Friday, February 4
Genesis 35: Bethel had been the scene of an earlier “stage” in Jacob’s religious growth. His return there (vv. 13–15) indicates that that earlier stage must now be incorporated into the larger picture. Jacob goes back to rethink and to rededicate that earlier event. In a sense, he is no longer the same man who first went to Bethel. Yet, that earlier event was an essential component of what Jacob has now become.
Romans 4:1-12: When St. Paul asserted, at the end of the previous chapter, that by the proclamation of the Gospel "we establish the Law," it is clear that he understood the latter term in the sense of the whole content of the Torah, including the narratives that it contains. He apparently intended even the entire Old Testament under this heading. That is to say, the proclamation of the Gospel provides the proper basis for that entire body of divinely inspired literature that the Christian Church has received from the Jews. The Gospel is the key to the Law; it provides the correct understanding of that literature.
In the present chapter the apostle illustrates and demonstrates that the principle of justification through faith lies at the heart of the Old Testament. He goes to this Gospel principle as illustrated in the lives of Abraham and David.
In the case of David, who had violated at least two articles of the Decalogue, justification came from the forgiveness of his sins. David had not observed the Law, but God had forgiven his lawless deeds and not imputed his sins unto him (verses 7-8).
In this non-imputation of sin, the verb employed is logizesthai, which Paul uses with respect to both David and Abraham. Such imputation is not some sort of legal fiction. This verb, in its normal and literal meaning, comes from the practice of accounting, bookkeeping, and the maintenance of ledgers. In the Greek Bible it is used metaphorically in the sense of a recorded account of man’s moral conduct, as though God and the angels were "keeping tabs" on him (Deuteronomy 24:13; Psalms 106 :31; Daniel 7:10; Revelation 20:12). This figurative use of the verb in a theological sense seems to be an extension of its figurative use in a legal and forensic sense, such as in court records and similar official archives (cf. Esther 6:1-3).
Thus, when David writes that a forgiven man’s sins are not “imputed” to him, the meaning is that those sins are no longer kept on the ledger, so to speak. They have been erased or "whitened over." Our sins are removed from the divine calculation, as it were. Our sins are "covered" (verse 7), not in the sense that they still remain in the soul, but in the sense that God has put them out of His mind. They are over and done with. He remembers them no more. The blood of the Lamb has washed them away, and a man never again needs to remember things that God has forgotten.
In addition to David, Paul writes of Abraham, "our forefather according to the flesh," which means "our biological ancestor" (verse 1; Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8). Abraham lived in a period long before the Sinai Covenant and the Mosaic Law. Yet, he was justified in God’s sight, not by his observance of the Law, but through his faith in God’s word, a faith manifest in his obedience to God’s call (verses 2-5).
When the Sacred Text asserts that Abraham’s faith was "accounted [elogisthe] to him for righteousness" (verse 3), it means that God was never in Abraham’s debt. God did not owe Abraham anything. The initiative of salvation in the story of Abraham was entirely God’s. God sought out Abraham, not the other way around. Abraham’s task was to believe, to trust, to obey. In faith he left his justification in God’s hands.
The biblical assertion of Abraham’s righteousness in Genesis 15 not only preceded the giving of the Mosaic Law in the Book of Exodus, it also preceded Abraham’s circumcision in Genesis 17. Indeed, Abraham received the circumcision as a "sign" (semeion) and "seal" (sphragis) of the righteousness he already had through faith. He is the father, therefore, not only of the circumcised Jew but also of the uncircumcised Gentile (verses 9-12).
Saturday, February 5,
Genesis 36: Notwithstanding the obvious sympathy toward Edomites demonstrated in the meticulous preservation of these lists, Israel’s relationships with this people were anything but harmonious. Although the prophet Obadiah is perhaps our clearest example of an entirely negative sentiment toward Edom, he was scarcely alone in this respect. There is evidence that more than one Israelite found his style cramped by Deuteronomy’s injunction not to despise the Edomite (Deuteronomy 23:7).
