Genesis 15 comes fairly early in the major section of the “generations of Terah” (Genesis 11:27-25:11).  The Lord has already sent Abram (not yet Abraham) to Canaan in chapter 12.  After a brief sojourn in Egypt, Abraham rescues Lot from being a prisoner of war in Genesis 14.  Abram is then blessed by Melchizedek.

The phrase “after these things” refers then to these previous events.  Abram has left Ur in faith, not knowing exactly where the Lord is leading him (Genesis 12:1).  The Lord has promised Canaan to his offspring, and Abram builds an altar in an act of worship (Genesis 13:14-18).  The Lord has even given him victory over kings with a relatively small band of 318 men (Genesis 14:13-16).  Abram has every reason to continue trusting the Lord who has led him this far.

Yet the Lord comes to comfort Abram in one continuing problem:  he has no son.  God has promised him numberless offspring, yet he remains without a child.  As Paul says in Romans 4:18-22 and Hebrews 11:12, humanly speaking Abram’s body was “as good as dead,” since he was well beyond the human capacity for fathering a son.  Abram then hears the Word of the Lord and believes the one who has made this promise.

A few specific notes are in order.  First, “the Word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision.”  The word vision here is derived from a word meaning “to see,” and also occurs in Numbers 24:4 and 24:16, where it refers to Balaam, and Ezekiel 13:7, where it refers to the “false visions” of the false prophets.  Abram therefore receives the revelation visually in some way.  Inspiration, generally speaking, does not occur always in the same way.  Other prophets also received direct visual revelations, such as Samuel (1 Samuel 3), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:11-12), Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-7), Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1), and so on.  Abram himself will fall into a “deep sleep” later in Genesis 15, which in itself indicates some sort of prophetic fit (especially since the corresponding darkness is described as “dreadful and great”).

Second, the Lord directs Abram to look at the stars as a way of showing to him that He is faithful in His promise of a son.  The created stars serve as a sign and a confirmation of the promise.  If Abram were to be able to number them, he could also number the offspring of this promise.   As mentioned earlier, Paul cites this expression directly in Romans 4:18, but it is alluded to throughout the Old Testament in Genesis 22:17; 26:4; Exodus 32:13; Deuteronomy 1:10; 10:22; and 1 Chronicles 27:23.  This also explains David’s sin in 2 Samuel 24 when he takes the census, because attempting to count Israel (apart from an express command to do so) is tantamount to wondering whether the Lord will keep His promises.

Finally, “Abram believed the Lord, and He counted to him as righteousness.”  Paul uses this verse to prove in Romans 4 that Abraham was not justified by his works, but by his faith.  Therefore, the Gentiles also, who are not the sons of Abraham according to the flesh, are still sons according to the promise.  Paul makes the same point in Galatians 3:5-6:  we are not justified by the works of the Law.  These passages also clarify any ambiguity with the pronouns which might seem to exist in Genesis 15:6.

James also makes reference to this verse in James 2:14-26.  His overarching point is that faith cannot exist without good works.  It is not enough to say “I am a Christian,” if one then turns and acts in an unchristian way.  Abraham therefore demonstrates his living faith through his willingness even to offer up his own son Isaac, the son of the promise upon the altar.  In this way, Genesis 15:6 is fulfilled, because the faith which believes the promise of God is the same faith which then expresses itself in an unshakable trust that “God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Hebrews 11:19).

Genesis 11:1-9 is admittedly an odd choice for Pentecost.  The assumption behind the choice seems to be that Pentecost has “reversed” Babel, so to speak.  Where God had confused the languages of the people and scattered them, He brings them back together with the coming of the Holy Spirit.  However, Pentecost is not a reversal of the confusion.  The Jews gathered in Acts 2 note that the apostles were “telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11).  The Holy Spirit, through the miracle of Pentecost, addresses man in his natural diversity.  The apostles do not speak one language which is understood by all, but in the various languages as the Spirit gave them utterance.  Nevertheless, there are aspects of the passage which contribute to a fuller understanding of the miracle of Pentecost, and these will be the focus for this study.

