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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Eighth Sunday after Pentecost - July 14, 2013



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.

Amos 7:7-17

The identification of Amos is a bit of an interesting problem. 1:1 (in the NRSV) says that Amos was “among the shepherds of Tekoa”. This is the traditional translation of this verse, but more recent scholarship on the Ugaritic language and its relationship to Hebrew calls this interpretation into question. OCB says: “In the Ugaritic texts, one encounters a respected group known as the nqdm, a class or guild to which ... Amos belong[s], calling into question the traditional translation of nqd as shepherd.” This detail, coupled with Amos' clear inside knowledge of palace politics, indicates that he could not have been a mere shepherd, but someone of higher station. (The Ugaritic language is close to Hebrew.)

In 7:-1-9:15, there are five visions of God’s judgement and a prophecy of restoration. The first part of the first four visions is identical: God shows Amos something, asks what he sees, and then explains the significance of what he has seen. In the first two visions, Yahweh relents because of Amos’ intercession, but in the other visions, judgement is certain. Other visions predicting the Assyrian invasion are found in Jeremiah 1:11-15. [NJBC]

Verses 1-2: The first vision.

7:1: “locusts”: See also Joel 1:2-7 for judgement by way of locusts. [NOAB] Locusts ate everything in their path, denuding the land.

7:1: “the latter growth”: i.e. the second crop. [JBC]

7:2: Intercession was seen as a function of prophets: Jeremiah 27:18 says “If indeed they are prophets, ... let them intercede with the LORD of hosts, that the vessels left in the house of the LORD... may not go to Babylon”. Prophets mediated between God and his people, in both directions. [NJBC]

7:4: The second vision.

7:4: “shower of fire”: If the Hebrew words are redivided, the translation is judgement by fire. [NJBC] The destruction of Aram (Syria) by fire is foretold in 1:4: “I will send a fire on the house of Hazael, and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad”. [NOAB] The fire has already dried up the cosmic sea. God’s people are next. [CAB]

7:4: “the great deep”: i.e. the waters under the earth: Genesis 7:11 says “In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, ... all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened”. The earth was thought to float on this subterranean ocean. It was also thought to be the source of rivers and streams. [JBC]

7:7: The third vision. A wall that is out-of-plumb can only be repaired by tearing it down. The “plumb line” is a symbol of accountability to God. The literal translation is a piece of lead. The plumb line was used for testing and also for demolition (before repairs): see Lamentations 2:8; Isaiah 34:11; 2 Kings 21:13. The people are found to be warped beyond correction; God decrees an irrevocable sentence of destruction. [NOAB] [NJBC] The Hebrew is difficult/obscure; the Hebrew translated as "plumb line" can be rendered as pick axe. This fits better with the end of v. 8.

7:9: “the high places of Isaac”: Shrines were generally erected on the heights. Perhaps ancient people felt that they were thus able to draw closer to God. In Israel, the high place was originally a place of sacrifice to Yahweh; therefore at first the high places were not condemned by Israel’s religion. Later the term came to mean an idolatrous sanctuary in sharp contrast to the Temple. [JBC]

7:10-17: Note that these verses are in the third person while vv. 1-9 are in the first person. This suggests that these verses were inserted by an editor, perhaps because of the threat to Jeroboam in v. 9. [JBC]

7:12: “seer”: The Hebrew word is an obsolete term for a prophet: 1 Samuel 9:9 says: “... the one who is now called a prophet was formerly called a seer”. Perhaps Amaziah is insulting Amos. [NJBC] JBC offers visionary.

7:12: “earn your bread”: Literally eat your bread. Earn your living is also possible. Amos, a foreigner, is interfering in Israelite political and religious affairs. [NJBC]

7:13: “Bethel”: The official shrine of the northern kingdom, and the official sanctuary of the affluent Jeroboam II. [JBC]

7:14: “I am no prophet”: i.e. neither a court prophet (see 1 Samuel 9:6-10; Micah 3:5-8, 11) “nor a prophet’s son”, i.e. a member of a guild of prophets (see 1 Samuel 10:5; 1 Kings 20:35; 22:6; 2 Kings 2:3, 5, 7; 4:1, 38), but simply the one Yahweh took to prophesy to the people (see 3:3-8 and 2 Samuel 7:8). [NOAB] In 1 and 2 Kings “company of prophets” is literally sons of prophets.

7:14: “herdsman”: The Hebrew word relates to cattle. In 1:1, per the NRSV, Amos is mentioned as a shepherd; however, see the first paragraph of this Clipping.

