Archives for January 2016

Psalm 6; Genesis 7:11–8:22; Matthew 4:1–11

Originally posted 1/6/2016—edited and updated 1/6/2018

Psalm 6: This particular psalm of supplication begins with a pretty desperate plea:
Lord, do not chastise me in Your wrath,
Do not punish me in Your wrath” (2)

We learn why he’s pleading in the next verse:
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am wretched.
Heal me, for my limbs are stricken.” (3)

It appears he is suffering from some kind of disease and now “my life is hard stricken.” (4a) This is a reflection of the cultural assumption that illness was God’s punishment for some sin of which the sufferer was probably unaware. Not only punishment, but it seems to him that God has simply disappeared–and that absence sounds even more horrific than the disease itself as we read an even more desperate plea:
Come back, Lord, deliver my life,
rescue me for the sake of your kindness.” (5)

He then tries to use logic on God, suggesting that if he is allowed to die, he will be unable to worship:
For death holds no mention of You.
In Sheol who can acclaim you?” (6)

But then he breaks off that line of argument as we can almost hear him writhing in pain to the point of tears,. expressed with rather powerful dramatic effect:
I am weary in my sighing.
I take my bed swim every night,
with my tears I water my couch.” (7)

What up to now has been a strictly personal plea to God, our psalmist, speaking as David, turns toward accusing other people, as it appears his enemies are hounding him in his illness, or worse, they may be mocking him for his weakness:
Turn from me, all you wrongdoers,
for the Lord hears the sound of my weeping.” (9)

But as is always the case in a psalm of supplication, our psalmist realizes that God is indeed present and that God is listening. And his confidence and faith is strengthened in this realization as:
The Lord hears my plea,
the Lord will take my prayer.” (10)

And just to make sure his enemies receive their just desserts, he ends the psalm with a coda that wishes the same awful straits on his enemies as he is experiencing himself:
Let all my enemies be shamed and hard stricken,
let them turn back, be shamed in an instant.” (11)

In other words, “please catch the disease that I have and you’ll see just how bad this is.” Not exactly how Jesus told us to treat our enemies… Therefore it is probably better to read the second half of the psalm as an emotional outburst of pain and frustration rather than a theologically appropriate prayer to God.

Genesis 7:11–8:22: We encounter that Old Testament curiosity for the first time: a date whose details suggest the authors were intent on making it clear the event happened in actual history: “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth.” (7:11) Substantial detail follows, especially in the naming Noah’s sons and telling us their wives, as well as Noah’s wife, accompanied by “every wild animal of every kind, and all domestic animals of every kind, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every bird of every kind—every bird, every winged creature.” (7:14). Every creature remaining on earth dies and “Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark.” (7:23).

Once again, there’s that sense that the authors want to create historic precision with specific time in a specific place: “in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.” (8:4)  And then again, after the dove doesn’t return, “In the six hundred first year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth.” (8:13)

Personally, I very much doubt the actual historicity of this wonderful story. As others have noted, there are flood legends older than this one throughout the Middle East, but only the Noah story speaks of a monotheistic God. In short, Israel adapted this story as foundational to its national identity. By giving it a specific time and place, we see the uniquely Jewish view (for that time) of a linear rather than cyclical sense of time and history—and that Godis not some remote mythical figure, but intervenes in actual space and time.

As we see so often in the OT, the Noah story all about the righteous remnant that is left. I’m sure that the Jews in exile in Babylon, who listened to this story felt that they, too, had been on an ark, removed from their homeland, but with the promise of return. Noah provides a burnt sacrifice (from those 7 pairs of clean animals?) “And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind.” (8:21a) That sacrifice made in the open air of a renewed earth must have resonated with the exiled Jews who had seen their temple destroyed, but knew that God would indeed keep his promise to restore them to their land.

What’s odd, though, is the next statement: “for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.” (8:21b). Did it really take this long for God to realize that given free will, mankind would always drift toward the wrong thing? One thing is sure: not one aspect about the human heart has changed throughout history. Absent God our inclination will always be “evil from our youth.”

Matthew 4:1–11: As Noah was in a wilderness of water, Jesus is led “by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (1) Matthew makes it clear that there was only one reason for Jesus going to the wilderness. It’s not for reflection or meditation; it’s to be tested. One would imagine that after 40 days of fasting, Jesus was in a substantially weakened  state, so his ability to resist the wiles of Satan’s temptation is all the more impressive.