Genesis 10-11 form one of the smallest subdivisions of the whole book.  Genesis 10 is important for noting how the descendants of Noah and his sons spread abroad throughout the earth after the flood.  It is difficult to date exactly when the judgment at Babel occurred because of this.  Did it occur early on after the flood, so that the spreading abroad in the earth is a result?  Did it occur later on, so that it involved only a certain part of the sons of Noah?  Even if only a portion of the total global population was involved at Babel, the judgment affected the whole.

The land of Shinar immediately refers back to Nimrod in the previous chapter, where it notes that “the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar” (Genesis 10:10).  Shinar is also mentioned in passing as one of the kingdoms involved in the war which would make Lot a prisoner of war (Genesis 14:1, 9).  Achan covets a cloak from Shinar (Joshua 7:21).  The woman Wickedness in the vision of Zechariah is taken to the land of Shinar (Zechariah 5:11).  But these passages do not clarify the location of this land very much.  Two passages are more helpful in this regard.  The first is Isaiah 11:11, where Shinar is distinguished from Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Hamath, and the coastlands.  In Daniel 1:2, Nebuchadnezzar takes the vessels of the temple to the land of Shinar, “to the house of his god.”  Coupled with the Isaiah passage, therefore, it would seem that Shinar is another name for Babylon or Mesopotamia.

The people decide to build a city and a tower in the land of Shinar.  The tower does not need to be understood as an ancient skyscraper.  Moses records in Deuteronomy 1:28 that Israel refused to enter Canaan with its cities “fortified up to heaven.  The height of this tower is not even the main problem, but rather its aim.  By building this city and this tower, the people desired to make “a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4).  They were deliberately sinning against God’s command to fill the whole earth, choosing instead to stay in one place (Genesis 9:7, for example).

The Lord confuses their language, therefore, as a judgment which forces them to do what He had originally commanded them to do.  If they would not scatter abroad, the Lord Himself would “disperse them over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:9).  The continual flexibility of language even today, to say nothing of language drift, is therefore the result of both the judgment and the command.  The Lord commands us to fill the earth.  The judgment of Babel ensures that we will do so.

Genesis 11 can be set into parallel with Acts 2, then, in a couple of ways.  In Genesis, men strive to make a name for themselves contrary to the command of God.  In Acts, the apostles wait in patient faith according to the command of God.  At Babel, God comes down to bring judgment so that His will is carried out on earth.  At Jerusalem, God comes down to bring salvation so that His will is carried out on earth.  The two passages center, therefore, in God’s action and His sovereignty:  man cannot hinder what the Lord desires to do.

The book of Lamentations does not clearly identify its author.  It is concerned with the fall of Jerusalem, which occurred in 586 B.C.  Therefore, it had to have been written at least after that point.  But the vivid grief over the city it expresses suggests that Jerusalem had recently fallen when it was written.  Thus, the author probably witnessed the destruction firsthand.  The most likely and the traditional author of Lamentations is Jeremiah, who fits those parameters.  2 Chronicles 35:25 also notes that Jeremiah composed a “lament for Josiah,” which were “written in the Laments.”  Because Jeremiah also composed several such “jeremiads” or lamentations in the book of Jeremiah, it is thus very likely that this was another such composition (Jeremiah 12:1-4 is one example).

Lamentations is a structurally magnificent series of poems.  The book itself is broken into five chapters, and note that each has 22 verses, except for chapter 3 which has 66.  This is not an accident.  The first four chapters are all acrostic, which means that each line begins with a letter of the alphabet in sequence.  Since there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, this explains why there are 22 verses.  Chapter 5 is not acrostic, though it retains the same number of verses.  Chapter 3 intensifies the pattern, so that the acrostic pattern is a group of three verses instead of a single verse.

This is also worth noting because of another Hebrew thought pattern which tends to place the emphasis toward the middle rather than at the end.  If this is the case here, that would make this reading for the Fourth Sunday of Easter the main point of the whole book, since it falls to nearly the numerical middle according to the versification.  This would go far to explain what is otherwise a tone of seeming despair in the face of the destruction of Jerusalem.

