Posts tagged ‘Prophecy’

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

Righteousness from God

"Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth" by Marco Palmezzano, ca. 1490 Credit: Wikipedia

“Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth” by Marco Palmezzano, ca. 1490
Credit: Wikipedia

Because the gospel is the crux of our Christian faith, we can never ponder it, speak of it, or write about it too much.  This is why I was delighted to stumble across this passage from Ezekiel while reading devotionally a few days ago:

The righteousness of the righteous man will not save him when he disobeys, and the wickedness of the wicked man will not cause him to fall when he turns from it. The righteous man, if he sins, will not be allowed to live because of his former righteousness. If I tell the righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done. (Ezekiel 33:12-13)

What a beautiful explanation of the gospel and what kind of righteousness saves.  Ezekiel is clear:  you cannot be saved by your own righteousness!  Indeed, even if you act righteously, just one evil act erases all memory of your righteousness.  As James writes: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10).  To receive salvation, you need another kind of righteousness that is not your own.  You need a righteousness that comes from God.  The apostle Paul brings clarity to what kind of righteousness this is:  “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22).

Besides reminding us that our own righteousness does not and cannot save us, Ezekiel’s words also remind us that the gospel is not confined to the New Testament.  In both Testaments, the message of the gospel is consistent:  it is God’s righteousness, not our own, that saves us.  As God promises through the prophet Isaiah, “I am bringing My righteousness near, it is not far away; and My salvation will not be delayed.”

December 9, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Syria’s Setting the Stage for…the End of the World?

Credit: The New York Times

Credit: The New York Times

I had to chuckle.  While I was doing research for this blog, an email hit my inbox with an ominous subject line:  “History’s final chapter will be written in Jerusalem.”  It was a promotion for the latest Christian apocalyptic thriller, matrixing today’s headlines with cherry picked Scripture verses which come together to portend disaster.  This email was especially funny to me because I was researching precisely these kinds of doomsday declarations for this post.

These days, of course, doomsday’s ground zero is Syria.  And for those who have a penchant for taking ancient prophecies and sensationalizing them in light of current crises, Isaiah 17:1 has taken center stage:  “See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins.”  Joel Rosenberg, author of a new book, Damascus Countdown, is leading the charge of Syrian doom and gloom, writing on his blog,  “No, we don’t know that these prophecies will come to pass soon, or even in our lifetime. But yes, it is possible that Isaiah 17 … could come to pass in our lifetime.”[1]  Predictably, news outlets are picking up on his new take on this old passage.  Everyone from the Huffington Post to USA Today to Fox News to Mother Jones to The Blaze has run stories on Isaiah’s prophecy and its relationship to the current Syrian imbroglio.

For the record, let me say that I highly doubt the prophecy of Isaiah 17 will come to pass in our lifetimes.  How can I say this?  Because it already has come to pass…over 2,700 years ago.  Isaiah originally proffered this prophecy during the Syro-Ephraimite alliance of 735-732 BC.  This is why the fates of the Syrians and Ephraimites are linked in verse 3: “The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim, and royal power from Damascus.”  Ephraim – that is, northern Israel – made a treaty with Syria in a last ditch effort to defend herself against an immanent attack from Assyria, one of the most menacing superpowers of the eighth century BC.  This is why we read in Isaiah 7:2:  “Syria is in league with Ephraim.”  The alliance did not work.  In 732 BC, the Assyrians, led by Shalmaneser, sacked the Syrians, destroying the alliance between Ephraim and Syria.  Ten years later, the Assyrians came for Ephraim, and northern Israel was no more.  Yet, even after this devastating defeat, God made a promise that His people would endure:  “Some gleanings will remain, as when an olive tree is beaten, leaving two or three olives on the topmost branches, four or five on the fruitful boughs” (Isaiah 17:6).  Isaiah uses an agricultural metaphor to describe how God’s people, though defeated by the Assyrians, will never be destroyed.  There will always be a remnant faithful to Him.

