Jehoshaphat, faithful king of Judah, and Ahab, wicked king of Israel, sought a word from the Lord.  The Syrians occupied Ramoth-Gilead in northeastern Israel.  Ahab sought the aid of Jehoshaphat in reclaiming this part of the inheritance of Gad, the Levite city of refuge (Joshua 21:38).  It was shameful for Ramoth-Gilead to belong to a foreign people, even if Ahab only wanted to expand his own authority.

But Ahab still limped between the idolatry of his wife and the worship of the Lord.  Elijah had brought him to repentance some years before.  He recognized that a king should consult the Lord before attempting to retake the city, because all things were in His hands.  Therefore, they called together a great assembly of prophets and sat in the gates of Samaria, sitting on their thrones dressed in their royal robes.  What a sight it must have been!

And what a powerful and favorable message these four hundred prophets brought to the kings!  “Go up, for the Lord will give the city into the hand of the king!”  Ramoth-Gilead would belong to Israel again!  The kings would return in triumph!  Zedekiah, son of Chenaanah, who was likely their leader, even made two horns of iron, a strong and powerful symbol that the Lord was with these kings.  How could they fail?  Four hundred men all said the same thing.

But Jehoshaphat, faithful king of Judah, recognized that something seemed a bit off.  Doubtless, it was a pleasant message to hear, and Ahab delighted in hearing it.  Nevertheless, he asks “Is there not here another prophet of the Lord of whom we may inquire?”  There is indeed another man, Micaiah, son of Imlah.  He, however, never speaks a pleasant word.  Ahab kept him away intentionally.

At Jehoshaphat’s insistence, however, they call him.  Micaiah is even coached beforehand how to respond.  How could four hundred prophets be wrong?  But Micaiah said, “As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that I will speak.”  He wasn’t impressed by the kings sitting in all their splendor.  Four hundred prophets all saying the same thing meant nothing.  Even when he sarcastically said what the other prophets said, they knew he didn’t mean it.  Rather, he faithfully spoke a word of judgment from the Lord.  Satan, that lying spirit, had deceived these four hundred men, because it was the will of the Lord to put Ahab to death.

Micaiah spoke a faithful word, even when everyone was against him.  He prophesied faithfully, knowing full well it would cost him his life.  After all, he was thrown into prison, and the Bible says nothing else about him.  He most likely died there.  But Ahab, despite his best efforts to avoid the judgment, met his death at Ramoth-Gilead.  All Israel was scattered, just as Micaiah had said.

The time will come for all when a faithful Word must be spoken.  They will drag you into courts.  They will drag you before kings.  It may cost you a fine.  You may be impoverished for the sake of the Truth.  It may cost you your job.  You may have to speak a faithful word even against those you know best.  But in that hour, do not be afraid, “for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:20).  Micaiah knew this, and therefore he was not afraid.  Even though he stood alone, the Lord of Hosts was with him.  Micaiah died speaking the Word faithfully.  May we also be ready to leave everything behind—house, job, family, a retirement plan, even our very lives—in search of a better country, that is, a heavenly one.

1 Kings 22:1-40 and 2 Chronicles 18

Some parts of Scripture seem easier to preach on than others.  When the Lord called Abram to leave Ur behind to go to Canaan, He practically wrote the outline:  “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2).  Jesus clearly identifies Himself as the ladder of Jacob in the Gospel of John (Genesis 28:12; John 1:51).  Several of the parables include their interpretation (Matthew 13:1-8, 18-23; among others).

But what about those parts of Scripture that do not seem so easy?  Why would it please the Holy Spirit to have those parts written down?  Joshua 13-21 is a perfect example of this.  The author of the book records in painstaking detail the inheritances of the tribes of Israel, down to the village.  This does not seem like the sort of material that would be of much use to Christians.

However, “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Paul does not say most of Scripture, but all of Scripture is profitable, including parts like Joshua 13-21.  “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

Understanding the context will help understand why it pleased the Holy Spirit to record this.  Joshua is near the end of his life, having spent many years wandering with Israel.  The first twelve chapters of the book set out the beginning conquest of Canaan under Joshua’s leadership.  The Lord commands Joshua to divide up the land among the tribes of Israel.

