January 12th – Healing Forgiveness – Matthew 9

It is Friday, January 12, 2018! According to our schedule, we should read Matthew 9:1-17, and Genesis 29, 30. I discovered the flaw in my project. I am able to read these chapters, but I am not able to comment on them each and every day. There is too much to be said and too little time and space to say it. So I have to skip a lot of passages and I am not going to catch up.

That is why today I only want to make a few comments on the passage in Matthew.
Obviously, the first seven verses remind us of the healing of the paralytic in the gospel of Mark. If that is the case, that this paralytic is the same as the one in Mark, it is interesting to note that Matthew does not pay any attention to the crowded house and the hole in the roof. He seems to be more interested in the dialogue that takes place.
As elsewhere, I believe that the power of physical healing that Jesus displays here is meant to give evidence of Jesus’s authority for redemption. Notice that the people who bring the paralytic to him, merely expect a miraculous healing. When Jesus sees the extent of their faith, I think he realizes that they misunderstand the real problem the paralytic is facing. It is one thing to be cut off from ordinary life as a paralytic would be. But it is another thing to be cut off from God as well.
In his social environment, there will be many people who would blame him for his paralysis, reasoning that he must have done a particular sin to earn a divine judgment in the form of his almost complete paralysis. But even though there is not a hint of Jesus affirming that you, the healing that he provides does address the problem of sin and not just his medical condition. Against those who would argue that the paralysis is caused by his sin, as well as to show that the problem is not our physical suffering but our estrangement from God, Jesus proceeds to pronounce forgiveness.
Now notice, that she does not pray for the man to be forgiven, but actually proclaims forgiveness as one who is its source. It is a declaration by which a new condition is achieved. “Your sins are forgiven” is the act of forgiveness itself.
Therefore it is understandable, that the “experts in the law” say to themselves that Jesus is blaspheming. Unless Jesus is God, they are quite right. How could Jesus know, however, that they were saying that to themselves? It is suggested in the third verse, that Jesus supernaturally hears their mumbling to themselves. The fact that he can hear that, refutes their charge against him.
Jesus certainly has the authority to forgive sins. He does not connect that authority to his divine status however in Matthew. The sixth verse shows in referring to himself as “the Son of Man”. As in Daniel 7:13-14 this Son of Man actually received divine authority. The image of the Son of Man in Daniel mixes human and divine imagery – he rides a cloud which only God can do. That is the basis of his authority. I doubt very much that we find here an Aramaic “bar enash” which simply would be the equivalent of a first-person reference to himself, just “I”.
Jesus now interrogates the experts in the law. His first question is piercing: “why do you respond with evil in your hearts?” Why weren’t they just happy with this pronouncement? Maybe first of all, because this decree of forgiveness could only be given by God, through the ritual in the Temple maybe. And the evidence for God’s forgiveness would be the miraculous healing, that is, God taking away the punishment for this sin. How could it be possible that Jesus forgives, outside of Temple ritual, usurping divine authority, and without showing that by removing the punishment? All of which leads to the conclusion that Jesus is indeed blaspheming and speaking words without any force. In a sense they are saying, that a mere statements by a human being that sins are forgiven is indeed easy. No one can tell whether or not that statement has any foundation in reality. In that sense it is easier. If however only God can forgive sins, that statement must be the more difficult. Only someone with special divine authority would be able to say it without blaspheming. To say “stand up and walk” is more difficult because it requires visible evidence. In another sense however it is easier, because it merely addresses a bodily problem.
The demonstration of the authority of Jesus now comes with an accommodation to the expectations of his audience. In itself there is no need to heal the paralytic. That seems to be presupposed here. The only motivation for his healing, is the necessity to demonstrate Jesus’s authority in the proclamation of forgiveness.
Again we find a demonstration of the divine power and authority of Jesus, now in the method of healing. Jesus commands – “stand up, take your stretcher, and go home.” The healing is instantaneous – “he stood up.” The response is complete obedience – “[he] went home.”
In contrast to the experts in the law, the crowd seems to understand, at least to some degree, what has happened. “They were afraid and honored God who had given such authority to men.” It may be that this reflects the fact that the crowd took the meaning of “Son of Man” as the Aramaic term for me, person. Where Jesus refers to his exceptional authority, the crowd merely looks upon him as an example of something generic.
This must give us pause. It may be better to be an expert in the law, zealous for the honor of God than to be ignorant and merely impressed by a spectacular miracle. Even though the experts in the law contradict Jesus, and deny his status, they do understand the implications of these words and actions. That may lead them to conversion. The relative indifference and ignorance of the crowd, however, remains focused on the incident itself, without being led to an encounter with the divine person performing the miracle.


