Comments

Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Saint Michael and All Angels - September 29, 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.

Genesis 28:10-17

In Chapter 27, the blessing of Jacob, Isaac is an old man who is almost senile, but here is fully in command of his faculties.

Verse 2: “Paddan-aram”: Meaning field of Aram or country of Aram. This form of the name is characteristic of the Priestly (P) source. Per 24:10, it is Abraham’s ancestral home. [NJBC] [NOAB]

Verse 3: “God Almighty”: The Hebrew is El Shaddai meaning literally God, the One of the Mountain(s). Other religions in the area believed that various gods dwelt on various mountains.

Verse 4: Note the two blessings bestowed on Abraham. [FoxMoses]

Verse 5: “Laban ... Bethuel”: 24:47-50 tell of Bethuel and Laban’s agreement that Rebekah shall be Isaac’s wife. [NJBC]

Verse 8: “Canaanite women”: 36:2-3 tells us that one of his Canaanite wives is Basemath, a daughter of Ishmael. Much later, a Priestly (P) concern that went along with ritual purity was racial purity. One expression of this was Ezra’s injunction to expel foreign wives. So it is likely that a Priestly editor added this verse. [NJBC]

Verse 9: Esau is clearly polygamous. He marries his first cousin.

Verses 10-22: Perhaps this is a combination of the Yahwist (J) tradition (vv. 12, 16-17) and the Elohist (E) tradition (vv. 11-12, 17-18, 20-23), but it is also possible that it is from an independent tradition. The base story probably explained the origin of the name Bethel. For similar etiology, see 32:1-3. NJBC suggests that J may have added the context of Jacob's journey and inserted the promises to Abraham (vv. 13-15). Then the message to Jacob of personal safety (v. 15) was expanded to include his vow to return to the holy place.

Verse 10: In this and the following verses, Jacob obeys Rebekah’s command to flee to Haran to avoid Esau’s wrath over losing his birthright. They thus continue the story in 27:43-46. [NJBC]

Verse 10: “Haran”: Rebekah was also from Haran.

Verse 11: “a certain place”: Literally the place. [NJBC]

Verse 11: “under his head”: NJBC notes that the Hebrew can also mean against his head: perhaps as a minor form of protection.

Verse 12: “ladder”: NJBC is adamant that a stairway or ramp is intended, not a ladder. Ziggurats had stairways or ramps.

Verse 12: “angels”: The Hebrew mal’ak literally means messengers. The notion is one of sons of God, members of the heavenly court. A group (community) of angels is also found in 32:1-2; they are with Jacob as he approaches Esau, seeking reconciliation. [NJBC]

Verse 13: “beside him”: The Hebrew can also mean over or over against. [FoxMoses]

Verse 13: See also 12:2-3, 7; 13:14-16; 26:3-5, 24-25. God identifies himself in a solid, historical contextual way, not an abstract one.

Verse 17: “afraid”: i.e. full of awe. [NOAB]

Verse 17: “gate of heaven”: To ancient people, a place where God (or gods) came down to meet people. [NOAB]

Verse 18: That Jacob sets up a “pillar” is surprising, given that later (when the story was edited) pillars were associated with pagan religions – although Joshua erected a pillar to mark where the Israelites accepted a covenant (see Joshua 24:26). In other religions, they were often seen as sexual symbols of union with gods. In later Israelite religion, they were prohibited probably because they were a drawing card to Canaanite religion: see Exodus 23:24; Deuteronomy 7:5; Leviticus 26:1. Hosea and Micah denounced them: see Hosea 3:4 and Micah 5:13. [NOAB] [NJBC]

Verse 19: “Bethel”: Bethel later became a town, but at this point it was unsettled.

Verse 19: “Luz”: The author/editor tells us the Canaanite name of the place; however in Joshua 16:2, Bethel and Luz are different places. [NJBC]

Verses 20-22: Strangely, Jacob’s vow is conditional on what God has already promised him: see v. 15. For another conditional vow, see 2 Samuel 15:7-9 (Absalom’s vow). [NJBC]

Verse 21: Israel’s ancestors enjoyed a personal relationship with God. Here Jacob, the direct father of Israel, accepts such a relationship. [NOAB]

Verse 22: “God’s house”: The northern sanctuary at Bethel flourished from the time of Jeroboam (see 1 Kings 12:26-29, late 900s BC) to the time of Josiah (see 2 Kings 23:15-20, late 600s BC). In Saul’s time, worshippers went up to God there: see 1 Samuel 10:3. Jacob fulfils his promise to set up “God’s house” in Genesis 35. [NOAB] [CAB]

