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Circumcision of Christ stained glassMay I wish all my readers a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

Given our present circumstances in the West, we have much for which to pray in 2021, particularly health and prosperity.

For centuries, January 1 was known in the established denominations of the Church as the Circumcision of Jesus, the Circumcision of Christ or the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord:

New Year’s Day: the Circumcision — and Naming — of Christ Jesus

The stained glass depicting this religious rite came from Cologne, Germany. It was made in the 15th century for a religious order known as the Crutched Friars. It now hangs in the Cloisters Museum in Manhattan:

New Year’s greetings — and the Feast of the Circumcision (2017, details on circumcision stained glass window)

Luke’s Gospel is the only one that mentions this ceremony, more about which below in the context of the life of Christ.

The readings for the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus are in the next post:

Readings for New Year’s Day — the Holy Name of Jesus (all Lectionary years)

The Gospel is largely the same reading from Christmas Day, apart from the addition of verse 21 (emphases mine):

Luke 2:15-21

2:15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

2:16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

2:17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;

2:18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.

2:19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

2:20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

2:21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

The shepherds went to see the Christ Child not once, but twice.

They were no ordinary shepherds, but rather shepherds who tended the animals destined for sacrifice at the temple. They were located at Migdal Eder, mentioned twice in the Old Testament. Micah 4:8 contains the prophecy of the Messiah; it would be the place where His presence would be declared first:

Migdal Eder: the shepherds provide a biblical key to unlocking the Christmas story

John MacArthur doesn’t mention Migdal Eder, but he has this to say about the shepherds’ return visit:

Hey, did you know that when you become a Christian and you’ve had the greatest imaginable transformation and you heard the revelation from God, you believed it and you’ve embraced Christ and you’ve begun to witness, when all of that has happened and you begin to think deeply about the profound realities of who God is, who Christ is and what the saving purpose of God is unfolding in the world. When you’ve come to that point you still have to go back to work. Life goes on, doesn’t it? Life goes on. And that’s analogous to what happens. You go back. Only you go back with a different attitude. You go back glorifying and praising God. That’s what they did. They went back glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen just as have been told them. It was exactly the way they were told by the angel, every detail was exactly accurate. And they went back with a whole new attitude.

I don’t know what their attitude was like before they had this incredible encounter with the revelation of God. But it certainly wasn’t like it is now. They may have been hopeful. They may have been worried and wondered and doubted and questioned and been wearied and all of that, but not anymore. They went back glorifying and praising God. And that too is analogous to what happens when a conversion takes place. There’s a revelation. We hear the revelation of God, we believe it, we go and we embrace Christ. There’s witness that follows. There’s a deep pondering about great divine truth as we deepen our knowledge of the Word of God. And there is also a life attitude of praise and worship to God that marks a believer.

Now by the time they got the whole story put together with the additional elements that Joseph and Mary would bring to bear on it, they were so filled with praise and thanks they were literally overwhelmed by it all. And they just went back glorifying and praising God for the whole thing. That’s the attitude that Christians should have

They knew that this child would be the Savior, the Christ, the Lord, fulfill the Davidic promise, Abrahamic promise and the promise of the New Covenant. They couldn’t restrain themselves. Their lives were just filled with praise.

In many nations where Christmas is observed as a public holiday, it lasts for 24 hours. For this reason, I am grateful we have Boxing Day. Now that my far better half and I are largely retired, we can celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas right up to Epiphany, January 6. It certainly deepens the Christmas religious experience.

With regard to circumcision, the mohel — the man who performs it — has a very sharp, small knife. It has to be very sharp so that the infant boy feels no pain. Just in case, tradition dictates that a drop of wine is placed on the child’s tongue to relax him.

If you’ve ever cut yourself with a really sharp knife, you don’t notice the wound until you see the blood. A blunt knife hurts. A really sharp one does not.

Luke’s Gospel shows us that Mary and Joseph obeyed Mosaic law, not only with this, but also with their visit to the temple once Mary had been purified through a ritual bath 40 days later. That is when Simeon and Anna appeared. See Luke 2:22-32 and Luke 2:33-40.

Where Jesus was concerned, circumcision was a foretaste of what would happen later in His earthly life: the Crucifixion as the ultimate sacrifice and expiation for sin, despite the fact that He never sinned.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

Though it supposed him a stranger, that was by that ceremony to be admitted into covenant with God, whereas he had always been his beloved Son; nay, though it supposed him a sinner, that needed to have his filthiness taken away, whereas he had no impurity or superfluity of naughtiness to be cut off, yet he submitted to it; nay, therefore he submitted to it, because he would be made in the likeness, not only of flesh, but of sinful flesh, Romans 8:3. 3. Though thereby he made himself a debtor to the whole law (Galatians 5:3), yet he submitted to it; nay, therefore he submitted to it, because he would take upon him the form of a servant, though he was free-born. Christ was circumcised, (1.) That he might own himself of the seed of Abraham, and of that nation of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, and who was to take on him the seed of Abraham, Hebrews 2:16. (2.) That he might own himself a surety for our sins, and an undertaker for our safety. Circumcision (saith Dr. Goodwin) was our bond, whereby we acknowledged ourselves debtors to the law; and Christ, by being circumcised, did as it were set his hand to it, being made sin for us. The ceremonial law consisted much in sacrifices; Christ hereby obliged himself to offer, not the blood of bulls or goats, but his own blood, which none that ever were circumcised before could oblige themselves to. (3.) That he might justify, and put an honour upon, the dedication of the infant seed of the church to God, by that ordinance which is the instituted seal of the covenant, and of the righteousness which is by faith, as circumcision was (Romans 4:11), and baptism is. And certainly his being circumcised at eight days old doth make much more for the dedicating of the seed of the faithful by baptism in their infancy than his being baptized at thirty years old doth for the deferring of it till they are grown up. The change of the ceremony alters not the substance.

