Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost - August 20, 2023

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 45:1-15

NJBC says that this passage is probably mostly from the Yahwist (J) tradition. Vv. 14-15 may be from the Elohist (E) tradition.

God graciously contrives to bring good out of evil; for the brothers, in selling Joseph into slavery, have unwittingly carried out God’s will. [ NOAB]

Verses 1-2: Joseph’s test has come to an end when he sees the profound change in his intended murderers. [ NJBC]

Verses 5-8: Joseph attempts to put the brothers at ease, but only at v. 15 do they feel free to speak. [ NJBC]

Verse 5: In 50:20, Joseph tells his barters: “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today”. [ CAB]

Verse 5: “angry”: FoxMoses translates the Hebrew as upset – at each other, or referring to each individual’s feelings of guilt.

Verse 5: “to preserve life”: Not only of the famine-stricken Egyptians but also of a “remnant” (v. 7), i.e. the family/clan which is the bearer of the promise to Abraham. In 12:2-3, Yahweh says to Abraham: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”. See also 50:24 (Joseph recalls God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). [ NOAB]

Verse 7: “remnant”: NJBC finds use of this word puzzling. It is found only here in the Pentateuch but it is common in Isaiah where it is paired with survivors , as it is here: see Isaiah 10:20 (“... the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob...”) and 37:32. Joseph’s family is not a remnant in the sense the word is used later.

Verse 8: “a father to Pharaoh”: It is known as the title of an Egyptian vizier. The word is also used in this sense in Isaiah 22:21 (Eliakim is made “a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah”) and 1 Maccabees 11:32 (Lasthenes was probably governor under King Demetrius) [ NOAB]

Verse 10: “the land of Goshen”: The present Wadi Tumilat, a narrow strip of grazing land in the Nile delta, adjacent to what is now the Suez Canal. [ NOAB]

Verse 10: Comments: There they will be “near” (v. 10) him: this and other clues in this chapter place the story in time: the royal court was in lower Egypt during two periods; the Hyksos period (1720-1550 BC) fits this and other data in the story: During the Hyksos period, the land was under pro-Semitic rule, so Joseph could well rise to the rank of prime minister. [ NOAB] See also 41:39-41 (only the Pharaoh is greater than Joseph).

Verse 12: “eyes ... eyes ... see”: By placing the emphasis on seeing, Joseph ensures that the brothers will be reliable witnesses to Jacob that he is powerful. [ NJBC]

Verse 13: “how greatly I am honoured”: FoxMoses translates the Hebrew as all the weight I carry, i.e. my importance.

Verse 15: “his brothers talked with him”: Something they could not do peaceably in 37:4-11 (Joseph tells them of his dreams of greatness). [ NJBC]

Verses 16-20: A curious aside about how the Pharaoh came to know about the arrival of Joseph’s brothers: it is strange for two reasons:

  • the Pharaoh tells Joseph what arrangements to make immediately after Joseph has given his own commission to the brothers, and
  • 46:31-47:6 gives the impression that the Pharaoh there receives the news for the first time. So we probably have multiple traditions here. [ NJBC]

Verse 18: “the fat of the land”: Literally the best things. The anticipated bounties of settling in Egypt are brought out by this phrase, “the best of all the land” (v. 20) and “the good things of Egypt”, all of which are the same phrase in the Hebrew – and by the repeated exhortation to “come” (vv. 18, 19). [ FoxMoses]

Verse 20: “Give no thought to your possessions”: FoxMoses translates the Hebrew as Let your eyes not look-with-regret, possibly meaning do not stint.

Verse 22: “but to Benjamin ...”: This is the same situation as in Chapter 37, but this time the brothers do not react adversely to the favouring of the youngest son. [ FoxMoses]

Verse 24: “Do not quarrel along the way”: A realistic touch. [ NJBC]

Verse 26: “He was stunned”: Not surprising!

Verse 27: “they told him all the words of Joseph”: In Chapter 37, they are damaging, but here they are life-giving. [ FoxMoses]

In 26:1-2, God has forbidden Isaac to go to Egypt during a famine, but his son Jacob may now go as part of the divine plan, his people’s destiny. [ FoxMoses]

Psalm 133

The joys of harmony in the family – a wisdom psalm [ NOAB]; however NJBC says that it is probably not actually a wisdom psalm.

Verse 1: NJBC says that what is “good and pleasant” is more likely the place where the worshippers gather together, and not so much their comradeship.

Verse 1: “kindred”: Literally “brothers”. This may refer to the situation in Deuteronomy 25:5, levirate marriage [ NOAB]: if a man dies leaving his wife without a son, his brother shall marry her. Her first-born son shall inherit her dead husband’s property. However, I note that this interpretation does not fit with the superscription.

