Reading these genealogies, I thought about what they may have meant to their original audience. Maybe they made the original readers/hearers feel like they were part of a larger community, a larger family. Imagine seeing your grandfather’s name in the list of names and knowing that the history about to be recorded is your own. Each time God responds to His people in this history, He is responding to your ancestors. In the same way, He will respond to you. How thrilling it must have been for the original audience to realize their close connection to God through a specific family member.
For us today, maybe these genealogies can spur us to unity. Here we see the origins of the “tribes”, Israel and Judah, and also smaller subdivisions such as the Midionites and Tirathites. However, we also see they all came from Adam. We’re all the same tribe. We know not all of the original audience members realized this, as we read about many battles in their history, one tribe against another. Sometimes God used their enmity to bring about His will. No matter what we see happening around us today, we can know that 1. We’re all the same tribe and can love each other as family and 2. There are ugly battles with incomprehensible consequences, but ultimately God is in control. While He is not the cause of the evil that produces the ugliness and pain, we do know that His perfect rule will overcome all of it.
What do I hold true
that is a mere assumption
Over and over in these two chapters we see examples of what faith in God looks like. In 17:5-10, we see the introduction to the power of faith, that faith means not being limited by our own small abilities. We also very quickly see that this power of faith does not make our small abilities useless or exempt us from any effort. In 17:11-19, we see that it doesn’t matter who you are, you can bring God glory through your faith. Even if you are the equivalent of a Biblical Samaritan, one of the most hated groups by the Jews of the time.
In 17:20-21, we find out where faith must grow, “…For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” Take a moment to read that again and let it sink in. The remaining verses of the chapter outline the commitment required to have the kingdom of God within us. In this kingdom where the world’s measures of success and status do not apply, we cannot look back on the world with longing. In these verses we also see the result of having faith or not. It is uncomfortable to talk about the fact that not everyone will be saved, but what choice does God have if we refuse to let Him rule in our lives? He will not force us. We have to choose.
In 18:1-8 we see God’s end of the deal. He will hear us, always. In 18:9-14 we see that He will forgive us. In the following verses we jump back to how our attitude influences our faith. Faith grows in the heart of people who are as dependent on God as a child is on the adults around them. Secondly, the story of the rich young ruler illustrates that we are powerless to save ourselves, no matter how much we reach the world’s standards of success or how closely we follow the commandments. But then in 18:24-30 we see how God already has our powerlessness taken care of.
Now, for the climax of this whole sequence of passages about faith, we see Jesus point to His ultimate example of faith in 18:31-34. As a man, Jesus could have easily doubted that God would raise him from the dead. As a divine being, he fully knew what was coming and could have called it all off. But in 18:35-43, we see one of many examples of his tender compassion that made him not resist the pain required to save us. In this passage, we see Jesus’ interaction with just one man, so small in the grand scheme of things. So powerless in comparison to God’s might. But this man knows who Jesus is and has faith that He is the Messiah. He asks for his sight and Jesus heals him. And God is glorified.
The Bible is a story about God and His people; about Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the church. It is not about us. Perhaps we can relate to some of the stories or glean guidance from the wisdom in Scriptures. But what we can get real meaning from is seeking God in the stories.
We see God giving His people exactly what they need, over and over. We see His extended patience before delivering justice. We see His compassion while delivering justice. We see His love, mercy, grace and forgiveness as a response to human choices. We see His faithfulness, even when His people are unfaithful. We see His disregard for earthly status as a measure of whether someone has worth or a unique purpose in His plan. In passages such as Leviticus 23 that are full of laws that seem odd to our culture and time, we see God looking out for His people, giving them laws that are in their best interest, that will help them stay close to Him.
There are many places in Scripture that are difficult to explain without extensively studying the historical and cultural context, and that remain hard to explain even after such study. And honestly, it is hard to get excited about daily Bible reading when countless laws or genealogies make up the day’s portion of text. But what if instead of trying to explain or defend every verse of Scripture, we think about what the Scripture means in the context of God’s relationship with His people? The laws become examples of God guiding His people. The genealogies become an example of God caring about individuals, even when to us they seem lost in the larger scheme of things (and if they seem lost in the big picture to us, how much more amazing it is that they don’t seem like that to God!). Instead of reading scriptures for black and white answers and evidence for debates, what would happen if we read scripture for assurance? Assurance that God is still doing for His people today what He has been doing for His people since the beginning of time. Living out scripture would become less like a check list and more like a new perspective for seeing the world and what God is doing in our lives.
