cross
Grace Lutheran Church banner
home button
about grace button
worship button
members button
resources button
contact us button
links button
blank

Welcome | Introduction | Prayers | Today's Reading | "Biblog" | Q&A | Index | Downloads

Q&A on January Readings

Note: The questions alone (with a link to their answers) are listed above the line in the opposite order that they were received, which means the most recent questions are at the top of the page. Below the line, questions and answers are given in the readings' order of the verses that prompted the question.

Q: It would have been helpful if Seth's line (Genesis 4:25-26; 5:6-32) had not duplicated the names of some of Cain's descendants (Genesis 4:17-24)! What should we make of those similar-sounding names, anyway? Answer

Q: Regarding Genesis 4:3-5, I have never understood what was wrong with Cain's offering. He appears to have been a gardener or crop farmer. You say his offering was "indiscriminate", but how do you get that from the text? Is this a problem with English as opposed to the original? That he was angry when his offering was not accepted was wrong of course. Do you work backwards from that to assume his attitude was wrong in the beginning? Answer

Q: Jacob’s vow in Genesis 28:22 to give God a tenth of all God gave Jacob is interesting! Since the temple system of priests, etc., had not been set up, to whom would Jacob give this “tenth”? Genesis doesn’t say that he did it, but I suppose that doesn’t mean that he didn’t, especially after the bit elsewhere about keeping vows. Answer

Q: I’ve been trying to figure out the pronouns in Genesis 30:35! I had thought that Jacob sorted out the speckled, spotted, and dark-colored lambs and goats to begin with, as he had bargained for. But, the CEV and Beck make it look like Laban cheated from the day he made the agreement, because Laban moved those very animals a three-day journey from the rest of his sheep and goats that Jacob tended. (So then the fun and games with the branches!) Am I reading it right? They deserved each other! Answer

Q: In Genesis 28:20-21, it sure sounds like Jacob is challenging God or putting a condition on his acceptance of God. Am I hearing that right? Answer

Q: How many years did Sarah wait after God first promised her and Abraham a descendant before she took matters into her own hands, as it were, sending him in to Hagar (Genesis 16:1-3)? Answer

Q: In the Biblog commentary on January 19-23, 2006 you referred to “the account of Terah (11:27)”. Terah was Abraham’s father correct? Genesis was written by Moses. I’m not following your reference to Terah. Answer

Q: In Genesis 8:6-12, I am familiar with the dove being sent out of the ark and the reasons why, but reading it this second year the raven being sent out has caught my attention. Do we know what the significance of sending the raven out was? Verse 7 says that the raven flew back and forth until the earth was dry. Does this mean that the raven did not need a place to land and could fly around that long? Answer

Q: Regarding the last part of Genesis 3:19, why does the LCMS not make more use of the “imposition of ashes” on Ash Wednesday, since, as you stated, it is “a good reminder of our frailty on account of our sin”? Answer

Q: In commenting on Genesis 1-3, you said “Creation finished on the sixth literal day was complete and good; the fall of the angels takes place some time after and before the events of chapter 3.” Where can I read more about the fall of the angels? Answer

Q: In Mark 14:62 Jesus answers the high priest’s question about His being the Christ by saying, “I am”. Is “I am” the Hebrew word for God? I may have missed this, but in English it’s hard to tell. Answer

Q: In your January 13, 2007 Biblog post on Mark 14:14 you said, “Mark’s family may also have provided the guest room for the Lord’s Supper”. Where do the commentators get these things? Or, is it said somewhere else, and I’ve forgotten? Answer

Q: Can you explain a little more about Mark 12:35-37 and the real relationship between David and David’s Son? What was Jesus trying to teach them by this? Answer

Q: I'm confused by Mark 9:12-13! I thought that Elijah was a prophet and that he had already come and been taken up into heaven. So the Jews believed that Elijah had to return from the dead before the Messiah (Jesus) could come? So the Jews were waiting for Elijah to return from the dead and since they hadn’t seen this happen yet, they wouldn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah? So Elijah returning was John the Baptist? Why was John the Baptist referred to as Elijah? I can see how the Jews would be confused by this when they were told that Elijah would be returning. How would they know that John the Baptist was that Elijah and not expect to wait for the actual Elijah? Am I confused? Answer

Q: After reading Mark 8:28 I guess they believed in reincarnation back then? Do we know much else about Elijah besides that he was a prophet, that his prophecies were written down in the Bible, and that he was “taken up” into heaven? Answer

Q: Mark 7:27 sparked the following question. I know that Jesus came as the Savior of the World, to save all Christians, but was salvation only opened up to us Gentiles since the Jews rejected Jesus, Who was born as a Jew and was King of the Jews? In places the Bible seems to say that salvation only opened up for the Gentiles after the Jews rejected Jesus. Is this understanding correct? Answer

Q: I am not following what is happening in Genesis 30:25-43. I understand that Jacob’s flocks are increased, but can you explain this further? Are the white sticks used as a fence? Answer

Q: Regarding Genesis 26:34-35, you said in the January 23, 2006 Biblog post, “Esau marries outside the faith and causes more grief for his parents”. What faith were the Hittite and Canaanite women? Did they not believe in God? What grief did Esau’s wives bring Isaac and Rebekah? Why didn’t they want Jacob to make the same mistake of marrying Hittite or Canaanite women? What was wrong with them marrying Hittite or Canaanite women? Answer

Q: You said in the January 23, 2006 Biblog post regarding Genesis 25:1, “Abraham may have taken Keturah as his wife some time earlier.” He didn’t take Keturah as his wife while he was still married to Sarah, did he? What's up with all the polygamy? God sure doesn’t seem to be punishing these people for this! The same seems to true for the incest we read about in previous chapters. God sure doesn’t seem all that upset about these things happening!! Answer

Q: In Genesis 22:5, Abraham says “ we will worship and return to you”, implying that he thinks he and Isaac will be returning. Is Abraham implying that he has faith that God will not make him go through with the sacrifice of Isaac or, if he does go through with it, that God will raise Isaac from the dead? Answer

Q: In Genesis 7:2, what is the definition of the “clean” and “unclean” animals? Answer

Q: In places such as Genesis 4:17 and 6:2, Cain and his sons married their sisters and cousins? Is there any reference in the Bible forbidding the marriage of close relatives? Answer

Q: As far as Mark 14:66-72 and your comments, really two disciples betrayed Jesus: Judas Iscariot, who turned Jesus over to the chief priests, and Peter, who denied knowing him. (Well, actually, all His disciples betrayed Him by fleeing when they came and arrested Jesus, instead of staying to help and defend Jesus.) So Judas Iscariot realized his sin, but due to his despair continued to sin and fall away from God? Peter, on the other hand, realized his sin and repented and trusted in God's forgiveness? Is this correct? Answer

Q: Regarding Mark 14:62, if the Jews didn't believe that Jesus was God, who did the Jews think God was? What did the Jews believe about God that would make them think that Jesus was NOT God? Are the Jews still waiting today for God to send a Savior? Answer

Q: In Mark 14:3 it says that Mary poured the perfume on Jesus's head. In John 12:3 it says that Mary poured the perfume on Jesus's feet and wiped it with her own hair. Is this just a minor difference in how the events were told in the different accounts? Answer

Q: Your comment on Mark 13:30 in the Biblog prompted me to do some work on my own. My study of the singular form of the Greek word genea (“generation”) found it is used by Jesus in the Gospel accounts primarily to refer to the “wicked and adulterous generation” (for example, Matthew 12:39). The plural form, however, seems to be used in describe specific generations and genealogies (for example, Matthew 1:17). Is there a distinction between the singular and the plural in these passages? When Jesus uses the word in an accusing manner was he always speaking to Jews addressing them differently than the ethnai (the “nations” of Gentiles)? Answer

