the way, if you would like to look at the vast majority of the introduction to the gospel account I used to summarize the life of Jesus above, but in basically the same format I have been using, here it is below (and I again added some brackets to be helpful):
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was NOT any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has NOT overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was NOT the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did NOT know him. He came to his own, and his own people did NOT receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, NOT of blood NOR of the will of the flesh NOR of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh [approximately sixty percent water] and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (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.”’) And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:1-17).
Last week, the Old Testament reading was from Genesis 18:1-10a, with the option of the reading going until verse 14. This week, it is interesting that the Old Testament reading essentially follows last week's reading.
There is the option of verses 17-19, but the main text is Genesis 18:20-3.
It often happens that the Gospel texts follow one another, and this also often happens with the Epistle texts, but, when it comes to the Old Testament, this is extremely rare.
I would also like this week to look at a slightly bigger picture of the book of Genesis.
There will still be other chances to look at a particular text. But it is often nice to see
the bigger perspective.
The structure of Genesis is NOT a structure of chapter and verse. That structure was
imposed upon it at a later time. The main structural format within Genesis is a
concentric structure, in other words, ABCBA (although there are usually a lot more
letters involved). We are basically used to ABC. And I think we are also used to ABCA
when, for example, the preacher brings up the same point that he made at the
beginning of the sermon. It helps to 'go back to the beginning' in a way. And the
important things should be emphasized repeatedly. But, in this case, the middle thing
is even more important.
The writer of this book, traditionally Moses, did a good job making sure the structure fit together well. A literary work can fit together well historically, and it can fit together theologically, but it does not always have to fit together in a literary way. This work happens to do that though.
This concentric structure can be seen in the Flood account. It is also in the story of
Abraham, and it also comes up later with Jacob and Rachel (and it is also present in a
slightly different way in the story of Joseph). I like to look at the 'opposite' text, the
text that is a negative one that goes along with another text on the opposite, positive
side of the structure. The negative text happens to be the text for this Sunday.
With a concentric structure, the outline turns around in the middle and switches from a negative theme to a positive one. Some think that the turning point in this part of
Genesis is the birth of Isaac or circumcision. But I think the turning point here is the
same that is seen in the Flood account, and it is the same one that is seen later with
Jacob and Rachel. It is this: 'And God remembered....' That is a very nice and important
In Genesis 8:1, God remembered Noah, and things started to get better. In Genesis 30:22, 'God remembered Rachel', and she started having children. And, in the part of
Genesis that we are looking at, there is hidden away, in Genesis 19:29, 'So it was that,
when God destroyed the cities of the valley [Sodom and Gomorrah], God
remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when
he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived.'
So, in Genesis 18, we are looking at Abraham 'interceding' for Sodom. This is the
'negative' interceding. Abraham starts by saying that, if fifty righteous people lived in
the city, it would not be fair to kill them as well. He then 'works' the Lord down a
ways; he goes from fifty, to forty-five, to forty, to thirty, to twenty, and then,
finally, to ten. Obviously, there were not ten good people there.
After the turning point of 19:29, things get much better. And I see the opposite of the
above text in Abraham 'interceding' for Abimelech. This guy had just taken Sarah for his
wife, and God came to him in a dream and literally said that he was a dead man (20:3).
Abimelech makes the case that he did not know that Abraham and Sarah were married. And God accepts that. He also says this: 'Now then, return the man's wife, for he is a
prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live (verse 7).'
This happens to be the first use of the word 'prophet' in the Old Testament. Now I
thought THAT intercession went much better ... and faster. And God turns out to be
very gracious--not a big surprise.
The gospel text for this Sunday is Jesus at the home of Mary and Martha [Luke 10:38-42], and certainly there is much that could be said regarding this text. This is especially true since that special post-resurrection title of ‘Lord’ is given to Jesus by the writer, not just once but twice within just these few verses. But even more interesting to the modern reader may be the perspective of the Old Testament reading from Genesis 18[:1-10a, plus, there is also the option of including 10b-14].
The year in which the Gospel according to Luke is the focus is also the year in which there happens to be a significant number of readings from the book of Genesis. It is a good year to look more closely at this foundational book for both testaments. The topic of history is not too popular in modern culture, but the beginning of anything should be truly significant. And the genesis of literally everything should be a very good thing to contemplate.