January 9th – The Confusion of Languages – Genesis 11

Reading for January 9th (MacArthur Study Bible):  Matthew 7; Genesis 10-14

Now I am a bit in trouble. I spent so much time commenting on the first chapters of Genesis – hardly scratching the surface – that I’m way behind in my reading. So for the next few weeks, I need to read more of Genesis to catch up. And I have skipped the rest of the Flood narrative. Hope this will still work.

The Narrative of Babel

What a great story! It is as deep a philosophy about language as you can desire, and yet it has such vivid images that it reads like a film script. It has, despite its brevity, a highly complex structure as shown in the figure below. Besides that, it is wonderfully chosen as the interlude between the genealogies of Eber-Joktan and Eber-Peleg.

a. The Genealogical Context

Let’s start with that first. Chapter 10 gives us the generations of the sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. When the list comes to Eber, we find two sons: Peleg “for in his days the earth was divided”, and his brother’s name was Joktan. Is this “divided” earth the result of the confusion of languages? It might be. In Genesis, we often find that first the events are mentioned and only then the explanation is given. We read indeed in verse 31 that this is a list of descendants of Shem “by their languages.”  So before the plurality of languages is explained, we find mention of the phenomenon.

Now in chapter 10, the genealogy of Joktan, the son of Eber is followed. It even suggests that it is the descendants of Joktan that migrate to the east. But after the Babel narrative, we find from 11:18 on, that the line of Peleg is followed. From his descendants came Terah, and Abram who is the main character in chapters 12 and further. Besides this context of the genealogies of Shem, we find echoes of the Shemite history in the fact that the word “name”, which is shem in Hebrew, plays such a great part in the Babel narrative. We should be mindful of the fact that Babel was founded by the Hamite Nimrod according to 10:10. Canaan, the fourth son of Ham, was cursed because of the sin of his father, the younger son of Noah. The Canaanites, maybe because of this curse, trying to make it as difficult as possible to force them to submit to Shem (9:26), dispersed – verse 18. 

The narrative of Babel is therefore supremely important for the future of the family of Shem, out of which Terah and Abram would come. To mention just one striking element: chapter 10 gives us a list of nations and chapter 11 tells us that people had the urge to move eastward, away from the land of blessing. But in chapter 12 Abram is called to leave his nation and family, and move to the west – to return therefore to the land of blessing, the vicinity of Eden and the blessed land of Canaan. 

b. The Attempt to Achieve Self-sufficiency and Autonomy

What is going on in Babel? In the mass migration of peoples to the East, they found a plain in Shinar – probably close to the Ur of the Chaldeans where Abram lived. They Settled there. They stopped wandering and took this plain as their possession. The groundwork for autonomy was laid. But what is the goal of this migration? We find that out through their own words, in the common language of Mankind.

The text reads:

Then they said to one another, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” (They had brick instead of stone and tar instead of mortar.) 4 Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens so that we may make a name for ourselves. Otherwise, we will be scattered across the face of the entire earth.”

So first we have the new technology of baking the bricks instead of letting them dry in the sun. They would be bricks without straw included, so the result would be like stone. The baking process made the bricks much stronger and allowed buildings that had more than one or two stories. Of course, stone would have been even stronger, but in the plain, that was not available. Technology had to come in to make this possible. Apparently, tar was in plentiful supply and could be used as cement, even stronger than the normal mortar. 

It’s the technology that now makes it conceivable that a strong city is built. Not content with a dwelling place – that as a city would have fortified walls to protect it from enemies and to keep its own citizens inside – they were also contemplating erecting a Tower. It seems to have been thought of as a religious symbol, expressing not so much their piety towards God but celebrating their own achievements. 

For that reason, the goal of both city and Tower is now expressed as to “make a name for ourselves.” Such a Name would be in competition with the Name of God that was supposed to be worshipped. Replacing God’s Name would imply forgetting the basic fact that human beings were created in the image and likeness of God. It would be expressive of the attempt to reach towards the divine world, instead of waiting patiently and with confidence for Divine assistance reaching us from above. 