Those descendants of Esau, after all, had obstructed the chosen people’s way to the Promised Land in the days of Moses (Numbers 20:21), and according to the prophet Amos in the eighth century the Edomites, having “cast off all pity” (Amos 1:11, NKJV), were involved in international slave trade (1:6, 9).
Romans 4:13-25: Independent of the Mosaic Law, Abraham received in faith the promise of God (verse 13), the assurance of a great progeny. It is Paul’s contention that Christians themselves pertain to that progeny if they adhere to the faith by which Moses received the promise of it. It is faith, not the Law, which determines who are the true heirs of Abraham.
Suddenly, and as though by parenthesis, Paul asserts that "the law brings about wrath" (verse 15). By adding to man’s moral responsibilities, the Mosaic Law increases the opportunities for transgressions, and these transgressions evoke the divine wrath. That is to say, the Mosaic Law actually makes man’s moral situation worse! Consequently, the Law cannot be the instrument of man’s salvation. Paul barely introduces the idea here; he will elaborate it at some length in chapter seven.
Paul here begins to treat the theme of death, a topic he had introduced in 1:32. From this point on, the arguments of the Epistle to the Romans will be directed at death, expressed in both the noun thanatos (a word found in Romans twenty-two times) and the adjective nekros (found in Romans sixteen times). Paul commences his long argument that man’s justification has to do with Christ’s victory over death. That is to say, man is justified by the power of Christ’s resurrection, unleashed into this world by the Gospel.
Abraham, exemplifying salvific faith, believed in the God who could make fruitful his own "dead" flesh and the "dead" womb of Sarah (verses 17-19; Genesis 17:15-21). He compares this to God’s calling all of Creation out of nothingness. This call is the promise of the Resurrection, as Paul will make clear at the end of the chapter.
God’s word, which had called all things from nothingness, Abraham understood as the principle of all divine activity in this world (verse 18). In faith Abraham always took God at His word.
This ascription of righteousness to faith pertains not only to Abraham but to us, his children (verses 23-24), if we live by that same faith. Concretely this means faith in the God who raises the dead, symbolized in the "dead" bodies of Abraham and Sarah. The God who raises Jesus from the dead is the same God who called all things from nothingness into being.
Sunday, February 6
Genesis 37: The story of Joseph is unique in Genesis in several ways, including the author’s treatment of his subject as a kind of “saint.” No other character in Genesis—or Exodus—is treated this way. If Joseph had any personal faults, we would not know it from reading Genesis.
This “hagiographical” approach is rare in the Bible as a whole, the other few examples that come readily to mind being only Jonathan, Nehemiah, Daniel, Tobit, and perhaps Stephen.
Most of the biblical personalities are composites of good and bad, mixtures of strength and weakness, with which most of us more easily identify our own experience: Abraham, Jacob, David, Jeremiah, Jonah, Peter and the other apostles, and so forth. It is understandable that we find ourselves more in sympathy with these latter figures, and their use throughout the history of Christian ascetical literature amply justifies our doing so.
Nonetheless, it seems important to observe that the more idealized picture of the “saint” also has biblical roots. For example, the “cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 11 is sufficiently cloudy to leave out all mention of the weaknesses and failings of its numerous characters, instead concentrating entirely on their faith. Such a hagiographical disposition is already at work in the Genesis narrative of Joseph.
Romans 5:1-11: Paul now moves from the fact of justification to the actual experience of the Christian life. That is to say, he moves from proclamation (kerygma) to theology, from the righteousness of God to the love of God (verses 5,8), from the experience of becoming a Christian to the experience of being a Christian. In these eleven verses Paul introduces in a few words the ideas that he will develop at much greater length in Romans 8:1-39.
It is instructive to observe Paul’s use of verbal tenses in this chapter. He now employs the past tense to speak of reconciliation and justification. This is something that has already happened: "having been justified through faith" (verse 1), "having now been justified by His blood" (verse 9), "we have now received the reconciliation" (verse 11).