7:14: “sycamore trees”: This is not the same tree as grows in temperate climates. It grows in the lowlands of Palestine. The fruit is smaller than the fig, and is the food of the poor. The fruit is punctured to ensure that it grows large enough to be eaten. [JBC]

7:15: David, too, was called by God from tending sheep: 2 Samuel 7:8 says: “... Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel”. See also Psalm 78:70-71. [NJBC]

8:1-3: The fourth vision: a basket of summer fruit symbolizing the immediacy of Israel’s “end”. [NOAB]

9:1-4: The fifth vision: the destruction of Israel: the most dreadful of all. There is no escape from God’s judgement. [CAB]

Psalm 82

Superscription: “Asaph”: 1 Chronicles 6:31-32, 39 names Asaph as one “whom David put in charge of the service of song in the house of the LORD”. 2 Chronicles 5:11-12 says that Asaph was one of “the levitical singers”. Psalms 50 and 73-83 are ascribed to him.

NJBC sees this psalm as the theological midpoint between Israel’s early faith, in which other gods were real but subordinate to Yahweh (see Deuteronomy 4:19; Psalms 58; 95:3), and Israel’s later monotheism. Psalm 95:3 says “For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods”. My interpretation in Comments, written in 2001, fits better with v. 8 than the one I wrote in 1998, which says in part:

In early Israelite religion, our God presided over other “gods”, the heavenly council. Here he accuses them of favouring “the wicked” over the “weak and needy”.

Verse 1: “has taken his place”: or has taken his stand. Isaiah 3:13-14 tells us: “The LORD rises to argue his case; he stands to judge the peoples. The LORD enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: It is you who have devoured the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses”. See also Psalm 76:9. For the idea of a legal proceeding instituted by Yahweh against other gods, see Isaiah 41:21-24. See also 1 Kings 22:19-22; Isaiah 6 (Isaiah’s commissioning); Job 1:6-12; 2:1-10. [NJBC]

Verse 1: “divine council”: The Canaanite counterpart is the assembly of gods. This notion is also found at Ugarit and in Mesopotamia. Israel adapted this idea to Yahwism. [JBC] See also 89:5-7 (“council of the holy ones”) and Ezekiel 28:9. [NOAB]

Verse 1: “gods”: The Hebrew word is elohim. Our God is Elohim. One answer to evil in the world was to lay the responsibility for it on these beings.

Verse 2: “Selah”: This 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]

Selah is one of the greatest puzzles of the Old Testament. Its meaning seems to be connected with rising or lifting. But it is not clear whether the congregation rises or lifts up its hands, head, or eyes, or whether the music rises at the indicated points. The word probably indicates that the singing should stop to allow the congregation an interlude for presenting its homage to God by some gesture or act of worship. [ICCPs]

Selah is also found 74 times in 39 psalms in the book of Psalms and three times in Habakkuk 3 (part of a psalm preserved there).

Verse 5: “darkness”: For darkness as ignorance, see Job 12:24-25; 37:19; Ecclesiastes 2:14. NJBC says that the context suggests the darkness of the nether-world, to which the gods are consigned. Job says Job 10:21-22: “Are not the days of my life few? Let me alone, that I may find a little comfort before I go, never to return, to the land of gloom and deep darkness, the land of gloom and chaos, where light is like darkness”. See also Psalm 88:12 and Proverbs 20:20.

Verse 5: “all the foundations of the earth are shaken”: This notion is also found in Psalm 46:2-3, 6; 75:3 (“When the earth totters, with all its inhabitants, it is I [God] who keep its pillars steady”); Isaiah 24:1-6. [NJBC]

Verse 6: “You are gods”: Isaiah 41:23-24 contains the first explicit statement against the very existence of the gods of other nations: “... You, indeed, are nothing and your work is nothing at all; whoever chooses you is an abomination”. [NOAB] In John 10:34, Jesus quotes this verse to clear himself of a charge of blasphemy, addressing those who would stone him . [BlkJn]

Verse 7: “you shall die like mortals”: Immortality was a jealously guarded secret of the gods, both in Israel (see Genesis 3:22) and elsewhere in the ancient Near East (see the Gilgamesh Epic and the Tale of Aqhat) [NJBC]. JBC says that the idea of the fall of the gods was borrowed from Canaanite myths. See also Ezekiel 28:17 and Isaiah 14:13-15.

