Psalm 27:7–14; Genesis 48; Matthew 17:1–13

Psalm 27:7–14: When we talk about the “face of God,” we tend to think of it as symbolic, that we are near or in the presence of God. But our psalmist makes it much more than that, “Of You, my heart said,/ “Seek My face.”/ Your face, Lord, I do seek./ Do not hide Your face from me,/ Do not turn Your servant away in wrath.” (8, 9a). The repeated word creates a strong anthropomorphic flavor here: the psalmist truly wishes to look for and then gaze on the face of God—something even Moses was not able to do. “Face” of course implies a strong and powerful relationship, as in ‘face to face.’ Truly, our psalmist wants to be a close to God as he can possibly get.

To intensify his point he shifts to the opposite tack as he pleads, “Abandon me not, nor forsake me, O God of my rescue,” (9b) which is a pretty standard trope in a psalm of supplication. But then, as if to prove his desire to be with and his loyalty to God above all else, he makes a shocking statement: “Though my father and mother forsook me,/ the Lord would gather me in.” (10) Shocking to us for sure, unimaginable in the psalmist’s culture. So, yes, there is hyperbole here, but it is a dramatic way to make it clear how deeply the psalmist wishes to be with God—and how deeply he trusts God even over the people who are his closest guardians on earth.

The psalm ends with a wonderful benediction as it summarizes the themes of this psalm, which began by asserting the psalmist’s confidence in God’s presence and ends with a declaration of trust that God is faithful and will spare him from the evil acts of his enemies and strengthen his courage:
Hope for the Lord!
Let your heart be firm and bold,
and hope for the Lord.

Hope and a firm and bold heart—the sure sign of courage. These are truly the gifts arising form a close face-to-face relationship with God.

Genesis 48: Now 147 years old, Jacob/ ISrael lies on his deathbed. Only Joseph seems to be present as Jacob tells him that God appeared to him at Luz and blessed him. Once more Jacob utters the covenantal promise from God: “‘I am going to make you fruitful and increase your numbers; I will make of you a company of peoples, and will give this land to your offspring after you for a perpetual holding.’ ” (4) As demonstration of that promise he brings Joseph’s sons officially into the family, “Therefore your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are now mine.” (5)

Joseph brings his sons into meet Jacob and all three kneel in front of their father and grandfather. Then Jacob blesses them, placing his official primogeniture hand of blessing on the younger son, Ephraim, crossing his arms, placing his left hand on the eldest son, Manasseh. But “when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him.” (17) and he tries to physically switch Jacob’s hands to put his right hand on the eldest son. But Jacob refuses, telling Jacob, ““I know, my son, I know; he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.” (19)

Every time Jacob is involved in a blessing, there seems to be a departure form norm. That was certainly true when Jacob stole the blessing from Esau. And now, reflecting that event, the younger rather than the older son is given the blessing. Is Jacob just being contrary? Or is there something about the descendants of Ephraim that allow them the greater blessing? Or is it simply that the author here is out of the tribe of Ephraim and gets to write the history as he sees fit?

The chapter ends on what is the second core element of God’s covenant with the people of Israel—and surely resonated with the Jews in exile in Babylon, as well as giving us  a hint of events to come: “I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your ancestors.” (21) One story—that of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph—is coming to an end, but the next part of the story is a light on the far horizon.

Matthew 17:1–13: Jesus has spoken strange and disturbing words about what will happen to him, and Peter has articulated what I’m sure the other disciples must at last be thinking: Jesus is truly the Messiah Israel has been waiting for. So, six days later, Jesus takes Peter, James , and John up to have the ultimate mountaintop experience. Jesus is transfigured and “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” (2) Which we’ll interpret as his true God-like form that John (John 1) and Paul (Philippians 2) write about.

Then, to underscore his messianic bona fides to his Jewish disciples, the great prophets, Moses and Elijah appear in conversation. Finally, in a replay of the baptism scene, God himself speaks: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (5)

How do we parse these three elements of the Transfiguration? We witness the divinity of Jesus in his personal transformation as he strips away his humanness for a moment. In presenting Moses and Elijah, his disciples are shown that Jesus is indeed who he says he is: the Son of Man/ the Jewish Messiah. God’s audible voice makes it clear that when Jesus speaks of his true father, it is not Joseph of Nazareth.

The reaction of the disciples is altogether natural: terror. And as we hear so often in the Bible, they are told not to be afraid. Did Jesus’ words of comfort suffice? It would seem so since they are shortly walking back down the mountain in deep conversation.

As always, there are questions, the foremost being, “Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” (10) But as Jesus makes clear, Elijah had already come in the form of John the Baptist “and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased.” (12a) And Jesus reenforces his earlier predictive warning: “So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.” (12b)

I really wish Matthew had written what the response of the disciples was at that point. Were they convinced about who Jesus was? I suspect they were, but they happily followed Jesus’ command not to tell anyone because they knew they would be hauled off to the looney bin if they attempted to describe what happened.

 

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