Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 18, 2016

Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures
Author's note:
Sometimes I have material left over when I edit Comments down to fit the available space. This page presents notes that landed on the clipping room floor. Some may be useful to you. While I avoid technical language in the Comments (or explain special terms), Clippings may have unexplained jargon from time to time.

A hypertext Glossary of Terms is integrated with Clippings. Simply click on any highlighted word in the text and a pop-up window will appear with a definition. Bibliographic references are also integrated in the same way.

Isaiah 7:10-16

This passage is set during the Syro-Ephraimite War (734-733 BC). For the historical background, see 2 Kings 16:1-20. [ NOAB] Judah, under Ahaz, appealed to Assyria for help. When Assyrian forces captured Damascus, they deported its people and killed King Rezin of Syria. Judah ended up a vassal of Assyria, paying a heavy tribute. Assyria made Galilee and Gilead Assyrian provinces.

Verse 1: “Ahaz”: King of Judah 735-715 BC. [ CAB]

Verse 1: “Aram”: i.e. Syria. [ NOAB]

Verse 1: “to attack Jerusalem”: To force Judah into the alliance, negotiations having failed.

Verse 3: “Shear-jashub”: The name means A remnant shall return; it is probably symbolic. God has a future purpose for his people that will not be thwarted by two kings. [ CAB] At worst, God’s promises to David, made via Nathan (see 2 Samuel 7:8-16) will be preserved in the remnant; this is supported by 10:20-23: “On that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on the one who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God.”. On the other hand, the remnant may be Isaiah and his disciples. [ NOAB]

Verse 3: “the upper pool”: The reservoir south of the Pool of Siloam. [ NOAB]

Verse 4: “do not fear”: This also fits in with Israel’s holy-war tradition. Deuteronomy 20:2-4 says: “Before you engage in battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the troops, and shall say to them: ‘Hear, O Israel! Today you are drawing near to do battle against your enemies. Do not lose heart, or be afraid, or panic, or be in dread of them; for it is the Lord your God who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to give you victory’”. [ NJBC]

Verse 6: “Tabeel”: The name means God is good. [ CAB] Tabeel was a region in northern Transjordan. [ JBC]

Verse 8: “Within sixty-five years”: Samaria actually fell in 721 BC, only 13 years later. [ CAB]

Verse 9: “firm in faith”: Calls to faith are characteristic of Isaiah; sometimes they are in other terminology. In 8:17, Isaiah says: “I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him” and in 28:16 “thus says the Lord GOD, See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation: ‘One who trusts will not panic’”. See also 30:15. [ NJBC]

Verse 9: “you shall not stand at all”: 8:10 says that human counsel will come to “naught” – whereas Yahweh has his own purpose which he will surely carry out: see also 5:12, 19; 14:24 (“... as I have designed, so it shall be; as I have planned, so shall it come to pass”).

Verse 14: “young woman”: The Hebrew word is almah. This word also appears in Genesis 24:43 (“young woman”, Rebekah at the well); Exodus 2:8 (“girl”, Moses’ sister); Psalm 68:25 and elsewhere – where it is translated young woman, girl or maiden. [ NOAB] The Hebrew word for virgin is betula. [ NJBC]

Verse 15: “curds and honey”: NOAB suggests that this is simple food for a child being weaned.

Verse 15: “by the time he knows”: NJBC sees so that he may know as a superior translation.

Verse 17: “the king of Assyria”: An explanatory note added by a later editor. [ NJBC]

Psalm 80:1-7,17-19

Superscription: “Of Asaph”: Asaph was appointed by David to share in leading worship, and sang and/or played at the dedication of the Temple Solomon built. 1 Chronicles 6:31-48 tells of “Asaph” being a musician appointed by David.

Verse 1: “Shepherd”: See also Genesis 48:15 (Jacob refers to God as his shepherd); 49:24; Psalms 23:1 (“The Lord is my shepherd ...”); 77:20. [ JBC]

Verse 1: “enthroned upon the cherubim”: See also 1 Samuel 4:4 (“the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim”); 2 Samuel 6:2; Isaiah 37:16. [ NJBC]

Verse 2: “Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh”: 78:67-68 says “ He rejected the tent of Joseph, he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim; but he chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which he loves”. [ NOAB]

Verse 3: “shine”: The REB offers shine upon us.

Verses 4-6: The prophets of the northern kingdom did not hesitate to declare the covenant nullified because of Israel’s infidelity: see Amos 1:3-2:6; Hosea 1:9 (where Lo-ammi means not my people). [ NJBC]

Verses 8-13: These verses depict Israel as a vine, once carefully tended but now forsaken. This metaphor is also found in Isaiah 5:1-7; 27:2-6; Jeremiah 2:2; Hosea 10:1; Ezekiel 17. [ JBC]

Verse 8: “nations”: 78:55 says “He drove out nations before them; he apportioned them for a possession and settled the tribes of Israel in their tents”. Deuteronomy 7:1 names them: “the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you”. [ NOAB]

Verse 10: “mighty cedars”: Mighty trees that are like mountains are God’s work, not that of humans.

