Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: First Sunday after Christmas - December 29, 2019

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 63:7-9

63:1-66:16: This section moves towards the victory of Yahweh in a new heaven and a new earth, to be reflected in a new Temple and new priesthood, but the sombre tones of Chapters 56-59 are maintained. [ NJBC]

NOAB calls this passage (to 64:12) a psalm of intercession.

63:7-64:11: In the first days of the return, Haggai spoke his prosaic prophecy, Zechariah his apocalyptic vision, and this psalmist, his agonizing prayer, which is one of the jewels of the Bible. [ JBC]

63:7: In Hebrew, this verse begins and ends with hesed. This word defies translation but is explainable as a dutiful love springing from a blood bond. [ JBC] Liturgical acts allowed Israelites to participate in God’s remembrance of great redemptive acts: see Exodus 28:12; 30:11-16; Leviticus 2:3; Numbers 10:8-10. [ NJBC]

63:7: “recount”: JBC offers remember. In the context of prayer the Hebrew word, zakar , always means to invoke a continuous renewal of redemptive love. It also appears in 54:4; Jeremiah 51:50; Ezekiel 6:9. [ JBC]

63:8: See Exodus 4:22-23 (God’s instructions to Moses re his return to Egypt) and 19:3-6 (God’s appearance to Moses at Sinai). [ NOAB]

63:9: “saved ... redeemed”: See Exodus 12:1-32 (instructions for the festivals of Passover and Unleavened Bread).

63:9: “lifted them up”: See also Ezekiel 16. [ NOAB]

63:10: “grieved his holy spirit”: God is affected by human resistance to the prophets and evangelists. In Acts 7:51, Stephen tells his accusers: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do”. [ JBC] “Holy spirit” only occurs outside the New Testament in Psalm 51:11; Wisdom of Solomon 1:5; 9:17. [ NJBC]

63:11-14: While five participles cast this section as a joyful hymn (see also 40:28; 42:5), that fact only sharpens the sense of frustration. [ NJBC]

63:11-12: For the deliverance of Israel, see also Exodus 14:9-15:21 (from the Egyptian army). [ NOAB]

63:11: Hebrews 13:20 applies this text to Christ’s resurrection, the only completely satisfying answer to the question of sorrow and death.

63:11: “Where is the one”: This question, now at this agonizing moment, lays bare an honest, strong, and humble soul like Jeremiah’s (in Jeremiah 2:8). [ JBC]

63:11: “brought them up out of the sea”: This is an allusion to the naming of Moses in Exodus 2:10 and to the chaotic sea, which God defeats in saving Israel: see 51:9-11; Exodus 15:5, 8. [ NJBC]

63:13: “through the depths”: God safely led them through Sinai to the Promised Land.

63:15-16: The prophet hopefully petitions God, who, unlike Israel’s patriarchs, is immortal. (“Israel” is Jacob.) [ NOAB]

63:15: “Look down from heaven”: Psalm 80:14, another psalm of agony, also asks God to do this. [ NJBC]

63:16: Perhaps this verse contrasts God’s immortality with the mortality of the patriarchs. [ NOAB]

63:16: “you are our father”: Twice the psalmist defends his status as an authentic child of God. 64:7 says “There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you ...”. In Exodus 4:22, God tells Moses to tell the Pharaoh: “Israel is my firstborn son”. In Hosea 11:1, God says through the prophet: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” [ NJBC]

63:16: “though Abraham does not know us”: NJBC offers were Abraham not able to recognize us. This is unlike 51:1-2, where the reader is told to “look to Abraham your father”.

63:17: “servants”: The faithful servants of Deutero-Isaiah and Trito-Isaiah. [ NJBC]

63:19: Theocratic rule is no longer.

