This passage is a late addition to Jeremiah because (1) it develops the messianic prophecy in Jer 23:5-6 and (2) because it is not contained in the Septuagint. These facts demonstrate therefore that biblical passages had to be updated in pre canonical times, just as we have to apply--and reinterpret--the Bible to fit our times.
In Jer 23:5-6 God promised that he would raise up a righteous or legitimate branch of the Davidic house. Jeremiah did not consider Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, legitimate since he had been installed as king by Nebuchadnezzar.
Jeremiah hoped that the new king would do what kings should do: practice justice and righteousness in the land. Jeremiah looked forward to a time when the two kingdoms would be reunited: Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety (Jer 23:6).
Jeremiah gives the messiah a symbolic name that might be translated: "Yahweh is the source of our vindication."
A century or more after the prophet Jeremiah, a scribe updated the prophecy for his day. Note that in 33:14 God promises to fulfill the promise he had made in Jer 23:5-6.
The big shift comes in v 16. Note that only Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell in safety. The geographical extent of the land had been shrunk to fit post-exilic realities.
The name given in chapter 23 is also reapplied--to Jerusalem rather than to the messiah. This is the name by which it (Jerusalem) shall be called: "Yahweh is the source of our vindication." For the writer Jerusalem with its temple will the symbolic of God's faithfulness.
The psalm for the day is Psalm 25:1-9
This pericope is in response to the people's cynicism in 2:17. They wearied God by saying that the evil are treated like the good by God and by complaining that the God of justice is absent. The response states that there will be a future judgment in which justice will be meted out.
There is an alternation between a first person voice (3:1a, 5) and a third person reference in 1b-4. There is also some confusion about the figures in v 1: my messenger, the Lord, the messenger of the covenant. Many scholars interpret "my messenger" as an angel, to be identified with Yahweh himself.
The first person references in 1a and 5 announce the coming of a great king, who will come in judgment. The messenger, like a modern "advance man," prepares for the king's coming. Verse 5 is quite specific in indicting the audience for its sins.
In vv 1b-5, it is the Lord who comes to purify the temple and its levitical priests. Their abuses are spelled out in 1:6-2:9.
In 4:5-6, most likely a supplement to the book, the messenger is identified with the prophet Elijah who will return. According to the Bible (2 Kgs 2:11-12), Elijah had ascended to heaven without dying. Elijah, who was known as a "troubler of Israel" (1 Kgs 18:17), will be a peacemaker when he returns. By reconciling the generations, Elijah makes it possible for God to come without threatening Israel with a curse. The book of Malachi begins with God's announcement "I have loved you" (1:2).
The New Testament identifies the messenger of v 1 with John the Baptist (Matt 11:10; Luke 7:27; Mark 1:2; Luke 1:76) and sees him as the forerunner of the messiah Jesus, and not as the person who comes before the great and terrible day of the Lord.
See also "A Valentine for Those Who Fear Yahweh: The Book of Malachi." By Ralph W. Klein. Click here.
Instead of a psalm for the day, the Revised Standard Lectionary assigns Zechariah's song, the Benedictus.
|The prophet Zephaniah was active early in the reign of Josiah (640-609 BCE).|
|The call to sing in v. 14 assumes that the restoration promised in 3:8-13 has taken place. "Daughter Zion" is a term of endearment. The enemies who have been the vehicles of the wrath of God are turned away.|
|Yahweh is the "king of Israel" in v. 15. When Yahweh is in Israel's midst, there is no need to fear the future. Zion's sentence has been commuted. In OT thought, the promise of the messiah is the assurance that God still reigns. The announcement that God has commuted the sentence of humanity is central to the theology of both testaments.|
|The words "Fear not" in v. 16 usually accompany an assurance of God's presence to save.|
|In v 17 the images are in creative tension: The warrior God is in your midst and he will renew you in his love (The translation of this last clause is very uncertain: He will quiet you with his love [NIV]). "A warrior who gives victory" might be translated as "a warrior who saves." Salvation in the OT has a connotation of victory. Yahweh's "loud singing" in this verse echoes the exhortation for Jerusalem to sing aloud in v. 14. Yahweh rejoices over Jerusalem as Zion itself had been exhorted to rejoice.|
|Many scholars believe that vv. 19-20, which conclude the book, are a post-exilic addition. However that may be, they speak of restoration and return for the oppressed, the lame, and the outcast.|
|The promise in v. 20 to restore the people's fortunes "before your eyes" is a promise that they will see it for themselves, they will be eyewitnesses to God's salvation.|
|Joy is the key to unlocking the message of God to Israel, to the nations, and to all of us today. It is the faithful who rejoice and--perhaps most shocking--it is the God who commutes judgment sentences who also rejoices among those who have been released to live another day and in another way. NIB 7, 703.|
The psalm for the day is Isaiah 12:2-6.
