In chapter 19, Lot has settled in Sodom. God has already set out to destroy Sodom because of the unrepentant sin of the people, and Abraham has prayed for it to be spared (chapter 18). God says that if within the entire land he can find a meager 10 righteous people, he will relent. Chapter 19 is evidence that he did not find even 10 righteous people, and he reaffirms his intent to destroy it. Two angels meet with Lot to tell him to take his family and get out. The immorality of the townspeople knows no bounds, and they even try to have their way with these angels. The angels send Lot and his family out to a nearby village so he can be safe. But Lot is not much better than the townspeople. Even though he’s saved from the fire and brimstone from heaven, his daughters get him drunk and do what ought not to be done in order to preserve their family line. Total insanity. It seems Lot is only spared for Abraham’s sake.
In chapter 20, Abraham has Sarah tell the leaders of the town through which he’s traveling that she is his sister so that he doesn’t get killed. If this sounds like an instant replay, it’s because the same thing happened in Genesis 12 while Abram and Sarai went to Egypt to avoid a famine. God doesn’t let Abimelech, the king, know Sarah intimately in order to preserve him, just like he did with Pharaoh. What does it say about God that he has preserved these people even amidst their sin? Think of both Lot, his daughters, and now Abimelech.
In chapters 21-22, we finally get to see the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah in the birth of Isaac. Hagar, Sarah’s maiden, has already given birth to Ishmael. Sarah becomes indignant of Hagar, so she has Abraham kick out both Hagar and Ishmael to die in the wilderness. But God promises Abraham that even if they kick out Hagar and Ishmael, he will not let them perish. In fact, God will grow Ishmael into his own great nation. But Isaac is the child of the promise, and that doesn’t change. Abraham then makes a treaty with Abimelech so he can live in the land of the Philistines, the land where his posterity will live and God’s promise will be fulfilled.
God then tells Abraham to take Isaac to Moriah to sacrifice him. At the beginning, we are not given any reason. But even though it seems as though the promise of a nation is about to end, Abraham believed God would make a way even if Abraham couldn’t see it. He even tells his servants that he will return from the mountain with Isaac, so he believes he will not ultimately lose his son. Also, Abraham tells Isaac that God will provide the sacrifice for the altar. As Abraham is about to bring the knife down on Isaac, an angel stops him. It has been a test of whether or not Abraham fears God more than anyone else. As Abraham said, God provided a ram that was stuck nearby instead of Isaac. Where else have we read of God providing an animal already (think Genesis 3)? How do both of these stories preach the gospel?
In chapter 23, we read of Sarah’s death. Abraham purchases a cave to serve as a grave for her. This passage shows us that Abraham’s presence in the land continues to increase.
In chapter 24, Abraham sends a servant to find a wife for Isaac. The only stipulation is that his wife cannot come from the land in which they are currently living but must come from Abraham’s homeland. The servant obeys, goes to Mesopotamia, and by divine providence meets Rebekah. They both go back to Nahor, who is Rebekah’s father. They strike up a deal, and Rebekah goes back to Canaan with the servant. Isaac and Rebekah are married.
In chapters 25-28, we read that Abraham marries a second wife since Sarah has died. Isaac and Rebekah have two sons, Jacob and Esau. Rebekah is barren, but God opens her womb. Esau was born first, then Jacob. Esau became a sportsman, and Jacob was more of an “indoor cat.” Isaac played favorites with Esau, and Rebekah with Jacob.
As adults, Esau sells Jacob his birthright for a bowl of stew. In the ancient near east, the birthright was how a father’s estate was passed down to his children. For a wealthy man like Jacob, this was like Elon Musk having to go through all the legal work of making sure his firstborn son inherits complete control of his empire. For Esau to “despise his birthright”, this means he was was somewhat of a brat. He cared so little for his family, his own prosperity, and his own life, that it was as nothing for him to give it up for his immediate, short-term needs. For those of us who need a job just to stay afloat, we can’t imagine how anyone would ever give up immense wealth for a fleeting desire such as an appetite. But where does Jesus tell a parable about two sons who give up what their father has for them, and what is the meaning of that parable?
Jacob, at the behest of his mother, then proceeds to finalize the subterfuge by dressing up as Esau to go visit his blind father in order to make sure he secures once-for-all the birthright from his drama-queen brother. If there isn’t a show on TLC about this bag of nuts, there should be. As all deception goes, the culprit eventually gets found out. Esau wants to kill Jacob, so Rebekah sends Jacob to live with her brother Laban under the guise of finding a wife for him. On the way, Jacob has a dream of a series of steps (literally a flight of steps), likely a massive structure, from heaven to earth with angels going up and down. God stood at the top and reaffirmed his covenant with Abraham’s lineage. Where have you already read about another massive structure from earth to heaven, and what is the difference between these two?