Q: The Biblog says regarding Mark 13:30 that “‘generation’ is often taken as ‘race’, which allows for some of the signs still needing to be fulfilled.” So are we saying that there ARE still signs to be fulfilled? Answer

Q: I have always had some difficulty with Jesus’ reference in Mark 13:13 to Daniel 9, where there seems to be a dating scheme based on “weeks” or “sevens” as increments of seven years. If a correct interpretation, that dating scheme would mean Jesus was not referring to the cross but the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 A.D. Doesn’t that understanding better fit the context of “the abomination that causes desolation”? Answer

Q: Regarding Mark 13:10, how can we say that the Gospel has already reached all nations? Aren't there some remote tribes who have not been exposed to the Gospel yet? Aren't there some people that have only been exposed to the religion or beliefs that they were raised with and not had the opportunity to know Christ? Are we saying that EVERYONE in the world has had the opportunity to hear the Gospel and accept Jesus as their Savior? Answer

Q: I read what you wrote in the January 11, 2006 Biblog post about marriage and the resurrection, but what exactly does Jesus mean then in Mark 12:25 when He says those resurrected are like the angels and how does that relate to the Sadducees’ question? Answer

Q: In reading Mark 11:24, it occurred to me that some might say they have prayed for something and completely believed they would receive it but then did not have their prayers answered. This experience could cause many to lose their faith, since Jesus said He would give them whatever they prayed for, and then their prayers went unanswered. Answer

Q: I find it interesting that the whole time Jesus is performing miracles, He is telling those that He healed not to tell anyone, which seems to mean He is trying not to draw attention to Himself.  But, in Mark 11:1-11 He rides into Jerusalem on a colt, with people singing His praises and Him being the center of attention. What gives? Answer

Q: Is the King Herod who killed John (Mark 6:16) the same King Herod who tried to kill Jesus when He was born? How about the King Herod to whom Pilate sent Jesus? The Herod who killed James and put Peter into prison? The Herod before whom Paul appeared? Answer

Q: In Mark 6:7 Jesus gave the authority to His disciples to drive out evil spirits and heal those that were sick. What is LCMS’ viewpoint on those who claim to be able to drive out evil spirits and heal the sick in today’s times? Answer

Q: Was Jesus’ renaming some of the twelve apostles (Mark 3:13-19) a common practice at that time? Or was that something only Jesus did? The renaming makes things kind of confusing trying to keep who is who straight. Answer

Q: In appointing the twelve apostles (Mark 3:13-19), why does Jesus give other names to some of them? Answer


Q: In appointing the twelve apostles (Mark 3:13-19), why does Jesus give other names to some of them?
A: Good question! The Bible does not tell us, and commentators I checked do not offer definitive answers, either. Not all the apostles given new names have the designation mentioned here; for example, Levi (if that is his given name and not just the name of his clan), whose call is narrated in Mark 2:13-17, is given the name Matthew (see Matthew 9:9; 10:3). So, we ask what is special about those whose renaming is mentioned in Mark 3:13-19. Peter, James, and John comprised an inner circle of the Twelve closer to Jesus than the others (for example, Mark 5:37), so it may well be that the reason for mentioning the their re-naming here is to give this trio more prominence than the others. In the case of Peter, we have some detail on the re‑naming in Matthew 16:18; note also that "Peter" in Greek is equivalent to "Cephas" in Aramaic (see, for example, John 1:42). The re‑naming of the brothers James and John as Sons of Thunder seems to reflect their disposition (see Mark 10:37, Luke 9:54-55), though some speculate that it has to do with their being twins. In all the cases of re-naming, the new names seem to speak to the person’s character. Back to Top

Q: Was Jesus’ renaming some of the twelve apostles (Mark 3:13-19) a common practice at that time? Or was that something only Jesus did? The renaming makes things kind of confusing trying to keep who is who straight.
A: I do not know if other teachers renamed their disciples, but you can see in the Old Testament the practice of God giving new or symbolic names to various people (for example Abram-Abraham in Genesis 17:5 and Sarai-Sarah in Genesis 17:15). You can also think of Saul-Paul in the New Testament (see Acts 8:1; 9:1-30; and 13:9, after which Paul seems to be used exclusively by Luke in this account, except where Paul tells of his conversion, as in 22:7, 13; 26:14). Yes, the renaming can make things kind of confusing, but I think the Holy Spirit helps us keep it all straight! Back to Top

Q: In Mark 6:7 Jesus gave the authority to His disciples to drive out evil spirits and heal those that were sick. What is LCMS’ viewpoint on those who claim to be able to drive out evil spirits and heal the sick in today’s times?
A: Probably one of the most important things to remember is that for Jesus the miraculous exorcisms and healings testified to Who He was: God in the flesh. The miracles witnessed to the validity of His claims. To a lesser extent something similar was true with the apostles (the sent disciples): the miracles testified that they had been sent by Jesus. As God’s recorded Word came to have authority on its own and as the Sacrament of the Church became the expected miracles, the need for such healings and exorcisms in a sense decreased, and their recorded frequency also decreased. God certainly can perform such miracles today, but we are not directed to look to them—we are directed to look to His Word and Sacraments. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations issued a document on the charismatic movement back in 1977 (which document congregations "in which such [false] doctrine has been introduced" were urged, by an amended Resolution 3-10A of the 1977 Dallas convention, to study). That document appears to be the latest official word regarding such exorcisms and so-called faith healings, though the problems it was intended to address continue within the Synod’s ranks even today. Some key points from the document include: signs and miracles not guaranteeing the Spirit’s indewelling and faith not eliminating suffering from a Christian’s life. Remember also that as in Jesus’ day so in ours: even after such exorcisms and healings the person still will die an earthly death—the exorcism and healing that really matters is the one that affects eternity. Back to Top

Q: Is the King Herod who killed John (Mark 6:16) the same King Herod who tried to kill Jesus when He was born? How about the King Herod to whom Pilate sent Jesus? The Herod who killed James and put Peter into prison? The Herod before whom Paul appeared?
A: No, but I can appreciate that their same name is confusing. Herod the Great was king of Judea, Galilee, Iturea, and Tracontis at the birth of Jesus and tried to kill Him. Herod Antipas was “Tetrarch” of Galilee and Perea, put John to death, and saw Jesus when Pilate sent Him over. Herod Agrippa I killed James and imprisoned Peter. Paul appeared before Herod Agrippa II. But wait, there are more! The study material in the back of my Concordia Self-Study Bible also lists two other Herods: Herod of Chalcis and Herod Philip. That same Bible has a chart tracing out the House of Herod even further. Back to Top

