Shining a light on the weekly Bible Lessons published in the Christian Science Quarterly® 

Mortals and Immortals

from the Responsive Reading

Genesis 32:24, 25

Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. 

Jacob’s struggle takes place during his journey back to Beersheba after twenty years in Haran. On the outward trip he was a fugitive, traveling alone and without possessions. But he encountered God at Bethel and received a divine promise of land and descendants—as well as God’s pledge “I . . . will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land” (28:15). 

Now Jacob is a successful property owner with a large family. Yet he sends his entourage ahead and is once again alone in the wilderness. In this second spiritual crisis, he is ready to come to terms with the wrongs he has committed—and to embrace a higher nature. 

A commentary notes, “The thigh is the pillar of a man’s strength, and its joint with the hip the seat of physical force for the wrestler.” Jacob’s perseverance through this intense interchange is rewarded with a complete transformation of character, symbolized by his new name, Israel (see 32:28). The prophet Hosea later says of Jacob, “By his strength he had power with God” (Hosea 12:3).

Genesis 32:28

Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.

prevailed: triumphed; succeeded

from Section 1

1 | Isaiah 42:6–8

I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house. I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.

Translation

I, the LORD, have called you to do what is right. 
I will take hold of your hand. 
I will protect you. 
I will appoint you as my promise  to the people, 
as my light to the nations. 
You will give sight to the blind, 
bring prisoners out of prisons, 
and bring those who live in darkness out of dungeons. 
I am the LORD; that is my name. 
I will not give my glory to anyone else 
or the praise I deserve to idols.

—GOD’S WORD Translation

graven images: carved statues used for worship 

2 | Galatians 3:3

Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?

Translation

After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh?

—Holman Christian Standard Bible

3 | James 1:8, 23–25

A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. . . . For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. 

Translation

He who doubts is thinking two different things at the same time. He cannot decide about anything he does. . . . A person who hears God’s teaching and does nothing is like a man looking in a mirror. He sees his face, then goes away and quickly forgets what he looked like. But the truly happy person is the one who carefully studies God’s perfect law that makes people free. He continues to study it. He listens to God’s teaching and does not forget what he heard. Then he obeys what God’s teaching says. When he does this, it makes him happy.

—International Children’s Bible

In the context of this letter, double-mindedness implies more than hypocrisy—it signifies distrust in God. One source calls it “half-hearted allegiance—an attempt to combine the service of God with the service of self and the world.” Jesus’ words about this are clear: “No man can serve two masters: . . . Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).

The perfect law to be looked into as in a mirror is the Christian interpretation of Hebrew law. The Master’s teachings are to be lived, not merely learned. Another authority explains, “It is not the person who momentarily notices and obeys a command of Christ who will be blessed, but the person who is characterized by obedience to Christ’s commands—for whom they are a chosen lifestyle.”

unstable: unsteady; not firm

from Section 2

4 | II Corinthians 5:1, 4

We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. . . . we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.

Translation

While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life.

—New Living Translation

“Of this tabernacle” (Greek, skēnos) refers to a tent, the most temporary of ancient Hebrew dwellings and worship sites. Paul, a tentmaker by profession (see Acts 18:3), employs this familiar image to contrast the fragile and transitory nature of the mortal body with the spiritual permanence of the “building of God . . . eternal in the heavens.”

The Greek verb rendered dissolved (katalyō) means destroy, demolish, or overthrow. Jesus uses this term in predicting the destruction of the Temple: “Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down [katalyō]” (Mark 13:2).

burdened: loaded with weight; greatly troubled

5 | Psalms 4:6

There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.

Translation

Many are saying, “Who can show us anything good?” Let the light of your presence shine on us, O LORD.

—GOD’S WORD Translation

The “many” mentioned here are viewed as those who seek worldly good. But the Psalmist desires and urges spiritual light, possibly alluding to a well-loved verse from Numbers: “The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace” (6:26, citation 15).  Similar petitions for God’s light occur in Psalms 31:1667:180:3, 7, 19

One scholar defines divine light as “his gracious presence, the manifestations of himself, the discoveries of his love, communion with him, the comforts of his Spirit, and the joys of his salvation . . . .”

