Psalm 16:7–11; Genesis 25; Matthew 9:14–26

Originally posted 1/23/2016—revised and updated 1/23/2018

Psalm 16:7–11: The psalmist’s joy at his relationship with God permeates the second half of this psalm. He rejoices not just because God is inherently good, but that he can rely on God for direction, especially in times of distress:
I shall bless the Lord Who gave me counsel
through the nights that my conscience would lash me.” (7)

This counsel can happen because God is the psalmist’s first priority:
I set the Lord always before me,
on my right hand, that  I not stumble.” (8)

The effect of this close relationship is not only emotionally positive but its benefits even course through him physically:
So my heart rejoices and my pulse beats with joy,
my whole body abides secure.” (9)

Our psalmist states a truth that was not proven until recently:  Joy creates physical benefits when serotonin is released in the brain. In addition to joy, there is the assurance that God preserves him and will never abandon him:
For you will not forsake my life to Sheol,
You won’t let Your faithful one see the Pit.” (10)

Of course we will shortly encounter other psalms where the poet cries out in despair because God has apparently abandoned him. Nevertheless, our psalmist here speaks a theological truth. God is our faithful guide through our entire life—all we need to do is be faithful in turn and trust him (which of course as we all know is not always so easy): “Make me know the path of life” (11a)

And the consequence is joy no matter what happens:
Joys overflow in Your presence
delights in Your right hand forever.” (11b)

Even though its theme of God’s protection and guidance is similar, in some ways I find this psalm even more encouraging than Psalm 23 because it radiates such untrammeled joy.

Genesis 25: Well, they never taught this to us in Sunday School. The ever-virile Abraham marries another wife in addition to Sarah—a certain Keturah. He promptly sires six children, which become ancestors of various tribes known to the authors. But Isaac remains his favorite and “Abraham gave all he had to Isaac.” (5) Even though he is generous to the sons of his concubines, the patriarch “sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country.” (6)

With amusing understatement, the authors note that the 175-year old Abraham “breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.” (8) Ishmael returns from wherever he was and together with Isaac, they buried their father in the now-famous cave of Machpelah. In case we  might have forgotten, the editors remind us: “in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites.” (10) which of course is Canaan and one more evidence of ISrael’s claim on the land. As for Isaac: “after the death of Abraham God blessed his son Isaac.” (11)

Ishmael makes his final appearance, dying at age 137, and I suspect because Abraham is his father, his progeny is duly listed. What I had not realized is that Ishmael became the father of “twelve princes according to their tribes,” which settle “in the direction of Assyria.” (18)—a nice piece of symmetry in that both Abraham’s two sons each become patriarchs of twelve tribes. Ishmael’s descendants now fade from history as our authors turn to the descendants of Isaac.

We see a replay of the difficulties that Abraham and Sarah encountered in bearing children as we learn that Isaac was 40 when he married, but Rebekah remained barren. But Isaac turns to God and the problem is solved: “Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived”  (21) when Isaac was 60. We see hints of sibling conflict even while her sons are in the womb. Greatly distressed at this very difficult pregnancy, she prays and God informs her:

Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the elder shall serve the younger.” (23)

Hairy Esau emerges from Rebekah’s womb first giving him the right of primogeniture; Jacob follows a minute later, clutching Esau’s heel. Each twin becomes the favorite of a parent. Esau is Isaac’s favorite; Jacob is Rebekah’s. We see hints right there of a dysfunctional relationship not just between the brothers, but also between husband and wife. Isaac loves Esau “because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.” (28)

But perhaps the strangest part of this story is that Esau saw no value in his birthright and sells to to Jacob in exchange for a bowl of “red stuff” (30) Jacob forces Esau to swear to sell his birthright and “gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way.” (34) It’s clear in this exchange the brothers have no particular regard for each other. But as we will see, Jacob is the more cunning.

Was Esau merely stupid? Or is there something deeper at work here? For the Jews in Babylonian captivity reading this story it was surely a stark reminder that their heritage was crucially important and they would be wise to retain their racial identity and not to “sell their birthright” as God’s chosen people. Intermarriage and assimilation into the local culture would indeed be selling their collective birthright. Of course, as we know too well, the people of Israel had been selling its birthright to non-Jewish people and abandoning the Jewish God for centuries—which was the proximate cause of them ending up n Babylon in the first place.

Matthew 9:14–26: John the Baptist’s disciples come to Jesus and pose the question,“Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” (14) Clearly, there is judgement behind the question, but Jesus observes that fasting will come after the bridegroom (him) leaves the party.

Jesus then gives his soliloquy about patching old clothing and putting new wine in old skins–and the problems arising therefrom. Once again, Matthew is telling us that Jesus is somebody completely unexpected and unprecedented. The old rules do not apply where Jesus is concerned. Paul certainly employs Jesus’ admonitions here as justification for his argument that Gentiles may be in the church without them having to resort to the “old rule” of circumcision.

We have the “colliding healings” as Jesus heads to the synagogue leader’s house to heal his daughter and the hemorrhaging woman sneaks up behind him and touches his coat. The woman is healed because she had faith she would be healed. I think Matthew’s point here is that miracles can occur when we are motivated enough to believe in them. However, as we know, there are plenty of times when even those of great faith are not healed.

Jesus arrives at the synagogue leader’s house to find the mourners already mourning. He sends them away although they doubt him and laugh derisively. Jesus promptly heals the girl.

For me,the lesson here is Matthew’s juxtaposition of the woman of great faith, who is healed, against the doubting mourners that demonstrates the issue of faith versus doubt. The mourners were sure of the evidence that the girl was dead. They represent the opposite of faith: skeptics for whom no miracle will ever occur. Alas, the world today is awash in skeptics—and they miss the miracles even when they occur.

 

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