Verse 11: “the River”: The Euphrates. 1 Kings 4:21 tells of the extent of Solomon’s kingdom: “Solomon was sovereign over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines, even to the border of Egypt”. [ NOAB]

Verses 12-13: 89:40-41 is similar. [ NJBC]

Verse 12: Vines were usually protected by walls as a guard against humans and animals. [ JBC]

Verse 16: “they”: i.e. their enemies.

Verse 17: “the one at your right hand”: 110:1 says “The Lord says to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool’”. [ JBC]

Verse 17: “the one whom ...”: The Hebrew is ben ‘adam , meaning son of man. [ JBC]

Romans 1:1-7

Acts 18:2 tells us “Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome”. The Christian message had reached Rome by the 40s AD, for in 49 AD Emperor Claudius’ edict expelling Jews from Rome included Christians. The edict was lifted by Emperor Nero in 54 AD.

Verse 1: “servant”: The Greek word, doulos, is also found in 2 Corinthians 4:5 (“slaves”). In the Old Testament, there is a custom of certain persons calling themselves slaves of Yahweh: see Psalms 27:9 (“servant”); 31:16; 89:50. But the term was also used to describe great figures who served him in history leading to God’s saving act: Moses (in 2 Kings 18:12), Joshua (in Judges 2:8) and Abraham (in Psalm 105:6). Paul sees himself as in this lineage. [ NJBC]

Verse 1: “called to be an apostle”: For Paul’s call, see also Galatians 1:15-16; 2 Corinthians 4:5-6; Acts 9:1-9; 22:6-11; 26:12-28. [ CAB]

Verse 2: “holy scriptures”: At the time Paul was writing, the terms Old Testament and New Testament didn’t yet exist. That certain books were included in the Septuagint translation (made in the 200s BC) indicated that these books had more authority than others which were excluded from it, yet the faithful also regarded other books (e.g. 1 Enoch and other pseudepigrapha) as being “holy”. The books considered “holy scriptures” varied from time to time and from place to place. Only in the 200s AD was the make-up of the Old Testament standardized (canonized). When Paul wrote Romans, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were yet to be written; however, it is possible that a prototype of Mark’s gospel existed.

Verses 3-4: These verses appear to be a pre-Pauline christological formula. [ CAB]

Verse 3: “descended from David”: See also Isaiah 11:1-10 (“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse ...”, Jesse being David’s father) and 2 Samuel 7:11-14. [ CAB]

Verse 3: “according to the flesh”: In 4:1, Paul says that Abraham is “our ancestor according to the flesh”. See also 9:3, 5; 1 Corinthians 10:18 (where the Greek includes according to the flesh). [ CAB]

Verse 4: “Son of God”: See also Galatians 4:4; Romans 8:3; Mark 1:1, 11 (Jesus’ baptism); 9:7 (his transfiguration); 15:39 (the centurion at Calvary). [ CAB]

Verse 5: “obedience of faith”: To Paul, faith is obedience to the gospel. In 6:17 he says that his first readers “have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted”. See also 16:26 and 2 Corinthians 9:13. [ CAB]

Verse 5: “among all the Gentiles”: In v. 13, Paul says “I have often intended to come to you ..., in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles”. See also 11:15; Galatians 1:15-16; 2:7-9. [ CAB]

Verse 7: “called to be saints”: This is probably an allusion to being grafted into the covenant. The Greek words Paul uses here, klete hagia , are also found in the Septuagint translation of Exodus 12:16, part of the instructions for commemorating the Passover, the escape from death of Israel’s first-born in Egypt: “On the first day you shall hold a solemn assembly [klete hagia] and on the seventh day a solemn assembly [ klete hagia]”. klete hagia means called into a special relationship with God as a result of God’s very essence, part of which is to call people into a relationship with him. [ NJBC]

Verse 7: “peace”: Hebrew: shalom.

Verses 8-15: For similar Pauline thanksgivings, see 1 Corinthians 1:4-9; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Philippians 1:3-11; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10; Philemon 4-7. Note that Romans lacks the usual specific references to the life of the community addressed – because Paul was yet to visit Rome (see vv. 10-13). [ CAB]

Verse 9: “with my spirit”: i.e. wholeheartedly. [ CAB]

Verse 9: “in my prayers”: Paul writes in Philippians 1:3-5: “ thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now”. See also 1 Thessalonians 1:2; Philemon 4-5. See further Colossians 1:3; Ephesians 1:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:3. [ CAB]

Verse 14: “a debtor”: i.e. under an obligation to preach to Gentiles. [ CAB]

Verse 14: “to Greeks and to barbarians”: i.e. to non-Jews, both cultured and not. It seems that the Christian community at Rome is of diverse ethnic backgrounds. [ CAB]

Verse 14: “to the wise and to the foolish”: See also 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God ...”). [ CAB]

Verse 16: God has acted, in Christ, powerfully to save all people who trust in him. [ NOAB]

Verse 17: The quotation is Habakkuk 2:4 in the Septuagint translation. [ NOAB]

Matthew 1:18-25

Luke 1:26-2:40 is a parallel to 1:18-2:23.

