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Bible Study Guide for Sunday August 2, 2020

July 30, 2020

● Genesis 32:22–31

● Psalm 17:1–7, 16

● Romans 9:1–5

● Matthew 14:13–21

We've now moved ahead in the Genesis story of the Patriarchs. Since our previous excerpt, Jacob has escaped Laban's snares (taking Laban's daughters and a great many animals!) and avenged himself a bit by successfully stealing Laban's idols (with Rachel's help). But he is filled with fear and guilt because of his deceitful dealings with Esau. (Recall that he conned Esau out of his birthright, taking advantage of their near-blind father who was near death.) Our texts use this point of the harrowing tale as Jacob crosses the Jabbok (presumably to a somewhat safer country, albeit one with Esau looming – but Jacob has a plan for that!) to proclaim foundational ideas about the Nation of Israel and what it means to encounter and wrestle with God.

Names are crucial! After surviving his dream-like wrestling with an unknown being, Jacob is renamed 'Israel' – that is one who has striven with God. Note that the narrative text is rather confusing. Who is 'he' at various times? Dreams are like that, are they not? And the place name is again important: Peniel – being face-to-face with God. The authors of this ancient text have taken great pains to explain and justify the Nation of Israel at the time of their writing as one that has faced God and one that truly strives to obey Him. These themes are reflected in the well-chosen Psalm for this Sunday: "... I shall see you face to face" (v 17:16). Furthermore, in Romans, Paul clearly declares Israel as the Nation chosen to strive with God and to yield infinite benefits, leading to the birth of the Messiah.

Turning to our Gospel reading, we hear about five thousand Jews in Palestine (surely descendants of Jacob), following a new leader, Jesus, as they continued striving to understand and obey their Creator. Jesus, for his part, shaken by the execution of his cousin, John the Baptist, would have likely wished to cross a new Jabbok to safety. But that was not to be. Instead, we hear of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. While visiting in Israel 20 years ago, I heard Franciscan friars at the presumed site along the Sea of Galilee refer to the event as The Multiplication. I like to think of this feeding as similar to the miraculous multiplication of Jacob and his wives into the many thousands in the Twelve Tribes of Israel, fulfilling God's Covenant with Abraham. Jesus' feeding provides for all those present plus Twelve additional full baskets – the number of baskets is not a coincidence. The ancient Multiplication, birthing a Nation from a single family, is re-enacted via a miraculous meal multiplied from five loaves and two fish. Chuck Medler

● Jacob's wrestling with God reminds me of certain difficult nights, struggling with something I'd said or done the previous day. Have you experienced struggling at night, perhaps during prayer or in a dream, only to awaken with a new view of yourself and the world?

● How do you think about The Multiplication and other Biblical miracles? I tend to worry about the concrete facts of the miracles, but I know that it can be rewarding to think about their significance, without worrying about the details.

Author: Chuck Medler


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