Friday, January 30, 2009

Matthew 1:18–25

Matthew 1:18–25: The Birth of Jesus Christ

Synopsis

This passage tells a short version of the birth of Jesus. (The Gospel of Luke has more details about his birth.) Mary, who is betrothed to Joseph, becomes pregnant by the Holy Spirit while she is still a virgin. When Joseph finds this out, he decides to divorce her quietly; he doesn’t want to put her to shame, because he is “a just man” (verse 19 (ESV) ).

However, while Joseph is still thinking about it, an angel appears to him in a dream, and explains the situation to him. The angel also tells Joseph that when Mary gives birth, they are to name their son Jesus—which means “the LORD saves”—because he is going to save their people from their sins.

When Joseph wakes up, he’s convinced. He takes Mary as his wife, and when their son is born, they name him Jesus. (Of course, they don’t have sex until after Jesus is born.)

Thoughts

First of all, I should mention (as everyone else does) that being “betrothed” is a more legally binding state than what we call being “engaged” in 21st Century North America. There are actually a couple of stages of betrothal, and when you get to the second stage, it’s as legally binding as marriage (meaning that you would need a legal divorce to end the betrothal), even though the couple would still not be married. And sexual relations would not happen until marriage.

It’s interesting that Joseph doesn’t want to put Mary to shame, because he is “a just man.” (I’m speaking from his point of view before he found out that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit.) Surely it would have been just for him to allow her to deal with the consequences of her actions, wouldn’t it? I’m sure that’s what most men would have done—and they probably would have raised a big stink about it, while they were at it. In fact, going back to the discussion of betrothal, if Mary had been guilty of getting pregnant the normal way, it would actually be considered adultery, and, under Mosaic law, would be punishable by stoning. (I don’t know if the Jews would have been allowed to carry out a stoning, under the Roman rule,though; when they wanted to execute Jesus they weren’t able to.) The Bible praises Mary quite a bit, but we shouldn’t forget that Joseph was a good and honourable man, too. He handled this better than most men would have. Jesus was lucky to have two good parents to be born to. Er… he was blessed to have two such parents. Er… he blessed himself by giving himself… never mind. Thinking this way hurts my brain.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Matthew 1:1–17

Matthew 1:1–17 (ESV): The Genealogy of Jesus

Synopsis

The book of Matthew—and, hence, the New Testament—opens with Jesus’ genealogy. In these seventeen verses, Matthew traces Jesus’ lineage from Abraham (the father of the Jewish religion).

Thoughts

There isn’t much to say about a passage that does genealogy. I did notice a couple of things that interested me, though.

In verse 6 (ESV), instead of just mentioning that David was the father of Solomon, Matthew says that “… David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah” (emphasis added). Matthew didn’t have to add in that detail, it’s really an aside from the point that he’s making, but he does include it. Jesus is the only perfect person who ever lived; none of his ancestors were, not even David—and that’s why he had to come in the first place!

He also includes women in the genealogy, which is not common.

Matthew breaks the genealogy up into three distinct sections:
  1. From Abraham to David
  2. From David to the deportation to Babylon
  3. From the deportation to Jesus
Matthew mentions that there are fourteen generations included in each section, and I’m sure numerologists have a field day with that, although the ESV Study Bible points out that Matthew actually excludes some generations from his genealogy—so it’s not quite as precise as all that!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

General Blog Update

It feels weird to be even putting up this post; this blog is really just intended for my own use, for my own devotions, rather than being a public thing. However, there are people who come here—even a few who “follow” the blog, according to Blogger—so I guess I’ll go ahead and put this post up.

Obviously I haven’t been posting that much lately. As mentioned earlier, my daily situation has changed, making it harder to post every day. However, I will continue to work my way through the Bible, and if it takes me fifteen years instead of five, then so be it. (Then again, if the Lord takes me before then, I’ll be happier in His presence than I would be blogging anyway, so it’s win-win.)

