Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: New Year's Day - January 1, 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.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

The book is highly structured:

  • The refrain "vanity and a chasing after wind" occurs only in the first part. Thus there are two parts, each of 111 verses: 1:1-6:9 and 6:10-12:14. 3 times 37 is 111. 37 is the numeric value of the letters in the Hebrew word hebel, meaning "vanity". Hebel occurs three times in 1:2, the first verse after the superscription (which suggests that the author is Solomon). (For the numeric values of Hebrew letters, see the on--line Glossary.)
  • The introduction ( 1:1-18) and the conclusion ( 11:7-12:14) are both 18 verses. 18 is close to half of 37.
  • This makes the core of both parts as 91 verses. 91 is close to two and a half times 37.
  • The word "vanity" occurs 37 times in the book. [ NJBC]
  • The numeric value of “vanity of vanities! All is vanity” is 216; there are 216 verses in the book, [ NJBC] excluding the Epilogue ( 12:9-13) which was probably written later by an editor.

It is surprising that Ecclesiastes made it into the Hebrew Bible and thus into the Old Testament. Perhaps it is there because it was thought to be written by Solomon (“the son of David, king in Jerusalem”, 1:1 ). From the style of the Hebrew (which is like that of the Mishnah), and from the author’s statement that he cannot overcome corruption and oppression ( 3:16), the author was definitely no Solomon. Scholars think that the book was written in the early 200s BC. [ NOAB] At that time, Palestine was ruled from Egypt; this was the Hellenic (Greek) period. The author could have been “king in Jerusalem” ( 1:1) under the Ptolemy dynasty and of Davidic lineage; however HBD says it was probably written in the 400s, when Persia controlled Palestine.

The word translated “vanity” means vapour, something unsubstantial, hence futile or vain. [ NOAB] The refrain “all was/is vanity and a chasing after wind” ( 1:14; 2:11, 17, 26; 4:4, 16; 6:9) has been translated in various ways, among them it was futility and a chasing of the wind [ REB] and Smoke and spitting into the wind [ PetMsg]. JB's translation is similar to that in the NRSV. Another translation of the word rendered “vanity” is transience.

1:1: “the Teacher”: The Hebrew word is written qhl. [ NJBC] Vowels were not written in Hebrew, so various expansions are possible. The usual one is Qoholeth, which seems to be related to the Hebrew word qahal , meaning assembly. This is why the Septuagint translation into Greek translated it as ecclesiastes, meaning assemblyman [ HBD]; hence “Teacher”, Preacher, Speaker [ REB] and, in PetMsg, Quester.

3:1-4:6: Toil is chancy. [ NJBC]

3:1-4:3: God’s present and future ordering of the world and human life [ CAB]

3:1-8: The ceaseless sequence of time--bound human existence is sketched. [ CAB] A beautiful and remarkable poem. In each verse, two Hebrew words are contrasted with two other Hebrew words. It is often read as an affirmation of the beauty of life that God has given to humans. Nevertheless, in context the poem concerns the lack of freedom that humans have in their lives. We cannot control when we are born or die. [ CCB]

3:2: “to be born”: The Hebrew literally means for being born. [ NOAB]

Comments: the book is at best neutral: Certainly he didn’t suggest we take our lives, but he didn’t fall short in suggesting that for many it would be better not to be born at all. Having said that, I read him to say we should live our lives somewhere between austerity and debauchery, i.e. enjoy what you have and what you do; don't go to either extreme of your life, neither to poverty nor to affluence. [Eleanor Caruana]

Comments: we do not control them [our lives], external forces do : The poem for me causes a sense of the need for balance. Yes, expect good things to happen and expect bad things to happen as well. This is the way of the world and God's plan which we are not to understand. [Eleanor Caruana]

3:9-22: Since God assigns to every creature its time of existence, there is no greater happiness than taking “pleasure” (v. 13) in one’s life and work, conscious that all human and animal life will “turn to dust” (v. 20), with no prospect of future existence. [ CAB]

