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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost - October 23, 2011



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.

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Like that other great work of the first millennium BC, the Iliad, a funeral marks the end of the old generation and old circumstances. Israel, the narrated audience of the book of Deuteronomy, is now armed for what lies ahead, thanks to the leader’s orations that comprise the whole book. [FoxMoses]

This chapter resumes the story from the end of Numbers, after Moses’ deuteronomic addresses to Israel. [NOAB]

Verse 1: “Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah”: Mount Pisgah is in the same range as “Mount Nebo” but slightly to the west. Thus two traditions regarding the place of Moses’ death are present in this verse. [NOAB] Numbers 27:12-23 says that Moses’ death on “Pisgah” while Deuteronomy 32:49 says it was on “Nebo”. [CAB] “Mount Nebo” is from the Priestly (P) tradition while “Pisgah” is the Deuteronomic (D) equivalent. See also 3:27 and 4:49. [NJBC]

Verse 2: “the Western Sea”: The Mediterranean is visible on a clear day from “Mount Nebo” (v. 1)

Verse 3: “Zoar”: See also Genesis 13:10; 14:2, 8. This city escaped the destruction which fell on Sodom and Gomorrah. [OBA]

Verse 4: “ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there”: That God, being angry with Moses, will not permit him to enter the Promised Land is also mentioned in 1:37; 3:25-27; 4:21-22; etc. The reason for his anger is not stated in the Bible.

Verse 6: “He was buried”: NJBC offers he buried him. He is Yahweh, though the Samaritan Pentateuch and some Septuagint manuscripts have the plural. A considerable literature developed around the fate of Moses and the location of his remains: see, for example, Jude 9 and Assumption of Moses. [NJBC]

Verse 5: “at the LORD’s command”: FoxMoses notes that the Hebrew literally means “at the mouth of Yahweh”. This, he says, gave rise to the Jewish tradition that Moses died by a divine kiss.

Verse 6: “but no one knows ...”: The Hebrew text may mean that Yahweh secretly buried Moses, showing the marvellous disappearance of God’s prophet. See 2 Kings 2:11-12 for Elijah’s assumption into heaven. [NOAB]

Verse 6: “to this day”: An indication that this account was written long after the events described. [CAB]

Verse 7: In 31:1-2, Moses tells the Israelites that he is 120 years of age and is infirm, and that he will not cross the Jordan. Numbers 33:39 says that Aaron lived to the age of 123.

Verse 7: “his vigour”: By analogy with the Ugaritic word, perhaps sexual vigour. [NJBC]

Verse 8: “thirty days”: The mourning period was the same for Aaron: see Numbers 20:29. [NJBC]

Verse 9: “Moses had laid his hands on him”: In Numbers 27:15-22, Moses asks Yahweh to “appoint someone over the congregation”. Yahweh commands Moses to lay his hand on Joshua. This commissioning is to be before Eleazar the priest and in the sight of the Israelites.

Verses 10-11: For the judgement that Moses was the greatest of Israel’s prophets, see 18:15-22; Numbers 12:6-8. See also 11:24-30; Hosea 12:13. [NOAB] Moses “knew [Yahweh] face to face” but the prophets only knew him indirectly. [NJBC] For signs and wonders wrought by Moses, see 4:34; 6:22; 7:19; 11:3; 26:8; 29:1-2; Psalms 105:26-27; 135:9.

Comments: For “terrifying displays of power” (v. 12) a scholar offers awe-inspiring acts: The scholar is FoxMoses.

Psalm 90:1-6,13-17

The superscription is A Prayer of Moses, the man of God. This is the only psalm so designated. [NJBC] Moses is called this in Deuteronomy 33:1 and Joshua 14:6.

A prayer for deliverance from national adversity (a lament) [NOAB]

Note the presence of wisdom language.

Verses 1-6: A hymn-like introduction declaring God’s eternity and the transience of human life. See also Isaiah 40:6-8. [NOAB]

Verse 3: The association of humans with dust is also found in 103:14 and Job 10:9.

Verse 4: “watch”: The night was divided into three watches.

Verse 6: Mortality being like grass is also found in 92:8-9; 102:11-12; Isaiah 51:12-13.