This passage describes the birth of a new ruler from Bethlehem and therefore is one of the important messianic passages in the Old Testament (though it does not use the word "messiah"). The verse numbers in the Hebrew Bible are one less than in English. Hence Mic 5:2 in the English Bible = Mic 5:1 in the Hebrew Bible.
|Ephrathah includes, or is in the vicinity of, Bethlehem (cf. Ruth 4:11). Ephrathah was originally a Judahite clan named after its matriarch which settled in and around Bethlehem (ABD 2:557-558). Bethlehem, of course, is the hometown of David.|
|Bethlehem-Ephrathah is identified as one of the little clans of Judah and therefore this implies that the status of the new ruler (not king) stems from divine election. Since the ruler comes from Bethlehem, and not from Jerusalem, he will be in a sense a new David (his origin is from of old, from ancient days) and he will be the recipient of promises made to David (2 Sam 7:16-17).|
|The metaphor in v 3 seems to refer to the painful present experienced by the people, who have perhaps already gone into exile. This will be followed by the joyful return of people to the land. Cf. Mic 4:9-10. Israel is to wait, like an expectant mother, knowing that there will be happiness after pain.|
|The ruler in v 4 is a shepherd king. The source of his power and authority lies in the strength of Yahweh and the majesty of the name of Yahweh his God. Note he will be "for me" (God) according to v 2.|
|The ruler in v 5 is a person of peace, reflecting not only the absence of war, but the presence of the bounty and abundance implicit in the word Shalom. The promises are for this world and relate to contemporary experiences.|
|When Matthew cites this passage, the chief priests and scribes describe Bethlehem as "by no means least among the rulers" of Judah, and this reflects two major shifts from the meaning of the Hebrew text of Micah and makes the fulfillment greater than the promise itself.|
|Like ancient Israel, we wait for deliverance from present distress, knowing that God's final word to his people will always be "yes." And that promise of ultimate vindication becomes accessible to us through the one born for us in Bethlehem, whose death sealed God's promise.|
The Psalm for the day is Psalm 80
|The original setting of this passage (9:1-7) is the birth of a Judean king, which thereby signals that the promise to David is still alive. The northern kingdom (Zebulun and Naphtali) had been devastated by an invasion of Tiglath-pileser in 734-33, who carved out three Assyrian provinces that are here called "the way of the sea," "the land beyond the Jordan," and "Galilee of the nations."|
|Verse 2 could be translated in the past tense, as in the NRSV, or the verbs could be taken as "prophetic perfects." Light connotes victory, change of circumstances, or even theophany.|
|The joy of Yahweh's deliverance in v. 3 is compared to similar joy at harvest time or at military victory. We might compare it to joy at winning the Super Bowl.|
|Yahweh's victory is compared to that of Gideon, here referred to as "the day of Midian."|
|The Hebrew word for boot in v. 5 is a loanword from the Assyrian language. The uniforms of the occupying forces will be burned up.|
|What gives the prophet such hope? The birth of a new member of the royal line.|
|The name in v. 6 is very problematic. OT kings were not considered to be God, at least in orthodox circles. Hence the series of titles, as in Handel's Messiah and the NRSV, does not make sense. I would interpret the child's name as two sentences:|
The warrior God is planning a marvel
The everlasting Father is planning to give us a Captain of peace or wholeness.
That is, the birth of the child in Jerusalem signals that God's plans for Israel are still operative! That also might be one application we could draw from the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem: God's plans for God's people are still operative!
|Verse 7 spells out what is expected of the reign of the newly-born royal heir: authority, wholeness, and a passion for justice and righteousness.|
|If the name in v. 6 points to God's promise as the ultimate source of our salvation, that interpretation is confirmed by v. 7: The passion of Yahweh of the heavenly armies will see to it that this happens.|
The psalm for the day is Psalm 96
|Isaiah of the exile exults over the prospect of a messenger running from Babylon to Jerusalem with the message that God reigns! Three synonyms are worth noting in v. 7: peace (shalom), good news, and salvation (or victory). The prophet describes the sentinels on the city walls catching sight of this running messenger in v 8. They are eye witnesses to Yahweh's return.|
|The word "comfort" in v. 9 connotes much more than sympathy; it also includes acts of deliverance (cf. 40:1; 49:13; 51:3). Yahweh has redeemed Jerusalem. In the Old Testament, "redeem" means fulfilling the obligations of a family relationship. Hence Yahweh has been the best mother and father Israel has ever known.|
|In baring his arm, v. 10, Yahweh is playing the role of the divine warrior who wins deliverance and victory for his people. The Hebrew word for victory is translated in the NRSV by salvation.|
|At Christmas we believe that God's rule is affirmed and confirmed in the birth of Jesus. We should cultivate among ourselves the excitement and anticipation of the ancient prophet and the heralds on Jerusalem's walls. The inclusion of Gentiles is clearly signaled in v. 10: All the ends of the earth will see the victory of our God! We also might picture ourselves as the messenger, sharing with others the news of God's reign.|
The Psalm for the day is Psalm 98.