3:8: The author rejects wisdom’s emphasis on industriousness if it means total absorption in work – because it robs one of enjoyment (see also 2:22-23); also the prospect of labour’s success is chancy. [ NJBC]

3:11: God has so fashioned the human heart that it cannot understand what God is doing; hence the author offers another of his resigned conclusions in vv. 12-13. He has written in 2:26: “For to the one who pleases him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy; but to the sinner he gives the work of gathering and heaping, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a chasing after wind.”. [ NOAB]

3:11: “ they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end”: Humans cannot discern God’s larger purpose. [ CCB]

3:14-15: Human beings can only stand in awe before God’s mastery and mystery. What God has decreed one cannot change. [ NOAB]

3:16-18: The author quarrels with any theology that ignores experience and thereby tends to become unreal. He attacks the simplistic statements of the traditional theology of retribution (see also 7:15; 8:12-14; 9:1-3)., because they do not square with experience; God judges, but how that works is very much a mystery.

3:17: The author has some hope in God as the final judge. [ NJBC]

3:19: Death is God’s way of reminding humans that they are also animals. [ NJBC]

3:19: “as one dies, so dies the other”: Death is the great leveller. [ NJBC]

Psalm 8

Verse 2: “Out of the mouths of babes and infants”: A more literalist interpretation is that the glory of God is manifest in the songs of children and in the night sky (v. 3). [ NOAB]

Verses 2b-3: NJBC says that scholars’ efforts to elucidate these difficult lines have not met with success.

Verses 4-7: These verses are quoted in Hebrews 2:5-9. There they are applied to Christ. [ NOAB] [ NJBC]

Verse 4: “what are human beings ... ?”: Psalm 144:3 and Job 7:1-17 also ask this question but there the sense of it is different. [ NOAB]

Verse 4: “mortals”: The Hebrew, ben ‘adam, literally son of proto--human, is a Jewish idiom meaning mortal or human being . Some scholars consider Son of Man, as used in the New Testament, to be a Christian technical term. [ NOAB]

Ben ‘adam can also be translated as children of earth. Before Eve was created Adam was of no gender; he was simply earth--creature, a literal translation; after the rib was removed they became man and woman. So ben ‘adam is more inclusive, referring back to the pre--gendered humanity. [Chris Malcolm, email]

Verses 5-8: See also Genesis 1:26-30 (the first Creation Story, the sixth day). [ NOAB]

Verse 5: See also 90:1-3 (“... Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God ...”). [ NJBC]

Verse 5: “God”: The Hebrew word here is plural: note that in Genesis 1:26 God says: “‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; ...’”. (God is plural there too.)

Verse 5: “crowned them with glory and honour”: This may point to a king: blessed with glory and honour, he is almost a god. [ NJBC]

Verse 9: A repeat of the opening verse, as a refrain. [ NOAB]

Revelation 21:1-6a

Chapters 17-18: A description of the old corrupt city. Babylon’s (Rome’s) fate is foretold in 18:21-23.

Verse 1: See also Romans 8:19-21. [ NOAB]

Verse 1: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth”: Isaiah 65:17 says “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind”. See also Isaiah 66:22. Creation will be renewed or refurbished in order to befit redeemed humanity. [ JBC]

Verse 1: “sea”: Evil oppressors have come from the sea ( 13:1). [ CAB] God conquered mythical monsters ruling over primeval chaos when he ordered the universe: Rahab or Leviathan in the Bible, Tiamat in Babylonia (Job 26:12ff; Psalm 89:10; Isaiah 51:9). He will annihilate them at the time of the new creation (Isaiah 27:1). Brutal power and violence are incompatible with the peace of the world to come. [ JBC]

Verse 2: This verse is inspired by Isaiah 54. As in 2 Esdras 9:38-10:59, a historical restoration of Jerusalem is not expected. [ NJBC]

Verse 2: “holy city”: See also 3:12 and 22:19. God is the architect and builder of the city (Hebrews 11:10). It is “holy” because it is definitively consecrated to God, a notion already found in the Old Testament: see Isaiah 54; 60; Ezekiel 48:30-35. [ JBC]

