Bible Tuesday for Lent II, 2018
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 you. 8And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.” 9God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old, including the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring. 13Both the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money must be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
15God 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.”
Abram is an old man, 99 to be exact. He and Sarai have had no children together over their 50+ years of marriage. Ishmael was born to Abram through Sarai’s servant, Haggar, but they have no natural children together. Yet, in this passage, God comes to Abram and changes his name to Abraham which means “father of multitudes” as a sign of what is to come. God changes Sarai’s name to Sarah which means “princess”, an indication of the royal status she will have as she bears her own child. This what God promises to Abraham and Sarah: a child of their own through whom will come a whole, multitudinous nation. In modern covenant language, this miracle is stated under “The party in the first part” and God is the “first party.” This section of the covenant is introduced by the words, “As for me,” in verse 4.
The second party is Abraham and his offspring after him for all time. Their part of the covenant is introduced by the words, “As for you” in verse 9. Abraham and his male offspring for all time are to be circumcised. (There is absolutely NO female circumcision in the Bible.) Abraham, and all the males of his household, relatives, servants, and slaves, are now to be circumcised, and going forward, this is done to male infants 8 days old.
Why does God make circumcision the sign of the covenant? In Abraham’s time, fertility was thought to come from the male, and infertility from the female. Male offspring carried on your name, your family, brought you honor, and gave you security in your old age, as your male children were to provide for you. Circumcision was believed to expose the male member to all manner of illnesses and curses that could prevent semen flow. Therefore, circumcision was an act of trust on the part of Jewish males that God would make them potent, and give them children, especially sons.
Notice, God is doing all the talking. If Abraham is not pleased with this covenant, he can either argue with God, or not keep his terms of the agreement, but then God can take Abraham to court, as God does the whole nation of Israel in the prophecy of Isaiah.
This is the third iteration of the covenant between God and Abraham, the first in Genesis 12 and the second in Genesis 15. Some biblical scholars ascribe the first two to the Yahweh-ist writer (so named because God is always referred to as Yahweh in those sections of the first five books of the Bible) whereas the above covenant account is ascribed to the Priestly writer (so named because religious rituals and duties of the priest which are included).
23You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
25From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
26The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!
27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
28For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
29To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.
30Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,
31and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.
We know the first half of this psalm, as we recite it on Maundy Thursday. Jesus utters the first words from the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?!” “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?!” But this second half of the psalm sounds VERY different from the first!
In typical psalm fashion, this psalm starts out with pleas to God and ends with praises to God, indicating trust by the believer that the pleas will be answered. This second section of the psalm, starts with a call to praise from the faithful alive now and ends with a statement that those not yet born will also praise God.
In verse 24, the psalmist states that God did not abhor those suffering affliction, but rather heard them and tended to them. This seems obvious to modern believers, God tends to those who suffer! But the term “afflicted” indicates that a force outside a person is causing suffering. In ancient times, suffering was thought to be affliction from the gods, or God, which was punishment for bad deeds. So, if you were sick, you brought this on yourself by sinning. Who would have sympathy on you for getting what you deserved? But in this verse, the psalmist states that God ignored this widely held belief, and tended to the afflicted one! Yahweh is merciful!
“sleep in the earth” “go down to the dust” – these are euphemisms for the dead and dying.
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.
In this section of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, Paul is discussing the difference between keeping all the commandments so God is happy with you and saves you, verses believing that God already saved you through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It is Jesus who makes God happy, and by virtue of faith in Jesus, we make God happy also. Whereas, trying to keep the law perfectly only points out all the places where we fail to keep the law.
To make this point, Paul uses Abraham. It was not Abraham’s perfect keeping of the law, (the Law which had not been given at Mount Sinai to Moses yet, so merely consisted of believing that God would do what God said, the sign of believing being circumcision) but rather his trust in God who promised him a son, and through that son, countless offspring, in their own land. Abraham’s faith in God was seen by God as righteousness, that is, all things were seen by God as right between Him and Abraham.
Paul argues that it is this righteousness between God and Abraham brought about by faith in God’s promise, that applies to Christians. When people believe that righteousness between themselves and God comes from faith in Christ Jesus, then God sees that belief as righteousness, itself. No acts of worship described by the Law are more effective than faith in Jesus.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But 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.”
34He 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. 35For 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. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those 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 the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
“Son of Man” – this was a commonly used term referring to The Son of God among Jews of Jesus’ day.
“The elders, the chief priests, and the scribes” – all the powers that be in Jewish Temple governance. The only one not mentioned is the King.
Jesus describes the death that awaits him to his disciples. It is personal and political suicide! It also makes no sense to the disciples, and Peter tells Jesus so.
“Get behind me, Satan!” – In Hebrew Scriptures, Satan is the accuser, the tempter, the prosecuting attorney in the heavenly court. In this case, Peter is tempting Jesus to take an easier way, a temptation which Jesus rejects flatly.
“divine things verses human things” – God’s way is so antithetical to us, that it seems preposterous and senseless when laid out in logical form, as Jesus lays it out for his disciples. Fear, apprehension, and profound disappointment blind Peter and the disciples to the love and victory Jesus describes to them.
“take up their cross” – As I have stated in the past, the appears to be an idiom in common parlance at the time of the Jesus. Here Jesus describes to the crowds and the disciples that each person has suffering to bear in order to be the blessing to all humanity that we are baptized to be. If we duck and cover in self protection, we miss the beauty and profound grace that God will work through us and for us.