The ultimate goal, however, is to establish a unity that cannot be divided, to prevent dispersion by which this city would lose its autonomy. Notice that the autonomy and self-sufficiency is now a trait of a society and no longer the aspiration of an individual. But this fear of dispersion is nothing less than resistance to Gods purpose in Creation. The safe homogeneity that is established, implies a forced cohesion, social coercion, and mechanisms of oppression by imposing conformity. The unity of the language allows for all that. 

Technology makes the building of a city in the plain possible. Cooperation by coercion allows for huge building projects that celebrate the glory of the builders. The unity within society that is demonstrated in the Tower, is a religious symbol. It is a new kind of religion that under the guise of worshipping divinities that are above humanity, actually reveres the idealized image of their own humanity. 


The chiastic structure of Genesis 11 shows the precision with which God answered the ambitions of the citizens of Babel.













c. Gods Answer to Human Social Rebellion

While Babel builds a Tower that reaches into heaven, God comes down to them. That already should remind us that God in His care for humanity will come down to them – as He also walked in the garden and stood before Abel and Cain. But this time He comes not in love but in judgment. 

A wonderful element of the narrative is the congruity between the two expressions, the first of the people “let us build”, and then God’s reply “let us go down.” It is as if the people in Babel try to perform a human version of God’s creative words in Genesis 1:26, “Let Us make man.” Just as Man is the being that expresses God’s sovereignty and character, so the city and its tower are supposed to reflect the people’s sovereignty and character. It is the quintessence of idolatry in its social form.

Then we find a diagnosis. 

“If as one people all sharing a common language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be beyond them.

The emphasis should be put on “this”, they have begun to do “this.” What is “this”? The common language makes it possible to build a city that is religious, zealously devoted to enhancing its reputation, establishing a Name, and itself in a permanent dwelling – linking the life of the people to a soil – Blut und Boden. The result is that human beings will no longer be seen as the bearers of God’s image, but the collective, the city as a whole will fulfill that function. Individuals will then be simple members of the social organism, expendable and submissive. The “let us” is a phrase that includes also those who do not desire to do, what authorities propose. 

The diagnosis is, that people will indeed be able to do this. It is not the technology, not even the social structures that allow for such a grandiose human achievement. It is the language.

Now language in a materialistic society is merely descriptive of realities and prescriptive in the context of labor and justice. Indicatives and imperatives form the dual method of communication. Language is highly functional for social cohesion. Language in an oppressive society – but maybe that is an oxymoron – can become ideological and to some extent always is. Words can function as directives without specific contents and without an identifiable human agent that is responsible for its contents. They can function as shibboleths that identify you as belonging to a certain group and excluding you from others. They can function as passwords, allowing you access to social goods – gaining acceptance, showing yourself to be well adapted and suited for the role you have been given. Words like equality, democracy, freedom, justice, but also words like young or racist can function in such a way. 


If there is some general agreement on the meaning of such words, without the ability to put the concepts they express to the test, language can become an instrument of oppression. As George Orwell’s book 1984 eloquently illustrates with his idea of “newspeak”. 

So what is God doing about it?

Come, let’s go down and confuse their language so they won’t be able to understand each other.

The confusion of languages is now precisely the taking away of this unexpressed and oppressive mutual understanding, that makes technological domination possible through description, and human manipulation and slavery possible because of its prescriptive force. To speak without the ability to hear – in the translation it says “understand”, but literally it says “hear” – implies that obedience becomes impossible and so is any attempt to achieve something great through the forced cooperation of the many. 

The result is the breaking up of this destructive unity and the dispersion of the people of Babel. Their attempt at unity and their refusal to be dispersed is now thwarted because the necessary condition of their attempt was taken away: the unity and simplicity of linguistic communication. Now we need to really listen because other people will express a different culture and history in their language. The dispersion leads to the celebration of differences. Any attempt to achieve this kind of homogenous unity is just a way to lead us into a destructive – ultimately fascist – uniformity. 

In the end, these people that would make a Name for themselves, that expressed their power and unity, get a name. God gives them a name. They are called Babel, which in itself reflects the confusion of languages. Maybe they would have liked it to mean Bab-El, the gate of God, but the Hebrew language knows better: it is Bavel, confusion. 




January 8th – The Second Fall of Man – Genesis 9

It is obvious that the narrative of the flood reflects the narrative of creation. After the land had dried up, Noah planted a vineyard – reminding us of the garden that God planted for man to enjoy. The covenant of 9:17 and the blessing of 9:1 – including the commandment to be fruitful and multiply – is reminiscent of Genesis 2. The outcome of the narrative is similar to the outcome of the story of the Garden of Eden.

Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the garden like Noah ate of the fruit of his orchard, and they became naked. The pure enjoyment of the gifts of God could not be sustained in paradise, and could not be sustained by man after the flood. And in both narratives, the effect of sin is immediately apparent in the nakedness. It is a parody of man’s original state when Adam and Eve were both naked and they felt no shame – Noah in his drunkenness uncovered himself in his tent.
Ham looks upon the nakedness of his father. Lacking all moral integrity he, instead of covering his father up – which is what Adam and Eve tried to do and what God did by providing them with clothes – goes out and tells his two brothers about it. It is a remarkable demonstration of lack of respect for his father and ignorance about the meaning of nakedness. This is not a story about a boy accidentally walking into his father’s bedroom, Ham is pictured as a grown man over 100 years old. Seeing his father’s nakedness is a major offense. To us, it doesn’t seem like a big thing. We are used to nakedness in our society. The cultural background of the narrative however makes looking upon another’s nakedness an abomination.
The two brothers, Shem and Japheth, act like Adam and Eve, and God himself. God did not look on man’s nakedness but covered it with coats of skin. Ham did not take their actions as his example. Now Ham is the father of the Canaanites. The priests of the Canaanite religion sometimes acted naked before their altars. It has been said that the prohibition of Exodus 20:26 is specifically directed against Canaanites religious custom.

And you must not go up by steps to my altar, so that your nakedness is not exposed.

We read in Exodus 28 specifically that the priests should cover their bodies before God in the sanctuary:

Make for them linen undergarments to cover their naked bodies; they must cover from the waist to the thighs.

Ham and his descendants, the Canaanites, have no moral integrity, which is symbolically demonstrated by their acceptance of nakedness, specifically in worship. 

The sons of Noah are here shown to belong to two groups of mankind, those who like Adam and Eve hide the shame of their nakedness, and those who like Ham, or rather the Canaanites, have no sense of their shame before God. (EBC)

January 7th – Praying This Way – Matthew 6

Reading for today: Genesis 6-9, Matthew 6

5 “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward.

Jesus does not give a commandment to pray; he assumes that his disciples understand the necessity of prayer and like all devout Jews pray three times a day. What he is teaching, is the authenticity of prayer. There is a difference between true prayer and the “prayer of the hypocrites.”
Now, he is not against public prayer. It is true that in synagogue worship someone could pray publicly, in front of the arc. There were certain occasions when prayers were offered in the streets. For instance in times of drought when the harvest was in danger. What Jesus rejects is not the posture of people in prayer, nor their position, either in the synagogue or on the streets. His rejection of the prayer of the hypocrites is based on their motivation, so all emphasis should be put on the words: “so that people can see them.” If in prayer you are aware of the fact that others can see or hear you, you might attempt to make a spectacle of yourself. You want to impress others with your devotion or the poetic depth of your language. We might be concerned more with our reputation for piety, then with piety itself. Human praise becomes more important than God’s approval.

6 But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

I do not believe therefore that verse 6 is about the place of prayer so much. Every time we pray, even when we pray in public, it should be AS IF we are in a completely private place as if only God can hear us – implying a full sincerity and truthfulness. So the image of the private prayer room is not used to prescribe a space, but to illustrate an attitude.

7 When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

There is a second necessary condition of true prayer. Prayer should not be a “babbling”, which means an idle or useless display of rhetoric, or a mere repetition of phrases and divine names. Now, this does not mean that all repetition in prayer is forbidden, nor that Jesus is against long prayer. Jesus taught his disciples that they should always pray and not give up (Luke 18:1). “His point is that his disciples should avoid meaningless, repetitive prayers offered under the misconception that mere length will make prayers efficacious.” (EBC) the reason that he refers to pagan practices, does not imply that this prohibition is directed to pagans. It is called pagan prayer, because that was the way prayers in other religions were conducted; pagan gods thrived on incantation and repetition. The essence of the pagan prayer is giving our father in heaven information about our needs. As I once witnessed, that someone in a public prayer said: “God! We have read in the newspaper that people in Sudan are suffering because of a failed harvest.” That seems to imply that we needed to tell God about this, just in case he didn’t read the paper.

9 So pray this way:

The model prayer, that we call the Lord’s prayer, is not an example of Jesus’s own prayer – we have a fine example of that in John 17. Here we have a problem when we compare the text in Matthew 6 with Luke’s version in chapter 11 of his Gospel.


