Week 4, January 24-28
Joseph finally reveals his identity to his brothers. He comforts them with the sovereignty of God: in his providence, God has willed the events of being sold into slavery so that eventually their lives would be preserved through the famine. Through all of the twists and turns, through jail time and living in Pharaoh’s palace, Joseph does not harbor any resentment but looks to God for meaning and purpose. Do you generally turn negative and resentful when unpleasant events take place, or do you joyfully wait to see what God has in store years down the road?
Pharaoh sends Joseph’s brothers back to Canaan with more supplies to get Israel. Israel returns with his sons. God spoke to Israel in a vision telling him not to be afraid to make the journey. God himself with go with him and will bring him back here. What follows is a short genealogy of all Israel’s descendants through his twelve sons. It seems like the genealogy is to make certain the reader understands that all of Israel’s family is or will be in Egypt.
Israel is reunited with Joseph in Goshen in Egypt. Goshen was one of the most fertile plots of land in Egypt, so both animals and crops would be plentiful (after the famine subsided, of course). It was also a good distance from the major Egyptian cities, so Israel and his family could live in relative peace. Since the Egyptians do not highly esteem shepherds, it will be easy to keep the family together in Goshen.
The famine continues to worsen, and the people of Egypt are short on money to buy food. The people began selling animals and eventually their privately-owned land to the Pharaoh, through Joseph, in order to buy food. Essentially, many Egyptians became servants to Pharaoh during the famine out of fear as long as Pharaoh gave them food and safety. The people would continue to contribute 20% of their crops to Pharaoh.
Israel is ready to die and asks to be buried with his ancestors. This would have been Machpelah, where Abraham and Isaac were buried. Even today, the "Cave of the Patriarchs” is a holy site in Judaism. As Israel is dying, he speaks to each of his sons. He speaks first to Joseph and his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and tells them about the promise God made to him concerning his offspring and the land of Canaan. Even if Ephraim and Manasseh were born in Egypt, they are still children of the promise.
Ephraim was the younger son, yet Israel gave him the better blessing. Joseph tries to correct his father and have him bless Manasseh, but Israel is acting intentionally. It might be customary to bless the older, but as the younger son who received the better blessing himself, Israel/Jacob is well aware that God uses the lesser/weaker things of this world to work surprisingly great things.
Jacob then proceeds to bless the rest of his sons. Now, some of them do not necessarily read like blessings. They also read like prophecies. Each of his sons will become a tribe. Israel prophecies about the future of each tribe. All of those prophecies came true. Perhaps of most importance is Judah. From Judah’s tribe would come King David and of course Jesus Christ.
Jacob dies and his sons bury him in Machpelah as he requested. Joseph’s brothers are fearful that in the absence of the patriarch, Joseph will retaliate for all of their sins against him. But Joseph comforts his brothers and says that he will not retaliate because he is pleased to be under God’s good purposes. Sometimes those purposes involve situations that involve sin, either our own or others’. Joseph assures them that he is not in the place of God, and only God decides the future. Joseph grows old and dies. Before passing away, he makes his sons swear that they will take his bones to the land promised to his descendants.
The Israelites are settled in Egypt and multiplying throughout the land. There is a new Pharaoh, and he is threatened by the presence of these people with limited loyalty to Egypt. After all, they consider themselves the people of an entirely different deity. He begins to enslave the Israelites into physical labor and the building of cities. The Israelites continue to grow even under the conditions of slavery, so Pharaoh orders the Hebrew midwives to murder all of the male children born to Hebrew women. The Hebrew midwives feared God and not Pharaoh, so they let all of the Hebrew male children live. As retaliation, Pharaoh commands all future born Hebrew males to be drowned. Instead of trusting the midwives, he now commands the Egyptians, his own people, to drown the children and become complicate in his paranoia.
Moses is born. His mother hid him alive for three months, but as with all children, their sheer existence carries with it a certain volume. After she could no longer hide him, she built a basket, placed him inside, and sent him down the Nile. His sister kept an eye on the basket to see what would happen. Pharaoh’s daughter found him and seemingly takes pity on him. There is resistance in Pharaoh’s own house! Moses’ sister offers to find a nurse for Pharaoh’s daughter, and brings her mother to do the job. Not only is a child saved from an evil dictate, but his own mother gets paid to raise him under the nose of the man who ordered his murder.
Mose grows up and feels a burden for his people. He sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave, so he murders the Egyptian. He thinks no one saw, but he is wrong. He flees to a placed called Midian. There, he marries a woman named Zipporah and has a son. Meanwhile, the Israelites are suffering worse than ever in Egypt. But God hears their prayers and is preparing Moses while he is in exile.
While shepherding in Midian, God speaks to Moses through a burning bush. God tells Moses that he has not forgotten his people and will use Moses to bring them to the promised land. Moses is doubtful of his ability, but God promises his presence and power. God tells Moses to tell the people his name is “I Am Who I Am.” There have been many interpretations of this name. The phrase itself simply means something akin to “To Be.” In the face of Moses’ doubts, God describes himself as totally self-sufficient. He is self-sustaining. He is eternal and without end. When you find yourself doubting in God’s existence or God’s goodness, how might remembering his self-sufficiency comfort you?
