Cain, Kenites, and Relationships

File:The Phillip Medhurst Picture Torah 31. Cain and Abel make an offering. Genesis cap 4 vv 3-7. De Vos.jpg
Cain and Abel make offerings / Credit: Phillip Mendhurst / Wikimedia Commons

Right now, at the church where I serve, we are in a series on relationships. One of the points we made this past weekend is that no relationship is perfect. Even those who are very close to each other and have a deep love for each other can offend and hurt each other – often unintentionally. If such offenses and hurts are not confessed and addressed, envy, bitterness, and resentment will take root and the relationship will fracture.

The problems of envy, bitterness, and resentment in relationships, of course, are nothing new. Near the beginning of history, we read of a relationship that not only fractures; it is violently ended:

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. And Abel also brought an offering – fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering He did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. (Genesis 4:2-8)

The story of Cain and Abel is tragic. But perhaps what makes it most jarring is that it is not particularly unique. Countless relationships throughout history have ended in terrible violence due to envy, bitterness, and resentment.

Perhaps you grew up in a household where envy, bitterness, and resentment were common. Perhaps these sinful roots resulted even in physical violence. Or perhaps these roots resulted in anger, mistrust, verbal altercations, or divorce. No matter what you have come from, for you, things can be different. In your relationships, things can be better.

Later in Scripture, we read of a people called the Kenites, which, in Hebrew, means “of Cain.” There is some debate over whether these people were actual descendants of Cain or whether they simply shared a name with Cain. I tend to favor the latter view, but regardless of where one stands on the debate, this much is clear – they chose a different relational path than their namesake Cain did. Moses’ father-in-law was a Kenite and his descendants lived among the tribe of Judah:

The descendants of Moses’ father-in-law, the Kenite, went up from the City of Palms with the people of Judah to live among the inhabitants of the Desert of Judah in the Negev near Arad. (Judges 1:16)

The ancient envy, bitterness, and resentment that was so apparent in Cain and separated him from his brother gave way to a desire in the Kenites to be brotherly to the Judahites. And this brotherhood ran quite deep. Just a few chapters later, in Judges 4, Jabin, the king of the Canaanites, and Sisera his general, are oppressing the Israelites. The leader of Israel at this time, Deborah, leads a campaign against the Canaanites that is broadly successful, but Sisera manages to escape – that is, until he flees to the tent of a Kenite named Heber. Heber’s wife, Jael, invites Sisera into the tent only to seal the Israelites’ victory in battle by driving a tent peg into his head while he is sleeping. Yes, it is a gruesome episode, but it is also revealing. The Kenites, it turns out, were fully vested in and fully loyal to their brotherhood with the Israelites.

So, what does this mean for us? Like the Kenites with Cain, we can do relationships differently than those who have gone before us. We can form relationships that are stronger. And we don’t even need a tent peg to do so. The Israelites were commanded by God to fight their enemies, the Canaanites:

The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: “Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.” (Judges 4:6-7)

We are commanded by God through Christ to love our enemies:

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:43)

Jael drove a tent peg into Sisera in judgment of his sin and proved himself a brother to the Israelites. God drove nails into the hands of His Son because of our sin and made Him a brother to us:

Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. (Hebrews 2:11)

Jesus’ relationship with us as our brother is the inspiration and foundation for our relationships with others. Envy, bitterness, and resentment really can give way to brotherhood.

February 8, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A March for Life

This past Friday was the 48th annual March for Life. As with many other events, this year’s march looked different from every previous year. It was held virtually in response to the continued spread of COVID-19. The virtual nature of the march, however, did not mute its message. Since abortion was legalized in 1973, an estimated 62 million babies have been lost. And though the number of abortions is going down overall, there have been some pockets of increases.

The fierce fights over abortion show no sign of abating. Sadly, the topic has often been treated more as ammunition in a culture war instead of a pressing moral question with life and death consequences. So many pay a hefty price each time an abortion is performed.

