Lectionary Readings – Year A Week 3

Weekly Summary

Of the Chief End of Man

OT: Genesis 1-5
NT: John 1-6
Psalm 3-8

Reading the Pentateuch and Joshua Covenantally

The Reformed tradition has long held that the way to read Scripture is covenantally. Covenants in the ancient world were simply treaties, that is, legal arrangements regulating the relationship between two sovereign entities. Typically, in the ancient world a suzerain (an overlord) king would impose a covenant on a vassal (subordinate) king, although there were cases of covenants between kings of equal stature.  In a suzerain-vassal covenant, vassal’s loyalty would be required, obligating him to render honor to the suzerain, uphold the suzerain’s name to other kings, and provide tribute, service, and support to the suzerain’s interests. This was not a one-sided arrangement, however, and there were benefits for the vassal as well.  For example, the suzerain was self-obligated to protect the vassal, adjudicate disputes between vassals or between the vassal and other kings, and extend blessings to the vassal as rewards for loyalty and obedience. The highest honor for the vassal was to be welcomed into the suzerain’s inner circle of trust and confidence. The legal nature of the covenant underscored both the solemnity and the binding nature of the relationship. There were definite penalties, up to and including death, if the covenant were violated or broken.

God used this relationship to enable His people to understand their relationship to Him. The Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 7, section 1 describes this succinctly:  “The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which He has been pleased to express by way of covenant.” Biblical covenants are thus a “voluntary condescension” by God to help us grasp our relationship to Him.

The Pentateuch is comprised of the five books of Moses—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy—which he probably wrote between 1445 and 1406 BC.  The Pentateuch narrates the great salvific event of the Old Testament, the Exodus.  Deuteronomy is the capstone of the Pentateuch.  It has often been treated as simply a series of sermons that Moses gave to the people toward the end of his life, but that may not be the best interpretation of the book.  Old Testament theologian Meredith G. Kline observed in his book, Treaty of the Great King, that the Book of Deuteronomy bore a particularly close resemblance to ancient Near Eastern treaty covenants of the second millennium BC.  But why was Deuteronomy written?  And why was it written in the form of a  covenant?  The book was probably written in 1406 BC, as the people were poised to enter the Promised Land which God promised to their ancestor Abraham; Moses, however, would not be entering with them because he had sinned against God.  Since the Exodus from Egypt, Israel had often questioned whether God would care for them and bring them into the land of promise, and needed assurance that God would fulfill His promises.  Joshua, too, as the successor to Moses, also needed assurance.  The Deuteronomic covenant provided assurance both to the people and to Joshua along these lines.  More than that, though, it also showed the Israelites that the ultimate leader to whom they owed allegiance was God Himself and the Law would regulate their relationship with Him.

This understanding puts into perspective why the rest of the Pentateuch was written.  God’s revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai provided not only the Ten Commandments (i.e., the Moral Law), but also civil and ceremonial laws to regulate this newly liberated nation and how they were to honor and reflect the Lord.  The complexity of the code and the rituals Israel was commanded to follow would have necessitated having it in writing; Israel’s sin with the Golden Calf reinforced the need to have this in writing to make it clear what God expected.  Thus, the portions of the Pentateuch that people typically find most boring—namely, chapter 20 through the end of Exodus and most all of Leviticus—probably were the first things to have been written down.  But as the people were on the plains of Moab and poised to enter the Promised Land, they needed a historical sense of their relationship with the God with whom they were in covenant and the great deliverance He wrought for them.  The narratives in Genesis, Exodus and Numbers provide the connective tissue to situate these legal and ceremonial codes in their proper historical context.

Reading Genesis Covenantally

As the first book of the Pentateuch, Genesis serves as a prequel to the Exodus.  While Moses lived through the events covered by the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy; the events covered by Genesis, however, covers the period from the creation of the world until four hundred years before his birth.  No doubt in writing Genesis, Moses probably drew on traditions handed down from generation to generation, corrected and supplemented as a result of his personal interaction with God directly during the years of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness.  Because the narrative gap between Genesis and Exodus is seamless, the omission of any history of the Israelites between the death of Joseph and the birth of Moses is almost certainly deliberate.  Moses’s point in Genesis is to show that God’s deliverance of His people in the Exodus was rooted in His unbreakable covenantal commitments going back to before Abraham and were extended to them wholly by His grace.  The promises in Genesis associated with God’s people coming into the land find their fulfillment in the narrative about the Conquest recounted in Joshua.  Thus, Genesis and Joshua bookend the salvation of the Exodus.

