Christianity, religion, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (October 6, 2019) Obedient Faith Deuteronomy 4:1-8, 12-13

Obedient Faith Deuteronomy 4:1-8, 12-13

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  I’m not coming with you, but I’ll be with you when you get there. That’s the sentiment I believe Moses feels when he tells the Israelites he won’t make it to the Promised Land.  Obedient faith is his hope for the Israelites as he reminds them of the Ten Commandments.  He reminds them of the Decalogue and the faithfulness of God.  They have wandered in the wilderness for forty years.  The old generation has died out and the new generation is poised to invade the land of Canaan.  In this text Moses writes about the same events studied last week but from a different perspective.  This text is forty years later with the Israelites poised east of the Jordan River.  Moses knows he won’t make it into the Promised Land.  Soon Moses also would be dead.  At this point in Moses’ life he shares with the Israelites his most valuable possession – he reiterates the statutes and ordinances God had given him.  Moses gives them the culmination of his life’s work, the very best he has – the word of God.  As he looks back on his life he stresses once again how important it is for the Israelites to obey the commands of God.  He reminds them of the 24,000 Israelites who died because of unfaithfulness and they know for themselves that their parents and forbears all died in the wilderness. Moses wants them to live and occupy the land.  He knows that faithfulness and obedience is the key.  As we continue in the theme of responding to God’s faithfulness, this week I focus on faithful Moses preparing the Israelites for obedient faith.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Decalogue

Covenant

Faithfulness

Background 

Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Pentateuch.  Moses is credited as its author although it’s ending chapter writes about the death of Moses.  Since Moses couldn’t have written about his own death scholars believe his lieutenant, Joshua penned the final chapter.  The Israelites have wandered in the desert for forty years and they are now awaiting the invasion of the Promised Land of Canaan.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that the name Deuteronomy is the Greek translation of the Hebrew words used in Deuteronomy 17:18 for “a second law” or a “copy of the law” given to Israel at Mount Sinai, called Mount Horeb in Deuteronomy”.  So the first law to which Deuteronomy will refer is the Ten Commandments which are also known as the Decalogue. 

Nelson’s Bible Handbook notes that “the New Testament quotes Deuteronomy more than eighty times.  Jesus often quoted Deuteronomy and when asked to name the most important law, Jesus responded with “you shall love the Lord your God with all you heart, with all you soul, and with all you mind”” which comes from Deuteronomy 6:5. 

The NISB notes that “the central themes of Deuteronomy focus on the nature and unique status of Israel as a nation.  One nation, living under one law, and settled on one land are its major goals.  Undergirding the one nation, one law, and one land theme is the realization that there is “only one God who has chosen Israel to be a special people” with which God makes a covenant.

Chapters one and two tell us that forty years have passed since Moses led Israel as an enslaved group of Hebrews out of Egypt and recount the story of Israel’s refusal to enter the Promised Land.  They recount the penalty for Israel’s rebellion, the desert years, and Moses’ view of Canaan from Mount Pisgah after God gives Moses a blistering rebuke declaring that he would never enter the Promised Land.  

Among the events Deuteronomy records is this reiteration of the account of the Israelites just before they invade The Promised Land.  Deuteronomy retells this story from a perspective that is forty years later.  They have traveled through the wilderness all this time and in our text today Moses recounts the instructions God has given them and reminds them of the importance of keeping the commandments.  They should readily understand that importance given that all of their parents and forbears died in the desert because of unfaithfulness and disobedience.  At this point, Moses reminds them again, so that as the take the land they will not become complacent and forget where the one true God has brought them from.  Moses knows that he will not enter the Promised Land with them.  He also knows they will face temptation from other gods once they enter the Promised Land.  So Moses warns them not to make the mistakes of the past but to go forward and be better than they have been in the past.

Some important words to consider from this text include:

Decalogue

Covenant

Faithfulness

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week  

Last week’s lesson opened at Numbers 14:10 saying; “Then the glory of the LORD appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites”.  I noted how the Glory of God is defined as “the divine essence of God as absolutely resplendent and ultimately great”.  In other words, God is manifested at the tabernacle or the tent of meeting in a way that all the Israelites recognize as God. 

In verse eleven the LORD spoke to Moses.  The LORD questioned “how long will this people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them”?  God was angry with the Israelites.  They demonstrated that they despised God and refused to believe in God despite God delivering them from the Egyptians, despite God allowing them to cross the Red Sea, despite God giving them water to drink and bread and meat to eat.  Despite all of this the Israelites were faithless and God had had enough.  

Verse twelve showed just how angry God was.  God said “I will strike them with pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they”.  I noted that to disinherit is to completely walk away from.  It brings to mind the idea that you don’t even want to see them anymore.  God was ready to disinherit the people whom he promised Abraham would become a great nation and would number as many as the sand of the sea.   I also noted that at this point you get the idea that God wants nothing more to do with this unfaithful, rebellious, stiff-necked people.  God was fed up with the Israelites.  In the same way God promised Abraham to make of him a great nation, now God tells Moses that God will make a great nation of him. 

In verse thirteen Moses skillfully began his advocacy for the Israelites.  Moses like a skillful lawyer defending a client pleads his case with God.  He begins by telling God the Egyptians will hear of it.  God had taken great care to deliver the descendants of Abraham from the Egyptians. 

In verse fourteen Moses continued defending the Israelites telling God the Egyptians will tell the people of Canaan that their God was in the midst of them, seen face to face by them, and was with them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  Moses was making the point to God that God has been present in their deliverance and that if they are abandoned or destroyed now it will be seen as if God could not keep them.  The point Moses was making was that these were God’s people.  If the rest of the world sees them as defeated and wiped out it would reflect on God. 

In verses fifteen and sixteen Moses pressed his point to God.  He told God “if you kill this people all at once the nations who have heard about you will say it’s because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land he swore to give them”.  I noted that Moses was playing hard-ball with God.  He pulled no punches.  Moses was going to defend the Israelites with everything at his disposal.  You need to get somebody like Moses on your side.  Moses went to bat for those unfaithful, rebellious, stiff-necked people with all of their faults and all of their failures. 

In verses seventeen and eighteen Moses went as far as to remind God of what God said to him in the past.  Moses quotes back to God what God said in Exodus 34:1-9.  Moses reminded God that God should be slow to anger and abounding in love.  He reminded God that God does not clear the guilty but visits upon them the iniquity of the parents upon the children for the third and fourth generations.

In verses nineteen and twenty Moses asked God to forgive the iniquity of the Israelites because of the greatness of God’s love.  After hearing this passionate plea from Moses God relented.  God changed God’s mind and said “I do forgive, just as you have asked”.  It was the passionate plea of Moses that changed God’s mind.  Where God was ready to completely wipe out this nation, God was now ready to forgive only because Moses pleaded on their behalf.  I noted that it would be great if we all had a Moses to plead on our behalf.  Because the good news is that we do.  Jesus is seated at the right hand of God making intercession for us even now.  Standard, Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson Obedient Faith.  The scripture text comes from Deuteronomy 4:1-8, 12-13. 

What Takes Place in This Passage

This week’s lesson covers the same events of last week but from a different perspective.  It was now forty years later.  The focus is to understand that God expected Israel’s obedience.  Moses knows that he will not enter the Promised Land.  There will be new leadership and he is now driving home the importance of obeying God.  The old generation has died out.  The new generation is about to see the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. 

In verse one, Moses opens with an admonition to heed the statutes and ordinances that he was teaching.  He says “so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the LORD, the God your ancestors, is giving you”.  Moses knows and all of Israel should know that the old generation died in the wilderness because they were not faithful and obedient to God.  Moses reminds them “so that you may live”. 

In verse two Moses warns the Israelites not to add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it.  This same idea is echoed in Revelations 22:18-19.  The NISB notes that “the comprehensive nature of God’s law did not rule out additions to its written text.  See Deuteronomy 1:5 where Moses expounds on earlier laws.  The written law could receive clarification and revision but its fundamental truth as God’s covenant law would remain unchanged”.

In verse three Moses reminds them of what God did to those who followed the Baal of Peor.  Baal is another name for a god.  The Baal of Peor mentioned here “involved sexual relations with the women of Moab (numbers 25:1-5) that were encouraged by the worship of the god Baal at the local sanctuary.  False worship led to betrayal of family ties, and the actions are seen as bringing about the evil consequences and plague that followed” (NISB).  Townsend Commentary notes that 24,000 Israelites died because of unfaithfulness.

In verse four Moses makes the stark contrast between faithfulness and unfaithfulness.  He tells them “those of you who held fast to the LORD your God are all alive today.  This is a reminder that unfaithfulness leads to death.  Their parents and forbears have died because of unfaithfulness. 

In verse five Moses tells the Israelites he is following instruction from God.  He is teaching them to observe statutes and ordinances to observe in the land.  Moses knows they will face temptation to stray away from God just as their parents and forebears did in the wilderness. 

In verse six he presses the point to follow them diligently.  Then he adds that following these statutes and ordinances diligently will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples who when they hear them will say “surely this is a great nation of wise and discerning people”.  Moses expects the neighboring nations to admire the Israelites.  However the Israelites will show soon enough that Moses’ faith in the people was often misplaced. 

Verses seven and eight show how much hope and trust Moses placed in the Israelites.  Moses imagines other nations saying “what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him”?  Moses knows he won’t enter the Promised Land.  He knows things will soon be out of his control.  These laws, these statutes and ordinances that God had given him are his greatest possession.  These are the statutes and ordinances that he has worked on across the years.  Theses statutes and ordinances, these laws are his most valuable possession and the very best he has to offer to a people who will soon stray from the very God who Moses has so diligently served. 

In verses twelve and thirteen Moses reminds the Israelites of the power, majesty, and grandeur of the God of their covenant.  He reminds them how God spoke to them out of the fire.  And he reminds them that it wasn’t just him coming up with these laws all on his own.  These laws came from God.  They weren’t just laws to follow but more so they were the covenant between them and God.  In these Ten Commandments they would understand their “duties and responsibilities toward God and their fellow human beings” (NISB).  These Ten Commandments may have been written 3,400 years ago but they are still relevant today.  In them we begin to understand how to relate to God and each other. 

Context

There will be consequences and repercussions.  That’s what happened to the Israelites because of their unfaithfulness and rebellion.  Consequences are the effect, result, or outcome of something occurring earlier.  In this case what occurred earlier was the rebellion of the Israelites in the wilderness.  The consequence was a severe penalty.  The old generation died in the wilderness and would never see the Promised Land. 

There are consequences and repercussion in our lives as well.  You reap what you sow.  If you are sowing love, grace, and righteousness you will reap the same.  Those are the consequences and repercussion I want in my life. 

Key Characters in the text:

Moses – The first great leader of the Hebrew people, regarded by some as the author of the first five books of the Old Testament.  Moses is revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims for his daring leadership and diplomacy as well as his promulgation of the divine law (Townsend). 

Key Words

Decalogue – The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), which express the will and law of God and deal with relations between humans and God as well as of humans with each other. 

Covenant – A formal agreement or treaty between two parties that establish a relationship and in which obligations and mutual responsibilities may be enacted.  Many biblical covenants are found, some providing only divine promises while others entail obligations. 

Faithfulness – The characteristic of being steadfastly loyal to a person or to promises.  Theologically, it is a basic description of God who is perfectly faithful to all that God promises, in contrast to sinful humans who are unfaithful in their relationships and actions. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  Faithful until the end (Moses). 

2.  I’m not coming with you, but I’ll see you when you get there.       

Questions: 

1.  The Israelites worshiped Baal of Peor and the resulting plague killed 24,000.  Why did the Israelites so easily fall into worshiping other gods?      

2.  Are there ways in which we worship other gods today? 

Concluding Thought:

Moses is approaching the end of his life.  I suppose the equivalent of his last will and testament would be the statutes and ordinances God had given him across the years.  As he prepares the Israelites for new leadership he passes on the very best he has and I believe his most valuable possession.  Some people might argue otherwise but for many our most valuable possession is a life lived well in obedience to God. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week’s lesson remains in the Old Testament moving to the book of 1 Kings.  I discuss how a widow in a terrible situation is about to prepare her last meal for her and her son, and as she said, to eat it and die.  The man of God asks her to feed him first.  She follows the instructions of Elijah and God blesses her for her faithfulness.  As we continue in the theme of responses to God’s faithfulness I show next week how God moved in miraculous ways.   Next week’s lesson is titled “Blessed for Faithfulness”.        

