Not to the Right or to the Left

“Only be strong and very courageous, to observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest have good success whithersoever thou goest” (Joshua 1:7).

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Such a line will not deviate toward any other direction. But such is really true only in ideal terms; in our reality, there is no such thing as a completely straight line. It is possible to make a line seem very straight indeed, but we cannot make a perfectly straight line. This nicely illustrates the human predicament.

God has provided a standard for living; in the old covenant, it was the Law of Moses. Ideally, Israel would hold firm to the Law, observing everything in it, not deviating at all, or, as God encouraged Joshua, and in turn Joshua the people, “to not turn from it to the right hand or to the left” (Joshua 1:7, 23:6). In the new covenant in Christ, we are to love and know God and keep His commandments, walking as Jesus walked (1 John 2:1-6). This remains the ideal.

And yet none of us can live up to that standard perfectly. Peter and Paul declared as much in regards to Israel and the Law (Acts 13:38-39, 15:10, Romans 3:20). John understands that Christians do not live up to the ideal either (1 John 1:8-2:6). If we cannot perfectly go straight, why would God provide such exhortation to Israel and to Christians today?

The ideal is not worthless or irrelevant simply because no one save Jesus has ever lived up to it perfectly. God has always understood our deficiencies as humans; such is why He established the sacrificial system in the Old Testament, and continues to grant grace and mercy through Jesus in the New Testament (cf. Leviticus, Romans 5:6-11, 8:1-39). And yet we must not become complacent or content by acknowledging our imperfection; it is easy for us to think that since we cannot live up to the ideal perfectly, we should not try! Therefore, we do well to confess that the ideal is ideal: we should be following what God says perfectly. We should walk in God’s ways without any deviation; we should go “straight” and should not go “to the right hand or to the left.” When we do deviate from God’s command, we ought to admit as much, change our minds and ways, and return to the good path (1 John 1:9). In all things we must place our trust in God and His ideal way for mankind (Hebrews 11:6)!

The image of going “straight” and not turning “to the right hand or to the left” also underscores the necessity of balance. While it remains true that many people have deviated from God’s path and purposes on account of rebellion and a desire to sin, many others have deviated from God’s path because they overemphasized certain aspects of God’s truth to the detriment of other aspects.

This proves quite easy to do; we humans easily go to extremes. We rightly see a problem with one side; it is tempting to run far to the other side in response. We see certain groups associated with certain practices; it is tempting to want to go to the other extreme so that no one would confuse “us” with “them.”

This is why it is important for us to remember that God wants us to not deviate to the right hand or to the left; truth is rarely, if ever, found in the extremes. Furthermore, there remain many aspects of the faith that are held in a sort of tension: God’s sovereignty and grace with human freedom, for instance, or the imperative to holiness with the imperative to love, mercy, and grace. The Scriptures are filled with examples of people who have gone to one extreme or another: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the “Judaizers,” the Gnostics, and so on.

God is far greater than ourselves, and His truth remains sublime (Isaiah 55:8-9, Romans 11:33-36). God has set forth His standard for the creation and all mankind; it is up to us to confess its value and make it our goal in life. Whenever we deviate from that standard, either by stumbling into some sin, or by overemphasizing certain aspects of truth to the detriment of other aspects of it, we must change our ways and seek to re-align our will to God’s. God’s ways and God’s truth remain ideally straight, firm, and balanced; we, in our sin and corruption, have turned to the right or to the left. Let us turn away from all deviations and seek to glorify God in spirit and truth in all we think, say, do, and teach!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Not to the Right or to the Left

Jesus’ Genealogical Surprises

The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judah and his brethren; and Judah begat Perez and Zerah of Tamar; and Perez begat Hezron; and Hezron begat Ram; and Ram begat Amminadab; and Amminadab begat Nahshon; and Nahshon begat Salmon; and Salmon begat Boaz of Rahab; and Boaz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; and Jesse begat David the king. And David begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Uriah (Matthew 1:1-6).

When we come to the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, it is easy to fall into the temptation of “skipping over” the first few verses that describe the genealogy of Jesus Christ.  After all, the Old Testament is full of such lists, and they are perceived as being quite “boring.”  What is one doing in the New Testament– beginning the New Testament, no less?

Yes, the genealogy does set forth how Jesus is the descendant of David and Abraham, which is significant for His claim of being the Messiah.  But there are also many surprises in Jesus’ genealogy.

First we come to Tamar (Matthew 1:3).  Her story is described in Genesis 38: she is married to Judah’s oldest son Er, who dies, and then is married to Onan, who dies, and is held in waiting for Judah’s youngest son Shelah.  When Judah does not marry her to Shelah, she takes on the garb of a cult prostitute and Judah hires her service.  When the whole situation is revealed, he confesses that she is more righteous than he (Genesis 38:26)!  And not only is she an ancestor of Jesus, she is explicitly named in the genealogy!

Next is Rahab (Matthew 1:5).  Her story is in Joshua 2.  She is the prostitute who maintains an inn in Jericho, and she hides the Israelite spies.  She recognizes that the God of Israel is the true God and does not want to share in the fate of her fellow countrymen.  Thus, we have a prostitute who deceives civic authorities who is an ancestor of Jesus the Christ, and she also is listed explicitly in His genealogy!

We also have Ruth (Matthew 1:5), and her wonderful story of faith in the book bearing her name.  She is a Moabitess who clings to the God of her mother-in-law Naomi despite all the adversity they were experiencing.  Yet another foreigner who is an ancestor of Jesus of Nazareth!

It is also interesting to note that Bathsheba is alluded to but not explicitly named in Matthew 1:6.  She is remembered as being the wife of Uriah the Hittite!

What are we to gain from this?  A woman willing to sell herself to her father-in-law to bring forth descendants, a lying Canaanite prostitute, and a Moabitess widow are explicitly named as ancestors of the Messiah, the Son of God.  Despite their flaws, and despite their methodology, they are women of faith.  Tamar ends up being “more righteous” and perpetuates the line of Judah.  Rahab acts as she does by faith.  All Ruth has is faith.

And Bathsheba?  She acted according to the dictates of King David, engaging in acts of faithlessness.  And she is left unnamed.

People of faith are not always pretty, and some of their actions may be hard to understand.  And yet Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth have the ultimate testimony: they can claim Jesus Himself as their descendant.

Let us consider the “surprises” in Jesus’ genealogy, and recognize that even when faith is found in the strangest of places, it honors and glorifies God.  Let us be found as people of faith!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus’ Genealogical Surprises