“The Better Part” Was a Fulfillment of Prophecy

I have been reading N. T. Wright’s big book, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, since my library kindly makes it available on Overdrive as an ebook. There is a fair amount of wading through scholarly replies to idiocy, some stuff you won’t agree with, and some rather amazingly useful scholarship and Christian teaching. I recommend it, but as always, you have to read with care. He’s a good faithful Biblical scholar, and he’s also a liberal Anglican, so sometimes there are some oddnesses.

Anyhoo… the book talks a lot (though apparently not as much as his The New Testament and the People of God book) about the Messianic expectations of first century Jews. A surprising amount of this comes from stuff Moses says in Deuteronomy 30 and afterward, and there’s a good section on how this shows up in references in books like Tobit and 2nd Maccabees, as well as in the more farflung books that aren’t part of Christian Scripture, like Jubilees or Enoch. (As an Anglican, Wright calls poor Tobit “Apocrypha.” Like I say, you have to read him while knowing there are points of disagreement. You can’t get too comfortable.)

So I did the obvious thing and took a look at all this Deuteronomy prophecy in Chapters 30 and following. And indeed, there are many interesting things there!

Here is one from Deuteronomy 33:1-3 —

This is the blessing with which the man of God, Moses, blessed the children of Israel before his death.

And he said, “The Lord came from Sinai, and from Seir He rose up to us;
He has appeared from Mount Pharan, and with him thousands of saints;
In His right hand, a fiery law.

“He has loved the people; all the saints are in His hand;
and those who approach to His feet shall receive of His doctrine.

Here’s Luke 10:38-42 —

Now it came to pass as they went, that He entered into a certain town, and a certain woman named Martha received Him into her house.

And she had a sister called Mary who, sitting also at the Lord’s feet, heard His word.

But Martha was busy about much serving; she stood and said, “Lord, have you no care that my sister has left me alone to serve? Speak to her, therefore, that she help me.”

And the Lord, answering, said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are full of cares and troubled about many things. But one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

So what the Lord is doing is reminding Martha obliquely of this famous Deuteronomy passage. It’s another hint that He is God and isn’t exactly hiding His claim. But Martha probably understood it as a rebuke based on “I’m the Messiah and this is the promised happy end of days, so all the stuff in Deuteronomy has to start happening.” (Although maybe she did get the claim to be God, and just took time to absorb it.)

This of course assumes that Martha would be Scripturally savvy enough to understand, which she probably was. She’s the one who invited the Lord to stay at the house with all his disciples, and she’s the one who met him in town after her brother Lazarus died, and said the following things in John 11:21-27:

“Martha therefore said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But now too, I know that whatever you will ask of God, God will give you.”

Jesus says to her, “Your brother shall rise again.”

Martha says to him, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believes in Me, although he be dead, shall live. And every one that lives and believes in me, shall not die for ever. Do you believe this?”

She says to him, “Yes, Lord, I have believed that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God, who are come into this world.””

So basically Jesus respects Martha’s Scripture knowledge a lot, enough to ask her those rabbinical questions and to tell her a fair amount. His earlier rebuke was the rebuke of someone who ought to know better than to interfere with prophecy of God’s will, and who obviously would want the prophecies and blessings to come to pass.

(And it sounds like he was also telling Martha to sit down and do some prophecy fulfilling, in much the same teasing way as families are always telling the woman of the house to sit down and join the talk.)

Finally, Martha also had learned her lesson about inadvertently working against prophecy:

John 11:28-30 —

“And when she had said these things, she went, and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, “The master is come, and he calls for you.”

“… for Jesus was not yet come into the town, but He was still in that place where Martha had met Him.”

The Bible is so full of cool stuff!!!!

PS – The quote isn’t as obvious in some modern Bibles. You get versions of Deuteronomy 33:3 like “They follow in his steps,” or “They all bow down.” This is part of why modern Bible translations are often pretty darned useless for seeing the connections between books and stories, even though you may get the general gist of each book in turn. Older Bibles try to translate in a way that reveals instead of concealing connections.

To their credit, though, a lot of Bibles do reference the Deuteronomy/Mary and Martha connection, down in the footnotes. It doesn’t seem to be pointed out as a prophecy fulfillment, though. Instead, you get a lot of commentary about another Deuteronomy quote by Jesus, the one about how “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word from the mouth of God.” (Deut. 8:3) Well, that’s peachy, but sorta beside Luke’s point.

And that’s where a lot of feminist Bible interpretation falls down. Here’s a legitimate feminist moment, where Mary and Martha represent all of Israel in a big prophecy moment, and the feminist interpretations don’t even mention the prophecy tie-in. (At least, not the ones I have read. But I read a lot of this junk back in the 1980’s, and I think I’d remember something cool like this.)

PPS – “All the saints are in His hand” (Deut. 33:3) also gets referenced by Jesus:

John 10:27-30 —

“My sheep hear My voice; and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them life everlasting; and they shall not perish for ever, and no man shall pluck them out of My hand. What My Father has given Me is greater than all; and no one can snatch them out of the hand of My Father. I and the Father are one.”

So yeah, Jesus kept right on claiming to be God all through His ministry. Not a big secret, when you quote famous passages that everybody knew….

So everybody check out Moses’ prophecies at the end of Deuteronomy!

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