So why is the temptation story even in the gospels? The threefold temptation makes it clear that while Jesus is indeed God and could easily do any of the things the devil tempts him with, Matthew’s readers–including us– will understand that Jesus is firmly committed to being human, (his later miracles notwithstanding). This is  one of those places where we understand that Jesus is 100% God and 100% human.

As is his wont, Matthew uses scriptural quotations to serve as Jesus’ answer each of the three questions, once again demonstrating to his readers that Jesus is the messianic fulfillment of what the prophets had foretold. What’s interesting of course is that the devil also quotes Scripture at the second temptation:
He will command his angels concerning you,
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” (6) 

That Satan knows scripture is  worth remembering when we hear various TV preachers using Scripture to advance their own personal agenda. I’m talking about you, Creflo Dollar, Ken Copeland, and your ilk.

Jesus resists the temptations and in Matthew’s assertion that Jesus has power over evil, he dismisses Satan with a theological wave of his hand:
Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

         ‘Worship the Lord your God,
            and serve only him.’” (10)

The verse that concludes the story, “Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.” (11) is crucial to make it clear that Jesus has nothing to do with the devil who has left him. Even though he will be accused of demonic powers during his ministry by his enemies, we know that Jesus’ encounter with Satan occurred just this one time and that the angels are his servants, making the separation even clearer. Matthew is telling us that whatever Jesus does going forward is of God and God alone.

 

 

Psalm 5; Genesis 6:1–7:10; Matthew 3

Psalm 5: This psalm of supplication begins with the usual formula: “Hearken to my speech, O Lord,/ attend to my utterance.” (2) There’s a little more directness, perhaps even a tinge of annoyance as the psalmist commands, “Listen well to my voice crying out, my king and my God,/ for to you I pray.” (3). And he believes God is listening: “Lord, in the morning, You hear my voice.” (4a)

He reminds God that God does not tolerate being around wicked people: “For not a god desiring wickedness are You,/ no evil will sojourn by You.” (5) And, right to the point, “You hate all the wrongdoers.” (6b). God doesn’t just hate evildoers, he annihilates them: “You destroy pronouncers of lies.” (7a) And by contrast, perhaps to reassure himself, the psalmist reminds God of his faithfulness in worship: “As for me–through Your great kindness I enter Your house,/ I bow to Your holy temple in the fear of You.”

Now that he has firmly established that he is religious and faithful and on God’s side, the psalmist comes to the problem at hand. He is apparently being slandered by his foes. Since the psalmist is speaking in the voice of David, we can assume this has to do with court intrigue: “For there is nothing right in their mouths,/ within them–falsehood,/ an open grave their throat, their tongue, smooth talking.” (10). The psalmist’s supplication is direct and to the point: :Condemn them, O God./ Let them fall by their counsels for their many sins./ Cast them off, for they have rebelled against You.” (11)

This psalm addresses one of the major themes of Psalms: the evil created by speech. In that preliterate society, words were even more freighted than they are now. A man’s character was revealed by how he spoke. Truth was the social currency and deceit through words was seen as being on God’s wrong side. We also see that human nature and our tendency to lie has not changed one whit in three millennia.

In praying for his enemies destruction, this psalm also raises the contradiction to what Jesus said: that we are to love our enemies. Thus, I think under the terms of the New Covenant, we need to read this prayer for interest but definitely not as an example of how to pray in Jesus’ name.

Genesis 6:1–7:10: Things do not go according to God’s plan as the human race multiplies. There seems to have been regular intercourse between women and the “Sons of God,” whom I presume were angels and they bore super-human creatures, the Nephilim, “were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.” (6:4) I take these long-lived “heroes” to be Jewish parallels to the mythic figures that populated the in stories of neighboring kingdoms such as Mesopotamia. In any event, God puts an end to this practice and our author observes that human lifespans are now limited to 120 years. But even without the sons of God around, humans are fully capable of great evil and God declares, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (6:7). This certainly raises a question about God’s character. Does God, being God, really regret his actions?  God’s noble intentions for man to follow him and do good seems to have taken in only one man: Noah.

