Comments

Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Third Sunday after Pentecost - June 1, 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 6:9-22;7:24;8:14-19

While 6:9a is technically the introduction to the chronicles of Noah, it is only in Chapter 10 that we learn of his “descendants”. In that this chapter is outside our reading, it may be preferable to begin reading at 6:9b.

FoxMoses divides Genesis into four parts: The Primeval History (Chapters 1-11), Abraham (12-25:28), Jacob (25:19-36:43) and Joseph (Chapters 37-40). Part 1, he says, has been assembled for several purposes:

  • To trace history from creation down to Abraham
  • To establish the nature of God, as he will appear throughout the Hebrew Bible
  • To reflect on the probable Mesopotamian origins of Israel in the stories of creation, the Flood and the Tower of Babel, stories which are transformed or repudiated in the biblical versions.
  • To explain the origin of the world and its institutions.

In the Bible, humans are considered capable of living up to God’s expectations while in the Mesopotamian view they were merely slaves to the gods.

Comments: This story is, in its plot, like one found in the Atrahasis Epic: Some scholars, including Boadt, draw a comparison between the story of the Flood and the Gilgamesh Epic; however, as NJBC points out, the parallels (at the detail level) are even closer with the Atrahasis Epic itself. It seems that when the Gilgamesh Epic was edited (about 1300-1200 BC), a shorter version of the story in the Atrahasis Epic was added.

In the Atrahasis Epic, the plot is creation of humans, offence to the gods, flood, and re-creation – as it is in Genesis. [NJBC] More information on the origins of the Flood story is available from the author.

6:1-8: These verses are from the Yahwist (J) source, as are 2:4b-3:24 (the second creation and the temptation in the Garden of Eden) and 4:1-26 (Cain and Abel). In the comparable story in the Atrahasis Epic, which comes immediately before the story of the Flood, the gods are divided on whether to destroy humanity by plague or flood. Here it is the one God who makes the decision. [NJBC]

6:1-4: The story of the Nephelim is related to show the increase in violence or lawlessness (see 6:11), in this instance through the breaching of the boundaries separating heaven and earth. This old fragment of mythology connects immediately with Chapters 2-4. [NOAB]

6:5-8:22: God’s judgement takes the form of a destructive flood and God’s mercy is shown in saving a remnant. [NOAB]

6:9-22: These verses are from the Priestly (P) source. [NJBC]

6:9: “These are the descendants of Noah”: This is a formula introducing a section of the book; it was added by the Priestly (P) editor to a story which was originally from the Yahwist (J) source. Other such introductions are found in 2:4a, 5:1; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27, etc.

Comments: God sees this, and acts immediately: He also acts immediately in Exodus 2:25 (the bondage in Egypt); Isaiah 57:18; 59:16; 63:15. [NJBC]

6:12: “God saw that the earth was corrupt”: This is a bitter echo of 1:31: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good”. [FoxMoses]

6:14: “ark”: The word meaning a box or chest, and not strictly a boat, God, not human engineering, is the source of human survival in the story! [FoxMoses] The only other use of the Hebrew word in the Bible is with reference to Moses’ basket in Exodus 2; it too held the hope of the people in a time of danger. [NJBC]

6:14: “cypress wood”: We do not know what kind of wood is meant by the Hebrew word. [NJBC]

6:14: “make rooms in the ark”: FoxMoses offers “with reeds make the Ark”. Perhaps this is an echo of Mesopotamian origins.

6:16: “Make a roof for the ark”: FoxMoses translates the Hebrew as A skylight you are to make for the Ark, which makes more sense than the NRSV translation. NJBC offers a similar translation. Unlike a boat, it is totally enclosed except for a window.

