Comments

Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Holy Cross - September 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.

Numbers 21:4b-9

Verse 4 naturally follows 20:29. [JBC]

Verse 4a: The Israelites turn south, towards the Gulf of Aqaba, to go round the land of Edom. 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. See also Deuteronomy 2:1-8; 1 Kings 9:26; 22:48. [NOAB]

Verses 8-9: During the monarchy, the bronze serpent (Nehushtan) was an object of popular worship to which the people offered incense (see 2 Kings 18:4). [NOAB]

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.

Psalm 98:1-6

The language of this psalm is strikingly similar to that of many passages in Deutero-Isaiah, e.g. Isaiah 44:23; 52:10; 55:12. [NOAB]

Verse 2: “victory”: The word also occurs in vv. 3 and 4.

Verse 3: “He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel”: i.e. God’s covenant commitment. The sense of “remembered”is as in Exodus 2:24 (“God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”) and Exodus 20:24 (“in every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you”). [NJBC]

Verse 3: “have seen the victory”: God has acted (will act) to save Israel.

Verses 5-6: “the lyre and the sound of melody ... trumpets and the sound of the horn”: The inclusion of musical instruments shows that the setting of the psalm is the Temple. [NJBC]

Verse 6: “before”: i.e. in the presence of.

Verses 8-9: The alternation of watery and dry places emphasizes that all creation should join in the chorus of joy. [NJBC]

Verse 9: Israel’s missionary outlook, though never a major motif in the Old Testament, saw nations coming to Zion to worship God. Isaiah 2:1-4 says, in part: “Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD’ ... out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples”.

Psalm 78:1-2,34-38

Other psalms composed for use at major festivals are Psalms 105; 106; 135; 136. It seems that this psalm has a political purpose: to justify God’s rejection of worship in northern Israel (v. 67) and his choice of Judah as his dwelling place (vv. 68-69). It is extremely difficult to date this psalm. It may be as early as the reign of Solomon, and could be post-exilic. It could also have been written during the reforms of Josiah. A similar survey of salvation history is found in 1QS 1:18-24. [JBC] [NJBC]

1QS (Qumran Community Rule) 1:18-24 says:

... When they enter the covenant, the priests and the Levites shall bless the God of salvation and all the works of his faithfulness and all those who enter the covenant shall repeat after them: ‘Amen, Amen’. The priests shall recite the just deeds of God in his mighty works, and they shall proclaim all his merciful favours towards Israel. And the Levites shall recite the sins of the children of Israel, all their blameworthy transgressions and their sins during the dominion of Belial. [Martinez]

Belial is the devil.

The steps in the cycle are: the people sin; God punishes them; the people repent; God delivers/saves them - and so back to the first step. This cycle is repeated through much of the psalm. It echoes the Deuteronomist theology of Judges 2:10-23.

Verse 2: Jesus quotes this verse with reference to his teaching in Matthew 13:35 (after the parable of the Mustard Seed). [NJBC]

Verse 2: “parable”: The Hebrew word, mashal, has a much wider meaning than what we call a parable. The first seven verses are in the style of wisdom teaching. See also Psalm 49:3-6. [NJBC]

Verses 25-32: These verses describe the Kibroth-hattaavah episode (the snakes and the raising of the bronze serpent). See Numbers 11:34. [NJBC]

1 Corinthians 1:18-24

Believers must detach themselves from the standards of fallen humanity – the cause of the divisions at Corinth - if they are to understand the way God relates to them. [NJBC]

Verse 18: The fact of acceptance or rejection of humanity is the basis of division of humanity into two groups. God has not predestined some to salvation and others to condemnation. In the future, the status of a member of either group may change. In 5:5, writing of a sexually immoral man, Paul says “you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord”. Note also 10:12: “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall”. [NJBC]

Verse 18: “the cross”: See also vv. 17, 29 and 2:2. [CAB]

Verse 19: The quotation is Isaiah 29:14 in the Septuagint translation. There King Ahaz accepts the advice of “wise” counsellors to form an alliance with Egypt rather than trusting in God to deliver Judah from the Assyrians. God has condemned worldly wisdom. [NOAB]

Verses 20-25: Proud, self-centred humans want God to be at their disposal, but God’s way of dealing with human sin through the cross of Christ stands in contrast to human power and wisdom. Those who have been “called” (v. 24) by the message of the cross find in it God’s “power” and “wisdom”. [CAB]

Verse 20: These are rhetorical questions inspired by Isaiah 19:11; 33:18; 44:25; Job 12:17. [NJBC]

Verse 21: “the wisdom of God”: Not a divine plan, but the organization and beauty of creation. Paul says in Romans 1:19-20: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made ...”. [NJBC]

Verse 21: “world”: In Pauline writings, this world is pejorative: the world is under Satan’s control.