1 Sam 2:18-20, 26
|The gospel for the day is Luke 2:41-52--The Twelve-year old Jesus in the temple, and this is apparently the reason for choosing as the Old Testament lesson a text about Samuel serving at the shrine at Shiloh.|
|Samuel's faithful service contrasts with the wicked behavior of Eli's sons (vv 12-17). The ephod worn by Samuel was a kind of apron or loincloth. It is to be distinguished from the oracle-producing device, also called ephod, which could be carried and used to determine God's will (1 Sam 2:28; 14:3; 22:18; 23:6, 9; 30:7). Hannah brought young Samuel a new robe every year.|
|Samuel is the child "obtained by request" and also the one "dedicated" or "lent" to Yahweh (cf. 1 Sam 1:17, 20, 27, 28--all punning on the same Hebrew word). According to v 21 Yahweh gave Hannah five additional children, bringing the idyllic family picture to a most happy conclusion.|
|The omitted verses--vv 21-25--contain Eli's ineffective rebuke of his wicked sons.|
|Verse 26 brings the reader's attention back to Samuel. Samuel was continually improving in the opinion of Yahweh and of people, just as Eli's sons declined (v 24). The gospel notes similar approbation for Jesus (Luke 2:52): He increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.|
|"To preach this text is to acknowledge that moral choices as leaders in God's community do have something to do with life and death. Relationship to God is demanding and dangerous. Those who would serve God place themselves under both God's grace and God's judgment--not just under God's grace." New Interpreter's Bible.|
The Psalm for the day: Psalm 124
|This lesson comes from Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55), composed between 547-540 BCE (after the rise of Cyrus and before the fall of Babylon)|
|The form of this passage is an Oracle of Salvation. These oracles were originally given as a liturgical response to lament Psalms, indicating God's favorable response to the person's prayer. This form is among the most tender in the OT ("your savior"; "you are precious in my sight"; "I love you"). This passage consists of two such oracles: vv 1-4 and 5-7.|
|The parts of these oracles are|
Introduction v 1a|
Assurance of salvation: "Do not fear" vv 1b and 5a
Nominal substantiation: "you are mine" "I am with you" vv 1b and 5a
Verbal substantiation: "I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name" v 1b.
Outcome: vv 2-4; vv 5b-6
Goal: v 7
|Among the promises made in these oracles: a safe new Exodus; God
gives Egypt, Ethiopia and Seba to Cyrus as a ransom payment for Israel; the
gathering of Israel from the four corners of the earth. There is a
close connection throughout Second Isaiah between creation (e.g. v 7) and
The psalm for the day: Psalm 29
|Commonly assigned to Third Isaiah, dated after the return from exile, this passage promises a glorious restoration for God's people in Jerusalem.|
|The prophet models insistent prayer by vowing not to keep silent until Jerusalem's vindication and victory are clear. The words "vindication" and "victory" are literally "righteousness" and "salvation." These words are frequently used in parallelism throughout Second and Third Isaiah.|
|Jerusalem's vindication will take place publicly, before the nations and kings of the world.|
|As in several other OT passages, a new name denotes a new status. Sarai and Abram become Sarah and Abraham when the covenant of circumcision is given in Genesis 17. Elsewhere the new names of Jerusalem include "The Lord is the source of our vindication" (The Lord is our righteousness) in Jer 33:16 and "Yahweh is there" in Ezek 48:35.|
|Jerusalem is presently called "Abandoned" and the land is called "Desolation."|
|The new names will be Hephzibah ("My delight is in her) and Beulah ("married")|
|The etiology of these names is that Yahweh delights in Jerusalem and the land will be "married."|
|The ideal relationship of Israel to Yahweh is described under the metaphor of marriage. A literal translation of v 5a would be: "Just as a young man marries a virgin, so your sons will marry you." This might refer to the repopulation of Jerusalem. The NRSV and many modern commentators emend the word "your sons" to "your builder" (this only requires a change in the vowels, not the consonants). With this change, both halves of the verse refer to the marriage of Yahweh and Jerusalem.|
The psalm for the day is Psalm 36:5-10
Neh 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
|The verses selected from Nehemiah 8 record Ezra's reading of the "law," perhaps a nearly finished copy of the Pentateuch, before the post-exilic assembly. The initiative for reading the law came from the people, not from Ezra himself. Nehemiah 8 continues the story of Ezra from Ezra 10, now interrupted by the Nehemiah story in Nehemiah 1-7. This is the first public recognition of the authority of the Pentateuch. The Torah includes both the story of Israel and its ancestors and God's instructions or laws that make for a wholesome and joy-filled community.|