6:17: “flood”: The Hebrew word may be an Assyrian loan-word. [FoxMoses] It occurs in the Old Testament only in Genesis 6-9 and in Psalm 29:10 where it apparently means the chaotic waters tamed by the victorious Yahweh. [NJBC]

6:18: God’s covenant with Noah is the first one mentioned in the Bible. There are three others from the Priestly (P) tradition: the one with Abraham (in 17:1-14), the one with the Israelites at Sinai (in Exodus 19-24), and the third with Phineas (in Numbers 26:12-13). [NJBC]

6:19-20: “of every kind”: NJBC offers according to its kind and FoxMoses offers after their kind. This phrase harks back to Genesis 1. To the Priestly (P) tradition, all creation is good at this point and distinctions between clean and unclean will only be given by God at Sinai.

7:1-5: These verses repeat God’s instructions in 6:14-17. They are from the Yahwist (J) source while the earlier instructions are from the Priestly (P) source. [NJBC] Note the omission of “creeping things” from 7:3. (Recall that the story of the serpent in the Garden of Eden is from J).

7:2: “clean”: i.e. ritually pure. [FoxMoses]

7:6: This verse, and others that mention Noah’s age, are from the Priestly (P) source. [NJBC]

7:7-10: These verses are from the Yahwist (J) source. [NJBC]

7:11-12: Note that the Flood begins twice, first in the Priestly (P) tradition and then in the Yahwist (J) tradition. [NJBC]

7:11: “the fountains of the great deep”: The earth returns to the state of primeval chaos described in 1:2: “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters”. [FoxMoses]

7:11:The Flood is not caused by a rain storm but is a cosmic catastrophe resulting from opening “the windows of the heavens” (the waters above the dome ancients thought covered the earth) and the “fountains of the great deep” (the waters thought to be under the earth). In the first creation story (1:6), we read “And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’” [NOAB]

7:11: “windows”: FoxMoses offers sluices.

7:13-16a: These verses are from the Priestly (P) source. [NJBC]

7:16: “the LORD shut him in”: Another sign of God’s control over the events (and his protection of Noah). [FoxMoses]

7:16b: This half verse is from the Yahwist (J) source. [NJBC]

7:17-20: “increased ... swelled and increased greatly ... swelled so mightily ... swelled”: The structure here mirrors the action: the surging and growing of the waters. [FoxMoses]

7:17a: This half verse, and other verses that use the figures “forty” and “seven” are from the Yahwist (J) source. [NJBC]

7:18-21: These verses are from the Priestly (P) source. [NJBC]

7:18-20: See Clipping on 7:11. The earth was threatened with being swallowed up by the waters. Archeological evidence of a prehistoric flood covering the whole earth are heightened (exaggerated) versions of local inundations, e.g in the Tigris-Euphrates basin. [NOAB]

7:22-23: These verses are from the Yahwist (J) source. [NJBC]

7:23: “blotted out”: The words are repeated, echoing God’s promise in 6:7.

7:24-8:2a: These verses are from the Priestly (P) source. [NJBC]

7:24-8:1: NJBC says that the syntax suggests a single sentence: “And when the waters had swelled for 150 days, God remembered Noah”. God also remembers when bondage in Egypt has reached a critical point; he then acts on behalf of the Israelites: see Exodus 2:23-25.

8:1: “remembered”: FoxMoses says that the Hebrew means more than “remembered” so he offers paid mind. This is the turning point in the story. [NOAB] NJBC says that the rest of the story forms an inclusio around this verse.

8:1: “wind”: This is reminiscent of the wind at creation: see 1:2, quoted above.

8:2b-8:3a: These verses are from the Yahwist (J) source. [NJBC]

8:3b-5: These verses are from the Priestly (P) source, as are others that give dates in days and months. [NJBC]

8:3,5: “gradually receded ... continued to abate”: FoxMoses offers advancing and returning ... advance and diminish. As in 7:17-20, the motion of the waters is suggested by means of the sound of the Hebrew words.

8:4: “the mountains of Ararat”: This is the mountain country of Urartu in northwestern Iraq: to the writer, the highest part of the world. There is no Mount Ararat in the Bible. [NJBC] NOAB differs regarding the location of the mountain country. He says that it is in Armenia. (There is a Mount Ararat, Arrata, in a mountainous area of Armenia; the Sumerians saw Armenia as their ancestral homeland.)

