Monday, June 14, 2010

Finding Meaning in the Minute (the measurement of size and not time)

Have you ever been reading through your Bible and decided to skip over another long list of unpronounceable names in what seems to be a never ending genealogy or whisk past the excruciating details of how Noah was to build the ark or the specifics of Solomon building the Temple and his palace? Perhaps you have come to one of these sections in your scheduled yearly reading guide through the Bible and are whining and complaining with every begat or cubit by cubit. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that too many of us downplay these portions of Scripture and regulate them into a category of unimportance. However, such a position is mistaken and unbiblical. Paul states that all Scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). This all Scripture would include the genealogy lists and temple building instructions. The question many might be asking is how can these monotonous (at least from their perspective!) sections be useful. I would like to propose two questions to ask in dealing with these portions of Scripture to help us not miss out on their intended meaning. May these aid in your study of God's Word!

Ask It's Purpose in the Context

No genealogy (or any other list in Scripture for that matter) ever appears isolated. Each play a role in the greater narrative in the text or in the author's argument. For instance, the long list of the descendants of Adam in chapter 5 serves a greater purpose than merely keeping a record of all of the sons of the first man throughout the ages. In fact, there may be intended gaps in some of the genealogies as part of the point the author desires to get across. This genealogy tells us several things already touched upon in the narrative in Genesis thus far. The numerous sons and daughters that followed after Adam illustrate man's obedience to be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth as God had commanded them (1:28). A similar reason may exist for the genealogy of Noah's sons being given after the flood (10:1-32) since he was given the same command (9:1). The genealogy in chapter 5 also emphasizes one of the tragic results of the Fall being death. At the end of every individual record, with the exception of Enoch whom God took, we find the statement and he died (vv. 5, 8, 11, 14, 20, 27, 31). This statement also emphasizes the truth of God's promise that man would die upon eating the fruit from the tree that He explicitly commanded them not to. From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die (2:16-17). The original Hebrew uses a form of the verb for die that communicates that this statement about death is a "a matter of fact" or "without a doubt." While Adam and Eve both died spiritually shortly after the sin in that they became ashamed and were kicked out of the garden, thus being separated from God, they also would die physically. The resounding of this phrase indicates that God kept His word.

Genealogies also show the connections between the different people and events in their lives recorded in the narrative. The genealogy in chapter 5 connects Adam to Noah and then proceeds to describe the situation of the flood. It may also help solve the issue of the identity of the sons of God and daughters of men in 6:1-4. (I take the sons of God to refer to the descendants of Seth and the daughters of men being those whom were descended from Cain based on the contrast of the two genealogies given prior to the recording of this incident as well as all the evidence in the narrative pointing to men and not angels. I am continuing to study this issue and am working on revising and expanding a paper I did in seminary concerning it. Perhaps I will turn it into a blog post sometime if the Lord is willing.) See how much one would miss if he or she decided to just skip over this lengthy genealogy?

Matthew 1:1-17 is another example of a genealogy packed with wonderful insights that would be overlooked if one decided to dismiss it in their study. In opening his gospel, Matthew decides to provide Jesus' genealogy and presents it in such a way to identify Jesus as the Messiah as well as to emphasize God's grace. Matthew specifically traces Jesus back to David and Abraham. In illustrating how Jesus is the son of David, he shows Jesus' credentials to be the Messiah or anointed One that God promised would be in the lineage of David (2 Samuel 7:12-16; Isaiah 11:1-5). Tracing Jesus' ancestry back farther from David to Abraham indicates that Jesus can be said to be the son of Abraham, connecting Him to the promise God gave to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3. Paul later described part of this promise as the gospel since it foretold of God's plan to provide salvation to the Gentiles by grace through faith (Galatians 3:8). Matthew demonstrates God's grace by including five women in this genealogy which is unusual for such lists in that culture. Four of these women were not Jews and had a shady background. Tamar (v. 3) was a Canaanite who had dressed as a prostitute to fool Judah into sleeping with her since he refused to give her his youngest son for her to have children (Genesis 38:6-30). Rahab (v. 5) was a Gentile who had practiced prostitution (Joshua 2:1). Ruth (v. 5) was a Moabitess who had formerly served idols (Ruth 1:1-5,15). Bathsheba (v. 6) was the wife of Uriah the Hittite who had committed adultery with King David (2 Samuel 11). Matthew clearly alludes to this event with the statement who had been the wife of Uriah (v. 6). The inclusion of these women who typically would have been excluded in these types of lists indicate that no one is excluded from God's offer of salvation regardless of gender, nationality, and sin. Mary (v. 16) serves as the fifth woman mentioned in this genealogy and here Matthew highlights Jesus' virgin birth. In the Greek language, a pronoun matches the noun it replaces in both gender and number. The whom (hes in Greek) is feminine singular, meaning that it refers to Mary alone and not Joseph and Mary together. Matthew is showing that Jesus was born from Mary and not the product of the union between the two. Again, notice what one would miss concerning Jesus from not taking the time to study this genealogy.

