From the perspective of studying the Bible, the readings from the Sunday before Christmas (Hebrews 11:9-10;32-40 and Matthew 1:1-25) are absolutely some of my favorites. Both the Epistle Reading and the Gospel Reading are replete with names and stories from the OT. It is a wonderful invitation to chase these stories down and to see how they speak to us about our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. In our limited time this week, we did not begin to cover all of these stories, but here are the ones that caught our immediate interest:
The promises made to Abraham first appear in their most basic form in the twelve chapter of Genesis:
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. 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. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” — Genesis 12:1-3
These promises do not find their fulfillment until Christ and the founding of the Church. Our land is the Kingdom of God. Our nation is the Christian people. Christ (and by extension the Church which is His Body) blesses all of the families of the earth because Christ has united Himself to our human nature — embracing everyone. Please note how Matthew traces Christ’s human lineage back to Abraham.
Barak is one of the Judges that was called by God to defend the people against their adversaries. His story coincides with that of Deborah in Judges chapters 4-5.
David is a King, as opposed to a Judge. The people of God transitioned from being a nation without an earthly king — the era of the Judges — to being a kingdom at their own request. This request angered the Prophet Samuel, but God said to him, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” (1 Samuel 8:7) This is a key verse and it is a caution to all who place their faith in earthly governments. Our true king is Christ, not any earthly power. Samuel then goes on to tell the people about the reality of what they are asking for:
These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day.— 1 Samuel 8:11-18
The people get what they ask for in Saul. Then to prove the point, God gives them a pair of good Kings — David (the Beloved) and Solomon the wisest man ever to walk the face of the earth. David was a murderer and an adulterer. Solomon fell away from God and became an idolater. Even the best of earthly kings and politicians will fail us.
Matthew specifically mentions five women in Christ’s genealogy:
- Tamar is the daughter-in-law of Judah — the founder of the tribe of Judah. After her husband, his brother (Judah’s sons) and Judah’s wife die, she seduces Judah, disguised as a prostitute, in order to get pregnant with his child. It is this child, Perez, that continues the lineage of Christ (cf Genesis 38)
- Rahab is the prostitute that helps the spies of Joshua escape the city of Jericho. She is spared from the coming destruction by identifyinh her household with a red chord. This is reminiscent of the mark of blood that the Hebrews place on their door to be passed over by death in Egypt. She goes on to become the mother of Boaz, who marries Ruth.
- Ruth is a Gentile who insists on staying with her Hebrew mother-in-law despite the fact that they have no men to protect them and she is an outsider
- The wife of Uriah (Bathsheba). King David commits adultery and murder in order to get Bathsheba as a wife. This is emphasized by the way Matthew refers to her — not by her own name, but by her rightful and murdered husband.
- Mary is he mother of Jesus.
This all speaks to the humanity that God has united Himself to in the person of Jesus Christ. It includes prostitutes, adulterers, murderers, and Gentiles. In other words, God has embraced everyone, no matter who they are, where they come from or what they have done.
Finally, we highlighted one more name: Manasseh. He was the son of the righteous king Hezekiah. After the efforts his father to return the Kingdom of Judah back to the proper worship of God, Manasseh falls back into idol worship, for which he is condemned in both 2 Kings (21:2-16) and 2 Chronicles (33:2-19). His story does not end there, however. According to 2 Chronicles, he is captured by the Assyrians. After repenting, he returns to Judah and his father’s ways (cf 2 Chronicles 15-17). His prayer of repentance (found in what is called the “Apocrypha” by Protestants) is part of the Orthodox Christian Great Compline. Its text is as follows:
O Lord, Almighty God of our fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of their righteous seed; who hast made heaven and earth, with all the ornament thereof; who hast bound the sea by the word of thy commandment; who hast shut up the deep, and sealed it by thy terrible and glorious name; whom all men fear, and tremble before thy power; for the majesty of thy glory cannot be borne, and thine angry threatening toward sinners is importable: but thy merciful promise is unmeasurable and unsearchable; for thou art the most high Lord, of great compassion, longsuffering, very merciful, and repentest of the evils of men. Thou, O Lord, according to thy great goodness hast promised repentance and forgiveness to them that have sinned against thee: and of thine infinite mercies hast appointed repentance unto sinners, that they may be saved. Thou therefore, O Lord, that art the God of the just, hast not appointed repentance to the just, as to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, which have not sinned against thee; but thou hast appointed repentance unto me that am a sinner: for I have sinned above the number of the sands of the sea. My transgressions, O Lord, are multiplied: my transgressions are multiplied, and I am not worthy to behold and see the height of heaven for the multitude of mine iniquities. I am bowed down with many iron bands, that I cannot lift up mine head, neither have any release: for I have provoked thy wrath, and done evil before thee: I did not thy will, neither kept I thy commandments: I have set up abominations, and have multiplied offences. Now therefore I bow the knee of mine heart, beseeching thee of grace. I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, and I acknowledge mine iniquities: wherefore, I humbly beseech thee, forgive me, O Lord, forgive me, and destroy me not with mine iniquites. Be not angry with me for ever, by reserving evil for me; neither condemn me to the lower parts of the earth. For thou art the God, even the God of them that repent; and in me thou wilt shew all thy goodness: for thou wilt save me, that am unworthy, according to thy great mercy. Therefore I will praise thee for ever all the days of my life: for all the powers of the heavens do praise thee, and thine is the glory for ever and ever. Amen.