Lesson: Genesis 9:8-17
8 God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
Genesis is the first book of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). The Torah also called the Pentateuch (five books) in Greek. The word “Genesis” means “origin” and the book covers the period from Creation to the deaths of Jacob and his 11th son, Joseph, in about 1,650 BCE, if the accounts are historical.
The first 11 chapters of Genesis (up to the stories about Abraham) are referred to as the “Primeval History” and the remaining chapters are called the “Ancestral History.”
The Book of Genesis (like the Torah as a whole) is an amalgam of religious traditions, some of which are dated by scholars to about 950 BCE and some of which were developed as late as 450 BCE. Since the late 19th Century, Biblical scholars have recognized four major “strands” or sources in the Torah, and these sources are identified (among other ways) by their different theological emphases, names for God, names for the holy mountain, and portrayals of God’s characteristics.
Today’s reading is from the “Priestly” writers (550 to 450 BCE) whose name for God is translated “God” (not “LORD” as used by the Yahwistic writers). In these verses, God makes the first covenant recorded in the Bible. A “covenant” is different from a “contract” in that a covenant is a long-term continuing relationship, whereas a contract has a specific purpose and an end date. A covenant is often (but not always) between a superior party (such as God) and an inferior (Noah and humankind).
Covenants in the Bible are sometimes unconditional (such as God’s promise not to destroy the earth again by flood) that do not require a reciprocal action on the part of Noah or humankind. More often, however, Biblical covenants are presented as conditional so that if the “inferior” parties fulfill their obligations, the “superior” (usually God) will provide reciprocal benefits. These obligations include circumcision (Gen. 17:12) or faithfulness to the Law (Joshua 24:21).
Epistle: 1 Peter 3:18-22
18 Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you– not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
In the First Century, it was not uncommon to write something in another person’s name so that the writing would have extra “authority” – particularly when the writer believed he knew what the “authority” (in this case, Peter) would have said. Similarly, authorship of the Torah was historically attributed to Moses, the Psalms to David, and Wisdom Literature to Solomon.
The First Letter of Peter was likely written in the last quarter of the First Century, long after Peter’s death in the 60’s CE. It was written in sophisticated Greek (not a style a Galilean fisherman would use) and resembled Paul’s letters. Its focus was not on the earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth, but on the Resurrection and the affirmation that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God.
In today’s reading, the author urged his audience to be willing to suffer for doing what is right, just as Jesus of Nazareth suffered for doing good. He noted that Jesus was “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (v.18), which is not to say that “part” of Jesus survived death, but that God raised him as the Christ to a new life in the divine realm where (metaphorically) he is “at the right hand of God” (v.22).
Writers of the Christian Scriptures often looked for analogies in the Hebrew Bible to explain ritual practices in the Jesus Follower Movement. Here, the author presents the Flood in Noah’s time as prefiguring Baptism which is “an appeal to God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (v.21).
Gospel: Mark 1:9-15
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
The Gospel According to Mark was the first Gospel that was written and is generally dated to the time around the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest gospel and forms the core for the Gospels According to Matthew and Luke (both of which were written around 85 CE). Over 50% of the material in those two Gospels is based on Mark. Because these three Gospels follow similar chronologies of Jesus’ life and death, they are called “Synoptic Gospels” for the Greek words meaning “Same Look/View.”
In today’s reading, it is not clear if the words from heaven are heard only by Jesus or by all who were in the area at the time. In Mark’s Gospel, one of the continuing themes is the “Messianic Secret” – the notion that the disciples and others did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah in his lifetime, and that it was the “unclean spirits” who recognized him as “the Holy One of God” (1:24). Most scholars therefore conclude that Mark intended that only Jesus heard the words from heaven.
The attribution of the term “Son of God” has antecedents in references to kings, particularly David in 2 Sam.7:14 (“I will be a father to him”), in Psalm 2:7 (“You are my son”) and Psalm 89:26 (“You are my father”).
Apart from the reference to Jesus as “Son of God” in Mark 1:1 (a reference that is not in many ancient manuscripts), Jesus is not called “Son of God” in Mark by the disciples. Ironically, those who refer to Jesus as “Son of God” in Mark are unclean spirits (5:7), Jewish Authorities (14:61) and a Roman centurion after Jesus’ death (15:39).
As compared to the descriptions of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness in Matthew and Luke, Mark’s account is understated. The power of the Spirit is emphasized in that it “drove” Jesus into the wilderness (v.12). The number 40 is a euphemism for “a long time” and is reminiscent of the 40 years the Israelites spent in the wilderness, and the 40-day fasts of Moses (Deut. 9:18) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8).
The announcement that the Kingdom of God has “come near” (v.15) are the first words spoken by Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. The idea of the “Kingdom of God” – an ideal state that is not yet accomplished – is found in a number of places in the Hebrew Bible, particularly in the Psalms.