8:7-8: Much later, it was the practice for sailors to release birds so as to follow them as they turned towards land. [NJBC]

8:8-12: These verses are from the Yahwist (J) source. [NJBC]

8:8: “dove”: In the Old Testament, this bird is portrayed as beautiful (even pure) and delicate. [FoxMoses] It is a symbol of God at Jesus’ baptism.

8:13: Note that earth is again in its initial state on the first day of the first month. [NJBC]

8:13b: This half verse is from the Yahwist (J) source. [NJBC]

8:14-19: These verses are from the Priestly (P) source. [NJBC]

8:20-22: These verses are from the Yahwist (J) source. [NJBC]

8:21: “curse”: God’s curse is in 3:17: “And to the man he [God] said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you ...’” [NJBC]

9:1: The blessing given to Noah repeats the original blessing in 1:28 verbatim. [NJBC]

9:6: This is a poem. It plays on the sounds of “humankind” (Hebrew: adam) and “blood” (Hebrew: dam). [FoxMoses] The original blessing is, however, qualified because God is willing to bear with sinfully violent humans (see 8:21), rather than because of divine miscalculation (as in the Atrahasis Epic). [FoxMoses]

9:6: “by a human”: FoxMoses offers an alternative translation: for that human.

9:9: While a covenant is usually an agreement between two parties sworn before gods who oversee the keeping of the oaths of the parties, here it is essentially a promise, made first to Noah (in 6:18) and now extended to all living creatures. [NJBC]

Psalm 46

This psalm is a difficult one to interpret, as poetry sometimes is. In Comments, I follow JBC, who cautions against seeing it as eschatological. Further, a non-eschatological interpretation fits better with the story of the Flood. JB also sees it in a historical setting. He sees “God will help it when the morning dawns” as an allusion to the withdrawal of Sennacherib’s forces in 701 BC (see 2 Kings 19:35 and Isaiah 17:14), after a peace deal that spared Jerusalem .

Note v. 6: “see what desolations he has brought on the earth”. Perhaps this says that God had been on Assyria’s side in attacking Jerusalem and restoring Assyria’s rule over the north, but it may be a reference to the end-times, when the “desolations” (Hebrew: shammah) in vv. 2-3, 6 were expected: see Isaiah 13:9. NOAB and CAB interpret the psalm this way. Space restrictions in Comments does not permit offering both interpretations, so the eschatological interpretation is presented here. (The last part is the same.) A scholar has told me that the tense of verbs in Psalms is often uncertain.

People expected terrible events to occur before the Day of the Lord: earthquakes (vv. 2-3), return to close to the initial chaotic state of the earth (“waters”, v. 3) and political turmoil (v. 6); in short, utter “desolation” (v. 8). But in the midst of this, God will stand steadfast as the protector of the godly, who seek his help night-long in prayer (and receive it in the “morning”, v. 5). They will be citizens of the eternal “city of God”, where he dwells. (Ezekiel 47:1-13 tells of a “river”, (v. 4), a source of life, flowing from the celestial Temple).

Both JB and REB avoid this problem by translating shammah as astounding things and astonishment respectively. They seem to see the psalm in a historical setting.

Superscription: “Of the Korahites”: The Korahites were the Levitical group responsible for singing in the Temple (see 2 Chronicles 20:19). They are also mentioned in the superscriptions of Psalms 42; 44-49; 84-85; 87-88. [CAB]

Superscription: “Alamoth”: The Hebrew word means young maidens. We do not know what this musical direction means but some have suggested that it may mean to be sung by young women; however note that 1 Chronicles 15:20 says that certain people “were to play harps according to Alamoth”. [HBD]

Verses 1-3: God will preserve his people even during the cosmic tumults of the latter days. Joel 3:16 foretells: “The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth shake. But the LORD is a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel”. [NOAB]

Verse 1: This verse inspired Luther’s hymn, A Mighty Fortress.