13:8-32 sets out the inheritance of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh.  They recognized that they had come into their inheritance while Israel still stood waiting to enter the land on the west (Numbers 32:19).  They received their inheritance first in Israel.  Chapter 14 is the beginning of the main body of this section, and includes the inheritance of faithful Caleb among the sons of Judah.  Chapters 15-19 then divides up the land in great detail to the sons of Judah, Ephraim, the other half of Manasseh, Benjamin, Simeon, Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan.  Joshua also receives his reward among the sons of Ephraim.  He then establishes the cities of refuge and gives to the sons of Levi their cities among their brothers, because the Lord was their inheritance.

All of this seems like it no longer applies to Christians.  However, note well the passage at the end of chapter 21:

Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.  Joshua 21:43-45

Here is the reason for the great detail.  Here is why the Holy Spirit saw fit to record every last city of the Holy Land.  God is keeping His promises.  The promises He had made to Abraham, the promises He had made to Isaac, the promises He had made to Jacob, the promises He had made to Israel:  all of them came to pass.  “And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it” (Deuteronomy 1:39).

This is the good news of En-hazor, the good news of Aijalon, of Hazor-hadattah, of Megiddo, of Chephar-ammoni.  This is the good news of all of the cities of Israel and their pasturelands and their villages.  Every last one of them is physical, tangible proof that the God of Jacob is faithful and true.  They are evidence that the Lord is the Lord our God.  If God kept His promises then, He will certainly keep His promises now.

The purpose of Revelation

The purpose of any book of Scripture illuminates its meaning for its first readers and for us. So far as we can determine, a book’s occasion heightens our understanding of what the Holy Spirit is accomplishing whenever that portion of Scripture is preached, read, and taken to heart. Over the next several segments we will work through Gösswein’s introduction to Revelation, considering its canonicity, its naysayers, and its historical witnesses and occasion. Today we begin with Gösswein’s majestic opening paragraphs on the heart of Revelation.

He begins in medias res quoting from Ps. 110:7, 88:18, and 69:2 on the tribulation and suffering of the Son of Man. In the midst of the Son of Man’s trampling down the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:16), He experienced “the evil of the old serpent and the angst of hell.” He raised His head again, took the keys of hell and death for Himself, and set Himself down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Ps. 8:6 is the pronunciation of the Father upon the Victor: Sit at My right hand! Gösswein puts the risen Christ into a dialogue with the Father, so that the announcement of Christ’s session is met with Christ’s pronouncement: To Me is given all power in heaven and on earth (Mt. 28:18). Clearly both the work of reconciliation is completed, and all things are now subject to Christ’s humanity.

Why begin there? Gösswein must begin with the work and nature of Christ because Revelation is about the work and nature of Christ. Christ no longer suffers in His own body, for “after His ascension to the throne of the Majesty He suffers no longer in His Person, but in His members, who have daily to do with His enemies and through much tribulation must come into His kingdom.” Revelation is about the connection between the suffering, risen, and victorious kingly Christ and His suffering members upon earth, bearing witness to His kingdom. Gösswein quotes Philipp Nicolai at length to make clear that the weapon of Christ’s kingdom is His Word alone. This apostolic book is another weapon in the war against Satan. The apostolic words of Revelation guide the church through the tribulation it now suffers into the eternal kingdom of Christ, just as Christ was once guided by the Psalms through His destiny as atoning Messiah to the Father’s right hand.

So Gösswein’s understanding of Revelation is that through it the Holy Spirit comforts the church concerning the future. Thereby the church does not lose heart in suffering. Through Revelation the “light of consolation and of hope” is lit again for us. Revelation clarifies that Christ’s kingdom is a “kingdom of the cross” (Kreuzreich). Whoever will not enlist himself under the cross cannot be a disciple of the Crucified. Gösswein will even say that Revelation is “best understood in struggles and needs,” because “it is a book for the church of the cross (die Kreuzkirche), for whom [Revelation] paints in prophetic pictures the struggle of Michael with the dragon to its final outcome.” One major difficulty in understanding is then the reader’s unfamiliarity with tribulation and suffering in the Name of Christ. He who does not suffer with Christ cannot understand Christ’s words. This personal aspect of understanding Scripture will recur again and again throughout the introduction and in the commentary itself.

