Lesson: Genesis 15:1-12,17-18
1 The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O LORD God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”6 And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.
7 Then he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O LORD God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.
17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.”
Genesis is the first book of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). The Torah also called the Pentateuch (“five books”) in Greek. Genesis covers the period from Creation to the deaths of Jacob and his 11th son, Joseph, in about 1650 BCE, if the accounts are historical.
The Book of Genesis (like the Torah as a whole) is an amalgam of religious traditions, some of which are dated 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.
Most of today’s reading is part of an early tradition. One clue to the date of today’s reading is that God’s name is printed in the New Revised Standard Version as “LORD” in all capital letters. LORD is the translation of YHWH. The earliest written tradition called God “YHWH” and presented God anthropomorphically – a God who walked in Eden and spoke directly with humans.
In today’s reading, the LORD spoke with Abram (his name had not yet been changed in 17:5) and made a covenant that repeated in different words the covenant expressed in Gen. 13:14-17 that he would have substantial lands and descendants too numerous to count.
The name “Abram” means exalted ancestor. The name “Abraham” means the [divine] ancestor is exalted or the “ancestor of a multitude of nations (17:5)
This covenant was confirmed by cutting a number of animals in two (v.10). In the Hebrew, to “make” a covenant is literally to “cut” a covenant (we might say “cut a deal”). The covenant was “sealed” when the flaming torch passed between the cut pieces of the animals.
This covenant was “unilateral” or a “covenant of grant” and did not require Abram to take actions to uphold his part of the “bargain.” The covenant in Genesis 13 only told Abram to “walk through the length and breadth of the land” (13:17) that he was given.
The covenant was substantially repeated in Genesis 17 but was “bilateral” and required Abraham to “have every male among you” circumcised, which Abraham did in Gen. 17:23-27.
In the omitted verses (13-16), the LORD told Abram that his offspring would be slaves in a land not theirs for 400 years. In Exodus, the Priestly writer said the Israelites lived in Egypt for 430 years (Ex.12:40).
Epistle: Philippians 3:17-4:1
17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18 For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
Philippi was a major city in Macedonia on the Roman road to Byzantium (Istanbul), and most of its inhabitants were Roman citizens. Paul wrote this letter from prison. For this reason, some think the letter was written from Rome around 62 CE. Other scholars note that Paul was also imprisoned earlier in Ephesus and made trips to Philippi from Ephesus. Paul had a deep affection for the believers in Philippi and thanked them for gifts sent to him in prison (4:18).
Among Paul’s apparent concerns were that some who claimed to be Jesus Followers were living “as enemies of the cross of Christ” (v.18). By this, Paul meant that these Jesus Followers did not accept the Crucifixion as central to their sharing in the sufferings of Jesus, to becoming like him in his death, and somehow attaining the resurrection from the dead (vv. 10-11).
Today’s reading also contains some of the politically subversive themes Paul presented in the letter. He asserted that Jesus Followers’ citizenship is in heaven (v.20), rather than with Rome. In many places in the Roman Empire, there were monuments depicting Caesar Augustus as savior and lord, but Paul claimed that we are “expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (v.20).
Paul never tried to describe the nature of “the body of glory” of Jesus the Christ, but he did affirm that “the body of our humiliation” will be conformed to this body of glory (v.21).
Gospel: Luke 13:31-35
31 Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”
The Gospel According to Luke is generally regarded as having been written around 85 CE. Its author also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Both books were written in elegant and deliberatively crafted Greek and presented Jesus of Nazareth as the universal savior of humanity. Both emphasized the Holy Spirit as the “driving force” for events.
The Gospel followed the same general chronology of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as the Gospel of Mark, and more than 40% of Luke’s Gospel was based on Mark. The other portions of Luke include (a) sayings shared with the Gospel According to Matthew but not found in Mark and (b) stories that are unique to Luke such as the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Presentation in the Temple, the Prodigal Son, and the Good Samaritan.
It is difficult to determine the relationship between Jesus of Nazareth and the Pharisees during his lifetime. Some scholars suggest that Jesus had a good relationship during his lifetime, but that the authors of the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke said very harsh things about the Pharisees (and attribute these words to Jesus) because of the contentions between the Pharisees and the Jesus Followers after the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE until the so-called “Parting of the Ways” in the late First Century.
In today’s reading, the Pharisees warned Jesus that Herod [Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea from 4 BCE to 40 CE, and a son of Herod the Great] wanted to kill Jesus (v.31). Although some scholars have interpreted this as an attempt by the Pharisees to thwart Jesus’ performing of his mission, the warning seemed helpful on its face.
Jesus responded by referring to Herod unflatteringly (a “fox”) and obliquely criticized the Pharisees by suggesting that they had access to Herod. Jesus affirmed that he needed to “finish my work” on “the third day” — a colloquialism that meant “soon” or in a little while.
In a theme that appeared frequently in Luke, Jesus was described as a “rejected prophet” who would be killed in Jerusalem (v.33).
The last verse of today’s reading was addressed to Jerusalem which will not see Jesus again until Jerusalem says, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (a quote from Ps. 118:26). In some ancient authorities, the words “the time comes when” are not included. This can be interpreted as a reference to a Second Coming.