Matthew 1

New testament! After a number of years reading the Bible, I’ve finished the old testament. All the law, history, philosophy and prophesy come together in the four accounts of Jesus’ life that kick off the new testament.

I’ve already dipped into Luke and John along the way, but I’m going to start back sequentially: Matthew.

By reputation it’s the one with the strongest links to the old scriptures.

And what stronger link than kicking off with a geneaology! Many unknown names, but also many memories of the sweep of the Torah and the histories. It follows the father’s line and shows how David was related back to the patriarchs, and Jesus back to David.

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah. David, Solomon and all the kings of Judah good and bad.

Notable women are singled out, and what a crew: Tamar, a survivor in a cruel dynasty, Rahab, who sheltered the spies in Jericho and believed the coming judgement, Ruth from Moab, Bathsheba. These women often rose above the ignominy and nastiness of the patriarchys of the patriarchs. They ground the stories in gritty realities.

The symmetry of the numbers of generations and eras to lead to Jesus (3×14 generations), the messianic prophesy from Isaiah, the minutiae of the virgin birth in the narrative of Mary and Joseph. It all points to Jesus’ eternal cosmic significance.

God has planned this birth for generations, telegraphed it to a godless and uncomprehending humanity and engineered it. That’s all already present. Wow.

The reasons for Jesus are clear: to save us from our sins, to be God with us.

1 Chronicles 9

In answer to the last entry, this now lists the families from Judah and Benjamin who returned to Jerusalem. Levite priests too, plus some details of where people were and what their roles were.

I don’t know what the significance of the post exile Jerusalem was in the greater story. I mean it is part of establishing that Jesus is the longed for Messiah. I suppose none of the prophesy could have been fulfilled but for that…

I remember talks from when I was young that God may have some remaining plan for Jewish people specially, some things Paul says maybe.

Genesis 38

Genesis! Like a classic TV series, they keep wrong footing you on plot. 

On the basis of the last chapter you think it’s going to be Joseph’s story, he is the child of destiny, betrayed and left to rot in Egypt.

But that moment of high suspense is left on hold to tell the side story of Judah, the brother who had the idea to sell him into slavery.

It’s like a sensationalist soap opera, lurching between lurid, corrupt characters. Like Dynasty or Dallas, but with glimpses of the divine.

Judah continues to cover himself in no glory. Not a godly man at all. He marries a Canaanite woman, and falls into the local sexually promiscuous religion.   

The background to the subsequent events is the strange polygamous family marriage rules of that world. In well off families, women’s male children were their financial security, and they could keep marrying sons until they got one.

So when Judah’s eldest son died his widow Tamar became a wife of the second son. But he practised withdrawal contraception to rob her of the possibility of conception, presumably to favour the inheritance of another wife’s child. This was ethically a cruel and grievous crime against Tamar.

Judah promised her the third son, once he got old enough to marry, but then appeared to forget the promise when the time came, leaving her a vulnerable childless widow, double betrayed.

She took the extraordinary step of posing as a temple prostitute and got pregnant to Judah. When the baby started to show he threatened to burn her for adultery until she proved he was the father.

Judah broke down and said “she is more righteous than I” as well he should, having had revealed: his callous disregard of his promise to her, how far from his religion he had strayed, and his eggregious double standards. The punishment of burning for adultery was unusually severe even for those days… It’s rather like he welcomed an excuse to dispose of her. And he knew he was no better, frequenting prostitutes. 

She has twins. The one actually fully born second stuck a hand out of her first, and a Scarlett ribbon was tied to it to indicate which had broken out first. 

What is it about scarlet threads and the line of Christ? It brings to mind, thousands of years before the event, the blood shed for mankind. A Scarlett thread also features in the story of Rahab in Jericho, a later feisty female link in the great chain that would lead to the Messiah. 

Yes, Tamar is in the messiah’s line giving a blessed grace to the domestic disaster zone that is nasty Judah’s nasty house. It was by faith, presumably, that she posed as a prostitute!


Matthew 1

December 2015 I am switching to Matthew for the Christmas season, as is our church.