Revelation is a book for the suffering, a book for martyrs, a book for Christ’s church that bears Christ’s cross until the day when it is approved and glorified by the Father, at Whose right hand our Royal Messiah already sits. Already King Jesus has trampled down the serpent’s head, and already to Christ belongs all power in heaven and on earth. Already the Victor reigns forever.

By a word the sick man was healed. By a word Lazarus came out from his tomb. By a word the adulterous woman was saved from certain death. A simple, fitting word can move heaven and earth. Everlasting life depends on someone preaching, because without someone preaching, how will the dead hear and live? And the one preaching must proclaim the word of Christ and nothing else. God’s Word is enough to make the man of God perfect, equipped for every good work.

God’s Word is enough for understanding Scripture. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Scripture has its power and authority that needs no supplement for doing the work of converting, enlightening, and equipping the servants of Christ. The powerful and clear Scripture moved Josiah to upend his own kingdom.  God’s Son pointed to this powerful and clear Scripture to demonstrate that He had been sent to fulfill it. It is then powerful and clear for us, too, so that poring over Scripture in depth is endlessly rewarding, refreshing, and renewing. Sustained by Scripture, we are like trees planted by streams of water, ever refreshed and ever fruitful.

God’s Word is enough for proclaiming the whole counsel of God. The servant of Christ did not choose to proclaim but was chosen to proclaim. Paul did not select his message but was found and used mightily by the Lord to proclaim a message he had not known in his prior foolishness and blindness. Made wise by the study of Holy Scripture, the preacher will joyfully and powerfully proclaim the entirety of Scripture, not only those passages or tenses or doctrines dearest or most comfortable to him. Christ would feed His people with the plenty and the variety of His Word. Christ’s servants have only to serve what the Master offers.

God’s Word is enough for spreading the reign of God the Lord. The servant who imitates his Master and the apostles will be fervent in proclaiming the good news of Jesus everywhere he goes. He will do the work of an evangelist because he knows the kingdom of God is at hand. A sober and glorious zeal will fill his heart in extending God’s kingdom through the preaching of the gospel.

By words about reading the Scriptures, about preaching the Scriptures, and about the mission on which the Scriptures send all of us, we here at A Word Fitly Spoken aim to give you, the servant of Christ, more and more always from the fullness the Lord has given us in His Holy Word. We love and would glorify our Lord in His Church and His faithful servants, who are being changed even now from this earthly glory to a heavenly glory beyond all comparing. Look here for words on the way to that latter glory, words to refresh and guide, to lift up and to build up, words beautiful and true like apples of gold in a setting of silver.

The plagues of Egypt fall into a series of three cycles of three plagues, followed by the tenth plague which stands on its own. Each cycle begins with a command to “go to Pharaoh in the morning” (Exodus 7:15; 8:20; 9:13). The second plague in each cycle begins with a command to “go in and say to Pharaoh” (Exodus 8:1; 9:1; 10:1). Each cycle closes with a command to simply perform the miracle without speaking to Pharaoh (Exodus 8:16; 9:8; 10:21).

Further, those affected by the plagues differs in each cycle. In the first cycle, all of Egypt without distinction suffers, including Israel. Only at the beginning of the second cycle are the Israelites excluded (Exodus 8:22-23). God further distinguishes between Egypt and Pharaoh at the beginning of the third cycle, since now they are directed primarily at Pharaoh (Exodus 9:14). Egypt still suffers with Pharaoh, to be sure, but the focus has been narrowed to Pharaoh specifically.  This is especially fitting, since Pharaoh was regarded as a god-king, or at least a man through whom the false gods of Egypt acted.  To strike at Pharaoh specifically was to strike at the very center of Egyptian religion.  This concept of his own divinity also goes far to explain the hardening of his heart, a topic which will be covered in more detail later.