64:1-5b: God, please reveal yourself in power as you did in days of old! For God’s showing of his power in the old days, see Exodus 19:16-18 (at Sinai); Judges 5:4-5 (the song of Deborah); Habakkuk 3:3-15 (the prophet’s prayer). In the Torah, humans cannot approach God: see Genesis 11:1-9 (the Tower of Babel); Exodus 33:17-23 (at Mount Sinai). But God comes to them (Exodus 19-20). Mark 1:10 tells of the Spirit descending on Jesus at his baptism. [ NOAB]

64:2: “fire”: In Exodus 19:18, fire is a symbol of God’s wondrous presence but here it is one of divine anger, as it is in 42:25. [ NJBC]

64:6: “filthy cloth”: This implies cultural shame and ceremonial uncleanness. Leviticus 15:19-24 contains the law regarding uncleanness during menstruation. [ NJBC]

64:8-12: The Hebrew texts shows that the psalmist’s appeal is desperate: on the contrary, “you are our Father ...” We really are the work of your hand”. [ NJBC]

64:10: “Your holy cities”: Because the Promised Land is God’s, so are its cities. [ NOAB]

64:12: “Will you keep silent ... ?”: See also Psalms 79:5; 85:5-7. [ NOAB]

Psalm 148

This is a late communal hymn of praise to the Creator. Antecedents are the tradition of hymnody common to Israel and Mesopotamia: see Isaiah 44:23 and Psalm 103:20-22. [ NJBC] This psalm is related to the Benedicite (Song of the Three Children) in Daniel 3:52-90, Septuagint translation. [ JBC] (The NRSV presents these verses in the Apocrypha as Prayer of Azariah 29-68.)

Note the parallels between two sections, vv. 1-5 and 7-13: both sections begin with “Praise the Lord from the heavens/earth” and end with “Let them praise the name of the Lord”.

Verses 1-2: 103:20 is somewhat similar: “Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, obedient to his spoken word”. [ NJBC]

Verses 9-10: These verses consist of examples of merism: of each pair, one is cultivated and the other is uncultivated. [ NJBC]

Verse 13: “above earth and heaven”: i.e. above everything. See also Genesis 1:1 (the beginning of the first creation story) and Genesis 2:4 (the second creation story). [ NJBC]

Verse 14: “horn”: This is perhaps a ram’s horn (Hebrew: shophar). It was used in worship (see 2 Chronicles 15:14) as well as in war (see Joshua 6:4-13, the taking of Jericho). To CAB, it is God’s special presence and effective purpose for and through his people: a psalmist writes in 89:17: “For you are the glory of their strength; by your favour our horn is exalted”. See also 132:17.

Hebrews 2:10-18

Verse 5: “subject ... to angels”: For the present world being under the dominion of angels, see the Septuagint translation of Deuteronomy 32:8 and Daniel 10:13. [ NJBC]

Verses 6-8: The quotation is the Septuagint translation of Psalm 8:4-6. It is also applied to Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:27 and Ephesians 1:22 (and probably in 1 Peter 3:22.) The use of this psalm by various New Testament authors probably shows that it belonged to a common early tradition of Old Testament interpretation, possibly because v. 5 speaks of “the son of man”; however this is in synonymous parallelism with “man” in v. 4. To Christians, it would have recalled the designation of Jesus as Son of Man. [ NJBC]

Verse 8: “subjecting all things”: The author sees all things as already subject to Christ. For the same idea, see Ephesians 1:22; however, in 1 Corinthians 15:25-27, Jesus’ reign has indeed begun, but the subjugation of all things to him will only be completed at his final triumph. See Hebrews 10:13 for the same idea. [ NJBC]

Verse 9: For the idea that Jesus’ exaltation is a consequence of his humiliation, see also 12:2 and Philippians 2:6-11. [ NOAB]

Verse 9: “by the grace of God”: A few manuscripts have apart from God, meaning that in death he was abandoned by God. A scholar suggests that these manuscripts may be right, on the grounds that this is the more difficult reading. [ NJBC]

Verse 9: “taste death”: i.e. its bitterness. See also Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 49:18; Matthew 16:28. [ NOAB]

Verse 10: Humans attain glory through Christ.