|The public reading took place on what would be called New Year's Day in modern Judaism. The Water Gate was on the east side of the city, outside of the temple area, perhaps near the Gihon spring. This non-sacral area permitted participation by lay people as well as clergy. Men, women, and even some children (those who could understand) participated in the assembly.|
|Ezra read for about six hours, during which the audience gave their undivided attention. When Ezra unrolled the scroll (codexes or "books" were not used in pre-Christian times), all the people stood in reverence.|
|The interpretation of v 8 depends on the translation of the word rendered "with interpretation" in NRSV and "making it clear" in NRSV. Other suggestions: "with pauses between verses"; "distinctly"; and "paragraph by paragraph." The suggestion that the word connotes extempore translation into Aramaic has fallen into some disfavor. This verse may summarize vv 4-7: Ezra and his lay companions read from the book, paragraph by paragraph, or sentence by sentence. The Levites, moving through the crowd, interpreted and applied the law, and the people understood it.|
|Ezra urged the people not to mourn or cry and also to send food portions to those who had not had the opportunity or wherewithal to prepare for this celebration. Joy in the Lord is the best antidote for grieving. We do well to note the theme of joy in this chapter, since we often connect law to legalism or to accusations against us. Reading the Torah was a time for celebrating and banqueting and thinking generously about those who were not in attendance. Is it our joy in the Lord that is our strength? Or is it God's own joy in us that gives us strength? Both interpretations are possible.|
|Many elements of the later synagogue service are present here: assembly of the congregation, procession with the scroll, opened book with people standing, recital of a blessing, the double Amen, the explanation of the sacred reading, and the dismissal. The Gospel (Luke 4:14-21) has Jesus participating in a synagogue service.|
The Psalm for the day is Psalm 67
|The call narrative in Jeremiah should be compared to other prophetic calls (Isa 6:1-13; Ezek 1-2; Exodus 3-4). The initial word of assignment is often followed by an objection by the prophet and a word of reassurance by Yahweh that gives further details about the prophetic call. The reassurance often is accompanied by a specific sign.|
|Jeremiah's call was pre-natal (v 5), which clearly indicates that the call is Yahweh's idea and not based upon the behavior or merits of the prophet. St. Paul's call was also pre-natal and he too was sent to the nations (Gal 1:15-16). Paul's call, therefore, is modeled after that of Jeremiah.|
|It is not immediately clear why Jeremiah is called a "prophet to the nations." He does have oracles against foreign nations and his message has validity for the nations, but he is not sent on missionary journeys as was Paul. The "nations and kingdoms" mentioned in v 10 refer first of all to Judah.|
|Like Moses, Jeremiah protests that he is unable to speak, basing this on his youth: "I am a teenager." In Jeremiah's "confessions" he continues to wrestle with and object to the idea that he is called (see e.g., 20:7-18).|
|Jeremiah's authority according to v 7 does not lie in his age (or lack thereof) or his ability to speak (or lack thereof). Rather, Yahweh has sent him and commanded him what to speak, and that is the basis of his authority. Jeremiah is highly dependent here and elsewhere on the book of Deuteronomy (18:15-22); it is usually said today that his words have undergone deuteronomistic editing. Jeremiah is a prophet like Moses.|
|Jeremiah is commanded not to fear because Yahweh is with him to save him. This verse (8) is explicitly identified as an oracle of Yahweh. In both testaments, the expression "I am with you" is one of the clearest and most profound expressions of the gospel.|
|The sign in v 9 has Yahweh stretching forth his hand and touching the mouth of Jeremiah and assuring him that Yahweh himself has put words in his mouth (cf. Jer 15:19).|
|Verse 10 announces the dual character of Jeremiah's message. On the one hand, his words of judgment will "pluck up and tear down, destroy and overthrow." But they will also be part of Yahweh's "building and planting." God's final word to his people is always "Yes"!|
|The gospel for the day is Luke 4:21-30, where Jesus articulates the contours of his own call, much to the displeasure of his audience.|
The Psalm for the day is Psa 71:1-6.
