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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: The Baptism of the Lord - January 12, 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.

Isaiah 42:1-9

41:1: The legal summons.

41:1: “Listen to me in silence”: In Zephaniah 1:7, Yahweh says through the prophet: “Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is at hand; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice, he has consecrated his guests”. See also Habakkuk 2:20. [ NJBC]

41:1: “coastlands”: Found frequently in Deutero-Isaiah: see also 40:15 (“isles”); 42:4; 49:1; 51:5. [ NOAB]

41:2: “a victor from the east”: Cyrus, King of Persia, was of Indo-European stock and was descended from a people who settled in the high plateau southeast of Babylon. In 559 BC he became king of Asham, a vassal state within the larger domain of the Medes. In only ten years he went on to capture Ecbatana, the Median capital. During the winter of 541 BC, he led an army over the frozen mountains of Lydia (now in central Turkey) for a surprise attack on Croesus’ capital. In 539 BC he became master of Babylon. [ NJBC]

Deutero-Isaiah portrays Yahweh summoning the world to his court of justice to witness the fulfilment of God’s eternal purpose: see Isaiah 1:2-3; Micah 6:1-2. The prophet draws on the legislative procedures of the ancient Near East. [ NJBC]

41:2-4a: The trial procedure.

41:4b-7: The verdict.

41:4: “I, the Lord”: God is at the beginning of every event, no matter how cosmic and colossal (see 40:12-13), how familiar and insignificant (see 40:27-28); he is also at the conclusion, ensuring perfect fulfilment of his designs (see 55:10-11). In the NRSV (as in other translations into English), Lord and God (with small capitals) translate the Hebrew YHWH. While it is almost, if not quite, certain that the Name was originally pronounced Yahweh, when the Masoretes added vowel sounds to the written Hebrew (in which only consonants were written), they added those of the Hebrew word Adonai (meaning Lord ). The reason for so doing was that YHWH was considered too sacred to be pronounced. See also 42:8. [ NJBC]

41:4: From other poems, this is the great new prophecy on the verge of fulfilment. In 43:10-11, Yahweh says through the prophet: “You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no saviour”. He is “the first” and “the last” in 44:6 and 48:12. In Revelation 22:13, Christ is “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end”.

41:6-7: These verses harmonize well with the arguments against idolaters in poems on the “first” and “the last”: see 41:21-29 and 42:8-9. [ NJBC]

41:21: “Jacob”: i.e. Israel.

41:22-24: Unlike Yahweh, the idolaters can neither predict nor bring about changes in human destiny.

41:25: “I stirred up one from the north”: Earlier these words referred to Assyria (in 14:31) and Babylonia (in Jeremiah 6:22). Cyrus came from the northeast (“from the rising of the sun”). In contrast to the futility of pagan gods, God has stirred up Cyrus to enable Jews to return to their land. See 41:2 and 45:13. This image is anticipated in Jeremiah 50:9 and 51:11.

41:27: NJBC points out that the Hebrew is extremely difficult. He suggests that this verse is a later addition*.

41:29: 40:18-20 say: “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? An idol? – A workman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold, and casts for it silver chains. As a gift one chooses mulberry wood – wood that will not rot – then seeks out a skilled artisan to set up an image that will not topple”. [ NOAB]

41:29: “empty wind”: The word translated “empty” is that used in Genesis 1:1 for the dark, chaotic mass before God’s spirit (ruah) began creating. Ruah can mean either wind or spirit.

42:1-4: The other Servant Songs are 49:1-6; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12. [ NOAB] For a good understanding, they should be read together. Christians interpret these songs as predictions of Jesus: they tell of his deeds but do not reveal his identity.

42:1: “Here is my servant”: This phrase is used of Jesus at his baptism (see Mark 1:11) and at his transfiguration (see Matthew 17:5). [ NOAB]

42:1: “my chosen”: Like Moses (see Psalm 106:22), David (see Psalm 89:4) and all Israel (see 1 Chronicles 16:13 and Isaiah 41:8). [ NOAB]

42:1: “spirit”: Again, ruah. See also 11:2. In Matthew 12:18-21, Matthew points out that Jesus' actions fulfil this prophecy. [ NOAB] God’s spirit was promised to the messianic king (see Isaiah 11:1) and later to the whole messianic community (see Joel 3). [ NJBC]

42:3: “justice”: 5:16 says “... the Lord of hosts is exalted by justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy by righteousness”. Legal decisions were usually taken by kings, priests and magistrates. [ NJBC]