Psalm 103:19-22

This might be classified as a hymn, but vv. 1-5 suggest that the words, though general, are intended to express the emotion of a particular individual on a specific occasion. [NOAB]

This is a psalm of thanksgiving, of deep religious sensitivity, but it can also be seen as a hymn of praise. [JBC]

Verses 1-2: See 104:1 for another hymn-like exhortation to one’s self. [JBC]

Verse 3: For the association of the forgiveness of sin with healing of physical illness in the New Testament, see Mark 2:10-11. The association of sin with illness is found in both the Old Testament (see Job; Psalms 32:3-5; 107:17) and the New Testament (see John 9 and James 5:14-16). [NJBC]

Verse 3: “heals all your diseases”: An allusion to Exodus 34:9. [NOAB]

Verse 4: “the Pit”: This is a synonym for Sheol, the place of the dead where people retain only the faintest semblance of life. See also Job 17:13-14; 33:22, 24, 28-30. [NOAB]

Verse 5: “satisfies”: NJBC offers fills your lifetime with.

Verse 5: “good”: This may refer to God’s benefits in general or more specifically to the divine presence as it does in Exodus 33:19. [NJBC]

Verse 5: “the eagle’s”: The vigour of the eagle was proverbial: Isaiah 40:31 says: “those who wait for the LORDshall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint”. [NOAB]

Verse 7: In Exodus 33:13, Moses says: “Now if I have found favour in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favour in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people”. [NOAB]

Verse 8: This is a quotation from Exodus 34:6.

Verses 10-13: These verses immediately follow the quotation of Exodus 34:6 and provide a commentary on it. [NJBC]

Verses 11-16: For similar comparisons, see Isaiah 55:8-19. [JBC]

Verses 15-16: This is either an allusion to Isaiah 40:6-8 or an independent appearance of a common motif. See also 90:5-6; Job 14:2; Isaiah 51:12. [NJBC]

Verses 19-22: The conclusion, in hymnic style. [JBC]

Verse 21: “all his hosts”: i.e. the divine council, the army of heaven, indeed all in heaven. They are to join in praising God enthroned in heaven. [NJBC]

Revelation 12:7-12

Verses 1-17: NJBC says that these verses are based on two narratives: one describing the conflict between a woman with child and a dragon (reflected in vv. 1-6 and vv. 13-17) and another depicting a battle in heaven (vv. 7-9). It is likely that these sources were composed by non-Christian Jews and that John edited them, making numerous additions, including the hymn in vv. 10-12.

Verses 1-6: It was widely believed in the ancient world, from India to Rome, that a saviour-king was to appear. These myths tell of a goddess, who was to bring forth a saviour, being pursued by a horrible monster. Protected in an extra-ordinary way, she was able to give birth in safety. Her child then slew the monster, thereby bringing happiness to the world. John may well have borrowed certain details from a purified Jewish version of the myth. The churches to whom he writes are familiar with the myth, so he could use it to proclaim the true Saviour and the certainty of his victory. [JBC]

Verse 1: “portent”: i.e. a sign, pointing beyond itself to the deeper meaning of the world’s history. [CAB]

Verse 1: “a woman”: She appears to be the heavenly representative of God’s people, first as Israel (from whom Jesus the Messiah was born, v. 5), then as the Christian Church (which is persecuted by the dragon, v. 13). [NOAB] In Isaiah 54:1, Israel is depicted as a woman. [CAB]

Verse 1: “ a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars”: These attributes are typical of high goddesses in the ancient world, such as Isis. The identity of the woman has been debated and besides the one given in Comments include:

  • Mary, the mother of Jesus, who is also the new Eve (a view popular in the Middle Ages and, more recently, among Roman Catholics)
  • the heavenly Jerusalem
  • personified Wisdom

In John’s source, she was personified Israel, whose “birthpangs” (v. 2) symbolized the eschatological woes that were expected to precede the appearance of the Messiah. Here she is the heavenly Israel, the spouse of God, as in Hosea 1:2; 2:2-3, 14-15; Isaiah 50:1; 54:5-8. John claims the name “Jew” for Christians (in 2:9, to the church in Ephesus, and in 3:9, to the church in Philadelphia), so distinguishing between Israel and the Church is difficult. [NJBC]

