There are two fundamental ways we can read God’s Word. One is informational—seeking to learn the facts, master the story, and build our working knowledge of the various texts within this collection. Your work to become conversant with the content of the Bible is commendable, and your growing confidence in navigating the scriptures will be a beautiful, lifelong gift.
As our familiarity with the Bible grows, we start to read formationally. We internalize the values, lessons, and themes we read, and they start to exert an influence on us. The Holy Spirit speaks in the depths to us, and we understand that God, whose Word we read, addresses this word to us. We grow as God’s people, better able to hear God speak because we have been listening to what God says.
May the Lord bless your reading this week with growing knowledge of the Word and deepening relationship with the One who speaks.
Old Testament Readings: Genesis 41-50
This week’s passages take us to the end of Genesis, and they focus on the story of Joseph and his brothers. Last week we read of the conflict between young Joseph and his jealous older brothers, who sell him to traders on their way to Egypt. Joseph becomes a servant in the home of Potiphar, an officer of the Pharaoh’s. Yet this position of exile and servitude does not prevent Joseph from glorifying the Lord. God blesses Joseph’s service at every step, bringing credit to him and increase to his master. The story lifts up the theme of God’s blessing to those who are faithful, however discouraging the circumstances.
Wrongfully accused of sexual predation, Joseph lands in prison, forgotten by all. Yet God has given Joseph the gift of interpreting dreams and visions (cf. ch.37), and this gift becomes the means of his surprising elevation to power. When none of Pharaoh’s courtiers can interpret the leader’s disturbing dream, he summons Joseph, who correctly sees the dream as an indication of future world famine. Joseph wisely suggests a plan for Egypt to stockpile grain in advance, and the Pharaoh places Joseph in charge of the entire operation. By using God’s gift faithfully, Joseph rises out of bondage and into power.
This power over the food supply brings him back into connection with his brothers, who come to Egypt during the famine to seek food for their people. Joseph sees and recognizes them. But instead of getting revenge upon his murderous brothers, he devises an elaborate plan that provides them not only food but also reconciliation. Follow this story closely and see how Joseph accomplishes redemption by teaching redemption: he puts his brothers in the position of pleading for their younger brother Benjamin’s safety (in contrast to the way they treated Joseph years earlier). When Judah ends up offering himself in place of Benjamin (44:18-34), Joseph knows that they all have learned the lesson: to thrive as the chosen people of God, brothers must overcome their rivalries and live together in peace.
In each generation of this family saga (ch. 12-50), the promise of God is at risk. Sin imperils the covenant at every step, yet God’s power to redeem proves greater than the human propensity to rebel. God’s faithfulness overcomes our own! As Joseph tells his penitent brothers at the end of the book, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people” (50:20). The Book of Genesis ends on this grateful note of confidence in God’s sovereign love, which accommodates our sin and will not fail to accomplish God’s purpose.
Questions to consider:
- How important is reconciliation in the life of a family? Of a nation? Why?
- Have you ever felt so alone (or desperate, or sinful) that you thought that even God could not reach you? What does Joseph’s story say to this feeling?
- Do you agree with the idea that God’s sovereign love will not fail to accomplish God’s purpose? What does that say for our world today?
- Looking back over the entire Book of Genesis, what are two or three main ideas that you take away about God and God’s people?
New Testament Readings: Mark 16; Galatians 1-4
The last chapter of Mark’s gospel provides the thrilling culmination of Jesus’ earthly ministry—his resurrection. Note the sudden revelation in Mark’s sparse account (16:1-8). [Most scholars consider that Mark 16:9-20 is a later addition by others.] The women go to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ dead body; they leave with the news that Jesus has risen from the dead! The story alludes to the future ministry of the Church (“go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee”), but the immediate effect on the women is paralyzing awe: “trembling, and astonishment had seized them . . . for they were afraid” (v.8). Mark’s telling of the resurrection helps us realize the terrifying wonder of God’s power, a force strong enough to raise Jesus and defeat, publicly and decisively, the power of death.
Paul’s Letter to the Galatians is a challenging but essential read for our Christian understanding. We must try to hang in there and understand the conflict Paul addresses in the church, seen in the tensions between law and grace, Jew and Gentile, works and faith. And admittedly it is a stretch for us to comprehend how the practice of circumcision becomes freighted with such meaning.
To reckon with this letter, we must understand the composition of the early church. Many of the first Christians were Jews who understood Jesus to be their messiah, God’s anointed savior for Israel. But other Christians came to the faith through conversion from their pagan beliefs, and the number of these Gentile Christians increased as the missionary efforts of Paul and others spread from Israel into the farther reaches of the Roman Empire. The practical effect of these new converts created a theological question: to be fully Christian, must the convert undergo circumcision, the traditional sign of inclusion in God’s covenant?
For Paul, this question was not silly or secondary; it lay at the center of the gospel. The “Judaizers” who wanted all Gentiles to be circumcised were, in essence, making Jewish identity the necessary condition for inclusion in Christ’s salvation. But Paul understood and proclaimed a brand-new covenant with God in Jesus Christ. One enters this new covenant not by an act or deed (circumcision) to fulfill the law, but by trusting in Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ, not works of the law, brings the believer into right relationship with God. To believe otherwise is to turn to “a different gospel” (1:6) than Paul preached—a gospel different from what Christ offers. If our righteousness with God depends upon our adherence to the law—our right behavior—such an arrangement is not gospel/good news at all, being neither good nor new.
The urgency of Paul’s writing and the depth of his argument reveal that he understood this question to be life-and-death for the Church. Unless we understand Christ’s work as a new covenant based on our faith in him, our religion remains bound by works-righteousness and human traditions, and Christianity becomes merely a sect of Judaism.
Making our way steadily through Paul’s dense argument rewards us with a clearer sense of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Do your best to follow Paul’s points, noting those verses that sound familiar to you. Listen for the good news in the gospel Paul proclaims!
Questions to consider:
- Consider Mark’s version of the resurrection (Mark 16:1-8). What do you like about this account? What seems to be lacking for you?
- Look at Galatians 2:19-21. Try to put in your own words what Paul says about his life in Christ. How would a reliance upon works of the law “nullify the grace of Christ” (v.21)?
- Do you see ways that the Church today sets up a righteousness based on our works instead of God’s grace?
Psalms: 24, 108, 25
Psalm 24 proclaims the rule of the Lord and invites our faithful worship. The opening verses declare the full scope of God’s rule. The middle section (vv.3-6) describe the qualities of the community of believers, depicted as those who “ascend the hill of the Lord” and “stand in his holy place” to worship his glory. The final section (vv.7-10) envision the entrance of the Lord into this worship, to receive the praise and glory of God’s people.
Psalm 108 is a communal lament—a national prayer for God’s help during a time of need. After an opening with praise for God’s steadfast love (vv.1-4), the psalmist asks God to demonstrate his power by giving victory over Israel’s enemies (v.9). Verses 11-13 pray for God to go out with the armies—a picture of the divine source of Israel’s security against its foes.
Psalm 25 is the prayer of one who brings his or her entire existence before God for blessing and sanctification. The psalm expresses confidence in God’s instruction (torah) as the means by which God “lead[s] me in your truth, . . . instructs sinners, . . . leads the humble, . . . pardon[s] my guilt.” The sweep of this psalm fleshes out the intimacy and trust of the first verse.