Outline of Genesis

From literary perspective, Genesis is divided primarily by ten divisions of genealogies, but theologically the book can be divided into what the Westminster Confession of Faith would call the Covenant of Life and Works and the origins of the Covenant of Grace.  The former Covenant, which was headed by Adam, describes man’s original righteousness and subsequent fall into sin and misery; the latter Covenant relates God’s redemptive program that will stretch through the remainder of Scripture, centering on the Lord Jesus Christ and culminating with His bodily return to execute the Final Judgment.  An outline of Genesis is as follows:

I.       In the Beginning God Created All Things (1:1-2:3)

II.      The Covenant of Life and Works: Man’s Original Righteousness and Fall (2:4-11:9)

            A.  The Book of the Generations of the Heavens and the Earth (2:4-4:24)

            B.  The Book of the Generations of Adam (4:25-5:32)

            C.  The Book of the Generations of Noah (6:1-9:29)

            D.  The Book of the Generations of Shem, Ham and Japheth (10:1-11:9)

III.    The Origins of the Covenant of Grace: Imputed Righteousness (11:10-50:26)

            A.  The Book of the Generations of Shem (11:10-26)

            B.  The Book of the Generations of Terah (11:27-25:11)

            C.  The Book of the Generations of Ishmael (25:12-18)

            D.  The Book of the Generations of Isaac (25:19-35:29)

            E.  The Book of the Generations of Esau (36:1-37:1)

            F.  The Book of the Generations of Jacob (37:2-50:26)

Reading John in Light of the New Testament

The New Testament readings are dominated by the writings associated with three principal individuals—the Apostles Peter, Paul, and John—with a handful of outliers, notably the Gospel of Matthew and the Epistles of James and Jude.  Associated with Peter are Mark’s Gospel, and 1 and 2 Peter.  Paul’s writings are most extensive in the New Covenant; Paul’s associate Luke wrote the Gospel of the same name, the Acts of the Apostles, and possibly the epistle to the Hebrews.  Paul himself wrote the letters to the Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus.  John’s writings include his Gospel, his three letters (1, 2, and 3 John), and the Book of Revelation.

All of John’s writings close out the New Covenant, and thus are a counterpart bookend to the Pentateuch.  John was closest to the Lord and his writings provide the widest description of the Lord, ranging from Christ’s role in creation from eternity to His return to Earth in the Final Judgment.  John’s Gospel is noticeably different from the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), providing details not contained elsewhere, including a more precise chronology of the Lord’s earthly ministry.  According to church tradition, John lived until about AD 98, and as the last of the Apostles his purpose in writing the Gospel was simple and straightforward: “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).  As some of the last words from the last Apostle, this is an exhortation evangelism.

Outline of the Gospel of John

I.  Prologue (1:1-18)

            A.  The pre-existent Word (1:1-5)

            B.  The witness of John to the Word (1:6-8)

            C.  The light coming to men (1:9-13)

            D.  The incarnation of the Word (1:14-18)

II.  Beginnings of Jesus’ Ministry (1:19-2:12)

            A.  The testimony of John the Baptist (1:19-34)

            B.  The calling of the first disciples (1:35-51)

            C.  The wedding feast at Cana:  Changing water into wine (2:1-12)

III.  Jesus’ Public Ministry (chs. 2-11)

            A.  A trip to Jerusalem for the Passover (2:13-4:54)

            B.  A trip to Jerusalem for a second Passover (5:1-65)

            C.  Peter’s confession of faith (6:66-71)

            D.  A third trip to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles (chs. 7-10:21)

            E.  A fourth trip to Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication (10:22-11:54)

IV.  The Last Passover:  The Passion of the Christ (chs. 12-19)

            A.  Contrasts of belief and disbelief (11:55-12:50)

            B.  Farewell discourses before the disciples (chs. 13-17)

            C.  The betrayal, arrest, and trials of Jesus (18:1-19:15)

            D.  The Crucifixion and burial (19:16-42)

            E.  The Resurrection (20:1-29)

V.  Epilogue (20:30-21:25)

A.  John’s purpose in writing the Gospel (20:30-31)

            B.  The miraculous catch of fish (21:1-14)

            C.  Peter reinstated (21:15-25)

Reading the Psalms of David

The Psalms are typically associated with Israel’s greatest Old Covenant king, David, and while he did not author all of them he did write more than half of them.  The Psalm readings from this week until Resurrection Sunday will be of the Davidic Psalms.

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