Do we have the original prayer in Matthew and does Luke give us a simplified version? That strikes me as odd, because so many times Luke refers to Jesus’s habit of prayer. Why would he use a condensed version of the whole prayer? Or is it the other way around? Luke might be giving us the original, and then Matthew expanded on it? That is the way the historical-critical method deals with this kind of thing. Because they assume literary dependency, they need to talk about expansion or condensation of one version in relation to the other.
There are many other theories. Some say that Matthews version is designed for public worship, and that he tried to make it look more like the prayers of the synagogue. The similarity with the Jewish prayers, however, are found more in the general style than in the wording of the prayer. As someone observed, extemporaneous prayers in evangelical churches have the same similarity in style without being dependent upon each other. The Lord’s prayer is merely using current forms of piety and it is to be expected that Jesus prayed in accordance with the literary custom of the time.
It seems obvious that Jesus has talked about prayer on several occasions. It seems to me that Matthew could record one such occasion and Luke another. The fact that we have two separate traditions which in essence support each other, makes it plausible that this is truly the teaching of Jesus himself – which I did not doubt in the first place.


January 6th – The Likeness of Adam – Genesis 5

Today’s reading: Matthew 5; Genesis 5

Some remarks on Genesis 5

Giving birth and giving a name is the main focus of this chapter. Here we find what became of Adan, the toledot, the “issue”, whatever came out of Adam is described in what we usually call a genealogy.  In Adam,  it became apparent what the heavens and the earth truly were, and so now we see what was truly in Adam. We find the generation of the flood and Noah as the most important offspring.

NOTE The prologue first redirects the reader’s attention back to the course of events in the first chapter: the creation of the man and the woman (v.1). In so doing the prologue reiterates the central point of that earlier account: the creation of the man and the woman in the “image and likeness” of God. Second, the prologue ties chapter 5 together with the preceding verses in chapter 4 (vv.25-26) by continuing the pattern of “birth” and “naming.” Just as the first parents named their sons (4:25-26), so also in the prologue to chapter 5 God named Adam (v.2); and he, in turn, named his son (Seth, v.3). (Expositor’s Bible Commentary)

Man was created in the image of God – so he’s supposed to be a replica, a “statue”, in the sense that he reflects the position of God, refers to Him. I think that is about “stature”, the position of the vice-regent that God gives to man at the top of the world of the living. But then He also made him “after His likeness”, which I believe speaks of character, the characteristics that are required to function in the position that God gives him. So there you have it, in Genesis 1:26, what man is supposed to be doing: ruling over and caring for the world and equipped with the spiritual character that is required to do that properly.

In Genesis 5 we find this summarized in the simple statement that God made Adam “in the likeness of God.” Likeness refers to character, so the word “after” is most appropriate. The Hebrew in Genesis 1:26 has the preposition ke, which translates as “like”.  The Hebrew preposition be translates as “in”. So it is proper to say that be-tsalmenu should be translated “in our image” and ki-demutenu as “after our likeness.” And that gives us a problem here. What then can “in the likeness”,  bi-demutenu,  mean?

Maybe it is a summarizing statement. Taking the preposition that belongs to the image-position and combining it with the noun that expresses character-likeness. Maybe it shows that image and likeness are synonyms and only in Genesis 1 when combined as a prepositional phrase, do they mean what they mean. Maybe it is the result of the Fall that is expressed here: humanity is no longer suited for its position, but there is a residue: man is “in”, that is, derives his power from, is focussed on, “the likeness”, that is: character of God.

In any case, the point is the contrast between Gen. 1:26 and verse 3, where we read:

When Adam had lived 130 years he fathered a son in his own likeness (bi-demuto), according to his image (ke-tsalmo), and he named him Seth.

It says here that Seth was “in the likeness of Adam”, in contrast to Adam who had been “after the likeness of God” – reflecting His character – and now is merely “in the likeness of God” – focussed on Gods character.

Man is no longer in the image of God and after the likeness of God, he is merely in the likeness. And Seth, and by default, all other descendants of Adam, are like Adam, not like God anymore. We are focused on and dependent on being to a certain degree the likeness of our fathers. They determine our character in the world. So if you want to know what man is, you seek to understand his progeny that demonstrates who their father was. After all, by their upbringing, they become “in the likeness” of their father.