MacArthur says:

Why was Jesus circumcised? Somebody might wonder about that. Well, because He would obey the law of God. He would fulfill all righteousness. He would be a man in every sense and so He would fulfill all those prescriptions that are human and in Israel this was required by the law of God on all male children, and so it was done. That’s again another remarkable indication of Jesus fulfilling all righteousness. Even before He could consciously do it God made sure that all Old Testament requirements were fulfilled in His life, and as He grew in wisdom, and favor, and stature…wisdom, and stature, and favor with God and man, He personally fulfilled the law of God in its completion.

And again I remind you that He lived a perfect life. Even from His circumcision He fulfilled every aspect of God’s law so that His perfect life could be credited to your account. That’s what justification does. It puts your sin on Him and takes His perfect life and puts it on you.

MacArthur points out Mary and Joseph’s obedience to the law:

Their devotion to obey the will of God is clear. They wanted to do what God had revealed for them to do and they did it with joy and faithfulness. The whole passage really features their dedication, it features their obedience. And as I said, in Luke’s continuing effort to mold the reader’s understanding of who Christ is, he shapes his narrative around the testimony of these uniquely righteous people. And, first of all, Jesus’ earthly family lead out in giving testimony.

MacArthur discusses the biblical origin of circumcision, necessary for centuries in terms of hygiene but also as a reminder of sin:

Now we all understand that the eighth-day circumcision was what was prescribed by Mosaic law. It is clearly recorded that this is to be done. Leviticus chapter 12 verse 3says on the eighth day the child is to be circumcised. Every male child born into Israel was to be circumcised on the eighth day. The circumcision was introduced by God to Abraham. In Genesis 17:1 to 14, Abraham was circumcised, he, however, was circumcised as an adult when God identified him as the father of the race. He was circumcised as an adult. And then every male that came from him and from those who came from him throughout all of the Hebrew people, every male child was to be circumcised on the eighth day. That was the sign and symbol of God’s covenant. Back in chapter 1 verse 59 regarding John, the prophet born to Zacharias and Elizabeth, “It came about on the eighth day they came to circumcise him.” That was just standard operating procedure on the eighth day.

Circumcision, just to give you a brief recap, circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant. It was a sign of God’s covenant. It identified a Jew. But God was saying something in circumcision. In the cutting away of that skin, God, first of all, was…was doing something physical, He was protecting the Jewish man from passing on infections and bacteria to his wife. That’s why in ancient times, not today because we have so much hygiene, but in ancient times Jewish women had the lowest rate of cervical cancer in the world and it was better when men and women came together circumcised in terms of cleanliness and protection than not. And therefore God preserved His people that way. He was definitely committed to preserving His people since they are the center of redemptive history clear to the end of the world. And so God protected them and that was one way physically that God protected them from illness. He also protected them, of course, by giving them monogamous laws and calling for their purity and sanctifying one man-one woman for life so that they were not subject to the devastating plagues of venereal disease which destroyed whole peoples.

But circumcision was more than a physical protection. It was a symbol of a need for spiritual cleansing. And that’s why the Bible talks about circumcise your hearts. God was showing them through this symbol that they needed to be cleansed because they not only passed on sin potentially physically they passed on sin heart to heart, soul to soul. When they had a child they got a sinner because they were sinners. They needed a cleansing at a deep, deep level of their souls. That’s why God said circumcise your heart, circumcise your heart. Every circumcised male child then, every time that operation took place, it was a symbol of how deeply sinful people were and how greatly they needed a heart cleansing.

If you look at Judaism, just look at Judaism, the message that God was sending to His people was about their sin. You could take the law of God and all the law of God did was, break them and crush them. The law of God laid out before for the Jew rendered him a sinner … So the Sabbath then became a contemplation point for violation of the law of God

On top of that, life was a bloody mess because all those violations called for sacrifice. That’s why we’ve said that priests were nothing but butchers. They were, you know, chin deep in blood slaughtering animals, because sin just kept coming and coming and with it came sacrifice and sacrifice. And the whole of Judaism, the whole of Judaism was one massive effort on God’s part to call those people to a recognition of how sinful they were. Every time a baby was born into the world, circumcision on the eighth day was a reminder of the depth of sin, that they were so deep in sin they needed a cleansing at the deepest level.

Again, Jesus personally did not require cleansing, but His circumcision was done for us. Furthermore, as an adult, He continued to be obedient to His Father and asked John the Baptist to baptise Him. He did not need to do that either, but He did:

Jesus was born under the law and Jesus was going to obey every aspect of God’s law whether He obeyed it as a baby passively or whether He obeyed as an adult actively when He went to the river Jordan and He said to John, “You need to baptize Me.” And John said, “I don’t need to baptize You, You’ve got to be kidding me. You need to baptize me.” And John was saying, You don’t need cleansing so why the symbol? And Jesus responded in Matthew 3:15 and said, “I must fulfill all righteousness. Whatever the law requires, I do that. I do that.”

Whatever Jesus did on this mortal coil, He did for us:

Why did He have to do that? So that perfect life could be credited to your account. You see, in the doctrine of substitution, on the cross God treats Jesus as if He lived your life so He could treat you as if you lived His. And there has to be a perfect life to be put to your account, and His is it. That’s why He was circumcised and everything else.

As millions of us across the world are shut up at home on what is normally a day of celebration, we have time on New Year’s Day 2021 to contemplate the meaning of Christ’s obedience throughout His earthly life. Everything He did, He did for us.

Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as cited below).

Hebrews 11:17-22

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. 20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. 21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

———————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s post was about the first of the incidences of faith in the Old Testament, involving the stories of Abel, Enoch and Noah. Their belief in God led, respectively, to an obedient offering, a holy life and devoting one’s adult life to building an ark away from any coastline.

