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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Second Sunday in Lent - March 16, 2014



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.

Genesis 12:1-4a

After the Tower of Babel incident (see 11:1-9), God scatters the peoples for making a permanent dwelling where they are supposed to settle only for a time, but here settling is followed by a direct call from God to go to, and dwell in, a land he designates: a sign of election. Ancient peoples thought that humankind originated in the east.

With Chapter 12, Genesis leaves prehistory behind and begins the story of Israel.

Abraham may be a semi--legendary figure; however, he may represent a people.

11:27-12:4b and 12:6-9 are considered by scholars to be from the Yahwist (J) tradition, while 12:4b-5 are from the Priestly (P) source. Comments follows the J tradition here. [ NJBC]

11:27: “Now these are the descendants of ...”: These words mark the beginning of a new story, as they do elsewhere in Genesis. [ JBC]

11:28: “Haran”: A location now in northeastern Syria.

11:31: “Abram ... Sarai”: NJBC notes that Abram and Sarai are dialectical variants of more usual forms of the names. JBC says that the names “Sarai” (meaning princess) and “Milcah” (meaning queen) indicate that the bearers of these names were devotees of Ningal, the consort of the moon god Sin worshipped in Ur and Haran. The name “Abram” occurs in Babylonian texts.

11:31: “Ur of the Chaldeans”: It was around 600 BC that Ur was of the Chaldeans – not in Abraham’s time. These words were either added by a later editor or inserted when the story was written down. [ JBC]

12:1-3: Israel, represented by Abram and Sarai, is chosen to play a decisive role in God’s historical purpose (see also Isaiah 29:22; 41:8; 51:2; Romans 4:13), including receiving land, becoming numerous, and having a relationship with God benefiting other human families. [ NOAB]

12:1: “Abram”: The name means exalted father. [ CAB]

12:2: “a great nation”: The reader expects nation, but when the story was retold, in the time of the early monarchy, national consciousness was in the ascendancy. [ NOAB]

12:2: “bless”: The Hebrew word barak includes the senses of vitality, health, longevity, fertility, and numerous progeny.

12:3: “the one who curses you I will curse”: The roots of the Hebrew words used here for curse are killel and arar. Killel means treat with disrespect, repudiate, abuse; arar means effect a ban or barrier to exclude or anathematize.

12:4: By breaking with his past and responding to God’s summons, Abram typifies the person of faith: see also Acts 7:2ff (Stephen); Romans 4:1-25; Galatians 3:1-29; Hebrews 6:13-14 (Melchizedek); 7:1-10; 11:8, 11. Hebrews 11:8 says “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going”.

12:4: “seventy--five years old”: A symbolic age underscoring divine power. [ JBC]

12:5: “Abram took ...”: A formula for departing to a new place. See also 11:31 (“Terah took ...”); 36:6 (“... Esau took ...”); 46:6 (“They [Jacob and his family] also took ...”). [ NJBC]

12:6: “Shechem”: 65 km (40 miles) north of Jerusalem, where the Covenant was renewed after entering the Promised Land: see Joshua 24. It is in the centre of the Land. Abram’s journey is later duplicated in Jacob’s (see 33:18; 35:1, 6, 27; 46:1) and is the general route of conquest under Joshua: see Joshua 7:2; 8:9, 30. Abram’s journey is a foretaste of what will happen later. Shechem was at the cross--roads of trade routes, in the pass between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. It was a flourishing Canaanite city. [ NJBC]

12:6: “the oak of Moreh”: Moreh means oracle giver , so this was presumably a tree sacred in an animist religion. The “oak of Moreh” is also mentioned in Deuteronomy 11:30 but NJBC says that the geography seems to be confused in that verse.

12:6: “Canaanites”: 13:7 says that “... there was strife between the herders of Abram's livestock and the herders of Lot's livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites lived in the land”. [ NOAB]

12:8: “Bethel”: This was a centre of the worship of God in the times of Jacob (in 28:19 Jacob renames the place), the judges (Judges 20:18, the Israelites visit the shrine to ask Yahweh which tribe should go first) and Amos (Amos 7:12-13, “Amaziah, the priest of Bethel”, tells King Jeroboam that Amos has conspired against him).