This text for the Third Sunday in Lent therefore covers the transition between the third plague at the end of the first cycle and the fourth plague at the beginning of the second. While Israel suffers with Egypt in the first half of the reading, God separates them from Egypt’s punishment. The righteous may suffer for a time under the punishment of the wicked, but God will not allow it to continue forever (Matthew 24:6-7 et al).

The type of bug indicated by the word “gnats” here is not entirely certain. This word is used throughout the Old Testament most often in connection with this plague. It does occur in Isaiah 51:6 where the insects dying are set in parallel to smoke vanishing and a garment wearing out. Gnats or lice seem to be a natural conjecture, since Aaron strikes the dust. The miracle of turning dust into these insects suggests that the bugs were small like dust.

This may also explain why the magicians of Egypt were unable to reproduce the miracle as they had done before. These magicians were the lector-priests in ancient Egyptian religion, priests whose purpose was to read aloud particular texts. They were closely associated with magic even in Egypt, because it was believed that by reading the scrolls in their possession, they could evoke certain effects. Magic as it was understood until relatively recently in history was not an act of the will, a contest between two magicians as to who would prevail. Rather, it is a knowledge of hidden things or secret arts, a way of knowing how the machinery of the world works, so that by using particular things in a particular way at a particular time, a specific effect would result. For the modern mind, this is difficult to accept, because society no longer believes in remote causation, that is, in a relationship of cause and effect which is not immediately apparent. But it is worth noting that we reject a specific idea of what magic is, and this view of magic is not the same as the historical understanding or even necessarily a Biblical one, as may be seen in Genesis 30:25-43.

That being said, the miraculous conversion of dust into “gnats” may be something wholly without precedent, which would explain why the magicians are unable to do it. Or it may be simply a recognition that they are out of their league, much like the witch at En-Dor when she got more than she bargained for (1 Samuel 28:7-14). Either way, the lector-priests show up once more at the end of the second cycle where they are likewise powerless to act (Exodus 9:11). In the contest between the false gods of Egypt and the true living God, it is obvious who is going to win.  As the Lord says in anticipation of the tenth and final plague:  “On all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments:  I am the LORD” (Exodus 12:12).

Paul’s letters to Timothy are full of urgings, exhortations, and admonishments to pastors. In order to classify what we read we engage in dogmatic anachronism and label the bulk of what we find here, “third use of the law.” If we were to ask Paul though, he might call these letters something more along the lines of fatherly teaching. After all, the letters are addressed to Timothy, “true son,” (1 Timothy 1:2) and, “beloved son,” (2 Timothy 1:2) respectively. Perhaps this overt paternalism is an underlying factor as to why some find the third use of the law so difficult to hear or give. But any pastor who wishes to be a faithful son must listen closely to father Paul.

Especially in his second letter we find Paul’s fatherly advice to his tearful son (2 Timothy 1:4). The cause of Timothy’s tears is left unmentioned. It may be that he is saddened by Paul’s imprisonment, by some aspect of his ministry, by some personal issue, or some combination thereof. Whatever the case may be, Paul writes to strengthen Timothy, and through him, all pastors.

Rather than counseling Timothy on avoiding pastoral burnout, Paul advises the opposite. “I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:6-7)

These two verses stand out as the purpose of the rest of Paul’s paternal exhortations to all of his spiritual sons. The gift of God, cha’risma, that is in Timothy must not become idle. Instead it must be rekindled, that is, fanned into flame. The imagery is of an ashen over or lowly burning fire being tended with a bellows or even human breath. From that fire will come the heat and light that warms and brightens Timothy for his ministry.

As pragmatists we may wish to rush on to the ever-important question of how such a rekindling is to be performed. But before we can answer that we must know what this gift of God is. Once this is answered we can explore the relation between the gift and its use. That will be the goal of future articles in this series.

