As we start our second week of daily Bible reading, how it is going for you? You may be finding it hard to get a regular rhythm or routine for your reading. If so, please hang in there and keep at it! Coaches and motivators tell us that it takes three to four weeks to set a new daily routine. This one is worth it!
If you have not yet started, you are not too late! Just jump in where we are starting now. You can catch up on the other passages easily enough later: they will still be there!
Our Bible reading is a “no-judgment zone”: no blame, no shame. God has a gift to share with you when you are ready to receive it.
Old Testament Readings: Genesis 16-27
Our readings this week present the first two generations in the family descended from Abraham and Sarah. While the story plays out through the lives of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, the main character driving the action is the Lord: the promise at Abram’s call (Gen. 12:1-3) takes full shape in the covenant promise presented in chapters 15 and 17. The question in each generation of this family saga is whether God’s promise will prove true—whether God can overcome the threats and secure the family to grow into the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people.
One theme to look for is that of barrenness and fertility. Sarah and Abraham’s age and infertility make it clear that the birth of the child Isaac is God’s miraculous provision—the divine fulfillment of the covenant promise that the Lord makes unto Abraham. Each generation in the family will face this threat of barrenness; each time the chosen descendent arrives not through human ingenuity but by God’s grace. From the very beginning, Genesis portrays life as only the Lord’s gift to bestow.
Each generation in the family illustrates another important theme in the story: God’s choice, or election. Just as God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and rejected Cain’s (Gen. 3), God chooses Isaac over Ishmael—one of several times in these stories that God’s favor flouts human expectations and rests upon the younger, not the older, sibling. Importantly, God’s choice is not without mercy: Ishmael (like Cain before him and Esau after) receives God’s blessing and becomes the leader of many people. But those nations are not the chosen people of God, who carry the special calling of blessing the world.
Perhaps the starkest threat to God’s promise comes in chapter 22, when God tests Abraham’s faith by calling him to sacrifice Isaac. The absurdity of this command is clear: the Lord seems to be nullifying the promise by revoking the gift of Isaac’s life. But the Lord has no interest in Isaac’s death, just in Abraham’s trust. This challenging story serves two purposes. It highlights Abraham’s faith in God’s provision, and it distinguishes the Lord from the bloodthirsty gods of the surrounding nations, who regularly practices child sacrifice. Both Abraham and the Lord prove trustworthy in this story.
As the story continues through the generation of Isaac and Rebekah, we end with the story of their twin sons Esau and Jacob. They contend with each other even before their birth; our readings this week conclude with a ruse that Jacob and Rebekah perpetrate on Esau and Isaac. God’s blessing, once spoken and received, is irrevocable. The birthright and responsibility for God’s covenant people will rest not on Esau, the firstborn, but on his crafty younger brother Jacob.
Questions to consider:
- What qualities or characteristics do these stories lift up for the people of God to emulate? That is, what characterizes the family of faith?
- Are you comfortable with the idea that the Lord chooses some and not others for particular blessing?
New Testament Readings: Mark 6-10
These chapters of Mark’s Gospel portray the missionary impulse of Jesus’ ministry, and hence of subsequent Christian faith. After Jesus finds rejection in his hometown, Nazareth, he sends out his disciples in pairs with spiritual power and authority to spread his ministry of God’s rule. Upon their return they participate in Jesus’ twin miraculous feeding of the multitudes. They see him walking on water as they head in mission to the far side of the Sea of Galilee. They follow him west to Tyre and Sidon, where he heals a Syrophoenician woman, then back east again to the Decapolis, where he heals a deaf man, and to Bethsaida, where he heals a blind man. Jesus is on mission for God, to enact and extend God’s rule widely, over all the land, and his ministry extends beyond the people of Israel to include Gentiles as well.
The larger shape of the story comes into focus in chapter 8, the midpoint of Mark’s Gospel. Until this point Jesus seeks to minimize the speculation about his true identity, ordering people not to reveal him (e.g., 1:44, 3:12, 5:43). But in the village of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks his disciples precisely that question: “Who do you say that I am?” (8:29). Peter’s clear declaration that Jesus in the Christ, the messiah of God, becomes the pivot point of the entire story. From this point on, Jesus begins to teach his followers that his being messiah will demand his suffering and sacrificial death. Henceforth the action heads inexorably toward Jerusalem, the site of Jesus’ decisive confrontation with the religious and political powers that crucify him.
This theme of the “messianic secret” is the author Mark’s brilliant contribution to our understanding of Jesus. We understand Jesus fully only after we confront the necessity of his crucifixion. Views of Christianity that offer “cheap grace” or triumphalism must bow to the reality that God called Jesus to enact a costly atonement for our sins. Mark’s vibrant and dramatic version of Jesus’ ministry captures the urgency of God’s saving purpose.
Questions to consider:
- If you were a contemporary of his, how likely would you be to follow Jesus?
- Read and think closely about Jesus’ invitation to discipleship (8:34-35). What would it mean for you to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus?
Psalms: 1, 107, 4
Psalm 1 celebrates the gift of torah, God’s instruction, by illustrating its benefits. The life ordered by God’s law thrives like a fruitful tree planted by the riverside. In contrast, the wicked reject God’s wisdom and will not withstand God’s judgment.
Psalm 107 calls for the worshipping community to trust God’s saving power and to offer thanks for God’s steadfast love. It specifies four situations of dire need to which the Lord responds with deliverance: those lost “in desert wastes” (vv.4-9), prisoners “in the shadow of death” (vv.10-16), those suffering “through their sinful ways” (vv.17-22), and those at risk on the sea (vv.23-32).
Psalm 4 voices trust in God’s guidance in the face of distress. The speaker declares faith in God despite adverse circumstances and the scorn of scoffers.