The emphasis on the persecution of the woman is really only appropriate if she represents the Church, which is presented throughout the book as oppressed by the forces of evil, yet protected by God. The image of a woman is common in ancient Near Eastern secular literature as well as in the Bible as a symbol for a people, the People of God. The Church that John envisages is not the earthly Church with its failings (see chapters 2-3) but the ideal, heavenly Church. 1 Peter 1:3-5 says: “... By his [God’s] great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time”. [JBC]

Verse 1: “crown of twelve stars”: This may allude to the twelve tribes of Israel (see 21:12), or to the twelve apostles, or to both. [CAB] In Genesis 37:9, Joseph’s second dream is of “the sun, the moon, and eleven stars ... bowing down” to him. [JBC]

Verse 2: “birthpangs”: Isaiah 26:17 speaks of Israel as “like a woman with child, who writhes and cries out in her pangs when she is near her time”. [CAB] Isaiah 66:7-14 speaks of the arrival of the new era as being like childbirth. [JBC]

Verse 3: “a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads”: This is a mythical beast, a very ancient symbol of chaos. Babylonian tradition includes a serpentine monster with seven heads; Canaanite texts mention a similar beast. In the Old Testament, such a beast is portrayed as God’s opponent in Isaiah 27:1; 51:9; Psalms 74:13; 89:10 (“Rahab”); Job 9:13; 26:12. While (according to popular tradition) God had defeated the monster at the moment of creation, its final repudiation was deferred until the end of time. [NJBC] [JBC]

Verse 3: “red”: This colour is suggestive of the monster’s murderous career. [JBC]

Verse 3: “seven diadems”: This is symbolic of the fullness of the dragon’s sovereignty over the kingdoms of this world. See also Luke 4:6 (Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness); John 12:31 (“‘the ruler of this world’”); 14:30 (“‘the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me’”); 16:11 (“‘the ruler of this world has been condemned’”). On the other hand, 19:12 tells us of Christ: “on his head are many diadems” as conqueror of the Devil, “ruler of the kings of the earth” (1:5). [JBC]

Verse 3: “ten horns”: Daniel 7:7, 24 tells us that the fourth beast in Daniel’s vision had “ten horns”, each of which symbolizes a king. [CAB]

Verse 4: “His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth”: This suggests both his enormous size and his power. [NOAB] Daniel 8:10 speaks of a “horn” in somewhat similar terms: “It grew as high as the host of heaven. It threw down to the earth some of the host and some of the stars, and trampled on them”. In Greek tradition, the rebellious chaos monster attacks the stars. [NJBC]

Verse 4: “the dragon stood before the woman ... so that he might devour her child”: While parallels to individual elements of this chapter can be found in the Old Testament and other Jewish texts, the closest parallel is a Greco-Roman version of the story of Apollo’s birth. One of John’s sources was an adaptation of this story to describe the birth of the Messiah. Several emperors, including Nero, associated themselves with Apollo, so John and his source are suggesting that the Messiah promised to Israel will bring in the true golden age. [NJBC]

Verse 5: “who is to rule all the nations rod of iron”: This idea is also found in 19:15. Psalm 2:9 speaks of God’s son breaking “nations” who oppose his way with “a rod of iron”. [CAB]

Verse 5: “ her child was snatched away ...”: Passing over the whole of Christ’s life (even the passion), John mentions only its beginning and end: his birth and his ascension. These two events suffice to show that, despite the dragon’s vigilance, its hatred was futile. [JBC]

Verse 5: “taken to God and to his throne”: Christ’s ascension implies sitting at the right hand of God and participating in his universal sovereignty. See also Mark 16:19; Acts 7:55-56 (Stephen, before he is stoned to death); Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1. [JBC]

Verse 6: The Church is sustained by God. [NOAB]

Verse 6: “the woman fled into the wilderness”: Humbled by the persecution of her members (see v. 14), the Church must flee into the desert, the traditional place of refuge for oppressed Israel: see 1 Kings 19:3-9 (Elijah flees from Jezebel’s wrath) and 1 Maccabees 2:29. Just as Israel was obliged to undergo the trials of the desert during the Exodus, so too the eschatological community must wend its way to redemption through the wilderness. [JBC]

Verse 6: “so that there she can be nourished”: As was Israel (see Exodus 16) and Elijah (see 1 Kings 17:2-6; 19:5-8). [JBC]

Verses 7-12: While in vv. 1-6 the dragon’s opponent was the Messiah, here it is Michael. He is only mentioned here in Revelation. It would seem that the Messiah’s exaltation is being linked with Michael’s victory: Michael’s triumph would be possible because of the enthronement of the “Lamb” (v. 11). [JBC]

