Today’s Bible readings are Genesis 12, Matthew 11, Nehemiah 1 and Acts 11.
Genesis 12 is the Abrahamic covenant, the foundational covenant of the Old Testament, the basic promise to the Jews.
1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
There are seven elements in this promise—seven—suggesting fullness and completeness (cf. 2:2-3): (1) God promised to create “a great nation” through Abram. (2) God promised to “bless” Abram. (3) Abram’s “name” would live on after his lifetime (“I will make your name great”). (4) Abram was (commanded) to “be a blessing” to others. (5) God would “bless those who bless[ed]” Abram. (6) And God would “curse those who curs[ed]” Abram. (7) “All the families of the earth [would] be blessed” through Abram and his descendants. (Thomas Constable)
The promises in Genesis 12:1-3 and 7 are the fountainhead from which the rest of the Pentateuch flows. One way to categorize them is “posterity (descendants), blessing, and land.”
God progressively revealed more information about each of these promises. He gave more information about the land promise in 13:15, 17; 15:7-8, 18; 17:8; 24:7; 26:3-4 (plural “lands”); 28:4, 13; 35:12; 48:4; and 50:24. Repetition of the seed promise occurs in 13:15-16; 15:5; 17:2, 5-10, 13, 16, 19-20; 18:18; 21:12; 22:17-18; 26:3-4, 24; 28:13-14; 32:12; 35:11-12; 46:3; and 48:4 and 16.
Also, the “posterity” promise will be expanded in 2 Samuel 7, through the Davidic covenant. The “land” promise will be expanded in Deuteronomy 28-30, in what is often called the Palestinian covenant. The “blessing” aspect is expanded in the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36.
The Abrahamic covenant is unconditional (notice all the “I wills”). The land covenant and Davidic covenant are somewhat conditional, while the New covenant is unconditional. Notice that the Mosaic law works alongside these covenants, informing Israel how they can have a relationship with God and enjoy the blessings of these covenants. It is entirely conditional.
Abraham obeys God, believing His promises. He left Haran for the land of Canaan. (The only problem is that he didn’t leave his whole family behind. He took his nephew lot.) They came to Shechem, to the oak of Moreh.
Wadi Farah, likely Abram’s entrance path into the promised land.
from Bible Atlas online
Shechum is between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, where Joshua will later read the law (Joshua 9).
Possibly the oak of Moreh?
Here Abram worshipped:
7 Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.
There is a good view of the land from here.
Abram then over to Bethel, between Bethel and Ai.
And there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD. (v. 8)
From there, Abram went to the Negeb/Negev, which is down south and is basically desert. Beautiful, but desert.
Then there was a famine in the land, and Abram went to Egypt. There he lied about Sarah (self-preservation). God still, graciously, blessed Abram–protecting Sarah and making him wealthy.
Matthew 11 is the beginning of the turning point in the Gospel of Matthew. Each gospel has a turning point where Jesus is rejected by the religious leaders and turns His face towards Jerusalem and spends more time with His smaller group of disciples. Chapters 11-13 record Israel’s rejection of her Messiah and its consequences.
Matthew 11 begins with the doubts of John the Baptist (11:1-6). Even deeply devoted followers of Jesus have times of doubt. But Jesus assured him that the miraculous works proved who He was. Jesus affirmed John’s greatness (11:7-11), but indicated that even the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John.
What is meant by verse 12?
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.
It is most likely that the verb biazetai is in the passive tense. Probably Jesus meant that the religious leaders of His day were trying to bring in the kingdom in their own, carnal way, while refusing to accept God’s way that John and Jesus announced.
So Thomas Constable writes…
This view explains satisfactorily Jesus’ reference to the period from the beginning of John’s ministry to when He spoke. Ever since John began his ministry of announcing Messiah, the Jewish religious leaders had opposed him. Moreover, in 23:13, Jesus accused the scribes and Pharisees of trying to seize the reins of kingdom power from Messiah, to lead the kingdom as they wanted it to go. They also snatched (took “by force”) the kingdom from the people by rejecting, and eventually crucifying, the Messiah. The imprisonment of John was another evidence of violent antagonism against the kingdom, but that opposition came from Herod Antipas. John and Jesus both eventually died at the hands of these violent men.
Verses 16-19 is like Jesus is saying, “You can’t win for losing.” They didn’t like John’s more austere ways, nor Jesus’ more convivial ways.
So Jesus begins to pronounce judgment upon the nation, saying that what they had seen and heard meant greater judgment for them. Greater light means more severe judgment for rejecting it!
Jesus gives a wonderful invitation at the end of Matthew 11, but prefaces it by saying that only those whom the Father chose would hear it and respond. Notice that it in verse 26 it says that it is God’s “gracious will” that reveals the truth to some and conceals it from others. While verses 25-27 express the priority of God’s choice, verses 28-30 are an appeal to our own volition. Will you come and find rest?