In the next set of verses, the author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, returns to the life of Abraham — our father in faith — who had a stunning belief in God and an startling unquestioning obedience to Him, considering that he had lived most of his life as a pagan.

After a life of childlessness with his barren wife Sarah, she, being beyond childbearing age nonetheless, through the blessings of God, bore a son, Isaac.

Then God tested Abraham’s faith by telling him to sacrifice his long-awaited heir (verse 17), whom he loved very much. This would be a highly fraught experience for any parent, especially if the parent had received word directly from God that it would be through that heir that all his offering shall be named (verse 18, Genesis 21:12).

Matthew Henry’s commentary lays out the complexity of the situation (emphases mine):

some things that very much added to the greatness of this trial. (1.) He was put upon it after he had received the promises, that this Isaac should build up his family, that in him his seed should be called (Hebrews 11:18), and that he should be one of the progenitors of the Messiah, and all nations blessed in him; so that, in being called to offer up his Isaac, he seemed to be called to destroy and cut off his own family, to cancel the promises of God, to prevent the coming of Christ, to destroy the whole world, to sacrifice his own soul and his hopes of salvation, and to cut off the church of God at one blow: a most terrible trial! (2.) That this Isaac was his only-begotten son by his wife Sarah, the only one he was to have by her, and the only one that was to be the child and heir of the promise. Ishmael was to be put off with earthly greatness. The promise of a posterity, and of the Messiah, must either be fulfilled by means of this son or not at all; so that, besides his most tender affection to this his son, all his expectations were bound up in him, and, if he perished, must perish with him. If Abraham had ever so many sons, this was the only son who could convey to all nations the promised blessing. A son for whom he waited so long, whom he received in so extraordinary a manner, upon whom his heart was set–to have this son offered up as a sacrifice, and that by his own hand; it was a trial that would have overset the firmest and the strongest mind that ever informed a human body.

This extraordinary episode involving Abraham and Isaac is in Genesis 22:1-18. Note that, interestingly, Abraham believed God would resurrect Isaac (Hebrews 11:19):

The Sacrifice of Isaac

22 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy[a] will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”;[b] as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”[c]

15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his[d] enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

The author of Hebrews says that Isaac was, ‘figuratively speaking’, returned to Abraham from the dead (verse 19), because Abraham came that close to obeying God’s command.

Both commentators say that Isaac was a type of Christ, prefiguring, in a sense, His necessary, all-sufficient human sacrifice for sin. John MacArthur tells us:

… he took him up there, raised the knife, and at the right moment, he heard this noise over in a bush. He looked over there, and God had the right animal waiting. The angel of the Lord stopped his arm. He sacrificed the ram. And Isaac only became just a figure. It says, “Which also he received him in a figure.” This is a picture of the resurrection of Christ: the death and resurrection. He didn’t really die and rise, so, it’s not a legitimate type, but it’s kind of a picture of the death and resurrection of Christ.

The author then tells us that Isaac ‘invoked blessings on’ his two sons, Jacob and Esau (verse 20). John MacArthur has a lengthy and excellent commentary on all three men.

Henry explains the meaning of that verse:

The actings of his faith: He blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. He blessed them; that is, he resigned them up to God in covenant; he recommended God and religion to them; he prayed for them, and prophesied concerning them, what would be the condition, and the condition of their descendants: we have the account of this in Genesis 27:1-46.

The next two verses illustrate faith at the time of death. I was delighted to see that MacArthur cited Henry at the beginning of his sermon on these verses:

Matthew Henry said, “Though the grace of faith is of universal use throughout the Christian’s life, yet it is especially so when we come to die. Faith has its great work to do at the very last, to help believers to finish well; to die to the Lord so as to honor Him by patience, hope, and joy so as to leave a witness behind them of the truth of God’s Word and the excellency of His ways.”

Jacob, Isaac’s blessed son, whom God renamed Israel (Genesis 35:10), blessed the twelve sons of his favoured son Joseph at the end of his life; he leant on his staff as he did so (verse 21), symbolising that he owed his blessings to God, upon whom he depended, as Henry explains:

He showed thereby his dependence upon God, and testified his condition here as a pilgrim with his staff, and his weariness of the world, and willingness to be at rest.

When Jacob’s son Joseph — he of the amazing technicolour dreamcoat — died, he did not want to be buried permanently in Egypt, where he had been highly successful in Pharaoh’s employ, but rather in Canaan, the land of God’s promise (verse 22). Joseph’s faith was profound.

MacArthur summarises Joseph’s faith, particularly at the end of his life:

This is interesting. Joseph is dying here, and, of course, at this point he’s spent the great portion of his life in Egypt. And he’s dying, and he’s going to have to be buried there, but he says, “‘Now, I want to tell you people about the departing of the children of Israel’” – they’re going back to the Promised Land – “‘and I want to make sure you take my bones when you go.’” Now, that’s faith.

He was in Egypt. You know that it had been 200 years since the promise that God was going to do this? Two hundred years since the promise. The promise recorded in Genesis 15 of the possession of the land. Two hundred years, and they’d never been there yet. And he says, “You guys are going to be going back pretty soon. Will you pack up my bones and take them when you go?” That’s faith. How did he know that? He knew it because he believed God’s promise. His faith was strong.

In [Genesis] chapter 50, verse 24, “Joseph said to his brethren, ‘I die, and God will surely visit you and bring you out of this land’” – isn’t that good? He believed God. God had said there as a land, and he never saw it, but he believed it would come. “‘God will bring you out of this land unto the land which he swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.’ And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel saying, ‘God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bone from here. So, Joseph died, being 110 years old. And they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in” – where? – “in Egypt.” He died in faith.

You say, “Well, what ever happened? Did they ever get his bones over there?”