Verses 7-9: Both here and in the gospels, the cause of the dragon’s fall from power and the inauguration of God’s kingdom is the ministry of Christ (see Matthew 12:28 and Luke 10:18) culminating in his passion and glorification (see John 12:31; 16:11; 1 John 3:8). [JBC]

Verse 7: “Michael”: Daniel 10:13, 21 describe him as the champion of Israel; Daniel 12:1 says that he is “the protector of your people”. Jude 9 mentions him as contending with the devil. [NOAB] Michael figures prominently in Jewish writings of the intertestamental period, including in the Qumran War Scroll. [HBD]

Other angels named in the Bible are:

It is tradition that says that Gabriel is the archangel in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 whose trumpet blast will announce the return of Christ. See also Matthew 24:31. [HBD]

Verse 7: “The dragon and his angels”: Some angels were malevolent spirit beings.

Verse 7: “angels”: The Greek word is angelos, meaning messenger. In the Old Testament, an angel is a spiritual being, subordinate to God, who serves at God’s command and pleasure to deliver his messages and to punish his enemies. In the inter-testamental period, as religious thinking developed, and as God came to be understood as increasingly transcendental, the perception about angels began to change. We see in books such as Tobit, 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras (all in the Apocrypha), 1 Enoch, and Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs that:

  • there are both angels who are obedient to God and others that are not;
  • there is a hierarchy of angels before God; and
  • specific duties are assigned to each angel or group of angels. [HBD]

Verse 9: “that ancient serpent”: Genesis 3:1-21 tells the story of the serpent’s deception in Garden of Eden and its consequences. [CAB] He is also mentioned in 2 Corinthians 11:3. [JBC]

Verse 9: “Devil”: The word means slanderer; he is the deceiver of the whole world. [CAB]

Verse 9: “Satan”: The word means adversary, the one who accuses people of wrongdoing before God. He accuses Job of infidelity to God in Job 1:6-11. He also appears in Zechariah 3:1-10, a scene of the end-times. [CAB] In Luke 10:18, when the seventy return, Jesus tells them: “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning”. [NOAB] He continues to accuse Christ’s disciples (see Luke 22:31-32) but his accusations are ineffectual, as Paul tells us in Romans 8:33. [JBC]

Verse 10: “for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down”: Vindication in the heavenly court is an ironic reversal of condemnation in earthly (Roman) courts, which leads to execution (“they did not cling to life even in the face of death”). These Christians are “the rest of her [the woman’s] children” (v. 17), whom the dragon pursues after the child is taken up to heaven (v. 5).

Verse 11: “they have conquered”: Through both divine and human effort. [NOAB]

Verse 11: “by the blood of the Lamb”: The prime source of the victory of Christians is Christ’s sacrifice. 7:14 says: “... ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’”. His triumph makes possible the triumph of his believers: see John 16:33; 1 John 4:4; 5:4-8. Thus the Lamb is the Church’s advocate before God: see 1 John 2:1. [JBC]

Verse 12: “Rejoice”: Isaiah 49:13 says: “Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones”. See also Psalm 96. [NOAB]

Verse 12: “those who dwell”: The Greek word is skenountes. The faithful live in a skene, a (divine) tabernacle; they are set in opposition to the (pagan) inhabitants of “the earth and the sea”, i.e. the whole universe. The latter is to be the theatre of the dragon’s future activities. [JBC]

Verse 12: “woe”: See also 8:13; 9:12; 11:14. [CAB]

Verse 13: “he pursued the woman”: The dragon is no longer able to fight with the Messiah (because he is now with God, see v. 5) so the monster pursues the woman, thus trying to attack him indirectly, through the Church and its members. Acts 9:4 tells us that in persecuting members of the Church, Paul was persecuting Christ. [JBC]

Verse 14: “the two wings of the great eagle”: In the theme of the Exodus, the eagle symbolizes the divine power that gives to all God’s people the assurance of prompt and efficacious protection. Deuteronomy 32:10-11 tells us that God guided Jacob like an eagle. See also Exodus 19:4 and Isaiah 40:31. [JBC]

Verse 14: “where she is nourished”: She, like Elijah when he was fleeing from persecution, is strengthened by heavenly food. [JBC]

Verse 14: “a time, and times, and half a time”: By “a time” is probably meant a year, so the woman is nourished for three and a half years, or 42 months. Recalling that the Exodus lasted some 40 years, it is likely that John is saying that the Church is nourished as were the Israelites in the desert, i.e. with heavenly food.