Verse 1: “a very present help in trouble”: NRSV offers an alternative translation: “a very well proved help in trouble”.

Verse 3: “Selah”: This word is probably a liturgical direction, added to the original text of the psalm. It may mean lift up, either to indicate the lifting up of the voices of the singers in a doxology, or to call for lifted-up instrumental music in an interlude in the singing. [NOAB]

Verse 4: “the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High ...”: Because of this emphasis on the holy city here and in certain other psalms, they are called songs of Zion, a term which comes from 137:3. [NOAB] The others are 48; 76; 84; 87; 122. [NJBC] To CAB, the “city” of God could be Jerusalem, renewed in the future (as in Jewish apocalypses and Revelation 21), or a new city at the end of time.

Verse 4: “a river”: Isaiah 33:21, telling of the time when we will be with God, says “there the LORD in majesty will be for us a place of broad rivers and streams”. Ezekiel 47:11-12 tell of a life-giving river flowing from the Temple, creating a new Garden of Eden. See also Zechariah 14:8 and Revelation 22:1-2. [NOAB] On the other hand, CAB refers the reader to Isaiah 8:6-7 where the “waters of Shiloh” are what God offers and can be depended on, unlike the offerings of foreign kings. There Israel has refused God’s offer so there will be a flood of judgement, symbolized by “the River”, the Tigris-Euphrates, i.e. the Assyrians. NJBC suggests that the unruly “waters” (v. 3) have been transformed into the river that brings joy to the city.

Verse 5: “God will help it when the morning dawns”: For this theme, see also 5:3. [NJBC]

Verse 7: This refrain also appears in v. 11. It has been dropped out by accident after v. 3. Some translations (e.g. JB) restore it. [NOAB]

Verses 9-10: Isaiah 2:2-4 says “In days to come ... He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”. This is eschatological. [NOAB] See also 76:3; Hosea 2:18; Zechariah 9:10. [NJBC]

Romans 1:16-17;3:22b-28,(29-31)

1:16-17: These verses present the theme of the letter. [NOAB]

1:16: In 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul writes: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”. [CAB]

1:16: “salvation”: i.e. deliverance from the power of sin into God’s present and future realm. See also 10:1; 11:11; 13:11; 2 Corinthians 7:10; Galatians 1:4; Philippians 1:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:8-9 and Isaiah 2:5; Wisdom of Solomon 5:2. [CAB]

1:16: “to the Jew first”: Abraham was the first to live a godly life through faith. In Galatians 3:8, Paul says: “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’”.

1:17: The “righteousness of God” originates in the divine nature, as 3:5 indicates, acting to effect pardon or acceptance with God, a relationship that is not a human achievement but God’s gift. [NOAB]

1:17: “‘The one who is righteous will live by faith’”: NRSV offers an alternative translation: “The one who is righteous through faith will live”. The quotation is from the Septuagint translation of Habakkuk 2:4. See also Galatians 3:11; Philippians 3:9; Hebrews 10:38. [NOAB]

3:21: “the law and the prophets”: i.e. the Old Testament. [NOAB]

3:22: “faith in Jesus”: The NRSV offers an alternative translation: “the faith of Jesus”, as in 3:26; Galatians 2:16, 20; 3:22; Philippians 3:9. It assumes Christ’s faithful obedience either unto death (see Romans 5:18-21 and Philippians 2:8) or in becoming incarnate (see Philippians 2:6-8), or the entire ministry of Jesus, possibly involving interchange of faith with “all who believe” in God (as in 4:24) and in Christ (as in Galatians 2:16). [NOAB]

3:22a: BlkRom translates this as God's righteousness manifested through faith in Jesus Christ, an directed to all who have faith.