Isa 6:1-8 (9-13)
|Isaiah's call took place in the year Uzziah died, ca 735. Uzziah and his contemporary Jeroboam II in the northern kingdom reigned over a time of great, but unequal prosperity. Social abuses are criticized by Amos in the north and Isaiah in the south.|
|Isaiah's vision takes him to Yahweh's heavenly temple. The deity was surrounded by six-winged seraphs: one pair was used to cover their faces and one pair to cover their feet = genitals. With one pair they flew.|
|The antiphonal heavenly choir affirmed two things about Yahweh: 1. Yahweh is completely separate/transcendent (holy); the fullness of the world is God's "glory." "Holy" is what God is in Godself; what we see of God is called God's glory.|
|Isaiah confesses his and the people's uncleanness (note that he does not have a "holier than thou" attitude). Their lips are unclean because of what they have eaten or what they have said. Isaiah is aware of this uncleanness because he has seen Yahweh.|
|In vv 6-7 a seraph takes a hot coal from the heavenly altar and cauterizes Isaiah's lips. He is thereby assured of forgiveness.|
|In the midst of the heavenly council Yahweh asks who will go for "us" (the members of the heavenly council). Isaiah responds, "Here am I, send me."|
|In the supplementary verses, not included in the standard OT lesson, Isaiah is instructed to deliver a message that will keep people from repenting. Is this hyperbole? Does this describe the result of Isaiah's call, but is read back into the commission itself?|
|In response to Isaiah's question about the length of his commission, Yahweh replies that this should continue until the land is utterly destroyed and until Yahweh has sent everyone away into exile.|
|Verse 13 seems to continue this devastating picture. Even if only one tenth remains (the southern kingdom after the northern kingdom is destroyed in 722?), it too will be destroyed, just as one burns a stump of a tree that has been cut down.|
|The last sentence is often identified as a gloss, in which the remnant (the holy seed) is identified with the stump. That is, a remnant will survive and be the basis for renewed growth and hope.|
The psalm for the day is Psalm 138
|The poem is very similar to Psalm 1, which is the Psalm assigned for this day. Verses 5-6 describe those who trust in mere mortals (they are the wicked) and compare them to a shrub in the desert. These people may just as well be a juniper in the Arabah, which will fall under a curse in bad times because it cannot wait for the rains to come (Lundbom in the Anchor Bible).|
|Contrasted with them, in vv 7-8 are those who trust in Yahweh. These righteous are compared to a tree transplanted by an abundant source of water.|
|Verse 9 ascribes devious motivations to the human heart--it is desperately sick. Jeremiah is generalizing about every heart, including his own.|
|Verse 10 asserts that Yahweh tests the mind and the heart and applies appropriate rewards and punishments to the righteous and wicked respectively.|
|The Gospel, Luke 6:17-26, pronounces great reversals. The poor, hungry, and sorrowful will receive good news while the rich, the full, and the happy will find their good times turned into bad. There is a healthy tension between these two passages. The passage from Jeremiah urges people of faith to live ethically; the Gospel warns against making a one-to-one equation between prosperity and piety. People could misuse the OT lesson to support self-righteousness; people could misuse the NT lesson to advocate cheap grace. The truth lies in the tension between the two passages.|
The Psalm for the day is Psalm 1.
Gen 45:3-11, 15
|The Joseph story is often called a "Novella" (little novel) and is the longest continuous story in the book of Genesis. Joseph's disclosure of his identity follows the moving speech by his brother Judah, which shows his loyalty to his father Jacob and his defense of Benjamin (see below). Judah is in many ways the hero of the Joseph story (see also chapter 38 and the great blessing to the tribe of Judah in 49:10-12)|
|The Joseph story is told in modern fashion, without explicit divine intervention. But looking back, Joseph can detect clearly the hand of God: "Do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life." v 5. "So it was not you who sent me here but God." v 8. See also 50:20: "Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today." We may not experience miraculous interventions by God into our lives, but often we can look back over the years and see God's secret providential hand.|
|As a result of Joseph interpreting Pharaoh's dreams, he has been made second in command with the assignment of storing up grain for the coming famine. Those seven years of storage are past and Egypt had already completed the second year of the famine.|
|The Joseph story "explains" how Israel wound up in Egypt, and there is a four hundred year gap between the end of the book of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus, when a pharaoh arose who did not know Joseph. So when Joseph urged his brothers to bring his father to Egypt quickly, the outcome in the long run was not positive.|
|The lectionary omits vv 12-14, which describe Joseph's relationship to his full brother Benjamin, who had been brought down to Egypt at Joseph's insistence and then arrested when a silver cup had been hidden in his sack. Judah's offer to be a slave in Benjamin's stead (44:33) had demonstrated the change of heart among the brothers.|
