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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: The Presentation of our Lord - February 2, 2014



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.

Malachi 3:1-4

Habakkuk 1:2-4 says: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous – therefore judgment comes forth perverted.”. See also Habakkuk 1:13.

The author has attacked the priests of his day in 1:6-2:4, but he is favourable towards the institution of the priesthood (see 2:4-7) and insists that people honour their obligation to support the Temple financially (see 3:6-12). [ NJBC]

Note that v. 1a is in the first person. Then vv. 1b-4 are in the third person. Then v. 5 is again in the third person. While there are several theories as to why the person changes, none seem to be satisfactory explanations.

Verse 1a: This is applied to John the Baptizer by Jesus, in slightly modified form, in Matthew 11:10: “This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you’”. See also Mark 1:2. [ NJBC]

Verse 1: “messenger”: Hebrew: malaki. The book’s name may be due to the use of this word in 1:1. Malaki is translated as angel in Genesis 16:7 (appears to Hagar); 22:11 (to Abraham); Exodus 3:2 (to Moses); Isaiah 63:9. [ NOAB]

Verse 1: “prepare the way”: Isaiah 40:3 says “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” [ CAB]

Verse 1: “the Lord ”: NJBC points out that the Hebrew is ha’adon rather than Yahweh, the Israelite national name for God. Adon means lord, master, owner, or controller. [ QVHG] Yahweh appears in vv. 4 and 5.

Verse 1: “covenant”: This is either the covenant at Sinai or the covenant with Levi, the priestly tribe (mentioned in 2:4-5). [ NJBC] I favour the latter because v. 3 speaks of the purification of the ranks of the sons of Levi, thus ending the abuses of the priesthood mentioned in 1:6-2:9.

Verse 2: “his coming”:. See also Isaiah 40:3 and Matthew 3:10-12 (“I [John the Baptiser] baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me ...”); 11:10-12; Mark 1:2; Luke 1:17, 76; 7:27. [ NOAB]

Verse 5: God will appear for judgement against the wicked and godless: see also Zephaniah 1:14-18 (“... I will bring such distress upon people that they shall walk like the blind; because they have sinned against the Lord...”); 3:1-8; Mark 13:14-37 (the Little Apocalypse); 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. [ NOAB]

Psalm 84

Superscription: “Of the Korahites”: The Korahites were the Levitical group responsible for singing in the Temple (see 2 Chronicles 20:19). They are also mentioned in the superscriptions of Psalms 42; 44-49; 85; 87-88. [ CAB]

Verse 1: “lovely”: Can also be translated dear. The Hebrew word is yedidot. Solomon’s name at birth (see 2 Samuel 12:25) was Jedidiah (Hebrew: Yedidyah), meaning beloved of Yahweh. So “dear” may be an allusion to Solomon. [ NJBC] For love of the Temple, see also Psalm 42. [ JBC]

Verse 4: “Selah” : This word 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.

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 6: This verse seems to speak of watering the desert. See also Isaiah 35:6ff; 41:18ff. One scholar suggests that the pilgrimage is like a new Exodus: Isaiah 43:19-20 says, in part. “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert”.

Verse 6: “Baca”: The location of the desolate valley of Baca is unknown. [ CAB]

Verse 8: This prayer for the king dates this psalm as pre--exilic. For the close association of the king with the Temple, see 2 Samuel 7:1-13 and Psalm 132. The king guarantees safety for pilgrims.

Verse 11: “sun”: Isaiah 60:19-20 foretells: “The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you by night; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun shall no more go down, or your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended”. See also Revelation 21:23; 22:5. [ NJBC] God illuminates and protects.

Psalm 24:7-10

The spirit of this psalm is like Isaiah 6:1-6 (Isaiah’s commissioning). See also Psalm 15. [ NOAB]

Verse 2: “seas” and “rivers” are both related to Canaanite mythology. [ NJBC] God divided the waters on, below and above the earth. See also Genesis 1:6-13. [ CAB]

Verse 3: “stand”: The marvel of the created world is its firmness, although it rests on the seas “of the deep”, i.e. chaos. God tamed these seas in his creative act. The earth was seen as resting on pillars in the abyss, chaos : Psalm 75:3 says “When the earth totters, with all its inhabitants, it is I who keep its pillars steady”.