Secondly, the sons of Adam are “according to Adam’s image.” They take their position from their fathers. What they do reflects their father’s skills and ambitions. When we talk about sons who walk in their father’s footsteps, we are talking about position, skills ambition, influence and the like. Any father is a role model, whether positive or negative, for his sons and daughters. But that is not what man is supposed to be.

The only one who in some sense escapes this fatality of being in his father’s likeness and according to his image, is Enoch. He walks with God. As God walked with man before the likeness and image of God was destroyed in them. I believe that he was after Gods likeness and in the image of God to a higher degree than is normal for the children of Adam. That’s why he never died and is by far the oldest man alive:

Gen. 5:24 Enoch walked with God, and then he disappeared because God took him away.

Some say that this was how God originally intended to deal with Adam: have him live on earth for a thousand years and then take him away to be in heaven forever. Others say that it merely means that Enoch died without his body being found. Quite a contrast!



The genealogical list in chapter 5 is nearly identical in form to that of 11:10-26, the genealogy (toledoth Toledoth; NIV, “the account of”) of Shem. A comparison of the formal elements of the two genealogies shows that the only difference between them is the inclusion of the clause “and then he died” (wayyamoth) at the end of each of the names in chapter 5. Why would the author have felt it important to remind the reader specifically of the death of each of these patriarchs, whereas in the other genealogical lists he allows the matter of the death of the individual to remain implicit in the statement of the total number of the years of his life?
The answer is not hard to find in chapter 5, because in this chapter alone one of the patriarchs, Enoch, did not die. The total number of the years of his life is given, as with the other genealogies, but only here is there an exception. Enoch “was no more, because God took him away” (v.24). In other words, the author purposefully underscores the death of each patriarch in chapter 5 to highlight and focus the reader’s attention to the exceptional case of Enoch. The genealogical list in chapter 5 is nearly identical in form to that of 11:10-26, the genealogy (toledoth Toledoth; NIV, “the account of”) of Shem.
A comparison of the formal elements of the two genealogies shows that the only difference between them is the inclusion of the clause “and then he died” (wayyamoth) at the end of each of the names in chapter 5. Why would the author have felt it important to remind the reader specifically of the death of each of these patriarchs, whereas in the other genealogical lists he allows the matter of the death of the individual to remain implicit in the statement of the total number of the years of his life? The answer is not hard to find in chapter 5, because in this chapter alone one of the patriarchs, Enoch, did not die. The total number of the years of his life is given, as with the other genealogies, but only here is there an exception. Enoch “was no more, because God took him away” (v.24). In other words, the author purposefully underscores the death of each patriarch in chapter 5 to highlight and focus the reader’s attention to the exceptional case of Enoch.
Why does the author want to point to Enoch so specifically as an exception? It is not merely because he did not die. That in itself is reason enough to merit special attention, but it does not sufficiently explain the purpose of the author in this case. The author’s purpose can better be seen in the way he has emphasized, through repetition, that Enoch “walked with God” (vv.22, 24). The phrase “walked with God” (wayyith hallek ‘eth -ha’elohim) clearly means something to the author, for he uses the same expression to describe Noah as “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time” (6:9), and Abraham and Isaac as faithful servants of God (17:1; 24:40; 48:15). Its use here shows that the author views it as the reason why Enoch did not die. Enoch is pictured as one who did not suffer the fate of Adam (“you will die”) because, unlike the others, he “walked with God.”
The sense of the author is clear. Enoch is an example of one who found life amid the curse of death. In Enoch the author is able to show that the pronouncement of death is not the last word that need be said about a man’s life. One can find life if one “walks with God.” For the author, then, a door is left open for a return to the tree of life in the garden. Enoch found that door in his “walking with God” and in so doing has become a paradigm for all who seek to find life. It is significant that the author returns to this theme at the opening of chapter 17, where God establishes his covenant promise with Abraham. Here the meaning is clear: “Walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you” (17:1-2). To “walk with God” is to fulfill one’s covenant obligations.  For the author of Genesis, “walking with God” is the way to life. As Moses says to the people in the wilderness, “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands … and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess” (Deut 30:15-16).
It is important to see that for the author of the Pentateuch, “walking with God” could not have meant a mere “keeping” of a set of laws. Rather, it is just with those men who could not have had a set of “laws” that the author associates the theme of “walking with God.” By choosing such men to exemplify “walking with God,” the author shows his desire to teach a better way to live than merely a legalistic adherence to the law. We must not lose sight of the fact that from the author’s perspective the way of the law at Sinai had not proved successful (e.g., Deut 31:27). A better way lay still in the future (Deut 30:5-6). For him the way to life was exemplified best in men like Enoch (“Enoch walked with God,” 5:22), Noah (“he walked with God,” 6:9), and Abraham (“Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness,” 15:6). It is to these patriarchs who lived long before the giving of the law at Sinai that the author of Genesis turns for a model of faith and trust in God.