Q: Mark 7:27 sparked the following question. I know that Jesus came as the Savior of the World, to save all Christians, but was salvation only opened up to us Gentiles since the Jews rejected Jesus, Who was born as a Jew and was King of the Jews? In places the Bible seems to say that salvation only opened up for the Gentiles after the Jews rejected Jesus. Is this understanding correct?
A: Since Jesus and the women from Syrian Phoenicia are both speaking figuratively, Mark 7:27 may not be the best passage to use for understanding God’s plan of salvation regarding the Jews and the Gentiles. Nor do passages that initially might seem clearer necessarily say what they might seem to say, since sometimes believers are considered to be “Jews” or are referred to as “Jews”. You are absolutely right in that Jesus came to save all the people of the world, and, if all people would believe in Him—be, as you put it, Christians—then all people would be saved. Salvation has always been for all, and you can see that if you think of the time in the Old Testament before there was a distinction between Jews and Gentiles (strictly speaking Jews are thought to be only those descended from Judah’s tribe or those from the southern kingdom). Likewise, you can see that salvation was for all if you think of the times even earlier before there was a distinction between the children of Abraham and the rest of the world and before there was a distinction between Noah’s descendants through Shem and his descendants through Ham and Japheth (you can go all the way back to Adam and Eve). The Jews—whom less-strictly speaking we might also call Semites, children of Abraham, children of Israel, Israelites, etc.—were God’s special people and were to play a role in His plan of salvation for the Jews and non-Jews alike. The Savior would come through the Jews, but even before the Savior came, the Israelites’ worship of God was to draw the nations to the Temple in Jerusalem. Although the Gentile nations were not so drawn, the Old Testament does teach salvation for Jews and Gentiles, even if not as clearly as the New Testament teaches it. I agree with you that there are passages in both Old and New Testaments that can be taken to suggest salvation of the Gentiles comes somewhat as an afterthought since the Jews rejected Jesus. And, there are some undeniable connections between the Jews’ rejection and the Gentiles’ salvation: the Jewish leaders’ rejecting Jesus results in His atoning death, and the Jewish people’s rejecting the Gospel often drove the evangelists to the Gentiles. Consider Romans 9-11, where the Divinely-inspired St. Paul is trying to address questions about relationships between the Jews’ rejection of Jesus and the salvation of the Gentiles; he ends up giving glory to God for a plan of salvation the details of which God has not fully revealed to us. But don’t despair, for God certainly reveals to us all we need to know in order to be saved. Back to Top

Q: After reading Mark 8:28 I guess they believed in reincarnation back then? Do we know much else about Elijah besides that he was a prophet, that his prophecies were written down in the Bible, and that he was “taken up” into heaven?
A: The people whose false beliefs about Christ are being told in Mark 8:28 could possibly believe in reincarnation, although others may have believed in resurrection and just thought that the resurrected person was now called “Jesus” (see Mark 6:14-16 for similar discussion connected with the details about Herod putting John the Baptizer to death). We know a good bit about the work of Elijah from the books of Kings (1 Kings 17:1 through 2 Kings 2:18), including that he was a faithful prophet, what he prophesied in word and deed, how his service as a prophet came to an end, and that God had him appoint a successor, Elisha, before that end came. Is there more that we need to know? Back to Top

Q: I'm confused by Mark 9:12-13! I thought that Elijah was a prophet and that he had already come and been taken up into heaven. So the Jews believed that Elijah had to return from the dead before the Messiah (Jesus) could come? So the Jews were waiting for Elijah to return from the dead and since they hadn’t seen this happen yet, they wouldn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah? So Elijah returning was John the Baptist? Why was John the Baptist referred to as Elijah? I can see how the Jews would be confused by this when they were told that Elijah would be returning. How would they know that John the Baptist was that Elijah and not expect to wait for the actual Elijah? Am I confused?
A: If you are confused, it is only because this matter can be confusing, as the confusion of the Jews and disciples (!) indicates. Elijah was an Old Testament prophet who had served faithfully and then been taken up into heaven. Yet, the Jews had reason to be looking for another “Elijah” in one form or another, because a later Old Testament prophet declared the Lord’s promise to send a prophet like Elijah before the Messiah came (Malachi 4:5-6). To be sure, some were looking for Elijah himself to return, perhaps as a result of some false teaching by their leaders. Jesus made clear that John the Baptizer was the promised prophet like Elijah who fulfilled Malachi’s prophecy in word and deed (Mark 9:13 but see also Matthew 11:14 and Luke 7:27). Moreover, threats made against Elijah by Jezebel, the wicked wife of King Ahab, are said to foreshadow the fate of John the Baptizer at the hands of Herod as prompted by his wicked “wife” Herodias (Mark 6:17-28). Back to Top

Q: I find it interesting that the whole time Jesus is performing miracles, He is telling those that He healed not to tell anyone, which seems to mean He is trying not to draw attention to Himself.  But, in Mark 11:1-11 He rides into Jerusalem on a colt, with people singing His praises and Him being the center of attention. What gives?
A: Jesus apparently told those He healed in Galilee not to tell anyone, but, as we have noted, He had a different practice away from Galilee (for example, Mark 5:19). Jesus apparently did not want widely-circulating reports about Him in Galilee to get in the way of His carrying out His work until He was ready to bring it to completion. By the time He gets to Jerusalem, He is ready and, we might say, needs to be the center of the attention for his opponents to finally get to the point of killing Him. Back to Top

Q: In reading Mark 11:24, it occurred to me that some might say they have prayed for something and completely believed they would receive it but then did not have their prayers answered. This experience could cause many to lose their faith, since Jesus said He would give them whatever they prayed for, and then their prayers went unanswered.
A: Mark 11:24 is not the only verse in the Bible that teaches us about prayer, and it must be understood in view of the full picture. (Note the allusion to the Lord’s Prayer in Mark 11:25.) For example, whenever we pray, we are to pray according to God’s will—meaning that we want something only if God wants us to have it. In some cases, we know from His Word that God wants us to have, such as spiritual blessings. In other cases, such as physical blessings, we do not know what things God wants us to have, so we end up praying for some things He, in His omniscience and complete view of His plans for us, does not want for us to have. Jesus’ words in Mark 11:24 regarding praying with confidence clearly apply to those things which God wants for us to have. The Holy Spirit can lead us to pray fully in accord with God’s will, and we can be certain those prayers will be answered. God answers every prayer, but not necessarily the way we want them all answered. I agree with you that seemingly unanswered prayers can disturb people’s faith. I recently came across an usually-omitted stanza from “Salvation Unto Us Is Come” that I think better addresses the question:
     Though it may seem He hears thee not,
     Count not thyself forsaken;
     Thy wants are ne’er by Him forgot,
     Let this thy hope awaken;
     His word is sure, here is thy stay,
     Though doubts may plague thee on thy way,
     Let not thy faith be shaken. (ELH #227:12) Back to Top

Q: I read what you wrote in the January 11, 2006 Biblog post about marriage and the resurrection, but what exactly does Jesus mean then in Mark 12:25 when He says those resurrected are like the angels and how does that relate to the Sadducees’ question?
A: I am glad you asked, because your question forced me to look more closely at the relationship between the two statements. The connection seems to be that the number of those resurrected is fixed, just as the number of angels is fixed. There is no need to marry or give in marriage, because there no longer is a need for procreation since no one dies anymore (see the parallel account in Luke 20:36). Jesus’ statement must not be pressed to mean that at the resurrection we will not have bodies, or that we will not eat, drink, etc. For other comparisons between the life of the resurrected and the angels, see 1 Corinthians 15:35-44. Back to Top