Christianity, religion, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (September 29, 2019) Faithful in Consequences /God Forgives Numbers 14:10b-20

Faithful in Consequences / God Forgives Numbers 14:10-20

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  Listen, you need to get yourself a Moses on your side.  This week’s lesson is titled “Faithful In Consequences” and “God Forgives”.  I show in this week’s lesson how Moses goes to bat for these unfaithful, rebellious, stiff-necked people.  God is fed up and angry.  Time after time they have refused to believe God.  Even after God has taken significant measures, created ways out of no ways, and miraculously delivered, provided for, and protected these people, they still won’t believe God.  God is angry, God is fed up. And God is ready to destroy the chosen people of Israel. 

But Moses pleads the case for the Israelites.  Like a skillful lawyer, Moses recounts for God the words God told him in Exodus and reminds God of the love, mercy and grace that God is known for.  Moses reminds God that the Egyptians will say God destroyed them because God couldn’t deliver them into the land of Canaan.  God was ready to destroy the Israelites but after Moses pleads the case God changes God’s mind.  Instead of destruction God chooses forgiveness.  You need to get a Moses on your side. 

This week’s lesson picks up exactly where last week ended.  The spies have returned from their forty day reconnaissance.  They all report that the land flows with milk and honey but only Joshua and Caleb say to invade the land immediately.  The other ten spies say that yes, the land flows with milk and honey but there are giants that live in the land.  In their bad report they say that they are mere grasshoppers in the sight of these giants.  They exaggerate saying that even the land itself swallows up its inhabitants.  They could see everything God had already done for them.  They could see how bountiful the land was.  But they could not see what God could do through them.  As we continue in the theme of responding to God’s faithfulness, this week I focus on faithful Moses advocating for an unfaithful Israel.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Advocate

Fidelity

Background: 

Numbers deals with the Israelites wandering in the desert for forty years.  Moses is credited as its author.  The structure of Numbers revolves around two censuses taken to number the nation in preparation for invasion of the land of Canaan.  The first census was taken in chapter one and the second in chapter 26.  The first census numbered over 600,000 men.  This did not include women and children.  Nelson’s Bible Handbook explains “if this is correct the Israelite population would have been more than two million people”.  Historians note that this would have been an unusually high population for a nation state.  Nelson’s also notes “one possible explanation is that the word translated thousands in English could have meant something like units, tents, or clans in the Hebrew language.  If so, a much smaller number was in mind”.

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that “the English title refers to the many numbers contained in the two census lists that form the central pillars of the book’s structure in chapters 1 and 26”.  So these censuses are central to the structure of the book, but the message of Numbers is the story of the old generation out of Egypt dying off as the new generation prepares to move into the Promised Land.  The NISB also explains that “the central narrative of Numbers is the spy story of chapters 13-14.  These chapters narrate the theme of judgement and death for an old generation and birth and hope of a new generation of God’s people”.  In these two chapters we learn why the old generation lost the Promised Land and the new generation would receive it.  The old generation is beginning to show a pattern.  Time after time, the generation that came out of Egypt fails to trust God.  Because they fail to trust God, God eventually gets fed up of their rebellion and faithlessness. 

In this fourteenth chapter we see the importance of an advocate.  It was Moses who spoke on behalf of the Israelites.  God was fed up with God’s own people.  But because of the advocacy of Moses, instead of destroying these rebellious Israelites God forgives them.  This chapter opens with the congregation weeping aloud and complaining against Moses and Aaron.  Once again, they cry out in despair wishing that they had died back in the land of their captivity.  These are a people who still have not learned that God is their provider, that God is their deliverer, and that God is their protector.   With their faithlessness we see in this chapter how the Israelites reject God, how God decides to destroy the Israelites, how Moses changes God’s mind and how God ultimately forgives the Israelite nation.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Advocate

Fidelity

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week.    

Last week’s lesson opened at chapter thirteen verses one and two with the LORD speaking to Moses.  I noted that the LORD instructs Moses to send men into the land of Canaan.  This is the land that God promised Abraham.  The Promised Land and the nation of Israel were hundreds of years in the making but now the descendants of Abraham were on the verge of receiving the long awaited promise. 

The text skips to verse 17a where Moses sent the 12 spies into Canaan to explore the land and determine its suitability for conquest.

At verse twenty-five I noted that the spies have returned from their 40 day reconnaissance and how the number forty is used quite often in the Bible.  I also noted that we should not ascribe any more meaning to numbers than necessary.  We risk playing with occult numerology when giving more meaning to numbers than needed.  Some occult practices include numerology, astrology, witchcraft, tarot cards and others.

In verse twenty-six the spies assembled at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran to report their findings to Moses, Aaron, and the whole assembly. 

In verse 27 the spies revealed that the land flowed with milk and honey.  Not only did they tell of the goodness of the land but they brought back evidence of the bountiful harvests that await the other side. 

In verse 28 despite them seeing the bountiful blessing of the land; the spies report that the people were powerful and the cities were fortified and very large.  I noted that the first census reported over 600,000 men.  Historians record that this would have been an unusually large number of people because most nation states were not this large at that time.  So it seems that these spies see the blessings possible in the Promised Land, they see the powerful people, they see the large cities, but they do not see the fulfilled promise of God nor do they see themselves as powerful in God’s might. 

The text skips to chapter fourteen verses one and two where the entire congregation lifted up their voices and cried and the people wept that night.  They wept because they believed the exaggerated report of the ten spies.  The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary explains that there are two versions of the spy’s negative report.  “In the first version the land flows with milk and honey.  In the second version verses 32-33 declare that the land itself is so bad that it eats its inhabitants”.  Additionally, “the spies warn of giant Anakites and of a mythological and semi-divine race of giants known as the Nephilim”.  The Israelites see these giants and once again fall into fear.  Instead of believing God, instead of believing they were powerful and strong and brave, instead of believing they were enough and that they had enough.  They choose instead to believe the report of these men instead of the command of God.  They are out of Egypt.  They have been delivered from enslavement by mighty works and wonders of God.  God has provided them with mana in the morning and meat in the evening.  God has turned bitter water to drinkable water.  Even with all these miraculous works they cannot see how God will give them this Promised Land.  Once again, they complain against Moses and Aaron.  Once again, they wish that they had died in the land of Egypt or in the wilderness.  As they wept that night, God heard their cry.  They cry out not in faith, but in unfaithfulness.  They don’t cry out in belief, but in unbelief.  Theirs is not a cry of hope, but hopelessness.  Although the old generation has seen the mighty works of God; this conquest is just a step too far for them to take. 

In verse five Moses and Aaron fell on their face before all of the assembly.  They realized what the Israelites were doing.  They realized this entire nation is choosing to reject God even after all God has done for them.

Verses six and seven show Joshua and Caleb as the faithful few who believe God can and will do what God said God would do.  They tear their clothes in frustration and declare again that the land they went through was an exceedingly good land. 

In verse eight they explain that if the LORD is pleased with them The LORD will give them this land that flows with milk and honey. 

In verses nine and ten they warn the Israelites not to rebel against the LORD and not to fear the people of the land.  Instead of heeding the warning of Joshua and Caleb, the whole congregation threatened to stone them.  The lesson this week is entitled “Faithful in Consequences” and “God Forgives”.  The scripture text comes from Numbers 14:10b-20. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

This week’s lesson opens where last week’s lesson closed.  Last week the Israelites rejected God’s plan to take the land of Canaan.  They complained against Moses and Aaron and wished to have died, back in the land of captivity.  Joshua and Caleb tore their clothes and reiterated how good the land was and that God would bless them if God is please with them.  Verse 10a says “But the whole congregation threatened to stone them”. 

Our lesson picks up at verse 10b.  Then the glory of the LORD appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites.  The Glory of God is defined as “the divine essence of God as absolutely resplendent and ultimately great”.  In other words, God is manifested at the tabernacle or the tent of meeting in a way that all the Israelites recognize as God.  If all of the Israelites could see this manifestation of God, it seems to me that would be enough to repent and turn to God in faithful obedience.

In verse eleven the LORD speaks to Moses.  The LORD questions “how long will this people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them”?  God is angry with these Israelites.  They have demonstrated that they despise God and refuse to believe in God despite God delivering them from the Egyptians, despite God allowing them to cross the Red Sea and drowning the Egyptian soldiers, despite God giving them water to drink and bread and meat to eat.  Despite all of this the Israelites are faithless and God has had enough. 

Verse twelve shows just how angry God was.  God says “I will strike them with pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they”.  To disinherit is to completely walk away from.  It brings to mind the idea that you don’t even want to see them anymore.  God is ready to disinherit the people whom he promised Abraham would become a great nation and would number as many as the sand of the sea.   At this point you get the idea that God wants nothing more to do with this unfaithful, rebellious, stiff-necked people.  God is fed up with the Israelites.  In the same way God promised Abraham to make of him a great nation, now God tells Moses that God will make a great nation of him. 

In verse thirteen Moses skillfully begins his advocacy for the Israelites.  Moses like a skillful lawyer defending a client pleads his case with God.  He begins by telling God the Egyptians will hear of it.  God had taken great care to deliver the descendants of Abraham from the Egyptians.  

In verse fourteen Moses continues defending the Israelites telling God the Egyptians will tell the people of Canaan that their God was in the midst of them, seen face to face by them, and was with them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  Moses is making the point to God that God has been present in their deliverance and that if they are abandoned or destroyed now it will be seen as if God could not keep them.  The point Moses is making is that these are God’s people.  If the rest of the world sees them as defeated and wiped out it will reflect on God. 

In verses fifteen and sixteen Moses presses his point to God.  He tells God “if you kill this people all at once the nations who have heard about you will say it’s because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land he swore to give them”.  Not only that but the reason God killed them was because God could not deliver them into the land.  Moses is playing hard-ball with God.  He pulls no punches.  Moses is going to defend these Israelites with everything at his disposal.  You need to get somebody like Moses on your side.  Moses goes to bat for these unfaithful, rebellious, stiff-necked people with all of their faults and all of their failures. 

In verses seventeen and eighteen Moses goes as far as to remind God of what God said to him in the past.  Moses quotes back to God what God said in Exodus 34:1-9.  Moses reminds God that God should be slow to anger and abounding in love.  He reminds God that God does not clear the guilty but visits upon them the iniquity of the parents upon the children for the third and fourth generations.

In verses nineteen and twenty Moses asks God to forgive the iniquity of the Israelites because of the greatness of God’s love.  After hearing this passionate plea from Moses God relents.  God changes God’s mind and said “I do forgive, just as you have asked”.  It was this passionate plea that changes God’s mind.  Where God was ready to completely wipe out this nation, God is now ready to forgive only because Moses pleaded on their behalf.  Wouldn’t it be great if we all had a Moses to plead on our behalf?  The good news is that we do.  Jesus is seated at the right hand of God making intercession for us even now. 

Context:

Synonyms for “advocate” include terms like promoter, backer, proponent, campaigner, supporter, and defender among others.  Whatever you want to call it, we all need some of it in our lives.  We need people that see the best in us despite our current faults and failures.  We need people who will love us fiercely despite our not being very lovable at the moment.  Advocates understand that despite your current situation or circumstances there is a better way, there is a better system, there is a better you and that we are all made better when you are better.  Despite their rejection of God and despite the people complaining against Moses and Aaron, Moses chose to fight for a better Israelite nation.  We should do the same in our own families, communities, states and this nation.  Let’s be somebody’s Moses. 

Key Characters in the text:

Moses – The first great leader of the Hebrew people, regarded by some as the author of the first five books of the Old Testament.  Moses is revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims for his daring leadership and diplomacy as well as his promulgation of the divine law (Townsend). 

Key Words 

Advocate – one who pleads the cause of another

Fidelity – The quality or state of being faithful.  The fidelity of God is shown in God’s dependability, trustworthiness, and reliability. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  You need to get a Moses. 

2.  Just because you don’t believe it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.     

Questions: 

1.  Did God really change God’s mind?  Or was God seriously going to kill the entire nation of Israel?  Discuss whether it is possible for God to change God’s mind.             