Sure they did. You know, that’s the end of Genesis and – bang – as you begin Exodus they move out. In chapter 13 … verse 19 … “And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him” – when Moses took off for the land – “for he had solemnly sworn the children of Israel saying, ‘God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones away from here.’” So, when they packed off in the Exodus, they packed up … old Joseph, what was left of him, and took him with them.

To many of us, these men are but historical characters in the history of God’s people. However, they believed not only in God but in the fulfilment of promises they themselves never saw. Generations of their descendants did not see those promises fulfilled, either. Yet, they continued to believe.

What the author of Hebrews was doing here is to encourage his audience to understand that they should put their faith in God with regard to the New Covenant with His Son Jesus Christ.

As Jesus had already fulfilled prophecy through the Crucifixion and Resurrection, it should have been that much easier for the Hebrews to believe that He is the Messiah. Yet, they continued to waver.

May we, if ever in doubt, return to the example of these earliest paragons of faith and believe. We know about that blessed history of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. There is no reason at all to doubt.

Next time — Hebrews 11:23-28

Today, the Anglican church I attend used the readings for Candlemas, which is always on February 2, 40 days after the birth of Jesus.

It was appropriate for them to be read rather than the regularly scheduled Lectionary readings as February 2 falls on a Sunday this year.

Candlemas

Candlemas recalls the presentation of our Lord in the temple with Mary and Joseph providing their ritual sacrifice as part of the purification rite and redemption of the firstborn:

This took place 40 days after His birth and was a normal Jewish ritual of the day. Mary would have gone through her own private ritual cleansing beforehand. She was now ready to worship again and circulate freely once again after childbirth. The Christian equivalent is the Churching of Women ceremony, popular in the Anglican Communion for centuries, as it welcomed recent mothers back into the congregation for regular worship.

The following posts of mine discuss Candlemas, so called because, traditionally, it was the day when the faithful brought their candles to church to be blessed:

February 2 is Candlemas

Jesus presented at the temple (Part 1)

Jesus presented at the temple (Part 2)

Candlemas: the prophetess Anna

The guest clergywoman — not sure if she was a deacon or a priest — gave a biblical and considered sermon on both Simeon and Anna. They were both elderly, although some scholars are not sure if Simeon was quite that old. In any event, the Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah, ‘the consolation of Israel’. After seeing the infant Jesus and being filled with the Holy Spirit, he spoke the words that comprise the Nunc Dimittis, said at Evening Prayer:

Luke 2:22-32

Jesus Presented at the Temple

22And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31     that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

Anna had been a widow for most of her life, sadly. Yet, she remained faithful to God and devoted her life to fasting and praying every day at the temple.

After Anna saw Jesus that day, she spoke of Him to all who awaited ‘the redemption of Jerusalem’:

Luke 2:33-40

33And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

 36And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The Return to Nazareth

 39And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

The clergywoman giving today’s sermon said that this ceremony with Simeon and Anna attending provided a ‘bookend’ with a man and a woman of advanced years ending the Christmas story, which started with the first ‘bookend’ featuring two other aged people: Mary’s three-month stay with her relative Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah, who was temporarily struck dumb because he doubted the Angel Gabriel (Luke 1:5-25).

Mary told Elizabeth that she was carrying the Christ Child in her womb. Elizabeth was also expecting; the baby who would be John the Baptist began stirring in her womb when Mary greeted her. Mary then gave her praise to God, known as The Magnificat, also said or sung during Evening Prayer.

From Luke 1:

Mary Visits Elizabeth

39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be[g] a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

Mary’s Song of Praise: The Magnificat

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.

Today’s palindrome date

On a secular note, February 2, 2020 is a symmetrical palindrome when represented numerically. The media are making it out to be a rare occurrence, but there will be others before the next century:

There have been other similar dates in recent years, too: 20011002 (October 2, 2001) and 20111102 (November 2, 2011).

St Blaise Day — February 3

Back to matters religious now. February 3 is the feast day of St Blaise, who was a physician, bishop and martyr. He died in 316 when a local pagan governor had his flesh ripped with iron combs. Blaise had an equal affinity with animals as he did with humans. He cured the illnesses of both. His last miracle was said to be not long before his death, when he was being led to prison. A desperate mother presented her son to him. The lad was choking to death on a fish bone. The mother set the boy at Blaise’s feet and he was cured straightaway.

You can read more about St Blaise here:

St Blaise’s feast day and the blessing of throats

The Catholic Church continues to bless congregants’ throats on February 3 or the closest Sunday — i.e. today — to ward off ailments to that part of the body. Interestingly, the blessing is done with two candles. They used to be lit, now the priest simply places the candles in an x-shaped cross and lightly presses them to the person’s throat, reciting a short blessing.

Forbidden Bible Verses will appear tomorrow.

Last Christmas, our vicar gave an excellent sermon on the Nativity story, looking at the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John.

John 1:14, which you can read more about here, was the Gospel reading. John’s theme of light — Light — pervades his entire Gospel from the initial verses:

4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

In terms of our personal Christian testimonies, our vicar wisely pointed out that the amount of light does not matter, because any amount of light shows up in the darkness. That reminded me of this Christmas graphic:

Note the darkness, yet how the light penetrates it.

Also note that Jesus was born at night — in the darkness — rather than during the day.

From Matthew 1:18-25, discussed here, our vicar pointed out how difficult it was socially for Mary to bear this Child, when Joseph was not the father. The verses from Matthew say that Joseph wanted to divorce her quietly. Then, an angel of the Lord appeared:

20But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us).

How humbling it was for Jesus to descend to Earth, our vicar said, not only to be among sinful mankind but also to be in such humble circumstances, from His birth to His humiliating death — for our sakes. ‘God with us’, indeed.

He also pointed out that Herod was disturbed to hear some months later from the Magi that a King had been born. Our vicar explained that Herod would have expected to hear a royal infant being referred to as a ‘prince’, but never a ‘king’. Naturally, he wanted to see the infant King. Fortunately, his wish was not granted.