Q: Can you explain a little more about Mark 12:35-37 and the real relationship between David and David's Son? What was Jesus trying to teach them by this?
A: In chapter 12 of Mark's Gospel account, Jesus has been besieged by various factions and groups of Jewish leaders trying catch Him in some error for which they can arrest and dispose of Him or perhaps just trying to stump Him. Somewhat as in Mark 11:29-33, in Mark 12:35-37 Jesus turns the tables on the Jewish leaders and stumps them. In Matthew's generally parallel account (Matthew 22:41-46), this particular question about the real relationship between David and David's Son is presented as something that shuts the Pharisees up (compare Luke 20:41-44, and see Luke 20:40 for how He shut up the Sadducees). In this particular question, Jesus first says the Jewish teachers (as did the people) accepted the fact that the Christ (or Messiah) would be a son (or descendant) of David. Then, Jesus quotes the Spirit-inspired David from Psalm 110:1, where David prophetically refers to the Lord (that is, God the Father) speaking to David's Lord (that is, the Christ). (Note well the Trinity!) Jesus seems to be trying to show His listeners that the Christ is not only a descendant of David but is David's Lord also (that is, perhaps, also preexistent God). The Jewish leaders (if not also some of the people) seemed to be thinking that the Christ could not be both a son of David and David's Lord, but Jesus in effect tells them that is precisely Who and What He is. Was Jesus only trying to shut them up? Was He trying to teach them about His human and divine natures? Was He trying to give them the very thing that they needed to arrest Him-a claim that He was God, which they would consider blasphemy punishable by death? One generally-reliable commentator says Jesus was not revealing Himself as the Christ but trying to get His hearers to recognize the futility of placing their hopes in an human Messiah. (Some go so far as to suggest Jesus was disputing the Messiah's Davidic descent or indicating that He did not think Himself to be of Davidic descent.) St. Mark's account simply does not specify why Jesus said what He said, but we know the Spirit-inspired St. Mark has included this question as part of his record of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1). And, we thus understand that the God-man Jesus' being in the position of honor at the Father's right hand is for our benefit. (For other uses of Psalm 110:1 in the New Testament, see, as examples, Acts 2:34-35 and Hebrews 1:13. One final note is that although scholars dispute Psalm 110's Davidic authorship, Jesus' words are most easily taken as confirming it.) Back to Top

Q: Regarding Mark 13:10, how can we say that the Gospel has already reached all nations? Aren't there some remote tribes who have not been exposed to the Gospel yet? Aren't there some people that have only been exposed to the religion or beliefs that they were raised with and not had the opportunity to know Christ? Are we saying that EVERYONE in the world has had the opportunity to hear the Gospel and accept Jesus as their Savior?
A: That the Bible says the Gospel has gone out is one primary reason we can say the Bible has reached all nations (Colossians 1:23; Psalm 19:4 quoted by Romans 10:18), and another primary reason is, as I indicated in the Biblog, that the Church already in New Testament times expected Jesus’ return at any time, so She already held then that this “sign” had been met. If you consider all people as descendants of Adam and Eve, then ancestors of every people group, including the “remote tribes” at least at one time have been exposed to the Gospel in at least its beginning form (such as Genesis 3:15). Notice how you took a statement that the Gospel will be preached “to all nations” and understood it as the Gospel being heard by “everyone”! Children who are raised in unchristian families or those lost in error are examples of what God says in places such as Exodus 20:5, though the children are ultimately punished for their own sin of unbelief. The Holy Spirit, as I am sure you know, works faith when and where He pleases in those who hear the Gospel; belief is not a matter of someone “accepting” Jesus as his or her Savior. You can see why we place appropriate emphasis on both reaching out and on reaching out with the pure truth of the Gospel, because there are people who on the one hand can be regarded as those who have heard the Gospel but who on the other hand have not yet come to believe. Back to Top

Q: I have always had some difficulty with Jesus’ reference in Mark 13:13 to Daniel 9, where there seems to be a dating scheme based on “weeks” or “sevens” as increments of seven years. If a correct interpretation, that dating scheme would mean Jesus was not referring to the cross but the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 A.D. Doesn’t that understanding better fit the context of “the abomination that causes desolation”?
A: I am familiar with the dating scheme to which you refer, but it makes some pretty big assumptions that probably should not be made. For just one example, the “sevens” have no units (such as weeks or years); they are simply periods of time (remember 7 is a number of completeness). The interpretation I was taught was that Daniel 9:25 refers to Christ, so from the Decree of Cyrus to Christ is seven periods, from Christ to the final tribulation are 62 periods (similar to the 1000 years of Revelation 20), and there will be one period (similar to the short time of Revelation 20) until the total war and all-out end. We know Jesus in the New Testament does not give precise dating but is more concerned about repentance and constant vigilance, and I think we can safely say the same might apply to the apocalyptic statements in the Old Testament, too. Another way to translate “the abomination that causes desolation” is “desolating sacrilege”, and, without getting into all the arguments for the application to Christ, He especially is standing where He does not belong. This sacrifice does bring salvation to those who believe, but it also brings condemnation to those who do not believe. And, as I mentioned in the Biblog, especially by 70 A.D. Jerusalem and the Jews are no longer Jesus’ concern. Back to Top

Q: The Biblog says regarding Mark 13:30 that “‘generation’ is often taken as ‘race’, which allows for some of the signs still needing to be fulfilled.” So are we saying that there ARE still signs to be fulfilled?
A: I think we can safely say that many of the signs of which Jesus spoke were fulfilled within a week on Good Friday. The signs that one could say have yet to be fulfilled are those that more immediately will accompany the Lord’s return. Back to Top

Q: Your comment on Mark 13:30 in the Biblog prompted me to do some work on my own. My study of the singular form of the Greek word genea (“generation”) found it is used by Jesus in the Gospel accounts primarily to refer to the “wicked and adulterous generation” (for example, Matthew 12:39). The plural form, however, seems to be used in describe specific generations and genealogies (for example, Matthew 1:17). Is there a distinction between the singular and the plural in these passages? When Jesus uses the word in an accusing manner was he always speaking to Jews addressing them differently than the ethnai (the “nations” of Gentiles)?
A: The Greek word genea can have a literal meaning of those with a common ancestor and thus a clan. The word can also mean all those born at the same time or living at the same time (and here is where at least one lexicon is inclined to put your characterization of the generation of the Jews opposed to Jesus). The word can yet also mean age or time of a generation or period of time (and this is where that same lexicon places Matthew 1:17). In the case of this word, understanding which meaning is intended is somewhat easier since its use is always qualified in some way. I think you may have touched on a valid distinction between meanings of the singular and plural, but, without much greater study, I would be unprepared to say whether Jesus’ use of the word in a negative sense was limited to the Jews by birth. To be sure, we all, Jews by birth and Gentiles by birth, are sinful and in need of forgiveness. To the extent that we Gentiles seek signs from God, we fall under the same indictment as that Jesus spoke to the wicked and adulterous generation of Jews (Matthew 16:4, Pharisees and Sadducees). Obviously for Jesus there is no difference any longer between Jewish genealogy and Gentile genealogy, but what matters is faith or lack of faith. Back to Top

Q: In Mark 14:3 it says that Mary poured the perfume on Jesus's head. In John 12:3 it says that Mary poured the perfume on Jesus's feet and wiped it with her own hair. Is this just a minor difference in how the events were told in the different accounts?
A: Yes, I would say you have observed a minor difference in how the events were told. Neither account contradicts the other, to be sure. The head and feet were the parts of the body that especially needed care coming in from outside (see, for example, John 13, which may also give an indication why John’s eyewitness account mentions the feet). Mark’s Divinely inspired record, possibly of Peter’s eyewitness preaching, may have more of a point to make about the anointing of Jesus as Christ—prophet, priest, and king. Back to Top