12:8: “Ai”: In Joshua 8, this is one of the places captured by the tribes of Israel as they enter the Promised Land. [ CAB]

12:9: “journeyed”: The root of the Hebrew word has the sense of pulled up tent stakes. [ NJBC]

12:9: “the Negeb”: This desert was the southern--most part of Israel. Abram traverses the whole of the land. [ CAB] [ FoxMoses]

12:9: 13:2 probably originally immediately followed this verse. [ JBC]

Psalm 121

Verse 1: “the hills”: For hill--tops as the sites of pagan worship, see 2 Kings 23:5 (Josiah’s reformation). [ NOAB] The reference may also be to the dwelling place of God (see 48:2-3 and 87:1-2), both the heavenly mountain and Mount Zion being implied. See also 123:1 and 134:3. [ NJBC]

Verse 2: “My help”: As in 124:8 and 146:5-6, divine “help” is almost equivalent to salvation. [ NJBC]

Verses 3-4: But see 44:23-24, where the psalmist wonders whether God is asleep as Israel faces national enemies. [ NJBC]

Verses 5-6: See 2 Kings 4:18-20 for an instance of sunstroke. See also Isaiah 49:10. [ NJBC]

Romans 4:1-5,13-17

See also Galatians 3:1-18: “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! ...”. [ CAB]

Verse 1: “our ancestor”: Descent from Abraham was a source of pride among Jews: see Matthew 3:9 (John the baptizer warns Pharisees and Sadducees who come to him for baptism) and Luke 3:8. [ NJBC]

Verse 2: “justified by works”: i.e. keeping the law in advance. Sirach 44:20 (a midrash on Genesis 26:5) and Jubilees 6:19 both speak of Abraham’s deeds (namely the defeat of kings in Genesis 14 and his trial, the near--sacrifice of Isaac, Genesis 22:9-10) as a source of his godliness. See also Wisdom of Solomon 10:5 and James 2:21. However 1 Maccabees 2:52 says that Abraham’s godliness is a result of his faith. [ NJBC]

Verse 3: The quotation is from the Septuagint translation of Genesis 15:6. In Galatians 3:8, Paul writes: “the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you’”. See also James 2:23. As Paul understands Genesis 15:6, Abraham’s faith gained him credit with God. [ CAB] [ NOAB]

Verse 3: “reckoned”: The Greek word, elogisthe, is a book--keeping term: see also Deuteronomy 24:13 and Psalm 106:31. Deuteronomy 24:13 says: “... it will be to your credit before the L ord your God.” (where “it” is the return of a pledge). [ NJBC]

Verse 5: See also 5:6-11. [ CAB]

Verses 7-8: The quotation is Psalm 32:1-2 in the Septuagint translation. Like his contemporaries, Paul considers David to be the author of Psalms. Actually this psalm was written long after David’s time. [ CAB] [ NOAB] [ NJBC]

Verses 6-9: By a Jewish exegetical principle, that identical words appearing in two different places in Scripture are the basis for mutual interpretation, the blessedness (“Happy”) of Psalm 32 can also be applied to those who trust but are not circumcised. [ CAB] [ NOAB] [ NJBC]

Verse 10: “before he was circumcised”: Genesis 17:24 tells of the circumcision of Abraham. [ NOAB]

Verse 11: “He received the sign of circumcision”: In Genesis 17:11, circumcision is called “a sign of the covenant” between God and Abraham’s family. See also Acts 7:8 (Stephen’s speech). Later rabbis regarded Genesis 17:11 as a sign of the Mosaic covenant, for it served to distinguish Israel from other nations. [ NJBC]

Verse 13: “the promise”: The promise of an heir to be born of Sarah (see Genesis 15:4; 17:16, 19) and of numerous progeny (see Genesis 12:2; 13:14-17; 17:8; 22:16-18) was extended in Jewish tradition on the basis of the universality of “all the families of the earth” (see Genesis 12:3) to mean that “the [whole] world” was Abraham’s inheritance. [ NJBC]

Verse 14: See also Galatians 3:15-20. [ NJBC]

Verse 15: “violation”: Literally, transgression. See also 3:20 and 5:13. [ NJBC]

Verse 17: The quotation is Genesis 17:5 in the Septuagint translation. [ NJBC]

Verse 18: “So numerous ...”: In Genesis 15:5, in a vision, God brings Abram outside and says to him: “‘Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them ... So shall your descendants be’”. [ CAB] [ NOAB]

Verse 19: See Genesis 17:17 and 18:11. See also Hebrews 11:11-12 (where Sarah is also included). [ NOAB]

Verse 20: “he gave glory to God”: An Old Testament expression for giving grateful recognition to God: see 1 Samuel 6:5; 1 Chronicles 16:28. Per 1:21, unbelievers cannot do this. [ NJBC]

Verse 21: “do what he had promised”: i.e. the conception of Isaac.

John 3:1-17

This passage tells how Christ has replaced the institutions of Judaism.

The Pharisee is part of traditional religion: what Jesus came to preach against. Much of the terminology Jesus uses would either be unfamiliar to him, or used differently. (Some of the terms were used in the Qumran Community, itself a revolt against tradition.)