First, there is a baby who pays the price of his or her very life. The heartbeat of a child in utero can usually be detected between the third and fourth week of development. This means that any abortion performed after this stops a beating heart. Scientifically, there is a broad consensus that the life of a human organism begins even earlier – right at conception. In a recent study at the University of Chicago, 95 percent of biologists surveyed, many of whom self-identified as pro-choice, agreed that life begins at fertilization. Many Christians believe that life begins at conception because, Scripturally, life is celebrated and sacralized throughout a child’s development in utero. As the Psalmist says to God about his own creation and gestation:

You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16)

Second, there is the mother who pays a price. For every high profile incident of people celebrating abortion, there are other instances of women who struggle with regret or outright emotional trauma. And these struggles can present themselves long after the event – often 10 to 15 years later. The price of a broken or guilt-ridden heart cannot and must not be overlooked.

Third, low-income communities pay a price. Half of all women who get abortions live below the poverty line, and 75 percent of women who get abortions are low-income. Many of these women choose to abort because they know they will be single mothers if they carry their babies to term and they are scared that they will not have the resources or support needed to raise a child. Their decision to abort, then, is less of a freely-willed choice and more of a perilous predicament that forces the hands of already hurting women.

We must count the cost of abortion. We must stand up for those who bear the burden of abortion. We can stand up for children in utero and advocate for their lives. We can stand up for women who struggle and lovingly present alternate ways forward if they are considering an abortion or offer grace and support to those who are struggling with the decision they made to have an abortion. We must stand up for impoverished communities by promoting the value of families, by holding men who would run from their responsibilities as fathers accountable, and by offering what we can in the way of financial resources, friendships, and modeling to demonstrate different and more hopeful paths forward for at-risk women who become pregnant.

For me, abortion is personal. I have two children because of the choice of two incredible women to put their babies up for adoption. I have a family because two women chose life. To them, I offer a teary-eyed “thank you.” Your choice for life changed my life. And the chain can continue. More choices for life can change more lives.

What a great choice to make.

February 1, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Perfect and Imperfect People

In Leviticus 22, we read about the kind of sacrifices that are acceptable to God:

When anyone brings from the herd or flock a fellowship offering to the Lord to fulfill a special vow or as a freewill offering, it must be without defect or blemish to be acceptable. (Leviticus 22:21)

What the ancient Israelites offered to God was the be the best of the best. What is often overlooked, however, is that Leviticus speaks not only to what could be offered to God, but to who could offer it:

No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. (Leviticus 21:18-20)

These restrictions concerning who may bring an offering to the Lord may seem eyebrow-raisingly blunt to us, but their core implication is inescapably clear:

Only perfect people are allowed before God.

Not only did the sacrifices to God have to be perfect; the people who made them had to be perfect, too.

This requirement for perfection is one of the reasons Jesus’ ministry so scandalized the religious professionals of His day. Jesus gladly interacted with precisely the kinds of people Leviticus 21 barred from service to God. Jesus healed the blind, made the lame walk, and even reconstructed a man’s deformed hand. These were not just healings; they were testimonies to a new day and a new way. Under the Levitical covenant, to which the religious professionals of Jesus’ day subscribed, only perfect people could approach God. But now, Christ, in word and in deed, was announcing that God was approaching imperfect people.

Jesus addresses the scandalized religious professionals’ concerns by summarizing His ministry like this:

It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. (Mark 2:17)

Jesus takes the core of Leviticus 21 and turns it on its head. With these words, He announces:

Only imperfect people are allowed through Christ.

Only imperfect people are allowed because, if we are honest with ourselves, we have nothing perfect to offer to God in the form of either ourselves or a sacrifice. This is why the preacher of Hebrews writes:

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. (Hebrews 10:11)

These sacrifices never took away sins because they never met the demands of Leviticus 21 and 22. They simply were not perfect enough. But Jesus was. And Jesus is. This is why God offers Jesus as a sacrifice for us.

The temptation to point fingers at the defects and blemishes of others can be acute. Those who are different from us can sometimes seem to almost invite criticism by us. But Christians must remember that our mission is not to demand perfection from people, but to point them to the One who already is. May we do so gladly.

