Friday Facts: Lectionary A – Christmas 1

Friday Facts is a  weekly feature here on Trout and Cast Iron. Every week, I’ll read through the lectionary texts for the following Sunday in their original Hebrew and Greek. On Friday, I’ll choose one of the texts, provide a new translation, and highlight one point of interest from a linguistic, ancient history, or concordance point of view. The hope is that Friday Facts can provide a spark to preachers who find themselves preparing their Sunday sermon on a short schedule. 

Matthew 2.13-15

13 After they [the Magi] had gone away, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Get up, take the child and its mother and flee into Egypt and stay there until I speak to you. For Herod intends to seek the child in order to kill it.” 14 And getting up, he took the child and its mother and went away by night into Egypt, 15 and he was there until the death of Herod. This was in order to fulfill the utterance of the Lord through the prophet, which says “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Why into Egypt? Why not Syria or Asia Minor? Of course, first there are the religious reasons. As the quotation from the prophet Hosea (1.11) points out, the very core of God’s peoples identity is caught up in the exodus from Egypt. And so, Jesus, as the fulfillment of his people’s religious hopes was also brought up out of Egypt. There is an interesting resonance here with Luke’s account of the transfiguration. In Luke 9.31, Moses and Elijah talk with Jesus about his “exodus” to Jerusalem to die on the cross.

In addition, it is important to remember that Joseph was not taking his family and fleeing into the unknown. In fact, the Jews had a long history of settlement in Egypt, beginning with the destruction of Judea in 597 BC (narrated in 2 Kings 25:22-24). According to tradition, the prophet Jeremiah was among those who fled. After Alexander the Great founded Alexandria in the 4th century BC, it became the center of Jewish civilization outside of Judea. It was there that Jewish scribes translated the Hebrew scriptures into Greek, the book that we now know as the Septuagint. And so, when Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus set out for Egypt, they set out for a community of fellow ex-pats, so to speak. They probably didn’t camp out in a tent in the desert for several years, but lived among a people familiar  to them. It took a round about way to get that Jewish community into Egypt in the first place, but the upshot of this history is the knowledge that God provided familiar faces for Jesus and his family in their flight from danger.

Walking Through the Desert

As of right now, I’ve completed 76 days of a read the Bible in 90 days challenge. This is the first in a series of two or three posts in which I reflect on the experience.

dsc_0382

As I’ve mentioned once or twice before, I’m passionate about New Testament Greek. I’ve done Hebrew, and I’m not shoddy at it, but Koine Greek and I just seem to get along well. It means that I spend a lot of time reading the New Testament. In addition, as a preacher (like many others), I have the tendency to gravitate towards the Gospel lesson for the focus of my sermons.

Luckily for me, the challenge of reading through the Bible in 90 days has not let me escape the Old Testament. In fact, of the 76 days that I’ve spent so far, it’s taken 67 of them to get me from Genesis to Malachi. The past two months of reading has caused me to reflect on the way that I read the Old Testament, and how I use it in my own devotional life.

There is a tendency and, in this respect, I am the chief of sinners, to treat the Old Testament like a desert. You wander in it for a long time. Mostly it’s an odd collection of scary, spiky things and endless sage brush(or in this case, the slaughtering of Canaanites interspersed with endless censuses and genealogies). But, every now and then, there’s an oasis:  Joseph and his coat with long sleeves! Psalm 23! Ezekiel in the valley of the dry bones!

But, as someone who’s spent his fair share of time hiking around California’s high desert, I know that the desert has more to offer than meets the eye. And, the same is going on with the Old Testament. If we take seriously Christ’s words that the Scriptures (i.e. the Old Testament) all testify to him, then we need to stop and reconsider. Maybe that cactus has something to teach us. Maybe there’s something to be learned in endless sagebrush and endless genealogies. And maybe, just maybe, the promises of Christ are hiding in plain sight in the desert of the Old Testament, following us around like the rock that followed the Israelites.