Verse 1: “Nicodemus”: Only John tells us of him. In 7:51, he insists that Jesus receive a trial; in 19:39, he anoints Jesus’ body for burial.

Verse 1: “a leader of the Jews”: a member of the Sanhedrin. [ NJBC]

Verse 2: “by night”: This may be saying that Nicodemus was a true, devoted, teacher because he studied the Torah at night as well as during the day. See 1QS (Qumran Rule of the Community) 6:7. In vv. 19-21, John uses the symbols of light and dark. [ NJBC]

Verses 2,11: “we know”: Who “we” is in these two verses differs.

Verse 2: “you are a teacher ... from God”: Nicodemus recognizes Jesus as a teacher on a par with himself. [ NJBC]

Verse 3: “see the kingdom ...”: See also 1:51: “you will see the heaven opened”. Entrance to the Kingdom is by transformation by God, and not by moral achievement. Recall Matthew 18:3: “unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. [ BlkJn]

Verse 3: “born from above”: The NRSV offers an alternative translation in a footnote: born anew. BlkJn thinks that this is probably what Jesus said. The Greek word, anothen , can from above, anew or again. Although several translations consider “from above” to be preferable, anew fits better with Nicodemus’ somewhat sarcastic questions in v. 4.

Verse 4: “a second time”: The description of conversion as a second birth or a divine begetting is foreign to Judaism, but is familiar in Hellenistic mystery religions. [ BlkJn]

Verse 5: “born of water”: 1:33 says “... John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’”. See also Ephesians 5:26. [ NOAB]

Verse 6: “Spirit”: In Ezekiel 36:25-27, Yahweh promises through the prophet: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances”. See also Titus 3:5. In Jubilees 1:23, cleansing by the Spirit is associated with the coming of the Messianic Age. [ NJBC]

Verse 6: See also 1:12-13: “... to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”

Verse 7: “you”: The Greek word is in the plural, so Jesus speaks through Nicodemus to those whom he represents, i.e. the members of the religious establishment. [ BlkJn]

Verse 8: The point of this verse is unavoidably lost in translation, for pneuma means both wind and “spirit”. The wind is a parable of spirit, as natural birth of the supernatural. [ BlkJn]

Verse 10: “Israel”: John uses this term for God’s faithful people: recall Jesus’ words to Nathanael in 1:47: “‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’”. There is a certain irony in Jesus’ answer. [ BlkJn]

Verse 12: On the limits of earthly wisdom in Judaism, Proverbs 30:3-4 says “I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the holy ones. Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in the hollow of the hand? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is the person's name? And what is the name of the person's child? Surely you know!”. See also Wisdom of Solomon 9:16-18. [ NJBC]

Verse 13: John is gradually moving from the report of a conversation to the reflections inspired by it; however the transition is not completed until v. 16. These words can still be understood as a saying of Jesus. Taken as a continuation of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, one has to assume that a step in the argument has been omitted: since “no one has gone up to heaven”, there is no one on earth who can speak from his own experience of heavenly things , “except ...” [ BlkJn]

Verse 13: “No one has ascended into heaven”: This negates the claims of other visionaries to have knowledge of what is in heaven. For example, 1 Enoch 70:2; 71:1 have Enoch ascend into heaven, where he is identified with the Son--of--Man figure from the Septuagint translation of Daniel 7:14. The Son--of--Man saying in 1:51 promises the believer this heavenly vision as a vision of Jesus. [ NJBC]

Verse 13: The NRSV notes that some manuscripts append who is in heaven to this verse. BlkJn considers it to be original, even though it is missing from P66. He can only interpret it on the basis of vv. 13ff being a reflection of an age later than that of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Verse 14: This is typology. Wisdom of Solomon 16:5-7 says “For when the terrible rage of wild animals came upon your [God’s] people and they were being destroyed by the bites of writhing serpents, your wrath did not continue to the end; they were troubled for a little while as a warning, and received a symbol of deliverance to remind them of your law’s command”. In the desert, the people turned towards the Torah and towards God as saviour. [ NJBC]

Verse 14: “lifted up”: In Palestinian Aramaic and in Syriac the verb which is equivalent to to be lifted up has the special meaning of to be crucified. John intends this double meaning, here and in the other passages where the word occurs (see 8:28; 12:32, 34). [ BlkJn]