Q: In your January 13, 2007 Biblog post on Mark 14:14 you said, “Mark’s family may also have provided the guest room for the Lord’s Supper”. Where do the commentators get these things? Or, is it said somewhere else, and I’ve forgotten?
A: When I made the comment in the Biblog, I was going from memory, having previously read such a suggestion but forgetting precisely where I read it or what evidence, if any, was offered for the suggestion. To answer your question with a little more precision, I consulted several commentaries, one of which mentioned in a negative connotation the possibilities that the home was that of Mary, the mother of Mark (see Acts 12:12), and that commentary similarly regarded negatively the suggestion that the man whom the two disciples met was Mark’s father (I suppose that conclusion could follow from the first claim). In part on the basis of Acts 12:12, Mary’s house is thought to have been a gathering place for the members of the early church. A commentator on Acts 12:12 calls the idea of the Lord’s Supper being instituted in that house “an attractive, but unverifiable, surmise”, and that commentator also links that suggestion regarding the house to the possible identification of Mark as the young man of Mark 14:51-52. Neither of those commentaries nor a standard LCMS seminary New Testament introduction text, which mentions more favorably the possibility of Mark’s family hosting the Lord’s Supper, offers any origin of the claim. Nothing rests on the matter, of course; the idea may simply come from an oral tradition passed down through the church. The location and people involved may not have been identified at the time in order to preserve Jesus’ privacy for the Lord’s Supper from those Judas might lead there to capture Him, and the lack of identification in Holy Scripture could be to prevent any sort of elevation of the place or people involved. Commentators agree that a man carrying a jar of water (Mark 14:13, but compare Matthew 26:18) would have been unusual enough for Peter and John (Luke 22:8) to have singled out, but commentators disagree on whether Jesus was exercising foreknowledge or had made prior arrangements, not that the two are necessarily mutually exclusive. Back to Top

Q: In Mark 14:62 Jesus answers the high priest’s question about His being the Christ by saying, “I am”. Is “I am” the Hebrew word for God? I may have missed this, but in English it’s hard to tell.
A: The Hebrew word for God is Elohiym, but the “I am” expression in Greek, ego eimi, with which Jesus answers the high priest, does render the Hebrew ’ehyeh, the first-person singular form of haya that God used to identify Himself in places such as Exodus 3:14, for example. Probably most times we find ego eimi on the lips of our Lord Jesus we should understand Him to be making at least some claim of being God. The usual understanding is that one of the tenses of the Hebrew verb haya or its older form hawa gives us the Name of the Lord, Yahweh, as it is usually pronounced. Inextricably tied up in the “I am” phrase and its most-likely related Name is a statement about God’s existence and presence; attempting to unravel that statement has kept theologians and philosophers busy for millennia. Back to Top

Q: Regarding Mark 14:62, if the Jews didn't believe that Jesus was God, who did the Jews think God was? What did the Jews believe about God that would make them think that Jesus was NOT God? Are the Jews still waiting today for God to send a Savior?
A: Well, I was never raised as a Jew, so I am sure there are others better qualified to answer at least this question, but I will do what I can. The Jews of Jesus’ day likely had likely conformed their image of God to their false reading of the Old Testament. I think the New Testament shows the Jews rejecting Jesus at least in part because He came and corrected their misreadings of the Old Testament Scriptures, disrupting their way of life. They had come to rely on their own works for salvation, and Jesus made it clear their works were not going to save them. While surely the Jews of Jesus’ day were looking for a savior—and I am sure there are at least some Jews today who are doing likewise—Jesus did not fit their bill, that is, their expectations of what or who the savior would be. Similarly, some Jews today continue to look at the evidence for and about Jesus and reject Him, though others are brought to faith by the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel. We truly should pray, as we do in the General Prayer of the Morning Service, for God to “open the door of faith … unto the people of Israel”. Back to Top

Q: As far as Mark 14:66-72 and your comments, really two disciples betrayed Jesus: Judas Iscariot, who turned Jesus over to the chief priests, and Peter, who denied knowing him. (Well, actually, all His disciples betrayed Him by fleeing when they came and arrested Jesus, instead of staying to help and defend Jesus.) So Judas Iscariot realized his sin, but due to his despair continued to sin and fall away from God? Peter, on the other hand, realized his sin and repented and trusted in God's forgiveness? Is this correct?
A: Your understanding is essentially correct, yes. Of course, Peter tried to defend Jesus from being arrested (Luke 22:49-51; John 18:10-11), but perhaps at some level in addition to their fear for their own lives they recognized that what was happening was fulfilling Jesus’ own prophecy. John and Peter did stick around to see the outcome (for example, John 18:15-16; 19:26-27). Luke’s account tells a little more about Peter being led to repentance (Luke 22:61-62), a point developed by the Bach family in its “St. Luke Passion”. You can see what is sometimes called Peter’s absolution John 21:15-17. The distinction between Peter’s faith and Judas’ lack of faith is “confessionalized” in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession’s treatment of Penitence (Ap XII:8, 36), and we ought to be extremely suspect of modern efforts to transfer Judas from hell (as was the case in a chancel drama I regrettably had to participate in one time).
Back to Top

Q: In commenting on Genesis 1-3, you said “Creation finished on the sixth literal day was complete and good; the fall of the angels takes place some time after and before the events of chapter 3.” Where can I read more about the fall of the angels?
A: If I didn’t know that your question was an earnest one, I would say between chapters 2 and 3 in Genesis! Indeed, much of what is written about the fall of the angels is either something read between the lines of other Bible passages or idle speculation. (For example, some apply to Satan Isaiah 14:13, which seems to apply to the Babylonian king.) You could even find some who would disagree with my statement that the fall of the angels took place after the six days of creation. I made that statement, as others have done, on the basis of God’s reported assessment that all of that which He created was good (Genesis 1:31; that He even created them during the six days is itself a conclusion drawn from the statement that God finished His work of creating and rested on the seventh day). Scripture does not tell us what day God created the angels, let alone when they fell. Dr. Luther may be referring to the speculation of others when, in commenting on Genesis 3:1, he says it is uncertain whether the angels fell “on the second or on the third [day of creation]” (AE 1:150). Luther points to Luke 10:18 and John 8:44 as proofs that Satan fell, he joins the majority of other commentators in thinking pride was the cause of his and the other evil angels’ fall (see 1 Timothy 3:6), and he reminds us that we know they have been condemned and await final judgment and sentencing on the last day (Revelation 20:2, 7; something the devil and his minions are aware of, see Matthew 8:29). His final words on the matter wrap it up well: “[It] is sufficient for us to know that there are good and evil angels and that God created all of them alike, as good. From this it follows necessarily that the evil angels fell and did not stand in the truth. How this came about is unknown; nevertheless, it is likely that they fell as the result of pride, because they despised the Word or the Son of God and wanted to place themselves above Him. More than this I do not have.” (AE 1:23.) Back to Top

Q: Regarding the last part of Genesis 3:19, why does the LCMS not make more use of the “imposition of ashes” on Ash Wednesday, since, as you stated, it is “a good reminder of our frailty on account of our sin”?
A: To be sure, there are LCMS and other Lutheran congregations that do make use of the imposition of ashes, precisely because it is a good reminder of our sin-caused frailty. Ashes also are a sign of repentance (for example, Job 42:6), and they can be connected with cleansing by water (Numbers 19:9) and therefore by extension also Holy Baptism (it is jumping ahead a bit, but you can read a little more about all of that here). Congregations that do not use the imposition of ashes may not have given much thought to why they do not use them, and the most likely reason is that the imposition was given up a long time ago or is presently regarded as “too Roman Catholic”. The founder of the LCMS, C. F. W. Walther, himself wrote about the invalidity of that reason, suggesting that, if we give up such things (ashes, crucifixes, chanting the liturgy) because they are found in the Roman Catholic churches, then we will have to give up preaching and singing of hymns, as those also can be found there. For Walther, a Scriptural prohibition was the only reason to give up such things, and, especially in the case of ashes, we do not find Scriptural prohibitions against them but rather Scriptural examples for their use. Back to Top