I am instituting a change to the way that I work my way through the Bible, however. Actually, two changes.

First, I’m not going to go straight through, Genesis–Revelation. Instead, I’m going to follow a reading plan suggested in the New Student Bible (which was my Bible of choice for many years). This plan alternates between the Old Testament and the New Testament. I’ve put up a spreadsheet here which shows my progress. This means that I’ll be in the New Testament for quite a while, as I get caught up to my schedule, but it will help me to alternate between the Old and New Testaments.

The second change is that I’m going to start using the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible for some of my quotations, going forward. To this point, I’ve used the New International Version (NIV) almost exclusively, although in my personal readings, I’ve started reading from the ESV version instead. What I will likely do is use the ESV for my New Testament posts, and continue using the NIV for my Old Testament posts. There’s no rhyme or reason for my decision to split it up that way, it’s just the way I am doing it for now. That being said, I’ll also start indicating which version I’m quoting from; in the past, if I didn’t say, it was just assumed that I was quoting from NIV, but going forward, whether I’m quoting from NIV, ESV, or something else, I’ll always indicate so.

I Samuel Summary

The book of I Samuel covers a lot of ground, and includes some very familiar stories (including the story of David and Goliath, in Chapter 17). It begins with the birth of the prophet Samuel, and his rise to become the official prophet of Israel—taking over from Eli’s family, whom the LORD judges to be unfit to be Israel’s spiritual leaders. However, when Samuel is getting close to the age when he won’t be able to lead anymore, the people of Israel demand that he install a king, so that they can be like the other nations around them.

Samuel is not not happy with this request—the Israelites are not supposed to be like the other nations, they’re supposed to be set apart to the LORD and He is supposed to be their leader—but God tells Samuel to go ahead and submit to their request. God then appoints Saul to be the Israelites’ first king.

At first, Saul seems to be a good choice. However, it soon turns out that he is willing to take shortcuts and disobey the LORD when he deems it convenient, so God removes Saul as king, and sends Samuel to anoint David as Israel’s new king.

For those who don’t know the story, one might assume that David would then take over as king, but this is not what happens. Instead, although the LORD has removed His blessing from Saul, He leaves Saul as king for quite a number of years after. He even institutes David as Saul’s servant, where David plays music for Saul when Saul is having one of his mental episodes! Eventually, however, Saul becomes convinced that David is going to usurp his throne, even though David has never made a move to do so—in fact, David absolutely refuses to do so on numerous occasions, refusing to lift a hand against “the LORD’s anointed.”

Eventually, David has to go into hiding, because he fears for his life, what with Saul wanting to kill him. Once this happens, the rest of I Samuel seems like a downhill journey for Saul, as we simply wait for his kingship to be over, and an uphill journey for David, as we see him maturing during his time in hiding. The book ends with Saul’s death, but without David taking over in his stead; for that, we’ll have to wait for II Samuel.

I Samuel 31

I Samuel 31: Saul Takes His Life

Synopsis

This passage brings to a close the tale of Saul. In a previous passage, Saul had been frightened of the upcoming battle with the Philistines, and the ghost of Samuel had predicted that Saul was going to be killed. Not surprisingly, Samuel was right.

The Israelites fight the Philistines in battle, but the Philistines defeat them; they kill many, and drive the rest away. They also kill Saul’s sons, and their archers overtake Saul himself, and critically wound him. Saul is afraid that the Philistines will come upon him and finish the job, and “abuse” him (verse 4; the ESV says he’s afraid that they will “mistreat” him), so he asks his armour bearer to run him through. His armour bearer is unwilling to do so, however, so Saul has no choice but to take his own life.

At this point, the nation of Israel is in disarray. When the Israelites near the area realize that their soldiers have fled before the Philistines, they abandon their homes and flee. The Philistines immediately occupy those towns, of course. The next day (I assume the next day after the battle where Saul dies; not necessarily the day after they occupy the Israelite towns), the Philistines come across Saul’s body, and it becomes a trophy for them. They cut off Saul’s head and strip off his armour, send people throughout their land to proclaim the good news, and put his armour into their Ashtoreth temple. They also hang his body and the bodies of his sons on the wall of one of their cities.

