Psalm 4; Genesis 5; Matthew 2:13–23

Originally posted 1/4/2016—edited and updated 1/4/2018

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 thrust 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). The part about remaining still is perhaps the hardest—at least for me. How often do I pray to God for help and then promptly head off and try to solve the problem myself?

In fact, the psalmist suggests, we shoul pray and then perform religious (or righteous) acts with faithful confidence: “Offer righteous sacrifices/ and trust in the Lord.” (6) We should have confidence even in the face of cynicism by others that God will remain resolutely silent: “Many say, ‘Who will show us good things?‘” (7) But our trust allows us to respond confidently: “You [God] put joy in my heart.” (8) It is 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 reminds us 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 cynical doubts of those who reject even the idea of God, much less that God is listening and will act.

Genesis 5: This chapter of genealogy from Adam to Noah reflects the crucial 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 their progeny that elders would be remembered. There is also a mathematical precision in listing the age of each forebear that reinforces the memory and importance of each person in the line— not to mention that people appeared to live far longer in the antediluvian world. 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: that our personality and even physical being is the result of hundreds of generations before we appeared on earth. We prefer to see ourselves as autonomous beings, wholly in control of our destiny, independent of any persons or influences that came before us.

This deepening awareness of one’s ancestors is growing now that with the mapping of the human genome and DNA testing. I think our current generation is becoming increasingly  cognizant of our roots and strengthening our appreciation of our parents, grandparents, and their forebears—and that they had a significant role in the persons we’ve become. We should appreciate this at least as much as the writers of Genesis who so carefully preserved these lists of their forebears. Even so, we still 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—and especially the temptation to believe—as many still do—that the this genealogy in Genesis determines that the earth to be only some 6000 years old

Matthew 2:13–23: This is the part of the Infancy Narrative–the Christmas story–that is told only in Matthew and 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 again, he cites specifically how a particular action or circumstance fulfills Scripture. He cites Hosea with regard to the escape to Egypt by stating, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” (15)  And in Herod’s cruel act, 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 of an 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 back into the promised land. I think Matthew’s intention is to demonstrate this parallel to Israel’s national story, which would not be lost on his Jewish listeners/ readers, as yet another proof that further substantiates Matthew’s assertion of Jesus as the long-awaited 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. But for Matthew, it is only now, some years later, that they’ve become refugees, immigrating to a land and a town they’d never lived in. Of course, for Matthew this fact is simply more proof of Jesus’ bona fides as the true Messiah: “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)

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