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.
ou might consider this writing to be completely irrelevant to a ‘Sabbath Day’s Journey’ with a particular text, especially since this week we are looking at Luke 10:1-20. That is a substantial amount of text. And that is also a significant text, since this is one of the few places where the writer used the word ‘Lord’ instead of ‘Jesus’. But I would like to look at whether Jesus sent out seventy or seventy-two (see verse 1).
Yes, you read that correctly. In some manuscripts the text says that Jesus sent out seventy people to go on ahead of him, and in some manuscripts, it says that he sent out seventy-two.
It seems there are two extremes that one can have in response to hearing such a topic. Now both extremes deserve at least a hearing.
The first response is that such a thing is not important. Whether Jesus sent out seventy or seventy-two, they came back, and Jesus eventually traveled through those cities, and then, eventually, he went on to Jerusalem to die, rise again, and ascend to the right hand of his Father. And such a point is well taken. The Apostles’ Creed goes quickly from Jesus’ birth to his suffering under Pontius Pilate. But the details of how he ‘suffers’ before Good Friday may actually be important for our daily ‘suffering’.
The other extreme is that this shows that the bible is ‘full of errors’ and that cannot be trusted in anything if it is not reliable in everything. You can probably see a problem with that perspective.
Both perspectives may be the start of a type of ‘slippery slope’ argument. Both extremes have the people with those extremes speaking before the text has had its say. Both extremes are trying to revise the text in some way, to fit their own expectations of such a text and such a God. And both extremes emphasize what God is NOT known for—his apathy and power. Listening is becoming a lost art these days.
Although there are some difficult parts to the following quote, what is below might be helpful to work through such an issue. This comes from A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament by Roger L. Omanson (pages 127-8). Its subtitle may be helpful: An Adaptation of Bruce M. Metzger’s Textual Commentary for the Needs of Translators. I should point out at the start that it does not answer the question, but I think that it points the reader in a good direction, one that shows Jesus’ concern for ALL people, even two of them.
Was it seventy or seventy-two whom Jesus appointed and sent on ahead of him? The external evidence is almost evenly divided. On the one hand, the chief representatives of the Alexandrian and the Western groups, with most of the Old Latin and the Sinaitic Syriac, support the numeral ‘seventy-two.’ On the other hand, other Alexandrian witnesses of relatively great value, as well as other noteworthy evidence, join in support of the numeral ‘seventy.’
The factors that are significant for evaluation of the internal evidence are ambiguous. Does the account of the sending of the 70 or 72 disciples have a symbolic value, and, if so, which number seems to be better suited to express that symbolism? The answers to this question are almost without number, depending upon what one assumes to be the symbolism intended by Jesus and/or Luke and/or those who transmitted the account.
It is often assumed, for example, that the symbolism is intended to allude to the future proclamation of the gospel to all the countries of the world. But even in this case there is uncertainty, for in the Hebrew text of Gen 10 the several nations of earth total seventy, whereas in the Greek Septuagint the number comes to seventy-two. In order to represent the balance of external evidence and the ambiguity of the internal evidence, the [Greek] word ‘duo’ is placed in brackets to indicate uncertainty regarding the original text. Modern versions disagree on whether to follow 70 (RSV, NRSV, Seg) or 72 (REB, NIV, NJB, TEV, TOB, FC).