|The gospel for the day, Luke 6:27-38, reflects similar concerns. "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you." "If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also." "Do to others as you would have them do to you."|
The psalm for the day is Ps 37:1-12, 39-40
|The passage reports how the face of Moses shone when he came down from receiving the law on Mt. Sinai. Moses had received a second copy of the law after he had destroyed the first copy when he discovered the worship of the golden calf.|
|Verse 29 tells us that Moses did not know that the skin of his face "shone" because he had been talking with God. The Hebrew word for "shone" is qaran. In the Qal pattern, it only appears in this pericope. The ancient versions (Septuagint, Peshitta, Targum) suggest the meaning "shone," which is followed by Noth, Childs, and other modern commentators. It could also be a denominative verb formed from the noun qeren, which means "horn." Verse 29 might then mean that Moses did not know that the skin of his face "showed horns." Jerome followed this line of reasoning in the Vulgate (cornuta), leading to the fact that Moses in medieval and much modern art is shown with horns, as in the famous statue by Michelangelo.|
|The shining face of Moses frightened Aaron and the other Israelites (v 30). When Moses spoke with them, however, this seemed to allay their fears and Moses reported to them the laws he had received (vv 31-32).|
|From then on Moses put a veil on his face, presumably to keep his shining face from frightening the Israelites. But when he would go to talk directly to God, he would remove the veil.|
|In the gospel, Luke 9:28-36, the appearance of the face of Jesus changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, also appeared with him.|
|St. Paul interprets the incident in Exodus in a quite unique manner. He suggests that the reason for Moses wearing a veil was that the "glory" of his face was gradually fading (2 Cor 3:13). He accuses the Jews of his day of hardening their hearts and keeping the "veil" between them and the reading of the old covenant. Only in Christ is this veil put aside. Paul states that to this very day, whenever "Moses" is read, a veil lies over their minds (2 Cor 3:14-15). Contemporary preachers will not want to use this interpretation uncritically.|
The psalm for the day is Psalm 99.
See sermon study on Ash Wednesday, Preaching Helps 9 (1982):106-107
|This pericope includes a creed that was recited at the festival of First Fruits. Gerhard Von Rad included this among his "small historical creeds" (cf. Deuteronomy 6 and Joshua 24), which he believed were quite old and the kernel from which the Pentateuch grew. More recent investigation has denied their antiquity, but the creedal character of this passage is still clear.|
|The creed itself begins in v 5. The believer confesses that his or her ancestor Jacob was a "wandering Aramean" or an "Aramean about to perish" when he and his descendants went down to Egypt. Verse 5 reports Israel's population explosion in Egypt; verse 6 tells of their enslavement and harsh treatment by Pharaoh.|
|In response to the people's prayer in v 7, Yahweh heard their voice and saw their affliction, toil, and oppression. Verse 8 presents Yahweh in military posture--with mighty hand and outstretched arm. Sometimes conditions are so bad that only a use of force can effect freedom. Verse 9 recounts Israel's entry into the land flowing with milk and honey.|
|Von Rad made much of the fact that in this "ancient" creed there was no mention of the Sinai experience. He believed that there were two great tradition streams in Israel--one dealing with Yahweh's saving acts and the other dealing with law and covenant. In Von Rad's opinion, the J source in the Pentateuch was the first place where these two traditions were brought together.|
|In response to God's benefactions, the worshipper brings a thanksgiving offering of the first fruits of the soil. The festive celebration includes the marginalized--the aliens and the Levites.|
The psalm for the day is Psa 91:1-2, 9-16
Gen 15:1-12, 17-18
|The issue in vv 1-6 concerns the continuing inability of Abram and Sarai to bear a child. In vv 2-3 Abram proposes that Eliezer, his Aramean servant, be treated as his heir and presumably as his son. A prophetic word of God forbids Abram and Sarai to follow this route and instead "ups the ante" by promising Abram that his descendants will be as many as the stars.|
|Verse 6 is ambiguous since the antecedents of the 3rd m.s. suffixes in the second half of the verse are unclear. A literal translation would be: "He reckoned it to him as righteousness." This could mean that Yahweh reckoned Abram's belief in the divine promise as righteousness, or that Abram considered Yahweh's lavish promise as God's righteousness.|
|In either case the word "righteousness" refers to fidelity to a relationship. Abram was faithful to the relationship he had with God by doing the appropriate thing, trusting in God's promise. Or Yahweh did the thing appropriate to the relationship he had with Sarai and Abram by repeating and even expanding on his earlier promise.|
|The issue in vv 7-12, 17-18 is whether the promise of land to Sarai and Abram is credible. Yahweh instructs Abram to bring a number of animals and cut them in pieces and lay the cut up pieces side by side. A smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, symbolizing Yahweh, passed between the cut up pieces and Yahweh made a covenant with Abram to give him the land from the river of Egypt (the Wadi el-Arish in the Sinai peninsula) to the Great River, the river Euphrates.|