Q: Regarding Genesis 4:3-5, I have never understood what was wrong with Cain's offering. He appears to have been a gardener or crop farmer. You say his offering was "indiscriminate", but how do you get that from the text? Is this a problem with English as opposed to the original? That he was angry when his offering was not accepted was wrong of course. Do you work backwards from that to assume his attitude was wrong in the beginning?
A: First, we should not think, as some might, that the difference between Cain and Abel was the difference between offering plants and animals, between an unbloody sacrifice and a bloody sacrifice. Adam both grew crops and raised livestock, and that one son, Cain, focused more on raising crops, and the other son, Abel, raised livestock, is not what matters in this case. Secondly, both the Hebrew original and at least some English translations make a clear difference between Cain's and Abel's offerings beyond crops versus livestock. (Dr. Luther on these verses goes on at length about such things as how Adam and Eve taught their children to believe in and worship God.) Cain brought an offering of the fruits of the ground (v.3, where the NIV adds "some"), while Abel brought the firstfruits of his flock (v.4). Perhaps relying more on his birthright, Cain brought just a portion, while Abel brought the best he could bring. Thirdly, elsewhere Holy Scripture tells us that the difference between the two was faith (Hebrews 11:4), that Abel's offering was righteous and Cain's wicked (1 John 3:12). One commentator puts it this way: "The gifts thus expressed the difference between Abel's free and joyful faith and Cain's legal reluctant state of heart". Although Dr. Luther seems to reject the idea that there was any visible difference in the offerings, good works are the evidence or fruit of faith. The respective sons' states of mind towards God both played a role in their selecting their gifts and offering their gifts. (We don't need to reason backwards from Cain's reaction to God's rejection of Cain's gift, although that is more evidence of Cain's wickedness.) Fourthly and finally, we should let the Holy Spirit use this account to instruct us that our offerings--as individuals to the church, or as a congregation to the church at large--should not come after we have paid all our other bills and thus out of what was left but first out of all that God has given us. (If we practice giving a percent of our income, that would also mean we should calculate the amount on the pre-tax total!) Back to Top

Q: In places such as Genesis 4:17 and 6:2, Cain and his sons married their sisters and cousins? Is there any reference in the Bible forbidding the marriage of close relatives?
A: In Genesis 4:17, Cain would be marrying a sister, yes, and his sons would be marrying their sisters or cousins. Though still to some lesser extent marrying relatives, Genesis 6:2 would seem to be a reference to the intermarriage of believers (“sons of God”) and non-believers (“daughters of men”). Christian marriage to non-Christians is also viewed negatively in such places as 2 Corinthians 6:14, and practical experience also indicates the problems such intermarriage poses. On the basis of Leviticus 18:6-18, marriage is usually prohibited between those related to certain degrees of what is called consanguinity (vertical blood lines) and affinity (horizontal blood lines). Back to Top

Q: It would have been helpful if Seth's line (Genesis 4:25-26; 5:6-32) had not duplicated the names of some of Cain's descendants (Genesis 4:17-24)! What should we make of those similar-sounding names, anyway?
A: Although we do not really know which came first in every case, I agree that the similar sounding names can be confusing! We should remember that the genealogies are probably selective and not complete; taken as wholes, there may not have been so many similar sounding names. The names may be similar sounding, that is, resemble each other, but they are not the same, nor do the names mean the same things. Some wrongly conclude that the two groups of similar-sounding names are different versions of one common story or legend. Others try to use the similar-sounding names as evidence to decide whether or not one tribe was living near the other. For example, one commentator says "The children of God and the children of the world at that time were strictly separate." But, perhaps more accurately, another commentator says, "The identity and similarity of names can prove nothing more than that the two branches of the human race did not keep entirely apart from each other; a fact established by their subsequently intermarrying [Genesis 6:1-2]." I think the latter view is more likely. Either way, the two tribes do lead us to think about the contrast between the children of Satan and the children of God in the one true Church, visible in the world as it gathers around the purely preached Word and rightly administered Sacraments but hidden in the world as it is known only to God by true faith in the heart. Back to Top

Q: In Genesis 7:2, what is the definition of the “clean” and “unclean” animals?
A: Though clearly the distinction between the two is as old as Noah, we do not find the specifications written until Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, where you will find the distinction extended to animals, marine life, birds, and insects. The distinction was given to keep the people of Israel set apart as God’s holy people. Back to Top

Q: In Genesis 8:6-12, I am familiar with the dove being sent out of the ark and the reasons why, but reading it this second year the raven being sent out has caught my attention. Do we know what the significance of sending the raven out was? Verse 7 says that the raven flew back and forth until the earth was dry. Does this mean that the raven did not need a place to land and could fly around that long?
A: Noah certainly seems to have let a raven out 40 days after seeing the tops of the mountains in order to determine how much the waters had dried up, and the same purpose seems behind the multiple, weeks-apart sendings of the dove. (By the way, God is regarded as having more or less set precedents for both the 40-day and 7-day periods of time). The difference between the sending of the different birds is apparently in the birds, which Noah either knew or for which had direction, of which direction we may not be told. The exposed mountaintops (and maybe even the ark), gave the raven places to rest. I don’t think “to and fro” (KJV, ASV; “back and forth” NIV; “here and there” NASB) has to be understood that the raven never landed anywhere. The raven’s landing places may have included the floating carcasses that are thought to have provided food (Luther says, “this delightful and abundant fare kept him from returning” [AE 2:109]). Either at the same time as the raven or possibly seven days later, Noah let out a dove, which, unlike a raven, would supposedly want dry and clean places to land and dry and clean food. The dove’s second flight, after another seven days, brought back a freshly-plucked olive-leaf (at God’s direction, Luther points out), from which Noah apparently knew that the water was low enough for such a low-elevation tree to bud but not yet all the way down to the ground. The water was that far down after another seven days, and Noah knew since the dove’s third flight out was a one-way trip. By the way, the dove was a messenger of salvation, bearing the freshly-plucked olive leaf that was the first sign of the earth’s resurrection and new life, and, in part based on this event, today a dove with an olive leaf or branch is a symbol of peace. (Among other meanings, Luther allegorizes the raven as a symbol of the law and the dove as a symbol of the Gospel, but that’s really beside your question about why Noah sent them originally.) For a reader's reaction to this answer, see here. Back to Top

Q: How many years did Sarah wait after God first promised her and Abraham a descendant before she took matters into her own hands, as it were, sending him in to Hagar (Genesis 16:1-3)?
A: I suppose it depends on what you regard as the first promise. If my reading of the text and my math are correct, I’d say Sarah waited about 11 years before impatience got the better of her. Genesis 12 gives God’s first promise of many descendants to Abraham when Abraham was 75 and Sarah apparently 66. Chapter 15 describes tells how the covenant was more formally established, but there don’t seem to be any age indicators there. Chapter 16 reports Sarah’s action regarding Hagar when Abraham was 86 and Sarah presumably 77. Chapter 17 narrates the establishment of circumcision when Abraham was 99 and Sarah was 90. Chapter 18 tells of the three visitors coming (apparently the same year) and of Sarah laughing at the promise of a son in one year. In chapter 21 when Isaac is born, Abraham was 100, so Sarah was probably 91. All told, they waited about 25 years, and we too quickly criticize Sarah for getting impatient after 11 years or laughing out loud after 24, since in our instant-gratification culture we seem to expect results much faster than 11 or 24 years. Back to Top