2.  Moses is a fierce advocate for the Israelites.  What people or causes should we become fierce advocates for?        

Concluding Thought:

You’ve probably heard someone say “he/she is getting on my last nerve.  That’s where the people of Israel were with God.  God had had enough of their foolishness and just wasn’t going to take it anymore.  Because Moses stepped in to remind God of God’s love and mercy God forgave the nation and relented from destroying them.  Perhaps we need to be the “Moses” in someone’s life.  Moses was a great advocate but Jesus is the ultimate advocate.      

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week the lesson remains in the Pentateuch but moves to the book of Deuteronomy.  Next week I will discuss how God provided the commandments and how God expects us to follow in obedient faith.  God expects our obedience.   We continue in the theme of responses to God’s faithfulness.  Next week’s lesson is titled “Obedient Faith”.        

Christianity, religion, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (September 22, 2019) Faithful Despite Unfaithfulness / God Hears Our Cry Numbers 13:1-2, 17a, 25-28a; 14:1-2, 5-10a

Faithful Despite Unfaithfulness / God Hears Our Cry – Numbers 13

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week’s lesson is titled “Faithful Despite Unfaithfulness” and “God Hears our Cry”.  God is faithful despite the Israelite’s unfaithfulness yet again.  A pattern is beginning to form for this newly freed nation.  Once again they cry out in the wilderness wishing they had died in the land of their captivity.  Just as God heard their cry, God hears our cry.  Prayerfully, we don’t have a pattern of unfaithfulness.  This week I review the beginning portion of this Israelite journey toward the Promised Land.  The old generation from Egypt can’t be trusted.  Now it’s up to the new generation to inherit the promise. 

We began last week with the Israelites just beginning their journey into the wilderness.  This week’s lesson continues that journey as they should be poised for conquest but instead cower in fear, rebellion against God, and faithlessness.  They are at the border of Canaan and spies have gone into Canaan to determine if the land is suitable for their conquest.  Last week after God delivers them from the hand of Pharaoh with mighty works and wonders and after only 45 days into their journey they complain bitterly to Moses because of their hunger.  This week after God has continued to sustain them with bread and meat from heaven they are still faithless and in effect reject God by their disbelief.  Of the twelve spies, only Joshua and Caleb return with a good report.  The faithless nation believes the ten and in effect rejects God.  They could see everything God had already done for them but could not see what God could do through them.  As we continue to understand how God is faithful, this week I focus on how God is faithful despite unfaithfulness in Israel.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Fidelity

Despair

Background: 

Numbers is the fourth book of the Old Testament.  Tradition has it that Moses is credited as its author.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that “the English title refers to the many numbers contained in the two census lists that form the central pillars of the book’s structure in chapters 1 and 26”.  So these censuses are central to the structure of the book, but the message of Numbers is the story of the old generation out of Egypt dying off as the new generation prepares to move into the Promised Land.  The NISB also explains that “the central narrative of Numbers is the spy story of chapters 13-14.  Those are the two chapters we’ll cover today.  These chapters narrate the theme of judgement and death for an old generation and the birth and hope of a new generation of God’s people”.  They tell the story of why the old generation lost the Promised Land and the new generation would receive it.  That theme is a result of the old generation failing time after time after time to trust God.  Their faithless acts of disobedience and rebellion ultimately led to their demise in the wilderness while a new generation would be prepared to trust and follow God.  So Numbers talks to judgement and death of the old generation, placed against the birth and hope of the new generation. 

Numbers covers the story of the Israelites in the wilderness.  This is a span of about 40 years.  It opens with the generation that came out of Egypt and the first census of 603,550 males.  This census is in preparation for the conquest of the Promised Land.  The second census of the new generation occurs in chapter twenty-six. 

This thirteenth and fourteenth chapter deals specifically with the twelve spies, one from each tribe, going into Canaan to survey the land and determine if it is ready for their conquest.  The twelve spies return forty days later with a mixed report.  They all report that the land flows with milk and honey but only Joshua and Caleb report that they should move immediately to take the land.  After hearing the faithless and exaggerated report of the ten spies the Israelites again cry out in despair.  Once again, they wish to return to the land of enslavement back in Egypt.  Some important words to consider form this text include:

Fidelity

Despair

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week.    

Last week’s lesson was taken from Exodus 16 and opened with the Israelites having been already delivered from enslavement in Egypt.  They are now wandering in the wilderness at a place called Sin, between Elim and Sinai.  They have been on their journey from Egypt for only about 45 days. 

In verses two and three the whole congregation complained against Moses and Aaron.  They protest so severely that they imagined dying back in the land of their captivity.  They complained, “if only they had died by the hand of the Lord back in Egypt”.  I noted how these are a people who have given up.  There were no Egyptians around to enslave them.  There were no slave masters around to whip them.  There were no Egyptian solders around to slay them.  Yet, they desired to go back to the land of enslavement, back to whippings and beatings, and back to soldiers who could slay them.  They had given up, capitulated, and thrown in the towel because at least in Egypt they had food to eat.  I noted how they saw themselves in this foreign land, this wilderness, dying of hunger.  So then they blamed Moses and Aaron for their hunger.  I also quoted the “The New Interpreter’s Study Bible” explaining that “life as a slave in Egypt is better than the risk of freedom in the wilderness”.  

In verse four the LORD gives Moses a plan.  The LORD tells Moses how bread will be provided and how the people are to gather the bread from heaven.  But the LORD presents this as a test for the Israelites.  God will rain bread from heaven and the Israelites are to gather only enough for their daily needs.  In this way, God will know if they will follow God’s instruction.  Just as God gave the Israelites provision day by day, it is up to us to trust God for our daily bread. 

Verse five gave them instructions on how to gather in preparation for the Sabbath.  On the sixth day they are to gather twice as much in preparation for the seventh day of rest.  

In verses six and seven Moses and Aaron explain to the Israelites the plan the LORD has set forth for their provision.  They tell the people “in the evening you will know that it was the LORD that brought you out of Egypt.  And in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD”.  Moses and Aaron want them to know that they aren’t complaining to them but to God. 

In verse eight Moses makes it plain that the people aren’t complaining against him and Aaron; they are complaining against the LORD.  This won’t be the last time the Israelites complain.  They have seen the great plagues and experienced the great deliverance of God from their Egyptian enslavers.  Yet, a mere 45 days later they are completely defeated with no enemy soldiers in sight. 

The text skips to verses thirteen through fifteen.  Here, the LORD provides quail in the evening and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.  After the dew lifted there was a fine flaky substance on the ground.  They ask “what is it” and Moses explains “it is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat”. 

As we continue to study God’s faithfulness and responses to God’s faithfulness, this week we see faithfulness in the minority report of Joshua and Caleb.  Joshua and Caleb are faithful.  The others are not.  Not only are they faithless but their rebellion and ultimate rejection of God is the cause of the old generation being condemned to wander 40 years in the wilderness until almost all of them die out.  The lesson this week is entitled “Faithful Despite Unfaithfulness and God Hears Our Cry”.  The scripture text comes from Numbers 13:1-2, 17a, 25-28a; 14:1-2, 5-10a. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

The lesson opens at chapter thirteen verses one and two with the LORD speaking to Moses.  The LORD instructs Moses to send men into the land of Canaan.  The LORD specifies “the land which I am giving to the Israelites”.  This is the land that God promised Abraham.  The Promised Land and the nation of Israel were hundreds of years in the making but now the descendants of Abraham were on the verge of receiving the long awaited promise. 

The text skips to verse 17a where Moses sends the 12 spies into Canaan to explore the land and determine its suitability for the conquest.

At verse twenty-five the spies have returned from their 40 day reconnaissance.  The number forty is used quite often in the Bible.  We see later that the Israelites would wander in the wilderness for forty years.  Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights.  It rained for forty days and forty nights in the great flood.  In Exodus 24:18 Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai and in Acts 1:3 there are forty days between the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.  So the number forty occurs quite often and at significant times but we should not give this number any more significance than needed.  Merriam-Webster defines numerology as “the study of the occult significance of numbers”.  While numbers often symbolize something they should not to be given divine meaning unless specifically stated to have divine meaning from God.  Occult practices include numerology, astrology, witchcraft, tarot cards and others.

In verse twenty-six the spies assemble at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran to report their findings to Moses, Aaron, and the whole assembly.  The spies showed them the fruit of the land. 

In verse 27 the spies reveal that the land flows with milk and honey.  Not only do they tell of the goodness of the land but they bring back evidence of the bountiful harvests that await the other side. 

In verse 28 despite them seeing the bountiful blessing of the land; the spies report that the people are powerful and the cities are fortified and very large.  I should note that the first census reported over 600,000 men.  Historians report that this would have been an unusually large number of people because most nation states were not this large at that time.  So it seems that these spies see the blessings possible in the Promised Land, they see the powerful people, they see the large cities, but they do not see the fulfilled promise of God nor do they see themselves are powerful in God’s might. 

The text skips to chapter fourteen verses one and two where the entire congregation lifted up their voices and cried and the people wept that night.  They weep because they have believed the exaggerated report of the ten spies.  The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary explains that there are two versions of the spy’s negative report.  “In the first version the land flows with milk and honey.  In the second version verses 32-33 declare that the land itself is so bad that it eats its inhabitants”.  Additionally, “the spies warn of giant Anakites and of a mythological and semi-divine race of giants known as the Nephilim”.  The Israelites see these giants and once again fall into fear.  Instead of believing God, instead of believing they were powerful and strong and brave, instead of believing they were enough and that they had enough.  They choose instead to believe the report of these men instead of the command of God.  They are out of Egypt.  They have been delivered from enslavement by mighty works and wonders of God.  God has provided them with mana in the morning and meat in the evening.  God has turned bitter water to drinkable water.  Even with all these miraculous works they cannot see how God will give them this Promised Land.  Once again, they complain against Moses and Aaron.  Once again, they wish that they had died in the land of Egypt or in the wilderness.  As they wept that night, God heard their cry.  They cry out not in faith, but in unfaithfulness.  They don’t cry out in belief, but in unbelief.  Theirs is not a cry of hope, but hopelessness.  Although the old generation has seen the mighty works of God; this conquest is just a step too far for them to take. 

In verse five Moses and Aaron fall on their face before all of the assembly.  They realize what the Israelites are doing.  They realize this entire nation is choosing to reject God even after all God has done for them.

Verses six and seven show Joshua and Caleb as the faithful few who believe God can and will do what God said God would do.  They tear their clothes in frustration and declare again that the land they went through was an exceedingly good land. 

In verse eight they explain that if the LORD is pleased with them The LORD will give them this land that flows with milk and honey. 

In verses nine and ten they warn the Israelites not to rebel against the LORD and do not fear the people of the land.  Instead of heeding the warning of Joshua and Caleb, the whole congregation threatened to stone them.

Context:

Perhaps you have heard someone say “I’ll believe it when I see it”.  Seeing and believing seem to complement each other.  Yet sometimes it can be hard to believe what you see.  These Israelites saw the mighty works of God demonstrated in miraculous ways, yet they could not believe what God told them would come next.  Not only had they seen the mighty works of God but they also saw the evidence of a land flowing with milk and honey.  Instead of believing what God would do they choose instead to believe the exaggerations and lies about mythological giants.  The people in the land were real and they were no doubt powerful.  But God is all powerful.  The question for us today is whether we believe God or whether we believe myths.

Key Characters in the text:

Moses – The first great leader of the Hebrew people, regarded by some as the author of the first five books of the Old Testament.  Moses is revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims for his daring leadership and diplomacy as well as his promulgation of the divine law (Townsend). 

Aaron – The brother of Moses and the first high priest of Israel.  Aaron was a descendant of Levi’s and a son of Amram and Jochebed’s (Exodus 6:20).  Born eighty-three years before the Exodus, he was three years older than Moses (Exodus 7:7) but younger than their sister, Miriam (Townsend). 

Joshua – The son of Nun, a member of the tribe of Ephraim, and Moses’ lieutenant and successor.  He was originally named Hoshea. 

Caleb – The son of Jephunneh of the tribe of Judah, and one of the twelve spies whom Moses commanded to observe the land of Canaan. 

Key Words: 

Fidelity – The quality or state of being faithful.  The fidelity of God is shown in God’s dependability, trustworthiness, and reliability. 

Despair – utter loss of hope.

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  I’ll believe it when I see it.    