If our reconciliation, our justification, is spoken of in the past tense, however, our salvation still pertains to the future tense: "we shall be saved from wrath" (verse 9), "we shall be saved by His life" (verse 10). As we saw already in chapter one, references to salvation in the Epistle to the Romans tend to be in the future tense (9:27; 10:9,13; 11:11,26; 13:11). Paul always has in mind the return of Christ and the resurrection of our bodies in glory.
The dominant tense in Paul’s description of the Christian life, nonetheless, is the present tense, the "eschatological now." In the present tense, "we have peace with God" (verse 1), "we stand and rejoice in hope" (verse 2), "we also rejoice" (verse 11). In the present tense the accent is on hope, because the final salvation of the justified Christian still lies in the future. Like faith, hope is based on the promise and fidelity of God. The grace in which we stand leads to the glory that is to come.
If, during the eschatological now, the Christian life proves to be somewhat tough, "we also glory in tribulations" (verse 3). This is why Paul insists on patience or perseverance, hypomone. Unlike many human hopes, this hope will not be disappointed, because God’s love for us "has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (verse 5). The Christian life flows from the presence of the Holy Spirit in the hearts, mind, souls, and bodies of justified Christians. Hope, then, has a double meaning. It refers to the present reality of the Spirit’s assurance and also to the final object of the Spirit’s longing.
Monday, February 7
Genesis 38: Although this last section of Genesis centers on Joseph, the text does not lose sight of the bigger picture, the bigger picture here understood as the entire biblical message. In that bigger picture, Judah plays a more important role than Joseph. Ultimately the descendants of Joseph, the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, pertain to the ten lost tribes, whereas the tribe of Judah will provide the royal house of David and the Messiah (49:8–10; Matthew 2:6; Revelation 5:5). It is ultimately Judah who will give the “Jews” their name.
The interest of this chapter, therefore, is less in Judah as a person than in Judah as the father of his tribe. In the larger picture this is a story about Judah’s descendants. Since it is the story of his lineage, it must start by getting him married (vv. 1–5). This family too has its problems (vv. 6–11). Once again there is a deception by means of disguise, an unfortunate characteristic which, as we have seen, tends to run in the family (vv. 12–19).
Romans 5:12-21: Having earlier treated of Abraham and David in regard to justification, Paul now turns to a consideration of Adam, whose sin introduced death into the world. Our mortality is the Fall that we sinners inherit from Adam. If, apart from Christ, sin reigns, "sin reigns in death" (verse 21). By reason of Adam’s Fall, man without Christ is under the reign of death and corruption, because "the reign of death operates only in the corruption of the flesh" (Tertullian, On the Resurrection 47).
In the death and resurrection of Christ, on the other hand, are unleashed the energies of life and incorruption. This is the foundation of Paul’s antithetical comparison of Christ and Adam.
Paul goes to Genesis 3 to explain what he calls "the reign of death" (verses 14,17). In the Bible death is not natural, nor is it merely biological, and certainly it is not neutral. Apart from Christ, death represents man’s final separation from God (verse 21; 6:21,23; 8:2,6,38). The corruption of death is sin incarnate and rendered visible. When this "last enemy" (1 Corinthians 15:56) has finally been vanquished, then may we most correctly speak of "salvation." This is why the vocabulary of salvation normally appears in Romans in the future tense.
Because of men’s inheritance of Adam’s Fall, "all sinned." (Paul is not considering infants here, but this consideration makes no difference to the principle. What has been handed on in Adam’s Fall is not, in the first instance, a sense of personal guilt, but the reign of death. "Sin reigns in death" [verse 21]. Infants, alas, are also the heirs of death, and therefore of Adam’s Fall.)
The reign of death was present from Adam to Moses, but because the Law had not yet been given, men were not held invariably held accountable for their transgressions (verse 13; 3:20; 4:15). No matter—they still died! Death reigned (verse 14).
