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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Saint Michael and All Angels - September 29, 2013



Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures

Saint Dominic
contemplating the Scriptures

Comments have been prepared by Chris Haslam using reputable commentaries, and checked for accuracy by the Venerable Alan T Perry, of the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton. While not intended to be exhaustive, they are an aid to reading the Scriptures with greater understanding.

Comments are best read with the lessons.

Feedback to is always welcome.


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Genesis

Genesis is the first book of the Bible. It begins with two versions of the creation story, neither of them intended to be scientific but telling us why we are on earth. In the story of Adam and Eve, it tells us that we are responsible, under God, for the care of all creation. It then continues with the stories of the patriarchs: Abraham (who enters into a covenant (or treaty) with God), Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.


Genesis 28:10-17

Isaac has dispatched Jacob to find a wife for himself in “Haran”. He, like his father, is expected to marry one of his own clan, but unlike his father, is sent on the journey himself. On the way, Jacob stops for the night at Bethel (meaning house of God) and dreams. (Travellers slept on the ground using hard pillows!) The word translated “place” (v. 11) implies that the place is sacred. The scene is reminiscent of a ziggurat, on which there was a stairway (“ladder”, v. 12) to the top, where the deity was believed to live. The Tower of Babel (meaning gateway to a god) was probably a ziggurat. The angels “ascending and descending” suggest contact with God. God speaks, identifying himself as God of the patriarchs, Abraham and Isaac, i.e. not just a local god of that place alone, as was common in the region. The promises in vv. 13-14 are those made to Abraham, but the one in v. 15 is specially for Jacob: God will watch over (“keep”) him wherever he is; God is present everywhere, not just here.

In v. 17, Jacob is awe-struck (“afraid”) and says that the place is awe-inspiring (“awesome”). This, he says, is the “house of God” (hence Bethel) and the “gate of heaven”. Next morning, Jacob sets up his stone pillow to mark the presence of a deity, as was the local custom. He consecrates it with “oil” (v. 18).


Psalms

Psalms is a collection of collections. The psalms were written over many centuries, stretching from the days of Solomon's temple (about 950 BC) to after the Exile (about 350 BC.) Psalms are of five types: hymns of praise, laments, thanksgiving psalms, royal psalms, and wisdom psalms. Within the book, there are five "books"; there is a doxology ("Blessed be ... Amen and Amen") at the end of each book.


Psalm 103:19-22

This psalm is both one of thanksgiving and a hymn of praise. After recalling that God cares for the oppressed, forgives sins, loves dearly those who hold him in awe, and that he is a compassionate father, it contrasts him with humankind: our lives are transitory but God’s love is for ever. Then, in the verses we say or sing today, it says: may all over whom he rules, the heavenly court (“angels ... mighty ones”, v. 20, “hosts ... ministers”, v. 21), creation (“all his works”, v. 22) and the psalmist himself “bless” (praise) “the LORD”!


Revelation

This is the last book of the Bible and is in a way a summary of the whole of the Bible. It is an apocalypse, a vision which foretells the future and presents an understanding of the past. It tells of the struggle between good and evil, and the ultimate victory of Christ. Writing in symbolic language, its author urges Christians to keep faith in a period of persecution. It is hard to understand because we do not know the meaning of the symbols (e.g. animals) it uses.


Revelation 12:7-12

The book begins: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John ...” John has a vision of the future, of the age to come – but also presents an understanding of his times and of the past. To us, this book is strange stuff, but no more so than a novel (or a who-done-it) would be to a first-century person. It is an apocalypse. Many Jewish apocalypses were written, but this is a Christian one. It was written in a time of persecution of Christians for refusing to worship the Roman emperor as a god. It is written in symbols, most of which may have been known to people at the time, but whose meaning we can only guess. (In 14:8, 16:19, 17:5, etc., we know that “Babylon” is a code-name for Rome.)

In vv. 1-7, we read that a male child, a messiah, is about to be born to a woman, but a red dragon with seven heads, ten horns and seven diadems on his head is ready to devour the child as soon as he is born. “But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne” is clearly a reference to the ascension of Christ. (Red is a symbol of war in Revelation.)

In today’s reading, we learn that the dragon (also called “that ancient serpent”, v. 9, the one in the Garden of Eden) with whom Michael and his angels fight, is “the Devil and Satan”; both these names mean accuser, one in Greek and the other in Hebrew. Michael and his angels win; the Devil and his forces are thrown out of heaven, down to earth to make trouble here. Vv. 10-12 are a hymn praising the triumph of God and Christ; the victory is indeed God’s, Michael being his agent. With this victory, the reign of Christ has begun. Jewish literature of the time refers to Satan as the unceasing accuser of Israel; he continues to accuse, frustrate, Christ’s followers, but he is ineffectual because he has been conquered through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (“the blood of the Lamb”, v. 11) and his followers’ continuing “testimony”, even when facing death for refusing to worship a second god. Rejoice! But in the end-times the Devil will be intensely active (“with great wrath”, v. 12) in the whole universe (“the earth and the sea”), trying to subvert good intentions – because the second coming of Christ is near: the devil’s “time is short”. (Daniel and Mark 13 are other examples of apocalyptic writing.)


Symbol of St John

John

John is the fourth gospel. Its author makes no attempt to give a chronological account of the life of Jesus (which the other gospels do, to a degree), but rather "...these things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name." John includes what he calls signs, stories of miracles, to help in this process.


John 1:47-51

Both this book and Genesis begin with “In the beginning”; Genesis 1 is the first (seven day) creation story. John then works its way chronologically through seven days. The days (after the first) begin at 1:29, 1:35, 1:41, 1:43 and 2:1; in 2:1, “on the third day” means two days later (in ancient times, counting was inclusive). On Day 5, Jesus invites Phillip to follow him, and Phillip tells Nathanael, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth” (1:45). In spite of making a crack against Nazareth, Nathanael comes to Jesus. (It is likely that, as in Genesis, a day is not 24 hours, but a period of time.)

Jesus says to Nathanael: here’s a true Israelite: in popular etymology, Israel meant one who sees God. Nathanael answers: how could you possibly recognize me? We haven’t met. Jesus answers him: I saw you (possibly when he was somewhere else, conversing with Phillip). This is clearly miraculous: Nathanael proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah (“Son of God”, v. 49, and “King of Israel”).

Jesus asks him rhetorically: did you believe because of this miracle? As your faith grows, you will understand much more about me; in fact, you will see the meeting of God with people. V. 51 is like Genesis 28:12 (read today) but different: the angels ascend and descend “on the Son of Man” rather than on the ladder from earth to heaven. Jesus is our way of reaching the immortal. In the Genesis passage, the ladder is the means of communication between heaven and earth; in this passage, Jesus declares that he is the medium of communication, the mediator between God and humankind.

© 1996-2003 Chris Haslam



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