2.  Just because you don’t believe it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.     

Questions

1.  The old generation of Israelites would not see the Promised Land.  Discuss why.             

2.  Joshua and Caleb are the minority with a good report.  Why is their report positive and the other ten spies report negative?      

Concluding Thought:

God promised Abraham that he would become the father of many nations.  God also promised him the land of Canaan for his descendants.  It was hundreds of years in the making but it came to pass.  God is faithful even when God’s people are not.  If God has promised you something, don’t give up.  Don’t give in.  Be encouraged and keep the faith.  God is Faithful.    

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week the lesson continues in the book of Numbers.  As we continue the God is faithful theme, we see God about to meet out the harshest of punishment against the nation of Israel.  Faithful Moses steps in to plead the case for the rebellious and faithless people and God changes God’s mind.  Instead of punishment God grants forgiveness.  The lesson is entitled God Forgives.      

Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (September 15, 2019) Faithful During Uncertainty / Bread From Heaven Exodus 16:1-8; 13-15

Faithful During Uncertainty / Bread From Heaven Exodus 16:1-8; 13-15

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week I review God’s provision for the Israelites as they begin their journey in the wilderness.  God is faithful during uncertainty while providing the Israelites bread from heaven.  About 45 days after they begin their journey, they complain bitterly to Moses and Aaron and blame the two brothers for bringing them into the wilderness to die.  There are no soldiers chasing them, no slave masters whipping them, and no Pharaohs enslaving them.  Yet they complain and wish they were back in Egypt because they are hungry.  Had they forgotten how God miraculously delivered them from Pharaoh and his enslavement with mighty works and wonders?  They had given up, capitulated, and thrown in the towel because at least in Egypt they had food to eat.  Now they blame Moses and Aaron for their hunger.  They blame them saying “you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger”.  Once again, God is faithful by providing quails in the evening and mana in the morning for the Israelites to eat.  God provides their daily bread.  Likewise it’s important for us to know that just as God provided what the Israelites needed; God can do the same for us today. 

As we continue to understand how God is faithful, this week I focus on the miraculous provision of God for the people of God.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Mana

Sabbath

Background

Exodus is the second book of the Old Testament.  It tells the story of the origin of the Israelite nation.  Like its name says, it tells the story of the exodus of the Hebrew people from the enslavement of Egypt.  But it’s not just any departure.  It’s a miraculous deliverance and redemption by God for God’s people.  Nelson’s Bible Handbook explains that “the Bible’s entire message of redemption grows out of the covenant relationship between God and God’s people first described in this book”.  So in Exodus redemption is the central message and this becomes the central theme throughout all of Christian Scripture.  Many of the other themes in Exodus can be found in the New Testament Gospels also.  For example, “Moses received the law on Mount Sinai; Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount.  Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness to give life to the people; Jesus was lifted up on the cross to bring eternal life to all who trust him.  And the Passover served as a base on which Jesus developed the Last Supper”.  So in these ways, there are themes in Exodus that are repeated in the Gospel record.  In these ways and others, the book of Exodus is central to both the Jewish and Christian religions. 

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that

“Exodus begins (Exodus 1:1-15:21) with a narration of the conflict between the LORD and Pharaoh over Israel’s fate, an epic conflict between kings and God.  The weapons of war are the forces of nature:  The LORD summons reptiles, insects, and meteorological phenomena, including hail and darkness, in an assault on Pharaoh (chp. 7-10).  Exodus ends with the LORD finally descending from Mount Sinai to enter the completed tabernacle on new year’s day (40:1-2, 7) filling the sanctuary with fire and smoke.”

 Chapter sixteen deals with God’s provision for the Israelites.  After about forty-five days in the wilderness, the Israelites complain bitterly to Moses and Aaron.  They complain because they are hungry.  God provides meat in the evening and bread from heaven in the morning for them to eat.  This mana from heaven is just one way God is faithful during uncertainty to this nation now wandering in the wilderness.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Mana

Sabbath

Review Last Week and how it connects to this week 

Last week’s lesson was taken from 1 Samuel 1:9-20.  As the lesson opens Hannah along with her husband Elkanah and Elkanah’s other wife Peninnah are gathered at the temple in Shiloh.  After eating and drinking, Hannah arose and presented herself before the Lord to pray. 

I noted that in verse ten Hannah was deeply distressed as she prayed to the Lord weeping bitterly.  She is a woman without a child in a society that values women who have sons.  Hannah weeps bitterly because not only is she childless but Peninnah her husband’s other wife was her rival and provoked her severely to irritate her (verse 6).  I noted Dr. Theodore W. Burgh in The Africana Bible explaining that “Hannah’s antagonistic rival torments her with vicious barbs and taunts.  Hannah is caught in the midst of what could be understood in contemporary street vernacular as “baby mama drama””. 

I also discussed a reference from Townsend Commentary explaining that “ancient Eastern legal texts allowed an infertile wife to provide her husband her maidservant to bear children for her as his heir.  Therefore, the principal wife may possess legal rights to the children of her servants”.  Now, if you can’t imagine what that looks like you can watch as few episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale.  The Handmaids tale depicts an example of what one wife owning the child of an enslaved woman looks like.   This however, was not the desire of Hannah’s heart.  Hannah desired a man-child birthed from her own body.  Hannah is distressed, she is distraught, and she is ready for her circumstances in life to change.  She was tired of being picked on and talked about.  She was tired of being laughed at and scorned.  Even though her husband loved her, she was tired of being treated badly about something for which she had no control.  She had no child of her own and there was nothing she could do about it.  Last week I referenced Dr. Theodore W. Burgh in the Africana Bible Dr. Theodore W. Burgh explaining “Hannah feels the pressure of the high value her society placed on bearing a child – particularly a male – in order to confirm her womanhood, she prays diligently to her god asking to become pregnant”. 

In verse eleven Hannah made a vow.  She vowed to God that if God will remember her with a man-child she’ll give him back to God as a Nazarite until the day of his death.  Elkanah loves Hanna despite the Lord having “closed her womb” (vs 5).  And now Hannah believes this is something only God can fix.  She made a bargain with God.  If only God will bless her with a man-child, she’ll give the child back to God as a Nazarite. 

I referenced Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defining “vow” as that which one has promised, particularly to God or to other persons, that binds one to them.  And as much as Hannah wanted a child of her own she promised God she would return the child to God if only God remembered her with this blessing.  I explained that we can look upon Hanna’s vow with compassion and understanding as a powerless woman desperately desiring to change her circumstances.  However there are numerous other uses of vows throughout scripture that we can look at both favorably and unfavorably.  Jonah makes a vow inside the great fish (Jon. 2:9).  Jezebel vows to kill Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-2).  Jacob vows at Bethel if God will keep him, that he’ll serve God. (Gen 28:20, 21).  And in Acts 23:12 certain Jews vow to kill Paul. 

I also noted that Hannah’s vow was specific.  Hannah vowed to give God a Nazarite.  Westminster defines a Nazarite as a member of a group of Israelites who vowed abstinence from eating or drinking the fruit of the vine, who let their hair grow long, and who sought to avoid contact with dead bodies (num. 6), as a way of expressing their devotion to God.  Hannah’s child will be special.  Hannah’s child will serve God in a specific way.  This child will be set apart for service to God.  Hannah like many parents today wanted her child to make a difference in the world. 

I also referenced Dr. Theodore W. Burgh again explaining in the Africana Bible that “a Nazarite was a male or female who dedicated himself or herself, or who was dedicated to YHWH by others, through specific vows (Num. 6:1-21, Judges 13:7). 

In verses twelve, thirteen and fourteen Hanna continued praying silently with only her lips moving.  Eli the high priest notices her and thinks she is drunk.  Eli said to her “how long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine”.  I noted the NISB explaining that Eli’s first speech shows his inability, unexpected in a priest, to distinguish between prayer and drunkenness.  He could not distinguish between the sincere prayer of a powerless woman and the antics of someone drunk with wine.  Perhaps there are ways in our own lives we mistake someone’s sincerity for what we see as playful antics.

In verses fifteen and sixteen Hannah sets the record straight.  Hannah tells Eli she hasn’t been drinking.  She’s been pouring out her soul before the Lord.  She informs Eli that she has been “speaking out of great anxiety and vexation all this time”. 

After having set the record straight, verses seventeen and eighteen show Eli is at least an understanding priest.  Now he recognizes Hannah’s pain and distress.  Now he sees her for the woman she is and he tells her to “go in peace; the God of Israel grant you the petition you have made to God”.  I thought it was important to note that so many people have been in Hanna’s situation.  Unable to do anything about their circumstances, knowing only God can work it out.  After hearing the man of God tell Hannah to go in peace her soul was no longer troubled.  Hannah had a calm assurance that somehow God was going to work it out.  She left her place of prayer, went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and she was no longer sad. 

Verses nineteen and twenty closed last week’s lesson with Hanna and the others rising the next morning, worshiping God, and then traveling back to their home in Ramah.  At some point Elkanah had sex with Hannah and the Lord remembered her.  Hannah conceived the son she wanted so desperately and named him Samuel.  Verse twenty says “she named him Samuel, for she said “I have asked him of the Lord””.  Hannah got an affirmative answer to her prayers.  The birth of Samuel changed her life and her circumstances.

This week’s lesson continues with the theme of God’s faithfulness.  This time God is faithful to a grumbling and complaining people.  God is faithful by providing both bread from heaven and meat from heaven to a hungry people now wandering in the wilderness.  Like Hannah the people are in distress and distraught, but unlike Hannah they look to Moses and Aaron with complaints instead of trusting God to provide.  This week we see God’s provision despite the acts and conduct of the Israelites.  They have completely given up, “thrown in the towel” and concluded that all hope is lost.  But as God often does for the Israelites and for us today, God makes a way, out of no way.  The lesson this week is entitled “Faithful During Uncertainty” and “Bread From Heaven”.  The scripture text comes from Exodus 16:1-8; 13-15. 

What Takes Place in This Passage

The lesson opens at verse one with the Israelites already delivered from enslavement in Egypt.  They are now wandering in the wilderness at a place called Sin, between Elim and Sinai.  They have been on their journey from Egypt for about 45 days. 

In verses two and three the whole congregation complained against Moses and Aaron.  But it wasn’t just a complaint.  They protest so severely that they imagined dying back in the land of their captivity.  They complained, “if only they had died by the hand of the Lord back in Egypt”.  These are a people who have given up.  There are no Egyptians around to enslave them.  There are no slave masters around to whip them.  There are no Egyptian solders around to slay them.  Yet, they desire to go back to the land of enslavement, back to whippings and beatings, and back to soldiers who could slay them.  They have given up, capitulated, and thrown in the towel because at least in Egypt they had food to eat.  Now they see themselves in this foreign land, this wilderness, dying of hunger.  So now they blame Moses and Aaron for their hunger.  They blame them saying “you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger”.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that “life as a slave in Egypt is better than the risk of freedom in the wilderness”.  

In verse four the LORD gives Moses a plan.  The LORD tells Moses how bread will be provided and how the people are to gather the bread from heaven.  But the LORD presents this as a test for the Israelites.  God will rain bread from heaven and the Israelites are to gather only enough for their daily needs.  In this way, God will know if they will follow God’s instruction.  Just as God gave the Israelites provision day by day, it is up to us to trust God for our daily bread. 

Verse five gives them instructions on how to gather in preparation for the Sabbath.  On the sixth day they are to gather twice as much in preparation for the seventh day of rest.  Townsend Commentary explains that “the Sabbath was stressed in the giving of manna; though the Law had not yet been given”.  The NISB notes that “the Priestly writer first prescribes the Sabbath rest in the story of creation (Gen. 2:1-3) and reiterates it here in the miracle of manna and in the revelation of the Decalogue (20:8-11)”.

In verses six and seven Moses and Aaron explain to the Israelites the plan the LORD has set forth for their provision.  They tell the people “in the evening you will know that it was the LORD that brought you out of Egypt.  And in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD”.  Moses and Aaron want them to know that they aren’t complaining to them but to God.  The NISB explains that “just as the plagues were signs for Pharaoh and the Egyptians to come to knowledge of the LORD, so also the manna from heaven is intended to bring the Israelites to knowledge of the LORD as the God who brought them out of Egypt”. 

