Last Saturday, the New York Times made a boo-boo. Not the misspelling of some weirdly-named Nigerian rebel kind of boo-boo. No, a BIG one!
The Times reported that former President George W. Bush would not be voting to re-elect Donald Trump. “This is completely made up,” Bush’s spokesperson promptly responded. “He is retired from presidential politics and has not indicated how he will vote.”
As I said, Oops!
The furor may have pushed Bush to decide because he’s now solidly behind Trump.
Such an embarrassing mistake was bound to happen. If you don’t know anything about the New York Times, here’s a seven-word summary: They trash Trump and Trump trashes them.
Writers always and everywhere have had an agenda, a goal, a reason to write. This is nothing new. For me, it’s Jesus.
Moreover, the Times’ writers have an audience for their agenda. You probably figured that out. But, again, all writers do. Choosing secular newspapers over Christian publications reaches a broader group—that was God’s decision for me.
What difference does this make to you? A big one.
Gospel writers consciously chose their readers, and that’s important to understand. It explains a lot. For instance, why would anyone start a book with a long list of who begat whom? Many Christians skip that part.
It’s boring stuff.
Ah, but not if you know the Old Testament. Matthew writes for people who know their Scripture: His fellow Jews. They see the names and recall the scandalous stories—juicy Jewish gossip. Like Tamar, Rahab, and Boaz. They passionately understand Matthew’s desire to connect Jesus to Abraham.
A big yawn for Gentiles. Who cares about some old bearded guy 2,000 years before Christ?
But Matthew’s readers did. In fact, there are passages in Matthew that are nowhere else in Scripture because of his audience. The first Gospel is the only place we learn that Jesus lived “by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali.” Matthew 4:13
Perhaps you’ve skipped right over those words. More boring stuff—I hear you. But, no. Stay with me. I promise you, this gets good.
Funny names are everywhere in the Bible, but Zebulun and Naphtali are important. Every Jew knew why—they’re two of Jacob’s twelve sons. In Genesis, Jacob’s name is changed to Israel and his sons become the twelve tribes of Israel. A big deal.
When Moses leads God’s people out of Egypt, those are the 12 tribes of Israel. Ultimately, they divide the Promised Land. Zebulun and Naphtali are given the area by a lake, the Sea of Galilee.
Remember what Matthew said, that Jesus lived “by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali.” That’s the Sea of Galilee.
Matthew then points to the prophet Isaiah, who said this area would one day be important. During Isaiah’s life, some 700 years B.C., the land of Zebulun and Naphtali was in disgrace. It had been conquered by Assyria and the people had been taken away as captives.
But Isaiah can see the future.
He says: “There will be no more gloom … [God] humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations … the people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” Isaiah 9:1-2
And that great light is Jesus.
The prophet Isaiah sees our Lord living at the Sea of Galilee some 700 years before it happens! Matthew 4:12-16
I told you this was good.
Matthew is also the only writer who points out that not even the father of Jesus knew this plan. When Joseph returns from Egypt with Mary and baby Jesus after Herod dies, Joseph is warned in a dream to leave the area. Joseph then goes north to Nazareth, about 15 miles from the Sea of Galilee. Matthew 2:19-23
No matter the writer, whether at the New York Times or behind the scenes at Fox News, there’s an agenda—sometimes obvious and sometimes hidden.
But that’s also true for Scripture. God guided every hand that wrote His holy words, and passages can have meanings that are not readily seen. Knowing a writer’s goal, in Matthew’s case it’s to connect the dots for the Jews, can take you beyond what’s said to why it’s important. You’ll catch things like an odd entry about two Jewish brothers, Zebulun and Naphtali.
Pay attention. Look behind the looking glass.
Copyright © 2020 R.A. Mathews. All rights reserved. The Rev. Mathews is a faith columnist and the author of “Reaching to God.” She can be reached at Letters@RAMathews.com or on Twitter @RA_Mathews