While there is not time here to consider the whole book, it is enough to note the beginning of this chapter to bring out the contrast.  Jeremiah says “I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of His wrath; He has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me He turns His hand again and again the whole day long” (Lamentations 3:1-3).  It is the Lord who is against him, which makes his lament much like that of Job (such as Job 6:4, though there are many examples throughout that book).  The Lord has brought this disaster against His faithless people.  “He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding; He turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; He has made me desolate; He bent his bow and set me as a target for His arrow” (Lamentation 3:10-12).

This, then, sets the reading for this Sunday focused on comfort into proper perspective.  Lamentations 3:22-33 is not a generic kind of trusting in the Lord, a sort of platitude about how it will “all be right.”  This is a hope which trusts in God’s mercy even in the face of God’s wrath.  It is a hope which knows that “the Lord will not cast off forever” (Lamentations 3:31) those to whom He has brought grief.  It is a hope which clings to the promises of God even while it seems that everything has gone wrong.  Even though everything is taken away which had been given, yet the Lord remains faithful and true.  “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him’” (Lamentations 3:22-24).

Jerusalem had just fallen.  Yet the Lord commands Ezekiel to still rebuke those who had contributed to its downfall.  It was a pride which misapplied what God had actually said and turned His grace into a false security.  The people left for a time in the land said things like “Abraham was only one man, yet he got possession of the land; but we are many; the land is surely given us to possess” (Ezekiel 33:24).  But how can one be a son of Abraham and yet not do the works which he did (John 8:39)?

Among those who led Israel astray were the false shepherds, the teachers of Israel.  They had been neglecting their calling, and they were feeding themselves (Ezekiel 34:2 ff.).  It is tempting to identify this sin of the shepherds with openly false teachings, which practically repeat the ancient question of Satan, “Did God actually say” (Genesis 3:1).  But while this is certainly included, false prophets are often far more alluring because they are far more subtle.  They take what God has indeed said and misapply it.  “Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel, who detest justice and make crooked all that is straight, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with iniquity. Its heads give judgment for a bribe; its priests teach for a price; its prophets practice divination for money; yet they lean on the Lord and say, ‘Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us’” (Micah 3:9-11).  “Precisely because they have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace, and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear it with whitewash” (Ezekiel 13:10).  And perhaps the most to the point:  “Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord’” (Jeremiah 7:4).  The false shepherds distorted the promises and the grace of the Lord and turned them into a false security.  Surely they, the very sons of Abraham, would not be taken away from the inheritance!  (Consider also Jeremiah 5:12; 14:13-16; 23:17.)

The Lord therefore promises that He will do what the shepherds had not done.  He would seek His sheep even though the shepherds had neglected to do this.  The false shepherds had fed themselves; God would feed His people.  Everything that the shepherds did not do, described in Ezekiel 34:4, God would do, as He says in Ezekiel 34:16.  The Lord is the Good Shepherd, and this passage clearly finds parallels in other well-known and beloved places like Psalm 23 and John 10.

The Lord mentions that He will do all of these things which He promised “on a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Ezekiel 34:12).  This phrase occurs in several other passages.  In Deuteronomy 4:11, it is used to describe the glory of the Lord as it appeared on Mount Sinai.  Joel 2:2 and Zephaniah 1:15 both use the phrase to describe the Day of the Lord.  Job 38:9 does not use the phrase exactly, but uses both nouns in parallel to describe the sea.  Perhaps the most helpful, however, is Psalm 97:2, where the expression is used to directly describe the glory and majesty of the Lord.  Taken together, therefore, the phrase seems to describe the glory which the Lord shows forth when He acts just as He has said.  On the day when the Lord gathers His sheep like a shepherd, His glory will be clearly seen, because He will glorify His name (John 12:28).  The Lord makes this clearer in Ezekiel 36:22 and following, when He says that “it is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name.”