|This ritual is clarified by the curses attached to a Sefire treaty, from the 8th century BCE: "Just as this calf is cut in two, so may Mati`el [one of the kings involved in this treaty] be cut in two, and may his nobles be cut in two." In Genesis, therefore, Yahweh is invoking upon himself a curse in order to make his promise credible: "May I Yahweh be cut in two if I do not carry through on my promise to Sarai and Abram to give them the land."|
|This passage in turn helps us understand one implication of the crucifixion. Christ's death on the cross makes credible to all God's promise of salvation since God's own son takes upon himself the curse: "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree." By placing a curse on Godself, the promise becomes more vivid and more credible.|
|This week's Old Testament lesson, therefore, is rich with meaning for today's audiences. When God's promises seem hard to believe, God renders them believable by either making the promises greater (as with the stars) or by God invoking upon himself a curse in order to help people to believe. In either case God shows his righteousness, his willingness to do anything to maintain the relationship between him and us.|
|Verses 13-16 and 19-21 are omitted. The first verses indicate that the promise was not fulfilled in Sarai's and Abram's generation, but only to a later generation that entered the land after the Exodus from Egypt. Verse 19-21 gave a clear description of the land, perhaps from the time of David's empire. If so, the covenant made with Abram and Sarai was interpreted in the tenth century to mean that the promise to Israel's ancestors to give them a small piece of property was fulfilled by giving to their descendants--four or more centuries later--the territory of the entire Davidic empire.|
Genesis 15 explores the significance of God’s promises to Abraham and Sarah about descendants and land. Their names are spelled Abram and Sarai until they are changed in Genesis 17, but we will use the traditional names throughout this study. In both stories in this chapter, the patriarch initially expresses doubt about God’s promise.
The gospel has been defined as God’s good news for our bad situations. Our bad situations are often our sin and are guilt, but bad situations often involve economic and health issues, broken or troubled relationships, or feelings of meaninglessness. Preaching the gospel means to articulate the gospel in such an inclusive way that hearers will find good news for their bad situations—whatever they are. In the case of Sarah and Abraham, their first “bad situation” was their inability to have a child despite the promise in Gen 12:2 that God would make of them a great nation. Abraham had become so desperate that he proposed to adopt his servant Eliezer of Damascus as his heir.
God challenged this “Plan B” of Abraham and Sarah and said that only their naturally born child would be their heir. The Lord took Abraham outside, pointed him to the sky, and urged him to count the stars. That’s how many children you will have. Abraham thought this was a good idea. We do not know what Sarah thought of this proposal. Smile. Clearly this promise had the long view in focus: with the passing of generations the descendants of Abraham and Sarah would number in the thousands or even the millions. How like God: when the promise was hard to believe, God upped the ante.
This little story climaxes in v. 6. Abraham believed the Lord. That’s what humans are supposed to do with God’s promises—trust them, accept them, rely on them. The key to this verse—and possibly to the sermon—is the word “righteousness.” Righteousness in the Bible means living up to the obligations inherent in a relationship. In Genesis 38 Tamar was willing to do anything—including sleeping with her father-in-law Judah—to fulfill her obligation to bear a child for her deceased first husband Er. Hence she was called righteous by Judah.
But v. 6 is ambiguous, even ambivalent. As the note in the NRSV indicates, the words “the LORD” in the second half of the sentence “translates” the Hebrew word “he.” Hence we should read: “And he believed the LORD; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.” This could mean: Abraham believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to Abraham as righteousness. In this case Abraham trusted God’s promise, and God indicated that the patriarch had fulfilled the obligations of his relationship with God by such trust.
But this sentence might also mean: Abraham believed the Lord; aye, Abraham reckoned that God’s doubling down on the promise was God living up to the obligations of his relationship to Abraham and Sarah. How typical of God. When we have trouble believing a promise, God makes the promise even better.
In vv. 7-12 and 17-18 Abraham again has trouble believing the promise, this time the promise of the land: “How am I to know that I shall in fact possess it?” God told Abraham to take a series of animals, cut them in two, and lay each half opposite its counterpart. Then, at sunset, a deep sleep fell on Abraham, much like the deep sleep that overcame Adam before God took one of his ribs and built it into a woman (Gen 2:21). The point is not to be missed: Abraham is fast asleep for the rest of the pericope, he contributes nothing to the making of the covenant after he has prepared the animals.