Verses 7-11: Human misery: the sinner is subject to God’s anger and under his “wrath” (vv. 7, 11) For the association of divine anger with the withering of vegetation, see also Isaiah 34:2-4; Ezekiel 19:12; Nahum 1:2-4. [NJBC]

Verses 11-12: A prayer that people may learn wisdom by considering the finititude of human life. [NOAB]

Verses 13-17: A prayer that Israel may be delivered from its difficulties. [NOAB]

Verse 13: “Turn, O LORD!”: The positive counterpart of human being’s turning to dust (v. 3). [NJBC]

Verse 14: In the same way, God satisfying humans “in the morning” corresponds to withering “in the morning” (v. 5-6). Similarly, rejoicing “all our days” corresponds to God’s fury “all our days” in v. 9. [NOAB]

Verse 15: V. 12 begins a prayer that God will teach us to “count our days”; this verse seeks that our days and years of happiness be at least equal in number to those of misery and misfortune. [NJBC]

Verse 16: V. 2 speaks of birth, perhaps of God in a maternal role. Even if our lives be brief, may they be continued in our “children”. [NJBC]

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

Verses 1-12: NJBC suggests that the similarities between Paul’s presentation of himself in these verses and the descriptions that some Hellenistic philosophers provided of themselves makes it preferable to see this as an autobiographical confession, similar in some respects to that of Jeremiah. So NJBC sees my interpretation – as Paul needing to defend himself – as outdated.

Verse 1: “not in vain”: Paul also uses this phrase in 3:5 (“... when I could bear it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith; I was afraid that somehow the tempter had tempted you and that our labour had been in vain”); 1 Corinthians 15:10, 14; Galatians 2:2; Philippians 2:16. In Galatians 4:11, he writes: “I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted”.

Verse 2: “we had already suffered”: NJBC sees Paul’s struggle motif as being a similar usage to that of Stoic and Cynic philosophers who compared philosophical exposition to a gladiator’s struggle.

Verse 2: “shamefully mistreated at Philippi”: Acts 16:19-40 tells us how Paul was brought before magistrates, found guilty, beaten, and thrown into prison.

Verse 3: “our appeal”: The Greek word, paraklesis, was commonly used in early Christian literature to refer to Christian preaching. Its use probably depended on Deutero-Isaiah’s announcement of consolation for Israel. (The verb parakaleo is used in the Septuagint translation of Isaiah 40:1.) See also 2 Corinthians 5:20 and Acts 2:40. [NJBC]

Verse 3: “deceit or impure motives or trickery”: See also 2 Corinthians 2:17 (“we are not peddlers of God's word like so many”); 4:2 (“we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God's word”); 10:12 (“We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves”); 11:12-13:20. [CAB] Paul’s vocabulary is like that of Stoic-Cynic literature, so he is implicitly comparing his proclamation of the gospel to the preaching of itinerant philosophers. [NJBC]

Verse 4: “entrusted ...”: Paul’s language is like that of the Athenian court. Public officials were first scrutinized before they were “entrusted” with political responsibility. In a similar way, Paul and his companions have been scrutinized by God before being entrusted with the mission of proclaiming the gospel. [NJBC]

Verse 4: “tests our hearts”: i.e. verifies that we are genuinely godly. Proverbs 17:3 says: “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, but the LORD tests the heart”.

Verses 5-8: These verses are one sentence in the Greek. Paul describes the implications of being his emissaries for those to whom they are sent. [NJBC]

Verse 5: See also 2 Corinthians 2:1-5; 11:7-11. [CAB] Paul asserts the right of emissaries to be supported; however he has never sought financial support from the Thessalonian church. [NJBC]

Verse 6: In 3:7-9, Paul says of the Thessalonian Christians: “... during all our distress and persecution we have been encouraged about you through your faith ...” and “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?”. See also 1 Corinthians 9:3-18. [CAB]

Verse 6: “praise”: The Greek word is doxa – which usually means glory. NJBC suggests that money may be meant here.

Matthew 22:34-46

Verses 23-33: The parallels are Mark 12:18-27 and Luke 20:27-40.