Verse 15: “have eternal life”: To have eternal life is virtually equivalent to seeing or entering the kingdom of God (v. 5). While the synoptic gospels contrast the present and the future (which holds good even if the future is visualized as imminent), in John the contrast is ontological rather than eschatological: between the temporal way of being and the eternal. While Mark 10:30 and Luke 18:30 speak of “in the age to come eternal life”, literally in the age to come, the life of the [coming] age, it is eternal life in John. Further, it is John who tells us of Jesus saying “I have [already] conquered the world”. [ BlkJn]

Verse 16: Luther called this verse “the Gospel in miniature”. [ NOAB]

Verse 16: “gave his only Son”: i.e to death. In Romans 8:32, Paul writes “He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?”. See also Galatians 1:4, 2:20. We may have typology here too: Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, a much loved only son. [ NJBC]

Verses 17-20: God’s purpose is to save; individuals judge themselves by hiding their evil deeds from the light of Christ’s holiness. [ NOAB]

Matthew 17:1-9

The parallels are Mark 9:2-8 and Luke 9:28-36. [ NOAB]

This passage reaffirms the messiahship of Jesus and of the messianic glory in which he will be revealed. [ NJBC]

Verse 1: “Peter and James and his brother John”: The same inner circle is mentioned in 26:37 and Mark 5:37. [ NJBC]

Verse 1: “a high mountain”: This may be symbolic; if a particular mountain is meant, it is probably Mount Sermon, near Caesarea Philippi. It rises to about 3,000 metres. Other possibilities are Mount Carmel and Mount Tabor.

Comments: An aura of unnatural brightness is linked with mystical appearances in Exodus and Acts: See, for example, Exodus 34:29 (Moses’ face shines after he has been talking with God on Mount Sinai), 35; Acts 9:3 (Paul’s conversion). [ NJBC]

Verse 3: “Moses and Elijah”: The Law and the prophets often stand for the whole of the Old Testament. The presence of these two men symbolises the fullness of God’s revelation to Israel. Deuteronomy 34:6 tells us that “no one knows his [Moses’] burial place to this day”. Jewish tradition therefore said that Moses was taken directly into heaven without dying. 2 Kings 2:17 tells us of Elijah: “fifty men who searched for three days but did not find him”. Jewish tradition stretched this verse and the story in the preceding verses to saying that Elijah was taken into heaven without dying. [ HBD]

Verse 4: “dwellings”: For the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths), see Leviticus 23:42 and Nehemiah 8:14-18. [ NJBC]

Verse 5: “cloud”: In a cloud, God comes to declare the Law to Moses; he speaks from a cloud as he does here. See Exodus 19:9; 24:15-16.

Verse 5: “‘This is my Son ...’”: For the words the voice from heaven speaks at Jesus’ baptism, see 3:17. Here the words spoken are based on three verses:

  • Psalm 2:7: “I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you’”
  • Isaiah 42:1: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”
  • Deuteronomy 18:15, where Moses says: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet”. [ NJBC]

Verses 6-7: Daniel is the only apocalyptic book in the Old Testament. Daniel 8:17 says: “So he came near where I stood; and when he came, I became frightened and fell prostrate. But he said to me, ‘Understand, O mortal, that the vision is for the time of the end.’”. Daniel 10:9-10 says: “Then I heard the sound of his words; and when I heard the sound of his words, I fell into a trance, face to the ground. But then a hand touched me and roused me to my hands and knees.”

Verse 9: For applications of this event to the destiny of Christians, see Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18. See also 2 Peter 1:16-18; 2 Timothy 1:8, 10. [ NJBC]

Verses 10-13: Based on Malachi 4:5, coupled with Malachi 3:1, “the scribes”, the scholars of the Pharisaic sect, taught that Elijah must return to prepare for Yahweh’s final judgement. But Peter has now identified Jesus as the messiah (Christ); Jesus is about to suffer, die, rise (see 21:21) and carry out the final judgment (see 16:27). So, if the end times are so near, is it not too late for Elijah’s preparatory ministry? [ BlkMt]

Verse 10: “Elijah”: See Malachi 4:5-6 (3:23--24 in some bibles) for the expectation that God would send Elijah before Judgement Day, “the terrible day of the Lord”. [ NJBC]

Verse 10: “come first”: See Daniel 12:2 for the general resurrection of the deceased. More probably, the question is about the raising of the Son of Man from the dead.

Verse 11: Jesus quotes the expectation of the scribes, and states his position in v. 12. He affirms their expectation and says (in v. 12) that they (or people in general) have failed to recognize that “Elijah has already come”: “John the Baptist” (v. 13) is Elijah. [ BlkMt]

Verse 12: See 1 Kings 19:2, 10; Psalm 22:6; Isaiah 53:3. [ NJBC]

Verse 13: John the Baptist has already been identified with Elijah: Jesus says in 11:14 “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come”. [ NJBC]

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