Verse 8: A prayer that the poet’s vision may be realized: that the gods of other nations may be realized. [NOAB]

Colossians 1:1-14

Acts 23:26 is the salutation of an ancient Greek letter: “Claudius Lysias to his Excellency the governor Felix, greetings”. [NOAB]

Verse 1: “Paul, an apostle”: Letters written by Paul (or written in his name) often begin with his claim to apostleship: see Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1. The introductory wording is identical in Ephesians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 1:1. It is very similar in 2 Timothy 1:1. Some questioned Paul’s apostleship: see 1 Corinthians 9:2 (where Paul answers “If I am not an apostle to others, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord”) and 2 Corinthians 13:3. [CAB]

Verse 1: “Timothy”: He was converted during the first missionary journey (see Acts 16:1-3); he appears to have accompanied Paul from then on. He is named as co-author of several letters: see 2 Corinthians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1 and Philemon 1. [CAB]

Verse 2: “To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters”: NJBC offers to the holy and faithful brethren, a significantly different translation. He says that, unlike in other letters (see Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1), holy is an adjective coordinated with “faithful” rather than the substantive “saints”. In the Old Testament, Israel is a holy (qados) people, but qedosim (holy ones) often refers to the heavenly assembly (see, for example, Zechariah 14:5). Members of the Qumran community referred to themselves as the holy ones: see 1QM (War Scroll) 3:5; 6:6; 10:10; 16:1.

Verse 2: “in Christ”: An important theme in Colossians. The phrase signifies the union of the believer with Christ on many levels. See also 1:4, 14, 16-17, 19, 28; 2:3, 6-7, 9-12; 3:18, 20; 4:7. [NJBC]

Verse 2: “Grace to you and peace”: This phrase combines the Greek and Hebrew salutations. It is also found in Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:2; 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4; Philemon 3. See also 2 Peter 1:2; 2 John 3; Jude 2; Revelation 1:4. [NOAB] [CAB]

Verse 3: Ephesians 1:16 expresses the same ideas. [NOAB]

Verses 4-5: “faith ... love ... hope”: This triad is also found in 1 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 5:8. These words are in close proximity in Romans 5:1-5; Galatians 5:5-6; Ephesians 4:2-5; Hebrews 6:10-12; 10:22-24; 1 Peter 1:3-8, 21-22. [NOAB] [CAB]

Verse 4: Philemon 5 is almost identical (with the clauses reversed). [NOAB]

Verse 5: “the word of the truth”: In Galatians 2:5, 14, Paul speaks of the “gospel” in these terms. [CAB]

Verse 6: “bearing fruit”: For the power of the gospel to achieve results, see also Mark 4:20 (the Parable of the Sower) and Luke 8:15. [CAB]

Verse 7: “Epaphras”: Probably the founder of the Colossian church: see 1:7-8 (“... our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit”) and 4:12 (which tells us that he is with Paul). In Philemon 23, Paul calls him “my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus”. [NOAB]

Verse 7: “servant”: The Greek word literally means slave. [CAB]

Verses 9-11: A petition for sensitivity to God’s will, resulting in Christian conduct, and sustained by divine strength. [NOAB]

Verse 9: “knowledge”: Greeks were keen on knowledge, but not of a practical nature.

Verse 9: “knowledge ... wisdom ... understanding”: The corresponding Greek terms are found frequently in the Qumran literature, e.g.

  • 1QH (Hymns) 9:19-21 (Vermes: 1:19-21), where the three terms are connected with the revelation of mysteries (see also Colossians 1:27-28; 2:2-3)
  • 1QS (Rule of the Community) 4:2-8, a passage which recounts the way of the Spirit of Truth. and includes humility and forbearance, understanding, knowledge, wisdom, zeal for ordinances, firm inclination and discretion regarding revelation of the mysteries. [NJBC]

Verse 10: Ephesians 4:1 says : “I ... beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called”. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 2:12: “urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory”. [CAB]

Verse 11: This verse underscores God’s power, which enables Christians to “endure ... with patience”. Coupled with Paul’s references to sufferings and struggle in 1:24-2:5, the Colossians are being asked to endure in the face of an ominous false teaching which threatens them: see 2:8-23: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ ...”. [CAB]

Verse 12: “inheritance”: In the Old Testament, the Promised Land: see Joshua 14-19. Ephesians 1:11-12 says “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory”. [CAB]

Verses 12-13: “share in the inheritance of the saints in the light ... darkness”: This calls to mind teachings in the Qumran literature, for example the ethical dualism of light and darkness and of portion or lot (NRSV: “inheritance”): see 1QM (War Scroll) 13:9-10; 1QH (Hymns) 11:22-23; 14:12-13; 19:11-12 (Vermes: 3:22-23; 6:12-13; 11:11-12). There the portion is the predetermined destiny meted out to humans. It has been suggested that “saints” refers to both the faithful community and to heavenly beings. [NJBC]

Verse 13: “rescued us”: i.e. from Satan’s power. In Acts 26:17-18, in his defence before Agrippa, Paul states Christ’s words to him during his conversion: “‘I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles – to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me’”. [NOAB]

Verse 14: “the forgiveness of sins”: The Greek, aphesis hamartion, is not found in undisputedly Pauline letters; it is however found in Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:22; 10:18. [NJBC]

Luke 10:25-37

See also Matthew 22:23-40 (some Sadducees ask about the resurrection) and Mark 12:28-31 (the first commandments are to love). [NOAB] The story of the Good Samaritan is only in Luke.