Verse 10: “for whom and through whom all things exist”: The concept that all things God has made find their purpose in him is also found in 1 Corinthians 8:6 and Romans 11:36. [ NJBC]

Verse 10: “make ... perfect”: This notion is characteristic of this letter: see also 5:9; 7:19, 28; 9:9; 10:1, 14; 11:40; 12:23. ( 5:9 and 7:28 also have to do with Jesus’ being made perfect.) The Greek word, teleioo, is used in the Septuagint translation of priestly consecration, translating the Hebrew phrase to fill [the hands]: see Exodus 29:9, 29, 33, 35; Leviticus 16:32; 21:10; Numbers 3:3. For the corresponding noun, see Leviticus 8:33. This cultic notion of perfection is certainly present in Hebrews. But Jesus’ priestly consecration involved his obedience learned through suffering (see 5:8-10) and his being perfected means also that through that obedience he was brought to the full moral perfection of his humanity. [ NOAB] [ NJBC]

Verse 10: “pioneer”: The Greek word is also translated as “Author” (in Acts 3:15) and “Leader” (in Acts 5:31). The designation of Jesus as leader announces an important theme in Hebrews: the journey of the people of God to the place of rest (see 4:11), the heavenly sanctuary, in the footsteps of Jesus, their “forerunner” (see 6:20). [ NOAB]

Verse 11: “those who are sanctified”: i.e. ceremonially cleansed and perfected through Christ’s blood: see 10:10, 29. By this means we have access to God. [ NOAB]

Verse 11: “is not ashamed”: because he shares human nature. [ NJBC]

Verse 12: The quotation is Psalm 22:22. This psalm, a lament by an individual, was widely applied, in the early Church, to Christ in his passion: see Matthew 27:43, 46; Mark 15:34; John 19:24. The author of Hebrews places the sufferer’s joyous praise of God on the lips of Jesus. [ NJBC]

Verse 13: The quotations are from Isaiah 8:17 and 8:18. If C. H. Dodd is correct in thinking that the author of Hebrews also considers the original context of his quotations, he (as did Isaiah) states his confidence in the truth of prophecies many had rejected. [ NJBC]

Verse 14: See also Romans 6:23. [ NOAB]

Verse 14: “flesh and blood”: For flesh contrasted with the spirit of God, see also Psalms 56:4; 78:39; Isaiah 31:3; 2 Chronicles 32:8. “Flesh and blood” meaning human beings does not occur in the Old Testament proper; however it is found in Sirach 14:18 and 17:31. In the New Testament, see also Matthew 16:17; Galatians 1:16 (NRSV: “human being”); Ephesians 6:12. [ NJBC]

Verse 14: “so that through death ...”: Hellenistic Judaism held that death was no part of God’s plan for humans and that it was brought into the world by the devil: see Wisdom of Solomon 1:12-13; 2:23-24. The connection between sin and death was broken by Christ when he, through his high-priestly work, removed sin: see Romans 8:3. [ NJBC]

Verse 15: "fear”: The fear here is that death severs one’s relationship with God (see Isaiah 38:18 and Psalm 115:17-18) and also that death, being connected with sin, is more than a physical evil; in 1 Corinthians 15:26, death is the “last enemy” to be destroyed by Christ. This Jesus realized: by his death, the way of unending life with God was opened up to all who obey him. [ JBC]

Verse 16: “help”: The “descendants of Abraham” are believers in Christ. NJBC points out that the Greek word translated “help” really means take hold of – in order to help, so suggests that the author is thinking of the Incarnation. The verb is in the present tense, so this action is continuing. See also 8:9: “took them by the hand”.

Verse 17: “merciful and faithful”: That the high priest be merciful is found in the Bible only in Hebrews; that he be faithful is part of the high-priestly tradition: see 1 Samuel 2:35. The author probably bases the use of “merciful” on what he sees Jesus as having been during his earthly ministry. For faithfulness as a priestly quality in Hebrews, see also 3:2, 6. That he be gentle (sympathetic) is found in 5:2-3. [ NOAB]

Verse 17: “to make a sacrifice of atonement”: Continually is implied. [ NOAB]

Verse 17: “the sins of the people”: The sins bring death and the fear of it to God’s people. This is a work of the devil: see vv. 14-15. [ NOAB]

Verse 18: “suffered”: Through death on the cross: see 5:7-8. [ NOAB]