Finally, our vicar noted the shepherds, who were watching their flocks, being drawn to the manger. He rightly asked us if we would be that obedient in our Christian witness, to leave what we were doing — no matter how important — to witness for Jesus.

He has a point, one well worth considering, not only today but all year round.

May I wish all my readers a very Happy Christmas! May you have a blessed, peaceful day.

Bible oldThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 7:9-16

“And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him 10 and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. 11 Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food. 12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit. 13 And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. 14 And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all. 15 And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, 16 and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.

———————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post featured the first part of Stephen’s address. If you have not had a chance to read it, please do, as it explains his circumstances and why he speaks as he does.

In short, Stephen must defend himself against four charges of blasphemy by the temple court: blasphemy against God, Moses, the law and the temple. Last week’s verses demonstrate that not only did he capture the attention of his accusers but he also defended himself against the charge that he blasphemed God.

He goes further in his address with the following objectives. Matthew Henry’s commentary summarises them well (emphases mine below):

1. He still reminds them of the mean beginning of the Jewish nation, as a check to their priding themselves in the glories of that nation; and that it was by a miracle of mercy that they were raised up out of nothing to what they were, from so small a number to be so great a nation; but, if they answer not the intention of their being so raised, they can expect no other than to be destroyed. The prophets frequently put them in mind of the bringing of them out of Egypt, as a aggravation of their contempt of the law of God, and here it is urged upon them as an aggravation of their contempt of the gospel of Christ. 2. He reminds them likewise of the wickedness of those that were the patriarchs of their tribes, in envying their brother Joseph, and selling him into Egypt; and the same spirit was still working in them towards Christ and his ministers. 3. Their holy land, which they doted so much upon, their fathers were long kept out of the possession of, and met with dearth and great affliction in it; and therefore let them not think it strange if, after it has been so long polluted with sin, it be at length destroyed. 4. The faith of the patriarchs in desiring to be buried in the land of Canaan plainly showed that they had an eye to the heavenly country, to which it was the design of this Jesus to lead them.

The patriarchs in verse 9 are the sons of Jacob, each of whom led a tribe of Israel. They were jealous of Joseph whom they sold into slavery in Egypt. However, God was watching over Joseph, who had great problems. John MacArthur reminds us that Joseph:

went to work for a guy named Potiphar who had a wife who had her eye on Joseph. And she really liked Joseph. So she got him in a compromising thing. He was over there where she was, in her bedroom. And she started making advances to him, trying to seduce old Joseph. It’s your heart, Joseph.

And you know what he did? He ran. Smart thing, Joseph did. He put those old wheels in motion and he was gone. Didn’t fool around. Just avoid the temptation. He took off running. You know what happened? She got his coat. Mmm-mmm-mmm, incriminating evidence. So she reported that this thing had happened, that Joseph had, you know, done this to her, and she had his coat to prove it. And he wound up in the clink. False accusation. Put him in prison.

Why is Stephen talking about Joseph? Because there is a parallel there with Jesus:

You know how Jesus got captured and put in prison? By false accusation. They had a mock trial and they brought forth false witnesses. Just like Joseph.

Stephen’s words are brilliant (verse 10): God delivered Joseph ‘out of all his afflictions’. MacArthur explains:

Joseph got out. And when he got out of there, he went to the next place, to Pharaoh himself. Sat on the right hand of the Pharaoh, the king of the land.

Here is another parallel with Jesus:

Do you know that the men delivered Jesus, in fact they delivered Him into the grave, and God took Him out of the grave and exalted Him to His right hand. Joseph, again, is a picture of Jesus. Joseph found the lowest kind of humility and was lifted to the loftiest exaltation. So was Jesus Christ. Joseph is a picture of Jesus.

This is an excellent way of getting these men to come to the idea of Jesus. It’s a great apologetic — defence of, reasoned case for — Jesus being the Messiah.

MacArthur gives us a third parallel:

Joseph, rejected by Israel, his brothers, was accepted by Gentiles in Egypt. You got that one? Jesus, rejected by Israel, turned and founded His church among whom? Gentiles. Continues to be a picture of Jesus.

Stephen continued his account of Genesis by mentioning the famine affecting that part of the world (verse 11). Joseph had masterminded the pharaoh’s silos and was storing grain in them for the Egyptians. Word reached Joseph’s father Jacob that Egypt had grain set aside in reserve. Jacob sent Joseph’s brothers to Egypt in search of grain (verse 12). Here we have Joseph in the most exalted position, in charge of the grain stores while his brothers have nothing. MacArthur tells us:

When Joseph went to Egypt, famine came. And his whole family back there in Canaan found no sustenance. They had rejected their leader. Do you know what happened to Israel when they rejected Jesus Christ? They fell into a spiritual famine and they still exist in it, don’t they? Sure they do. The famine is a type of Israel’s blindness today. They have no spiritual sustenance at all. None at all.

Note that Stephen is careful to say that Joseph’s brothers did not meet him on their first visit to Egypt. However, they did meet on the second visit (verse 13), at which time Pharaoh also made their acquaintance. Again, this refers to Jesus:

When is Jesus going to be made known to Israel? At His first coming? At His second. It’s the same type again. The first time, rejected, sold for envy. The second time, accepted.

Joseph summoned Jacob and his eleven sons — along with their families — to Egypt (verse14). All of Israel was in Egypt. MacArthur tells us:

That’s a picture of the fact that at the Second Coming when Jesus is revealed, who’s going to get saved? Part of Israel? All Israel. Romans 11, “All Israel shall be saved.” Again, perfectly typified in the life of Jesus, the whole picture of Christ.

Jacob died in Egypt (verse 15) but was buried:

at Machpelah in a cave up at Hebron.