Verse 2: “Aaron”: As well as being the first priest and ancestor of future priests, Aaron was also their type.

Verse 3: “the mountains of Zion”: In several ancient manuscripts Mount Zion.

Verse 3: The dew that comes from “Zion” is more refreshing than that from “Hermon”, for Zion’s dew is life itself. [ NJBC] See also Isaiah 26:19. In ancient Near East thinking, the temple was the place from which the god’s benefits flowed into human life (see also Psalm 132:14-15), the chief benefits being “life”, which is “eternal” in the sense that it comes from God, the inexhaustible source of life.

Some scholars point out that, meteorologically, rain storms which fall on Mount Hermon continue eastwards, rather than southwards to Jerusalem. True as this is (see Psalm 29), I note that the Jordan River depends on Mount Hermon for water, and the Jordan was a valuable source of water for Israel.

Romans 11:1-2a,29-32

Verses 1-36: Israel’s failure is partial and temporary. [ NJBC]

Verse 1: “Israelite”: Paul uses their title of honour, bestowed on them by Yahweh (see Genesis 32:28, Jacob at Jabbok), not Jews, their common political title. [ NJBC]

Verses 2-5: After his long journey to reach Mount Horeb, the mount of God, Elijah sheltered in a cave where he complained bitterly to God about Israel’s infidelities. Yahweh announced the coming chastisement of his people but also the deliverance of a significant number in Israel who had not yet deserted Yahwism for Baal-worship. Just as Elijah was not alone in his fidelity, so Paul is not alone among Jews in believing in Christ. [ NJBC]

Verse 3: Paul uses 1 Kings 19:10 in abbreviated and inverted form. The example of Elijah is drawn from Israel’s history to reveal God’s plan in the present situation too. [ NJBC] The quotation is a free one, and is per neither the Septuagint translation nor the Masoretic Text.

Verse 5: “a remnant, chosen by grace”: Literally a remnant according to the selection of grace, i.e. without regard of their fidelity to the Law. [ NJBC]

Verse 6: “no longer on the basis of works”: NJBC offers not on the basis of deeds. See also 3:24; 4:4; 9:16. Existence of the remnant is evidence of God’s benevolence rather than of human merit.

Verses 7-12: The resistance of many Jews is providential: God has “hardened” (v. 7) their hearts for a loving purpose, i.e that Gentiles might have the opportunity to hear and receive the gospel. [ NOAB]

Verse 7: “Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking”: Most Jews, apart from the remnant, did not achieve the oneness with God they were seeking. See 9:30-31. [ NJBC]

Verse 8: In this and the following verses, Paul uses a literary form known as testimonia. It strings together Old Testament verses to illustrate a common theme. Paul did not invent it, for it is found in pre-Christian Judaism and in the Qumran literature: see 4Q Testimonia. Here the link between the verses is “eyes that would not see”. God has sealed the situation that exists, but the situation is neither entire nor final. [ NJBC] The quotation in this verse is Deuteronomy 29:3, freely quoted, with an addition from Isaiah 29:10 (part of a passage in which Isaiah speaks of the spiritual blindness and perversity of Israel). Deuteronomy 29:3 says that while Israel has witnessed all the plagues God has inflicted on the Egyptians on their behalf, they have not appreciated their full significance. [ NJBC]

Verse 9: “David”: His name is in the superscription of the psalm quoted here. He was thought to be the author of the book of Psalms. The quotation in vv. 9-10 is Psalm 69:22-23. [ NOAB]

Verse 11: “so as to fall”: and not to be able to regain their footing. [ NJBC]

Verse 11: “salvation has come to the Gentiles”: The apostles turned from Israel to the Gentiles: see Acts 13:45-48; 18:6. [ NJBC] The idea that other nations will share with Israel in God’s salvation is found in the Old Testament: see Isaiah 2:2-4; 25:6-10; 60:3-7; Jeremiah 16:19; Micah 4:1-4; Zechariah 14:16; Psalm 22:27-29. [ CAB]

Verse 11: “so as to make Israel jealous”: In 10:19, Paul has quoted Moses’ words (spoken on God’s behalf) in Deuteronomy 32:21: “They made me jealous with what is no god, provoked me with their idols. So I will make them jealous with what is no people, provoke them with a foolish nation”. When Israel sees that the Gentiles’ right relationship with God exists through God’s grace (love) alone, they will desire such a relationship, based on God’s love, for themselves. Put another way: In the long run, stumbling will arouse in Israel jealousy of Gentiles, who are attaining the goal Israel had long pursued. [ NJBC]

Verse 12: “their full inclusion”: The Greek word is pleroma , which NJBC translates as “their full number” (although other translations/interpretations are possible). NJBC says that the word most likely means here that which is brought to fullness, full number, completement as in v. 25, but the word can be understood as their fulfilling (the divine command) . If the “remnant” has resulted in such incredible benefits, how much greater will be the benefits for the world of their full acceptance of Jesus as Messiah.

