Our reading plan is this one: http://ift.tt/1SvMhN8
Also available here: http://ift.tt/174W4G3
(There are commentary and devotionals associated with the readings, but I am skipping those and, obviously, providing my own commentary here on the blog.)
- Genesis 2:18–4:16
- Psalm 2
- Matthew 2:1–18
Writer’s note: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of anyone else associated with Christianity Without The Insanity or anyone or any church or other organization apart from Christianity Without The Insanity.
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A reader suggested I delve more into the background of the Bible as I write these posts. I think that’s a great idea. There may be some that don’t understand the times, locations, and cultures of these writings. So I will be making even more commentary on those things from now on.
Notes on Genesis: Traditionally the author of Genesis is Moses, as are the next four books, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. For the most part, these books are history, telling the story of the origin of the Israelites from Adam (the first man) through Abraham up to their entering the “promised land”.
There is no exact way to know when these stories were written down, let alone exactly when they occurred. Some estimates place Moses’ birth at around 1500 BCE, others closer to 3000 BCE. The truth is, there are no confirmed records of Moses outside the Bible. It cannot even be definitively proven that he existed. All we have is the Bible.
But without getting into the archeological and historical debate, we are going to focus on what the Bible says. But we also need to know a little about the setting.
Whether it was 3000 BCE or 1500 BCE, it was the Bronze age. Mankind has just figured out how to record things in writing, weapons and tools are being made out of a metal hard enough to do some damage (bronze, a copper alloy — hence the Bronze Age). Mining, architecture, art, farming — all these are really taking off as the bronze tools make things easier and faster.
Most of what we know about the Bronze Age and as it would relate to the Israelites is from Egypt. According to Moses, the Israelites were slaves to the Egyptians. Many people imagine the pyramids being built at this time, and if we’re talking about the early end of the Bronze age, they’re right, but by 1500, the pyramids are already more than a thousand years old. We’ll eventually get to all that when we learn about why the Israelites are in Egypt.
The important thing to know now is if Moses wrote Genesis, then he is writing it in the Bronze age. He’s recording history for the people that are following him. In these very earliest stories he is probably writing down what the Israelites have been telling each other for many years. This is their oral history, now recorded for the ages.
With that said, let’s look at today’s reading.
It starts with “on the seventh day God rested” and ends with Cain slew Abel and is sent out from the presence of the Lord.
I’m not going to rehash these well-known stories. Adam and Eve, the serpent, the fruit (the Bible never says it was an apple), the garden of Eden, one brother kills the other…. if you ever went to Sunday School or Vacation Bible School, you probably know these.
But what do they MEAN?
Heck if I know.
No, but seriously, as I mentioned before, these are origin stories. Creation stories. Explanations of why things are the way they are. Was there a real Adam and Eve? I don’t know. DNA evidence tells us there may have been. Some scientists say that all mankind is directly descended from a single woman. (And some that say we’re all descended from a single man, but said man is later than our ancestral Eve — which makes sense if we’re all descended from Noah — but that’s in a later reading.) But was Moses recording these origin stories because they were true? Or was he recording the oral history of the Israelites so they could be preserved?
A question that I am going to bring up a lot over the course of this year: do these stories have to be completely historical to be true?
Jesus told parables. Were his stories literal history or made-up stories to reveal a bigger deeper truth than history could?
My personal theory, my personal, unproven, theory is that the creation stories up to (and possibly including) Noah and his Ark, are not literal history. Does that make them less true? no.
Note on the Psalms: The Psalms are literally songs. The Book of Psalms is literally a song book. A hymn book. It could be argued that it is THE hymn book used by the Israelites during the time of temple worship.
A lot of the Psalms are written by King David, who planned, but didn’t build, the first temple. (We’ll learn more about him later on.) Solomon, David’s son who DID build the temple, wrote one or two, a lot of them we don’t know their author. We don’t know the exact date they were all collected into one place, but we do know they earliest surviving copies predate Christ. (Look up the Dead Sea Scrolls, for example).
Today’s Psalm doesn’t have a known author. Some ascribe it to Solomon since the format is similar to many of the Proverbs which are known to be written by Solomon. Plus it mentions God speaking to a king in a way similar to the story of Solomon.
There’s not a lot to say about today’s Psalm. It’s hard to add commentary to songs and poems that express so beautifully the thought of the author. The best thing I can say about this psalm and so many others is just read it. Put aside anything you’ve heard about prophecy and history and let the psalm itself speak to you as you would any poem.
Notes on Matthew: The book of Matthew records some of the details of the life of Jesus. The events recorded there most likely took place before 40 CE. The book, however, was probably written 50 or so years later. The gospel is attributed to Matthew, one of the 12 apostles (followers or students or close friends), but the author never mentions himself, so we don’t know for certain who wrote it originally. Matthew (also known as Levi) was a tax collector working for the Romans before he left that life to follow Jesus.
The book, if written by Matthew, was probably written at the end of his life. He wanted to record things before he died so his story could be shared with others.
Jesus lived at minimum 1500 years after the time of Moses. The Bronze age is over and we’re into the iron age. An age dominated by the Roman Empire.
Tools and weapons are made of steel. Harder, stronger, and longer lasting than Bronze, steel allows the Roman to take over pretty much the entire known world (or as it was known to the near-eastern people such as the Jews.) It’s in this setting that Jesus is born and today’s reading takes place.
Christmas. A baby in a manger, shepherds, wise men. We all know the story. At the time I’m writing this, it’s Sundown on January 5th, traditionally it’s Epiphany. If you don’t know what that is, that’s OK. Some churches recognize the holy day Epiphany as the day the wise men arrived to visit the newborn Jesus. It’s significant because it’s the first time that gentiles (non-Jewish people) recognize Jesus as God in human form.
The Nativity story (the birth stories of Jesus are called “nativity” stories, that’s why we have nativity scenes) in Matthew doesn’t give us the entire story of mangers and shepherds and all that, but it does tell us the story of the wise men. The Bible never says there were only three of them. We put three figures in our nativity scenes because of the three gifts mentioned, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. If they did travel “from the east”, present day India maybe or maybe even further, most likely it was a caravan with many people and pack animals.
From the east, following a star, visit the baby, but leave by a different road home so they don’t have to tell the King where to find the baby.
But the last bit, they don’t tell you during Christmas. The King (Herod) was wanting to kill Jesus because he was told of a baby that would replace him. In his jealous rage, he ordered all male children under two to be killed.
Yeah, pretty harsh. But Jesus was taken by his (earthly) father Joseph with his mother to live in Egypt.
An important thing to note about Matthew as a writer, he is big on prophecy. Prophecy literally means “message from God”, but a lot of times those messages are about the future. At the time that Jesus was born the Jews were looking for the ‘messiah’. They had been expecting this messiah (meaning anointed one, or king since kings are anointed) for a long time and they had collected messages from their books (what we know as the Old Testament) that they thought were telling them how to recognize the messiah when He came.
Matthew wants his readers to know that Jesus is the one that fulfills these prophecies. You can see that where he writes “spoken by the prophet” or “written by the prophet” or similar phrases. Because of this, many scholars think that Matthew was writing specifically to his fellow Jews who were looking for the messiah, and even though Jesus had long since (in human years) died, resurrected, and left for heaven, Matthew wanted them to know He was ‘it’.
So that’s it for today’s readings! What are your thoughts on what these passages say?
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- Genesis 4:17–26, Genesis 5, Genesis 6
- Psalm 3
- Matthew 2:19–23
- Matthew 3
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