6 | Genesis 9:20–23

Noah . . . planted a vineyard: and he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father.

Respectful treatment by Shem and Japheth leads Noah to bless them. But because Ham reports his father’s indiscretion instead of restoring his dignity, his descendants (called Canaanites after Ham’s son) are relegated to a state of subservience from that time on (see vv. 24–27). Joshua, chaps. 1–13, reports that Ham’s descendants are displaced by the Israelites who enter Canaan after the Exodus. 

In the Bible, nakedness has a range of meanings—from inadequate covering to total nudity. Although not considered inherently evil, nakedness in the presence of God was later forbidden (see Exodus 20:26), and nakedness is tied to wrongdoing in this account. Still later it is associated with shame (see Lamentations 1:8). Deuteronomy 28:48 lists it as a condition of captivity, and James 2:15 as a sign of poverty.

Christ Jesus calls for clothing the naked in his poignant instruction about caring for “the least of these my brethren” (see Matthew 25:34–40). And Paul uses nakedness as a metaphor for separation from God (see II Corinthians 5:2, 3).

7 | Colossians 3:12, 14

Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; . . . And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.

Translation

God has chosen you and made you his holy people. He loves you. So always do these things: Show mercy to others; be kind, humble, gentle, and patient. . . . Do all these things; but most important, love each other. Love is what holds you all together in perfect unity.

—International Children’s Bible

from Section 3

8 | Joshua 7:7, 10

Joshua said, Alas, O Lord God, wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan! . . . And the Lord said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?

Hebrew leader Joshua has prostrated himself (see v. 6) because of a minor military defeat soon after the remarkable triumph at Jericho. Like others during the flight from Egypt (see Exodus 16:3Numbers 14:2, 3), he looks back in regret—but this lapse is seen as momentary frustration. At God’s galvanizing mandate, Joshua resumes his command. Soon after, the defeat is reversed, and the conquest of Canaan continues.

content: satisfied; at peace

10 | Isaiah 43:2

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.

Translation

When you go through deep waters, 
          I will be with you. 
When you go through rivers of difficulty, 
          you will not drown. 
When you walk through the fire of oppression, 
          you will not be burned up; 
          the flames will not consume you.

—New Living Translation

11 | I Corinthians 15:51–54

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then  shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.

Translation

Take notice! I tell you a mystery (a secret truth, an event decreed by the hidden purpose or counsel of God). We shall not all fall asleep [in death], but we shall all be changed (transformed) In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the [sound of the] last trumpet call. For a trumpet will sound, and the dead [in Christ] will be raised imperishable (free and immune from decay), and we shall be changed (transformed). For this perishable [part of us] must put on the imperishable [nature], and this mortal [part of us, this nature that is capable of dying] must put on immortality (freedom from death). And when this perishable puts on the imperishable and this that was capable of dying puts on freedom from death, then shall be fulfilled the Scripture that says, Death is swallowed up (utterly vanquished forever) in and unto victory.

—Amplified® Bible Classic

from Section 5

12 | Matthew 18:2, 3, 10

Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. . . . Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. 

Translation

. . . “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, unless you repent [that is, change your inner self—your old way of thinking, live changed lives] and become like children [trusting, humble, and forgiving], you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. . . . See that you do not despise or think less of one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven [are in the presence of and] continually look upon the face of My Father who is in heaven.”

—Amplified® Bible

In early Jewish and Christian tradition, it was thought that guardian angels were sent to individuals (see Psalms 34:791:11Acts 12:15Hebrews 1:13, 14). Angels that could see the face of God—who had direct access to Him—were deemed the most powerful.

Despise is translated from the Greek term kataphroneō, signifying disdain rather than hate. In a culture where people usually honored only religious leaders, political rulers, and military heroes, the Savior’s charge would have been startling to his disciples—especially in response to their concern about heavenly status (see 18:1). Jesus reaffirms his instruction when his close followers rebuke people who bring children to him for healing, saying, “Of such is the kingdom of heaven” (see 19:13, 14).

converted: transformed; persuaded to adopt another faith or belief; adapted to a new or different purpose
take heed: pay attention; think about carefully

from Section 6

13 | Isaiah 40:9

O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!