3:23: See also 2:9 and 3:9. [CAB]

3:24: “justified”: The root of the Greek word is dikaioo. This word is translated variously as “righteousness” or “justified” in 1:17; 3:5, 21, 25, 26. [NOAB]

3:24: “redemption”: CAB says that the Greek word literally means deliverance; it is applied here to deliverance from “the power of sin” (see 3:9). The Greek word is also used in the Septuagint translation for the deliverance from bondage in Egypt in Exodus 6:6; Deuteronomy 7:8; 9:26; 13:5. NOAB says that it also means a ransoming or buying back (as of a slave or captive). Slaves are set free through God’s act in Christ. See also Ephesians 1:7 (“In him we have redemption through his blood”); Colossians 1:14 (“in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”); Hebrews 9:15 (“... because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant”).

3:25: “a sacrifice of atonement by his blood”: For Christ’s death as a sacrifice for sin, see also 1 John 2:2; for sacrifice for sin in the Old Testament, see Exodus 25:22; Leviticus 16:12-15. Note 5:8: “... God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”. [NOAB] CAB says that the Greek word is used in the Septuagint translation for the mercy seat atop the ark where annually, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) the blood of the sacrificial animal was sprinkled by the high priest (see Leviticus 16:14-16) to repair the fracturing of the covenant relationship brought about by the people’s sins. In the New Testament, this word is used to state that Christ’s cross is where (and when) the sins of humanity meet with God’s forgiveness. Note the NRSV footnote: “place of atonement” is also a possible translation.

3:27-31: One’s “works” or deeds might be grounds for boasting, but if salvation is by faith, pride is “excluded”. [NOAB]

3:27: “boasting”: See also 4:2 (“For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God”); 1 Corinthians 1:29-2:2 (“... Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord ...”); Ephesians 2:8-9 (“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast”). [CAB]

3:27: “law”: In 7:21-23, Paul uses the Greek word, nomos, in the same sense: “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members”. [NOAB]

3:28: See also Galatians 3:11 (“Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith’”), 18, 22; Ephesians 2:8-9. [CAB]

3:30: “God is one”: Deuteronomy 6:4 says: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone”. This is the basic confession of Judaism. [CAB]

Matthew 7:21-29

Verses 13-23: The dominant point of these verses is that no one will emerge triumphant from the Last Judgement on the basis of right words alone or spectacular deeds of spiritual power alone. Only a life of love and justice will avail. [NJBC]

Verses 15-23: The true quality of those who claim to speak (“prophesy”, v. 22) and act in the name of God or belong to his people will be evident by what they produce (“fruits”, v. 20). [CAB]

Verse 15: Later Jesus warns: “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (see 24:11) and “false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (see 24:24). See also Ezekiel 22:27; 1 John 4:1; John 10:12. [NOAB]

Verse 15: “sheep”: Sheep often symbolize a group of followers in a religious sense: see Ezekiel 34:1-24 and Luke 12:32. [NOAB]

Verse 16: “You will know them by their fruits”: Jesus also expresses this idea in 3:8; 12:33-35; Luke 6:43-45. [NOAB]

Verse 17: “the bad tree bears bad fruit”: This is also stated in James 3:10-12. [NOAB]

Verse 19: Cutting down a tree that bears bad fruit (or no fruit at all) is also mentioned in 3:10 and Luke 13:6-9. [NOAB]

Verse 23: God will dismiss the frauds as “evildoers”. [CAB]

Verses 24-27: The equivalent story in Luke is found in Luke 6:47-49. [NOAB] There, the setting seems to be a river rather than a ravine and the second house is built without a foundation. Such a river would be outside Palestine. Luke adapts the story for his readers. James 1:22-25 begins “... be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves”.

Verse 24: “these words of mine”: Jesus points back to the Sermon on the Mount itself as a guide to Christian behaviour. For Matthew, following the word of Jesus is wisdom about life. [NJBC]

Verse 28: “when Jesus had finished saying these things”: These or similar words are found in 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1. [NOAB]

Verse 29: See also Mark 1:22; 11:18; Luke 4:32. [NOAB]

Verse 29: “their scribes”: Note 13:52 (“every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven”) and 23:34 (“I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town”): there were scribes in Matthew’s church. [NJBC]

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