January 5th – The poor in spirit – Matthew 5

Reading for Friday, January 5th: Genesis 5-8, Matthew 5.

Reading the Bible is sometimes like sailing the ocean. You can see everything from afar, understand how vast it is, but you can only touch a minute portion of its surface. Since I started writing about Bible-passages in sequence, that was my first experience: you have to select a detail in order to say something that carries weight, and then you have to leave out much, much more that has the same importance.

This time, I wanted to say something about Matthew 5, and that is what we read in verse 3:

​​​​​​​“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”

It is the first of the “beatitudes”, the first blessing (makarios in Greek, that’s why we sometimes speak about makarisms) of a series of nine, by which Christ defines the people and the characteristics of the people for whom the Gospel of the Kingdom is meant.

Now, why are they “blessed”? 

The NIV application Bible puts it like this:

Makarios is a state of existence in relationship to God in which a person is “blessed” from God’s perspective even when he or she doesn’t feel happy or isn’t presently experiencing good fortune. This does not mean a conferral of blessing or an exhortation to live a life worthy of blessing; rather, it is an acknowledgment that the ones indicated are blessed. Negative feelings, absence of feelings, or adverse conditions cannot take away the blessedness of those who exist in relationship with God.

So we’re not talking about feelings or experience at all! It refers to a “state of existence”. It signifies what we are, what our position is in God’s perspective.

The Greek “describes a state not of inner feeling on the part of those to whom it is applied, but of blessedness from an ideal point of view in the judgment of others” (Allen).

To aspire to be blessed supersedes all other considerations. We, humans, aspire to happiness most of the time. But our text teaches us that happiness is only a possible consequence of our being blessed, not identical to it. The difference is especially clear when we consider verse 10, where those people are called “blessed”, who actually suffer from persecution. No reason to feel happy about that at all. Yet, they are called blessed!

Now, what are the “poor in spirit”? 

Luke’s gospel just has the expression “poor”, so it seems warranted to understand the term economically above all else. They are literally without protective wealth, without the means to defend themselves and for that reason totally dependent upon God. But the word has a wide range of implications when we look at its usage in the old testament.

#1. The poor are the victims of those in power.

Ps 37:14 The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright.

#2. The poor are totally dependent upon God for their survival

Ps 40:17 Yet I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; O my God, do not delay.

#3. The poor and the needy will be heard by God

Ps 69:32 The poor will see and be glad— you who seek God, may your hearts live!
Ps 69:33 The LORD hears the needy and does not despise his captive people.

#4. The poor refrain from violence

Pr 16:19 Better to be lowly in spirit and among the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud.

#5. The poor show a proper humility toward God

Pr 29:23 A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.

#6. The poor are to receive the gospel of the Kingdom

Isa 61:1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.

#7. God dwells among the poor in spirit.

Isa 57:15 For this is what the high and lofty One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.

So who is “poor in spirit”? They are the ones who suffer economic poverty since they do not plunder and rob others. They are suffering because they depend just on the Lord, who allows them to suffer to maintain their contrite spirit. In their humility, however, is a great advantage, since it is with them that the Lord God lives and is present.

That is why the poor are called blessed, not because they are poor – there is no intrinsic value in poverty as such – but because their poverty has led them to be “lowly and contrite”, refrain from injustice to stay alive and because they are the recipients of the Good News of the Kingdom. Their hearts are open to that message.

…and this is their blessing:

And then we have the promise: “the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” That is not about proprietary rights. But the blessings of the Kingdom, the spiritual blessings, are available to us when we are poor. We already now have access to them.

Eph. 2:3 Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.


January 4th – Creating a Man – Genesis 4

I’ve just started and already I’m a day behind! I knew it wasn’t that easy. Today I will just present some thoughts on Genesis 4, and then tomorrow I will try to catch up. The reading for today, Thursday, January 4th is Genesis 4 and Matthew 4. For Friday, January 5th the reading is Genesis 5-8 and Matthew 5.

1 Now the man had marital relations with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. Then she said, “I have created a man just as the LORD did!”