As a final note, it is worth noting that using “shepherd” to describe the teachers of Israel happens in the days of the prophets.  Scripture first uses “shepherd” to describe someone who shepherds people of King David (2 Samuel 5:2; 2 Samuel 7:7; 1 Chronicles 11:2; 17:6; Psalm 78:70-71).  To call Jesus the Good Shepherd thus seems to recall also that He is the Son of David.  Of course, the New Testament also, together with passages like Ezekiel 34, calls ministers “shepherds” (which is identical with the Latin word “pastor”) in 1 Peter 5 and in passing in Ephesians 4:11.  But to call those whom Christ has sent to speak on His behalf shepherds or pastors is always in a derivative sense, for there is only one Shepherd (John 10:16).

It is difficult to say when and where exactly Job lived. Ezekiel mentions Job as part of a prophecy against Jerusalem just before the exile (Ezekiel 14:14, 20). This clarifies two points about him: that he existed and is not poetic, and that he must have lived prior to the Babylonian exile. Further, the book of Job opens with a note that he lived “in the land of Uz” (Job 1:1). The land of Uz is mentioned specifically in two other places: Jeremiah 25:20, where it seems to be distinguished from several other regions, and Lamentations 4:21, where the “daughter of Edom” dwells, suggesting that it was toward the south of Israel. The mention of the Sabeans, that is, Sheba, who lived even further south attacking the flocks in Job 1:15, suggests that he may have lived before the days of Solomon, since the queen of Sheba visits him in 1 Kings 10. If Uz was indeed somewhere in the vicinity or in the land of Edom, this would suggest (but only suggest) that he lived sometime between the days of Esau and the days of Solomon, a period of several hundred years.

Attempting to determine when Job lived is important because it emphasizes his words in the reading for today. Easter, of course, is primarily and rightly concerned with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Having conquered sin and death, Christ has redeemed His people and reigns triumphant forever as the One who died and now lives. Job, whenever he lived, testifies to Christ whom he knew only at a distance and yet longed to see His day.

The book of Job is divided into several parts: the introduction, where Job suffers several calamities (Job 1:1-2:13); the discourses with his three friends (Job 3:1-31:40); the rebuke of Elihu (Job 31:1-37:24); the rebuke of the Lord (Job 38:1-41:34); and Job’s repentance and restoration (Job 42). Within the discourses, Job repeatedly and correctly makes the claim that the Lord is chastising him when he has done nothing wrong. This is an important consideration, because his three friends continually assert that he must have sinned in order to bring on such disasters (such as Job 18:5, just before the pericope, where Bildad says that God punishes the wicked). It is only when Job demands that the Lord be answerable to him, as if the Almighty had to explain His ways, that Job earns the rebuke of Elihu and the Lord (Job 31). This explains why the Lord says of him that he is a righteous man (Job 1:8 and 2:3) and also rebukes his three friends after his repentance for not speaking truthfully “as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7).

Therefore, in chapter 19, Job is in the right and correctly rebukes his less-than-helpful friends. The evils Job is experiencing have come for unexplained reasons, which he recognizes. His friends do not believe him, and so he cries out for vindication. This, then, explains his words in Job 19:23-24. Job is appealing to the future as a way of showing that what he says is right. He wants his discourse “recorded in a book” so that he will be vindicated in the future. But even a book might perish, so he wants them chiseled into the rock and filled in with lead, a far more permanent way.

But what makes this passage so important for a day like Easter is that he appeals to God. He says that “I know that my Redeemer lives” and that He will bring him justice. “At the last he will stand upon the earth,” both in the days when Christ came to die on the cross and also at the Last Day. “After my skin has been thus destroyed,” that is to say, long after his own death and suffering the curse of death, “yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” Here is a clear and very early witness to the resurrection of all flesh. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5). “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting” (1 Corinthians 15:52-55). Job knew this, though he did not know the day, and he knew that he would be comforted long after his flesh had crumbled away. Job lives, because Jesus Christ lives, and Job will see God with his own eyes, because Jesus stands as the living Lord.