To turn this ancient prophecy, fulfilled some twenty-seven centuries ago, into a modern day harbinger of hopelessness is to do violence to it.  Indeed, I am frustrated that many journalists reporting on this story and the debate between those who think this prophecy has already been fulfilled and those who think it is yet to be fulfilled are casting this debate as one between theologians who look at this text literalistically and others who do not.  Take, for instance, this line from Time magazine:  “Nearly all Biblical scholars … argue that such a literalist interpretation of the text is highly problematic.”[2]  The debate over this text is not between those who read this text in a literalistic manner as a prophecy of things to come and those who read it as already being fulfilled in ancient times.  Being “literal” or “non-literal” has nothing to do with this debate.  Rather, this is a debate over how to handle this biblical text responsibly, carefully looking at its context and seeking to understand this text in the manner Isaiah himself would have understood it.  Thus, a responsible reading of this text would note that this oracle against Syria is just one of a series of oracles against places like Philistia, Moab, and Cush, all of which no longer exist.  In context, then, it is clear that Isaiah is speaking not of modern day Syrian warfare, but of an attack against the Syria of his day along with attacks against other nations of his day, leading to their demise.

Ultimately, what is happening in Syria is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, but not of the one in Isaiah 17.  Instead, words from Jesus come to mind:  “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed.  Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” (Matthew 24:6).  Jesus tells us there will be war.  And not just war, but wars.  The current conflict in Syria is just one such example.  Jesus also tells us that these wars do not mean the end of the world has arrived.  Conflicts are indicative that the end is indeed coming, but they are not determinative that the end has come.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Jesus reminds us that we should not be alarmed at these troubled times.  Indeed, instead of fear, we should feel compassion toward those whose lives have been turned upside down by this terrible conflict.  The fear mongering that passes for theology in many best selling books is in direct contradiction to Jesus’ admonishment to be not afraid.  After all, what do we have to fear?  Jesus has the end of the world – and everything leading up to it – taken care of.

We can trust in Him.


[1] Joel C. Rosenberg, “Pastors: here are 24 pages of study notes on Isaiah 17, Jeremiah 49 & the future of Damascus. Please feel free to share with others,” flashtrafficblog.wordpress.com (9.11.2013).

[2] Elizabeth Dias, “Some Evangelicals See Biblical Prophecy In Syrian Crises,” Time (8.29.2013).

September 23, 2013 at 5:15 am 1 comment

When A Little Is A Lot

Mustard SeedIt has long struck me how God can do so much with so little.  A little bit of water and the name of God spoken over us in baptism – and we are brought into the family of Christ.  A little bit of bread and a little bit of wine – and we receive Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.  It doesn’t take much for God to do great things!

I was reminded of this point once again as I was teaching Daniel 10.  In this curious chapter, Daniel receives a vision of “a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around His waist.  His body was like chrysolite, His face like lightning, His eyes like flaming torches, His arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and His voice like the sound of a multitude” (Daniel 10:5-6).  The characteristics of this man are strikingly similar to those used to describe Jesus in Revelation:

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me.  And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to His feet and with a golden sash around His chest.  His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes were like blazing fire.  His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of rushing waters. (Revelation 1:12-15)

Daniel, it seems, is having an encounter with the pre-incarnate Christ.

What is Christ doing before His incarnation?  What He does after His incarnation:  fighting the forces of evil.   He says, “I will return to fight against the prince of Persia” (Daniel 10:20).  Many scholars take this reference to “the prince of Persia” as a reference to a fallen angel and not to the human leader of Persia at this time, Cyrus.  After this prince of Persia, Jesus says, will come the king of Greece.  And then, Jesus ends the chapter by saying, “No one supports me against them except Michael, your prince” (Daniel 10:21).

It is verse 21 that especially struck me.  It is just the Son of God and His archangel Michael against the many and varied forces of darkness and evil.  Daniel 11 goes into detail concerning those many and varied dark forces.  It’s two forces for good marshaled against a countless number of forces for evil.  It’s a little against a lot.  And yet, good carries the day:

At that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered.  Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:1-2)

Evil is consigned to everlasting contempt.  The redeemed of the Lord enjoy everlasting life.  The seemingly little forces for good defeat the massive forces of evil.

Throughout the Bible, evil constantly seeks to gain power using sheer numbers.  The Psalmist writes about how “the kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One” (Psalm 2:2).  But no matter how many forces evil may be able to marshal, evil is no match for the goodness of God.  The quantity of evil foes is no match for the perfect quality of God’s goodness.   As Luther writes in “A Mighty Fortress” of God’s power against the devil and minions:  “One little word can fell him.”  One little word of God can destroy vast army of evil.  And that little word has already by spoken from the cross:  “It is finished” (John 19:30).  From the cross, Jesus sealed Satan’s fate with just a little word.  For “It is finished” means “Satan is finished.”  This little word defeated great evil and saved us.

So never overlook the little things of God.  A little can do a lot.  After all, what the world thought was nothing more than an insignificant execution on a cross wound up offering salvation to all humanity.  From a little cross flows big hope.

February 18, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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