We will hear on another Sunday of how the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision (Genesis 15:1). On this Sunday, something much more significant happens. The text starts out by saying that the Lord appeared to Abraham. (Abram received the additional syllable to his name in the previous chapter.) Then the text says that three men came to Abraham. They talk as one. Then the text transitions to what the Lord is saying. Then, at the start of chapter 19, the text describes the work of two angels.
This sort of ‘switching’ continues. Later the two ‘men’ say that they were sent by the Lord to destroy both Sodom and Gomorrah. Again, much could be written, and certainly much HAS been written in the past. I have been told by Rev. Dr. Joel Elowsky that one ancient Christian author saw the Trinity in these three men.
In this text and in others, it seems almost like the writer is confused. Is this the Lord working? Is this a man? Is this an angel or messenger? You could answer ‘Yes’ to all these issues! The text cannot completely answer ALL our questions. Hopefully asking those questions will keep us engaged until THE End.
Since we will have the chance to look at the book of Genesis a few more times in the next few months, why not look at the slightly bigger picture at the start? It is a lengthy book, and there are many things that happen within that book that are certainly unique but are retold or imitated elsewhere.
The first man, Adam, is brought up in the Epistle to the Romans when he is compared to Jesus, the second Adam. The flood account is brought up when relating how the end of the world will happen, when Jesus comes for the second time. What about making a more literary connection to Jesus and, more specifically, the four gospel accounts?
Why we have four gospel accounts is usually explained in a chronological way; that, first of all, there was one account, and then somebody added more, and, then, after a lot of work, finally, basically everyone agreed on four. But having the four gospel accounts connect to the four living creatures of God’s throne (man, lion, ox, eagle), as many in the early church have done, means that God as King has four types of authority and can show that authority in four different ways. Instead of four gospel accounts, it becomes, essentially, a fourfold gospel. Sometimes these four kinds of authority in the living creatures are only connected to creation, but I would think that God the Father would want the authority to be seen in the work of his only Son.
Seeing a unity within the four accounts may be helpful to see God’s working in other things. I have recently noticed a possible connection that I would like to share with you. It may eventually develop into something different. But when the four living creatures are connected only to bible passages in Ezekiel and Revelation, that seems to be somewhat shaky ground, and people are not always convinced of that strong theme which runs throughout scripture. So, what about connecting these special, physical appearances of the Lord in Genesis to the four gospel accounts?
In Genesis, there are some appearances where it says that the Lord ‘appeared’ to someone and spoke to them. But there are no physical ramifications given for the Lord’s appearance. The Lord certainly speaks to people like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and others, but he is not visibly present and doing something physically significant or seen as a man or an angel (i.e., a messenger). Those minor ‘appearances’ will not be considered.
Also, in Genesis 21 & 22, a total of three times, the text describes an angel from heaven calling to someone. In chapter 21, an angel of God calls to Hagar (verse 17). In chapter 22, an angel of the Lord calls twice to Abraham (verse 11 & 15). These are not appearances on earth, and, therefore, they will also not be considered.
After the Fall and banishment from Eden, here, I believe, is the first ‘significant’, physical appearance: In Genesis 16:7, the text says that an angel of the Lord found Hagar after she ran away from Abram and his wife. She was pregnant with Abram’s child. The angel talks to Hagar. Hagar says, afterward, regarding this appearance, that ‘You are a God of seeing,’ and that ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me (verse 13; ESV).’ What does this angel of the Lord do with Hagar? He teaches her a few things—what to name her son and what he will be doing.
In Genesis 18 and 19, there is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and that was mentioned above. I think you will agree that these verses relate a significant physical appearance as well. In this case, the purpose of the appearance is to cause destruction.
In Genesis 24, when Abraham is trying to find a wife for his son, he sends his servant back to his own country with the task. Abraham gives the servant the promise that ‘he shall send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there (verse 7).’ Later in the chapter, when the servant finds a wife, the servant worships the Lord and says that ‘the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen (verse 27).’
At the start of Genesis 32, the text immediately starts out by saying that two angels of God met Jacob. Nothing particular is made concerning this sighting. But later in the chapter, when Jacob was alone, a man wrestled with Jacob, and, eventually, the man says to Jacob that he has struggled with God. Jacob says regarding the man that, ‘…I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered (verse 30). That ‘man’ does a miracle that has significant ramifications. He touched Jacob’s hip, and the text says that ‘[t]herefore 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 (verse 32).’
