Psalm 27:1–6; Genesis 46:28–47:31; Matthew 16:21–28

Psalm 27:1–6: Although this is a psalm of supplication, it rings with confidence in the salvific power of God, especially the famous opening verse:
The Lord is my light and my rescue.
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is my life’s stronghold.
Of whom shall I be afraid? (1)

Notice that this psalm is not some theological abstraction; it is intensely personal: “my light;” “my rescue;” “my life’s stronghold;” “of whom shall be afraid?’ The poet’s confidence extends to the knowledge that his enemies cannot conquer him, but will “trip and fall.” (2)

God’s sheltering power is greater than any army, and we can easily imagine David murmuring these words as the sun rises on the day of battle: “Though a camp is marshalled against me,/ my heart shall not fear.” (3a) Even in the midst of the battle clash, his confidence in God allows him to say, “Though battle is roused against me,/ nonetheless do I trust.” (3b)

The natural question is, could we pray with the same trust and confidence as David even as we face challenges and trials that are nowhere near as great as those he faced on the battlefield?

We know this is a psalm of supplication at verse 4 as he asks, “it is this that I seek—/ that I dwell in the house of the Lord/ all the days of my life.” (4a) Yes, this is the temple of Jerusalem in the safety of sanctuary, but for us the “house” is assuredly the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. And it is not just temporary, but “all the days of my life.” (4b)

God’s protective power provides “shelter on the day of evil” (5a). Even though God “conceals me  in the recess of His tent,” (5b) we do not hide from the trials that surrounds us. Rather, the freedom from fear and the assurance of God’s protection brings courage. We can see David looking out over the field of battle as he stands up and looks out from behind the safety of God’s rock and sees the challenge ahead: “And now my head rises/ over my enemies around me.” (6a) I pray that I will be open to this same marvelous assurance that will hide me in God’s tent, yet give me the courage to look out at the and “sing and hymn to the Lord.” (6b)

Genesis 46:28–47:31: Joseph and his father meet at last and it is a sweet reunion as Joseph “presented himself to him [Jacob], fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while.” And Jacob says he can now die in peace. (46:29)

Now that Jacob’s family had arrived in Egypt there is the question of “what next?” But ever resourceful and clever, Joseph tells Jacob and his brothers that there is a significant industry that the Egyptians either abhor ar are not very good at: shepherding and ranching. And he has a particular part of Egypt in mind for them to settle in: Goshen. So, Joseph instructs the brothers that when Pharaoh asks, “What is your occupation,” they are to respond, “‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our ancestors.'” (46:34)

Joseph brings five brothers to Pharaoh, who generously offers, “The land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land; let them live in the land of Goshen;” (47:6) Once again, Joseph’s plans are happily realized as Pharaoh even puts them in charge of his own livestock.

There is a poignant scene when Joseph brings his father to meet Pharaoh, who asks how old Jacob is.  Jacob tells him he’s 130 years old, but tells the king, “few and hard have been the years of my life. They do not compare with the years of the life of my ancestors during their long sojourn.” (47:9), which is certainly the case. In what appears to be an unprecedented act of diplomacy, Jacob then blesses Pharaoh.

Severe famine continues and Joseph, who has control over the entire grain inventory of Egypt, sells the grain to the hungry populace: “and Joseph gave them food in exchange for the horses, the flocks, the herds, and the donkeys.” (47:17. The following year, the situation is even more desperate and Joseph sells food in exchange for land, expanding Pharaoh’s landholdings to the point where only the Egyptian priests have any land left.

A new rule is established as well: “Joseph made it a statute concerning the land of Egypt, and it stands to this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth.” (26) So, here is the root of tithing, only for the Egyptians, it was essentially a 20% tax. The famine became a great vehicle for Pharaoh to consolidate his power—all because he benefited from Joseph’s foresight and cleverness. And of course, Israel’s family benefits nicely, as well: “Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the region of Goshen; and they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied exceedingly.” (27)

Jacob lives in Egypt for another 17 years. Jacob’s last request of Joseph is that he be buried in Canaan. Joseph responds, “I will do as you have said.” (30). This request to return to Canaan will be echoed in a far different way about 400 years later.

Matthew 16:21–28: Jesus begins to reveal what lies ahead: “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” What’s interesting is that in private, Jesus is very straightforward about what’s going to happen, including the rather unbelievable news of a bodily resurrection. Peter, understandably in my view, is in massive denial about this: “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” (22) But rather than being sweetly therapeutic, Jesus retorts quite unsympathetically, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (23).

Yes, Jesus is correct theologically, but this is definitely one of those reminders why being Jesus’ disciple can be challenging at best and irritating at worst. Which I think applies to us as well as Peter.

After what must have seemed like a dark fairy tale to his disciples, Jesus continues in the same (from a human standpoint) negative vein: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (24,25) To accept these words requires a massive shift, not just in outlook, but in a total rearrangement of one’s life. As Oswald Chambers would have it, we are to abandon our own lives and any thought of control over our life to Jesus.

Finally, Jesus goes totally eschatological on his disciples, speaking of heavenly events to come:  “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.” (27). This is definitely an ‘end-times’ forecast, and a much more spectacular replay of how Jesus arrived on earth: not in visible glory, but as a tiny baby, nonetheless, as Luke has it, accompanied by a chorus of angels.

Well, that’s fine. Jesus will come someday in the far off future in a cloud of glory. But then he says something that has confused not only his disciples, but all of us in the centuries ever since: “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (28) Well, that seems to forecast a near-term return since he makes it clear that some of the folks he’s talking to will still be alive.  But I wonder if he’s actually referring to his Ascension where he returns into his kingdom rather than from his kingdom, which certainly occurred in the lifetime of his disciples? The participle “coming” is ambiguous enough to accommodate both directions, I think.  [This is one of those times when I wish I could read this in the original Koine Greek…]

One thing we know: After Jesus ascended he did not return in visible glory during the lifetime of his disciples, although that expectation is certainly what creates this sense of imminence in Paul’s letters and elsewhere. Instead, as Jesus promised in the Upper Room (John 16, 17), he sent the Holy Spirit instead. We still await Jesus’ return in glory. But as we know from the creeds, we can wait with expectation, but we will never know the timing of this wonderful event, so it’s best to be about Kingdom business in the meantime.




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