Psalm 1; Genesis 1:1–2:3; Matthew 1:1–17

Psalm 1: There is no other book in the Bible that explores every aspect of life, especially the gamut of its emotions and the fact that our choices have consequences. No other book deals as intimately with the relationship between God and human beings. No other book describes quite so well how God is both Creator but also Participant in his creation; that he remains active in every affair of nature and every affair of our lives. But perhaps above all, the Psalms come back again and again to our moral choice: choose good by following God’s teaching and walking with God or choose to consort with evil and suffer the negative consequences. 

This first psalm opens with that moral choice: “Happy the man who has not walked in the wicked’s counsel,/ nor in the way of offenders has stood, / nor in the session of scoffers has sat.” (1)  The moral man neither walks nor stands nor sits with the wicked. Instead, “the Lord’s teaching is his desire.” (2a) We Christians tend to think of our relationship with God as one established in friendship (“What a Friend We Have in Jesus, etc.). For the psalmist,  though, life is much more about being taught by God and rehearsing those teachings over and over: “and His teaching he murmurs day and night.” (2b). In other words, learning God’s law and following that path of righteousness is our highest duty in our relationship with God.

When we elect to do that, the rewards are great as the very first metaphor in this book makes clear: “And he shall be like a tree planted by streams of water,/ that bears fruit in its season,/ and its leaf does not wither./ and in all he does, he prospers.” (3) When we elect to walk with God we not only grow and flourish, we are rewarded. This deuteronomic formula is the foundation of the moral philosophy of the Psalms.

The contrast with the fate of the wicked is stark: “Not so the wicked,/ but like the chaff the wind blows away.” (4) Even though it often seems the wicked are winning, eventually, they “will not stand up in judgement.” (5a) and they will be excluded from the “band of the righteous.” (5b) The reason is simple. There are but two paths in life: one  following God and one following our own desires: “For the Lord embraces the way of the righteous,/ and the way of the wicked is lost.” (6)

Genesis 1:1–2:3: This first of the two creation stores that open the first book of Old Testament (OT) scripture begins with the establishment of what we might call the Great Pairs: heaven and earth, light and darkness, day and night, water in the sea and water in the air which becomes sky [“Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” (1:6)], land and sea.

Creation is fecund as the pairing continues: trees yield both fruit and seeds, then there come creatures on land and birds in the sky; then wild and domesticated animals. And finally, God created humankind in his image, also as a pair: “male and female he created them.” (1:27) Here in this first story there’s no Adam and Eve, and the word “humankind” (or “mankind”) implies plurality. The author of this story seems to have no problem suggesting that humankind arrives as a plurality, as many, not just as two individuals.

God then hands creation over to humankind, blesses them, and instructs, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (1:28) This is our duty: to be stewards of the earth. Alas, how much of creation humankind has wantonly destroyed, always with the misused justification conjured by the words “subdue” and “dominion.”

This first creation story focuses on natural creation and informs us that humankind is part of that God-created natural order. We humans started out intimately connected to creation, but our technology has separated us increasingly from that intimate connection with the rest of creation. Now we are coming to realize that separation created by ignoring that connection and focusing only on subduing and dominating everything on earth has had woeful consequences just about everywhere we look.

But here in Genesis, at the beginning, God launches a perfect creation and “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (1:31) And then God rests. Not because he’s tired but because creation is complete in every sense of the word. There is no further work to be done.

Matthew 1:1–17: Jews did not believe in an afterlife. Sheol was simply an underworld of the dead. There was no connection to God in the afterlife. Instead, Jews lived on in the memory of their progeny. Which is why having children was so important. Without children one would simply be forgotten as if one had never even existed.

Genealogy, therefore, was crucial. Knowing one’s roots was an essential part of one’s identity.  Matthew is writing to a Jewish community and it’s essential that he establish Jesus’ bona fides as the Messiah. Without that, everything else he writes would be essentially meaningless, thus the genealogy is the first thing he writes, asserting,”Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (1) Matthew uses the three crucial hinge points of Israel’s history: Abraham, David and the Babylonian exile on which to hang his genealogical structure.

Matthew does not detail the lineage from David back to Abraham, but from David forward we meet many famous characters of the OT: Boaz, Ruth, Jesse, David. And then David’s heirs, both good (Solomon, Hezekiah) and bad (Uzziah, Ahaz). In the exilic period we encounter Zerubbabel, who plays a big role in Zechariah’s prophecy and Zadok the priest.

There’s a beautiful mathematical purity that Matthew points out here: “all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.” If we think of the number 7 being representative of “spiritual perfection,” and the number 3 of the Trinity or as some have it, “inner sanctity,” then Matthew’s 14 generations times 3 connote a line that is sanctified spiritual perfection doubled. This is just one more reason why he can so confidently assert that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.

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