Verse 21: “the world did not know God through wisdom”: Rational speculation, which in the world passes for wisdom, had failed to perceive that God has acted through a suffering saviour. [NJBC]

Verse 21: “foolishness of our proclamation”: i.e. the word of the cross.

Verse 21: There are three possible interpretations:

  • Jews failed to know God by their wisdom, i.e. the Law, and Greeks failed to know God by their wisdom, i.e. philosophy.
  • In the manifestation of God’s wisdom in the created universe (see above), in history (see Acts 17:26-27), and in the Law (see Sirach 24:22-31), both the Jew and the Gentile failed to come to know God and his wisdom
  • They have failed to know God and his wisdom through the wisdom of the world which is carnal and under Satan’s power (see 2:6 and 2 Corinthians 4:4). [JBC]

Verse 22: “demand signs”: i.e. demand miracles. In so doing, Jews refuse to trust in God, thus camouflaging their contentment with the status quo. [NJBC]

Verse 22: “desire wisdom”: i.e. seek a religious system, the demands of which they are prepared to accept. One scholar suggests that, because “Gentiles” (Greek: ethnoi) occurs in the next verse, Paul must mean Gentiles here; however, perhaps Paul means what he writes; in which case, the system may be philosophical. Greeks were particularly keen on philosophical erudition. [Blk1Cor]

Verse 23: “Christ crucified”: A Pauline technical term. It includes now risen and living. The crucified Christ is rejected by Jews because of their messianic expectations and by Gentiles because of their rationalism.

Verse 23: “stumbling block to Jews”: Because of their particular messianic expectations. [NJBC]

Verse 23: “foolishness to Gentiles”: Because of their rationalism. [NJBC]

Verse 24: “those who are the called”: Even though Paul uses kletoi, the called ones, he speaks of those who hear and accept the good news. Paul often calls members of the Church the called ones: see also 1:2, 9; Romans 1:6-7; 8:28. [NJBC]

Verse 24: “Christ ...”: The authentic humanity of Jesus makes visible God’s intention for humans and radiates an attractive force that enables response. [NJBC]

John 3:13-17

Verse 12: This is a proverbial rebuke, with parallels in contemporary Jewish and Greek writers. In Jewish writings, the point is sometimes that because human wisdom is limited, we need to rely on the wisdom of God. Proverbs 30:3-4 says: I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the holy ones. Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in the hollow of the hand? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is the person's name? And what is the name of the person's child? Surely you know!”. See also Wisdom of Solomon 9:16-18. [NJBC]

Verse 12: “earthly things”: Probably the parable of the wind (v. 8), so in earthly terms.

Verse 12: “heavenly things”: supreme spiritual truths

Verse 13: As the NRSV says in a footnote, many manuscripts suffix 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 Bible.

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 13: Jesus is the only source of knowledge about heavenly things. The Son of Man is the agent for renewal of his people. In 1:51, Jesus tells Nathanael: “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man”; he promises the believer this heavenly vision as a vision of Jesus. [NJBC]

Verses 14-15: Wisdom of Solomon 16:6-7 speaks of the serpent as a “symbol of salvation”. It says that turning to the serpent is like the people of Israel turning towards the Torah, and towards God as saviour. But John says that the lesson of the serpent is that anyone who believes will have eternal life. In John, eschatology is in the future as well as in the present. In 5:26-27, Jesus says: “For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man”.

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]

Verse 14: “lifted up”: The word in the Greek is hypsothenai. In John, this word as a double meaning: (1) raised on the cross, and (2) glorified in his resurrection and ascension. hypsothenai is also used in Isaiah 52:13 (in the Septuagint translation) to describe the Servant of Yahweh. The word in Palestinian Aramaic that is the equivalent to hypsothenai means both “lifted up” and crucified. John intends this double meaning here and in other passages where the word occurs, i.e. 8:28; 12:32, 34. [BlkJn]

Verses 15-20: BlkJn says that the author is speaking in these verses, i.e. expanding on Jesus’ words.

Verse 16: “so loved”: REB offers loved the world so much. The world is not evil in itself and remains the object of divine compassion. God gave his Son freely. Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. If Paul has this story in mind, this verse refers to Jesus as sacrifice. He writes in Galatians 1:3-4: “... the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father”. See also Galatians 2:20.

Verse 16: Luther called this verse the gospel in miniature. [NOAB]

Verse 16: “gave his only Son”: i.e. to death. In Romans 8:32, Paul says: “He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?”. See also 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 now 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). [NJBC]

© 1996-2003 Chris Haslam



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