Paying attention to context also might help mine some meaning from the numerous details pertaining to the building projects. For instance, the author of Kings appears to be telling us something in his description of both Solomon's work on God's temple and his work on his own palace. He points out that it took Solomon seven years to build the temple for the heavenly King (6:38) but thirteen years to construct the palace for himself as earthly king (7:1). The author makes a contrast between the building of the temple and the palace. 7:1 is connected to 6:38 by a "waw," the Hebrew character for and. The author places emphasis on his house in 7:1 by placing the word before the verb to build. In Hebrew, the subject and direct object typically follow the verb (contra the subject-verb-direct object sequence in English). Anytime the subject or direct object is placed before the verb, it usually indicates that the author wants to emphasize it. If you look at the sizes given for the temple (6:2) and the dimensions of the different parts of the palace, you will notice that Solomon's palace is actually larger than God's temple. In fact, just the house of the forest of Lebanon, one section in the king's palace, is bigger than the Temple as a whole (7:2). What is really interesting is that in light of the size and duration of the two buildings, the author spends more time on the details of the temple compared to the slim twelve verses for Solomon's palace. Could he be indicating the difference of perspective concerning the two buildings between God's view and that of the king? How often do we become preoccupied with building something for our own glory instead of seeking to establish God's glory? What is God's perspective of this? All of this understanding would be lost if one chose not to read through and study these details!

Ask What It Reveals to Us About God

The Bible is God's revelation. It is His revealing of Himself to His creation. We learn Who God is through His written Word. In it we see God's characteristics, attributes, works, and glory. Every narrative and form of teaching points back to Him someway or another. The Bible is basically God's book about God. Knowing the details concerning how God instructed Noah to build the ark or Moses the ark of the covenant may not seem relevant to us unless we would be called to craft similar constructions. However, these details may tell us a few things about God that we might miss if they were dismissed.

God is a God of detail. He cares not only that something is done but that it is done right and according to His specifications. We see this in the meticulous instructions God gives pertaining to the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25:10-22) and everything else related to the tabernacle (Exodus 25:23-27:21). God did not say to Moses "You must build the ark of the covenant and the tabernacle" and then leave Moses to do it his way. No, instead He told him not only to do it but how He wanted it to be done. God is concerned in not just that we do something He commands but how we do it. It is never about us and what we want but about God and what He desires. The specifics given with these building projects indicate that God has standards that ought to be followed. The Law provides the specifics of God's standards of holiness and in turn reveals how much we all fall short of them. Thus we are shown to be sinners in need of a Savior because we cannot meet God's standards on our own within ourselves. Here are some crucial understandings about God that we can glean from these details.

Asking this question also would help us guard against the common "man-centered" mindset we often bring to the text. Several times the first things we ask when approaching God's Word is "what's in it for me?" or "what can I get out of this?" The better question would be to ask, "what can I learn about God?" In fact, such a question would be more beneficial in that the more we learn about God and His holiness, the more we realize how much we are not living the holy lives He calls us to live. The more we learn about what glorifies God, the more we realize just how much we fall short of that glory. In focusing on what we can learn about God, we get a better picture of our sin and how desperately we need Him in order to live for Him.

In addressing this question, I want to caution you against finding Jesus in every part of the Temple. Several well meaning Bible students have postulated that certain parts of the Temple were foreshadowings or types of Christ in the Old Testament. While it may be true that God in His providence instructed the Temple and tabernacle to be constructed in a certain way to point to the coming Messiah, one must be careful to claim specifics without any biblical warrant to do so. Certainly, the entire sacrificial system points to the necessity of the perfect sacrifice of the Lamb of God as the New Testament authors clearly affirm. However, these authors do not specify certain parts of the Temple as being symbolic of Jesus. Unless God indicates to us elsewhere in Scripture that such and such piece of the Temple represented Christ, we cannot claim that it does with specificity and authority. To do so would be to add to the teaching of Scripture.

As you can see, these gruesome genealogies and daunting details are much more important than you may have realized. To ignore or neglect them would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The next time you come across these passages, instead of fretting over them, why not take the time to examine them in light of their context and focus on what they may teach you about God? You may discover a rich truth in them that you would have missed otherwise. May we not be afraid to glean the genealogies and delve into the details!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

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