Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost - June 8, 2008

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 12:1-9

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

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) tradition. [NJBC]

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 good 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]

12:1-4: God makes a pact with Abram: if Abram will leave behind his land and kin (and his pagan past), and live in “the land I will show you” (ceasing to be semi-nomadic), God will honour him in seven ways:

  • Make of him “a great nation” (v. 2)
  • Confer favour on him (“bless you”)
  • Make his name renowned (“great”)
  • Make him a vehicle of good fortune (“be a blessing”)
  • Show favour to those who show him favour (“bless those who bless you”, v. 3)
  • Exclude those who show him disrespect (“the one who curses you I will curse”), and
  • As other peoples come to trust in God, they will find themselves similarly blessed. [NJBC]

In doing “as the Lord has told him” (v. 4), Abram shows his trust (faith) in God.

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: Abraham's life is neatly divided, 75 years in Ur and Haran, 25 years waiting for a child in Canaan, and 75 years in Canaan after the birth of Isaac (see 25:7). [JBC] [NJBC]

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 (“So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb.”) probably originally immediately followed this verse. [JBC]

Psalm 33:1-12

Verses 1-3: Call to worship. [NOAB]

Verse 1: This verse echoes 32:1: “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered”.

Verse 3: “a new song”: For rituals which required a new object, see for example 1 Samuel 6:7 (a new cart to bear the Ark) and 2 Samuel 6:3. For a “new” song of praise, see also 96:1; 98:1 and Revelation 14:3. [NJBC]

Verses 4-5: The character of Israel’s God. [NOAB]

Verses 6-9: The Lord as creator. The first creation story is found in Genesis 1:1-2:4a. [NOAB]

Verse 6: “breath”: The Hebrew word is ru’ah which also means spirit.

Verses 10-19: The Lord as ruler over the destinies of nations. [NOAB]

Verses 13-17: The insignificance of humans when viewed from God’s vantage point in heaven is also mentioned in also Isaiah 40:22: “It is he [God] who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers ...”. [NJBC]

Verses 14,18: God has his eye on all as supreme judge and also watches over his faithful with compassion. [NJBC]

Verse 17: “horse”: Horses were used for warfare but not usually for transportation. [NJBC]

Verse 18: 34:16 says “The face of the LORD is against evildoers, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth”. [NJBC]

Romans 4:13-25

As an introduction to this reading, I offer a Comment on 4:1-12:

Paul has written that one can attain a right relationship with God through faith, without living by Mosaic law. Now he takes Abraham as an example; he asks: what can we conclude about faith vs. Law by looking at Abraham’s life? Judaism claimed that Abraham kept the Law before it was given, that he was godly (‘justified”, v. 2) because his “works” were per the Law. Paul rejects this claim; rather, it was, as Genesis shows, Abraham’s faith which counted for him (“reckoned”, v. 3) as godliness. God “justifies the ungodly” (v. 5). For the worker, “wages” are expected (he need not trust), but for one who trusts (with no certainty of reward), such trust counts with God. In vv. 6-9 Paul quotes a verse from Psalm 32, interpreting it jointly with a verse from Genesis as showing that those who trust in God obtain his favour, whether they be keepers of the Law or trusters in God. Paul then argues that, because Abraham trusted in God’s pact before he was circumcised, Abraham’s faith (and not his keeping of the Law) was what counted for him with God (v. 10). Indeed, he says, circumcision was a confirmation of the right relationship he had attained through faith. It made Abraham “ancestor” (v. 11) of all who trust in God, both Jews (v. 12) and non-Jews (v. 11).

See also Galatians 3:1-18.

Verse 1: “our ancestor”: Descent from Abraham was a source of pride among Jews. In Matthew 3:9, Jesus says to some Pharisees and Sadducees: Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham”. See also Luke 3:8.

Verse 2: “justified by works”: i.e. by living according to Mosaic law before it was given. 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: “And 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. [NJBC] [CAB]

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

Verse 5: See also 5:6-11: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die ...”. [CAB]

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

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]

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

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. Later rabbis regarded Genesis 17:11 as a sign of the Mosaic covenant, for it served to distinguish Israel from other nations. [NJBC]

Verses 13-25: The true descendants of Abraham are those who have faith in Christ, whether Jews or Gentiles. To them the benefits promised to Abraham belong. In Galatians 3:29, Paul writes: “if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise”. [NOAB]

Verse 13: “the promise”: The promise of an heir to be born of Sarah (see Genesis 15:4; 17:16, 19) and of numerous posterity (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” (Genesis 12:3) to mean that “the [whole] world” was Abraham’s inheritance. [NJBC]

Verse 14: Paul continues this thought in Galatians 3:15-20. [NJBC]

Verse 15: “violation”: Literally, transgression. In 3:20, Paul writes: “For ‘no human being will be justified in his sight’ by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin”. (He approximately quotes Psalm 143:2.) In 5:13, he says: “sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law”. [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; 18:11. Hebrews 11:11-12 includes Sarah: “By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old – and Sarah herself was barren – because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore’”. [NOAB]

Verse 20: “he gave glory to God”: An Old Testament expression for giving grateful recognition to God found in 1 Samuel 6:5 and 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.