I should note here that I do not believe there was a historical Noah, just as I believe there was no historical Adam and Eve. Rather, I see these first chapters are a grand myth of Israel’s origins and we will see how Israel’s God is quite different than the small-g gods that populated the national stories elsewhere in the Middle East at the time Genesis was written. For example, there are flood stories in the myths of other civilizations, and I believe we need to read Noah’s story as a metaphor for how God rescues us through faith.

God speaks to Noah and he obeys by building the ark and engaging in his great zoological enterprise. What I had not noticed before is in chapter 6, God resolves to destroy everything living: “people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air,” (6:7), but here, God apparently relents and decides that since there is one honest man, he will spare the animals and focus his destructive powers on wicked humans.

We see the Jewish spin on this story is that God commands Noah to take seven pairs of clean animals, i.e, the animals that were worthy of sacrifice in the Temple, while only one pair of unclean animals was allowed on board.

The week that Noah was on board the ark and it doesn’t start raining must have been an extraordinary test of his faith. I can certainly hear his family complaining. But one week later, flood comes. Righteousness is preserved while wickedness is destroyed. The ark is certainly a metaphor for the remnant of Judah and Israel that God kept saving in the latter days of the kingdom before the Babylonian captivity. And of course for us Christians, it’s a metaphor for our salvation through baptism. Water keeps showing up as a central character in our faith.

Matthew 3: Once settled in Nazareth, jesus disappears from the scene. Matthew’s second act opens with John the Baptist and Matthew provides a proof text, this time from Isaiah: ““The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:/‘Prepare the way of the Lord,/ make his paths straight.’” (2) Matthew also sets up the central conflict of his gospel: the conflict between Jesus’ radical words and the religious establishment as John “saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (7) As in Luke, we hear the famous apocalyptic words that John hurls at the Pharisees and Sadducees: “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (10)  But we do not get to hear their response to this accusation.

John tells the crowd that the one to come “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (11). With these words, Matthew has laid out the arc of his story, and Jesus enters. At first John resists baptising Jesus because Matthew lets us know that John knows exactly who Jesus is: the promised Messiah and says, ““I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (14)

Jesus responds calmly, ““Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” (15) reminding John that the Messiah will arise out of righteousness, not out of power. (A hint of things to come!) John relents and baptizes Jesus. The dove descends and the voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (17) And right here at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry we have a confluence of the Trinity: the dove, representing the Holy Spirit, Jesus , and God himself. Even this early in the game, Matthew is making sure that we see–and understand– both the divinity and the humanity of Jesus.

Psalm 4; Genesis 5; Matthew 2:13–23

Psalm 4: We know this is a psalm of supplication straight away: “When I call out, answer me, my righteous God.” (2a). And to make sure God “gets” this, the psalmist reminds God of past answers: “In the straits, You set me free.” And now in my desperate situation, “Have mercy upon me and hear my prayer.” (2b)

A psalm of supplication always comes from one who knows and trusts God already, and there is always a contrast with those who lack this faith: “Sons of man,…You love vain things and seek out lies.” (3). But the faithful know that they are different and special: “But know that the Lord set apart His faithful.” (4a) And in this psalm, there is the confident assurance that God will listen: “The Lord will hear when I call to Him.” (4b)

The tone of the psalm then shifts from personal supplication to giving advice to others. If they are in rough straits, they should find a quiet place and “Speak [to God] in your hearts on your beds, and be still.” (5). Then, perform religious (or righteous) acts with faithful confidence: “Offer righteous sacrifices/ and trust in the Lord.” (6) They should have confidence even in the face of cynicism of others that God will remain silent: “Many say, ‘Who will show us good things?'” (7) But this trust allows us to respond confidently: “You [God] put joy in my heart.” (8) And in this assurance of God’s succor we are rescued from the anxieties of the day and restored in sleep: “In peace, all whole, let me lie down and sleep,/ For You, Lord, alone, do set me down safely.” (9)

Would that I can have this ongoing daily assurance that comes from trusting God. This psalm also demonstrates that we find inner peace and escape from anxiety by trusting not only that God will hear us, but that he will answer and that his answer will bring us peace, even in the face of the cynicism of those who reject even the idea of God.