Verse 23: “there is no resurrection”: i.e. The Sadducees seek to discredit the notion of resurrection. Scholars agree that this notion is not found in the Pentateuch and is rare in the rest of the Old Testament; however, Isaiah 26:19 says “Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a radiant dew, and the earth will give birth to those long dead.” and Daniel 12:2 says: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”. The Isaiah passage dates from the 700s BC, but it is unclear as to whether resurrection of the individual or restoration of the nation is in view. Daniel was probably written about 165 BC, so the notion of resurrection probably arose late in Israelite history.

The Sadducees limited scripture to the Pentateuch. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection. For the Sadducees and the Pharisees and resurrection, see Acts 4:1-2 (Peter and John proclaim Jesus as the resurrection) and 23:6-10 (Paul appears before the Council). [NOAB]

Verse 24: The quotation is actually a conflation of Deuteronomy 25:5-6 and Genesis 38:8. The author thinks of Levirate marriage. Note that the Greek word translated “raise up” is anastesei – which is elsewhere (including v. 23) translated as resurrection. See Ruth 4:1-12 for Ruth’s levirate marriage to Boaz. [NJBC]

Verse 30: Resurrected life will be different.

Verse 31: “to you”: i.e. in your Scriptures, the Pentateuch.

Verse 32: The quotation is Exodus 3:6. Jesus’ argument is that because the Scriptures are in effect in all ages, if the Exodus verse says “I am”, it means in his time I continue to be. So, though Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have died, they must now be alive in some way – so they must have been raised, in some way and to some degree, from being dead.

Verses 34-40: The parallels are Mark 12:28-34 and Luke 10:25-28.

Verse 35: “a lawyer”: i.e. someone who specializes in interpreting Mosaic law. [CAB]

Verse 36: 613 laws were recognized in the Pentateuch, of which some were considered onerous and others light. Jesus’ first commandment is an onerous one, but the second is a light one.

Verse 36: “greatest”: The request is for a summary of the Law or, even deeper, for its centre. [NJBC]

Verse 37: The quotation is Deuteronomy 6:5, but with “mind” replacing “might”. This verse is part of the expansion of the legal principles stated in the Ten Commandments and is part of the Shema, a confession of faith still used in Judaism. “Love” is not primarily a feeling but fidelity to the covenant, a matter of willing and doing.

Verse 37: “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”: “Heart” meant will, “soul” meant life, and might meant wealth. To NJBC, Matthew has omitted might and has added another translation of “heart”.

Verse 39: The quotation is Leviticus 19:18. See also Matthew 19:19; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8. [NOAB] The idea includes a right form of self-love. The combination of these two commands is not clearly attested prior to Jesus and marks an important moral advance. [NJBC]

Verse 40: On these two commands hang”: The rabbis said that the world hangs on Torah, Temple service, and deeds of loving kindness – or on truth, judgement and peace (see Mishna ‘Abot 1:2, 18). Matthew makes the law depend itself depend on deeds of love.

Verses 41-46: The parallels are Mark 12:35-37 and Luke 20:41-44.

Verse 42: “son”: i.e. the heir to the throne of David. [CAB]

Jews expected a number of people to appear at the time of God’s definitive intervention in world affairs on behalf of Israel: messiahs, figures who would rescue/save the nation. These included Elijah, the prophet like Moses, and perhaps the Son of Man. But one messiah, the Messiah, was a precisely defined concept: the anointed king descended from David who would establish Yahweh’s earthly kingdom.

After the Exile, the expectation of the Messiah appears. The notion is found in some intertestamental literature, particularly in books which are not found in the Apocrypha. But in the first century AD many Jews had given up on the Davidic dynasty; after all, it was 500 years since a Davidic king had ruled. There was no expectation of a Messiah who would be Son of God; rather the Messiah, while having spiritual qualities, was expected to be a national hero, and probably super-human.

God did send saviours to rescue his people throughout much of Israel’s history. In the early days of the Monarchy, each king was seen as a saviour sent from God. Of particular note in the written record is 2 Samuel 7 (Nathan’s prophecy) with Psalm 89 and 1 Chronicles 17. While the “offspring” (2 Samuel 7:12) is clearly Solomon, “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (7:14) suggests that David’s dynasty will be everlasting. Psalm 89:23-38 contains the following key elements of the notion: election of David by Yahweh; promises of victory and wide dominion; adoption of David and his descendants as sons; a pact between Yahweh and the Davidic line, which will last forever, independent of the godliness of David’s successors. The notion is limited to the political/military. See also Psalms 2; 72; 110 - known as Royal Psalms and used at coronations.