January 25, 2021 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Pandemic Fatigue

Credit: Anna Shvets / Pexels.com

The book of Leviticus is filled with all sorts of rules and regulations, many of which address cleanliness and purification in the face of infectious diseases. Here’s a sample:

When anyone has a swelling or a rash or a shiny spot on their skin that may be a defiling skin disease, they must be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons who is a priest. The priest is to examine the sore on the skin, and if the hair in the sore has turned white and the sore appears to be more than skin deep, it is a defiling skin disease. When the priest examines that person, he shall pronounce them ceremonially unclean. If the shiny spot on the skin is white but does not appear to be more than skin deep and the hair in it has not turned white, the priest is to isolate the affected person for seven days.On the seventh day the priest is to examine them, and if he sees that the sore is unchanged and has not spread in the skin, he is to isolate them for another seven days. On the seventh day the priest is to examine them again, and if the sore has faded and has not spread in the skin, the priest shall pronounce them clean; it is only a rash. They must wash their clothes, and they will be clean. But if the rash does spread in their skin after they have shown themselves to the priest to be pronounced clean, they must appear before the priest again. The priest is to examine that person, and if the rash has spread in the skin, he shall pronounce them unclean; it is a defiling skin disease. (Leviticus 13:2-8)

This passage was the kind that used to make people roll their eyes and groan with boredom and wonder why God bothered to include such pedantic instructions concerning something as seemingly insignificant as a skin rash. Now, passages like these feel strangely relevant and current.

In these verses, we have it all: a health screening for signs of disease, a quarantine, a demand that a person test negative for that disease, and special concern with disinfecting practices. Sound familiar?

Beyond the specific instructions for addressing sicknesses, passages like these make a larger point: God cares about our health and wellbeing.

As we enter into the eleventh month of our battle with the COVID-19 pandemic, a fair amount of pandemic fatigue has set in. At least, it certainly has for me. I am looking forward to the day when the vaccine for this virus will be available for anyone who wants it. In the meantime, however, Leviticus 13 with all its regulations can serve as an encouragement to us: God sought to take care of His people by attending to their health. We can do the same as we continue to endure screenings, quarantines, testing, and disinfecting. Remember, we’re getting closer to having this pandemic under control! And for that, I rejoice and am extremely thankful.

January 18, 2021 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Stinky Sacrifices and Sweet Offerings

When God is giving Moses instructions for the tabernacle, one of the things He instructs him to build is an incense altar:

Make an altar of acacia wood for burning incense. Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps. He must burn incense again when he lights the lamps at twilight so incense will burn regularly before the LORD for the generations to come. (Exodus 30:1, 7-8)

This incense altar served a couple of different purposes. On the one hand, it was used in worship. When the father of John the Baptist, Zechariah, famously receives word from the angel Gabriel that he will soon be a father, even though he is well past his child-rearing years, he is stationed at the altar of incense while “all the assembled worshipers were praying outside” (Luke 1:10). On the other hand, this altar served a much cruder purpose. With all the sacrifices that were made at the tabernacle and later at the temple, the fetor from the dead animals would have been overwhelming. The incense helped cover the stench of death.

The stench of death, as offensive as it may have been, was a reminder to the Israelites that sin came with a cost. As the apostle Paul explains: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The question was: is there anything that can stem the stench of sin and death?

In Ephesians 5, Paul writes about a unique sacrifice:

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)

Sacrifices were stinky! But when Christ gave Himself up as a sacrifice, it was “fragrant.” Why? Because Christ was both an “offering and sacrifice.” He was the sacrificial “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) as well as “an aroma that brings life” (2 Corinthians 2:16). He was slaughtered as a sacrifice and sweet-smelling like incense, all at the same time.

I’ve had more than one person tell me that life stinks right now. Nationally, culturally, and personally, we have our share of struggles thanks to sin. And yet, the fragrance of Christ can still overwhelm and overcome the sin of this world. This is the hope we have. And this is the message we are called to share:

Thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Him everywhere. (2 Corinthians 2:14)

May we spread Christ’s aroma and make someone’s life sweeter with Him.

January 11, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Jarring Protest at the Capitol – How Do We Respond?