Did the coming of the Mosaic Law improve the situation? Of course not. The Law not only did not take away the reign of death, it made men more consciously aware of their fallen state (verse 20; Galatians 3:13,19). "For as the Law was spiritual, it emphasized sin but did not destroy it" (Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3.18.7).
Tuesday, February 8
Genesis 39: The story of Joseph is staged in various ways. For example, Joseph’s different changes of fortune are symbolized in his clothing. His famous and elaborate tunic, which focuses the hatred of his brothers in 37:3f, is dipped in blood in 37:23–32, thus symbolizing Joseph’s alienation from his family. Then, in vv. 12–18 of the present chapter, his ill-fated encounter with Potiphar’s wife is imaged in the loss of the cloak used as evidence to imprison him. His eventual release from prison will again involve a change of clothing in 41:14, and finally a whole new wardrobe symbolizes his new state in 41:42.
Another element of staging and cohesion in the story is introduced by Joseph’s two dreams in 37:5–10, in each of which his brothers bow down before him. This double prostration is prophetic, inasmuch the brothers bow before him on each of their trips to Egypt (42:6; 43:26; 44:14; 50:18), and Joseph specifically remembers the dreams on the first of these instances (42:9).
Romans 6:1-11: The sole person who has overcome the reign of death is Jesus Christ, who could not be held by the clutches of death. As soon as death grabbed hold of Him, it knew that it had met more than its match. The sin that reigned "in death" was thus vanquished, death of Christ atoning for the sins of the whole world. Thus, the death that He died, "He died to sin" (verse 10; 2 Corinthians 5:21). His death, embraced in obedience to the Father's will, reversed the disobedience of Adam and redeemed, for God, all of Adam's children. By His death, the sacrificial Lamb of God took away the sins of the whole world.
By His rising again, likewise, Jesus Christ conquered and brought to an end the reign of death. "Death no longer has dominion over Him" (verse 9). Thus the death (including the shedding of His blood and all the sufferings attendant on that death) and the resurrection (including the ascension into heaven, the entrance into the Holy Place, and the sitting at the right hand of the Father) of Jesus Christ form the single activity of our redemption. No part of that mystery is separable from the other, such is its integrity, its wholeness, its catholicity (kath' holon=”according to the whole”).
At their baptism in the faith of Christ, Christians are plunged under the water in sacramental imitation of Jesus' burial, and their emergence from that water symbolizes in mystery Christ's rising from the tomb. Baptism, therefore, is regarded by Paul as the normative and essential foundation for the life in Christ (verses 4-5,8; Colossians 2:15; Ephesians 2:5-6; 1 Peter 4:1). It is instructive to observe that Paul expects all Christians to know this, even those who have never met him or heard him preach (verse 3). He presumes this doctrine to pertain to the common deposit of the Christian faith that he himself received from the inherited apostolic teaching. Indeed, such explicit teaching about the significance of baptism was part of the pre-baptismal catechesis, in which new believers learned the meaning of what they were about to do (cf. Hebrews 6:1-2; Acts 19:1-5).
Wednesday, February 9
Genesis 40: A royal cupbearer was a great deal more than a table servant. He was, rather, a high official of the court, normally ranking right after the royal family itself. Such men were obliged to be very careful, for they served autocratic masters and were perpetually in danger of offending them (cf. Nehemiah 1:11—2:6). Somehow or other, this cupbearer had managed to offend Pharaoh. Thrown in jail, he had done a lot of brooding, and this brooding led to a dream about his fate (vv. 9–11). Joseph’s interpretation of the dream, however, is rather encouraging (vv. 12–13).
Even as Joseph gives the cupbearer his interpretation of the dream, he senses that this gentleman may someday provide his own way out of prison (vv. 14–15).