Genesis 5: This chapter of genealogy from Adam to Noah reflects the importance of ancestors to the writers of Genesis. We have observed elsewhere that Jews did not believe in an afterlife, and it is only through having children that elders would be remembered. There is a mathematical precision in listing the age of each forebear that underscores just how important each person in the line was (not to mention that people lived far longer in the prediluvian world). But there is nothing like a genealogy to preserve that crucial memory.

In a certain way, knowing one’s forebears defines us in a way that we tend to ignore willfully in modern culture. We tend to see ourselves as autonomous beings, wholly in control of our destiny, independent of any persons or influences that came before us. One would think that with the development of genetics and the mapping of the human genome, we would be more cognizant of our roots and appreciate our parents, grandparents, and their forebears in having a significant role in who we’ve become. We should know this even better than the writers of Genesis who so carefully preserved a list of their forebears. But we persist in this sense that our roots have no effect on who we are and what we do–and what we believe. But the reality is we are in many ways captive to our ancestry and are really much less independent than we like to believe.

This chapter (and others like it in the OT) is also surely Matthew’s model for listing the genealogy of Jesus.

Some have argued that if Adam and Eve were the first people how could they have populated the earth? One suggestion that’s been put forth by theologian Peter Enns is that Adam is not the first human, but for the writers of Genesis Adam is the root of Jewish race, rather than the root of all mankind, what Enns calls, “Proto-Isreal.”  This is an interesting idea that would help clear up some of the confusion that surrounds these early chapters of Genesis.

Matthew 2:13–23: This is the part of the Infancy Narrative–the Christmas story–that we tend to ignore. Joseph takes the Holy Family to Egypt to ensure Jesus is not killed as a result of Herod’s wrath. As Matthew does again and an again, he cites specifically how a particular action or circumstance fulfills Scripture. Here, he quotes Jeremiah, “Rachel weeping for her children;/she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” (18b)

Once Herod is dead, Joseph has yet another dream and angel telling him it is safe to return. The angel says, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” (20). In the Escape to Egypt, this family reenacts the central story of the Jewish race. As in the final night in Egypt, the Passover, the life of Joseph’s eldest son, Jesus is spared. And in returning to Israel from Egypt, the Holy Family reenacts the long journey of Israel from Egypt into the promised land.  I think Matthew’s intention is to demonstrate that parallel, which would not be lost on his Jewish listeners/ readers, as yet another proof that further substantiates his assertion of Jesus as Messiah.

However, the family does not return to Judea, but heads to Nazareth in Galilee, which is the area where Jesus conducted the majority of his ministry. Here, Luke and Matthew diverge in their accounts. The clear implication here is that Mary and Joseph lived in or near Bethlehem to begin with when Jesus was born. Matthew records no perilous journey and no manger–only the visit of the wise men about two years after Jesus’ birth. For Luke, Mary and Joseph start out as refugees trying to find a place to stay in Bethlehem. For Matthew, it is only now, some years later, that they’ve become refugees, returning to a town they’d never lived in. Of course, for Matthew this fact is simply more proof of Jesus’ bona fides: “There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.'” (23)

Psalm 3; Genesis 3,4; Matthew 2:1–12

Psalm 3: Although the psalmist asserts this is a “David psalm, when he fled from Absalom his son,” [This event occurred when Absalom usurped the throne (2 Samuel 16)] Alter suggests that these ascriptions have no historical authority and that the psalm generally refers to any person in trouble. However, I prefer to go with tradition and even though David probably did not write the psalm, it is helpful to have it connected to a real person and event because it makes the psalm all the more emotional and impactful to think that we could feel the same way David did.

Regardless, it is a psalm that can be uttered by any person who finds himself in trouble and pauses to remember that he is not alone after all but is protected by God. This assurance is expressed in the wonderful metaphor: “And You, Lord, are a shield for me,/ my glory, Who lifts up my head.” (4). The image of God lifting up the head of a broken man on his knees, his head bowed not in prayer but in despair is powerful. And unlike some psalms where God seems to be absent, here “With my voice I cry out to the Lord,/ and He answers me form His holy mountain.” (5) God brings peace in this time of enormous distress and David is able to lie down and sleep so that when “I awake, [I realize that] the Lord has sustained me.” (7) even though his situation is desperate and he is surrounded by the enemy, “I fear not from myriads of troops/ that round about set against me.” (7).

