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.

Old Testament (Genesis 30-36)

1. Genesis 35:9-12: how does the promise to Jacob compare with Isaac and Abraham?

As Wenham comments (WBC, p.325), “Jacob’s journey is crowned with the strongest statement of the promises that he ever heard, summing up and adding to what had been said to him on earlier occasions”.

Gen 35:9-12: God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. 10 And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. 11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. 12 The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.”

  • Godblessed him: see for Abraham: Gen 12.2, 3; 22:17; for Isaac: 26:3; and for Jacob: 26:24; (from Isaac: 27:19, 25; 28:3). We also have the original blessing of the creatures in 1:22 and of Adam and Eve in 1:28.
  • “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.”: the explanation for the name is given in 32:28 (“he who struggles with God”). Interestingly, in this earlier episode Jacob asks for a blessing and gets a new name. God also gives a new name to Abraham (Abram to Abraham 17:5) and to Sarah (Sarai to Sarah 17:15)
  • “I am God Almighty“: this name El-Shaddai is used of God in two other places prior to this one: when God appears to Abraham 17:1 and when Isaac blesses Jacob (28:3)
  • “be fruitful and multiply”: this command is given to the creatures in 1:22 and Adam and Eve in 1:28 (who are distinguished form the creatures by being made according to God’s image). Noah is also given this command post-flood. Abraham is told that he will be made exceedingly fruitful (17:6; as is Ishmael, 17:20). Isaac blesses Jacob with similar words (28:3).
  • A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body“: this echoes Isaac’s blessing at 28:3-4 as well as the covenant ratification in chapter 17 (see also Abraham’s name–“father of many nations”). Wenham also notes the connection with “two nations” at the birth of Esau and Jacob. Like Abraham at 17:6, 16 (“kings shall come out of you”), Jacob is promised royal progeny.
  • The land “: this promise was made to Jacob by God at 28:13 and also uttered by Isaac as a prayer/wish at 28:4. Abraham is promised land at 17:8.

New Testament (John 16-19:37, Luke 2:22-40 for Candlemas)

2. John 17:11-12: what does it mean when Jesus says, “God keep them in your name” and “I kept them in your name”?

In Jesus’s High Priestly prayer, Jesus twice refers to “keeping in your name”, first as a plea for the Father to keep his disciples and future followers “in your name” upon Jesus’s departure (v11) and then a comment that Jesus has already kept the disciples in your name. The verb used is τηρέω. Another notable point is that Jesus has been given this name by the Father. in other words, Jesus shares in this name. So what is this name? And what does it mean for Jesus to keep the disciples in this name? And for him to share in this name?

Taking this final question first, I’ve summarised some of Bauckham’s recent research on the divine name here. Bauckham’s conclusion that Jesus shares in the divine name would also seem to apply to John, though with some distinctive features and emphases. In his insightful monograph on the divine name in John’s Gospel, Joshua argues that the divine name (YHWH) in John can refer both to God and to a figure distinguishable from God (the author of John’s Gospel is influenced by Isaiah, more precisely deutero-Isaiah). Of the 25 usages of “the name” (ὄνομα) in John, 8 refer to the Father’s name and 12 to Jesus.

What does it mean for Jesus to keep the disciples in the name, then? Coutts helpfully connects obedience and “being kept in the name”. Jesus manifests the divine name and those who belong to Jesus “have kept [same verb: τηρέω] your word” (16:7). So “to keep in the name” would then refer to Jesus keeping his followers faithful and obedient to the Father and his name, revealed by Jesus. Being kept, like the language of abiding, evokes the language of fidelity and obedience. It also means recognising that Jesus bears the name since the father has bestowed the divine name on him (see also Phil. 2:9). Much as with Paul in Acts 9 (see vv. 14-16), this was surely a highly contested claim among first century Jews and there is no doubt that it caused tensions between Jewish readers of John and contemporaneous Jewish communities.

There is also a strong connection between “keeping in the name” and unity. As v.12 reads, “keep them in your name which you have given me that they may be one even as we are one“. Fidelity has its purpose unity among believers, a unity which mirrors that of the unity between Father and Son (see also 17:22-23).

Discipleship Reflection

For this week’s reflection, see this sermon for Candlemas 2021 by my wife, Olga Fabrikant-Burke, which draws on the themes of the universal and the particular in the story and its celebration in church calendars.

List of Questions

  1. Genesis 30:27: what does it mean that Laban used divination? 
  2. Genesis 30:38-39: does this make sense in terms of husbandry methods?
  3. Genesis 31:10-13: did Jacob actually have this dream? Has he embellished it?  
  4. Genesis 31:19: what were the gods of Laban?
  5. Genesis 32:24: who is the man Jacob wrestles with? 
  6. Genesis 32:30: does Jacob see God face to face and yet live?
  7. Genesis 32:32: the text mentions that to this day there is the tradition of not eating flesh off/around hip. When is this “today”?
  8. Genesis 33:10: what is the meaning of the phrase, “to see you is like seeing the face of God”?
  9. Genesis 35:5: what is the terror of God?
  10. Genesis 35:8: who was Deborah?
  11. Genesis 35:14: what is the significance of this ritual?
  12. Genesis 35:23-26: why the recap of Jacob’s children? Literary device?
  13. Genesis 36:10-43: why such an extensive genealogy for Esau/Edom, especially when the story switches to focus on Jacob? 
  14. John 16:8-11: what does it mean for the spirit to convict the world? What is “the world” in John’s Gospel?
  15. John 16:24-26: What does it mean when Jesus says that he will not ask on the disciples’ behalf? Is this in the future?
  16. John 16:33: what does it mean for Christ to overcome the world? And why does this bring peace? 
  17. Luke 2:25: what did it mean for Simeon to await the consolation of Israel? And v.38, to “look for the redemption of Jerusalem”?
  18. Luke 2:28: is this a song? A psalm? A blessing?
  19. Luke 2:34-35: what does Simeon mean by these words (“a sign that will be spoken against”; “revealing the thoughts of hearts”; “a sword will pierce your own side too”)?
  20. John 17:1-23: What is the purpose of the high Priestly prayer?
  21. John 18:15-16: does this help with the question of authorship?
  22. John 18:32: where does Jesus talk about the kind of death he will die? 8:28 and 12:34?
  23. John 18:36: does Jesus actually answer Pilate’s question? Also, was there a rumour that disciples and Jesus were revolutionaries (Peter cutting off ear) which Jesus is trying to address here?
  24. John 19:17: where is Golgotha today? 
  25. John 19:35: is this the soldier or the beloved disciple?
  26. John 19: how does the passion narrative of John compare with the Synoptics?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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