HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!
We begin the first gospel of the New Testament. Matthew is many people’s favourite gospel. It is wonderfully poetic and beautifully structured. It quotes the Old Testament more than any other gospel. Its job is to prove to all Jews that Jesus really is their long-awaited Messiah. It has five great teaching sections (Chapters 5-7; 10; 13; 18; and 24-25) that Matthew may have seen as mirroring the first five books of the Bible – the Pentateuch. Jesus is portrayed as the King of Israel, the Son of David. He is again and again seen as the fulfilment of the scriptures. (‘Fulfil’ or ‘Fulfilment’ occur 16 times in this gospel.)
Matthew himself (the name means ‘Gift of the Lord’) was the tax collector who left his lucrative work to follow the man who had nothing of material value. In doing so, Matthew started to live up to his own name and became a blessing to others.
Like any good Jewish book, it begins with a genealogy! Matthew needed to show that Jesus was from the royal lineage of King David and descended from Abraham. At the same time, he had to explain the virgin birth. Tricky to do in one chapter – but Matthew succeeded!
The genealogy is in three sets of fourteen – which Matthew would have been very intentional about. He was very fond of numbers and orderliness (some connection with a previous career, perhaps!). Fourteen was twice seven – the number of completeness – and was the numerical value of the name ‘David’ (Jews assigned a numerical value to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, rather as we do in the game ‘Scrabble’).
This genealogy was also ground-breaking in that it featured five women, including two prostitutes, an adulteress, a mother who conceived out of wedlock and a foreign refugee from a nation banned from mixing with the Jews. In the Bible, the number five often represents ‘grace’ and it is very clear that God Himself is no respecter of a person’s social status, and was delighted to include these women as part of his Son’s family tree.
Unlike almost any other genealogy in the Bible, Matthew ends it with “Mary the mother of Jesus”, rather than “Joseph the father of Jesus” – critically because he wasn’t! Joseph was one of the most amazing, unsung heroes of the New Testament. He suffered the indignity of bringing up a child who had effectively been born out of wedlock (a very big deal in those days!). He accepted the angel’s message without hesitation and always obeyed God’s voice. And even when he was legally married, he still chose not to consummate the marriage until that son was born. By way of reward, he was given the honour of naming the Son of God on earth!
GENESIS 1 & 2:1-17
Not much of any importance in today’s reading – just the creation of the world, the creation of man and woman, and a simple command of God to Adam and Eve that they quickly disobeyed! Here are some thoughts on all this…
Chapter 1 verse 1 is a summary statement of everything that follows. It is also possibly the first grammatical error in the bible! “In the beginning ‘Gods’ created the heavens and the earth”, it says. In Hebrew, ‘Gods’ is plural and ‘created’ is singular. Perhaps this is the first time that the idea of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit are portrayed as the One God. It may also refer to the angelic members of God’s Heavenly Council who are referred to as ‘gods’ in certain places in scripture (e.g. Psalm 82) – but that is a whole new subject for discussion that cannot be covered quickly here! In any event, what this sentence loses in grammar, it more than gains in theology!
All things were created by God; this thought is reinforced in Ecclesiastes 11:5; Isaiah 45:18; Jeremiah 10:16; John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; and Hebrews 1:2.
The first three days of creation were ones of ‘separation’: light from darkness, water from water (with sky in between), and land from seas. No longer was the earth formless and empty.
On the Third Day, God actually spoke twice, and vegetation was created upon the earth. Every day’s work was assessed by God to be ‘good’.
On Day Four, the light was further ‘developed’ or ‘focussed’ into the Sun, Moon, and stars; their purpose was to separate day from night, to give light onto the surface of the earth, and to ‘govern’ or regulate the timing of day and night.
On Day Five, the animal kingdom was created in the waters and in the skies. God blessed them all and commanded them to reproduce and so to fill the earth.
On Day Six, the final day of actual creation, the land-based animals were created, both domestic and wild. Then, the pinnacle of God’s creation was brought into being: Mankind was created in the image of God; this means that we mirror his righteousness, holiness, knowledge, decision-making, and government on earth. Psalm 8:5-8.
Verse 27 is the first poem in the bible. Male and female, together they share in the image of God. Again, God blessed them and commanded them to procreate and to fill the earth, to rule benignly over all other creatures, and to enjoy a vegetarian diet. God now surveyed his completed creation and declared it to be ‘very good’.
In my view, Chapter Two should have started at its verse 4, with the first three verses being part of chapter One. These verses describe the importance of resting, just as God did at the end of his days of creation. This day is different (‘set apart’) from the working days.
In summary, Chapter One is all about God as Creator of the world, systematically and rhythmically. Mankind is seen as a creature with special responsibilities both towards God and towards the rest of his creation.
From Chapter Two verse 4 onwards, you get an extra creation story, with mankind as its prime focus, written in the style of a genealogy, and every reference to God is phrased ‘Lord God’ instead of just ‘God’ in Chapter 1. ‘Lord’ is a relational term, rather than just a ‘creator’ word. Everything the Lord did in Chapter 2 was for man, and with mankind as its key player. Our special role is to care for his creation and to rule over it.
There is firstly an emphasis that no rain had every fallen on the ground – important for the later ‘Flood’ story – but that God’s plan was for underground springs and streams to water the earth. This ‘internal’ watering system is perhaps a foretaste of its spiritual equivalent in John 4:14.
Then comes the graphic description of the creation of man (Adam), from the dust of the ground. He was ‘formed’ – as a potter would do with clay – from the dust. God then breathed life into him, and he became a living being in God’s image. God had done the same previously with the land animals and birds, but they were not made in his image. We are literally his ‘Imagers’, intended to portray the nature and character of our Heavenly Father to the watching world.
Paradise is a Middle Eastern word for a beautiful garden, but also means ‘bliss’ or ‘delight’. In the middle of this garden, with a great river flowing through it, was the ‘Tree of Life’, alongside the ‘Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’. Man was put to work in this wonderful garden – meaning that ‘work’ is intrinsically good – and was expressly forbidden to eat from the latter tree only.
Btw, did you notice that in Chapter 1 vv 6-8 there are waters below the sky and waters above it? What do you make of that!?