Genesis 50 tells us:

12 So Jacob’s sons did as their father commanded. 13 They carried his body to the land of Canaan and buried it in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre. Abraham had bought this cave and field from Ephron the Hittite to use as a burial place. 14 After Joseph buried his father, he returned to Egypt, along with his brothers and everyone who had gone with him to bury his father.

His sons were buried in the tomb Abraham bought from Hamor’s sons in Shechem (verse 16).

MacArthur says:

And there is a picture of Israel entering into the kingdom relationship.

Therefore, Stephen’s purpose in telling the story of Joseph, was to point out that the Jewish leaders were gravely sinful in rejecting Jesus.

Stephen was not finished. His address continues next week with Moses.

Next time: Acts 7:17-22

This week’s posts have centred on the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Monday’s looked at the elder brother. Tuesday’s addressed misapplications of the parable to public policy and the church environment. Yesterday’s entry addressed the way Jesus’s audience would have understood the story. Today’s discusses the parable in light of the examples of conflict, forgiveness and blessing in the Book of Genesis among brothers.

Brothers in Genesis

Some of the most dramatic Bible stories concern relationships between brothers in the Book of Genesis.

The Revd James Crampsey SJ, superior of the Jesuits in Edinburgh, wrote a considered analysis of three sets of brothers in Genesis in light of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

In anticipation of the reading of this parable on Laetare Sunday in Lent 2013, he wrote ‘The Transformation of Esau and the Parable of the Prodigal Son’:

I would like to suggest that there are stories about brotherly relationships in the book of Genesis that may provide a fruitful context for the interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son: the well-known stories of Cain and Abel, and of Joseph and his brothers; and the perhaps less familiar one of Jacob and his brother, Esau. In this article I will give a close reading of the latter story, and suggest how the reconciliation between the two brothers points forwards and backwards in the Book of Genesis, and also evokes the parable of the Prodigal Son.

It is a thought-provoking essay and I highly recommend it. Excerpts aid my exposition below, emphases mine.

Cain and Abel

Genesis 4 tells the story of Cain and Abel. Cain was consumed by raging jealousy when God rejected his sacrifice but accepted Abel’s. Cain tilled the soil and offered God some of his crops (verse 3). Abel was a shepherd and offered the firstborn of his flock and the fat portions (verse 4).

God spoke to Cain afterward:

The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?[b] And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for[c] you, but you must rule over it.”

As we know, Cain did not rule over sinful desire but succumbed to it by murdering Abel (verse 8). When the Lord asked him where Abel was, Cain lied (verse 9):

“I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”

Although God deprived Cain from continuing to grow productive crops (verse 11), He did prevent Cain from being killed in revenge. Cain expected to die at another man’s hand:

15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod,[f] east of Eden.

Nod means ‘wandering’. Once there, his wife gave birth to Enoch (verse 17), who later began his own family (verses 18-24). Meanwhile, Eve gave birth to Seth, God’s gift to fill the absence of Abel (verse 25). Seth’s wife gave birth to Enosh and (verse 26):

At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.

Jacob and Esau

Genesis 25 begins the story of Jacob and Esau, twins born to Isaac’s wife Rebekah in a difficult pregnancy (verses 22, 23). They were Abraham’s grandsons.

Esau was red and hairy (verse 25). Jacob was holding onto his heel when they were born (verse 26). Jacob means ‘take by the heel’, which means ‘to cheat or to trick’. The Lord later changed Jacob’s name to Israel and Esau’s was later changed to Edom. In verse 23 the Lord told Rebekah that her pregnancy was difficult because:

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you[c] shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.”

These people were the Israelites and the Edomites.

Isaac favoured Esau because he hunted game which provided tasty meat and Rebekah preferred Jacob who dwelled in tents (verses 27, 28).

Esau lived by his appetites and sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew because he was dying of hunger one day (verses 29-34). The rest of their story continues through Genesis 33. It involves deception, when, as Isaac was going blind and nearing death, Rebekah put animal skins and Esau’s clothes on Jacob to fool her husband into giving Jacob the blessing owed his elder son (Genesis 27:18-29). By the time Esau entered for his blessing, Isaac said, essentially, that he had nothing left for him except to say that he would serve Jacob until he tired of it and broke away (verse 40).

Esau vowed to kill his brother after Isaac’s death (verse 41), but word got to Rebekah (verse 42). She told Jacob to go to her brother Laban’s house and stay there until Esau calmed down (verses 43-45).

From there, Crampsey tells us:

Jacob is tricked by his father-in-law, Laban, to serve for fourteen years to secure the hand of his true love, Rachel, the younger sister of his first wife, Leah. The unloved Leah gives birth to four sons, but Rachel is barren. The sisters’ servants provide Jacob with another four sons; Leah then has two more sons and a daughter. With strong echoes of Sarah, Rachel remains childless. And despite all these births, is there still a threat to the promise? Surely God’s faithfulness to the promise must be bound up with Jacob and Rachel.

Finally, after a long, heart-rending wait for Rachel, who had to live through the experience of Leah and female servants giving birth to Jacob’s children (Genesis 30:22-24):

22 Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. 23 She conceived and bore a son and said, “God has taken away my reproach.” 24 And she called his name Joseph,[j] saying, “May the Lord add to me another son!”

That is the Joseph of the ‘Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’. His story is below.

Once Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob asked Laban to release him from service. He had fulfilled his commitment to his uncle and wanted to return home (verses 25, 26):

Laban is not enthusiastic, but Jacob (whose name means ‘tricky’) out-foxes his wily father-in-law, having acquired Laban’s daughters, and true to character steals what is due to Laban’s sons. It is time to get out of town (again!).

Genesis 31 describes Laban’s coldness towards Jacob as well as his own daughters Rachel and Leah. It’s understandable. Rachel then stole her father’s household goods (verse 19). Afterwards, they all left. Laban was furious and left with his kinsmen in hot pursuit. On the third day after their departure, God appeared to Laban in a dream and told him to say nothing at all to Jacob (verse 24). When Laban finally caught up with Jacob and his daughters, the two men reconciled (verses 43-54). Before leaving the next day to return home, Laban kissed and blessed Rachel, Leah and their children (verse 55).