Verse 3: This verse asks for instruction, torah. The instruction is in the next verse. To “stand” in the Temple, one needs:

  • to be free from bribery;
  • purity of heart, i.e. a clear conscience, especially with respect to neighbours;
  • aversion to idols; and
  • not to have harmed others by lying conduct.

The reward for such moral conduct is in v. 5. [ JBC]

Verses 6,10: “Selah”: See Clipping on Psalm 84:4.

Verses 7-10: Both the pilgrims and God enter the Temple. [ NJBC]

Verses 8,10: Again, torah is sought and is given.

In one Canaanite myth, the gods, with “heads” (v. 7) bowed, cower at the challenge of the powers of chaos. When the creator god returns from battling these forces, the assembled gods hear his triumphant cry, “Lift up your heads ...”, and acclaim him king. In the Israelite version, the gods are replaced by the gates of Jerusalem (or the Temple). [ NJBC]

Hebrews 2:14-18

Verses 14-15: The eternal Son became a human being in order to overcome the devil and to free humanity from death. The author sees death as associated with the devil. For the connection of death with the sin of Eden, see 2 Esdras 3:7 and 2 Baruch 23:4.

Verse 14: Paul writes in Romans 6:23: “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”. [ 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 8:3-4. [ 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 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]

Luke 2:22-40

The continuity between the traditions of Israel and what God was to do through Jesus is exemplified:

  • By the presentation of Jesus in the Temple and the sacrifices offered,
  • By Simeon’s recognition and affirmation of Jesus as “Messiah” and bringer of “revelation to the Gentiles” (v. 32) as well as a cause of controversy within Israel (Isaiah 8:14), and
  • by the prophetess Anna’s acclaim of Jesus as the one who will redeem “Jerusalem” (v. 38), the symbol of God’s people (see Isaiah 52:7-10). [ CAB]

When a child was one month old, he was redeemed for five shekels (see Numbers 3:47-48; 18:15-16), but Luke does not mention this. Rather, he introduces Jesus’ presentation – for which there is no regulation in the Old Testament. [ NJBC] However, being “designated as holy” (v. 23) was probably to be done in a liturgy, a public event, a presentation. Luke has presented both John and Jesus as dedicated to God from the time they were in the womb. So both are, in a sense, Nazirites. Matthew 2:23, in saying that Jesus “will be called a Nazorean”, may be saying that he will be called a Nazirite. While we know of no ritual for initial consecration of a Nazirite, Numbers 6:9-12 prescribes an elaborate ritual for reconsecration of a Nazirite should he or she become ritually unclean. [ HBD] Also recall that it is Luke that gives us the Magnificat (in 1:46-55), the song of Mary modelled after Hannah’s song before the dedication of her son Samuel to temple service (see 1 Samuel 2:1-10). Perhaps Luke is continuing his parallel with Samuel.

Verse 21: “to circumcise the child”: For John’s circumcision, see 1:59-64. [ NJBC]

Verses 22-24: For the requirement for, and the delay in, purification, see Leviticus 12:2-8. [ NOAB]

Verse 22: “to present him to the Lord”: For Samuel’s presentation in the temple (at Shiloh), see 1 Samuel 1:22-24. Luke also probably thinks of Malachi 3:1-2 (“the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple”). [ NJBC]

Verse 22: “Jerusalem”: The Greek is Hierosolyma, literally meaning holy Salem or holy space. In his gospel, Luke sometimes uses Hierosolyma and sometimes Ierosalem. Perhaps he is showing the etymology of the name of the city. [ NJBC]

Verse 23: “Every firstborn ...”: This requirement is found in Exodus 13:1-2, 12. [ NOAB]

