bible blog 1663

This blog follows the book of Genesis and the Gospel of Mark in tandem. The headline reminds me of the world.


GENESIS 26 from verse1 in the Schocken Bible translation

Now there was famine in the land, aside from the former famine in the days of Avraham,

so Yitzhak went down go Avimelech, King of the Philistines, to Gerar.

And YHWH was seen by him and said:

Do not go down to Egypt;

continue to dwell in the land tha I tell you of,

sojourn in this land, and will be with you and will give you blessing –

for to you and your seed I give all these lands

and will fulfil the sworn-oath that I swore to your father Avraham:

I will make your seed many, like the stars of the heavens,

and to your seed I will give all these lands

all the nations of the earth shall enjoy blessing through your seed,

in consequence of Avraham’s hearkening to my voice

and keeping my charge, my commandments, my laws and my instructions.

So Yitzhak stayed in Gerar.

baalThe author, as we shall see, knows only a few stories about Yitzhak, but he wants his audience to know that he is not just Avraham’s son, but has his own experience of YHWH. Faith is being able to “see” and “hear” God, that is, to trust that God is real and to allow this reality to guide one’s life. The primary trust of the Patriarchs is that God is the source of blessing, meaning the goodness of life; and the author sees God’s relationship with Avraham’s family as part of his plan to rescue his creation from human evil. All people will enjoy blessing because they will learn from Avraham’s descendants how trust God and to receive God’s goodness.Faith in God cannot merely be handed on but has to rediscovered and renewed by each generation in turn.

The great 18th century Jewish teacher, the Baal Shem, was once asked “Why do we say, ‘God of Avraham, God of Yitzkak, God of Yaakov, rather than God of Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov?” And he answered, “Each of our forefathers had to seek his father’s God for himself; and to each of them the Holy One gave another glimpse of his face. So it is with us.”


25 Jesus said, And when you stand praying, forgive if you have anything against any one, that your Father in the heavens may also forgive you your offences.

26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in the heavens forgive your offences.

Mark places this bit of Jesus’ teaching at this point in the narrative a) because it is linked to the preceding teaching about prayer and b) because here Jesus and his disciples are face to face with ruthless enemies who are trying to destroy them. Jesus has counselled his disciples to pay no attention to them but to do what is right. But they should not get self-righteous and unforgiving. Those who have not struggled to forgive others have no idea of what forgiveness is and cannot ask God for it. God is ever ready to forgive, but forgiveness is a two – way process that requires the readiness of the other to receive. It is hard to express this truth correctly. This passage might give the wrong impression that there are preconditions to God’s forgiveness. We might prefer to say that God’s forgiveness comes first and makes us able to forgive others. But that’s not quite right either, because God’s forgiveness cannot advance a millimetre into an unforgiving heart. So it must be that our very request for God’s forgiveness is simultaneously a recognition of our unfitness to stand in judgment and a readiness to forgive.  

Rembrandt: the forgiving father

Rembrandt: the forgiving father

It’s a killer, this teaching, because it strikes at the heart of our real hurt, our justifiable resentments and our condemnation of others. Ach, how can Jesus demand this of me, that I surrender the precious store of justifiable bitterness that I have nursed so long? This is the kind of teaching which led the disciples to ask in exasperation, “Then who can be saved?” And the answer is, none of us, except those whose hard hearts have been broken open by their need for forgiveness..

One comment

  1. Magnificent statement on forgiveness! Short, but it says more than whole books that have been written. And it is also the reason why every one of us has to seek God for ourselves and receive a glimpse of God’s infinite and multi-faceted goodness. The quotes from Baal Shem Tov are superb.

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