Matthew 1 – Past Faithfulness

Read Matthew 1

Advertisements for and other genealogy tools have risen in recent years.  People seem to be quite fascinated with the past and where they come from.  Yet, even knowing the many generations and some specific events that had to take place to bring about current reality, among the infinite amount of events that could have taken place, amounts to some “fascinating” research.  The past seems to have little to do with where we are and practically nothing to do with where we are going.

However, for the Hebrew tradition, a genealogy is not simply interesting research, it is a recitation of God’s faithfulness throughout history.  Whereas North American culture points us to the future as a way of “creating” our identity, Hebrew culture looks to the past for theirs.  We tend to look to who we are becoming as our identity (what do you want to be when you grow up?); the Hebrew people look back, through time and generations, to their creator for theirs.

I wonder if this is a better way to look at life and gain perspective on God’s faithfulness.  We always look to the future and find ourselves wondering, struggling with doubts about whether God will show up.  But what if we turned ourselves around?  Rather than focusing on an unseen future, what if we focused on a certain past?  God has proven Himself faithful throughout history, since the very beginning.  Like a child that, while venturing out, always looks back to her parents for reassurance, might we as Christians focus less on the unknown future and more on God’s faithful actions in the past to give us assurance?  Perhaps this is what David meant when he wrote in Psalm 37, “Commit your way to the Lordtrust in Him, and He will act.”

Day 116: 1 Chronicles 6-7; Backing into the Future

I do love it when things from class are conveniently discussed around the same time that I would need information like this for a posting.  Today’s post brought to you in part by a special discussion with Professor Travis West and the evening Hebrew class at Western Theological Seminary on Tuesday 4/23/2013.  Thanks for the great discussion and the inspiration on what to write for today’s continuation of the genealogy of Israel.

Another key to understanding the necessity of these genealogies comes from a better understanding of the Hebrew understanding of time.  While I am certainly not an expert in this, have gained some wisdom and insight on this in the past year at Seminary.  We’ve talked here before about the Hebrew Theo-centric worldview.  That is, we have established that for the Hebrew people, the center of the universe is God overall, and was seen physically as the Temple and the different times that God reveals Himself to people on earth.  The fancy theological word for this is “theophany.”  In their lives, the Hebrew people would try to be as close to the center, that is the Temple where God resides.  This is the place that Heaven and earth meet.

Another way of being close to the center, or close to God, is to identify with their ancestors.  People didn’t just think of their biological father and mother as their only father and mother, but also their parents, and their parents, etc etc.  We talked about this yesterday as we talked about how God has been at work throughout generations to bring each person to the moment that they are at now.  This way of thinking clues us in to the orientation of the people in relationship to time and to God.

If you think in your life, how would you orientate your self if you were lost somewhere?  For us in this modern day, we orientate ourselves by finding north and then working our way from there.  Interestingly, we do this by often finding out where the sun rises and where it sets.  That act is, in all actuality, more appropriate to the Hebrew understanding of time and life orientation.  For the Hebrew people, their primary orientation was to the east.  The east direction would have been at the top of their maps (if they had them).  The word for east in the Hebrew language also had connotations of being towards the past, all the way back to the primeval days, the days of creation.  Like linking themselves with their ancestors who, they thought, were closer to the covenant, closer to creation, and therefore closer to God, when they oriented themselves they would look to the east because it represented to them a looking backwards… looking toward God who was closest to the earth (so they thought) in the time of creation.  Their primary identity was found in the past rather than the present of the future.  The people of Israel are who they are always because of where they had come from, the work that God had done… and the fact that God had chose them.

So, if you think about this, as people face the east and orient themselves to the past, how does one go forward?  By walking backwards.  There are all sorts of theological connotations that come up when we think like this and we will discuss them more as we move forward (or backward) in Scripture.  However, I think that this particular point should give us cause to stop and think about our own orientation to life and time.

Person walking a path Photo credit:

Person walking a path
Photo credit:

This idea of orienting ourselves with the past and backing into the future clashes fiercely with the prevailing cultural worldview today doesn’t it?  We always talk about moving forward, forward progress, going out and making a future for ourselves.  This orientation to life places our meaning, our purpose, and our focus on the future.  We we are is wrapped up in who we will become.  This is, in many ways, completely in conflict with the worldview of the Hebrew people that we are being presented with.  Do we often orient ourselves, our lives, and even our faith in the past?  It is interesting, thinking about all of the implications that come along with this.  What does backing into the future do to us in our lives?  It places us in a vulnerable position of having to trust God to guide our way… all of our way… our jobs, our families, our lives, our everything… What this doesn’t mean is that we just passively walk backwards and let life happen.  We are certainly active along the way, but it does mean that we are not the primary responsibility for our lives.  Just as we are not the primary mover in our own salvation and humanity is not the primary mover of history, this view of backing into the future roots us firmly in keeping our eye on that which defines us and gives us identity… The Cross of Christ… and it forces us to hold our focus there and trust that God, who knew us before the foundation of the world, has laid out the path of our lives that we can walk with confidence, knowing that He who promised is ALWAYS FAITHFUL.