The next chapter in Jacob’s story, told in Genesis 32, was to reconcile with Esau:

When we remember the last words of Esau, ‘The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob’, God’s promise of presence and protection needs to take concrete shape, and it does:

Jacob went on his way and the angels [malachim] of God met him; and when Jacob saw them he said, ‘This is God’s camp!’ (32:1-2)

(Remember Psalm 34: ‘the angel of the Lord is encamped around those who revere him to rescue them.’)

This encourages Jacob to send his own messengers (malachim) to Esau to announce his arrival with a hint that he is now rich, and that it might be in Esau’s interests to receive him. The messengers return, and strike fear into Jacob’s heart: Esau is coming to meet him with four hundred men. With his brain working overtime (what would someone need four hundred men for?), Jacob first splits his caravan into two in the hope that one of the two of them might escape.

In fear and humility, Jacob prayed for God’s continued blessings, especially safety for him and his family (verses 9-12).

After splitting his caravan up, Jacob and his family crossed the stream of Jabbok. From there, he sent them on ahead and camped out alone. That night, a man wrestled with him until dawn (verse 24). Jacob prevailed throughout. Finally, to stop the struggle, the man touched Jacob’s hip socket and put it out of joint (verse 25). The man told him that from henceforth his name would be Israel, as he had prevailed against God and man (verse 27). It was at that point that Jacob — Israel — realised he had been wrestling with God. After God blessed him, Jacob named that piece of land Peniel — ‘the face of God’ (verse 30).

Now we understand how and why the tribes were called the tribes of Israel, Jacob’s descendants.

Genesis 33 recounts the meeting and reconciliation between Jacob and Esau. Instead of the violence Jacob expected, his elder brother rejoiced:

 But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.

Yesterday’s post on the actions of the father towards the Prodigal Son mentioned what the embrace and kiss on the neck meant to the Jews; not only was it a loving greeting but, where there had been separation or discord, it also signified forgiveness.

Jacob brought with him servants and livestock whom he planned to give to Esau as a gift of reconciliation. He had sent messengers ahead to give Esau the message, after which Esau set off to journey to meet him with 400 men (Genesis 32:3-6).

Once the brothers were face to face, Esau initially graciously declined the offer, saying he had his full share already (Genesis 33:9). Esau was so godly at that moment that:

10 Jacob said, “No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. 11 Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it.

In return, Esau offered Jacob some of his servants, but Jacob declined, equally graciously (verse 15).

The brothers left each other’s company and each group returned to their respective homes, with Jacob journeying on, ultimately to the city of  Shechem in Canaan (verse 18).

Joseph and his brothers

Thanks to the superb musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, most of us are familiar with his story, told in Genesis 37-50.

Crampsey reminds us:

The spectre of fraternal murder hovers over the Joseph section of the book of Genesis. The coat of many colours has been interpreted as Jacob’s public declaration of Joseph as his heir, even though he is the youngest of eleven brothers. The brothers’ seething animosity towards Joseph increases as the dreamer, rather naively, tells them of his dream about the sheaves of corn. Then he has a second dream in which the sun and moon and eleven stars are bowing down to him. Jacob rebukes him for this but keeps it in his mind; the brothers are consumed by envy. Their chance comes when Joseph is sent out to them as they pasture their sheep.

They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another,

‘Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.’ (Genesis 37:18-20)

Reuben persuades them to put him in a pit but not kill him, as he intends to rescue him later. But while Reuben is out of the picture, the other brothers sell him to the Midianites. Joseph is taken to Egypt as a slave, while his brothers return with the blood-dipped garment to a distraught Jacob.

I wrote last month about Joseph’s amazing success in Egypt managing grain stores for the Pharaoh (as well as advising him) and how this gave rise centuries later to the pyramid-as-grain-silo theory.

As Joseph was stockpiling grain for the people of Egypt to keep the people fed during the famine, it spread to Canaan. Jacob sent his sons to buy grain from Egypt twice (Genesis 42 and Genesis 43). On the second occasion, Joseph and his brothers were reconciled (Genesis 45). Pharaoh was so delighted that he invited all of them and Jacob (Israel) to move from Canaan to Egypt so they could all be together (verses 16-20). This is how the Israelites came to be in Egypt.

They settled in the land of Goshen (Genesis 46:28). Joseph was finally able to see his father once again:

29 Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while. 30 Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.”

Joseph took Jacob to meet Pharaoh. Israel blessed him (Genesis 47:7). Pharaoh told Joseph to settle Israel, his sons and their families in the land of Rameses — Goshen — the best area in Egypt (verse 11). Israel lived there for 17 years (verse 48).

Before he died at the age of 147, Israel asked Joseph to take him back home to be buried with his ancestors (verse 30). He also blessed Joseph’s sons (Genesis 48). Finally, he gathered all his sons to give them his final blessing and foretelling of their futures, some of which were less than favourable (Genesis 49). He left his most fulsome blessing for his favourite son, Joseph.

Genesis 50 records the burial of Israel and the fear Joseph’s brothers had that he might seek revenge. They asked for his forgiveness:

19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people[b] should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

Crampsey explains:

As Esau had promised himself revenge when Isaac died, so the brothers think that Joseph will do. They manufacture a word of Jacob to persuade Joseph to re-write his narrative. But like Esau, Joseph has already freed himself from the need for vengeance. And despite his disclaimer about being in the place of God, Joseph aligns himself with God’s plan ‘to preserve a numerous people’, and says, ‘I myself will provide for you and your little ones’.

God’s promise is fulfilled by Joseph’s refusal to take vengeance on his brothers, by Esau’s magnanimity toward Jacob. The curse of Cain is not inexorably written into the script of the people of Israel.