Verse 13: “you Gentiles”: 1:5 indicates that Paul is writing to Gentiles but some scholars see the first audience as predominantly Jewish Christians. [ NJBC] Paul, as a Jew, takes pride in his ministry, for it will bring greater glory to Israel. [ CAB]

Verse 15: “reconciliation of the world”: Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:19: “... in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us”, where “them” are “those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart” (2 Corinthians 5:12).

Verse 15: “life from the dead”: There are three possible meanings:

  • The general resurrection at the end of time, or
  • An event of great happiness, or
  • For Jews, accepting the gospel will be a passage from the status of death to life.

Here Paul uses a word different from the one he uses elsewhere for resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12-13, 21, 42; Romans 6:5), so the first meaning is unlikely. The most likely is third meaning, which fits the context here.

Verse 16a: This appears to be a reference to Numbers 15:18-21 which says that God expects “a donation from the first of your batch of dough”. Giving this to God will make the whole harvest holy. [ NOAB]

Verse 16b-24: Paul seems to allude to Jeremiah 11:16-17. The “root” may be either:

  • Christ, whose holiness guarantees the blessing of all Israel, or
  • The converted remnant (this fits the context), or
  • The patriarchs – because in v. 17 “root” is used again to designate ancient Israel.

If the root is Christ, so is the first part of the dough. NJBC prefers the interpretation in which the first part of the dough is the remnant that has already accepted Christ and the root is the patriarchs – because on this interpretation, this verse links the preceding and following verses.

Verse 17: “the branches ... broken off”: i.e. unbelieving Jews. [ NOAB]

Verse 17: “a wild olive shoot”: This image depends on Jeremiah 11:16 and Hosea 14:6, but also on ancient horticultural practice in which a young wild olive branch was granted onto an old, worn-out olive tree that has given good fruit. [ NJBC]

Verse 18: “the root that supports you”: Israel of old still occupies the privileged position of carrier of salvation to the world. [ NJBC]

Verses 20-22: Having been made a part of the tree only because of faith (not merit or works), Gentile believers have no reason for pride, else God who grafted them into the tree may later cut them off. [ NOAB]

Verse 20: “That is true”: Israel’s defection has facilitated the conversion of Gentiles, but Israel was not broken off in order that Gentiles might be grafted on to the stock; rather, its disbelief has resulted in its being lopped off, but that has no intrinsic connection with the election of the Gentiles actually grafted on in its place.

Verse 20: “They”: i.e. unbelieving Jews.

Verse 20: “you stand only through faith”: i.e. not through God’s promise to Abraham.

Verse 22: “continue in his kindness”: i.e. continue in living in God’s grace (love).

Verse 23: “for God has the power to graft them in again”: He has not yet consigned them to the garbage (rubbish).

Verse 24: The restoration of Israel will be easier for God than the calling of the Gentiles. [ NOAB]

Verse 25: “not claim to be wiser than you are”: i.e. not claim your view of human history as the only valid one. [ NJBC]

Verse 25: “mystery”: A truth once hidden, now revealed by God.

Verse 25: “the full number of the Gentiles”: Perhaps those Gentiles whom God calls.

Verse 26: “all Israel will be saved”: This is an echo of Isaiah 60:21-22, but how will Israel be saved? Either:

  • Theologically: It will be saved by God – in a merciful act independent of the acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah, or a mass conversion prior to the parousia. They will be rescued from their hardening by “the Deliverer”, who would be Yahweh himself. In this case, the “covenant” (v. 27) is not the new one of Jeremiah 31:33, in which God will forget sins and all will fully know God, or
  • Christologically: Here “will be saved” has a nuance of conversion, “the Deliverer” is applied to Christ at the parousia (as in 1 Thessalonians 1:10), and the “covenant” is the new one of Jeremiah 31:33: meaning that all Israel will be pardoned and accept Christ in faith as the Messiah.

The second interpretation is more likely, for Paul is unlikely to envisage two kinds of salvation: one for Gentiles and another for Jews. This would go against his thesis of justification by grace through faith. [ NJBC]

NOAB suggests that “all Israel” is either the elect (of both Gentiles and Jews) or the elect of Israel or Israel as a whole, but not every Israelite.

Verse 26: “Out of Zion ...”: Again testimonia, this time favourable to Israel! The quotation combines Isaiah 59:20-21 and 27:9. See also Psalms 14:7; 53:6; 110:2.

