Friday, January 22, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - January 22 - A Book About a Promise

A couple of years ago I read a suggestion from one of my favorite authors, Scot McKnight, that really had an impact on how I read the Bible. He suggested that it is really helpful to read the book of Genesis with the promise to Abraham in Gen. 12 in mind, and that the entire book could be analyzed on the basis of that promise. He may have even suggested reading the entire Old Testament in this light, which would also make lots of sense.

In Gen. 12:1-3 God promised Abraham that He would make him a great nation, that he would make his name great, that he would give him and his offspring land, and that he would be a blessing to all the families of the earth. Think of how these promises relate to today's reading from the OT (Gen. 38-40)-
-The tawdry story of Judah and Tamar is really a story about lineage, and illustrates the "great nation" aspect of the promise.
-The story of Joseph illustrates how Abraham's offspring would be a blessing to all nations, as everyone for whom Joseph works is blessed by the prosperity the Lord brings through Joseph.
-And of course, the Joseph narratives serve to explain how Abraham's offspring ended up in Egypt, a prelude to their inheriting the promised land.

The same principle can be applied to the New Testament as well, since it shows us the ultimate way in which Abraham's offspring blesses the world. And today's reading in Mark 15 is the capstone of that promise. Jesus, a descendant of Abraham through Tamar and Judah (Matt. 1:2-3), became a curse for us, "so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith" (Gal. 3:14).

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - January 21 - The Deception of the Deceiver

The story of Jacob can be frustrating to read because it seems like he gets away with so much. He took advantage of the profane Esau to obtain his birthright, and he deceived his own father to receive Esau's blessing. The tide begins to turn, however, in his dealings with Laban, as his uncle proves to be more than a match for Jacob (whose name means "deceiver").

But in Genesis 37, the deceiver reaped the bitter fruit of what he sowed earlier in his life. His favored son, Joseph, was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, and they hid the truth of their actions from their father by lying to him. In fact, as my old teacher Phil Roberts pointed out, the lie of the brothers bears many striking similarities to Jacob's deception.
-Both involved a lie about the favored son (Isaac favored Esau; Jacob favored Joseph)
-Both involved the deception of a father.
-Both involved the use of a goat (the skin of the goat in the case of Isaac; the blood of the goat in the case of Jacob).
-Both led to great sorrow (Esau's sorrow over the loss of the blessing; Jacob's sorrow over Joseph).

Sometimes dishonest people get away with their lies, but many times, maybe most of the time, they do not. And just as in the case of Jacob, those who live by deceit often suffer deceit themselves.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - January 20 - One Generation to Another

I haven't written much about the various psalms that are a part of the daily Bible reading schedule we are using at Woodland Hills, but it is really enjoyable to have various psalms interspersed in the reading schedule. They are a great change of pace from the narrative sections we are currently reading in Genesis and Mark, and as we get further into the year, the schedule often synchronizes the readings with the narratives (especially in the life of David).

I was really struck by one phrase in today's psalm: "One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts" (Psalm 145:4). Every generation has a responsibility to pass on a rich spiritual legacy to the next, and central to that task is teaching. Each generation must teach - "commend" - "declare" - to the next who God is and what He has done. You can sense the urgency of this task in Moses' farewell speech to Israel, Joshua's farewell address to Israel, and Paul's letters to Timothy.

This is not just a responsibility, however. Psalm 145:4 says that one generation "shall" pass on the message of God's greatness to the next. In other words, it is assumed that each generation will be so awed and moved by the mighty acts of God that it shall - of course! - tell the next generation about them.