David is fully assured that God will “strike all my foes on the cheek.” (8a) because “Rescue is the Lord’s.” (9a) The question for me of course is will I have the same faith and trust in God to deal with some situation where I am desperate trouble and rely on God because “Rescue is the Lords?” David was able to pray and then lie down and go to sleep rising in the morning knowing he is protected by God. Could I go to sleep knowing God is my shield, or would I try to control the situation myself and attempt to resolve the trouble on my own? I know this tends to be my first instinct rather than following David’s example.

Genesis 3,4: Following the wonderful story of creation of man and woman, it does not take long for paradise to be lost. What strikes me in the temptation story is that the serpent does not lie. Eating the fruit of the tree does not kill them as God had warned, but it provides exactly what the serpent says it will: “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (3:4) Notice that this desire to be like God and control our own destiny was innate at creation because I think we were created imago deo, in the image of God and thus possessed will. In short, the potential for sin was built into our very being. Otherwise, there would have been no temptation and the desire before eating the fruit to “make one wise,” (3:6).

Notice also that Adam is not off in some other part of the garden, but is standing right next to the woman and that “she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.” The man succumbed to exactly the same temptation as the woman. We have blamed her far too harshly. She may have taken the initiative to eat the fruit, but Adam, who knew the same thing as Eve about the tree, ate readily. Men and women are truly equal partners in sin.

Immediately following the sin of succumbing to temptation comes the sin of trying to shift the blame. Again, both are equal partners as the man attempts to shift the blame to the woman, who in turn attempts to shift the blame to the serpent.  Every human has this built-in ability to blame the other person [“she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate”] or an outside circumstance [“The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”] (12, 13) And thus it continues down to today. The core of our innate sinfulness is to succumb to temptation and then shift blame. The core motivations of human nature express themselves immediately; it is built in. Watch any three-year old child who has done something wrong do exactly what the man and woman did.

One of the great mysteries to me in the story of Cain and Abel is why God preferred the blood sacrifice to Cain’s offering of “the fruit of the ground.” (4:3) I believe this story is not history, but one of the foundational myths of the national origin of Israel. It is stating that from the outset God prefers animal sacrifice to the passivity of laying fruit down at the altar. Moreover, God does not have to explain his preference; it simply is what it is.

Cain murders Abel and his punishment is to become “a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth” (4:14) but he will not be killed. Like Cain, Israel has wandered. From Egypt to Canaan and then wandered from God leading to exile. Israel is doomed to wander but like Cain, it is never extinguished.

Civilization arrives as Cain builds a city, and named it Enoch after his son Enoch. In short, the great conflict between the urban and agrarian comes early in human history. Cain is the father of Enoch who is the great grandfather of Lemech whose sons explain the origin of the essential elements of ancient civilization: Jabal, the “the ancestor of those who live in tents and have livestock.” Jubal, “the ancestor of all those who play the lyre and pipe.” (4:20, 21) Tubal-cain, “who made all kinds of bronze and iron tools.” (4:22) We tend to think of ancient civilization as nomadic and agrarian, but cities have also always been part of our history. And as we shall see, cities are both glorious and corrupt: the very essence of humankind.

Matthew 2:1–12: Man has been looking up to the heavens for direction, wisdom, and omens since the dawn of civilization. The wise men follow the star, which some theorize was a comet, to Jerusalem, to seek this new king. They are informed by the court prophets that they really need to go to Bethlehem, just a few miles away. The star leads them there and then stops “over the place where the child was.” (9b) What I hadn’t noticed before is that “When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.” (10). They are joyous because they know they have reached their destination and know they have found what they are looking for. They are overjoyed even before they lay eyes on jesus. The stopping star is their source of joy.

This is Matthew’s clear sign to his readers and listeners that we are all like the wandering wise men seeking a new king. The entire thrust and drive of history, the metaphorical star, stops in Bethlehem. Jesus’ birth is the event that has altered history and taken it in a completely new and unexpected direction. And from our perspective here some 2000 years later, there is no question that the Incarnation has truly been the hinge of history. Would civilization even have survived without the interruption of the birth of Jesus?

No wonder the wise men brought their treasures and paid homage to the little child. They became the first worshippers at Jesus’ feet. They understood that the world had indeed changed for good.

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.