Paul refers to his apostleship as a gift, cha’ris, from God (Romans 1:5). He also speaks of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors as gifts, do’mata, of the ascended Christ Jesus to the church (Ephesians 4:8-11). While it’s possible that he is appealing to Timothy’s inheritance of that same office, it’s unlikely, given that the gift Paul appeals to is later described as a spirit of power, love, and soundness of mind. While Timothy’s office might be appealed to for authority, it’s difficult to see how an office could be the source of power, love, and self-control.

A second option would be that the gift of God is a reference to a particular aptitude or ability that Timothy received. In the passages where Paul enumerates various gifts, chari’smata, he refers to them as services, activities, and manifestations of the Spirit (Romans 12:3-9, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11). But arguing against this interpretation of Timothy’s gift is the fact that Paul’s appeal to Timothy is of a more general sort. He doesn’t remind Timothy to use a particular ability, but rather a gift that touches Timothy’s entire ministry. Also arguing against a specific gift to Timothy is that Paul says it is a gift that God gave, “to us.”

The passage that stands most directly parallel is 1 Timothy 4:14. There Paul first reminded Timothy of a gift that he received at the time of his ordination. Whereas in the second epistle the urging is to rekindle the gift, here Paul couches his admonition to use the gift in a negative command, “Don’t neglect…” Once again the gift is not specified.  But as in 2 Timothy, the appeal to this gift is in context of Timothy’s entire ministry. That the gift is said to be given through prophecy rather than through the laying on of Paul’s hands doesn’t imply a different gift, or even a different occasion, but a fuller view of what occurred at Timothy’s ordination. While this is a direct parallel, it doesn’t bring us any closer to defining the gift.

The closest we get to a definition is that the gift is not a spirit, pneuma, of fear, but rather one (a spirit) of power, love, and soundness of mind (2 Timothy 1:7). Left unsaid is whether this is an endowment of the Holy Spirit or the emboldening of Timothy’s human spirit. Perhaps this is a false dichotomy. After all, the Spirit certainly effects the human spirit.

A final passage that illuminates the whole matter can be found without even having to leave the second epistle to Timothy. Some 7 verses after mentioning this gift Paul writes, “By the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:14) Here is a clear passage describing an indwelling, common gift, which is to be, “used,” throughout Timothy’s ministry of guarding that which he has been entrusted with, the church.

The gift is one that was received upon Timothy’s ordination. It is a gift that applies to his entire ministry. This gift can be neglected or can be stirred up. It is a gift that is, “in Timothy,” but that he shares in common with Paul at least, and more likely all who’ve been ordained. The gift is a spirit of power, love, and soundness of mind. The gift is the Holy Spirit.

In Ezekiel 28, the Lord commands the prophet to speak against Sidon:

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face toward Sidon, and prophesy against her and say, Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I am against you, O Sidon, and I will manifest my glory in your midst. And they shall know that I am the Lord when I execute judgments in her and manifest my holiness in her; for I will send pestilence into her, and blood into her streets; and the slain shall fall in her midst, by the sword that is against her on every side. Then they will know that I am the Lord.”  Ezekiel 28:20-23

Sidon was a city on the coast of the Mediterranean to the north of Israel, closely connected to Tyre.  Ezekiel previously denounced the king of Tyre, because he had taken advantage of Jerusalem’s weakness (Ezekiel 26:2).  Tyre’s previous good will toward Israel made this even worse.  Solomon used the cedars of Lebanon, the region of Tyre, in building his house and the temple (1 Kings 5-7).  Hiram had also sent skilled labor to assist in the project.  But Tyre broke that trust by assaulting Jerusalem when it was weak from the attacks of Babylon.  Tyre’s judgment became Sidon’s judgment.  Lebanon had betrayed Israel.

But Sidon’s judgment is like so many passages in Scripture.  God speaks His judgment against them and describes their punishments in detail.  He has two reasons for doing so:

The first is to emphasize the righteousness and the justice of God.  “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).  He cannot stand by forever and allow sins to pile up.  This is true within the Church, and this is also true within the world.  The iniquity of Lebanon was full, and the time for judgment had come (cf. Genesis 15:16).  Therefore, Tyre and Sidon became a warning for Christians.  Jesus denounced Chorazin, saying that Tyre and Sidon, as wicked as they were, would have repented long ago (Luke 10:13).