Some of you may have stories in your family that have been passed down about the great exploits of your ancestors. You don't share those stories with your children because you have to. You share them because you want to, because that link in the chain of family history was so special all future generations should know about what they did. And that is the way we should feel about the stories in our spiritual family. We have a great Father, who does great and marvelous things, and how can we do any less but to declare that to those who come after us.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - January 19 - Two "Much-Tried" Women

I was very excited when the recent Sherlock Holmes movie came out since I have been a big fan of the Conan Doyle stories since I was a child. In one of my favorite Holmes' cases, The Abbey Grange, Holmes meets a woman whose husband has been murdered, a woman who displayed various marks and bruises that indicated she was herself a victim of abuse. When the great detective starts to piece together what actually happened, he says to her, "I am convinced that you are a much-tried woman." In today's Bible reading, there are stories about two "much-tried" women, Leah (Gen. 30-31) and the widow who gave all she could (Mark 12).

Each time I read the story of Leah I feel greater sorrow for her plight. She was betrothed to a man who did not love her, overshadowed by a younger, shapelier, prettier sister. The Lord saw that "she was hated" and "opened her womb," leading Leah to believe that "now my husband will love me" (Gen. 29:31-32). But this was not to be. By the next chapter of Genesis, Leah literally has to pay in order to have relations with Jacob (30:16). No woman deserves to be treated like Leah was treated.

In Mark 12, there is another "much-tried" woman - the widow who "put in everything she had, all she had to live on" in the offering box at the temple. Previously I have looked at this story as a stirring example of sacrifice commended to the disciples by Jesus. But it is also possible to see this account as a condemnation of the temple system, which was corrupt (earlier in the chapter Jesus denounced what took place in the temple), and that corruption was financed by people who were in dire poverty. Whether this account illustrates that corruption or not, plenty of other passages in Scripture describe those who would take advantage of widows (Deut. 24:17; Isa. 10:2; James 1:27, for example).

Treating women like a commodity is a fundamental insult to God, who made "male and female" in His image (Gen. 1:27). Today we need heroes, not fictional ones like Sherlock Holmes, but real heroes - real men - who know the value of women, and treat them as "heirs together of the grace of life" (1 Peter 3:7).

Monday, January 18, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - January 18 - "Behold, It Was Leah!"

It is hard to suppress a grin at the exclamation in Genesis 29:25, "Behold, it was Leah!" The conniving Jacob met his match in his shady uncle Laban, who perpetrated the classic "bait and switch." At the end of the marriage feast for Jacob and Rachel, Laban gave an apparently inebriated Jacob his older daughter Leah rather than Rachel (who was "beautiful in form and appearance," verse 17). We can probably infer that Leah was not as attractive as her younger sister, and Jacob was upset that such a deception was the way he was repaid for seven years of hard work. He went to bed expecting to be with Rachel, but soon realized his new wife wasn't what he was expecting.

The NT portion of today's reading is Mark 11, the "Triumphal Entry." In some ways, the people's reaction to Jesus that final week mirrored Jacob's experience in Genesis 29. They saw Jesus come into the city, they believed that He represented "the coming kingdom of our father David" (11:9), and they shouted "Hosannas" to welcome Him into the city.

But just a few days later, popular sentiment shifted wildly. It is almost as if one night the people went to bed thinking they had their Messiah, only to awaken to discover they had been misled. Their trusted leaders, the chief priests and scribes, insisted that this man was a phony, a pretender, a false prophet who threatened to destroy the temple. So the people reacted as any good Jew should. Instead of shouting Hosannas, they cried out, "Crucify him!"

Both accounts involve deception (Laban's lie and the false witnesses of the chief priests and scribes). Both involve an innocent victim (Leah, who surely becomes a victim in this sad love triangle, and Jesus). Both involve mistaken identity. And both stories describe the vindication of the innocent, as the Lord opens Leah's womb and Jesus' tomb.

It is hard to be sympathetic to Jacob, who reaped what he sowed in his own disingenuous dealings with his father. It is much easier to sympathize with the Jewish people who were manipulated by the leaders (although they were still accountable). But most of all it is crucial for us to make sure we see Jesus for who He truly is, not for who we think He ought to be. To fail to know the true Christ is to face a truly rude awakening.