Like Jacob a couple of weeks ago, the Old Testament reading for the Fifth Sunday in Lent is reaching a high point. Abraham is commanded to sacrifice his promised and beloved son Isaac. Within the wider context of Genesis, this chapter comes toward the end of the section which deals primarily with Abraham. The “generations of Terah” began in Genesis 11:27 and will end in a few chapters in Genesis 25:12. Chapter 23 deals with the death of Sarah before beginning to focus on Isaac in Genesis 24. This is plainly the last major event in the life of Abraham.

The passage begins by noting that God is testing Abraham. The Scriptures clearly forbid man testing God, as seen clearly in Deuteronomy 6:16. However, God frequently tests men, such as in Exodus 15:25, Deuteronomy 8:2, Psalm 26:2, and 2 Chronicles 32:31. Such passages also clarify that God intends to prove the faithfulness of those who He tests. All people, like Adam, are by nature covenant-breakers (Hosea 6:7). Like a vassal who has broken faith in the past, it is reasonable to ask whether he will prove true in the future. This, then, is why it is forbidden to test God: it at least asks whether God will be faithful in His promises, something which the Scriptures teach over and over again. Even when God asks Ahab to test Him in Isaiah 7:10-12, He seeks to show in this extraordinary instance that He is steadfast and true to His Word. But such testing should not alarm us. God does not seek to crush with such testing, but rather to chastise and discipline those whom He loves (Hebrews 12:6).

The Lord commands Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah to the north. Abraham had been dwelling in or near Gerar as of Genesis 20:1 and making a treaty with Abimelech in Beersheba in Genesis 21, both of which are toward the southern end of the land of Israel in the Negeb. Moriah is in what would later be Jerusalem. The Lord appeared to David on Moriah in 1 Chronicles 21:18-22:1 when David sought to avert the plague brought on by his census. Solomon therefore builds the temple on Moriah (2 Chronicles 3:1). The second temple, built over the ruins of the first, thus was also on Moriah, which means that Jesus would spend much of His time teaching in the same place where Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac.

Abraham notes to his young men that he and Isaac will go and “bow down” and return, a gesture of worship. Hebrews 11:17-19 strengthens this point, since Abraham did all of this “by faith,” recognizing that God can also raise the dead. Faith shows itself by its works, which is the point of James 2:21. Being justified by works is tantamount to saying that a good tree produces good fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). Abraham also demonstrates this through naming the place Jehovah-Jireh, that is, “The Lord will see” in the sense of “will see to it, or will provide” (Genesis 22:8 and 22:14). Even though he had not yet seen the lamb for the sacrifice, Abraham knew by faith that the Lord would see to it.  Even if he had to follow through with the sacrifice, the Lord would raise Isaac from the dead and see to His promises.

Much could be made of the ram caught in the thicket being sacrificed “instead of” or “in place of” Isaac. After the Lord stops Abraham’s hand, He sees to it that a substitute for Isaac is found. This notion of substitution continues throughout all of Scripture, first in the animal sacrifices of Leviticus 1 and following, and finally in the great substitution of Christ on the cross for our sins. Because of this, allegory is unnecessary.  God substitutes His own Son for those who hated Him in order that He might have mercy on them and deliver them from the coming wrath (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).

Finally, the Lord renews His promise to Abraham and includes a beautiful oath: “By Myself I have sworn.” This phrase occurs in four places in the Old Testament: here in Genesis 22:16, Isaiah 45:23, Jeremiah 22:5, and 49:13. Here and in Isaiah, the phrase is used to strengthen a promise: it is the Lord who shall save and no other. However, in Jeremiah, the Lord uses it to seal a judgment: Judah shall become desolate and Bozrah shall become a waste. Thus, it is a highly intense modifier, a solemn promise that what the Lord has said will without doubt come to pass (Numbers 23:19). “For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:16-18).