Verse 15: Water (or the sea) is presented as the locale of the monster who personifies evil (and chaos), as it is in Psalm 74:13; Ezekiel 29:3; 32:2. There is here something like a myth telling of primordial conflict between the land and the sea. [JBC]

Verse 16: “the earth”: It is personified. In Asia Minor, flash floods occurred from time to time.

Verse 17: “the dragon ... went off to make war on the rest of her children”: John distinguishes between the Church and its members. The Church is miraculously saved by God: see Matthew 16:18 (“on this rock I will build my church”); but Christians remain exposed to the attacks of the Devil and are subject to death (and persecution) even though God assures them of his protection. [JBC]

John 1:47-51

Comments: This John ... then works its way chronologically through seven days: If John had intended his readers to understand that the events of 2:1-11 occurred on the day immediately following those of 1:43-51, he would have written “on the next day” as he had done previously, i.e. in 1:35 and 1:43. Nothing happens on Day 6, so it can probably be taken to be the Sabbath. This places the first sign on the Lord’s Day. As Christians know, the “third day” is special: John may mean us to take this as an allusion to the day of resurrection. Towards the end of this gospel, we can find a similar week, also including a blank Sabbath, and culminating in the Lord’s Day on which occurs the final and greatest sign, that of Christ’s resurrection: see 12:1 and 20:1. Thus the beginning and end of Jesus’ ministry conform to the same pattern. [BlkJn]

Verse 43: “Follow me”: Jesus’ call to discipleship here is the call recorded in the Synoptic gospels: see Matthew 9:9 (Jesus calls Matthew); Mark 2:14 (he calls Levi); Luke 5:27. [NJBC]

Verse 45: “Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote”: Moses was thought to be the author of the first five books of the Bible. In Jesus’ day, the Old Testament consisted of the law and the prophets. Later the writings were also included in the canon. In Luke 24:27 (part of a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus), we read: “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he [Jesus] interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures”.

Verse 47: “truly an Israelite”: Others who invoke the Law and the prophets reject Jesus, but not Nathanael: see 7:15 (“‘How does this man have such learning, when he has never been taught?’”), 27, 41; 9:29. [NJBC]

Verse 47: “no deceit”: For Jacob’s deceitful practices before being named Israel, see Genesis 27:35 (Isaac blesses Jacob rather than Esau). Jacob is named Israel in Genesis 32:28. [NOAB] In the Old Testament, the Greek word translated “deceit” (dolos) has negative religious overtones (e.g. Psalms 17:1; 43:1; Proverbs 12:6); in the prophetic books it can imply unfaithfulness to God: see Jeremiah 9:5 and Zephaniah 3:13. In the fourth Servant Song, it is said of the servant that “there was no deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:9). [NJBC]

Verses 48-49: Whether the “fig tree” is significant is not known. We do know that, per a later tradition, rabbis studied the Law under a fig tree: see Midrash Rabba Ecclesiastes 5:11. [NJBC]

Verse 49: “Son of God ... King of Israel”: In the Old Testament (e.g. 2 Samuel 7:14; Psalms 89:27; 2:6-7) the king is referred to as “son of God”. Pilate’s inscription “King of the Jews” on the cross (e.g. 19:19) may have led to the early Christian portrayal of Jesus as Messiah/King. This gospel returns later to the theme of Jesus’ kingship in the trial before Pilate. [NJBC]

Verse 51: “Very truly”: The Greek is amen, amen. This and the shift from “you” singular in v. 50 to “you” plural here suggests that an editor added this verse later. 3:12-15 makes a similar move from earthly to heavenly things by allusion to the Son of Man. 3:13 is particularly close to this verse (quoted below). Note the Johannine christology: no one could have seen God except the Son. So Jacob’s vision is here transformed into a future vision promised to believers in which Jesus is the medium of communication between the Father and humans. Note that the farewell discourses in this gospel never apply “Son of Man” to the expectation of Jesus’ return. In this gospel, no mention is made of the Son of Man suffering; the emphasis is on his pre-existence, descent and ascent. [NJBC]

Verse 51: What Jacob saw in a vision (see Genesis 28:12) is now a reality in Jesus. [NOAB] Jesus is the founder of the new Israel. [CAB]

Verse 51: “Son of Man”: In 3:13, Jesus tells Nicodemus “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” so “the Son of Man” is a messenger from heaven to make God known. “The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son ... he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man” (5:22, 27). [NOAB] In a vision, Daniel sees “one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven”. The Aramaic original translated in the NRSV as “human being” is son of man. [CAB]

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