God instructs Moses on how the exit will take place. Before they leave, which is completely assured, the Israelites will plunder the Egyptians. To make a show of force to Pharaoh, God permits Moses and Aaron, his brother, to perform some miraculous signs. These include turning Moses’ hand leprous and back again, and turning a staff into a snake and back again. Moses again doubtful of his abilities, so as an act of mercy God permits his brother Aaron to speak for him.
Moses and Aaron now go back to Egypt to confront Pharaoh. God promises to harden Pharaoh’s heart. Why might God do that? It seems that he hardens his heart solely to display his power. The Old Testament is always concerned that we make no mistake about who is in control.
However, from the very beginning, God has Moses tell Pharaoh that because Israel is God’s son, God will take Pharaoh’s son if he does not let Israel go. The final plague on Egypt was made perfectly clear at the outset. In response to Moses and Aaron, Pharaoh increases the workload of the Israelites. Another short genealogy legitimizes Moses’ ancestry and right to free the Israelites.
Moses doubts his ability to speak to Pharaoh again, so God outlines how the process will go. Pharaoh will never listen, so they will leave after a series of plagues.
Chapter 7 outlines plague 1, water turning to blood. Chapter 8 covers plagues 2-4, frogs, gnats, and flies. Chapter 9 covers plagues 5-7, the death of livestock, boils, and hail.
The plagues were not arbitrary. The best interpretation is that each plague represents God’s power over the false gods the Egyptians worshiped. The false gods could not stop the plagues; only the word of the one true God could do that. At first, the magicians of Pharaoh’s court could match the signs that Moses and Aaron performed. But once the plagues started, they had no power. Two options are likely: while Moses performed miracles, the magicians performed sleight of hand; or, the magicians, as pagans, were in league with demons and were just the vessels of demonic activity.
Death of John the Baptist (14:1-12)
King Herod (different from the baby-slayer) had taken his sister-in-law as his wife, Herodias. John the Baptist had telling Herod that this was a sinful act. Herod wanted John dead, but all he could do was imprison John because he knew there would be retribution from the people if he had him killed. At Herod’s birthday party, Herodias came up with a scheme to have John killed and get the preacher out of the way. John was killed in prison.
Jesus feeds the 5000/4000 (14:13-21; 15:32-39)
There are two episodes where Jesus feeds several thousand people miraculously. In chapter 14, Jesus withdraws after hearing of John’s death. The people follow him. Even though Jesus wishes to grieve, he has compassion on the people. He orders his disciples to feed the 5000. The disciples bring Jesus The only food they have, which is five loaves and two fish. He gives thanks for what little food they have, and there is enough to distribute to everyone. The passage ends with the note that there were 5000 men who ate. The women and children are not counted. But this was a simple way of counting families. The passage only gives the number of people who ate. So counting men, women, children, and those who may have not eaten, the miracle could have included upwards of 15,000-20,000 people.
The second miraculous feeding is in chapter 15. The crowds followed him for three days with no food. With compassion, Jesus has the disciples feed the people again with what little food they have. This time, they only have seven loaves and a few small fish. Jesus again gives thanks for the little they have, but it will be enough, with God’s provision, to feed them all. In both of these stories, the people were satisfied with the provision of God.
Jesus walks on water (14:22-33)
After feeding the 5000, Jesus leaves the disciples to pray by himself. They are sent on a boat, and a horrible storm arrives. It seems as though they are not terrified by the storm but by seeing Jesus walking on the water. Jesus comforts his distressed disciples. Peter is actually a man of good faith. He knows that he cannot do anything apart from Christ’s command, so he tells Christ to command him to walk on the water. Jesus obliges, but once Peter had to actually do what Christ commanded, he became fearful. He sinks, crying out to Jesus to save him. Now comes when Jesus calls him a man of little faith.
This is how fickle our faith can be. Even Peter, whose faith was firmly fixed on Christ’s command, began to falter when the ground beneath him was ever-moving. We should not castigate Peter. We should learn from him about the nature of faith. When we obey Christ’s commands, we will be supplied with the strength to see it through to the end. When we see what’s against us, like Peter saw the wind, we will falter. Keep your eyes on the prize, not the mockery, abuse, and persecution of the world.
Jesus heals the sick and possessed
(in Gennesaret, 14:34-36; Canaanite woman, 15:21-28, many, 15:29-31; demon-possessed boy, 17:14-20; being sinned against and forgiveness 18:15-20; parable of unforgiving servant, 18:21-25)
Jesus performs many healings and exorcisms throughout these chapters. Sometimes it simply tells us that he healed many people at one time, such as in Genessaret in Galilee. One specific healing that was mentioned is the Canaanite woman whose daughter is possessed by a demon. At first, he reminds the people that he has first sent to Israel, not the Gentiles. That time will come later through the ministry of the apostles. She responds by saying that even the Gentiles (dogs) eat the crumbs from the table (the Jews). Jesus sees her faith and heals her daughter.