This is how Christians usually view the judgments of God.  After all, He threatens to punish and destroy Sidon.  However, consider the passage immediately following:

And for the house of Israel there shall be no more a brier to prick or a thorn to hurt them among all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the Lord God. Thus says the Lord God: When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and manifest my holiness in them in the sight of the nations, then they shall dwell in their own land that I gave to my servant Jacob. And they shall dwell securely in it, and they shall build houses and plant vineyards. They shall dwell securely, when I execute judgments upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the Lord their God.  Ezekiel 28:24-26

The destruction of Sidon, and Tyre with it, is good news for Israel.  “Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly” (Deuteronomy 32:35).  God will punish the sins of those who sin against His Church, against spiritual Israel.  That day of judgment may seem so far away, almost like it may never come.  But God has not forgotten His people or their affliction.  God remembered His people in Egypt:  “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew” (Exodus 2:24-25).  God remembered His people when they turned to Him:  “So Israel put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord, and he became impatient over the misery of Israel” (Judges 10:16).  God remembers His people and will not forsake them:  “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them” (Luke 18:7)?

The judgment of the enemies of the Church is good news.  Their destruction is the salvation of Israel.  God indeed desires the salvation of all, but He will also not tolerate sins against His bride to remain unpunished.  This is true of the earthly enemies of the Church as well as the spiritual.  Satan himself will pay for everything that he has done:  “The devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).  Therefore, there is joy and good news in destruction, because God has not forgotten His people.

Why read Scripture with the early American Lutheran fathers?

Some things are rightly consigned to history’s dustbin. Some words and some works may be safely taken out never to return. Only the most minutely focused antiquarian could disagree. “Of the making of many books there is no end,” so that what was said before will likely be said again elsewhere at another time. Bible commentaries may be the chief of sinners in the “making of many books” and among the most numerous of all the volumes relegated to being forgotten. Browsing through a used bookstore, one can find many commentaries once common and now largely unknown: Jamieson-Fausset-Brown’s single-volume commentary, Adam Clarke, J. Vernon McGee, the old run of The Interpreter’s Bible so redolent of mid-twentieth-century mainline American Protestantism.

Why then pick up and read through what is still more obscure—American Lutheran commentaries? One of the largest forms of Protestantism in the United States, Lutherans are notoriously theologically reclusive, speaking largely to themselves and with themselves. If you aren’t a Lutheran, you have now found an undiscovered and far country. As we first take up G. Gösswein’s Scriptural and Upbuilding Explanation of the Revelation of St. John (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1900), you may find an understanding of Revelation relatively uncommon in American Christianity. If you are a Lutheran, especially in a church body descended from the old Synodical Conference, you may be familiar with Siegbert W. Becker’s Revelation: The Distant Triumph Song (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1985) or the more recent Revelation – Concordia Commentary by Louis Brighton (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1998). Some non-Lutherans and Lutherans will have heard of R. C. H. Lenski’s The Interpretation of St. John’s Revelation (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943). Becker and Brighton are nearly unknown outside Lutheranism, and Lenski’s star has faded from previous years. You may find him alongside J. Vernon McGee, standing in a pile on the floor of that used bookstore.

To take up again books now forgotten is to awaken to the height and breadth and length and depth of the cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Gösswein’s originally German book is available in English but is little known and less studied. He lived in very different times for American Christianity, American Lutheranism, and his own Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States (now the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) than Lenski, Becker, Brighton, or anyone reading this. His stresses and excurses, his emphases and his givens will be different from Lenski, Becker, Brighton, or anyone reading this. The first reason to take up Scripture with the early American Lutheran fathers in hand is to let them speak on their own terms, whether we are interested in them merely historically or because they are our spiritual fathers as confessional American Lutherans. Their works should be saved from the demons of disinterest and forgetting.