Verse 2: “new Jerusalem”: See also Galatians 4:26; Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 11:10; 12:22. [ CAB] [ JBC]

Verse 2: “coming down out of heaven”: See also James 1:17. [ JBC]

Verse 2: “adorned for her husband”: In contrast to the old city, which is described in terms of harlotry and drunkenness ( 17:1-2). [ CAB]

Verse 2: “bride adorned for her husband”: See also 19:7-9. [ NOAB]

Verse 3: This is the fulfilment of prophecies foretelling the intimate union of God with the chosen people in the era of salvation. See Ezekiel 36:26-28; 37:27; Jeremiah 31:33ff; Zechariah 2:4ff; 8:8; Leviticus 26:12; 2 Samuel 7:13 and also 2 Corinthians 6:16. The intimacy proto--human enjoyed in the Garden of Eden is now granted to all members of the people of God forever ( 7:15-17). [ JBC]

Verse 3: “loud voice”: JBC suggests that the speaker is one of the four fantastic living creatures described in earlier chapters.

Verse 3: “dwell”: The Greek word is the same as that in John 1:14: “... the Word became incarnate and lived [dwelled] among us.” The literal translation is tabernacled. [ CAB]

Verse 4: See also 7:16-17; Isaiah 25:8; 35:10. [ NOAB] The old city brought pain and death to its victims ( 18:24), but God’s new city will provide healing for the nations ( 22:2). [ CAB]

Verse 4: “wipe every tear”: See also 7:16ff and Jeremiah 31:16. [ JBC]

Verse 4: “Death will be no more”: See also 20:13. [ NJBC]

Verse 4: “mourning and crying and pain”: See also Isaiah 35:10; 65:19. This condition is the exact opposite of Babylon’s (Rome’s) fate: see 18:22-23. [ JBC]

Verse 5: “the one who was seated on the throne”: See also 1:8; 4:2, 9; 5:1, 7, 13; 6:16; 7:10, 15; 19:4; Romans 14:10.

Verse 5: “‘I am making all things new’”: See also Isaiah 43:18ff (”... I am about to do a new thing ...”); 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15. This is the only passage in Revelation where God himself speaks. [ JBC]

Verse 5: “trustworthy and true”: See also 3:14 (“... the faithful and true witness ...”); 19:11 (“... Its rider is called Faithful and True”) and 22:6 (“... These words are trustworthy and true ...”) [ JBC]

Verse 6: “the Alpha and the Omega”: See also 1:8. [ CAB]

Verse 6: “water of life”: See also Isaiah 55:1; John 4:10, 13; 7:37-39; Psalm 42:1; Jeremiah 2:13; Zechariah 14:8. [ NOAB] [ JBC]

Verse 7: “Those who conquer”: Note the endings of the seven letters to specific churches. All include “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches” and also:

  • 2:7: “... To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God”
  • 2:11: “... Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death”
  • 2:28: “... To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star”
  • 3:5: “If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life ...”
  • 3:12: “If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. ...”
  • 3:21: “To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne”. [ NOAB]

This military phrase takes for granted that the Christian life is a battle. In Revelation, this phrase is applied to the faithful Christian soldier (see also 12:11 and 15:2) and to Christ (see 3:21b; 5:5; 17:14). [ JBC]

Verse 7: “I will be their God and they will be my children”: In Genesis 17:7, God tells Abraham: “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, ... to be God to you and to your offspring after you”. See also God’s covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7:14. [ CAB] Note that Revelation, unlike the gospel of John, looks primarily to the future for the fulfilment of eschatological hopes: here “I will be”. [ JBC]

Verse 8: The “cowardly”, the “faithless”, etc. do not have faith enough to endure trials, and so will fall away in time of persecution. [ NOAB] JBC notes that John gives first place to those who have sinned against the faith. He sees the “cowardly” as those whose superficial and unstable faith has succumbed to persecution.

