Bible Tuesday for Lent I, 2018
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.* 11I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ 12God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ 17God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’
Noah and Mrs. Noah, and Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and Mrs. Shem, and Mrs. Ham, and Mrs. Japheth all stumbled out of the ark after one heck of a cruise! They still stank of animal manure and sea sickness when God called to Noah and stated the above covenant.
When Christians think of the covenant God made, they tend to think only of the covenant God made with Abram (Abraham) in Genesis 12. However, the book of Genesis is full of covenants, with a few more in the remainder of the Hebrew Scriptures. What makes this covenant unique is that God maked it with all creation, and there is nothing that creation must do to “keep up their end of the bargain.”
When the Noah family disembarked from the ark, God spoke to all of them and renewed the covenant God made with the first humans, back in Genesis 1: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth.” But now there is more, animals will fear humans, and humans are allowed to eat animals (heretofore, humans have all been vegetarians!) with no distinction between clean and unclean foods. However, animals must be gutted and cleaned before eating. AND, “whoever sheds the blood of a human, by humans shall his blood be shed; for in His image did God make humans.” Genesis 9:6. Ancient Jews understood this covenant to mean that humans were required by God to establish a justice system, refrain from blaspheming Yahweh, refrain from idolatry, refrain from sexual perversion, refrain from bloodshed, and refrain from eating anything that was cut from a living animal. Jews believe that this is God’s law for all humanity, and that God’s Law given to Moses is specifically for Jews.
The covenant God makes with Abraham and his descendants is marked by a sign upon male humans, circumcision. However, the above covenant is marked by a sign meant to remind God of this covenant, the rainbow.
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.
6 Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!
8 Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9 He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
This psalm is an acrostic. The above pericope is only one third of the way through the alphabet. In form, every other line is one of petition with the next being one of praise or sworn fealty.
“Life up my soul” – This is a way in Hebrew poetic style to saw that the believer places one’s whole being into God’s presence.
“Shame” – Hebrew society is one of honor and shame, like much of the rest of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Social position was based on the amount of honor or shame ascribed to one’s family. The currency of life which determined career and career advancement, whom you married, how your children were received and treated, where you are buried, how the graves of your dead relatives were treated, what food you were allowed to buy in the market and at what price, where you sat in any public place, and oh so much more, was honor. As can been seen in this psalm, it was completely normal to ask God to bless you with honor, but to shame your enemies. How offensive it must have been for those with much honor to see Jesus treat EVERYONE with the same amount of honor. How wonderful and attractive that must have been for those societally kicked to the curb!
One of the strains of thought common in the Hebrew Scriptures is that of “the right path.” It is the thought that God has determined a narrow way of proper life and that all the faithful have to do is get on it and stay on it and they will be good to go with God. That same strain is very common among Evangelical Christians in the US and around the world. Luther did not agree with that understanding of the teaching of Jesus.
1 Peter 3:18-22
For Christ also suffered* for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you* to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water.21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for* a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
The verses of Peter’s letter to the churches which immediately precedes this passage are ones in which the author tries to explain why faithful Christians still suffer. There is a bit of “Jesus suffered so why shouldn’t you?!” in the answer as well as “When you are faithful to God, you can rest assured that your suffering is not God’s punishment.”
Verses 21-22 of the above passage read as familiar teaching to most of us, good doctrine explaining what happens to us and for us in Christian baptism.
The part of the above passage that is really puzzling is 19-20. This passage sounds like something right out of the Book of Mormon and most Christians, when reading these verses quickly skim over them and quickly forget them. We think, “Jesus was a spirit and went to speak to spirits who were in prison and had been there since the time of Noah? What?! Man! The Bible is hard to understand sometimes!”
There is an even more puzzling passage in Genesis 6:1-4 which raised a whole bunch of eyebrows and all kinds of speculation as to its meaning in Jesus’ day.
Genesis 6:1-4 “When men began to increase on earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of gods (also translated “divine beings”) saw how beautiful the daughters of men were and took wives from among those that pleased them. The Lord said, “My breath shall not abide in man forever, since he too is flesh; let the days allowed him be one hundred and twenty years.” It was then and later too, that the Nephilim appeared on earth, when the sons of gods cohabited with the daughters of men, and offspring were born to them. They (the Nephilim) were the heroes of old, the men of renown.”
The speculation in Jesus’ day was about what happened to these divine/mortal cross breeds? There was all kinds of folk lore and literature on the matter, some of which survived long enough to be written about. Some Bible scholars think the author of 1 Peter is referring to these beings or the Nephilim somehow being imprisoned for thousands of years to which Jesus preached. Tradition had it, for those who believed in resurrection (as not all Jews did), that earth dwellers who were evil in life would be imprisoned upon their death, until the final judgment. Other scholars believe that those in prison to which this 1 Peter passage refers are those who drown in the flood waters that lifted Noah’s ark. The disagreement comes from the way in which one interprets the first several chapters of Genesis. Some scholars read in Genesis that these elicit relationships between the “sons of gods” and the “daughters of men” began a course of perversion among humans that brought about God’s decision to flood the earth. Genesis 6 relates that some angels were also involved in this perversion.
At any rate, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was not only for those alive at the time of Jesus all the way up through present, but even for those in bondage to sin from the very beginnings of oral history. “If the son makes you free, then you are free indeed!”
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved;* with you I am well pleased.’
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news* of God,* 15and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;* repent, and believe in the good news.’*
The second Sunday of January I wrote extensively about why Jesus would condescend to be baptized and what that baptism symbolized, both to Jews at the time of Jesus, and to Christians. Let us now focus on the remaining four verses of this passage.
Wilderness – (eremia in Greek) means “place without words” or “place that defies language”. Due to “Bible Movies”, we tend to think of New Mexico landscape minus cacti, but biblically, wilderness is anywhere that you find yourself completely alone, out of sight or hearing of anyone. The gospel of Mark illustrates how far away from human contact Jesus really was with the phrase, “he was with the wild beasts”, the opposite of being among civilization.
“Drove” – The gospel of Mark is the first gospel to be written. Much of Mark’s strong language is softened in subsequent gospels. Both Matthew and Luke say that Jesus was “led” out into the wilderness. However, who would voluntarily go there? Jesus was completely human.
Notice that while in Matthew and Luke, much is made about Jesus fasting for 40 days and nights while in the wilderness, in Mark, there is no fasting. However, whereas in Matthew and Mark, Jesus is tempted by Satan for one interrogation, in Mark, Satan is tempting Jesus the whole 40 days.
“The angels waited on him.” – While the English translation does not make it clear, the Greek intimates that at the end of the 40 days, the angels wait upon Jesus. Do not fill your mind with winged human like creatures bringing platters of food to a famished Jesus. “Angel” simply means “messenger” and could just as easily have been some travelers with food to share as nativity scene angels flying down from heaven.
“After John was arrested” – John the Baptist was held by one of the Herods in his palace in either Jerusalem or Philippi or a few other ancient cities. To get away from the potential witch hunt for those thought to follow John the Baptist, Jesus went to the “hinterlands” of Israel, to Galilee where Roman presence was less felt.
What was the gospel which Jesus, himself preached? “No more waiting! God is here now! Turn away from your doubt and your