Encouraged by Joseph’s interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream, the royal baker decides to tell his own dream (vv. 16–17). The images in each dream are related to the professions of the dreamers: pressed grapes and cup for the first man, baskets of bakery goods for the second. In each case, the number “three” is important. This second dream, nonetheless, introduces a disturbing note: Birds come and peck at the baked goods. This is an alien element, a common symbol of frustration in dreams. Joseph sees right away that this is not a good sign (vv. 18–19).
Romans 6:12-23: In this section Paul largely repeats what he had insisted on in the earlier part of this chapter (compare verses 1 and 15), namely, that God's gift of grace is free only in the sense that it cannot be earned. It is not free in the sense of excusing Christians from stern moral and ascetical effort.
Strenuous activity and a robust sense of obligation, that is to say, pertain to the Gospel every bit as much as they did to Law. Man under grace has no fewer responsibilities than man under the Law. (Indeed, the Sermon on the Mount suggests that he has vastly more.) Speaking of "obedience to righteousness," then, Paul clearly agrees with James' teaching about the necessity of "works": “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” (verse 16)
The holding of correct doctrine is also of the essence. At the time of baptism a believer submits himself "from the heart" to a "form of doctrine" (typos didaches), a creedal standard, a "rule of faith" (regula fidei), of which "you have taken delivery" (paredothete). Paul refers here to the teaching contained in the Tradition (paradosis) that he himself had received in conjunction with his own baptism (16:17; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Timothy 1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1). Once again, we observe that Paul presumes that these Roman Christians, who had not been catechized by him or his close associates, nonetheless received the same foundational doctrine, in an established form (typos), that he himself had received.
In the profession of faith associated with the rite of baptism it has long been customary for believers to repudiate Satan just prior to their confession of the lordship of Jesus. Paul's wording here appears to reflect this custom. The baptized Christian has exchanged one form of service for another.
In this connection Paul introduces the theme of Christian liberty (verses 18,22; 7:3; 8:2,21; Galatians 2:4; 3:28; 4:22-31; 5:1,13). This liberty is not to be confused with supposed freedom given by the indulgence of the flesh, he says (verse 20). Alas, examples from Christian history prove (and Christian pastors today are well aware) that a misunderstanding of Paul's teaching about justification through faith has sometimes led, as though by a kind of logic, to very pernicious views about moral freedom. Such a process, however, leads the believer back to the reign of death (verses 21,23).
In context the "holiness" (hagiasmos) of verses 19 and 22 appears to refer to the sanctification and consecration of the Christian's body, which requires control over the passions of the body (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7; 1 Timothy 2:15). "This assertion may be hazarded, then, that it has been shown that death is the fellowship of the soul in the state of sin with the body, and that life is separation from sin" (Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 4.4).
In contrast to the reign of death, the Christian's goal is eternal life. Men earn death; it is their "wages." Eternal life, however, cannot be earned. It is the free gift (charisma) of God, given us in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Thursday, February 10
Genesis 41: Pharaoh’s two dreams have left him very upset, and at last the cupbearer remembers Joseph (vv. 8–13). After all, kings could become very upset if no one could be found to interpret their dreams (cf. Daniel 2:1–6). Evidently the cupbearer sensed danger, since Pharaoh’s dream had not yet an interpreter. The fear serves to jog his memory; he recalls how he himself had gotten out of jail two years earlier. At this point he apparently does not even recall Joseph’s name (v. 12).
Joseph is summoned (vv. 14–16). We note that this is the third reference to a change in Joseph’s clothing. Joseph has no doubt that this dream comes from God. God speaks to man in dreams (compare Job 33:15–18; Numbers 12:6). Pharaoh, then, tells his dreams (vv. 17–24). We observe that these dreams are not predictions; they are a diagnosis and a warning. Thus, Joseph is able, not only to interpret the dreams, but to instruct Pharaoh what to do about them. His wisdom, in other words, is not just speculative, but practical (vv. 25–32).
Romans 7:1-12: Already in this epistle Paul has touched on the function of the Law with respect to the reign of sin and death. In the present chapter he treats this theme in a more ample fashion. How is it, he wonders, that something so godly as the Law, given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, should actually serve the interests of sin and death?
