Psalm 2; Genesis 2:4–25; Matthew 1:18–25

Psalm 2: This second psalm establishes a second major theme we see in in this book: a threat to Israel, its political leadership and military might, and the fact that despite many trials and setbacks, victory will ultimately occur because God is on Israel’s side. The poem opens with an existential threat:
“Why are the nations aroused,
and the peoples murmur vain things?
Kings of the earth take their stand,
and princes conspire together.” (1,2a)

Worse, these enemies conspire “against the Lord and against His anointed.” (2b). The “anointed” one being Israel’s king.

But the powers of earth are no match for God:
“He who dwells in the heavens will laugh,
the Master derides them.”
God “will speak to them in His wrath,”  (4,5)

…and announces that the king of Israel has been chosen by God himself:
And I — I appointed My king
on Zion, My holy mountain.” (6).

Now the king speaks,
He [God] said to me: ‘You are my son.
I myself did beget you.’” (7)

At first glance this appears to be a clear Christological reference to God sending his Son to earth. And it may be. However, Alter points out that it was common throughout the Middle East to believe that all kings were in essence the son of a god [e.g. Egypt], or in this case, the God. The king, continuing to tell the people what God said, announces,
Ask of me, and I shall give nations as your estate,
…You will smash them with a rod of iron,
like a potter’s jar you will dash them.” (8a, 9)

And then one final statement–almost a taunt:
And now, O kings, pay mind,
be chastened, you rulers of the earth.” (10)

When we consider that Israel, even at its mightiest under David and Solomon, was really quite a small kingdom compared to others around them such as Egypt, this psalm almost seems to veer into braggadocio. But such was Israel’s faith in its singular God that it was assured God would bring victory. And as we know, belief is a strong motivator. There’s little question that soldiers standing before the king and hearing this speech would head to battle charged up and motivated to slay the enemy and to win.

This may not be the most sophisticated description of who God is, but there’s no question that God did indeed bring many victories that in the eyes of other larger nations were improbable. And I suggest that even today, Israel, a country the size of Massachusetts connotes–and delivers–power and influence beyond its size.

Genesis 2:4–25: This second creation story couldn’t be more different than the first. The author of this second account seems far less interested in grand cosmology and more in the agricultural aspects of nature: In the day that the Lord  God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up.” (4,5) We shouldn’t be surprised that in the parched Mideast the author views water as the key to creation: “a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground.” (6). Once there is land and water, God puts these elements to good use, creating man ahead of all other living creatures, “man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” (7). To underscore the agrarian nature of this story, man is planted in the most perfect of natural places: Eden, which is the source of the rivers–more water!

Man’s purpose in this garden is not just to stroll and enjoy it, but to work the land, which of course is how civilization began: “God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” (15). The warning not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge comprises God’s first words to his new creation. What’s fascinating here is that only after man is created does God turn to other creative activities, forming “every animal of the field and every bird of the air.” (19). Man’s position as God’s preeminent living creation is demonstrated in his dominion over nature by God’s action in bringing animals and birds to the man and asks the man to name them.

God creates woman out of the man’s rib “and brought her to the man.,” who responds with the first poem in the Bible and he names her, “This at last is bone of my bones/ and flesh of my flesh;/this one shall be called Woman,/  for out of Man this one was taken.” (23) What’s fascinating is that God could have created the female sex ex nihilo, but instead uses a piece of man’s anatomy. I think the author is reminding us that man and woman are meant to be in close relationship with each other—and that each sex balances the other in the natural order of things. 

We then encounter what I take to be an editorial comment by the author, who observes, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (24) Which of course is the initiation of the sexual act. But it is sex and a relationship that does not know shame: “And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.” Perhaps it is the absence of shame that best defines the Edenic existence before the fall.

Matthew 1:18–25: Matthew’s nativity story is a lot different than Luke’s. No Annunciation, no Elizabeth, no Magnificat, no journey to Bethlehem, no manger, no shepherds. Just the dry facts as Matthew speaks more of Joseph than Mary. We learn about the virgin birth via Joseph’s dream.

Matthew is writing to a patriarchal Jewish audience and it is the male line that matters. This audience also knows its scripture and we encounter the first of many OT quotes that the gospel writer uses to prove his case that Jesus is indeed the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. He quotes the famous passage from Isaiah: “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,/ and they shall name him Emmanuel,” (23) This weaving of OT scripture and reportage of the facts about Jesus’ life is Matthew’s method of making the case to his Jewish listeners that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.

We also learn that Joseph is obedient, “He did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.” (24). And to make sure his audience understands that Jesus is no ordinary child conceived in the ordinary way, Matthew informs us that Joseph “had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.” (25).

For Matthew, beyond the details of Mary conceiving by the Holy Spirit and Joseph obeying God, Matthew’s interest is not so much in the events surrounding Jesus’ birth itself, but in the weighty events that follow.

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