In verse eight Moses makes it plain that the people aren’t complaining against him and Aaron; they are complaining against the LORD.  This won’t be the last time the Israelites complain.  They have seen the great plagues and experienced the great deliverance of God from their Egyptian enslavers.  Yet, a mere 45 days later they are completely defeated with no enemy soldiers in sight. 

The text skips to verses thirteen through fifteen.  Here, the LORD provides quail in the evening and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.  After the dew lifted there was a fine flaky substance on the ground.  They ask “what is it” and Moses explains “it is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat”.  The NISB notes that “the word mana is a Hebrew pun.  What is it (hu)? But the Hebrew phrase man hu can also be translated as “it is manna” supplying an answer to the question and a name for the food.

Context

This text helps us understand that it can be hard to trust God when our stomachs are empty.  When our basic needs aren’t met it’s easy to do as the Israelites and blame whoever we can.  There were hundreds of thousands of Israelites in the wilderness.  They were hungry, in a foreign land, and there seemed to be no hope of feeding the massive crowds.  After all, they were in the wilderness. 

But that’s the thing about God.  God brought them to the wilderness; and God would see them through the wilderness.  I suppose there are times in our lives when we too are faced with wilderness experiences.  The problem seems so big.  We’re in the foreign place of having no control of our circumstances.  The situation seems dire and desperate.  Beloved, God brought you to it, and God will see you through it.  Just as God gave them instructions for their daily bread; we too should just follow the instructions. 

Key Characters in the text:

Moses – The first great leader of the Hebrew people, regarded by some as the author of the first five books of the Old Testament.  Moses is revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims for his daring leadership and diplomacy as well as his promulgation of the divine law (Townsend). 

Aaron – The brother of Moses and the first high priest of Israel.  Aaron was a descendant of Levi’s and a son of Amram and Jochebed’s (Exodus 6:20).  Born eighty-three years before the Exodus, he was three years older than Moses (Exodus 7:7) but younger than their sister, Miriam (Townsend). 

Key Words

Mana – Food from heaven providentially provided by God for Israel in the wilderness (Ex. 16:4-36; Num. 11:4-9).  It is used in the New Testament as a “type” or foreshadowing of Jesus Christ as the living bread from heaven (John 6:31-65) and in the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 10:3). 

Sabbath – The seventh day of the week, set apart for worship and rest (Ex. 20:8).  It is a holy day in Judaism.  Christian practice has been to observe Sunday as a day for worship in celebration of Christ’s resurrection.    

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  Our daily bread.    

2.  Follow the instructions to pass the test.   

Questions

1.  The Israelites had been in their wilderness journey for about 45 days.  They were in an unfamiliar place without food and had already struggled for water.  Discuss other ways they could have responded instead of murmuring to Moses and Aaron.           

2.  Discuss potential ways people are in bondage today and willingly remain in bondage instead of seeking freedom.    

Concluding Thought

This quote from the NISB sits heavy with me; “Life as a slave in Egypt was better than the risk of freedom in the wilderness”.  How many ways do we accept life as a slave in Egypt? 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson

Next week the lesson comes from the book of Numbers.  As we continue the God is faithful theme, we see yet again the Israelites grumbling and complaining against Moses and Aaron saying “if only we had died in Egypt; Or in this wilderness”!  Again, the Israelites are faithless, complaining, and murmuring.   Next week we see how the Israelites had to be reminded of who God really is.  This time it is Joshua and Caleb who provide the minority report among the spies that the Promised Land can be theirs.  The lesson is entitled “God Hears Our Cry”.     

Christianity, Religion, Genesis, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (September 8, 2019) Faithful During Grief / God Answers Prayer 1 Samuel 1:9-20

Faithful During Grief / God Answers Prayer 1 Samuel 1:9-20

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week I review how God answers prayer for Hannah.  Hannah is a childless woman in a society that values women with children and male children in particular.  Hannah is distressed, distraught, and discouraged.  She faces “baby mama drama” from her husband’s other wife and she’s had about enough of living in this pain.  In the end, Hanna’s situation works out.  God answer’s her prayer.  But for so many people, things don’t always work out the way we think they should.  Like Hannah, many people are unable to do anything about their circumstances, knowing that only God can work it out.  Like Hannah, we rejoice when things do work out.  But when life throws us twists and turns we can be confident that God loves us no less, and in fact God’s love for us is infinite.   Hannah didn’t know things were going to work out.  But after hearing the man of God tell her to go in peace; her soul was no longer troubled.  She had a calm assurance that somehow God was still on her side.    

As we continue to understand how God is faithful, this week I focus on Hannah as she responds to God with calm assurance after promising to give her firstborn child back to God as a Nazarite.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Vows

Nazarite

Background

The books of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel bear the name of the Priest / Judge / Prophet however, Samuel dies before 1 Samuel ends.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes that “these two books were originally one book and remain one book in the Jewish canon.  The division into two books probably originated in the second century BCE with the translation of the Hebrew into Greek”.  Regardless of whether Samuel is read as one or two books, its major themes remain the same and are seen through both books.  The NISB notes “there are two large and interlocking themes in 1 Samuel.  The first is public:  the importance of good government.  The second major theme which continues in 2 Samuel is personal: the complexity of relationships both between people and God and among people”.  Additionally, Nelson’s Bible Handbook explains that “1 Samuel records the critical transition in Israel from the rule of God through the judges to God’s rule through kings”.  It also notes that “all of 2 Samuel and a major portion of 1 Samuel deal with events that happened after Samuel’s death”.  This is likely an indication of the importance of Samuel as a major figure during a transitional time for the Israelites. 

The NISB notes as part of the second major theme in Samuel “the complexity of relationships between families.  These inter-human relationships are almost always conflicted, beginning with Hannah and Peninnah and going through Eli and his sons, Samuel and his sons, and Saul and his children.  Listen, Parent/child relationships are a constant concern in all of Samuel”. 

This first chapter of 1 Samuel opens with the story of Samuel’s mother Hannah praying to conceive a man-child.  Hannah, a barren woman has been tormented by Peninnah the other wife of Hannah’s husband Elkanah.  They have come to Shiloh to offer sacrifices unto the Lord.  The text notes that Elkanah gave portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. 

The NISB explains that “there are three themes in this story: 

1) Strife within the family.

2) God acting behind the scenes in ways that are apparent only to those who look for such actions.

3) God’s penchant for unexpectedly raising up the lowly”.

The central theme of this week’s lesson continues to be God’s faithfulness – this time during grief, and that God answers prayer.  In this text we see a powerless woman beset with family conflict and we see how God moves on her behalf to answer her prayer.  Our text will reveal how Hannah prayed, how God answered, and how Hannah honored God for answering her prayer.  One note of caution… Please be considerate knowing that God has not favorably answered the prayer of every woman and every man who desires to have a child.  Many women and men struggle for years to have a child only to be disappointed.  We know that God is able and that God can change their situation.  What we don’t know is when or even if God will.  So please be considerate.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Vows

Nazarite

Review of Last Week 

Last week’s lesson was taken from Genesis nineteenth chapter.  It was titled Faithful During Distress and Faith and Doubt.  Verse one began with two angels arriving Sodom in the evening.  When Lot sees them from the gates of Sodom he got up to greet them.  The text then skipped to verses four and five and then fifteen.  I covered verses two through fourteen as a way to more fully understand the entire story.

In verses two and three Lot invited the two angels to spend the night at his house where he showed them great hospitality by providing shelter and making a feast.  Before they fall asleep all the men from the city, both young and old, surrounded Lots house and demanded “bring them out to us so that we may know them”.  I quoted the NISB’s explanation that “since know them is a veiled reference to sexual intercourse (4:1), the men of Sodom must be intent on homosexual relations with Lot’s guests”.  I also quoted the NISB explaining

“While Israelite law prohibited sexual relations between men (Lev 18:22, 20:13); the narrator appears more appalled by other aspects of the Sodomites’ behavior.  This story is particularly critical of their mistreatment of guests and disregard for the inviolable (unbreakable) codes of hospitality and of their mistreatment of an alien in their midst.  This is an instance of the social oppression identified as the cities chief sin (18:20-21)”.

I noted that this is a story focused on the punishment of Sodom because of inhospitality toward its guests as well as its violence toward aliens in their midst.  The men of Sodom were evidently seeking to gang rape these guests.  And for these transgressions God would destroy this city.  I quoted the The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary noting that “The obligation to extend generous hospitality to vulnerable strangers is deeply rooted in Israelite law (Exod. 22:21; 23:9; Lev. 19:33; 23:22; Deut. 10:19; 24:17-21)”.  Additionally, it notes their intention to have sexual relations with these strangers

“Signals their intention to commit the violent act of male rape, a technique of humiliation and torture of vulnerable people (both men and women).  The wickedness of Sodom here is not homosexuality.  Sodom’s sin is the lack of hospitality and the threatened violence by heterosexual men against vulnerable people in the community, those considered aliens and strangers in their midst”. 

Again, this text is not primarily focused on homosexuality, but more so the violence and inhospitality.  Ezekiel 16:48 – 50 explains the sin of Sodom.

48 As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. 49 This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it. 

Lot begs the men to not act so wickedly.  Then surprisingly he makes the horrible offer to give the men his two virgin daughters instead of the two guests.  Keep in mind that this was a patriarchal society.  Women were often if not always treated as property.  Women had little if any rights at all and were treated at best as second class citizens.  The men refuse Lots offer and then threaten that they will deal worse with Lot than with his guests.  The NISB notes that “this is a desperate act of a man trying to preserve both his life and the ancient codes of hospitality; but it also reveals the perilous place of women as second-class citizens in ancient society”. 

After these two guests rescue Lot by reaching out to bring him in the house and shut the door behind him the angels strike the men outside the door with blindness. 

When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot to take his wife and two daughters out of the city so they would not suffer the same punishment of the city.  Lot lingers, the angles seize him, his wife, and two daughters by the hand and took them outside the city.  The text does not say why Lot lingered. 

Verse seventeen told us “When they brought them outside they said, flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the plain; flee to the hills or else you will be consumed”.  These guests are intent on sparing Lot and his family. 

Verses eighteen and nineteen show Lot’s gratefulness but they also show his doubt that he could make it to the hills. 

In verse twenty, Lot offers an alternative.  Instead of fleeing to the hills he asks to flee instead to a nearby small city.  Lot believes he can make it to this nearby city and there his life would be spared. 

In verse twenty-one the angel says to Lot “very well, I grant you this favor too, and will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken”.  The angels have indeed been gracious to Lot.  God’s compassion and mercy toward Lot has been on display throughout this story. 

In verses twenty-four through twenty-six the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven and he overthrew those cities and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.  Because of their sins of inhospitality and the mistreatment of aliens in their midst God destroys these two cities, the plain surrounding the cites, all of its inhabitants, and all that grew on the ground therein.

Verse twenty-nine restates how God destroyed the cities of the Plain, but remembered Abraham.  Because God remembered Abraham, Lot and his two daughters were saved from the destruction of the cities.  It was Abraham’s faith that God would do justly that saved Lot.  “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is Just”?

This week’s lesson continues with the theme of God’s faithfulness.  This time God is faithful during grief; but God ultimately answers Hanna’s prayer.  In the same way Abraham pleaded with God on behalf of Lot and his family, now Hannah pleads with God to answer her prayer for a man-child.  Last week we saw how God was faithful to Abraham.  This week we see how God is faithful to Hannah and how Hannah honors God for God’s faithfulness.  The lesson this week is entitled Faithful During Grief and God Answers Prayer.  The scripture text comes from 1 Samuel 1:9-20. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

The lesson opens at verse nine.  Hannah along with her husband Elkanah and Elkanah’s other wife Peninnah are gathered at the temple in Shiloh.  After eating and drinking, Hannah arose and presented herself before the Lord to pray.  Eli the priest is seated in the temple door.  The NISB notes that at this point “Shiloh is the central Israelite shrine which contains the Ark of the Covenant”. 

In verse ten Hannah is deeply distressed as she prays to the Lord weeping bitterly.  Hannah is a woman without a child in a society that values women who have sons.  She weeps bitterly because not only is she childless but Peninnah her husband’s other wife is her rival and provokes her severely to irritate her (verse 6).  Dr. Theodore W. Burgh writes in The Africana Bible that “Hannah’s antagonistic rival torments her with vicious barbs and taunts.  Hannah is caught in the midst of what could be understood in contemporary street vernacular as “baby mama drama””. 