In chapters 29-31, Jacob has a similar experience to his father in terms of finding a wife. He goes to a new place, meets some shepherds at a well, and asks about a certain family. He goes to Laban’s house and meets his daughter Rachel. They work out a deal where Jacob will work for Laban for a time (since Jacob had to flee from his home and has no wealth of his own yet) to marry Rachel. But now it’s time for Jacob to be deceived. Rachel is the younger of Laban’s two daughters, Leah being the older daughter who would traditionally be married first. Jacob is bilked in to marrying Leah and strikes another deal so he can marry Rachel, whom he loves.
What follows is a passage about the children born to Leah and Rachel, who become the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel. Jacob, always the schemer, then comes up with a way of getting out from Laban’s thumb with his two wives and twelve children that involves whittled sticks and speckled sheep. God shows his mercy on Jacob and makes sure he leaves Laban’s home with more than he’ll ever need.
Chapters 6-7 continues the sermon on the mount. Jesus covers hypocrisy, spiritual anxiety, and the kingdom of heaven in general. The whole sermon could be summarized as, “True happiness is found in righteousness.”
Chapter 8 returns to narrative. Jesus performs a series of miraculous healings. First, he heals a leper. In a strange turn, Jesus tells the leper not to tell anyone that Jesus healed him. Jesus wants to make sure that his teaching about his upcoming death and resurrection are the focus of his ministry, not his miracles.
Second, he heals a Roman centurion’s servant. The centurion shows Jesus the kind of faith he has, and Jesus responds that not a single soul in Israel has the faith that the Gentile has. Third, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law. Fourth, Jesus healed many more and cast out demons.
In chapter 9, Jesus again heals a lame man. This time, the scribes are watching closely. Jesus responded to this paralytic by forgiving his sins, which only God can do. In this exchange we learn what the miracles are for: acting as proof of the person and work of Christ. Only God can forgive sins, it’s easier to pretend to say someone’s sins are forgiven than heal a paralytic, so Jesus just does both! By healing someone’s physical body, Jesus shows that he has authority creation and every part of us. Because only God can forgive sins, Jesus, by forgiving the man’s sins, proves himself to be God in the flesh.
He then calls Matthew to be a disciple. Jesus then shares a meal with Matthew, presumably, and many others who the text calls “tax collectors and sinners”. Again the Pharisees are flabbergasted that someone would willingly engage with such wretched people. In that day, tax collectors were professional extortionists. They had a minimum tax to collect, and Rome gave them authority to collect any amount above that minimum for themselves to act as their pay. Matthew, a Jewish tax collector for the Roman overlords, was a traitor. The Jews hated people like Matthew, lickspittles to the regime.
Why were people like Matthew so willing to follow Jesus at the drop of a hat? Galilee was actually a very well-educated area. Even fisherman like Peter knew the Old Testament quite well. After what we’d call primary school, some would continue on with further religious education with a rabbi. After that, most would move on and pick up a trade and start a family. Some rabbis would seek out their best students and ask if they would consider further training. In a setting that placed a high value on religious education, that was an honor you didn’t reject. Since Matthew was hated by the people, and probably hated himself as a result, having a rabbi like Jesus say “Follow me” was an unimaginable blessing. It’d be like finishing high school and being offered full tuition and housing at Oxford.
Chapter 10 begins by Jesus gathering together the twelve disciples and sending them out to heal diseases, cast our demons, and raise the dead. As they go out in Jesus’ name, they will be persecuted and hated by some. If persecution takes place in one town, Jesus says to flee to the next. But even in persecution, the disciples are not to be fearful of anyone. Our bodies may be killed, but our soul lives on to receive a new body when Christ returns. So, Jesus tells them, do not fear any man. They have limited authority, anyway. The gospel will divide people, but it will divide people because it is true. And people love to believe lies.
Psalm 6: I am spiritually weak and in need of God to hear me.
Psalm 7: Bring an end to evil, Lord, and protect me.
Psalm 8: The Lord has made all things, and in his mercy he watches over us.
Psalm 9: The Lord has done many wonderful things, and he will not forget his people.
Psalm 10: God may seem distant or uncaring, but he promises to bring about ultimate justice.