Today’s readings are from Genesis 22, Matthew 21, Nehemiah 11, and Acts 21.
Here in Genesis 22 is where Abraham’s faith shines.
1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.”
Two things about verse 1. First, the words “after these things” signal to us not only did this come after the events of chapter 21, but likely after all the experiences that Abraham had with God. With Isaac born, the long-awaited promise was fulfilled. God was faithful to keep His promises.
Second, Abraham answers as any servant of God would, “Here am I.” He doesn’t run and hide, intent upon his own interests, but responds immediately as a servant would.
2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
There was certainly no mistaking who God meant for Abraham to offer as a burnt offering. Yahweh not only specifies that it is Isaac, “your only son” but goes for the jugular when saying, “whom you love.” Was the issue that Isaac had become an idol in Abraham’s life??
3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.
Abraham didn’t grip and complain. He asked no questions. He didn’t delay. No matter how difficult a command this was to obey, Abraham “rose early in the morning” and got on the road.
The journey there must have been agonizing. The silence was broken only once between Abraham and Isaac, when Isaac asked, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (22:7).
Abraham’s answer (God would provide a lamb) and his words earlier to his servants…
“I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” (22:5)
indicated that Abraham did believe that in some way God would rescue (or resurrect, Heb. 11:19) Isaac.
Abraham probably told his servants to “stay” behind (v. 5)—so they would not try to restrain him from killing Isaac. The three verbs that Abraham used (v. 5) are all intensive in Hebrew (cf. 12:2): “We are determined to go,” “We are determined to worship,” and “We are determined to return.” (Thomas Constable)
9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.
We see Abraham’s broken-hearted, but full obedience all the way up to verse 10, where he is about to plunge the knife into his sons’s breast. Mercifully, God intervenes, satisfied that Abraham did put Him first.
11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
And, God did provide a substitute, a ram (v. 13), which was offered up “instead of his son.” This passage prefigures the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ “instead of” us.
And it happened on Mount Moriah, which was in the northern part of Jerusalem.
That area is where the Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock are today, very near where Christ was crucified.
These two images are from Galyn Wiemers, Generation Word
Thomas Constables notes that…
Every time Abraham made a sacrifice for God the Lord responded by giving Abraham more:
- Abraham left his homeland; God gave him a new one.
- Abraham left his extended family; God gave him a much larger family.
- Abraham offered the best of the land to Lot; God gave him more land.
- Abraham gave up the King of Sodom’s reward; God gave Abraham more wealth.
- Abraham gave up Ishmael; God made Ishmael the father of a multitude of Abraham’s posterity.
- Abraham was willing to give up Isaac; God allowed Isaac to live, and through him gave Abraham numerous seed.
In Matthew 21:1-17 Jesus presents Himself to Jerusalem as their king. We call it the “triumphal entry” but it could just as well be called “the un-triumphal entry.” Jesus came from Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives and in through the eastern gate of Jerusalem.
The people welcomed him as king (21:8-9) as he rode in on a donkey (fulfilling Zechariah 9:9) rather than the white horse of a conqueror. He went to the temple and for the second time (cf. John 2), he upset the temple business (21:12-13), then he healed the sick and lame (21:14). He left for the night to Bethany (21:17). Returning through Bethphage the next morning, he saw a fig tree with “nothing on it but only leaves” (v. 19) when he expected figs. He cursed the fig tree as a sign of what would happen to Jerusalem.
Coming back to the temple, the chief priests and elders questioned where Jesus got his authority, but He just turned them back with a question of His own. Telling the parable of the two sons (21:28-31a) Jesus compared the religious leaders to the disobedient son (14:31b-32). He then told another parable (21:33-41), comparing them to the rebellious tenants who killed the son of the master.
The purpose of v. 42
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
was to use this Old Testament quote to show that though He would be rejected, he would become the cornerstone.
This quotation is from Psalm 118:22-23. It probably originally described David, Jesus’ ancestor and type. All of Israel’s leaders, including Samuel and Saul, had originally rejected David—but God chose him and made him the capstone (or “chief corner [stone]”) of the nation.
Verse 43 continues to explain the parable of the wicked tenant farmers. Because Israel’s leaders had failed in “producing the fruit” that God desired, and had slain His Son, He would remove responsibility and privilege from them, and give these to another “nation” or “people” (Gr. ethnei). What God did was transfer the responsibility for preparing for the kingdom from unbelievers in Israel, and give it to a different group, namely, believers in the church (cf. Acts 13:46; 18:5-6; Rom. 10:19; 1 Pet. 2:9).
David Turner argued that those who received the responsibility were the faithful Jewish remnant represented by Jesus’ apostles. This is a very similar view since Jesus’ apostles became the core of the church.
All this, of course, upset the religious leaders and they tried to seize Jesus right then, but could not because the people held Him in high esteem as a prophet.