Townsend Commentary notes that “ancient Eastern legal texts allowed an infertile wife to provide her husband her maidservant to bear children for her as his heir.  Therefore, the principal wife may possess legal rights to the children of her servants”; if you watch The Handmaid’s Tale that sounds familiar.  But this however, is not the desire of Hannah’s heart.  Hannah desires a man-child birthed from her own body.  Hannah is distressed, she is distraught, and she is ready for her circumstances in life to change.  She’s tired of being picked on and talked about.  She’s tired of being laughed at and scorned.  Even though her husband loves her, she’s tired of being treated badly about something for which she has no control.  She has no child of her own and there is nothing she can do about it.  In the Africana Bible Dr. Theodore W. Burgh explains “Hannah feels the pressure of the high value her society placed on bearing a child – particularly a male – in order to confirm her womanhood, she prays diligently to her god asking to become pregnant. 

In verse eleven Hannah makes a vow.  She vows to God that if God will remember her with a man-child she’ll give him back to God as a Nazarite until the day of his death.  Elkanah loves Hanna despite the Lord having “closed her womb” (vs 5).  And now Hannah believes this is something only God can fix.  She makes a bargain with God.  If only God will bless her with a man-child, she’ll give the child back to God as a Nazarite. 

Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms define “vow” as that which one has promised, particularly to God or to other persons, that binds one to them.  And as much as Hannah wants a child of her own she promises God she’ll return the child to God if only God remembers her with this blessing.  We can look upon Hanna’s vow with compassion and understanding as a powerless woman desperately desiring to change her circumstances.  However there are numerous other uses of vows throughout scripture that we can look at both favorably and unfavorably.  Jonah makes a vow inside the great fish (Jon. 2:9).  Jezebel vows to kill Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-2).  Jacob vows at Bethel if God will keep him, that he’ll serve God. (Gen 28:20, 21).  And in Acts 23:12 certain Jews vow to kill Paul. 

But Hannah’s vow was specific.  Hannah vowed to give God a Nazarite.    Westminster defines a Nazarite as a member of a group of Israelites who vowed abstinence from eating or drinking the fruit of the vine, who let their hair grow long, and who sought to avoid contact with dead bodies (num. 6), as a way of expressing their devotion to God.  Hannah’s child will be special.  Hannah’s child will serve God in a specific way.  This child will be set apart for service to God and as the rest of 1 Samuel will show how Samuel indeed becomes an iconic servant of God.  Hannah like many parents today wanted her child to make a difference in the world. 

Additionally, Dr. Theodore W. Burgh explains in the Africana Bible that “a Nazarite was a male or female who dedicated himself or herself, or who was dedicated to YHWH by others, through specific vows (Num. 6:1-21, Judges 13:7). 

In verses twelve, thirteen and fourteen Hanna continues praying silently with only her lips moving.  Eli the high priest notices her and thinks she is drunk.  Eli said to her “how long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine”.  The NISB notes that Eli’s first speech shows his inability, unexpected in a priest, to distinguish between prayer and drunkenness.  This raises the question of how effective a leader such an out-of-touch man can be, especially one who is the priest of the nation’s most important shrine”.  Eli was indeed out of touch.  He could not distinguish between the sincere prayer of a powerless woman and the antics of someone drunk with wine.  Perhaps there are ways in our own lives we mistake someone’s sincerity for what we see as playful antics.

In verses fifteen and sixteen Hannah sets the record straight.  Hannah tells Eli she hasn’t been drinking.  She’s been pouring out her soul before the Lord.  She informs Eli that she has been “speaking out of great anxiety and vexation all this time”. 

After having set the record straight, verses seventeen and eighteen show Eli is at least an understanding priest.  Now he recognizes Hannah’s pain and distress.  Now he sees her for the woman she is and he tells her to “go in peace; the God of Israel grant you the petition you have made to God”.  So many people have been in Hanna’s situation.  Unable to do anything about their circumstances and knowing only God can work it out.  After hearing the man of God tell her to go in peace her soul is no longer troubled.  Hannah has a calm assurance that somehow God is going to work it out.  She left her place of prayer, went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and she was no longer sad. 

Verses nineteen and twenty close this lesson as Hanna and the others rise the next morning, worship God, and then travel back to their home in Ramah.  At some point Elkanah has sex with Hannah and the Lord remembered her.  Hannah conceives the son she wanted so desperately and names him Samuel.  Verse twenty says “she named him Samuel, for she said “I have asked him of the Lord””.  Hannah gets the answer to her prayers.  The birth of Samuel changes her life and her circumstances.

Context

Hannah’s prayers were answered.  She was blessed with the child she so desperately wanted.  Her circumstances changed for the better and she has a happy ending to her story.  But sometimes our stories don’t end like we thought they should.  Life takes us on twists and turns that we would not have chosen on our own.  Regardless of the bargains we make or the vows we take with God, our circumstances will be what God purposes for them to be.  Sometimes we desperately hang on to any thread of hope that God will hear our prayer and answer for us positively.  We rejoice when things work out.  But sometimes things don’t work out like we thought they should.  Beloved, even when things don’t work out like we think they should, know that God’s love for you is infinite and what we don’t understand now, we’ll understand better by and by. 

Key Characters in the text:

Hannah – She is the mother of Samuel and wife of Elkanah.  She prays fervently at the temple in Shiloh for God to relieve her bareness.   

Elkanah – He is the father of Samuel and husband of Hannah.  Despite Hannah’s barrenness he confesses and demonstrates his love for her.    

Eli – He is the high priest at the temple in Shiloh.  Also one of the last minor judges; in the latter role he is said to have served for forty years (Townsend). 

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion): 

Vow(s) – That which one has promised, particularly to God or to other persons, that binds one to them.  In the Roman Catholic tradition, the entrance into the religious life is marked by vows.  Other vows may be made for undertaking specific actions. 

Nazarite – A member of a group of Israelites who vowed abstinence from eating or drinking the fruit of the vine, who let their hair grow long, and who sought to avoid contact with dead bodies (num. 6), as a way of expressing their devotion to God. 

Ark of the Covenant – The chest carried by the Hebrews that contained the tablets of the law.  It was lost from history after the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem (586 B.C.).

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  Let your request be made known to God (Phil 4:6). 

2.  Praying your heart’s desire.

Questions

1.  Why did Hannah want her child to become a Nazarite?         

2.  God answered Hannah’s prayer positively.  How should we respond when we see no positive results to our prayer? 

3.  Did you know women could take the Nazarite vow in the Old Testament?

Concluding Thought:

God answers prayer.  Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes the answer is no, and sometimes the answer is not now, maybe later.  At any rate, God answers prayer.  It’s up to us to understand the answer and continue to move forward in God’s plan. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week the lesson comes from the book of Exodus.  We see God’s faithful provision for the Israelites in the wilderness.  Very soon after departing Egypt the Israelites face difficult times and they began to mummer against Moses and Aaron.  When they face hard times in the wilderness God demonstrates God’s faithfulness by miraculously supplying their needs.  The lesson is entitled “Bread From Heaven”.    

religion, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (September 1, 2019) Faithful During Distress / Faith And Doubt Genesis 19:1, 15-26, 29

Faithful During Distress / Faith and Doubt Genesis 19

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week’s lesson is entitled “Faithful During Distress” and “Faith and Doubt”.  I take a look at how God is faithful during our distress and faith and doubt as it relates to God’s faithfulness.  Specifically, in this lesson, I show how God is faithful to Abraham.  Have you ever heard the saying “somebody prayed for me”?  That was Abraham on behalf of Lot.  If it were not for Abraham, Lot and his family would have perished along with everyone else in Sodom and Gomorrah.  In this lesson, God is faithful to Abraham and merciful and compassionate to Lot and his family.  In this lesson, I focus on how hospitality is an important and central theme in this text.  That’s really important because so many people focus on the homosexuality in this text.  Homosexuality isn’t the central issue.  Although Lot shows hospitality to the angels there is little else (in my view, nothing else) to give him credit for.  In fact, given Lot’s offer of his own daughters to the men of the city he was just as guilty of the same violence as the sodomites. 

The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed because God heard the outcry of their collective violence and inhospitality and the violence with which they treated aliens in their midst.  Lot was saved not because of his own actions, but because Abraham intervened, interceded, and pleaded on his behalf.  I like how Townsends Commentary explains “with Lot’s rescue, the emphasis is on God’s compassion.  Lot acknowledged that he was saved because he had found favor in God’s sight.  This is also true for us.  If it had not been for the Lord who was on our side, where would we be”?  If you have or had praying parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, perhaps you too can identify with Lot.  If it had not been for God on our side, where would we be?

In this first lesson of the new school year our focus has transitioned from covenants to demonstrating how God is faithful.  The focus of this week’s lesson is faithful during distress and faith and doubt.  It is Abraham’s faith that is highlighted and we see Lot’s doubt as he hesitates to leave a city soon to be destroyed.   Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Faithfulness

Hospitality

Angels

Background: 

This first lesson of the Fall Quarter and the new Sunday School year comes from the book of Genesis.  Genesis is a book of beginnings.  It speaks to the creation of the world, the fall of humanity, the great floods and establishment of Nations. It is the first book of the Bible and the first of the five books known as the Pentateuch.  Townsend Commentary notes that “Genesis was written over a long period of time.  It was probably begun in the time of Moses, but later generations added other material and edited the books together.  The book probably reached its final form around the time of Solomon (970-930 BC)”.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible also notes that Genesis contains narratives from three authors or traditions (1) The Yawist, (2) the Elohist, and (3) the Priestly writer.  These distinct traditions were woven together in the way they appear today by a later editor or by the latest author, the priestly writer.  It’s important to note these writers because it’s important to understand both “the times in which they wrote and the times about which they wrote” (NISB). 

This nineteenth chapter falls within a larger narrative focused on the life of Abraham.  It’s as if the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is parenthetically interjected into the longer story of Abraham, Sarah, and the birth of Isaac. 

Lot is Abraham’s nephew.  The story of Sodom and Gomorrah begins in chapter eighteen.  As Abraham sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day, he looked up and saw three men standing near him.  After Abraham and Sarah show great hospitality to the men (one of whom appears to be the Lord), one of them said “I will surely return to you in due season and your wife Sarah shall have a son”.  When these men leave Abraham and Sarah they set out toward Sodom. 

At this point “The Lord said, shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him”?  After the Lord decides to reveal the plan, Abraham and the Lord engage in a philosophical discussion.  Abraham questions the Lord’s plan asking “will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it?  Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked!  Far be that from you!  Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?  Abraham pleads his case for the righteous in Sodom.  If there is any chance at all to save his nephew, Abraham is going to make the case and plead on his behalf.  This is a powerful plea to the Lord. 

When the Lord agrees that the city will not be destroyed if fifty righteous are found Abraham then asks “suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking”?  When The Lord agrees again, Abraham then asks suppose forty are found there.  When the Lord agrees, Abraham then asks suppose there are twenty.  When the Lord agrees he asks once more, suppose there are ten.  If there is any chance at all to save his nephew Abraham is going to go the distance with the Lord on behalf of his extended family.  It’s important to also note that the NIBOVC explains “God is gracious and merciful, forgiving and slow to anger, but God also does not simply “clear the guilty” without some consequences for their sin (Exod. 34:6-7) or, as here in Gen. 18, without some few righteous ones who will redeem the whole.  That’s an important principle to remember; “A few righteous ones who redeem the whole”.  If there are ten righteous in the city, God will stay God’s judgement.  But of course in this story ten cannot be found.  That principle applies to us through Jesus Christ.  Jesus is our righteousness.

This is where our lesson picks up.  The men who visited Abraham and Sarah are now described as two angels (messengers).  They arrive Sodom in the evening, with Lot sitting in the gateway of the city.  Lot greets them in the same way Abraham did in chapter eighteen and he offers them exceptional hospitality. 

Our lesson this week is entitled Faithful During Distress and Faith and Doubt.  It is a view into how Lot responded to God’s grace. Given the background I’ve just covered it is also a view into how God is faithful to Abraham’s plea for his nephew and family.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Faithfulness

Hospitality

Angels

Review of Last Week.  

