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

Originally posted 2/20/2016—revised and updated 2/20/2018

Psalm 27:7–14: When we talk about the “face of God,” we tend to think of it as being highly  symbolic meaning 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).

By repeating the word ‘face,’ our poet creates a strong anthropomorphic flavor here: he 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)

This is a pretty standard trope in a psalm of supplication. But then, as if to prove his desire to prove his loyalty to God above all else, he makes a rather 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 means to make it clear how deeply the psalmist wishes to be in relationship with God—and how deeply he trusts God even over the people who are his closest guardians on earth.

We encounter another plea for protection:
Do not put me in the maw of my foes.
For false witnesses rose against me,
outrageous deposers. (12)

Ultimately, it all boils down to trusting God as the psalm ends with a beautiful benediction recapitulating the themes of this psalm. It began by asserting the psalmist’s confidence in God’s presence and ends with his declaration of trust that God is faithful and the hope that God will protect him against the evil acts of his enemies:
If I but trust to see the Lord’s goodness,
in the land of the living—
Hope for the Lord!

Let your heart be firm and bold,
and hope for the Lord. (13, 14)

Hope and a firm and bold heart—the sure sign of courage. This psalm reminds us of the unsurpassed gifts of 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 Jacob 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. Jacob asks who they are and when Joseph tells him 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, in a reflection of 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 from 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 to his disciples about his earthly fate. Peter has articulated what I’m sure the other disciples must at least 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 Godly being—the Word 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) Understandably, “When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.” (6)

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, Jesus tells them not to be afraid. But did Jesus’ words of comfort suffice? It would seem so since they are shortly walking back down the mountain in deep conversation.

As always, the disciples ask the questions we would ask, the first being, “Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” (10) But as Jesus makes clear, Elijah had already returned in the form of John the Baptist “and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased.” (12a) Jesus then reinforced 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? Did they tell the other disciples what they had seen? I suspect they didn’t. Peter, James, and John must have 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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