Verses 25-28: “Simeon”: Some interpreters, especially ancient ones, saw Acts 15:14 as referring to this Simeon. Other than that possible reference, he is unknown. Both he and Anna (v. 38) express faith in Jesus as Saviour, Messiah and universal Lord. [ NOAB] Simeon means God has heard. He is described in much the same way as John the Baptist’s parents: 1:6 tells us “Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord”. [ NJBC]

Verse 25: “the consolation of Israel”: While I have interpreted these words in an eschatological sense, it is also possible that Simeon looks forward to the independence of Israel from Roman occupation. The word translated “consolation” is paraklesis. This word is used in the Septuagint translation of Isaiah 40:1, “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.”. [ BlkMt] JBC notes that according to the rabbis, this term denoted the final, unrecorded words that passed between Elijah and Elisha (see 2 Kings 2:11) and that would be made known when Elijah reappeared (see 1:17). [ JBC] Isaiah 66:12-13 may also be in Luke’s mind. [ NJBC]

Verse 26: “the Lord’s Messiah”: The Lord here is God (the Father). Christos is the Greek translation of Messiah. In 9:20, Peter identifies Jesus as “the Messiah of God”. [ NOAB]

Verse 27: “Simeon came into the temple”: Note that he is not a priest. He and Anna do embody the heart of Temple cult: service to God. [ NJBC]

Verses 29-32: The vocabulary of these verses, the theological centrepiece of the passage, seems to be drawn from Deutero--Isaiah: see Isaiah 52:9-10; 49:6; 46:13; 42:6; 40:5. They stress the universal nature of Christ’s salvation. See also Isaiah 46:13; Acts 13:47; 26:23. [ NJBC]

Verse 29: “you are dismissing your servant”: As in the freeing of a slave.

Verse 29: “in peace”: i.e. in a state of harmony with God.

Verse 30: See also 3:6 (“‘... all flesh shall see the salvation of God’”) and Isaiah 52:10 (“... all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God”). [ NOAB]

Verse 30: “salvation”: See also 1:47 (the Magnificat, where Mary says “‘my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour’”). See also 1:71, 77; 2:11. [ NJBC]

Verses 31-32: God’s salvation in Jesus moves out and embraces God’s people Israel and then encircles the others, the nations. See also 24:44-47 (Jesus appears to his disciples). [ NJBC]

Verse 32: See also Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; Acts 13:47; 26:23. [ NOAB]

Verse 33: “father”: Joseph is Jesus’ legal father as Mary’s husband. In Matthew 13:55, people at the synagogue ask: “‘Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?’”. In Luke 3:23, we read “...He was the son (as was thought) of Joseph ...”. [ NOAB] His lineage is traced, through Joseph, back to David and the patriarchs in the following verses.

Verse 35: “sword”: Ezekiel 14:17-18 speaks of a sword of discrimination between the godly and the ungodly; perhaps this is view, rather than a sword of punishment. Mary too has to choose for or against God’s revelation in Jesus, family ties not withstanding. [ NJBC]

Verse 36: “Anna”: Her name means grace, favour. Her pairing with Simeon, and of Elisabeth and Zechariah, illustrate an important theme in Luke: men and women stand side--by--side before God, equal in honour and grace, endowed with the same gifts, with the same responsibilities. See also Genesis 1:27 and Galatians 3:28. Other pairings are Zarephath and Naaman ( 4:25-28), the healing of the demoniac and Peter’s mother--in--law ( 4:31-39), and the centurion of Capernaum and the widow of Nain ( 7:1-17). [ NJBC]

Verse 36: “Asher”: See Joshua 19:24 for Asher’s portion in the division of the Promised Land into tribal territories. [ NOAB]

Verse 37: “to the age of eighty--four”: There is an alternative translation: for eighty--four years. This would make Anna over 100 years old at the time. Perhaps Luke is symbolically linking her to Judith, also a devout widow, who lived to the age of 105: see Judith 16:23.

Verse 38: “Jerusalem”, i.e. all the elect.

Verse 40: “became strong”: Like John the Baptist: see 1:80. [ NJBC]

Verse 40: “filled with wisdom”: i.e. God’s practical all--embracing plan of salvation: see Proverbs 8:22ff and Sirach 24.

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