The first verse in Exodus 16 is important for establishing the context of the pericope for the Fourth Sunday in Lent and should not be excluded. Israel set out from Egypt on the fifteen day of the first month (Numbers 33:3) and has now arrived in the wilderness of Sin thirty days later (assuming that each month in the calendar in the days of Moses had thirty days, as Moses himself suggests in the flood lasting for 150 days or 5 months in Genesis 7:11, 8:3-4). They have just left Elim and the waters of Marah and are heading generally southward toward Sinai.

In this short period of time, Israel has not only left behind the plagues of Egypt but also passed through the Red Sea. They cannot have forgotten the wonders of God in so short a period, even if their hardness of heart causes them to ignore them. However, forgetting even the sweetening of the waters of Marah not that many days ago (Exodus 15:25), they begin to grumble for food. Israel begins to wonder whether they will have enough to eat in the wilderness. Who could find enough food for a congregation likely numbering in the millions (Exodus 12:37)? They even begin to imagine they had it better in Egypt, even though they had cried out to the Lord in their distress (Exodus 2:23-25).

The Lord in His providence provides them with bread from heaven. Manna, described as bread in Exodus 16:4, defies exact description. It is described as “fine,” a word used to describe the dust in Isaiah 29:5 which is contrasted with chaff. Its appearance is like “hoarfrost,” the crystalline frost which tends to form on objects like branches. It is said to either “crackle” or be “flaky,” though that particular word in Exodus 16:14 occurs only here in the Old Testament. Manna is also “white” and like “coriander seed,” but that comes from the Greek Septuagint.  “Coriander” is used to translate this word which is also unique to manna in Exodus 16:31 and Numbers 11:7.  Small wonder that manna means “what is it” in Hebrew!

Together with a miraculous abundance of quail, manna is meant as a sign to Israel that it is the Lord who has brought them out of Egypt (Exodus 16:6). They are given sufficient food in a land which could not normally support millions. Each one measured out an omer of the manna, a unique measurement which only occurs in this passage and is explained in Exodus 16:36. This omer would be enough for every person, literally “a man to the mouth of his eating,” that is, as much as one needs (which occurs in Exodus 12:4; 16:16; 16:18). This corresponds to the Lord’s command that the bread be gathered daily, except on the Sabbath. It is the “matter of a day in that day” and finds a clear parallel in the petition “give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:1-4). God will provide what we need on the day in which we need it. Why then should we worry? (Matthew 6:25-34).

By following these commands regarding gathering outwardly, Israel would also show an inward trust. When they “measured it with an omer” as the Lord commanded day by day, there would be no lack and no surplus, only exactly what is needed. This is why Paul refers to Exodus 16:18 in 2 Corinthians 8:15. The congregations who had much shared with those who had little, and nothing is left over or lacking as a result. This also applies to the multiplication miracles in Matthew 14:13-21; 15:32-39; Mark 6:32-44; 8:1-10; Luke 9:10-17; and John 6:1-13. Jesus multiplies according to the need so that no one is left hungry. God’s providence is perfect.

Yet many do not listen. They go out to gather on the Sabbath anyway, despite the clear prohibition. They do not believe that the Lord will indeed provide for them. They keep it until the morning, because they want an insurance policy that they will have bread tomorrow. Like their descendants in Jesus’ day, they seek God not because of signs, but because they ate bread (John 6:26). They have no faith.

As a final note, Aaron is commanded to keep a jar of manna as a testimony for future generations of what the Lord has done (Exodus 16:32-34). It would call to mind what God had done as a way of reassuring what God would continue to do for His people. Hebrews 9:1-5 notes that this golden urn was placed within the ark together with Aaron’s staff and the tablets. It was certainly a holy object, since it rested within the ark of the testimony. But 1 Kings 8:9 and 2 Chronicles 5:10 state that both this urn and the staff were gone by the time the ark reached the temple. It is not clear where they went, perhaps being lost through the negligence of the priests or during the captivity of the ark in 1 Samuel 4-6. However, the Lord willed for this to happen, for much like the bronze snake in 2 Kings 18:4, physical reminders always carry with them a temptation in the hearts of sinful men toward idolatry.

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).

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.