Verse 8: “sorcerers”: Literally poisoners, i.e. those dealing in philters and poisons. Acts 19:19 tells us of such people who, coming to the faith, burned their valuable books publicly. [ NOAB]

Verse 8: “the lake”: See also 19:20. The “lake” is Gehenna. In Matthew 18:9, Jesus says “‘And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire’”. The Greek word translated “hell of fire” is Gehenna. [ NOAB] This was literally the valley of Hinnon (ge’Hinnon) outside Jerusalem where garbage (rubbish) was gathered and burned. Per 2 Kings 23:10, Hinnon had been the site of child sacrifice: see also Jeremiah 7:31; 19:5-6. It provided a physical reminder of the place of eternal punishment. See 1 Enoch 27:2; 90:24-26; 2 Esdras 7:36. [ JBC]

Verse 8: “the second death”: i.e. the final condemnation of sinners. See also 2:11. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus says “‘Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell’”. Gain, “hell” translates Gehenna. Note the contrast with the “water of life” (v. 6). [ NOAB] “The second death” is probably a reference to the fact that those who are banished to eternal punishment are temporarily resurrected from their first death. [ CAB]

Matthew 25:31-46

In this passage, Jesus says that discipleship is identical with caring for the needy. [ NJBC]

Verse 31: In 16:27, Jesus foretells: “‘... the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done’” and in 19:28 “‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’”. [ NOAB]

Verse 31: “the Son of Man”: See also Daniel 7:9, 13-14 (“a human being” translating the Aramaic son of man) and Zechariah 14:5 (“you shall flee by the valley of the Lord's mountain, ... as you fled from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him”). Here in Matthew the “Son of Man” acts in place of God. [ NJBC]

Verse 32: In Ezekiel 34:17, Yahweh says through the prophet: “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord GOD: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats”. [ NOAB]

Verse 32: “the nations”: Scholars identify them with various groups. NOAB says that they are probably those who do not know the God of Israel (see Romans 2:13-16). To NJBC, it includes Israel and not just Gentiles. See also 24:9, 14; 28:19. BlkMt says that while “nations” usually means Gentiles in Matthew, “all nations” seems to mean all humankind.

Verse 32: “will be gathered”: NJBC says that this is a theological passive, so God will gather.

Verse 33: “goats”: The Greek, eriphos, normally means kid, so perhaps they are animals of lower value. [ NJBC]

Verse 34: In Luke 12:32 Jesus says: “‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom’” and in Matthew 5:3 “‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’”. See also Revelation 13:8; 17:8. [ NOAB]

Verse 34: “king”: The Son of Man as king executes his Father’s will. With a blessing he invites the saved to enter the Kingdom, which always exists but which they enter when he decides to bring it and admit them to it. [ NJBC]

Verses 35-36: The list includes six of the seven corporal works of mercy in the catechetical tradition. [ NJBC] Various of these works are also mentioned in Isaiah 58:7; James 1:27; 2:15-16; Hebrews 13:2; 2 Timothy 1:16. [ NOAB]

Verse 37: Note that “the righteous” are surprised, for they were not trying to gain God’s favour.

Verse 40: In 10:42, Jesus says: “‘whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward’” and in Mark 9:41 “‘whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward’”. See also Hebrews 6:10 and Proverbs 19:17. [ NOAB]

Verse 41: In Mark 9:48, Jesus speaks of hell as : “‘where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched’”. In Revelation 20:10, John sees as part of a vision: “the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever”. [ NOAB]

Verses 41-43: Here there are only two ways: either one serves the disadvantaged, or one does not; there is no middle way. This, says NJBC, stems from the deuteronomic theology of a covenant conditioned by human obligation (vs. the covenant of unconditional divine commitment represented in the New Testament by Paul’s theology.) It presupposes human moral responsibility and conscience and God taking human actions seriously. [ NJBC]

Verse 46: In Daniel 12:2, speaking of the end--times, says: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt”. In John 5:29, Jesus says: “‘the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation’”. [ NOAB]

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