Verse 28: “enemies of God”: Israelites are “enemies” because their temporary and partial failure to accept Jesus as Messiah. [ NJBC] They are oriented away from Christ: see 5:10.

Verse 32: Both Jews and Gentiles as groups have been unfaithful to God, who makes use of such infidelity to show to all of them his bounty and mercy, to reveal what kind of God he really is. [ NJBC] See also 3:21-26. The same thought is found in Galatians 3:22. [ CAB]

Verses 33-36: A doxology concluding Chapters 9-11. [ CAB] God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises, in spite of human unfaithfulness, is reason for grateful wonder and unceasing praise.

Verse 34: The quotation is Isaiah 40:13 in the Septuagint translation. Paul quotes freely. In the original context, this verse refers to the Yahweh’s deliverance of Israelites from exile and extols his greatness. [ NJBC] See also 1 Corinthians 2:16.

Verse 35: In Job 35:7, Elihu asks Job: “If you are righteous, what do you give to him; or what does he receive from your hand?”. See also Job 41:3, 11 ( Yahweh asks Job some penetrating questions). [ NOAB]

Verse 36: God is creator (“from him”), sustainer (“through him”) and goal of the universe (“to him are all things”). In 1 Corinthians 8:6, Paul writes: “... for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist”. See also 1 Corinthians 11:12; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 2:10. [ NOAB]

Matthew 15:(10-20),21-28

The parallel is Mark 7:1-30. [ NOAB]

Verse 2: “the tradition of the elders”: Also known as the Aural Torah. It formed an insulating layer around Mosaic law, lessening the chances of breaking the Law itself. The tradition was later written down in the Mishna.

Verse 2: “wash their hands”: This particular tradition, found in Mishna Yadayim, was based on a rigorous interpretation of Leviticus 15:11. It could be applied to handling anything. Leviticus 15:11 says: “All those whom the one with the discharge touches without his having rinsed his hands in water shall wash their clothes, and bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening.”. There a “discharge” would usually be from a sore.

Verse 3: “the commandment of God”: i.e. the Law of Moses.

Verse 4: See Exodus 20:12; 21:17; Deuteronomy 5:16; Leviticus 20:9. [ NOAB]

Verse 5: Korban vows made by a son promised that he would give, upon death, all his possessions to the Temple – and to no one else at any time – while retaining use of them during his lifetime. Making such a vow made the possessions sacred, so he could not give any of them to his parents. So he did not need to support his “father or mother”. This tradition, found in the Aural Torah , was controversial in Jesus’ day. It is recorded in Mishnah Nedarim.

Verse 6: You Pharisees use the Aural Torah to nullify one of the Ten Commandments.

Verses 7-9: Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13, in the Septuagint translation, thus criticizing the Pharisees. [ NOAB]

Verses 10-20: The teaching here depends on a principle in the Law that certain physical conditions can and do render one unfit to share in the worship of the community. [ NOAB]

Verse 11: “defiles”: i.e. renders one unfit to share in the worship of the community. See also Acts 10:13-15 (Peter and the voice in Cornelius’ house). In 1 Timothy 4:3, the author writes of those who “forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth”. [ NOAB]

Verse 13: The quotation is Isaiah 60:21.

Verse 14: In Matthew 23:16-17, Jesus says: “‘Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred’”. See also Matthew 23:24 and Luke 6:34.

Verse 17: For the types of clean food, see Leviticus 11 and 17:10-16.

Verses 19-20: Violations of the rights and interests of another person hinder worship. In 5:23-24, Jesus advises: “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift”. [ NOAB]

Verses 21-28: I offer below part of the Comment I wrote in 1996, which interprets only these verses. In later years, I condensed to cover all of vv. 10-28.

Jesus leaves the western shore of the Sea of Galilee and travels west (or northwest) to southern Phoenicia (now southern Lebanon). The woman, a Gentile, a “Canaanite”, “comes out” of Phoenicia – or travels to the Phoenicia/Galilee border. (In the Old Testament, Canaanites were a sinful race that embodied all that was wicked and godless. In other words, they were scum.)

The dialogue in verses 22 to 28 has a distinctly Middle Eastern flavour. To us, the disciples' request (in v. 23) and Jesus' response (in v. 24) seem very harsh, but to Middle Eastern ears they sound less harsh. In those cultures, barb is traded for barb, and insult for insult. It is a kind of wit unknown to Westerners. As one commentator puts it: “It is good peasant humour, not theological debate.” Here insult is turned into commitment.

Verse 22: “started shouting”: BlkMt points out that the tense in the Greek is the imperfect, so she calls out repeatedly.

Verse 24: This is probably a parable or a proverbial statement.

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