When Paul had reflected on the historical function of the Law a few years earlier, his attitude had been more positive (Galatians 3:22-23): “we were kept under guard by the Law.” Now, however, it has become clear here in Romans that Paul's views of the Law have shifted and deepened (3:20,31; 4:15; 5:13,20). They have shifted in the direction of a dialectic and deepened in the perception of a mystery.
The real problem, Paul will argue here in Romans, was not with the Law in itself; the problem was in man, whose bondage to sin and death rendered him incapable of observing the Law. The Law, remaining external to man, did not alter him within. Grace, he will argue later in this epistle, alters man from within.
To illustrate the Christian's freedom from the Law, Paul resorts to an analogy prompted by his considerations of death in the previous chapter. He compares the Law to the regulation of marriage, which provides for the dissolution of marriage at the death of one of the partners. Now, as has already been shown, Christians died to sin in their baptism. Since they are dead, therefore, the Law can make no further claim over them (verses 1-6; 6:9,14).
This was the truth at stake in the Judaizers' conflict in Galatia a few years earlier, when Paul saw the Gospel itself to be at risk. The affirmation that Christians are still bound by the Mosaic Law meant for Paul that they would return to the reign of death. Their union with Christ in baptism and faith would count for nothing.
In baptism the Christian had died, however, by being sacramentally united to Christ in His death (verse 4). It is through their union with the sacrificial body of Christ that Christians are delivered from the curse of the Law (Galatians 2:10-20; 3:13). They are no longer “wed” to the Law, but to the Lord who died and rose again. This mystery introduces the "eschatological now" (verse 6), "the newness of the Spirit" (6:4).
In contrasting this newness of the Spirit with "the oldness of the letter," Paul touches on an exegetical theme that he had treated at some length the previous year (2 Corinthians 3).
Friday, February 11
Genesis 42: In these encounters of Joseph with his brothers, there are two features to bear in mind:
First, since Joseph is familiar with their Semitic dialect, he understands everything the brothers are saying among themselves, but they, imagining that they are dealing with an Egyptian, do not know this. Joseph always has the jump on them. From their conversations, he ascertains that the brothers are still trying to deal with their ancient sin. Joseph is joking at their expense and apparently having some fun at it.
At the same time, however, he is hard hit by his own feelings as he sees what is happening to his brothers. Overcome with emotion, he must retire from the scene in order to weep.
Second, unlike his brothers, Joseph is aware how long the famine will last. He knows, therefore, that they will be back in Egypt eventually. In order to guarantee it, in fact, he seizes Simeon, the second oldest. Joseph has just learned that the oldest, Reuben, had tried to save him at the time of his abduction; Reuben is spared.
Joseph puts a new twist on the game (vv. 27–28). His return of the brothers’ money may seem like generosity on his part, but the brothers are terrified by it. It may appear, they fear, that they have run off without paying for their food, and this governor of Egypt is obviously no man to be messed with. How could they ever explain how they had neglected to pay?
We observe that Joseph does everything he can to keep his brothers off-balance. Within three chapters he will reduce them to quivering bundles of insecurity. Whatever arrogance or unrepentance or hardness of heart is still in them will be completely gone before Joseph is finished.
Romans 7:13-25: It was Paul’s own strict adherence to the Law that had led him to the most serious sin of his life, the only personal sin on which he ever comments—the persecution of Christians. In Paul’s conversion he was made aware, in a way that he would never forget, that his endeavor to achieve righteousness by the observance of the Law had led him into his worst sin: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?”
It was in that experience of his conversion that he discerned "another law in my members, working against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members" (verse 23).
That is to say, it was his very zeal for the Law of God that had occasioned his worst sin against heaven. He had not been doing what he had intended to do (verse 15). Sin had taken over his life. He had been acting as a slave of sin. Thus, in his conversion Paul learned the experience common to all the children of Adam—the radical inability to find justification before God without the reconciling grace of Christ.