42:4: “teaching”: 1:10 advises: “... Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!”. Only prophets and priests taught. For prophets, see Isaiah 8:16 and Zechariah 7:12; for priests, see Jeremiah 2:8 and Ezekiel 7:26. [ NJBC]

42:5: “who created ...”: For Yahweh as creator of all, see also 40:21-22. [ NOAB]

42:5: “gives breath”: i.e. is the source of life. Genesis 2:7 says “then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being”. In Acts 17:24-25, Paul tells those gathered in front of the Areopagus in Athens: “The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things”. [ NOAB]

42:5: “the people”: The Hebrew word, ‘am, usually refers to Israel. See also 42:6. [ NJBC]

42:6: “called you in righteousness”: i.e. with righteous purpose: in 41:8-10, Yahweh tells Israel: “... I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

42:6: “light”: A source of warmth and life, and therefore of liberation from slavery. [ NJBC]

42:7: “open the eyes that are blind”: i.e. to open the eyes of those who admit they are blind – similarly for the rest of the verse. [ NJBC]

42:8: “I am the Lord”: Yahweh is the only God: see also 41:23-24 and Deuteronomy 4:23-24. [ NOAB]

Psalm 29

This psalm employs staircase parallelism – a feature common in Ugaritic poetry. “Lebanon” in parallel with “Sirion”, and the voice of gods as thunder, are also common in that poetry. [ JBC]

For God’s dominion over watery elements, see Psalms 24:1-2, 74:13-15, 89:9, 93:3-4 [ NJBC]

Verse 5: “cedars”: traditional symbols of might and grandeur. Psalm 104:16 says “The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted”; See also, Isaiah 2:13. [ NJBC]

Verse 6: “Sirion” is the Phoenician name for Mount Hermon. [ NOAB]

Verse 8: Some scholars translate this: “makes the hinds calve and hastens the birth of kids”. Such is the fright that the storm causes among animals. [ JBC]

Verse 8: “Kadesh”: Visited during the Exodus: In Judges 11:16-17, Jephthah’s messengers tell the king of the Ammonites: “‘... when they [the Israelites] came up from Egypt, Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. Israel then sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Let us pass through your land’; but the king of Edom would not listen. They also sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained at Kadesh’”.

Verse 9: “Glory”: In Luke 2:14 “a multitude of the heavenly host” say “‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’”. [ NJBC]

Verse 10: “flood”: In Genesis 1:7, God dwells above the waters that are over the firmament.

Acts 10:34-43

Verse 34: “God shows no partiality”: Literally: God is not one showing favours, an allusion to Deuteronomy 10:17, which denies that God favours particular persons or accepts bribes. [ JBC] BlkActs says that the Greek word is found only in Christian writings but is coined from an expression in the Septuagint translation, which translates a Hebrew expression for lift up the face, i.e. favour. It denotes the gracious act of someone who lifts up a person’s face by showing him a favour (see Malachi 1:8). In Romans 2:11, Paul writes “God shows no partiality”. [ JBC]

Verse 35: “does what is right”: Literally: practices righteousness . [ JBC]

Verses 36-43: This sums up the gospel, beginning with the baptism of John and ending with the statement that Christ is judge: see 3:20-21 (Peter’s second sermon). [ NOAB]

Verse 36: “preaching peace”: This traditional eschatological prophecy, based on Isaiah 52:7 and 61:1, was applied to Jesus’ ministry with redoubled emphasis in Luke’s gospel (Luke 7:22; 4:17-20) and Jesus’ commissioning of his disciples as “peace” harbingers was prominent in his mission instruction (Luke 10:5-6).

Verse 36: “he is Lord of all”: To be understood in the light of Romans 10:12: “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.”. [ NJBC]

Verse 37: “the baptism that John announced”: See also 1:22 and Luke 3:2-3. [ JBC]

Verse 38: “God anointed Jesus”: See also Luke 3:22 (Jesus’ baptism) and Luke 4:14. [ NOAB] An allusion to Isaiah 61:1. Jesus’ investiture with the power of the Holy Spirit. This does not say that Jesus became Messiah at his baptism. Acts 2:36 and 3:12-20 suggest an entirely different understanding of Jesus’ messiahship, as does the Infancy Narrative (see Luke 1:32-33). Jesus is the spirit-filled agent of God’s saving activity. [ JBC]

Verse 39: “by hanging him on a tree”: A figurative expression for crucifixion, derived from Deuteronomy 21:23-24: “When someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and is executed, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God's curse ...”. See also 2:23; 5:30; Galatians 3:13. [ JBC]

Verse 40: “on the third day”: See also 1 Corinthians 15:4 and Hosea 6:2 (“After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him”). [ JBC]

Verse 40: “allowed him to appear”: NJBC offers gave him to be manifested.