Genesis 4 is quite a rich chapter. The birth of Cain, the murder of Abel, the punishment for the murderer and the description of the “beginning of civilization” with Lamech is deep and breathtaking. So let’s just focus on the first verse, which in the NET-translation reach a bit different from what we are used to.


The difference lies not so much in the more explicit translation of the Hebrew euphemism “to know” for sexual relations. The NET chooses to stress the legitimacy of their cohabitation by translating “marital relations” and calls Eve “his wife.” But the meaning is quite clear.
After first 24 of the previous chapter, where we found the “angelic sentries” guarding the way to the tree of life, the opening of chapter 4 shows that life outside of the garden of Eden is still possible. The divine commandment to be fruitful and multiply can still be obeyed.
The spiritual condition of anonymity can be discerned from the name they gave to their firstborn. The name Cain is explained by Eve’s outcry: “I have created the man just as the Lord did!” Though here we find the NET differing from all other translations. First of all, why does it say “created”? According to the footnote, it is a matter of semantics:

Here is another sound play (paronomasia) on a name. The sound of the verb קָנִיתִי (qaniti, “I have created”) reflects the sound of the name Cain in Hebrew (קַיִן, qayin) and gives meaning to it. The saying uses the Qal perfect of קָנָה (qanah). There are two homonymic verbs with this spelling, one meaning “obtain, acquire” and the other meaning “create; the latter fits this context very well. Eve has created a man.

Isn’t she “like a god” in the sense that she brings forth another living being? Is it possible to detect here a residue of the urge to be “like a divine being” that brought the sin of disobedience into this world? Isn’t pride the dominant tone in her statement?

And what about this expression: “with the help of JHWH”? Again the footnote is quite useful:

Heb “with the Lord.” The particle אֶת־ (’et) is not the accusative/object sign, but the preposition “with” as the ancient versions attest. Some take the preposition in the sense of “with the help of” (see BDB 85 s.v. אֵת; cf. NEB, NIV, NRSV), while others prefer “along with” in the sense of “like, equally with, in common with” (see Lev 26:39; Isa 45:9; Jer 23:28). Either works well in this context; the latter is reflected in the present translation.

Instead of the classic translation: I have gotten…with the help of the LORD, the NET chooses the extreme, but possible translation: I have created…just as the LORD. I think that might overdo it, but still, it remains clear that Eve’s first pregnancy led her to consider the enormous power that was still in her. The giving of life is indeed a miracle of huge proportions. If she speaks about the “help” of the LORD, who did it “with” her, she identifies herself as some kind of co-creator. But if the translation of “like the LORD” is correct, it is plain that she sees herself on a par with God.

The sentiments of Eve would be to some measure reflected in the character of the son, would they not? Are we here to understand that when Cain grew up, he was instilled with this idea that he was a product of his mother who was “helped” by the Lord? He might have acquired a sense of independence from that. I believe that the way we are told about our birth, the narrative behind our coming into this world, is quite important for our character.

So how can we understand the birth and character of Abel, if this is true for Cain?

Let’s read verse 2:

Then she gave birth to his brother Abel. Abel took care of the flocks, while Cain cultivated the ground.

The Hebrew reads: “And she again gave birth”, or: she continued giving birth – Abel.” Notice that this second birth is presented as a continuation of the first, as the second in a series, just not as important and dramatic therefore as the first. Here we do not find the pride of the co-creator that Eve might have felt in giving birth to Cain. Was that because this was a more painful birth that stopped her from boasting? That in this case the curse – “I will greatly increase your labor pains”, 3:16 – was felt more acutely?

Secondly, notice the name here. Abel means something like: “breath, vapor”, and as it is used in Ecclesiastes it is sometimes translated as “vanity”. It sounds ominous and seems to indicate the untimely death of Abel.

Thirdly, notice how Abel is introduced here. He is “brother” to Cain. He does not stand on his own, but it seems to me, that a new kind of relationship is defined here. Genesis 4 introduces the concept of siblings, of fraternal love, of the “brotherhood” of man. How is man to be a keeper of his brother? How are the differences between men to be understood? It shows that the difference in strength between the firstborn, Cain, who tills the soil, struggling with the cursed earth, and the secondborn Abel, who is as fragile as a vapor, minding the sheep, that this difference between the strong and the weak only exists to establish a relationship of caring love. Cain is supposed to be the stronger brother, taking care of his younger and weaker brother.

Well, he didn’t.