Nehemiah is a book about rebuilding the walls. The temple had been built under Zerubabbel and Shealtiel, under the encouraging of Haggai and Zechariah. Now it was time to rebuild the walls. Nehemiah is also a great book about leadership.
CHRONOLOGY OF THE BOOK OF NEHEMIAH
|445||Nehemiah learned of conditions in Jerusalem and requested a leave of absence from Artaxerxes.|
|444||He led the Jews to Jerusalem. Repairs on the wall of Jerusalem began. The Jews completed rebuilding the walls. Nehemiah promoted spiritual renewal among the returnees.|
|432||Nehemiah returned to Artaxerxes, ending his 12 years as governor of Judah. Malachi may have prophesied in Jerusalem.|
|431||Nehemiah may have returned to Jerusalem and begun his second term as governor. More religious reforms apparently began.|
|423||Darius II began to reign.|
|Reference||Ezra 1-6||Ezra 7-10||Nehemiah 1-13|
|Date||538 B.C.||458 B.C.||444 B.C.|
|Persian King||Cyrus||Artaxerxes Langimanus|
|Elements of the decree||As many as wished could return and rebuild the temple.||As many as wished could return and complete the temple. Allowed to have civil magistrates||Allowed to rebuild the walls around the city.|
|Related events||Work begun but then halted until 516 B.C.||Problems with intermarriage||Wall rebuilt in 52 days|
The years of history the book covers are 445–431 B.C., or perhaps a few years after that.
The walls of the city had lain in ruins since 586 B.C. At that time Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, breached them, entered Jerusalem, burned the temple, carried most of the remaining Jews off to Babylon, and knocked the walls down. Consequently the few Jews who remained could not defend themselves (2 Kings 25:1-11). The returned exiles had attempted to rebuild the walls in or shortly after 458 B.C., but that project failed because of local opposition (Ezra 4:12, 23).
Nehemiah received a report from Hanani about the condition of the walls in Jerusalem.
The lack of city walls left Jerusalem vulnerable to attack at any moment. Also, it communicated that there was nothing important about Jerusalem. It would not only produce constant distress, but disgrace as well.
So what did Nehemiah do? Well, nothing right? After all, he lived many, many miles away. There was nothing he could do about the news reports on TV.
Nehemiah had the heart of Psalm 137:5-6: If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! If I do not remember you, let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth; if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy.
No, Nehemiah wept and mourned and fasted and prayed (Nehemiah 1:4). He poured out his heart to God in prayer (vv. 5-11). Leaders listen to reports, even bad news, without shooting the messenger. Leaders know that their first job is to define reality (Max Depree). Then, he gets involved. He gets involved emotionally and mentally. He prays to God, exalting God (v. 5), confessing sins (vv. 6-7), reminding God of His promises (vv. 8-10) and asking God for help (v. 11).
Notice that Nehemiah had come to realize that he had to be a part of the answer to his prayers. He couldn’t stand back and hope someone else would do it.
Nehemiah did this–weeping and praying and fasting (maybe not all the time) for four months!
Charles Fensham reminds us…
“With the expression this man at the end of the prayer Nehemiah shows the big difference between his reverence for his God and his conception of his master, the Persian king. In the eyes of the world Artaxerxes was an important person, a man with influence, who could decide on life or death. In the eyes of Nehemiah, with his religious approach, Artaxerxes was just a man like any other man. The Lord of history makes the decisions, not Artaxerxes [cf. Proverbs 21:1).”
Charles Swindoll noted four qualities that Nehemiah demonstrated in this chapter that are typical of effective Christian leaders:
- He had a clear recognition of the need.
- He was personally concerned with the need.
- He went to God first with the need.
- He was available to meet the need.
In Acts 11 Peter has to explain why he went to the home of a Gentile and how it could be possible that Gentiles should now be included in the body of Christ. He recounts exactly what happened, step by step, then says…
15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”
Peter acknowledged that the Gentiles had received the “same gift” of the Holy Spirit as when they believed. Thus, this was God’s plan and work. And aren’t we glad?!?
18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
I don’t know if they cringed as they reluctantly confessed this new reality, or if they were exultant, but it makes me want to jump for joy!
Verses 19-30 record the establishment of a church in Antioch, which would become (Acts 13) a missionary sending church. Here is where Barnabas and Saul teamed up for the first time.
I love verse 23…
23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose,
That, in a nutshell, is discipleship–rejoicing in what God’s grace has done, and exhorting new believers to “remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.”
In “Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26). “Christian” is the most common term we use in referring to ourselves, but it was not the first term or the most common. Disciple was.