Bible Tuesday for Lent II, 2015
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him,4“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.7I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you15God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
God comes to Abra(ha)m three different times to make a covenant. One of those times is in response to Abraham’s complaint that he and Sarah are both getting really old and the covenant has not come to pass yet. But in the other two, God initiates the contact and seems to say essentially the same thing. In the first covenant conversation, in Genesis 12, God speaks a three fold covenant with Abram; God will grant to Abram offspring, land, and “All the nations of the world will be blessed through you.” This second covenant omits the promises of land and to be a blessing to all the nations of the world, but it does restate the paternalistic relationship between God and Abram and Sarah’s progeny.
Why is this “cutting” of this covenant repeated? One explanation is usually called “J E P D Biblical Criticism) which theorizes that there were multiple oral traditions for these first five books of the Bible and that when they were compiled into these books as we know them, they were spliced into each other to make a fairly linear narrative. The two stories come from different sources: the first from the writer who always refers to God as Yahweh (also spelled Jahweh in German, where this theory developed), and the second is from the Priestly source.
This restatement of the covenant from Genesis 12 is done by God after Ishmael is born. It is the laughing story where both Abraham and Sarah laugh at what God prophecies to them. The covenant appears to need repeating to Abraham and Sarah because they are ready to make Ishmael their heir but God says of Sarah, “I will give you a son by her.”
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you[a] I will fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.
29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!
This is the psalm read in its entirety during the stripping of the altar on Maundy Thursday, which starts, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!” The first section of the psalm focuses on the cry in vs. 3, “I cry by day—you do not answer…” and the section for this Sunday focuses on vs, 22, “save me” or “answer me”. The psalmist extols God’s capability and willingness to answer and save., then exhorts all humanity to praise and give thanks to God.
For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. 16For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us,
17as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) —in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.”19He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
23Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, 24but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
This is part of Paul’s discourse on righteousness. Paul defines righteousness as being in perfect, right relationship with God; no sin stands between a person and God. Paul makes it clear that such a relationship is not possible without Law and then Grace. The law defines right relationship with God, and demarks what is outside that relationship. Humans receive the law as a check list to achieve perfection, but Paul says the law is merely the tutor that sees the student to the teacher, in this case, Jesus. Paul goes on to say that since humans kept breaking and ignoring the law, God sent Jesus to live the law perfectly to its fullest intent. After accomplishing this, Jesus promised that through the Holy Spirit and baptism, all humanity could be declared righteous through faith in Him. In the above discourse, Paul lays out that such faith was first seen in Abraham.
Paul describes Abraham’s faith as complete and unquestioning. That is not quite what Genesis says, considering the whole Hagar and Ishmael thing. However, if Abraham and Sarah are still looked upon as righteous after their floundering, manipulation, lying, etc., there is great comfort for us as well.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “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, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
I have long pondered the term, Son of Man and its relationship with Christ/Messiah. Son of Man is a cultural, perhaps even colloquial, term that Jesus uses for himself. In the gospel of Mark, other people call Jesus the messiah. Jesus always uses the term, Son of Man. If they were synonymous, I would think all parties in the gospel would use both terms , but they definitely do not. Messiah/Christ are the Greek and Hebrew words for “anointed one” and are used the Bible to refer to someone who has been anointed by other, usually with oil and laying on of hands, for a specific role: king, prophet, judge, etc. Through reading the Bible, Josephus, and Jewish literature dating before the time of Jesus, scholars have learned that The Messiah/Christ is to be a king from King David’s line who will expel Rome and all other powers from the land of Canaan/Israel, and rebuild the kingdom to the state of size of Solomon’s kingdom.
In Daniel 7, a being who is “like a son of man” is presented before God on his throne and this “son of man” is given all dominion, glory, kingship on earth, that “all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away and his kingship is one that shall ever be destroyed.”
Defining Son of Man and Messiah/Christ thusly, one can understand how these may have been conflated, perhaps even synonymous, but they are also different. The Messiah/Christ is supposed to march and conquer, expel enemies, and claim the throne of Israel. Daniel writes that The Son of Man is granted this authority by God. Messiah/Christ musters an army and battles. But, as told through Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, the Son of Man uses quite a different method.
“ This little Babe
This little Babe so few days old
Is come to rifle Satans fold.
All hell doth at his presence quake,
Though he himself for cold do shake;
For in this weak unarmèd wise
The gates of hell he will surprise.
With tears he fights and wins the field,
His naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows looks of weeping eyes;
His martial ensigns Cold and Need,
And feeble Flesh his warriors steed.
His camp is pitchèd in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall;
The crib his trench, haystalks his stakes,
Of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus, as sure his foe to wound,
The angels trumps alarum sound.
My soul, with Christ join thou in fight,
Stick to the tents that he hath pight;
Within his crib is surest ward,
This little Babe will be thy guard;
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,
Then flit not from this heavenly boy.
Jesus’ reverse approach to claiming power and the kingdom is greatly offensive and just plain asinine to Peter and the other disciples and followers so Jesus has to lay it on the line. “Either lay aside your own agendas and follow me, or walk away and die now. If you follow me, sure you may die at the hands of the authorities, but you will have life forever with God. If you walk away from me now, you may live for a while, but you will surely die.”