Comments: If Mosaic law on sexual relations was fully observed then : During the Roman occupation, the Romans administered capital punishment, not the Jews. Our sources do not indicate whether the Jewish courts could condemn a woman to stoning for pre-marital sex.

Verse 18: “Jesus the Messiah”: The Greek word translated “Messiah” is christos. BlkMt notes that some manuscripts read simply christos. Jesus’ birth is the miraculous coming of God into human life to dwell with people and to save them from their sins. John 1:14 says: “... the Word became flesh and lived among us ...”. “Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua. The genealogy (vv. 1-17) might suggest a political nationalistic leader, but, in that the root meaning of the name Joshua is Yah(weh) saves or Yah(weh) is salvation , Jesus’ ministry will be spiritual, not political, redemption.

Verse 18: “Holy Spirit”: A late Old Testament formula for spirit of God: in Ezekiel 37:1-14 (the valley of dry bones), Job 27:3 and Isaiah 42:5 (“breath”), the spirit of God is the cause of human life. The spirit is also active in the creative act (Genesis 1:2). Here in Matthew there is a particular, concrete and special case of that creative activity. In the Old Testament, “holy spirit” occurs in Psalm 51:11 and Isaiah 63:10-11. [ NJBC]

Verse 19: For Mosaic law on sexual relations, see Deuteronomy 22:13-30. Numbers 5:11-31 prescribes the trial by ordeal (for the wife) to be used where a man suspects his wife of being unfaithful. [ NJBC]

Verse 19: “Her husband”: The marriage contract made Joseph Mary’s husband even though they were not yet living together, as it made Mary Joseph’s “wife” (see vv. 20 and 24).

Verse 19: “dismiss her quietly”: Divorce, offered by BlkMt, is the modern-day term. Joseph intended to divorce her “quietly”, i.e. with the legal minimum of witnesses (two). He thought that Mary had violated the marriage tie by having sexual relations with another man.

Verse 20: The reader already knows that Mary is not unfaithful: “from the Holy Spirit” (v. 18).

Verse 21: Being “God ... with us” (v. 23), Jesus “will save his people from their sins”.

Verse 22: “this took place to fulfill ...”: For other instances of this formula, see 2:15, 17-18, 23; 4:14-16; 8:17; 12:17-21; 13:35; 21:4-5; 27:9-10.

Verse 23: The quotation is the Septuagint translation of Isaiah 7:14; however:

  • While the Septuagint has you shall name, here we have “they shall name”, and
  • The Hebrew text of Isaiah 7:14 speaks of a young woman ready for marriage (almah); the Septuagint translates it as parthenos, and Matthew follows suit. [ BlkMt]

Isaiah 7:10-16 speaks of a “sign”:

  • it may mean a supernatural though hardly a virgin birth;
  • it does refer to a child soon to be born, in whose early childhood the international situation will change radically and the danger to God’s people will be removed;
  • it does promise God’s coming and intervention to help his people. [ BlkMt]

The evangelist does see a parallel in God’s coming in Jesus to redeem his people. The story of the virgin birth was known to him, although it was not the common preaching message of the Church. Even though the Hebrew of Isaiah does not contain the literal virgin-birth idea, the specific redemptive action of God is present there, just as it is in the birth of Jesus. [ BlkMt]

Acts 21:9 says that Philip the evangelist “had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy”. There parthenos is translated as “unmarried daughters”.

Verse 23: “‘God is with us’”: The identification of the glory or presence of God with a person is first seen in Isaiah 8:7-8, 10 (the source of the quotation). Solomon’s question in 1 Kings 8:27 (“... will God indeed dwell on the earth?”) is now answered in a new way.

Verse 25: The perpetual virginity of Mary is neither affirmed nor denied. The Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds both speak of the Virgin Mary. I suggest that Virgin here is adjectival: to distinguish Mary, the bearer of God, from other Marys. BlkMt says that “[he] had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son” implies that she did later have other children by Joseph.

The basic preaching message of the Apostolic Age began not with the birth of Jesus but with the ministry of John the Baptizer and the baptism of Jesus. The story of the birth of Jesus came to Matthew and Luke through private channels of tradition. Matthew and Luke present the same main points. Their story is rooted in Jewish life and linguistic usage. The basic theological truth that they express is:

  • God sent Jesus
  • he was more than a human king descended from David
  • as son of the living God (see 16:16), he is indeed the Christ, the expected Jewish Messiah, but in his life and work he is linked with God in a deeper way, so that his coming means “God is with us”, and
  • his coming had long been God’s intent and was a specific powerful act of God to save humankind. [ BlkMt]

Jesus was born as a real human being and lived a truly human life. [ BlkMt]

© 1996-2016 Chris Haslam

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