Not that we needed any more convincing, but yesterday’s events reaffirmed that we live in tumultuous times. The events that unfolded in and the pictures that came out of our nation’s Capitol were disturbing. As we try to process what we saw, felt, and experienced, I have noticed two main reactions to these historic – and infamous – events.

The first reaction is that of anger. The protestors who stormed the Capitol were angry that Congress was moving to formalize the electoral college results because they believed the election results were infected with fraud. Others are now angry at those at the Capitol who were angry, seeing their actions as an attack on American democracy. And the anger continues to boil.

The second reaction is that of fear. The scenes at the Capitol were undeniably scary. The level of distrust of Americans at American institutions and at other Americans is startlingly high. We are scared of what we are seeing at places like the Capitol and we are scared of each other. And this fear shows no signs of abating.

As in our time, the night before Jesus’ death was a tumultuous time – for Jesus and for His disciples. And as things turned increasingly dark, the disciples’ reactions were utterly predictable. Sometimes, they reacted with anger. When Jesus is arrested by a mob of His detractors in the Garden of Gethsemane, for instance, Peter responds in violent fury:

Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (John 18:10)

After Peter’s violent protest fails and Jesus is nevertheless arrested, the disciples react with unalloyed alarm:

Then all the disciples deserted Him and fled. (Matthew 26:56)

The disciples’ reactions, like our reactions, are understandable. But Jesus has a better way for them – and for us – to react to tumultuous times.

When Peter reacts with violent anger to Jesus’ arrest, Jesus rebuffs him:

Put your sword back in its place for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. (Matthew 26:52)

And right before Jesus and His disciples go to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus calls on them to not fall prey to fear:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me. (John 14:1)

So, if anger and fear are off the table, how does Jesus want us to respond to tumultuous times? After Jesus tells His disciples not to let their hearts be troubled, He tells them how to be rescued from fear:

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

The way forward when the world feels like it’s closing in around us is the way of peace. This is why, when tempers flare at injustices and offenses – be they perceived or real – we are called to respond peacefully:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:17-18)

This is also why, when we are scared of others, Christians, just like Jesus did with His disciples after His crucifixion and resurrection, are called to offer peace to others:

When the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19)

Growing up, I remember being told, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” It’s a truism, but I’m not so sure it’s actually true – at least biblically. Biblically, “Peacefulness is next to godliness.” As the apostle Paul writes:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

No matter what we may believe politically, listening to Paul’s appeal would be good for us – and for our nation – spiritually. May we be people of peace rather than anger or fear. May we demonstrate our godliness by our peacefulness. And may we pray for our leaders. They need it. And we do, too.

January 7, 2021 at 1:31 pm 6 comments

Practicing Contentment in 2021

File:The Phillip Medhurst Picture Torah 498. Moses finishes building the tabernacle. Exodus cap 40 v 33. Mortier.jpg
Moses finishes building the tabernacle
Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible Illustrations

As the Israelites wind their way through the wilderness on a trek to the Promised Land, they construct a tent of meeting. This is the place where Moses goes to meet directly with God. The tent is quite elaborate, containing yarns, fine linen, gold, silver, and bronze. Because a project of this magnitude is costly, Moses begins the project with a capital campaign of sorts where:

Everyone who was willing and whose heart moved them came and brought an offering to the LORD for the work on the tent of meeting. (Exodus 35:21)

By all accounts, the capital campaign proves to be wildly successful – so much so that they wind up raising far more than they need for the completion of the tent of meeting. As the workers are assembling the tent from what has been brought, they say to Moses:

“The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the LORD commanded to be done.” Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work. (Exodus 36:5-7)

The workers receive a windfall of gifts for their work on the tent of meeting. But what is really important is this: they recognize the windfall. They know they have more than enough.

It’s hard to recognize a windfall. We are too easily tempted, no matter how much we have, to always want more – and to believe we don’t yet have quite enough.

In Luke 3, John the Baptist preaches about the impending judgment of God. In response, the listening crowd asks:

“What should we do then?”John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:11-14)

To avoid God’s judgment, John calls the people to be content with what they have and not hoard more than they need.

As we head into 2021, a good resolution to make might be this:

I will practice contentment.

After all, as we reflect on 2020, it can be tempting to focus on all the things we didn’t get:

I didn’t get a raise because my company is struggling financially.

