MATTHEW 11 (Part 1)
Early in this chapter, Matthew deals with the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus, showing conclusively that John’s ministry was destined to diminish and Jesus’ ministry to expand. John had sent his own disciples to check with Jesus that he was indeed the one that John had been signposting Israel towards. Jesus simply pointed to the walking lame, the seeing blind, the hearing deaf and the living dead! By these actions, he identified himself therefore as the true Messiah.
He then commended John for his commitment and submission to the Father’s will, placing John as the grand finale of all the Prophets (v13) and of the Old Covenant. He referenced the Elijah who was due to return – see Malachi 4:5 – and we remember that Elijah was one of two people in the Old Testament who never actually died the first time around! (Enoch was the other.) Malachi indicates that God will “…send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes…”. That is why John the Baptist was ask point-blank (John 1) whether he was Elijah, and he answered ‘No’.
So, what did Jesus mean when he said that “…he is the Elijah who was to come” (v14)? The bible does not support reincarnation, but it does seem to indicate that spirit of Elijah (in the loosest sense) was present in John the Baptist, in terms of his power and calling. (See also Luke 1:17). For the Jews at that time, John was the great ‘watershed’ between Old and New Covenants; only those Jews who submitted to John’s baptism were capable of later submitting to Jesus when he called them (Luke 7:29-30).
GENESIS 27 and 28
Deception and revelation are the twin themes of today’s readings – deception by men and revelation from God. In Genesis 27, Isaac (by now about 155) who thought he was dying, but lived more than another 25 years, prepared an oral will and testament, calling in Esau, the eldest, to receive the firstborn’s blessing. Rebekah, who’s favourite was Jacob, plotted with her son to deceive Isaac and install Jacob as inheritor. What a great marriage they must have had!
However, the Lord unexpectedly sides with Rebekah and Jacob, who would have known the original prophecy given (25:23), naming Jacob as his chosen one (see also Malachi 1:2-3 and Romans 9:10-12). Therefore, Jacob was correct when he told Isaac: “…the Lord your God gave me success”. This is a classic example of God’s grace, where an undeserving person receives great blessing, simply because God chose to do it.
Esau is understandably very upset and very angry – yet all this was the direct consequence of his rejection of his birthright years earlier. To receive the blessing of God’s Kingdom, you have to be born ‘right’ (John 3:3-7).
Jacob is wisely sent off to his uncle, a long distance from Esau, and on the way has a profound meeting with the Lord. He dreams of a giant stairway from earth to heaven, populated by God’s angels and leading to the Lord at the top. God reaffirms the covenant promises of blessing made to Abraham and Isaac and now applies them to Jacob and his descendants. God ends with “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go”. On waking, Jacob realises that his vision resembled a Middle Eastern ziggurat (a giant temple, like a pyramid with stairs leading to an altar on top) used for worshipping local deities and that God is really saying: “I am the true God and I am available wherever you go”. In John 1:51, Jesus claimed that He himself is that stairway between God and man – and, in fact, the only way possible to reach God.
Jacob makes a promise to God that, in return for protection, food and clothing, he will give God a tenth (tithe) of everything God gives him. (I’m not sure what he literally intended to do with the tenth, though!) At least Jacob was learning gratitude towards his heavenly Father. The principle of showing gratitude to God for his gracious provision would have been learned first from his grandfather, Abraham, who tithed to God’s priestly representative, Melchizedek.