Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Fourth Sunday in Lent - March 10, 2024

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.

Numbers 21:4-9

The tendency among scholars today is to assign this story to the Yahwist (J) tradition, though many have found presence of the Elohist (E) tradition.

Verse 1: “Arad”: Some 14 km (9 miles) south of Hebron. [ CAB]

Verse 1: “the Negeb”: The desert to the south of Israel.

Verse 3: “Hormah”: Meaning destruction. [ CAB]

Verse 4: This verse naturally follows 20:29: “When all the congregation saw that Aaron had died, all the house of Israel mourned for Aaron thirty days”.

Verse 4: The intended route now leads west of the district of Edom with the aim of crossing to the east of the Jordan rift valley, just south of the Dead Sea. [ CAB]

Verse 4a: 33:36-38 gives a different itinerary: there, Ezion-geber is a city founded by Solomon (long after the event) at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba. Ezion-geber is also mentioned in Deuteronomy 2:1-8; 1 Kings 9:26; 22:48.

Verse 6: The attack by “poisonous serpents” is interpreted as divine judgement upon the rebellion by the people. [ NJBC]

Verse 6: “poisonous”: The same Hebrew word appears (in the singular) in Deuteronomy 8:15; Isaiah 14:29; 30:6.

Verses 8 -9: During the monarchy, the bronze serpent (called “Nehushtan” in 2 Kings 18:4) was an object of popular worship to which the people offered incense. It was smashed to bits during the reforms of Hezekiah (about 701 BC) because it was thought that rendering homage to it was incompatible with faith in Yahweh. [ NJBC]

Verse 8: “Make a poisonous serpent”: Moses could easily have learnt to make such a serpent from his Kenite relatives who were metal-smiths by profession. (Kenite means smith.) This incident took place near Punon (see 33:42), one of the great sources of copper in ancient times. This may echo serpent magic, as practised in Egypt. [ NJBC]

Verse 9: “serpent of bronze”: This imagery is used of Jesus in John 3:14-15 (“... just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life”). [ CAB]

Psalm 107:1-3,17-22

Verse 1: The same words are found in 1 Chronicles 16:34; Psalms 106:1; 118:1.

Verses 2-3: The mention of redemptionin v. 2 and gathering of the people from the four corners of the earth in v. 3 suggests that this psalm was composed after the Exile. [ NJBC]

Verses 4-32: Each stanza gives thanks for a different group of people:

vv. 4-9 For those who have crossed the desert
vv. 10-16 For those who have been freed from prison
vv. 17-22 For those healed from sickness
vv. 23-32 For those who travelled by sea. [ NOAB]

Verse 4: At least figuratively, those who returned from Exile wandered in the desert and were supported by God.

Verses 6-7: For other first refrains, see vv. 13-14, 19-20, 28-29. In each stanza, the second verse is varied to fit the context.

Verses 8-9: For other second refrains, see vv. 15-16, 21-22, 31-32. Again in each stanza, the second verse is varied to fit the context. [ NOAB]

Verses 10-16: Those who wandered were imprisoned for their rebellion against God. But when they cry out, he releases them, [ NJBC]

Verse 22: “offer thanksgiving sacrifices”: See also 7:17 and 66:13-15.

Verses 23-27: The danger of the sea equals that of the desert. Both of these places of danger have their roots in Canaanite mythology, where Baal’s opponents are not only Sea but Death, who rules over the arid, lifeless desert. Recall the threatening, chaotic sea in Genesis 1:2-3 and the lifeless desert in Genesis 2:4-5, both overcome by Yahweh. [ NJBC]

Verses 28-29: Here God’s power subdues the unruly sea. So Jesus’ calming of the sea (see Mark 4:35-41) is a sign of his divine authority. [ NJBC]

Verses 33-36: For God’s transformation of river into desert for the wicked and of desert into a well-watered place, see also Isaiah 41:18-19; 43:19-20. [ NJBC]

Verses 33-43: These verses are reminiscent of Deutero-Isaiah: see Isaiah 35:7; 41:18; 50:2. They were probably not written to follow the first 32 verses. [ NOAB] Note that the refrains occur throughout vv. 1-32 but not at all in vv. 33-43. [ NJBC]

Verse 41: See also Psalm 113:7 says: “He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap”. See also 113:9. [ NJBC]

Verses 42-43: These verses have a wisdom flavour. Without them, this psalm would end with a simile of the people being like a flock of sheep, as do Psalms 77 and 78. [ NJBC]

Ephesians 2:1-10

Some scholars see Ephesians as being the work of Paul, considering that the differences in style and theology between Ephesians and earlier letters reflect the development of his thought as he grew older. Other scholars have problems with this view; to them, we have no evidence of evolution of Paul’s thinking, and this view does not reckon with the impression that the letter looks back to an earlier revered generation of apostles and prophets who provided the foundation for the household of God in the post-Pauline period. To them, Paul was one of these apostles. 3:2-11 is written as being Paul’s words but 2:20 speaks of the Church as being “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets”. [ NJBC]

Verses 1-10: As with 1:11-14, there is a problem here in interpreting we and you. Though the we may be Jewish Christians and the you Gentile Christians, there is no clear allusion to the Jewish-Gentile distinction before vv. 11-12. All unambiguous uses of we in this letter refer to all Christians ( 2:14; 3:20 and frequently in chapters 4-6), and we should be taken here in the same way. The author uses you when the recipients of the letter are addressed directly. [ NJBC]