Q: In the Biblog commentary on January 19-23, 2006 you referred to “the account of Terah (11:27)”. Terah was Abraham’s father correct? Genesis was written by Moses. I’m not following your reference to Terah.
A: My repeated reference to “the account of Terah” was confusing at least one other person I know of, so I’m especially glad you asked the question! Terah was indeed the father of Abraham, and Genesis was indeed written down by Moses, but the chapters in connection with which I made reference to “the account of Terah” are those in which Moses tells the story of Terah, Abraham, and those related to them. Following the clues in the text of Genesis itself, one outline of the book breaks the book down into its introduction (1:1-2:3) and its body (2:4-50:26). The body is then further subdivided in sections separated by the use of a recurring phrase that introduces each: the account of the heavens and the earth (2:4-4:26); the account of Adam’s line (5:1-6:8); the account of Noah (6:9-9:29); Shem, Ham, and Japheth (10:1-11:9); Shem (11:10-126); Terah (11:27-25:11); Ishmael (25:12-18); Isaac (25:19-35:29); Esau (36:1-37:1); and Jacob (37:2-50:26). I make use of this outline through all my comments on the book of Genesis and thought I had explained it at the beginning of the book or somewhere else, but clearly I had not. Back to Top

Q: In Genesis 22:5, Abraham says “we will worship and return to you”, implying that he thinks he and Isaac will be returning. Is Abraham implying that he has faith that God will not make him go through with the sacrifice of Isaac, or, if he does go through with it, that God will raise Isaac from the dead? 
A: Your question is very perceptive. Moses’ record does not tell us exactly what was in Abraham’s mind, but the Divinely-inspired author of Hebrews says Abraham offered Isaac up believing that God was able to raise him from the dead, which the author of Hebrews says God did, figuratively. Dr. Martin Luther, commenting on Genesis 22:3 (AE 4:94-97), says the following about this resurrection faith, applying it also to us.

     Nearly all people are tempted by despair, and the godlier they are, the more frequently they are attacked with this weapon of Satan. What else should you do in this situation than say: “I know that I am baptized and that God, for the sake of His Son, has promised me grace. This promise will not lie, even if I should be cast into utter darkness. Therefore what Satan suggests to me is not God’s will; but God is tempting me in this manner, that it may become manifest what is hidden in my heart. It is not that God does not know this, but that I do not know it. He Himself wants to make use of this occasion to crush the head of the serpent in me (Gen. 3:15). For the heart of man is unsearchable; and φρόνημα, or the mind of the flesh, is enmity against God” (Rom. 8:7). Nor does man perceive this except through the word of the Law, through which the head of the serpent is killed, in order that we may be made alive, as Scripture says (1 Sam. 2:6): “God brings down to Sheol and raises up.”
     I have stated what Abraham’s trial was, namely, the contradiction of the promise. Therefore his faith shines forth with special clarity in this passage, inasmuch as he obeys God with such a ready heart when He gives him the command. And although Isaac has to be sacrificed, he nevertheless has no doubt whatever that the promise will be fulfilled, even if he does not know the manner of its fulfillment. Yet he is also alarmed and terrified. For what else could the father do? Nevertheless, he clings to the promise that at some time Isaac will have descendants.
     Human reason would simply conclude either that the promise is lying or that the command is not God’s but the devil’s. For there is a plain contradiction. If Isaac must be killed, the promise is void; but if the promise is sure, it is impossible that this is a command of God. Reason cannot do anything else, as experience shows in less important matters. …
     Even though there is a clear contradiction here—for there is nothing between death and life—Abraham nevertheless does not turn away from the promise but believes that his son will have descendants even if he dies. Let us, too, learn to do the same thing. Yesterday we buried our very dear friend Dr. Sebald. Therefore he is now lamented as though he were dead. But we know that he is living; for inasmuch as he died in the true confession of the Son of God, and God is not the God of the dead but of the living (Matt. 22:32), he, too, lives.
     Thus Abraham relies on the promise and attributes to the Divine Majesty this power, that He will restore his dead son to life; for just as he saw that Isaac was born of a worn-out womb and of a sterile mother, so he also believed that he was to be raised after being buried and reduced to ashes, in order that he might have descendants, as the Epistle to the Hebrews (11:19) states: “God is able to give life even to the dead.”
     Accordingly, Abraham understood the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, and through it alone he resolved this contradiction, which otherwise cannot be resolved; and his faith deserves the praise it receives from the prophets and apostles. These were his thoughts: “Today I have a son; tomorrow I shall have nothing but ashes. I do not know how long they will lie scattered; but they will be brought to life again, whether this happens while I am still alive or a thousand years after my death. For the Word declares that I shall have descendants through this Isaac, even though he has been reduced to ashes.”
     I have said, however, that we cannot comprehend this trial; but we can observe and imagine it from afar, so to speak. Moreover, you see that the passage does not deal with a work, as James says in his letter (2:21), since as yet no work has occurred. It is the faith that we admire and praise.
     Therefore one should hold fast to this comfort, that what God has once declared, this He does not change. You were baptized, and in Baptism the kingdom of God was promised you. You should know that this is His unchangeable Word, and you should not permit yourself to be drawn away from it. For although it can happen—as with those who were on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:28)—that He pretends to want to go farther and seems to be dealing with us as though He had forgotten His promises, faith in the Word must nevertheless be retained, and the promise must be stressed—namely, that it is true and dependable—even if the manner, time, occasion, place, and other particulars are unknown. For the fact that God cannot lie is sure and dependable.
     When I am being killed, I see the ways and particulars by which my life is destroyed; but I do not see the particulars through which life will return, neither the time nor the place. Why, then, do I believe what I do not see anywhere? Because I have the promise and the Word of God; this does not permit me to discard the hope of life or to have any doubt about the inheritance which is Christ’s, through whom we have been adopted as children.
     Up to this time Abraham had thought that his son Isaac would marry and beget children at the place where he was at that time. All this falls through, for here is God’s command that he should kill his son. Therefore even though those particulars of place and time are lost, Abraham does not for this reason have any doubt about the matter itself; for he knows that his son will have descendants, even after a thousand years.
     These trials of the saintly patriarch have been set before us in order that we may be encouraged in our own trials and say with Abraham: “Though my son Isaac dies, nevertheless, because he believes in God, the very grave in which his ashes will lie will not be a grave but will be a bedchamber and a sleeping room.” “On the contrary,” says reason, “the opposite is manifest. The flesh turns to dust, and worms consume it.” But this neither hinders nor annuls the Word of God; for these two statements which God makes to Adam—“You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19) and “The Seed shall crush the head of the serpent” (Gen. 3:15)—belong together. Back to Top

Q: You said in the January 23, 2006 Biblog post regarding Genesis 25:1, “Abraham may have taken Keturah as his wife some time earlier.” He didn’t take Keturah as his wife while he was still married to Sarah, did he? What's up with all the polygamy? God sure doesn’t seem to be punishing these people for this! The same seems to true for the incest we read about in previous chapters. God sure doesn’t seem all that upset about these things happening!!
A: Moses’ Divinely-inspired account is not clear as to precisely when Abraham took Keturah as his wife. Though, due to the one narrative following the other, people generally suppose Abraham married Keturah after Sarah’s death, such may not have been the case. The verb tense translated “took” in 25:1 can also have the sense “had taken”, which may seem more appropriate in this context of a summary of Abraham’s descendants by Keturah and Hagar (see how Ishmael’s descendants follow in 25:12-18). Note also how it says that Abraham sent away the sons of his concubines (25:6), something that likely would not have been done until they were older and married (for example, Isaac’s married age of 40); the youngest of Keturah’s sons may have been only 25. (The case of Ishmael being sent away with Hagar back in 21:8-21 was by God’s command, and God made special provision for Ishmael, who there was also promised innumerable descendants.) Since the Fall, Believers in God have never been perfect, and much of the warts and blemishes on their lives that are preserved by Scripture can remind us of that fact and keep us from too highly exalting these Old Testament sinner-saints. I would be very slow to read from Holy Scripture’s silence anything about God’s approval or disapproval of Abraham’s polygamy or Lot and his daughters’ incest (19:30-38). There are certainly cases of polygamy that God roundly condemns (such as King Solomon’s in 1 Kings 11). The incest may have been somewhat out of necessity in the first generations (certainly Lot’s daughters thought it was, Lot’s active participation is debated); as noted elsewhere, sexual relations with close relatives are expressly forbidden later. In all these matters, the principle of Acts 17:30 may apply. Back to Top