Last week’s lesson was titled Marriage: A Covenant of Mutual Love.  The lesson came from the fifth chapter of Ephesians verses twenty-one through thirty-three.  Verse twenty-one was the key verse in the text.  “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”.  Or be subject to one another.  The Greek word for “subject” “is a military term meaning to line up under” (NISB).  I noted how that is a good expression to form the idea of working together.  We line up under each other to support each other and we line up under Jesus Christ to support the cause of Christ.

Verse twenty-two told us that wives ought to submit themselves to their own husbands as unto the Lord and I noted how I have personally witnessed how terribly this verse can be misused by a husband.  It’s important to know that this verse does not make a husband superior, greater, more authoritative, more respected or more valuable in any way, shape or form than his wife.  Nor does this verse put the husband above the wife in any way.  Men are not better than women, husbands are not better than wives. I also noted how much it bothers me that some women will accept being treated inferior as if that is somehow pleasing to God.  It’s not.  Women and wives ought to be full participants in the cause of Christ.   

 Marriage is teamwork.  There are areas where my wife needs to lead.  When she leads, I line up under her and follow her leadership.  That’s one way mutual love is expressed. 

I also noted how life in this first century world revolved around patriarchy.  Every area of life in this first century world centered on a male authority system that oppressed and subordinated women through social, political, and economic institutions and practices.  For Paul to say that women and men should be subject to one another is a radical thought for his time.  Yet, given the oppression women faced in his time and the oppression women still face today I wish that he had gone further to tear down the ideology of patriarchy. 

Verse twenty-five reminded husbands to love their wives just as Christ loved the Church.  Christ’s love for the church was sacrificial.  There was literally nothing greater that Christ could have given other than his own life.

Verse twenty-seven goes even further helping us understand that because of this sacrificial love the church is presented in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle so that she may be holy and without blemish.  While the wife is called upon to submit to her husband, the husband is called upon to love his wife. 

Verses twenty-eight through thirty drive the point home for the husband.  In all of this teaching, “it is the husband who receives the longest instruction” in this household code (NISB).  Just as husbands love their own bodies, they should also love their wives.  Furthermore, “he who loves his wife loves himself”.  Perhaps this is a point that sometimes gets overlooked, but in verse twenty-nine Paul is saying the husband nourishes and tenderly cares for his body.  I see this as a part of our duty both to ourselves and to our wives.  And I noted how toxic masculinity kills men.  Men, it’s okay to get rest when you need it.  It’s okay to take care of yourselves.  It’s okay to take time off from work to see your doctor, your counselor, your psychiatrist, psychologist or any other medical professional.  We have to take care of ourselves or our wives may end up widows. 

Verse thirty-one reminded us of a familiar passage telling us “for this reason a man will leave his father and mother, be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.  In this verse Paul reflects back to Genesis 2:24 where it says “a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they two become one flesh.  So, a mutual love covenant is about teamwork, working together, supporting, and loving one another as we line up under one another as unto Jesus Christ. 

In verse thirty-two Paul admits that two becoming one flesh is a mystery.  The point for us to understand is that husbands and wives should work so closely together that they seem to be as one unit.  There should be no daylight between the husband and wife as they both seek to serve God’s purposes. 

This chapter closes with Paul reminding both the husband and the wife of their duties to one another.  The husband should love his wife and the wife should respect her husband. 

This week’s lesson deals with faith and doubt as Abraham pleads for the deliverance of his nephew Lot, and Lot’s family.  This lesson shows us how God is faithful and how Lot responded to God’s grace.  The lesson this week is entitled Faith and Doubt.  The scripture text comes from Genesis 19:1, 15-26, 29. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

Verse one begins with two angels arriving Sodom in the evening.  When Lot sees them from the gates of Sodom he gets up to greet them.  Our lesson text then skips to verses four and five and then fifteen.  Verses two through fourteen are not particularly focused on the topic of faith and doubt but I’ll cover them as a way to more fully understand the entire story.

In verses two and three Lot invites these travelers to spend the night at his house where he shows them great hospitality by providing shelter and making them a feast.  Before they fall asleep all the men from the city, both young and old, surround Lots house and demand “bring them out to us so that we may know them”.  The NISB notes that “since know them is a veiled reference to sexual intercourse (4:1), the men of Sodom must be intent on homosexual relations with Lot’s guests”.  Additionally, the NISB also notes

“While Israelite law prohibited sexual relations between men (Lev 18:22, 20:13); the narrator appears more appalled by other aspects of the Sodomites’ behavior.  This story is particularly critical of their mistreatment of guests and disregard for the inviolable (unbreakable) codes of hospitality and of their mistreatment of an alien in their midst.  This is an instance of the social oppression identified as the cities chief sin (18:20-21)”.

  So this is a story focused on the punishment of Sodom because of inhospitality toward its guests as well as its violence toward aliens in their midst.  The men of Sodom were evidently seeking to gang rape these guests.  And for these transgressions God would destroy this city.  The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary notes that “The obligation to extend generous hospitality to vulnerable strangers is deeply rooted in Israelite law (Exod. 22:21; 23:9; Lev. 19:33; 23:22; Deut. 10:19; 24:17-21)”.  Additionally, it also notes their intention to have sexual relations with these strangers

Signals their intention to commit the violent act of male rape, a technique of humiliation and torture of vulnerable people (both men and women).  The wickedness of Sodom here is not homosexuality.  Sodom’s sin is the lack of hospitality and the threatened violence by heterosexual men against vulnerable people in the community, those considered aliens and strangers in their midst”. 

Again, this text is not primarily focused on homosexuality, but more so the violence and inhospitality.  Ezekiel 16:48 – 50 explains the sin of Sodom.

48 As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. 49 This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it. 

Lot begs the men to not act so wickedly.  Then surprisingly he makes the horrible offer to give the men his two virgin daughters instead of the two guests.  Keep in mind that this was a patriarchal society.  Women were often if not always treated as property.  Women had little if any rights at all and were treated at best as second class citizens.  The men refuse Lots offer and then threaten that they will deal worse with Lot than with his guests.  The NISB notes that “this is a desperate act of a man trying to preserve both his life and the ancient codes of hospitality; but it also reveals the perilous place of women as second-class citizens in ancient society”. 

After these two guests rescue Lot by reaching out to bring him in the house and shut the door behind him they strike the men outside the door with blindness.  They question Lot whether he has any sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone else in the city because they are about to destroy the city.  And that brings us up to verse fifteen.

When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot to take his wife and two daughters out of the city so they would not suffer the same punishment of the city.  But Lot lingered so the men took him, his wife, and two daughters by the hand and took them outside the city.  The text does not say why Lot lingered.  But given his choices thus far in the story, both good and bad, any speculation would be just that; pure speculation.

Verse seventeen tells us “When they brought them outside they said, flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the plain; flee to the hills or else you will be consumed”.  These guests are intent on sparing Lot and his family.  They made sure Lot and his family got out of the city and then gave him instructions to include not looking back, in order to avoid the coming destruction. 

Verses eighteen and nineteen show Lot’s gratefulness but they also show his doubt that he could make it to the hills.  Lot had already lingered coming out of the city, now he knows he must flee and cannot look back at the destruction that would rain down on the city in which he had lived. 

In verse twenty, Lot offers an alternative.  Instead of fleeing to the hills he asks to flee instead to a nearby small city.  Lot believes he can make it to this nearby city and there his life would be spared. 

In verse twenty-one the angel says to Lot “very well, I grant you this favor too, and will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken”.  The angels have indeed been gracious to Lot.  Instead of destroying the city upon their arrival they lodged and ate a meal with Lot.  Then they protected Lot from the men of the city.  Then they seized Lot and brought him and his family outside the gates of the city. And now they grant him this additional favor to go to a small city nearby.  God’s compassion and mercy toward Lot has been on display throughout this story. 

In verses twenty-two and twenty-three the angel tells him to hurry because the angel can do nothing until Lot arrives. 

In verses twenty-four through twenty-six the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven and he overthrew those cities and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.  Because of their sins of inhospitality and the mistreatment of aliens in their midst God destroys these two cities, the plain surrounding the cites, all of its inhabitants, and all that grew on the ground therein. Additionally, the angels had warned Lot and his family not to look back.  Lot’s wife looked back and became a pillar of salt. 

Verse twenty-nine restates how God destroyed the cities of the Plain, but remembered Abraham.  Because God remembered Abraham, Lot and his two daughters were saved from the destruction of the cities.  It was Abraham’s faith that God would do justly that saved Lot.  “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is Just”?

Context:

The prayers of the righteous avail much.  It is the prayers of the righteous that are powerful and effective.  If you believe that prayer really changes things you have probably been the recipient of someone else’s powerful and effective praying.  I like Dorothy Norwood’s song Somebody Prayed for Me.  It captures the feeling of knowing that you didn’t make it to where you are on your own.  Many of us have had praying mothers, fathers, and grandmothers and grandfathers.  Without their prayers where would we be? 

Key Characters in the text:

Lot – isAbraham’s nephew.  He is the son of Haran, Abraham’s brother.  He migrates with Abraham and grandfather from Ur of the Chaldeans toward Canaan (Townsend). 

Angel – A scriptural term for heavenly beings who praise and serve God.  They are variously portrayed in Scripture as announcing a child’s birth and destiny (Gen 16:11; Luke 1:11-20), interceding with God (Gen 22:11), executing judgement (2 Sam. 24:16). 

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion): 

Faithfulness – The characteristic of being steadfastly loyal to a person or to promises.  Theologically, it is a basic description of God who is perfectly faithful to all that God promises, in contrast to sinful humans who are unfaithful in their relationships and actions.     

Doubt, religious – Uncertainty, as opposed to denial, or religious truths. 

Hospitality – Biblical concept often used with the terms “guest”, “stranger” and “sojourner”.  It is useful to limit the meaning of “hospitality” to benevolence done to those outside ones normal circle of friends, as is implied in the literal meaning in the Greek word “love of strangers” (Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible).

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  Entertaining angels (Hebrews 13:2) 

2.  Somebody prayed for me. (Abraham pleading for Lot)

Questions

1.  Lot showed hospitality to the men when they arrived at the gates of Sodom.  Why is hospitality so important?       

2.  If the assault on the angels had succeeded, the result could only be described as gang rape, not a private act.  This presents the sins of Sodom more as social than individual, something that characterizes the entire city (Townsend).  Discuss the depth of Sodom’s inhospitality. 

Concluding Thought:

It was the prayers of Abraham that saved Lot and his family.  It can be argued that on his own merit, Lot was not worthy of the deliverance he received.  Having said that, it can likely be argued that I am not worthy of my deliverance either.  I am reminded of the African Bantu term Ubuntu.  It means “I am, because we are”.  In other words, I exist because we exist together.  Somebody prayed for me.  I am who I am because of the answered prayers of those who prayed for me.  In our praying, let’s remember to pray for others. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week the lesson comes from the book of 1 Samuel.  In this second lesson of five exploring how God is faithful, we see God granting Hanna the son she prayed for.  The lesson is entitled God Answers Prayer.    

Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (August 25, 2019) Marriage: A Covenant Of Mutual Love Ephesians 5:21-33

Marriage: A Covenant of Mutual Love Ephesians 5:21-33

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week I take a look at a covenant of mutual love.  The lesson comes from Ephesians 5:21-33.  In this lesson we see how both the husband and the wife submit or as the Hebrew word says “line up under” each other in a covenant of mutual love.  Lining up under each other is a good way to form the idea of working together.  We line up under each other to support each other and we line up under Jesus Christ to support the cause of Christ.  What I found particularly interesting about this week’s lesson is how Holy Scripture can sometimes be used to oppress women.  In the first century world of Paul, patriarchy was the only known way to exist.  I suppose it was even radical for Paul to suggest that both men and women should submit to one another.  That was the first step.  Now it’s up to us to dismantle patriarchy and all other forms of oppression. 