When the people at Jabesh Gilead hear about what has happened, they send their “valiant men” (verse 12) to rescue the bodies, and take them to Jabesh, where they give them proper funeral pyres, bury the bones, and fast for seven days.

Thoughts

Actually, it turns out there’s not much to say about this chapter; it’s fairly cut and dried. Saul’s death—along with the deaths of his sons—has already been predicted by Samuel, so it’s not a surprise. The book of II Samuel, then, will carry on from this point, where presumably David will take over as king of Israel. (I say “presumably” because I don’t want to give anything away; we’ll maintain the suspense, for now.)

Friday, January 02, 2009

I Samuel 30

I Samuel 30: David Destroys the Amalekites

Synopsis

In the last passage, the Philistine leader Achish was convinced by the other Philistine leaders not to let David accompany them into battle against the Israelites, because they figured David would probably turn on the Philistines during the battle. (And they were probably right, although the Bible doesn’t say so.)

In this passage, David and his men return to Ziklag, only to find that the town has been raided by the Amalekites. They have razed the town to the ground, and taken captive everyone who was living in it (although they haven’t killed anyone). David and his men are disheartened, to say the least. In fact, they weep aloud, until they have no strength left to weep (verse 4)! And then—I guess when they find some of their strength back—David’s men begin to talk about stoning him, but David finds strength in the LORD (verse 6).

David has Abiathar bring the ephod, so that he can inquire of the LORD, because he wants to know if he should pursue the Amalekites or not. He is told to pursue them, because he will overtake them, and succeed in rescuing his people. So he does, although not all of his men are able to go the whole way; they all start out with David, but at a certain point two hundred of his men have to stay behind, because they’re just too exhausted to continue on.

David then comes across an Egyptian. They give the man some food, since he hasn’t eaten in a few days, and he tells them that he had been the slave of one of the Amalekites, but was left behind when he got sick. He agrees to lead David and his men to the Amalekites, if the Israelites promise not to kill him or hand him over to his previous master.

So he does, and David and his men find the Amalekites. They fight the Amalekites for two days (“from dusk until evening of the next day” (verse 17)), and kill all of the Amalekites (except for four hundred young men who flee on camels). They successfully rescue their people, take back their plunder, and, I assume, take anything else that had previously belonged to the Amalekites as plunder.

On their way back to Ziklag, they come across the two hundred men who had been too exhausted to accompany David into battle. The “evil men and troublemakers” in David’s group want to withhold plunder from the two hundred men, since they didn’t take part in the battle, to just let them take their own wife and children and that’s it (verse 22), but David isn’t having it.

David replied, “No, my brothers, you must not do that with what the LORD has given us. He has protected us and handed over to us the forces that came against us. Who will listen to what you say? The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All will share alike.” David made this a statute and ordinance for Israel from that day to this. (verses 23–25)

Furthermore, when David gets back to Ziklag, he takes some of the plunder and sends it back to some of the elders of Judah (friends of his), as a gift.

Thoughts

The first thing to notice about this passage is that the Amalekites take all of the Israelites captive, but don’t kill anyone. Surely this can’t be usual; I would expect them to take just the virgin girls, or maybe the women and children, but they take everyone, and kill no one. We have to see the LORD’s hand in this; only He would prevent them from killing anyone.

We also see David continuing to grow as a leader, and as a follower of the LORD. I was reading in the ESV Study Bible the other day that they were describing the books of I and II Samuel as an X, with Saul starting out as the LORD’s anointed leader, but then declining as David increases and becomes the new anointed leader of the country. In previous posts I’ve mentioned how young David seemed, but he’s growing into a real leader, and still getting his strength from the LORD.