Nehemiah also knew the bigger the population of Jerusalem, the greater the resources for defense and strength in battle. He didn’t rebuild the walls just to see some conquering army come and break them down again!
Some leaders had already chosen to live in Jerusalem (v. 1). Nehemiah initiated a plan to determine which one family in ten, of those not living in the city, would move into it (v. 1). Additional immigrants volunteered to live there (v. 2). There was a cross section of leaders, therefore, who lived in Jerusalem, while other leaders lived in the other towns of Judah (v. 3).
Most of the resident in town were from the tribe of Benjamin. The towns south of Jerusalem, from the Hinnom Valley just south of the city as far as Beersheba, were those in the territory belonging to the tribe of Judah. Those north of Jerusalem stretching to the neighboring province of Samaria were towns of Benjamin. These were the two sections of the Persian province of Yehud (Judah). Nehemiah mentioned 17 prominent towns in Judah here (vv. 25-30), and 15 in Benjamin (vv. 31-35).
The Levites lived among the general population, as when the Israelites first entered the Promised Land under Joshua, in order to be a good influence and to act as spiritual resource persons (v. 36).
Acts 21 recounts Paul’s journey to Jerusalem.
Thomas Constable summarizes this chapter by drawing the comparison with Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem:
The third “we” section of Acts (21:1-18) is of theological importance because it focuses on Paul’s recapitulation of Jesus’ passion. Note the similarities between Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem and Paul’s. Both stories involve a plot by the Jews and handing over to the Gentiles. There were triple predictions along the way of suffering in Jerusalem in both cases. Both Jesus and Paul steadfastly resolved to go there despite opposition, and both resigned themselves to God’s will.
The first leg of this journey is from Miletus to Tyre
1 And when we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. 2 And having found a ship crossing to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. 3 When we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unload its cargo.
Refugees from the persecution that followed Stephen’s martyrdom had evangelized Phoenicia (11:19). Paul and his companions “stayed” in Tyre for “seven days,” fellowshipping with the Christians. Even though he was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem, he was held captive by the schedule of the shipping industry.
Paul’s next stop (v. 7) was “Ptolemais” (Acco of the Old Testament and modern Acre, located on the north side of the bay of Haifa) lay 25 miles south of Tyre. It was the southernmost Phoenician port. There also Paul met with the local Christians, while stevedores unloaded and loaded his ship. He finally reached Caesarea Maritima (v. 8).
There, for a second time (vv. 10-12 and v. 4), Paul was urged not to go to Jerusalem.
Why did Paul avoid the possibility of death in Corinth (20:3), and other places, but not here? Paul’s purpose to deliver the collection, and thus to strengthen the unity of the Gentile and Jewish believers, would have failed if he had died on board a ship between Corinth and Jerusalem. However, arrest in Jerusalem would not frustrate that purpose. For Paul, and eventually for his friends (v. 14), the Lord’s will was more important than physical safety (cf. Luke 22:42). He believed the Spirit wanted him to go to Jerusalem (19:21; 20:22) so he “set his face” to go there (cf. Luke 9:51). (Thomas Constable) His ultimate purpose was to get to Rome.
Jerusalem was about 65 miles southeast of Caesarea, a long two-day trip. “Mnason” evidently became a Christian early in the history of the church, perhaps on the day of Pentecost. He was a Hellenistic Jewish Christian from Cyprus, like Barnabas was. As such, he would have been more open to entertaining a mixed group of Jewish and Gentile Christians, than many Hebrew Jewish Christians in Palestine would have been. Apparently he lived about halfway between Caesarea and Jerusalem.
Paul finally achieved the first phase of his plan to visit Jerusalem and then Rome (19:21). In doing so, he brought one chapter of his ministry to a close and opened another. His return to Jerusalem was an essential part of God’s plan to send Paul to Rome. This plan unfolds in the rest of chapter 21. In all, Paul traveled about 2,700 miles on his third missionary journey (cf. 14:28; 18:22).
Paul first met with James and the elders, reporting on the tremendous success of their missions trip, spreading the gospel into Greece. The problem was, however, that news had spread that Paul was against circumcision. So they proposed that he take four men and “purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law” (Acts 21:24).
Paul could do what the elders suggested, and did so without compromising his convictions, since the Jews did not regard taking a vow as essential for acceptance by God. It was strictly voluntary. They regarded circumcision, on the other hand, as essential. However, Paul did not even object to circumcision as a custom (earlier he had Timothy circumcised, 16:3), though he did object to it as a rite essential for God’s acceptance (Gal. 2). (Thomas Constable)
However, Jews from Asia stirred up the crowds and they seized Paul in order to kill him. Fortunately, a Roman “tribune of the cohort” (21:31) rescued him and brought him back to their barracks. The chapter ends with a cliffhanger, since Paul identifies himself as a free Jew and asks to speak to the angry mob, but that’s where the chapter ends. Tune in tomorrow.