The focus of this week’s lesson is a covenant of mutual love.  It is the final lesson of the Sunday School year and an excellent way to close the topic of covenants between people.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Household Codes

Covenant

Background: 

Over The last few weeks the lessons have focused on covenants between people.  This week is a little different.  The premise is the same.  While this text does not mention two specific people we are still dealing with two people in the context of a covenant based in marriage.  Just as a reminder “covenant” is defined as a formal agreement or treaty between two parties that establishes a relationship and in which obligations and mutual responsibilities may be enacted.  Part of what I will focus on today is the mutuality of the covenant based in marriage.  This week’s lesson is taken from Ephesians.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes “Biblical scholars disagree over whether the Letter to the Ephesians was written by Paul.  The Greek style in the letter is different from uncontested letters by Paul, and the ideas in Ephesians represent developments in Paul’s thought among other discrepancies”. Even with other discrepancies the “evidence does not prove, however, that Ephesians is not authentically Pauline” (NISB).  Additionally, “some reputable scholars maintain that Paul wrote Ephesians at the end of his life about 58 – 59 CE and the developments in Paul’s thought represents the “mature” Paul.  Nelson’s Bible Handbook notes that Ephesians has a number of notable differences from the undisputed letters of Paul; possibly it was intended as a circular or “open letter” to a number of communities surrounding Ephesus”.

The NISB notes that “the main theme of Ephesians is God’s plan to reconcile Jews and Gentiles, which was accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus”.  Our lesson text is taken from a section of the fifth chapter that is focused on the Christian household.  “In the New Testament the first household codes appear in Colossians 3:18-4:1 which is a roster of duties for members of a Greco-Roman household.  Other examples are found in 1 Timothy 2:8-3:13; Titus 2:1-10; and 1 Peter 2:13-3:7” (NISB).  Additionally, the NISB notes that “the household code in Ephesians has been misused: First, because in some editions of the Bible, Ephesians 5:21 has not been printed with the code and second, because editors have not noted that “be subject” does not appear in the best manuscripts of 5:22” (NISB).  Regardless of those controversies, the central message of this passage is mutual submission to one another and the lordship of Christ over all of us.  One additional note of importance mentioned in the NISB is how this

“Text reflects unquestioning acceptance of slavery (chapter 6) as a social and economic institution.  No modern Christian can hold such a view.  Modern interpreters assume that slavery is not universally to be practiced, but they are sometimes hesitant to assert the same about the domination of wives by husbands”.

Our lesson this week is entitled A Covenant of Mutual Love.  The importance of this mutual love should be the central focus with the lordship of Jesus Christ as the overarching guide.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Household Codes

Covenant

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week: 

Last week our lesson came from Ruth chapter 3.  Verses one and two began with Naomi’s concern for Ruth’s security.  Naomi’s care and concern for Ruth underscored her love for her daughter-in-law.  After realizing Boaz had shown interest in Ruth, Naomi knew exactly what to do.  Naomi knew the customs of the barley harvest and as the reaping season drew to a close she gave her daughter-in-law specific instructions on how to conduct herself. 

In verse three Naomi told Ruth to wash, anoint herself with perfume, and to put on her best clothes.  Naomi told her to go to the threshing floor but not to make herself known to Boaz until after he has finished eating and drinking.  Naomi knew exactly what she was doing.  With the specific instructions she gave Ruth she hoped to ensure Ruth’s success with convincing Boaz to marry her. 

Naomi’s instructions continued in verse four.  She told Ruth “when he lies down, observe the place then go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do”.  In verse five Ruth demonstrated her obedience to Naomi telling her “all that you tell me I will do”.  I cited the NISB noting that the Hebrew word for “lie down” is used eight times in 3:4-14.  The NISB noted that “Lie down” can simply mean “sleep” but this word is also frequently used in biblical texts to imply sexual intercourse.

Verse six told us Ruth followed Naomi’s instructions.  Verse seven is not in the lesson, but it told us how after Boaz was content with eating and drinking he lies down at the end of a heap of grain and how Ruth “came stealthily and uncovered his feet, and lay down”. I cited the New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary noting that “The Hebrew of this scene is filled with words that may have either ordinary meanings or sexual overtones, especially the words “feet” (used euphemistically for genitals) and “lie down” (for sleeping or sexual relations).  Both in content and choice of vocabulary, the storyteller establishes the possibility for a sexual tryst outside of marriage, yet draws back from saying exactly what took place”.

Verse eight told us that at midnight Boaz was startled discovering a woman laying at his feet.  It’s easy to understand how he might be startled having gone to sleep alone only to wake in the middle of the night with a woman lying next to him.  I also noted that Boaz is likely a pious man given his greeting in chapter two verse four. 

In verse nine Ruth explained “I am your servant; spread your cloak over your servant, for you are next-of-kin”.  This is Ruth’s marriage proposal.  The NIBOVC noted that “spread your cloak over your servant” is in effect elevated language for a marriage proposal.  Verse ten helps us understand just how wise Naomi was.  Naomi had given Ruth specific instructions and now Boaz says “may you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter; this last instance of your loyalty is better than the first”.  Here Boaz recognizes Ruth’s actions toward him as better than her actions toward her mother-in-law.  He knows how loving and faithful Ruth has been toward Naomi.  Now he sees that same kind of love and faithfulness toward him by Ruth. 

In verse eleven we saw the covenant to marry that Boaz made to Ruth.  In verse nine Ruth proposes marriage.  In verse eleven Boaz makes the covenant to marry Ruth.  He promises her “do not be afraid, I will do for you all that you ask”. 

Verse twelve introduced a twist.  Boaz told Ruth there was another kinsman more closely related than he was.  Yet, Boaz will be determined to see this matter through successfully.

In verse sixteen Ruth returns to her mother-in-law who asks “how did things go with you, my daughter”.  Ruth tells Naomi all that happed and in verse seventeen she says “He gave me these six measures of barley, for he said; do not go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed”.  Naomi’s plan worked.  Boaz sent Ruth home with six measures of barley to show his appreciation.  And in verse eighteen Naomi told Ruth to simply wait.  She knows Boaz will not rest until this marriage is settled.

This week’s lesson deals with marriage as a covenant of mutual love.  It closes our lessons on covenants between people.  This week we look at the husband wife relationship within the household codes of Ephesians.  Paul emphasizes how husbands and wives submit to one another in reverence to Christ.  He gives specific instructions especially to the husbands as their instructions are much longer than the wives.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson Marriage: A Covenant of Mutual Love.  Standard Lesson Commentary titles it A Covenant of Love.  The scripture text comes from Ephesians 5:21-33. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

Verse twenty-one is the key verse in this text.  It is the central focus of this passage and our lesson.  Be subject to one another.  The Greek word for “subject” “is a military term meaning to line up under” (NISB).  I think that’s a good expression to form the idea of working together.  We line up under each other to support each other and we line up under Jesus Christ to support the cause of Christ.

Verse twenty-two says that wives ought to submit themselves to their own husbands as unto the Lord.  I have personally witnessed how terribly this verse can be misused by a husband.  So let me by clear.  This verse does not make a husband superior, greater, more authoritative, more respected or more valuable in any way, shape or form that his wife.  This verse does not put the husband above the wife in any way.  Men are not better than women, husbands are not better than wives.  What really bothers me is that some women will accept being treated inferior as if that is somehow pleasing to God.  It’s not.  Women and wives ought to be full participants in the cause of Christ.  In most of the churches I have been associated with, the church would close down if women didn’t show up.

 Having said that, I refer you again to verse twenty-one; we are to submit ourselves one to another.  Marriage is teamwork.  There are areas where my wife needs to lead.  When she leads, I line up under her and follow her leadership.  That’s one way mutual love is expressed. 

Verse twenty-three tells us the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the savior.  Jesus Christ is our example.  If Jesus wouldn’t treat a woman in an inferior way, neither should a husband.  Additionally, keep in mind that life in this first century world revolved around patriarchy.  Every area of life in this first century world centered on a male authority system that oppressed and subordinated women through social, political, and economic institutions and practices.  For Paul to say that women and men should be subject to one another is a radical thought for his time.  Yet, given the oppression women faced in his time and the oppression women still face today I wish that he had gone further to tear down the ideology of patriarchy. 

Verse twenty-four reminds us that the church is subject to Jesus Christ.  So, as the church lines up under Jesus Christ, so too should wives line up under their husbands.  Again, I refer you to our key verse – Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Verse twenty-five tells husbands to love their wives just as Christ loved the Church.  Christ’s love for the church was sacrificial.  There was literally nothing greater that Christ could have given other than his own life.

Verse twenty-six gives us a reason to love sacrificially.  That purpose is “In order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word”.  The NISB notes that the washing of water presents the “image of baptism or the ritual purification baths of Jewish women”.  At any rate, the sacrificial love of the husband is again an effort in teamwork.  The picture is one such as Christ giving himself for the church and the husband giving himself for the wife. 

Verse twenty-seven goes even further helping us understand that because of this sacrificial love the church is presented in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle so that she may be holy and without blemish.  The husband’s sacrificial love does this for the wife.  While the wife is called upon to submit to her husband, the husband is called upon to love his wife. 

Verses twenty-eight through thirty drive the point home for the husband.  In all of this teaching, “it is the husband who receives the longest instruction” in this household code (NISB).  Just as husbands love their own bodies, they should also love their wives.  Furthermore, “he who loves his wife loves himself”.  Perhaps this is a point that sometimes gets overlooked, but in verse twenty-nine Paul is saying the husband nourishes and tenderly cares for his body.  I see this as a part of our duty both to ourselves and to our wives.  Toxic masculinity kills men.  Men, it’s okay to get rest when you need it.  It’s okay to take care of yourselves.  It’s okay to take time off from work to see your doctor, your counselor, your psychiatrist, psychologist or any other medical professional.  We have to take care of ourselves or our wives may end up widows. 

Verse thirty-one is a familiar passage telling us “for this reason a man will leave his father and mother, be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.  In this verse Paul reminds us of Genesis 2:24 where it says “a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they two become one flesh.  So, a mutual love covenant is about teamwork, working together, supporting, and loving one another as we line up under one another as unto Jesus Christ. 

In verse thirty-two Paul admits that two becoming one flesh is a mystery.  The point for us to understand is that husbands and wives should work so closely together that they seem to be as one unit.  There should be no daylight between the husband and wife as they both seek to serve God’s purposes. 

This chapter closes with Paul reminding both the husband and the wife of their duties to one another.  The husband should love his wife and the wife should respect her husband. 

Context:

Some of you may know that one of my daughters will be joined in a covenant of mutual love next month.  I am excited for her and her future life-long partner.  Their mutual love is evident to everyone that knows them.  The covenant they will enter is just one way God shows God’s love in this world.  The ceremony is a great representation of that love.  But it’s in the actual day to day living and loving, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health that true love is made known.  I’m excited for my daughter and her covenant partner.  I’m excited that God will be represented in their marriage ceremony, but I’m more excited that God will be represented in the way they love each other, with their friends and family, and in their community.  Marriage is a covenant of mutual love.

Key Characters in the text:

Apostle Paul – A minister of the Word of Christ to Gentile believers in many parts of the Asian continent during the early development of the church (Townsend).    

Key Words: 

Household Codes – New Testament passages that provide ethical instruction for various social parings: wives and husbands, children and parents, slaves and masters (Eph. 5:22-6:9; Col 3:18-4:1; 1 Peter 2:18-3:7).  

Covenant – A formal agreement or treaty between two parties that establishes a relationship and in which obligations and mutual responsibilities may be enacted.  Many biblical covenants are found, some providing only divine promises while others entail obligations.    

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  Real men love their wives. 

2.  Teamwork makes the dream work.        

Questions

1.  Ephesians is a first century letter to a church in which patriarchy ruled the day.  How does patriarchy exist today?      

2.  Husbands are commanded to love their wives.  Discuss whether that is possible if the husband does not take care of himself.        

Concluding Thought:

Biblically sanctioned patriarchy is just as wrong as Biblically sanctioned slavery.  No one argues for the return of biblical slavery as if somehow Biblical slavery was less violent than American chattel enslavement.  It is plainly evident that all forms of enslavement are wrong.  Likewise, Biblical patriarchy oppressing women is wrong and should not be tolerated today.  Paul makes a small step in the right direction when he tells us to be subject to one another.  It’s up to us to go the rest of the way toward a more equal and always loving society.

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week begins the first lesson of the new Sunday School year and the Fall Quarter.  This Fall our lessons revolve around how we respond to God’s grace.  Through the month of September the focus is on how God is Faithful.  Next week’s lesson deals specifically with the ideas of faith and doubt as Lot and his family escape Sodom.  The lesson is entitled Faith and Doubt.