In Hebrew Scripture, messengers heralded royal decrees and proclamations (see, for instance, II Chronicles 30:6Daniel 3:4). Here a herald is depicted publishing the good news of God’s presence and power to His people. John the Baptist later identifies himself with Isaiah 40, citing verse 3 to indicate his position as herald of Christ Jesus’ advent (see Mark 1:2–4).

14 | Luke 5:12, 13

It came to pass, when he was in a certain city, behold a man full of leprosy: who seeing Jesus fell on his face, and besought him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.

leprosy: skin disease
clean: healthy; pure

from Section 7

15 | Numbers 6:24–26

The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: the Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

Known as the Aaronite benediction, this blessing was given by God to Moses for his brother’s use, with the instruction “Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel” (v. 23). It caps a two-chapter discussion of priestly laws for maintaining physical and moral purity within the Jewish community. 

While today divine blessings are often viewed as general, Israelites expected and experienced them in very practical ways. The six acts of God listed in these verses—bless, keep, make his face shine, be gracious, lift up his face, and grant peace—were understood to cover the entirety of daily life. And, as a commentator suggests: “The repetition of God’s name reminds God’s people of his interest and involvement in their lives. . . . [It] helps them to remember the source of their blessings.”

Virtually identical benedictions were deciphered from two ancient silver scrolls—each about the circumference of a child’s finger—discovered near Jerusalem in 1979. After the lengthy and painstaking work it took to unroll these scrolls without damaging them, they were estimated to be among the oldest surviving biblical texts, dating to around 600 bc.  
 

16 | Acts 6:8, 10, 15

Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people. . . . And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake. . . . And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.

Stephen is one of seven men chosen by early Christians in Jerusalem to distribute contributions intended for the poor (see vv. 1–6). His “faith and power” propel him into becoming the first believer who was not one of the twelve apostles to work healings among the people. (Phillip soon fills this role as well; see 8:6.)

Unable to withstand Stephen’s inspired words, his enemies falsely accuse him of blasphemy “against Moses and against God” (6:11). Yet Stephen’s spiritual authority is unflinching. Sources compare the description of his face “as it had been the face of an angel” with Moses’ radiant face at his descent from Mt. Sinai (see Exodus 34:29). One points out this irony: “. . . it is Stephen, accused of blasphemy against Moses, and not the Sanhedrin, who is Israel’s authorized interpreter of Moses.”

stedfastly (steadfastly): unwaveringly; steadily

17 | II Corinthians 3:18

We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

“With open face” represents the clarity and accessibility of Christianity, leading to transformation “by the Spirit of the Lord.” The Greek word employed for open (anakalyptō) appears only in this chapter and refers to unveiling—metaphorically, according to a scriptural authority, a revealing of condition or character. Whoever embraces Jesus’ example will grow to embody the character of Christ.


Read a related article, “Face to face with God” by Mary Bretz Reed. 

The Bible Lessons serve as weekly study guides as well as the sermon in every Christian Science Sunday church service. Learn more at BibleLesson.com

Resources quoted in this issue

RR: Barnes, Albert. Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible. New York, 1834–85. Also available at biblehub.com/commentaries.

Cit. 3: Dummelow, John Roberts, ed. A Commentary on the Holy Bible by Various Writers. New York: MacMillan, 1936; Davids, Peter H. New International Biblical Commentary—James. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1989.

Cit. 5: Gill, John. Exposition of the Old and New Testaments. London, 1746–63. Also available at biblehub.com/commentaries.

Cit. 15: NLT Study Bible. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2017.

Cit. 16: Keck, Leander E., et al., eds. The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. Vol. 10, Acts, Introduction to Epistolary Literature, Romans, 1 Corinthians. Nashville: Abingdon, 1996–2001.

Cit. 17: Mounce, William D., ed. The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1993.

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