Verse 41: “witnesses”: See Luke 24:48; Acts 1:8, 22. [ NOAB]

Verse 42: “commanded”: JBC offers commissioned.

Verse 42: “judge of the living and the dead”: 17:31 says that God “has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead”. See also 1 Peter 4:5 and 2 Timothy 4:1. [ NOAB]

Verse 43: This verse is a complete reprise of Luke 24:44-48. [ NJBC]

Verse 43: “All the prophets testify about him”: See Isaiah 2:2; 40:5; Joel 2:32. However, a scholar wonders to which prophets Peter is referring.

Verses 44-48: In Acts, believers usually receive the Holy Spirit at baptism (see 2:38 and 19:5-6), or before baptism (as here), but in 8:15-16 they receive it after baptism, and only when the apostles visit.

Matthew 3:13-17

The parallels are Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:31-34.

Verse 14: “would have prevented him”: BlkMt offers tried to forbid him, and says that the verb is in the imperfect, a tense in Greek which here indicates an action attempted but then given up.

Verse 14: John assumes that the greater one should not be baptised by the lesser one. [ BlkMt]

Verse 15: “now”: Perhaps until Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection or until John the Baptist’s death. BlkMt says that “now” indicates that this reversal of positions is temporary. Jesus’ superior rank does not release him from the obligation “to fulfill all righteousness”; he is one with his people and must join with them in the acts which express response to God’s spokesman and dedication to God’s will. That Jesus comes for baptism shows that he recognizes John as being correct: divine judgement is imminent; Israel must repent and be baptised and, by obedience, prepare for the coming Kingdom.

Verses 16-17: A description of the surge of certainty and self-understanding that came to Jesus at his baptism. The language, akin to Old Testament speech, portrays a spiritual experience which words cannot adequately describe.

Verse 16: At his baptism, Jesus stood in the Jordan River and probably submerged himself at John’s consent and direction. [ BlkMt]

Verse 16: “the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him”: Has not Jesus possessed the Spirit before? The Spirit here is not thought of as a passive presence, but as an active power which comes to rouse him to action and give him power and guidance for his work. He is now equipped for his task; he is made to know that he must at once begin his ministry, and he is given the power and direction to do it. [ BlkMt]

Jesus is confronted by God as agent of renewal of his people by the coming of the “Spirit” which will provide him with God’s wisdom, knowledge and power (see Isaiah 11:1-2) and by the voice from God, acclaiming him as “Son” and agent of God’s rule (see Psalm 2:7) in whom he is “well-pleased” (see Isaiah 42:1). In the days of Noah (see Genesis 8:1-18), the return of a dove with a “freshly plucked olive leaf” symbolizes a new pact between God and humans.

Verse 17: “a voice from heaven”: This is the voice of God, just as the “kingdom of heaven” (v. 2, 4:17; 5:3; etc.) is the Kingdom of God. The words of the heavenly voice reflect the identification of Jesus with the messianic king of Psalm 2 and with the Servant of Isaiah 42. Whether Jesus already foresaw the suffering of that Servant as his inescapable role is not stated; perhaps he did. It is clear that Jesus worshipped, thought and lived in the atmosphere of Old Testament expectations. He inevitably understood his mission in the light of them. [ BlkMt]

Verse 17: “Son”: In Deutero-Isaiah, the Hebrew reads servant, not son; the word is ‘ebed. In the Septuagint translation, this word is translated as pais – which also means boy or child. “Son” is a small step from there. But the change may be deliberate – for the realization of Jesus’ sonship is his servanthood.

As Jerome noted, this is the first New Testament revelation of the Trinity. Jesus’ baptism is a model for Christian baptism.

Verse 17: “Beloved”: The Greek word has a meaning similar to that translated chosen: see Isaiah 42:1, but with some reference to Psalm 2:7 and Genesis 22:2. It refers to an act of God’s will (not feeling): see also 2 Peter 1:17. In Luke 9:35 (the Transfiguration) the word is chosen. The word “Beloved” expresses not merely favoured position with the Father, but also God’s choice of him for a ministry to God’s people. [ BlkMt]

Verse 17: “well pleased”: BlkMt sees this as approval of Jesus’ submission to baptism but notes that other scholars see this as timeless approval of the submission to baptism which has just occurred, as in am always well pleased.

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