Starts with the genealogy of Jesus. One of the most unbelievable bits of the bible, if I’m honest. The old hymn “god is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year” springs to mind.  They say our lives are predetermined and freewill at the same time, but really? All those generations, perfectly even in number from Adam to Abraham to David to Jesus. 3 times 14. All those lives, marriages and family dramas.

Matthew is the Jews gospel, I recall from previous bible studies. But what a moment! Putting the whole damn book together like a mighty jigsaw puzzle, it’s all been leading to the birth of the messiah. Connecting the whole biblical record in one simple equation: 14 x 3. 42, the answer to life, the universe and everything.

OK, read up a bit, and it seems I’m right to find it all a bit too neat. It is argued the numbers have been massaged with omissions and seemingly made up names (at least, some are so obscure that this is the only place they are found). Charitably, some say it’s “symbolic”. Scholars have never figured out why this one is vastly different from Luke’s (most common theory, this is tracing the paternal line, not maternal).  The disparity was a major stumbling block for saint Augustine apparently, a big reason for him rejecting Christianity during his youth.

Fortunately my belief has never been based on historicity, my experience mirrors St Augustine’s (when he eventually came back to the fold) “restless our hearts until in Thee they find their ease”. So the literal truth or otherwise of this genaology is something I can clear up in heaven.

Actually its a doozy of a prayer he wrote:

Late have I loved Thee, O Lord; and behold,
Thou wast within and I without, and there I sought Thee.
Thou was with me when I was not with Thee.
Thou didst call, and cry, and burst my deafness.
Thou didst gleam, and glow, and dispell my blindness.
Thou didst touch me, and I burned for Thy peace.
For Thyself Thou hast made us,
And restless our hearts until in Thee they find their ease.
Late have I loved Thee, Thou Beauty ever old and ever new.

Anyway, message received, Jesus is the messiah, the anointed, the true realisation of God’s covenant with Abraham, the king in the line of David, who it has all been building up to. Let’s move on!

The birth of Jesus is told entirely through Joseph’s eyes. He gets a dream from God to tell him to believe Mary’s most unbelievable story ever to explain apparent non-virginity.

It is a fulfillment of prophecy in Isaiah.

We enter December reeling from another crazy mass shooting in the U.S.

I’m finding reading the bible every day is not working for me at the moment, I don’t understand.

Father, life is going too fast and I am having trouble focussing. I feel that my job his becoming a crutch and I am losing focus in my mission. Please give me wisdom and passion.

Genesis 5

The family line from Adam to Noah.  A joining chapter.  Yes, in the old testament, not every chapter has a neat message you can take into the day with you…

Note in the summary of creation we go back to the man and woman in God’s image again… I love the egalitarian ideal in that.

Everyone lives a very long time.  It seems ridiculous.  No one knows whether people actually did live much longer in ancient days.  Reports show up in a number of cultures, but it could be a different idea of a year or any number of things.  Or it could be literally true.

It is referenced in establishing the genealogy of Jesus, the fulfiller of the promise to strike the snake.

To google this chapter brings out a lot of whacky commentary.  I settled on Matthew Henry as usual. He always has so much to say, you feel ashamed for thinking a passage didn’t mean much.  The pattern of lives breaks with Enoch, who is so good he does not die.  And Methusala, the one who lives longest dies with the flood.  People suggest that this was a prophecy, and the length of his life is an example of God’s grace, putting off the judgement of the flood.

Anyhow, this zooms us forward through lots of time until Noah, and shows us that while man became so corrupt as to require judgement, a line that led to the faithful Enoch, who walked faithfully with God, who’s great grandchild was Noah.

Luke 2

Birth of christ. Such a strange story, the return to hometown, the line of David, the inn, the swaddling clothes. Such a miserable birth.

The punch line is so often “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart”.

All these people get signs and wonders indicating that Jesus is the messiah, God’s salvation.

Simeon and Anna. Remarkable gender equality. Both old people.

Mary didn’t really understand when Jesus said he would be in his father’s house. But she treasured it in her heart anyway.