There was a TikTok video circulating a while back of a young man using this passage to show how Jesus was a racist but a woman corrected him, proving that even Jesus had blindspots and could be corrected. If that sends you in to a blind rage, you are not alone. Either that young man is twisting Scripture to fit the zeitgeist, or he is completely ignorant of historical and grammatical context. My vote is on both. Either way, nothing stops people these days from putting their ignorance on full display online. Jesus does not denigrate this woman. He is not calling her a dog. The Jews called the Gentiles dogs because of their way of life. They were pagans and rejected God. But this woman did not. She approached Jesus in faith, something the other Canaanites would never do. Jesus was not corrected. He helped a woman of faith.
(traditions, 15:1-9; defilement, 15:10-20; take up your cross, 16:23-28; temple tax, 17:24-27; disciples ask who the greatest is, 18:1-6; parable of the lost sheep, 18:10-14; woe to temptations, 18:7-9)
Jesus’ primary ministry was that of teaching. He healed out compassion. He exorcised demons out of compassion. But he came to teach people what the kingdom of god was like. He often did this in regular, dialectical methods. But his primary teaching tool was the parable.
Jesus interacts with the Pharisees and Sadducees (16:1-12)
The Pharisees were a mixed bag. Many of them became believers. “Conservative” as a description of philosophy is only about 300 years old, but we could say that they were the “conservative” wing of Jewish intellectual leadership. They revered Scripture and taught it faithfully. They looked forward in faith to the resurrection of the just. They believed in the supernatural. Their problem was their hypocrisy. They knew all the right things to say and do, yet they failed to live up to what they expected of others. When the temple was destroyed in AD 70, roughly a generation after Christ’s ascension, it was the Pharisees who would be become rabbis and ensure that Judaism as a religion did not vanish.
On the other hand, the Sadducees were a different breed. Think of them as the “progressives” of their day. They rejected the supernatural. They reinterpreted Moses. They rejected a future resurrection. There was no developed doctrine of the afterlife. As is the case with all “progressive religion”, it vanished. Progressive religion has nothing to offer anyone.
Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ (16:13-20)
Peter’s confession of Christ comes at the middle of both Matthew and Mark’s gospels. In Matthew, Jesus asks the disciples who the people say he is. Then, he asks them who they believe he is. Peter, as head-disciple, replies on behalf of the group. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responds by saying that “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”
There are great debates on what the “rock” is. Petra, or Peter, sounds like “rock” in Greek. Jesus is using wordplay to make his point. We should not dismiss the clear meaning of the text because Roman Catholicism uses it to justify the papacy. The “rock” is not simply Peter’s confession. That would require different grammar. Jesus is simply saying that he will use Peter greatly, along with the rest of the disciples, to build his church, upon which hell has no power. Peter is the main actor in the first half of the books of Acts. Even though Paul becomes known as the missionary to the Gentiles, it is through Peter that the gospel first comes to them. In the new city in the age to come, the names of all the apostles will be carved into the foundation, similar to how the names of the twelve tribes of Israel will be carved into the gates. We should not misinterpret the passage to avoid a misinterpretation.
What’s missing from this passage is any notion of papal succession. The bishop of Rome has no authority over the worldwide church. To read that into the text is to impose a manmade tradition onto Scripture that isn’t there.
Jesus foretells his death and resurrection (16:21-23; 17:22-23)
It is only after the disciples know who Jesus Christ is that he begins teaching them about his death and resurrection. Peter cannot believe that the messiah would suffer, which is a common theme through the gospels. In chapter 17, we even read that this teaching causes the disciples great distress.
The transfiguration (17:1-13)
The transfiguration of Jesus is like his baptism in that the three persons of the Trinity are present. Jesus is present bodily, the cloud is the presence of God (the Spirit), and the Father speaks. The point of Moses and Elijah also being present is likely that they represent the law and the prophets, which all testify to the person and work of Christ.
The people lived in tents during the wilderness journey for forty years. Once the people settled in the land, this was remembered every year when the people celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles. They would build temporary shelters and live in them for a week to remember the wilderness. It also looked forward to the coming of fullness of the kingdom when they would no longer have temporary shelters, but permanent, resurrection life.
Why did the Father interrupt Peter (17:5)? Because Jesus is not Moses or Elijah. God does not live in buildings made by human hands. Jesus is the tabernacle. He is our temple. He will be the rebuilt temple in his resurrection. In the age to come, there is no temple because we have Jesus Christ. Why would there be any need for future temples or animal sacrifices if Jesus has done away with the temple? When Jesus said that he would rebuild the temple in three days, that means that he was the rebuilt temple even before the brick-and-mortar temple was destroyed forty years later! Moses and Elijah might have benefited from a nice little room with a view, but not Jesus.
Psalm 16: I will rejoice in the Lord because he is all I need.
Psalm 17: The Lord will subdue the wicked in time.
Psalm 18: The Lord has all strength and might to rescue his people.
Psalm 19: God reveals himself in nature and in his law.
Psalm 20: Trust in the Lord and he will care for you.
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