Verses 22-23:Paul writes in v. 3, quoting the Septuagint translation of Genesis 15:6: “For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’”. [NOAB]

Verse 24: A feature of midrashic interpretation, which Paul uses here, was to modernize or actualize the Old Testament by applying it to a new situation. Note Midrash Genesis Rabba 40:8: “All that is recorded of Abraham is repeated in the history of his children”. See also 1 Corinthians 9:9-10; 10:6-11. In a unique sense, God raises Jesus from the dead. [NJBC]

Verse 25: This verse alludes to Isaiah 53:4-5, 11-12 (part of a Servant Song). Jesus suffered to take away human sin and to achieve our oneness with God. [NJBC]

Matthew 9:9-13,18-26

The parallels are:

vv. 9-13 Mark 2:13-17 Luke 5:27-32
vv. 14-17 Mark 2:18-22 Luke 5:33-39
vv. 18-26 Mark 5:21-43 Luke 8:40-56 [NOAB]

Verse 10: See also Luke 7:34; 15:1-2 – Jesus is a friend of tax collectors and sinners. This verse is the only description in Matthew of Jesus actually sharing a meal with sinners, but in 8:11-12 Jesus says: “I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven”. See also 21:13, 32; Luke 19:1-10. [NOAB]

Verse 10: “the house”: Presumably Matthew’s house. [NOAB]

Verse 10: Comments: By “sinners” Matthew means members of despised trades considered ritually unclean: One list of such trades, in Mishna Qiddushin 4:14, is ass driver, camel driver, sailor, caster, herdsman, shopkeeper, physician (blood letter?) and butcher. Others add tanner, bath-attendant and tax collector. [NJBC]

Verse 13: The quotation, also quoted in 12:7, is Hosea 6:6. This text became important to rabbis after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. It helped compensate for the loss of Temple sacrifices as a means of obtaining forgiveness of sins. Study of the Torah and deeds of loving kindness were deemed to be substitutes. [NJBC]

Verse 14: “fast”: Jews do not have a season of fasting like Lent but they do have a few days of communal fasting, especially Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Per Didache 8:1, Jews kept private fasts on Mondays and Thursdays while Christians chose Wednesday and Friday (this being in memory of Jesus’ sufferings). Fasting was understood in four ways:

  • As humbling oneself before God: see Isaiah 58:3-9,
  • As strengthening prayer: see Tobit 12:8 and 2 Chronicles 20:3
  • As related to alms giving, and
  • As an expression of mourning (as here). See also 6:16-18. [BlkMt]

Verse 14: “your disciples do not fast”: Note the courtesy of the questioners; they don’t ask Jesus about his own practice. [NJBC]

Verse 15: “bridegroom”: In rabbinic interpretations of the Song of Songs, the bridegroom was interpreted as God himself. [NJBC]

Verse 15: “The days will come”: A prophecy of Jesus’ death.

Verse 16: Two words here have two meanings: pleroma means both “patch” and fullness, and schisma means both “tear” and schism. Matthew understand the separation (or schism) of Christians and Pharisees as the difference between the old-and-good and the fullness of the good. [NJBC]

Verses 18-25: The full version is in Mark 5:21-43. Matthew has abbreviated it. [NJBC]

Verse 18: “My daughter has just died”: In the other synoptic gospels, this is only stated later by a messenger. [NJBC]

Verse 20: “a woman”: In Acts of Pilate, she is called Bernice. In Eusebius, History of the Church 7.18.1-3, she is a Gentile from Caesarea Philippi. [NJBC]

Verse 20: “fringe”: For the symbolism of the fringe of the prayer shawl, see Numbers 15:38-41. See also Deuteronomy 22:12. The woman’s grasping it is a gesture known from 1 Samuel 15:27 and Zechariah 8:23. [NJBC]

Verse 21: “be made well”: The Greek word includes in its meaning rescue from impending destruction and/or from a superior alien power. [NOAB]

Verse 22: In Mark 11:23-24, Jesus says “Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours”. God responds to faith. [NOAB]

Verse 22: “instantly”: Note that the cure is effective immediately. [NJBC]

Verse 23: See Jeremiah 9:17-18 for this cultural practice. [NOAB]

Verse 25: For Old Testament parallels to this kind of healing, see 1 Kings 17:17-24 (Elijah restores the son of a widow to life) and 2 Kings 4:17-37 (Elisha restores a boy to life). [NJBC]

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