Verse 25: “a lawyer”: In Matthew 19:16, this question is asked by a Pharisee, in Mark 10:17 by a scribe, and in Luke 18:18 by a “ruler”. [NOAB] The word Luke uses for “lawyer”, nomikos, is seldom found outside his gospel. The more usual term is grammateus. BlkLk suggests that Luke uses nomikos as an interpretation for the Gentile world.

Verse 25: “what must I do to inherit eternal life”: i.e. what way of life will Jesus guarantee as satisfying God? [NOAB]

Verse 25 “inherit eternal life”: This phrase also appears in Matthew 19:29. This phrase is synonymous with “inherit the kingdom”: see Matthew 25:34 (the judgement of the nations). [NOAB]

In Luke, for a Gentile audience, the man asks about “eternal life” but in Matthew and Mark, the question is about the Great Commandment. It seems that Luke’s readers were not particularly concerned with the Law.

Verse 27: The lawyer’s words are a composite of Deuteronomy 6:5 (“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”) and Leviticus 19:18b (“... you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD’). Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14 and James 2:8 (and vv. 29-37 here) implicitly link Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18, stressing the principle that acts of love are the final requirement of the Law. These verses are also combined in Testament of Issachar 5:2; 7:6. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is known in Jewish tradition as the Shema, the first word in Hebrew being shema, meaning hear. Rabbinic practice was to associate these two verses. The verse from Leviticus is also quoted in Matthew 5:43; 19:19; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8. [NOAB] [BlkLk]

Verse 27: “heart ... soul ... strength ... mind”: Strangely, this enumeration and order of the human faculties follows the Hebrew rather than the Septuagint translation. “And with your mind” is an addition, and the word for “mind” is really an alternative translation of the Hebrew for “heart”. No version of the Old Testament has a form of the commandment in which all four human faculties are mentioned. Perhaps two versions (of the story) were current when Luke wrote, one with “heart” and one with “mind”, and the text adopted may be a conflation of the two. Some manuscripts of Luke omit “and with your mind”. [BlkLk]

Verse 28: “You have given the right answer”: This is a rabbinic phrase. It is also found in 7:43 (although the NRSV translates it differently). [BlkLk]

Verse 28: “do this, and you will live”: Leviticus 18:5 says: “You shall keep my statutes and my ordinances; by doing so one shall live: I am the LORD”. In Mark 12:34, Jesus tells a scribe who has identified the most important laws as loving God and your neighbour “‘You are not far from the kingdom of God’”. [NOAB] See also Galatians 3:12 and Romans 10:5. [JBC]

Verse 29: “justify himself”: i.e. show himself to be righteous, acceptable to God. See also 18:9-14 (The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector). [NOAB]

Verse 29: “who is my neighbour?”: In Leviticus 19:18, your neighbour is your fellow Israelite. The definition is extended to include a resident alien in Leviticus 19:33-34. In Luke 18:18-30, Jesus provides a more specifically Christian answer to this question. [NOAB]

Verse 30: “going down”: The road drops about 1 Km in 19 Km (3300 feet in 12 miles). [JBC]

Verses 31-32: “priest ... Levite”: Both are law-abiding. [NJBC]

Verse 33: “Samaritan”: Jews considered Samaritans to be religious apostates. 2 Kings 17:24-34 tells of the resettlement of Samaria by the Assyrians. Samaria was inhabited by mixed remnants of northern tribes who worshipped Yahweh and used the Pentateuch. In Matthew 10:5, the disciples are forbidden to visit Samaritan towns, but here, in Luke 17:11-19 (the leaded Samaritan leper thanks Jesus) and in John 4:4-42 (the Samaritan woman at the well), Jesus is friendly to Samaritans. The mission to the Samaritans was successful: see Acts 8:5-8. [NOAB]

Verse 34: “oil and wine”: Mixed as an ointment, they were used by both Hellenists and Jews. [BlkLk]

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