John the Baptist was “the voice” announcing the arrival of God’s kingdom (3:1-3), introducing heaven’s anointed king (3:11-12). A voice from heaven confirmed his message: Jesus was indeed the chosen Son, the ruler heaven was pleased to appoint (3:17).
The anointed king had faced Israel’s enemy and driven him back: “Be gone, Satan: you have no authority here! Our Law honours YHWH our ruler. We serve no other” (4:10 paraphrased).
The king then withdrew to the northern reaches of his realm to live with the most oppressed, to bring light to the darkest place (4:12-16). There he announced the re-establishment of God’s kingdom, enacting the kingdom by releasing people from oppression by sickness and evil (4:22-25).
The king leads his followers to “a mountain” to give instruction on life in God’s kingdom. It was somewhere on the northern slopes of the Sea of Galilee, traditionally near Tabgha (Google maps). As you can see (photo above), it’s more of a hillock than a mountain. So why does Matthew call it a mountain? He’s thinking of something more than geography.
Esau’s kingdom story is such a contrast to the kingdom God is establishing through Jacob.
If you miss the kingdom perspective, you may wonder why Genesis 36 is in the Bible. It’s a repetitive jumble of names associated with Esau. Sure, Esau was Abraham and Sarah’s grandson; God promised them nations; and Esau has a nation. But there’s too much detail to just say that. Something else is going on. Continue reading “Esau’s ordinary kingdom (Genesis 36)”
Jacob is invited to live in God’s house (Bethel). How well do they do?
Bethel—literally God’s House—is where Jacob is invited to live. But if they are to live in the house of their heavenly sovereign, they must purify themselves. After the skirmish with the Shechemites, the smell of death is on them and their clothes. Among the spoils are idols and talismans. When these impediments are gone, they enter Bethel. The surrounding cities are too terrified to seek vengeance on these servants of the heavenly king (35:1-5). Continue reading “Jacob’s life in God’s house (Genesis 35)”
Should God’s kingdom people enforce justice on the nations? Or should we just suck up the injustice? How do you respond to evil?
The unanswered question of Genesis 34 is how to respond to evil. Jacob’s family will be the agents of the kingdom of God in years to come, but how should they respond right now when a Canaanite prince rapes Dinah? Injustice remains a relevant question. Continue reading “How do we fight injustice? (Genesis 34:3-31)”
If God doesn’t prevent bad things happening, how do we cope?
Now that Israel is in the land with the sons who will form the tribes of Israel, how will they represent the heavenly king in the presence of people who do not submit to him? The nations do not submit to God’s laws. Driven by their own passions, they take whatever they want by force.
We’ve seen this picture ever since Nimrod the warrior of Genesis 10. It’s devastating:
Genesis 34:1–2 (ESV) 1Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. 2And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her.
Are you tempted to stop reading, to skip to something more pleasant? You really need this text if you think, “God’s running the world, so he’ll never let anything bad happen to me.” That belief will fail you. Neither can you blame Dinah, as if she must have been doing something wrong or it wouldn’t have happened to her. Verse 1 explicitly sets up the story by saying she was behaving well in her culture. Don’t blame the victim. Continue reading “When you get hurt (Genesis 34:1-2)”
As God’s representative, Jacob must make peace with Esau and the people of Canaan.
He’s no longer Jacob, the usurper who tries to take his brother’s birthright and blessing. Now he’s Israel—the one who embraces God, even when it’s a struggle. The God of Bethel has been here all along, and now Israel has returned to live in the land that is the house of God. The sovereign living among his people — that’s the kingdom ideal.
But it’s not quite that straightforward. There are already people in the land: Esau to start with, and then the Canaanites. How can the kingdom of God ideal work for Israel in a world where others may not be keen to have them there? This was the major problem for the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, just as powers that refuse Jesus’ kingship have been the major threat to Christians in the last two millennia. Continue reading “Living among people who don’t recognize God (Genesis 33)”
Why did God accost Jacob as he crossed back into the Land?
“A man” wrestled with Jacob all night. It’s the strangest story. Jacob is 97 years old, but “the man” can’t throw Jacob off and eventually has to ask Jacob to let him go (32:24-26). It gets even stranger when Jacob says he’s been wrestling with God (32:29-30). Continue reading “Israel and the face of God (Genesis 32:22-32)”