Monday, December 03, 2007

First Pass at This Sunday's Bible Lessons (December 9, 2007)

[These passes are designed to help the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, to prepare for worship. In them, I look at the Bible lessons around which our worship will be built. Hopefully, other readers of 'Better Living' will be helped by these passes, since we use the lessons associated with the Church Year that are used in most congregations in North America.]

This Sunday's Lessons:
Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

General Comments:
1. This week brings us to the Second Sunday in Advent. The Gospel lessons for both this Sunday and next surround the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist. In fact, the Old Testament lesson for this week presents prophecy of a Savior. In the Romans passage, Paul underscores how Old Testament scripture was written to impart hope, hope that was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus.

2. Isaiah 11:1-10: I mentioned last week that Isaiah may be divisible into two or three sections, written at different times. The words in the lesson appointed for Sunday were written shortly after Tiglath-pileser III became king of Assyria in 745 BC. His intent was to be a conqueror and he had his eyes on Israel. Isaiah's prophecy sees the Assyrian king as a potential means by which God will punish Israel for its faithlessness to God.

3. But as is characteristic of the Old Testament prophets, Isaiah doesn't end with desolation. This Sunday's lesson tells us that God will send a Messiah, an anointed king.

4. Sunday's lesson follows prophetic oracles discussing how God will destroy impudent foreign powers like the Assyrian king. He uses images throughout:
Look, the Sovereign, the Lord of hosts, will lop the boughs with terrifying power; the tallest trees will be cut down, and the lofty will be brought low. He will hack down the thickets of the forest with an ax, and Lebanon with its majestic trees will fall. (Isaiah 10:33-34)
This imagery makes the beginning of our lesson all the more interesting. Isaiah says that a shoot will emerge from the stump of Jesse.

Jesse, you know, was the father of David, Israel's greatest king. It was the Davidic line that was to reign on Israel's earthly throne. That promise was disrupted by the greed for power and wealth that resulted in the split of Israel from Judah. In effect, the Davidic line was cut down. But, Isaiah says that a new shoot, the Messiah, will appear.

5. Ralph Klein, of Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, points out that the king foretold by Isaiah "will have a seven-fold gift of the spirit--the spirit of Yahweh, of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, of knowledge and the fear of Yahweh."

Klein goes on to point out, "This future and ideal king will be a righteous administrator of justice, as was expected of all Israelite kings (Ps 72:12-14) and of all royalty in the Ancient Near East in general. He will not be influenced by bribes or by those of wealth or high station (v 3); he will have a preferential option for the poor (v 4a); and he will announce harsh verdicts on the arrogant wicked (v 4b)."

6. Isaiah 11:2 is similar to the prophecy in Isaiah 61:1-2, which Jesus reads and applies to Himself in Luke 4:18-21.

7. Strophes B and C of Isaiah 11:3 reminds me of what God tells Samuel when God leads him to anoint the rather homely and ungainly David, youngest son of Jesse, the sheepherder in Bethlehem:
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
Also of interest are Moses' words to the people of Israel explaining that God's choice of them to be His people had nothing to do with their merit, but only His grace:
It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)
[More on the lessons tomorrow, I hope.]

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