I didn’t get to keep my job because I got caught in a round of layoffs.

I didn’t get to spend time with my family over the holidays because of social distancing.

I didn’t get to go out to eat or go much of anywhere at all because so many places were closed.

I didn’t get more time with my loved one because COVID-19 took them.

All these things may be true – and some of them are downright devastating – but they’re still incomplete. Because at the same time there is much we are lacking, there is much we still have:

I still have a job even if I didn’t get the raise.

I still have the wherewithal to look for a job even if I lost my old one.

I still can see my family on Facetime even if I can’t be with them in person.

I still can order food in even if I can’t go out.

I still have loved ones who are with me and God now has a loved one who is with Him.

Statements of loss, with some practice, can turn into reflections of contentment.

No matter what this year may bring, of this much we can be sure: God will provide. And, more than likely, He will provide more than enough. Perhaps we should take some time to recognize that we might just be sitting on a windfall.

January 4, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

More Than A New Year

Credit: Karolina Grabowska / Pexels.com

What a year 2020 has been. When this year began, I never dreamed that the way we do commerce, attend schools, worship at church, interact with each other, and generally live would change the way it has because of a virus that began spreading halfway across the world.

As this year draws to a close, I’ve heard people say again and again, “I sure am glad 2020 is almost over. We need a new year!” I understand the sentiment. I’ve felt it, too. And yet, we all know that a simple change on a calendar doesn’t mean the end of a pandemic. It also doesn’t mean the end of the frustration, fear, fury, and funk that this messy world can bring.

I’ve heard other people say, “This year has been bad, but we can still be thankful because it could have been worse!” This is certainly true. For example, the number of COVID cases to date is just now passing the total number of causalities during World War II, which were a shocking 75 million. But just asserting that things could have been worse doesn’t mean they couldn’t also have been much better. This assertion, even it’s true, isn’t really helpful. We can’t look at life through a Goldilocks lens. Just because something could be worse or could be better doesn’t make what we’re experiencing right now just right.

At a time like this, what we ultimately need is something more than a new year. We need a new creation – one that is not saddled with economic downturns, social isolation, and highly contagious viruses. We need what one of Jesus’ followers named John once saw in a vision:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

John saw an age where all the pain, struggling, and suffering of this world would be wiped away. We’re certainly not there yet. But the promise is that we will get there.

I don’t know when John’s vision will come to pass. And the wait can get frustrating at times. This is why, after John has this vision, the voice from the throne continues:

“I am making everything new!” Then He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5)

While we struggle through this age waiting for the next, this voice from the throne wants us to know that He is in the process of making everything new – right now. And we can see it if we look for it. Every time an impoverished person is helped, things are being made new. Every time a lonely person is comforted, things are being made new. Every time a sick person is healed, things are being made new. And every time a person far from God is brought near in Christ, things are being made new. Yes, a lot of things are not new yet. But newness is on the march. And newness will win the war against “that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan” (Revelation 20:2). A new year might not get rid of some old problems. But God’s persistent forging of a new creation will.

A new year may do us some good. But God’s new creation will is making everything great.

December 28, 2020 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Sunshine & Branches

Tree, Aesthetic, Log, Branch, Winter Sun, Winter, Kahl
Credit: Pixabay.com

When an elderly priest named Zechariah is chosen by lot to burn incense at the temple in Jerusalem, it marks a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, there were around 20,000 priests serving at the temple in the first century. Many of them never got to bring such an offering before God. So, Zechariah, when his lot is drawn, is obviously overwhelmed by the magnitude of the moment. But an already overwhelming moment becomes even more potent when, in the middle of Zechariah’s liturgical service, an angel appears to him, telling him that he and his wife Elizabeth, both of whom could have easily qualified to be members-in-good-standing of the AARP by this point in their lives, will have a child who will, in fulfillment of ancient prophecy, “prepare the way for the Lord” (Isaiah 40:3). At first, Zechariah is skeptical of this angelic announcement, but his suspicion quickly melts into praise and hope, both at the promise that he and his wife will have a child and that his child will prepare the way for the arrival of God’s salvation. At the end of a song of celebration, he muses:

You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heavento shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. (Luke 1:76-79)

In his song, Zechariah celebrates both his child and God’s Messiah. He describes the Messiah as “the rising sun” who will come “to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

This picture of light was a common metaphor for the Messiah among the prophets:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2)

And:

For you who revere My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. (Malachi 4:2)

In a world full of the darkness of sin, the Messiah would bring the light of righteousness.

