Bible Reading Week 8 (Feb 21st- 27th, 2022)

Week 1Week 2Week 3; Week 4; Week 5; Week 6; Week 7

This week sees us finds us at the beginnning of Exodus in the OT/HB readings and in a section of Matthew’s gospel that begins to introduce more overtly, the opposition Jesus and his followers will face.

Exodus is vital for our understanding of covenant (cf. 2:24), atonement and salvation (see the final plague or act in Exodus 12), and political theology (it is particularly poignant to read of Israel’s harsh treatment at the hands of the oppressive Pharoah on this week of all weeks). In this week’s section, it is the nature and character of God that stands out. In particular, we encounter God’s presence and his name. We are re-introduced once more to the care and concern of a God who is concerned present or “with” his people (see the references to God being with Israel in 3:12, 18; 4:12, 15; 5:3, picking up on God’s promises to be with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob throughout Genesis). And we read the amazingly rich account of God revealing his name, in three stages, to Moses in Exodus 3.

In Matthew, we begin with a cycle of miracles and healings (8:18-9:38) that introduce Jesus’s power over nature and illness and his ability to forgive sins. Dark clouds of opposition appear as Jesus is accused both of having a demon and blaspheming. Matthew then introduces the second block of teaching (after the Sermon on the Mount, 5-7) with the missionary sermon/sending of the 12 (Matthew 10). This section introduces further promises of opposition and hardship for thsoe who follow Jesus (cf. 10:24-25 which neatly connects the opposition Jesus encounters with the expectation his followers should have of similar treatment). Chapter 11 introduces further disputes over fasting, woes on unrepentant Jewish cities. This week’s readings then conclude with two disputes about the Sabbath (12:1-21). The question this week deals with Pharoah’s enslavement of the Israelites.

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Bible Reading Week 7 (Feb 14th- 20th, 2022)

Week 1Week 2Week 3; Week 4; Week 5; Week 6

We finish Genesis this week and come to the dramatic denouement of the Joseph novella and the Jacob story. Joseph tests his brothers to the limit. Witnessing Judah’s remorse and willingness to sacrifice himself for Benjamin, Joseph is unable to contain himself any longer and reveals himself to his brothers. Joseph is then reunited with his father who issues blessings of various sorts on his sons.

Turning to the New Testament, Matthew takes us through the temptation/testing (apt with Lent a few weeks away) and the Sermon on the Mount. Re-reading Matthew 5-7, I was struck afresh by how Jesus’s teaching is a radical reinterpretation of the law, but never its repudiation. This important chunk of text is one that I hope to return to in subsequent readings and it raised lots of questions I hope to address in the future (see the full list below).

This week’s questions pertain to the purpose of the Joseph story (Genesis 37-50) and the nature of the blessing in the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12).

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Bible Reading Week 6 (Feb 6th – 13th 2022)

 

Week 1Week 2Week 3; Week 4; Week 5

As the Jacob narrative comes close to its end, our readings in Genesis take us part way through the Joseph story. One of the most gripping novellas in all of the Hebrew Bible, it is filled with pathos, jealousy, brotherly rivalry, murderous plots, intrigue, political power and unlikely twists. The favouritism of Isaac towards Esau, of Rebekah towards Jacob, and of Jacob towards Rachel now bears fruit in the mutual hatred between Rachel’s son Joseph, Jacob’s favourite, and Joseph’s brothers.

In the New Testament readings, John’s Gospel reaches its climax in the resurrection and Jesus’s appearance to the disciples, including his moving encounter with Mary Magdalene and Thomas. In a single chapter, Jesus is acclaimed as “rabboni” (my teacher) by Mary, “my Lord and my God” by Thomas, and as “messiah and Son of God” by the narrator who finally gives away his purpose in writing his gospel (20:31, see below Q2). We also begin Matthew’s gospel, where Jesus is declared as Messiah three times in three verses (1:16-18) and as the one who will save his people from their sins. There is a greater darkness to Matthew’s infancy narrative than Luke’s, I think, where the only shadow comes in the form of Simeon’s words to Mary: “a sword will pierce your own side too”. In Matthew’s account, we have a blink-and-you’d-miss-it reference to the grim and gory tale of Bathsheba and Uriah, Tamar’s crafty impregnation by her father in law (see Genesis 38), another potential scandal with Joseph’s betrothed Mary found to be pregnant, the massacre of the innocents and Herod searching desperately for Joseph and his family to murder their young child.

There are all sorts of fascinating connections between the readings from Matthew and those from Genesis in recent weeks: Jacobs beget Josephs; dreaming Josephs dwell in Egypt; the Tamar of Genesis 38 makes a seemingly unlikely appearance in the genealogy of Messiah; Jesus’s birth takes place in Bethlehem, the least of the town of the tribe of Judah. At Jesus’s baptism, God names him his beloved Son (ἀγαπητός), in an echo of Genesis 22. In a way that the ram Abraham sacrificed in Isaac’s place points to, this beloved Son will save his people from their sins by dying in their place (Mt 20:28). And, perhaps most poignantly of all, just as we are told constantly that “God was with Joseph”, now we learn that this same God has mysteriously entered human history and become Immanuel, “God with us” in Jesus (1:23; cf. Mt 28:20).

Our questions this week concern how we should read Genesis 38-39 (the stories of Tamar and Judah, and Potiphar’s wife and Joseph) and the purpose of John’s gospel, as stated in chapter 20 verse 31.

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Bible Reading Week 5 (Jan 31 – Feb 6, 2022)

 Week 1Week 2Week 3; Week 4

There is a strong note of family relations running through this week’s readings. We read of brotherly reconciliation (Gen 33), family tragedy (the death of Rachel, Gen 35:19) and the rise of Israel/Jacob and his descendants (36:6-8) as well as hints of family division which will carry into the Joseph story (34:30-31; 35:22 where Reuben sleeps with Jacob’s concubine, and a note of literary suspense when we read …”and Jacob heard of it”).

The family theme continues in the New Testament readings, as Simeon announces to Mary, the mother of Jesus, that a “sword will pierce your own side too” as she and Joseph fulfil the requirements of the Law (that family tension will continue when the teenage Jesus leaves his family for the Temple). And in John 17, Jesus addresses his Father and ours, in the High Priestly Prayer. As a new father, I was struck by Jesus’s use of the experience of childbirth as an analogy for the disciples’ initial grief at Jesus’ near-departure which will be eclipsed by the joy of their eventual reunion: “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world” (John 16:21).

The two questions below deal with the promise made to Jacob and how these compares with those made to Abraham and Isaac, and a question about the divine name in John 17.

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