Q: Regarding Genesis 26:34-35, you said in the January 23, 2006 Biblog post, “Esau marries outside the faith and causes more grief for his parents”. What faith were the Hittite and Canaanite women? Did they not believe in God? What grief did Esau’s wives bring Isaac and Rebekah? Why didn’t they want Jacob to make the same mistake of marrying Hittite or Canaanite women? What was wrong with them marrying Hittite or Canaanite women?
A: Genesis 26:35 of course does not say how Esau’s two wives grieved Isaac and Rebekah, nor does 27:46. We are left to conclude, with good reason, as descendants of Canaan (see 10:15-19), that it was their being outside the faith of Israel. Remember that in Old Testament times one either was a true Israelite or one was not: the other peoples worshiped false gods. Marriage outside one’s faith was not a good idea then nor is it a good idea now (see this answer regarding Genesis 6:2), on account of all the problems such marriages bring, including the unbelieving spouse pulling the believing spouse out of the faith (see Abraham’s command to Eliezer in 24:3-4 and also Deuteronomy 7:1-4). Isaac and Rebekah commanded Jacob not to marry a Canaanite woman but to get a wife from his cousins, presumably also believers (28:1-2; though see what 31:19 says about Laban). Such a marriage for Jacob would be more in keeping with God’s plan of salvation, where Esau’s first two marriages and his third (28:8-9) showed he did not share his family’s religious interests and was not fit to receive the divine revelation. Back to Top

Q: In Genesis 28:20-21, it sure sounds like Jacob is challenging God or putting a condition on his acceptance of God. Am I hearing that right?
A: Genesis 28:20 introduces Jacob’s statements by saying that “Jacob made a vow” (NIV, NASB; “vowed a vow” KJV, ASV; neder in the Hebrew). Although I agree that it is easy to do so, I don’t think we should hear what follows in verses 20-22 as a challenge or condition to Jacob’s believing in God. Rather, he is promising a certain response should God bless Him in those ways. In Psalms, we hear the psalmists make similar vows to praise God after God delivers them as they fully expect Him to do. We can also find similar vows in Numbers 21:2; 1 Samuel 1:11; and 2 Samuel 15:7-8. For God’s stipulations concerning vows, see Numbers 30 and Deuteronomy 23:21-23. Back to Top

Q: Jacob’s vow in Genesis 28:22 to give God a tenth of all God gave Jacob is interesting! Since the temple system of priests, etc., had not been set up, to whom would Jacob give this “tenth”? Genesis doesn’t say that he did it, but I suppose that doesn’t mean that he didn’t, especially after the bit elsewhere about keeping vows.
A: God’s covenant regulations about keeping vows (in such places as Numbers 30 and Deuteronomy 23:21-23) obviously came later in time than Jacob’s vow to God at Bethel. Still, you are right to say that it would be arguing from silence to claim either that Jacob did or did not keep the vow to give back to God a tenth of all God gave Jacob. Of course, Jacob was not the first to give such a “tithe”; his grandfather Abraham had tithed to God through Melchizedek (Genesis 14:20). The author of Hebrews 7:1-10 makes much of the fact that Levi, who at that point was inside Abraham and to whom the “voluntary” tithe of the rest of the Israelites was later given (Numbers 18:21), paid a tithe to Melchizedek. The author of Hebrews uses that line of reasoning to show the superiority of the priestly order of Melchizedek, in which Jesus is said to stand (Psalm 110:4). We don’t know if there were other priests like Melchizedek around who could receive the tithe from Jacob, who of course was also in effect inside Abraham at the time Abraham tithed. Even without the Temple’s system of priests and the like, I suppose the tithe could simply be given as an offering the way other patriarchs had given them (Genesis 4:3-4 and 8:20, just for two examples), which some see implicit in Genesis 35:7. Of course, in our time we have a churchly system of pastors and so forth that somewhat like the Old Testament levitical system is supported by the offerings of the people on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:2), for the workers deserve their wages (Deuteronomy 25:4; Luke 10:7; 1 Timothy 5:18). Although with the fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises we have been blessed more, tithing is certainly a place to start, but it can never be done boastfully as did the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable (Luke 18:12). Usual things to remember are sacrificial giving of first-fruits (off the top) proportionate to what God has given us—not because we have to, but cheerfully and thankfully, as a “thank offering”, for what God has done for us in Christ. (See, for example, 2 Corinthians 8-9 for more.) Back to Top

Q: I am not following what is happening in Genesis 30:25-43. I understand that Jacob’s flocks are increased, but can you explain this further? Are the white sticks used as a fence?
A: Stopping at chapter 30 as assigned may not have helped you, since 31:4-13 helps shed light on this account of Jacob’s flocks increasing, but you nevertheless got the main point. God knew how Laban was treating Jacob, even as He knows how we are treated. God in this case, as part of His Divine purpose, rewarded Jacob with material blessings, even as Laban was conspiring to take greater advantage of Jacob. The method used to assign sheep to Jacob from Laban’s flock was revealed to Jacob in a dream. The fresh cut branches, we might say, were a “means” through which God delivered the blessing of flocks, even as God delivers His blessing of forgiveness to us through water, words, bread, and wine. I do not think we want to deny the miraculous here, later confessed by Jacob (also known as “Israel”)—the black outer wood and white inner wood of the branches did not chemically treat the water so that the genetic code of the flocks changed, or anything like that. God worked His power through ordinary signs. Back to Top

Q: I’ve been trying to figure out the pronouns in Genesis 30:35! I had thought that Jacob sorted out the speckled, spotted, and dark-colored lambs and goats to begin with, as he had bargained for. But, the CEV and Beck make it look like Laban cheated from the day he made the agreement, because Laban moved those very animals a three-day journey from the rest of his sheep and goats that Jacob tended. (So then the fun and games with the branches!) Am I reading it right? They deserved each other!
A: Although, strictly speaking, Laban was the last person mentioned in verse 34 to whom the “he” in verse 35 can refer, you are right, following the story can be confusing, especially given the deceptiveness of its characters. As so often is the case, neither the Bible’s text nor our lectionary excepts meet our modern ears’ expectations of more-frequently-connected pronouns and antecedents (remember that often the subjects of the verbs are included in the Hebrew and Greek verb forms). None of the translations I usually consult—the KJV (or NKJV), ASV, NIV, NASB, or NEB—insert “Laban” as the specific subject of verse 35, although the ESV does, as do the CEV and Beck’s AAT you mentioned. Still, you correctly understood that Laban is the one who went against his agreement with Jacob and himself removed all the designated animals from the flock before Jacob could, even the same day (verse 32). The contrast with Jacob is there, in verses 36 and 37, as the story transitions to how Jacob got around Laban’s treachery (31:10-13 might even be taken as suggesting that God was behind the whole plan). I suppose you can say they deserved each other, for in one way or another each lacked faith and acted unrighteously, but by that standard we deserve such treatment, too, for too often we try to take fulfilling God’s promises into our own hands and act unrighteously. Thank God for the forgiveness He gives us freely by grace through faith! Back to Top

 


Home | About Grace | Worship | Members | Resources | Contact Us | Links

© 2001-2018 Grace Lutheran Church. All Rights Reserved.