When Zechariah speaks of the coming Messiah as “the rising sun,” the Greek word Luke employs is anatole, a word which refers to the east, the place from which the sun rises. What is fascinating about this word is that it can also be translated as “branch,” as it is when God speaks through the prophet Zechariah, who lived over 500 years before the priest Zechariah did:

I am going to bring My servant, the Branch. (Zechariah 3:8)

God calls the Messiah “the Branch,” the Greek word for which is anatole. In a world full of death, the Messiah would be like a tree that sprouts and brings life.

This one little word speaks to who the Messiah is in multiple ways. He sheds light in the darkness of sin and he branches out from death with life. Though Zechariah, more than likely, did not understand the fullness of who the Messiah would be and what He would accomplish when he sang his song, we live in what the apostle Paul once called “the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4). In other words, we have the benefit of historical retrospection to understand more fully how Jesus changed the world – and how Jesus still changes lives. And because of this, we, like Zechariah, can have praise to offer and hope to hold this Christmas.

December 21, 2020 at 5:15 am 3 comments

More Than A List Of Names

Last week on this blog, I took a look at one of the most beloved parts of the Christmas story – the journey of the wise men. This week, I’d like to take a look at one of the most often overlooked sections of the story. The Gospel writer Matthew opens his version of the Christmas story not with an angel, or with a star, or with some startled shepherds, but with a genealogy:

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, Solomon the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa, Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram, Jehoram the father of Uzziah, Uzziah the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, Zerubbabel the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, Akim the father of Elihud, Elihud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah. Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah. (Matthew 1:1-17)

You can be honest: did you read the genealogy above just now, or did you skip to the bottom to see what in the world could be said about a list like this? I know the temptation. When I’m reading through the Bible, I’m tempted to skip sections like this, too.

In the ancient world, genealogies were considered critical. They reminded the Jewish people of their history and God’s faithfulness. Genealogies were ways of keeping track of how God had guided and grown His people through the ages. This is especially true in Matthew’s genealogy. Matthew includes a section in his genealogy he titles, “After the exile to Babylon” (Matthew 1:12). When the Babylonians ransacked the city of Jerusalem and carried its residents into captivity, the Israelites wondered if God had turned against them. In the book of Lamentations, they cry:

The Lord is like an enemy; He has swallowed up Israel. (Lamentations 2:5)

Oftentimes, when the Old Testament writers speak of God, they call Him “LORD.” The capitalization of all the letters is meant to cue the reader that the Hebrew behind this translation is “Yahweh,” the personal name for God. The Israelites called God by name because they believed He knew their names – and cared about their lives. But in this line from Lamentations, they do not cry out to God personally, using His personal name Yahweh. Instead, they talk about Him formally – not as “LORD,” but as “Lord,” the Hebrew word here being “Adonai,” which is not a personal name, but a title meaning, “Master.” The God the Israelites once spoke to personally now feels like a harsh Master who is abusing them savagely, as they languish in exile in Babylon.

Matthew’s genealogy reminds us that, even during their darkest moments, God had not given up on His people. The names of those who were driven from Israel were still and recorded in the annals of God’s people and are now remembered as ones who pointed to the One in whom this whole genealogy finds its apogee: “Jesus who is called the Messiah” (Matthew 1:16).

In a year that has been full of so much pain for so many people, this genealogy can remind us that we are also in the annals of God’s family, even when we feel exiled – from friends, from family members, and from normal routines as a pandemic that just won’t quit drags on. My encouragement to you is to take a moment to reflect on the names in Matthew’s genealogy. After all, because of Christ, this genealogy is not just a list of names, it’s your family history in faith – and we should all take some time to learn about our family.

December 14, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment

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