Never do we come to Scripture alone. Scripture shapes us and molds us and is its own interpreter, but it has already shaped and molded and interpreted and refreshed and perfected many, many before us. It has created the cloud of witnesses whose testimony so strongly urges us to take hold of Scripture more and more even as it takes hold of us more and more. If we do not understand how the witnesses speak or what they said or what they meant, we are the poorer for it. If we do not know our fathers (I speak chiefly to Lutherans), we do not know ourselves. Reading Scripture with the fathers is an exercise in not letting our own thoughts be obvious. We cannot be self-critical or fruitful in growing in the Scriptures if our own presuppositions, thought processes, and conclusions are obvious to us, whether because we share them with our contemporaries or share them with our fathers. We need to follow what moves the fathers make in understanding Scripture, what they chose to comment upon, what they left aside, and what Scripture made of them to understand ourselves, our readings, and our place in what the Spirit is doing throughout time in His church.

The Old Testament reading for the Second Sunday in Lent falls within the section of Genesis beginning with “the generations of Isaac” in Genesis 25:19. Moses then briefly turns to Esau in 36:1 before finally focusing for a long time on Joseph. This section is mostly concerned with Jacob, even though it is named after Isaac. Even though Jacob will not die until the end of the book of Genesis, he recedes into the background after this point and is no longer the focus.

Further, because his section is nearing its end, this is a high point for the story of Jacob. Throughout his whole section, he has struggled with men. It began in the womb with his brother Esau (Genesis 25:22-23). He struggled with Esau for his birthright (Genesis 25:29-34) and his blessing (Genesis 27). He struggled with Laban for his wives (Genesis 29:21-30), for his wages (Genesis 30:25-43), and finally for his family (Genesis 31:17-55). All of this has led up to this point.

Jacob fled southward from Paddam-Aram in what is modern NE Syria, likely along the major trade road which passed through Damascus. After making peace with Laban in Gilead, Jacob goes to the river Jabbok, which moved counterclockwise before rushing down toward the Jordan. He left the road and followed the river, hoping to reach Canaan in the west.

However, even though he has made peace with Laban, Jacob has to face the whole reason he fled northward in the first place: Esau. For all he knows, Esau is still seeking to kill him for stealing both his birthright and his blessing. Jacob does everything that he can to make amends and hopefully avoid the wrath of his brother. He sends everything he has, including his family, across the Jabbok at the best place to cross in the middle of the night. It was likely the early morning by the time it was done and Jacob was alone.

Now, however, in the early hours of the morning, Jacob gets into a wrestling match with an unknown man. The verb translated “to wrestle” here (and this is the only place it occurs) draws a colorful picture: it is likely closely related to the noun for “dust.” Jacob is kicking up the dust in his fight with this man.

Jacob knows who his opponent is, however, because he demands a blessing from Him. Further, When it was all over, Jacob names the place Peniel (or Penuel, which means the same), literally the “face of God.” “I have seen God face to face, and yet my soul has been delivered.” It is true that he demands to know His name, but it pleased the Lord not to reveal everything to Jacob at that time. Just like when he appears to Manoah to announce the birth of Samson (Judges 13:17-18), He does not reveal His name. As He would tell Moses many years later, “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name ‘The Lord’ I did not make myself known to them” (Exodus 6:3). The point is not to look for an answer to every question. The Lord does as it pleases Him.

God gives Jacob a new name: Israel. Jacob, which means “Grabber,” has contended with men his whole life and now with God. Therefore, the Lord names him Israel, which means “he contends with God.” It is a fitting name for Jacob and also for his faithful sons, who would also contend with men and with God. Given a new name and blessed by God, Jacob now goes and reconciles with his brother Esau.

Even though the custom Moses mentions in Genesis 32:32 finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the lesson is the same for spiritual Israel. Physical Israel used it to remind themselves of what God had done for Jacob by delivering his life and giving him his new name. Spiritual Israel has similar things to call to mind God’s actions. Like the sinews of the hip, the Word proclaims what God has done.