These are incredible descriptions of God returning to his people. In chapter 43, the glory of the Lord fills the temple. There’s nothing I can say about it except to recommend a few readings of it.
In chapter 47, the beauty of the text also leaves little room for comment. Ezekiel describes a river that gradually grows deeper, even though it has no tributaries. This river also renews itself into fresh water. Salt water becomes fresh water. It gives life to many fruit bearing trees and living creatures. There are even swamps and marshes so that there can still be salt. The river is complete, perfect, full of diversity and pure. “Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.” (Vs.12). What a beautiful promise. I love the metaphors in the Bible and am adding this one to the list. Even though I like to think about the beauty at the end of the river, I must keep in mind that the river grows gradually and eventually into “a river that no one could cross” (vs. 5). I must be patient to see the beauty at the end, and I must depend on God to take me there, because I can’t cross on my own.
Reading this psalm, I immediately remembered a time when I thought that I was so far from God, I didn’t know if He would ever take me back. Actually at the time, I thought God had left me, just like the psalmist states in vs. 7-9.
I eventually realized God had not left, and I hadn’t really left either. God was re-centering my faith and changing everything I thought I knew. It’s not that my faith before was wrong, it was very devoted and well-intentioned. But it was based on what I did, on checking off boxes that I thought God wanted me to check off. Over a few years, God showed me (and is still showing me) the difference between self-reliance and a faith that feels deeper, a faith which depends on Him by waking up each morning to His new mercies and realizing that He is always faithful, He is always near. The difference between the two perspectives for me was like the difference between standing on my feet with little struggle to balance and doing a handstand that requires constant attention and adjustment to stay balanced. Letting go of my check boxes was painful because I no longer had any answers, I needed to constantly pay attention to God and make adjustments in my heart to figure out what to do. For a time, I thought I was being a bad Christian. I knew many people I loved would consider me a bad Christian or not a Christian at all if I let go of those check boxes. I respect these people for their dedication and zeal to their beliefs. But my conscience would not let me follow the boxes anymore. I felt a need to repent from the black and white rules. Not because I decided to rebel, but because I kept having life experiences that did not fit inside the black and white lines. I slowly realized God was leading me out of the place where I stand on my own feet and into one that feels deeper for me. Maybe this place isn’t for everyone, but it is what I need and where I will stay, at least until God leads me to the next place.
While vs. 7-9 vividly bring back the pain in that experience, the rest of the psalm reminds me of the comfort God provided during that time and ever since. Starting in verse 10, “Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.” I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds…” No matter what place we’re in, we can always remember God’s works, whether it’s those recorded in the Bible or those from our own lives or the lives of others. We don’t need to have debates, try to sway people to our beliefs or try to get all the answers because God is mighty, faithful, just, loving and always here for us.
Compare the story of the Shunammite woman in chapter 4 with Naaman’s story in chapter 5. When her son died, the Shunammite woman went to Elisha, whose first miracle for her was the birth of her son. She believed he would help her. She knew he would help her. Therefore, she did not question whenever Elisha only sent his servant with his staff rather than going to the son himself. Contrast this with Naaman and the King of Syria. Surely the King had heard of Elisha’s miracles, yet he did not call Elisha when confronted with the task of healing Naaman’s leprosy. When Elisha told Naaman to wash in the Jordan river seven times, Naaman scoffed and had to be convinced by his servants to do so. Even though Naaman was hesitant and haughty, he was still healed and came back to Elisha to repent whole heartedly.
Who is better in these two stories? I’m not sure either is better. One had faith from the beginning, the other had to learn it the hard way. There are many ways that we come to have faith, and many ways our faith expresses itself. I think recognizing that no one way is better than another is a key part of unity. In fact, even those who don’t have faith are no better or worse human beings than those with faith. We are all children of God that He created, allowed to have free will, and sent His Son to die for.
And while I’m thinking about extending this grace to others, I need to think about extending it to myself. At one time, I would have read this story and exalted the Shunammite woman above Naaman and cultivated an internal expectation to be like the Shunammite woman. To be perfect, to have a strong faith all the time, to be someone God could be proud of. But that is foolish and leads to disappointment and shame in myself. God already loves me. We are what we are. For me, that means I’m not perfect, I don’t always have a strong faith, I don’t always obey God. Instead of spending energy trying to make myself a certain way, it is more fulfilling to ask God to change me into what He wants me to be and then trust that it will happen.