When Joseph died, his sons embalmed him and placed him in a coffin in Egypt (verse 26).

Isaac and Ishmael

Crampsey does not go into their story, but Genesis 16 tells us that Abram’s wife Sarai was infertile and that, in order to have a son, he slept with her servant Hagar, an Egyptian. When Hagar conceived, she lorded it over Sarai, who threw her out of the house.

An angel of the Lord told Hagar to return to Sarai and Abram, adding that the boy would be called Ishmael and that:

12 He shall be a wild donkey of a man,
    his hand against everyone
    and everyone’s hand against him,
and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”

Genesis 17 relates the circumcision of Abram and Ishmael, then aged 13, and God’s covenant with Abram, whereby his name is changed to Abraham. God also promised Sarai — now Sarah — would bear Abraham’s son Isaac.

Genesis 21 tells us that, once Isaac was born, Hagar laughed at Sarah. Not surprisingly, she told Abraham to throw Hagar out of the house. He was reluctant to do so but God spoke to him and told him to follow his wife’s wishes. There was more:

13 And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.”

When Abraham died (Genesis 25), Isaac and Ishmael buried him together:

Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, 10 the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife. 11 After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi.

17 (These are the years of the life of Ishmael: 137 years. He breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people.) 18 They settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. He settled[a] over against all his kinsmen.

Parallels with the Parable of the Prodigal Son

Until this week, I had considered the Prodigal Son rather a stand-alone parable.

Now — and particularly with today’s day-long research and writing of this post — I have come to see it as a continuation of God’s infinite love and forgiveness.

I have an old post or a comment from a few years ago which explains that when the word ‘hate’ is used in the Old Testament, in ancient Hebrew it means ‘less loved’, therefore, not ‘loathed to the point of wishing death’, the way it is understood in many languages today.

We see this in the examples above. God loved everyone in different degrees.

God allowed Cain to stay alive and have his own family. He blessed him with life and told him that if anyone tried to kill him, that person would meet with His vengeance ‘sevenfold’. He also blessed him with a wife and a son, Enoch (a different Enoch to Noah’s ancestor).

With Ishmael and Isaac, God sent blessings of descendants and foreign lands to the former. So, although He loved and blessed Isaac more because he was Abraham’s son with Sarah, Ishmael did not want for anything. On a brotherly note, the Bible records that when Abraham died, the two sons buried him together.

Esau was impetuous. Through Rebekah, God punished him for selling his birthright for a plate of stew and for marrying the wrong women. Esau also married Hittites, who caused no end of grief for Isaac and Rebekah.

We have an example of the context of ‘hate’ in Esau’s — later Edom’s — life. Got Questions has a great explanation of how it unfolded. In Malachi 1:3, the Lord told the prophet (Malachi 1:2-3)):

“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.”

St Paul refers to this verse in Romans 9:10-13.

Got Questions explains:

God chose Jacob (whom He later renamed “Israel”) to be the father of His chosen people, the Israelites. God rejected Esau (who was also called “Edom”) and did not choose him to be the father of His chosen people. Esau and his descendants, the Edomites, were in many ways blessed by God (Genesis 33:9; Genesis chapter 36).

So, considering the context, God loving Jacob and hating Esau has nothing to do with the human emotions of love and hate. It has everything to do with God choosing one man and his descendants and rejecting another man and his descendants. God chose Abraham out of all the men in the world. The Bible very well could say, “Abraham I loved, and every other man I hated.” God chose Abraham’s son Isaac instead of Abraham’s son Ishmael. The Bible very well could say, “Isaac I loved, and Ishmael I hated.” Romans chapter 9 makes it abundantly clear that loving Jacob and hating Esau was entirely related to which of them God chose. Hundreds of years after Jacob and Esau had died, the Israelites and Edomites became bitter enemies. The Edomites often aided Israel’s enemies in attacks on Israel. Esau’s descendants brought God’s curse upon themselves.

Therefore, what the Edomites did long after Esau’s death was less to do with him and more a result of their own sin.

Also remember how Esau embraced and kissed Jacob so warmly when they finally met up years later before going their own ways. Esau also offered Jacob the gift of servants by way of return for Jacob’s gift of servants and livestock.

And then we have Joseph who took care of his brothers and their families after Jacob’s — Israel’s — death. He bore no ill-will towards them. He loved them and their families.

Crampsey ties Cain’s, Esau’s and Joseph’s stories in this way with the Parable of the Prodigal Son:

I would suggest that the murder of Abel is redeemed by the transformation of Esau and his reconciliation with Jacob. This allows the sons of Jacob to grow up in the land of the promise, and even if they mimic the fratricide of Abel with what they plan for Joseph, the spectre of retaliatory homicide at the death of Jacob is removed by the magnanimity of Joseph. It is in refusing the temptation to fratricide that Esau and Joseph are god-like, are in the image and likeness of God, and allow God’s plan to take root. It is almost as though the first verses of the book of Exodus are the conclusion to the book of Genesis:

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. The total number of people born to Jacob was seventy. Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation. But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. (Exodus 1:1-7)

I would also suggest that these stories of brothers in the book of Genesis may be a fruitful context for the interpretation of the Prodigal Son. And is there anything to think about soteriologically [in terms of salvation through Christ] when reconciliation with the brother is more challenging than reconciliation with the father?

It is very rare for me to praise a Jesuit, but this time I will. Today, the Revd James Crampsey SJ has taught me about the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Far from being an outlier parable, it ties together the loving-kindness and mercy of God to brothers in the Old Testament, their many blessings, their reconciliation and to redemption through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Do keep in mind those first seven verses of Exodus. Those are the subject of tomorrow’s post. I meant to post on it today, but today’s topic needed more exposition than expected. If you have read this far, many thanks.

Tomorrow: The Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Twelve Tribes of Israel

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