During the 700s BC there were Davidic kings who were bad. At this time, Isaiah presented rescue from these kings: Yahweh would directly intervene in human history to bring salvation, placing on the throne a successor to David who would be worthy. See Isaiah 15:19, 22. Isaiah 7:14-17 and 9:1ff are particularly noteworthy: the child to be born to the wicked Ahaz and a maiden of the court (mistranslated as virgin in the Septuagint and thereafter) would show that God still endorsed the Davidic line. This child’s accomplishments would be justice, empire and peace. While the child seems to be a particular one, i.e. Hezekiah, Isaiah’s words are sufficiently general that they could be (and were) taken later to refer to an ideal king of the future – and to the divine restoration of the monarchy.

Isaiah 11:1ff may date from the 700s or may be later. It looks to the more remote future. He will have God’s Spirit; God and will make him an ideal ruler. He will bring justice and security from foreign attack. New here is return to the perfection of creation which God intended, and the cosmic scope of his peace. He will reveal himself personally. Peace rests on knowledge of Yahweh, and can be made known to others only by Israel. Micah 5:1-6 is also interesting: the new David will come from Bethlehem. There are other allusions to the restoration of the Davidic line: see Jeremiah 23:5 (“righteous Branch”); 30:9, 21; Ezekiel 17:22 (“sprig ... of cedar”); 34:23 (“shepherd”); 37:34. There is no indication of saviour in these verses.

The only descendant of David to reign after the exile was Zerubbabel; he was governor (see Haggai 2:2). Because the monarchy had ceased to exist, looking to the next king to be ideal no longer worked; rather people could only look to the indefinite future for such a figure, who would be part of Yahweh’s great intervention to save his people. Thus the notion of the Messiah as we understand it, but he is still not of a transcendental nature (although no further saving acts would be needed.) See also Zechariah 9:9ff (possibly fourth century) and Haggai 22:39, where the Messiah is the instrument of Yahweh’s salvation but it will be Yahweh himself who saves with no human agent. The Messiah is no longer regal. But much later, in the first century BC, the Psalms of Solomon see him as both political and spiritual.

In the New Testament, some passages (Matthew 2:4-6; John 7:42) reflect the popular expectation that he would born at Bethlehem and that all Israel would know of his birth; however in other passages (John 7:27; Mark 8:29) we find the idea that the Messiah would be hidden: people would neither know whence he would come; he could be present with out them knowing it. [NJBC]

It is possible that it is Matthew that sees the “Messiah” as “the son of David”, a point he declares in 1:1: “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham”. The messianic nature of Jesus would be particularly important to Jewish Christians.

Verses 43-44: Comments tries to explain these verses in a small space. Perhaps the following will elucidate these difficult verses further.

  • David was considered to be the author of all the psalms, so wherever the word “my” occurs, people thought it equivalent to David’s.
  • The Hebrew of Psalm 110:1 has Yahweh for “The Lord” and adonai for “my Lord”. (Note that the NRSV translates this as “The LORD says to my lord”. The NRSV translates Yahweh as LORD – with small capitals.) Greek manuscripts of Matthew 22:44 are in capital letters throughout; there “The Lord“ and “my Lord” are both KURIOS.
  • The capitalization in the NRSV translation is unfortunate. It is also found in the Revised English Bible, the King James Version and the Jerusalem Bible.
  • Jesus is asserting that the Messiah (Christ) is to return to the Father in heaven (“at my right hand”) until the Father defeats all the forces of evil in the world. They are the Messiah’s “enemies”.

Verse 44: This verse is also quoted in Acts 2:34-35 (the Pentecost sermon, where Peter argues that “my Lord” is Christ and not David); Hebrews 1:13; 10:12-13. Hebrews also sees “my Lord” as Christ, the Messiah.

Verse 46: “No one was able to give him an answer”: JB suggests that an appropriate answer would have been that through tracing his human origin back to David (as Matthew does in 1:1-17), there is something about the Messiah to set him above David. Proof-texting is dangerous, especially when duelling with Jesus!

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