Verses 1-22: Christ’s benefits, for both Gentiles and Jews. [ NOAB]

Verses 1-3: The Qumran literature speaks of a period when the spirit of darkness would be allowed to exercise authority over humanity: see 1QS (Rule of the Community) 3:20-23 and 11QMelch (Melchisedek). This period would continue until evil is destroyed and righteousness prospers: see 1QS (Rule of the Community) 4:18-23; 1QM (War Scroll) 13:14-16; 17:5-9. [ NJBC]

Verse 1: “dead”: See also v. 5. Colossians 2:13 says “... when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses”. [ NOAB]

Verse 2: “following the ruler of the power of the air”: In 6:11-12 the author writes: “Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”. Colossians 1:13 says that “He [the Father] has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son”. [ NOAB]

Verse 3: “passions of our flesh ... desires of flesh”: These are not references to sexual desires but a general reference to the human being as he exists in his own selfish nature, apart from God’s redemptive power. See also vv. 11, 14. 5:29 says “... no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church”. See also 5:31 and 6:12. [ CAB]

Verse 3: “by nature children of wrath”: i.e in our natural condition as descendants of Adam, as in Romans 5:12 (“ just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned”). [ CAB]

Verse 3: “wrath”: i.e. God’s steadfast and holy hatred of sin: see also Romans 1:18-32. [ NOAB]

Verses 5-6: “made us alive”: What was said of Christ in 1:20 is now said of all Christians: they are raised and enthroned with him in the heavenly heights. [ NJBC]

Verse 6: The believer participates in Christ’s exaltation: in 1:3 the author writes: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”. See also 1:20-21. [ CAB]

Verse 7: “grace”: i.e. God’s unmerited favour shown to humankind in Christ. [ NOAB]

Verses 8-10: While in letters generally accepted to be Pauline the dichotomy is between faith and works, here it is between God’s grace and human good deeds. [ NJBC]

Verses 8-9: A formula summarizing Paul’s theology. See also Romans 3:21-28; 1 Corinthians 1:22-29. [ CAB]

Verse 8: In Romans 5:1 Paul tells us: “... since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”. See also Romans 11:6; Galatians 3:18, 21-22; 5:4. [ CAB]

Verse 8: “saved through faith”: Paul never says saved because of faith. [ NOAB]

Verse 9: “so that no one may boast”: See also 1 Corinthians 1:26-29. [ CAB]

Verse 10: The consequence of God’s justifying grace is that the old life described in vv. 2-3 is transformed into the new life in Christ. The new life is a way of life producing good works. In Galatians 6:15, we read: “For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!”. [ CAB]

Verse 10: “good works”: Good works are the result, not the cause, of salvation. [ NOAB]

Verse 10: “beforehand”: This ascribes the whole matter to God. [ NOAB]

John 3:14-21

The reading should probably include v. 13.

Verse 13: As the NRSV says in a footnote, many manuscripts append who is in heaven to this verse. While this chapter begins with Jesus speaking, it seems to merge into teaching by John. This verse (as does v. 12) reflects the standpoint of the Church after the Ascension; however it is possible to understand this verse as a saying of Jesus. The double meaning was no doubt intended by John. If this verse is a continuation of the conversation with Nicodemus, it is necessary to assume that a step in the argument has been omitted. BlkJn suggests that what Jesus actually said was “No one has ascended into heaven” so there is no one on earth who can speak from his own experience of heavenly things, “except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” This negates the claims of other visionaries to have knowledge of what is in heaven, e.g. in 1 Enoch 70:2 and 71:1 Enoch ascends into heaven, where he is identified with the Son-of-Man figure in Daniel 7:13 (NRSV: “human being”). Note that 1 Enoch is not in the canon.

Is who is in heaven original? It is difficult to interpret, requiring the assumption that this verse reflects the standpoint of an age later than that of the ministry of Jesus. BlkJn considers this clause to be original on the basis that the more difficult reading is more likely to be correct. It is found in the majority of Greek manuscripts, and early Syriac versions include variants on it.

Verse 14: This verse at last answers Nicodemus’ question: “How can these things be?” (v. 9).The Son of Man is a type of the bronze serpent in Numbers 21:9-11. See also Wisdom of Solomon 16:5-7. There the bronze-serpent event turns Israel towards the Torah and towards God as saviour. [ NJBC] It may be noted that in Palestinian Aramaic and in Syriac the verb which is equivalent to “be lifted up” has the special meaning of be crucified . John intends this double meaning here and in other passages where the word occurs, i.e. 8:28; 12:32, 34. [ BlkJn]

Verses 16-21: John now speaks in his own person, as in 1:1-18. It is a meditation inspired by the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. [ BlkJn]

Verse 16: Luther called this verse “the Gospel in miniature”. [ NOAB]

Verse 16: “gave his only Son”: i.e. to death (see Romans 8:32 and Galatians 1:4, 2:20). There may be typology here too: Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, a much loved only son. [ NJBC]

Verses 17-20: God’s purpose is to save; individuals judge themselves by hiding their evil deeds from the light of Christ’s holiness. [ NOAB]

Verse 21: “do what is true”: In the Qumran literature, doing the truth is an idiom for being righteous. Responsiveness to the truth is a function of one’s righteousness. In a passage that occurs in the context of a teaching about purification by the Spirit, we find, “In agreement with man’s birthright in justice and truth, so he abhors injustice; and according to his share in the lot of injustice he acts irreverently in it and so abhors the truth.” (1QS (Rule of the Community) 4:24-25).

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