Verse 18: “tested”: Tempted is another translation. In the gospels, Jesus is tempted to abandon his mission; the readers of this book are tempted to apostasy, infidelity. [ NJBC]

Matthew 2:13-23

Verse 13: Jesus begins to meet opposition as soon as he is born. He will meet opposition throughout his life. If the flight to Egypt occurred much before Herod died in 4 BC, this verse would place Jesus’ birth many months or even a few years earlier. [ BlkMt]

Verse 15: The quotation is Hosea 11:1. In Exodus 4:22, God tells Moses to inform Pharaoh that “Israel is my firstborn son”. [ NOAB] Matthew sees in the Hosea verse a divine action which points forward to the calling of Jesus out of Egypt. The quotation agrees with the Hebrew rather than with the Septuagint; either he translated directly from the Hebrew or he used a Greek translation other than the Septuagint. [ BlkMt]

Verse 16: “Herod”: i.e. Herod the Great. He was vassal king under the Roman emperor 37-4 BC.

Verse 16: “wise men”: Members of a caste of wise men, variously associated with the interpretation of dreams, Zoroastrianism, astrology and magic. They may have been from Persia, East Syria or Arabia. They were the scientists of their day.

Verse 16: “Herod ... killed”: In Egypt, Pharaoh had ordered the killing of all male offspring (see Exodus 1:16) – a classical example of genocidal misuse of power. NJBC suggests that the number of children killed in the Bethlehem area was probably twenty or fewer.

Verse 16: “two years old or under”: This implies that Jesus had been born some months before, but no two years before; Herod leaves a margin of error. His character is accurately depicted here: he even killed members of his own family. [ BlkMt]

Verse 18: The quotation is Jeremiah 31:15. [ NJBC]

Verse 18: “Ramah”: Some 9 km (6 miles) north of Jerusalem. This town is the scene of national grief inflicted by an enemy in Jeremiah 40:1: “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord after Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had let him go from Ramah, when he took him bound in fetters along with all the captives of Jerusalem and Judah who were being exiled to Babylon”. [ NOAB] Ramah is on the road a conqueror would take in leading captives from Jerusalem to Babylon: see 1 Samuel 10:2. [ BlkMt]

Verse 18: “Rachel”: She was Jacob’s wife, and died in childbirth. Per Genesis 35:16-20, she was buried near Jerusalem. In Genesis, Rachel grieves not because her son dies but because she dies in giving birth to him. Perhaps Matthew wishes to associate Jesus with Jeremiah – as the suffering prophet of the New Testament: see Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Matthew 26:28. In the first century AD, Jeremiah lived on in end-time hopes: see 2 Maccabees 2:1-12; 15:13-16. [ NOAB] [ NJBC]

Verse 20: This verse is like Exodus 4:19, in which God sends Moses back to lead his people out of bondage. [ NJBC]

Verse 22: “Archelaus”: He was Herod the Great’s son, and was almost as cruel as his father. Another son, Herod Antipas, governed “Galilee”. Archelaus was deposed in 6 AD, and exiled. [ NOAB]

Verse 23: “‘He will be called a Nazorean.’”: There are two possibilities besides the one mentioned in Comments:

  • In view of the preceding verses, that the reference is to Nazareth – an insignificant town not mentioned in the Old Testament
  • That Jesus is likened to a Nazirite, a person consecrated (dedicated) to God upon their own vow or a parent’s vow. 1 Samuel 1:11 strongly suggests that Samuel was a Nazirite. Samson is explicitly named as one: see Judges 13:5, 7. Joseph is called a nazir in Genesis 49:26 (“set apart” in the NRSV) and Deuteronomy 33:16 (“prince” in the NRSV). Both Samuel and Samson were consecrated by vows uttered when they were still in their mothers’ wombs. Perhaps Jesus should be viewed as a Nazirite in the sense of being consecrated to God from the womb. [ HBD]

The three interpretations are not mutually exclusive: Matthew may have intended all three.

Comments: Sepphoris: This town was sacked in 4 BC. While tetrarch of Galilee, Herod Antipas rebuilt the city and resided there until he made Tiberias his capital. [ HBD]

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