There are certainly other actions which describe God’s involvement in history. But I see, within these ‘manifestations’, some connections to the four gospel accounts. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus is a teacher, and so I see a connection to the living creature of a man—and the angel teaches Hagar. In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus is as a fighter, causing difficulties with both friends and enemies, and so I see a connection to a lion—and the angels destroy the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the Gospel according to Luke, I see a leader—as the ox leads the plough. And there was the angel leading the servant to find the wife for Isaac. And as an eagle has a big perspective, the miracle described above has great ramifications, up to the present (‘to this day’). And the Gospel according to John also has a large perspective, with 'miracles' that happen up to the present (see John 20:31).
Perhaps laying out these connections was more confusing than helpful. If so, I do apologize. It may have helped if I had given more detail; or there may have been even more confusion! Or you may wish to go in an entirely different direction with these texts. As I said, much could be and has been said about each of these texts. But I firmly believe we have to get past the idea that these four gospel accounts are like the pieces of a puzzle that we use to try to find out what ACTUALLY happened in the life of Jesus. More important is that God, the Father, ACTUALLY saved us by sending us his only Son. And that Son ACTUALLY gave up his life for us.
Almost always I take a ‘Sabbath Day’s Journey’ with the gospel text, a text that usually quite quickly focuses on Jesus and, therefore, the Gospel. This time is a rare exception.
This Sunday is the fifth Sunday after Pentecost, and the gospel text [Luke 10:25-37] is the man asking Jesus, ‘What shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus essentially talks about the Law with him—since the man was the one who started it. And that emphasis on the Law makes this week’s Old Testament reading from the book of Leviticus very appropriate.
This is a book that is not read too often on Sunday—or even on other days of the week! Of the first five books of the Bible (often called the Pentateuch), it is used the fewest times in the Sunday readings, only three times during the entire three-year cycle.
The reading for this time is from Leviticus 19, but this Sunday there is also an option for a longer reading, one that incorporates the first five verses from Leviticus 18. In both places there are laws.
This text is the closest we will ever get in three years to the middle of the book of Leviticus. Now you may be thinking that the middle of Leviticus is not an important part of the bible. But the middle, sometimes, can be a very important place.
The Jews thought, first of all, that the Pentateuch was the foundation of the entire Old Testament. But for the Samaritans at the time of Jesus, that happened to be their ENTIRE bible! And in the Hebrew text, the ancient Hebrew editors marked Lev. 8:8 because that was the middle verse of the Pentateuch. They marked a point between two words in Lev. 10:16, because that was the middle of the Pentateuch by the number of words. And they even marked one of the letters in Lev. 11:42 because, within that verse, there was the middle of the Pentateuch by the number of letters. Those editors treated the middle points very seriously!
We tend to overlook the middle. A movie or television show has something important at the beginning to get you interested. And it usually has something important near the very end to bring a climax or culmination to the whole thing. But the middle point is usually overlooked. And the Hebrew literature usually emphasized the middle. That was the way many people wrote back then. It is also true that God emphasized the middle.
Jesus came in the middle of time. He was predicted to come, and then he came, and then the world did not end right away. He came in the middle, and that first coming was an extremely important event. Now, obviously, his second coming will also be important, but the results of that coming are very much dependent upon his first one.
Also near the middle of the book of Leviticus is the chapter on the Day of Atonement, certainly a significant chapter in the Old Testament and in the minds of the Jewish people. It was the ONLY day of the year when the high priest entered the Most Holy Place (or the Holy of Holies) to make atonement for both himself and for the people of Israel.
It is also significant that non-Jews were involved in this event. After the text describes what the high priest is to do, the text says, ‘And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you (16:29; emphasis added).’ Usually other races of people were not involved in any of the worship activities of the Jews.
So it is also significant when the non-Jews are involved in the commands that are given in Leviticus 17 and 18. Some have also seen a connection between these commands and those that appear in Acts 15 (see the list in verse 29), when there was an ‘Apostolic Decree’ that people are ‘saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus (verse 11).’ That means that no one has to feel left out.