In a dream or vision Abraham observes a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passing between the cut up animals. On that day the Lord made with Abraham and Sarah a covenant, saying, “To your descendants I give this land.”
Again, this is God’s good news for their bad situation, but what does this ceremony mean? In making an agreement, our ancient ancestors often invoked on themselves a curse. An eighth-century treaty from a place called Sefire says: “Just as I am tearing the shoulder off this sheep, may my own shoulder be torn from its socket if I violate this agreement.” See a similar ceremony in Jer 34:17-20.
Abraham and Sarah had a hard time believing the promise of the land. Would it help God says if I would invoke upon myself a curse? That is, may I be cut in pieces like these animals if I don’t fulfill this promise. At other times in the Old Testament God reinforces his promises by “swearing by himself” or “by raising his hand to heaven.” When a promise is hard to believe, God reinforces the promise by putting himself at risk. Now can you believe?
The crucifixion of Jesus is interpreted in a variety of ways in the New Testament and in Christian theology. One way of interpreting it is to say that God took upon himself the curse that was meant for us: Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree. When God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, is this not good news that empowers our trust? And is not the God of the Old Testament much like the God of the New Testament in putting himself on the line?
Genesis 15 recognizes that it is sometimes hard to believe when we are in bad situations. But God addresses our bad situations with promises that ring true to our needs, just as God doubled down on the promises to Abraham and Sarah. God lives up to his relationship with us by demonstrating that his news for us is indeed good, that he is willing to risk his very self so that we might believe.
The Psalm for the day is Psalm 27
|This is the final chapter of Second Isaiah, written in Babylon between 547 and 540 BCE. Many themes in this chapter echo and repeat ideas from chapter 40.|
|The prophet invites the poor to a lavish banquet. The cost of the ticket is zero and the only entrance requirement is hunger and thirst. The abundance of God's new age is often described as a banquet (Isa 25:6; 65:11-15).|
|In verse 3 the prophet takes the old promises made to David and the kings and reapplies them to everyone. The word "you" is plural in Hebrew. This can be described as the democratization of the royal promises. David was once in a special relationship with Yahweh; now all Israel is. Just as David was a witness to the peoples, now everyone in Second Isaiah's audience is urged to invite the nations.|
|The prophet's invitation to repentance is grounded in the character of the God to whom people will return: that God will abundantly pardon.|
|God's logic transcends our own. As Paul Hanson writes, "It is all free for those who confess the inadequacy of their own solutions and therefore desire God's thoughts and ways. Verse 8 affirms: "My thought are not your thoughts." Verse 9 compares the contrast of the heavens and the earth with God's thoughts and our thoughts.|
|Unfortunately, in my opinion, the revisers of the lectionary erred in not including vv 10-11. Rain and snow don't just fall to the earth and bounce back. They soak into the ground and make crops grow. That's the way it is with God's effective promise, God's effective word.|
The psalm for the day is Psalm 63:1-8
The first five chapters of Joshua describe the preparation for Israel’s attack on Jericho in Joshua 6-8. Chapter 1 reports Yahweh’s commissioning of Joshua, and Joshua 2 tells of Joshua’s sending spies to Jericho and their meeting with Rahab the prostitute. In chapter 3 Israel crosses the Jordan, and in chapter 4 they set up twelve stones, perhaps in the Jordan and on its west bank, in order to stimulate a question by children in the future: “What do these stones mean?” At that time parents were to tell their children about how Yahweh brought Israel safely across the Jordan. I have always loved the third verse of the hymn “Guide Me Ever, Great Redeemer” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship 618; once: “Guide me O Thou Great Jehovah”),” as it describes our own future passage through death to the life everlasting with an allusion to Joshua 4: “When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside; death of death and hell’s destruction, land me save on Canaan’s side. Songs and praises, songs and praises I will raise evermore.”
After two verses describing how all the surrounding nations were struck were terror by Israel’s passage through the Jordan, chapter 5 continues with an unusual account of a circumcision ceremony. Since the first generation that came out of Egypt had died off, and no one had been circumcised who had been born during the forty years in the wilderness, Joshua circumcised all these (600,000?) males at a spot called “Hill of the Foreskins” (Josh 5:4). Imagine 600,000 foreskins piled high! After a few days of rest and healing (Josh 5:8), the Israelites were ready for their next steps, namely, the Old Testament lesson assigned for this day describing the first Passover in the land. According to Pentateuchal law, every male who participated in Passover had to be circumcised (Exod 12:48).
The safe arrival in the land meant that the disgrace associated with Israel’s slavery in Egypt had been undone. This is stated in a metaphorical way: “I have rolled away” (gallothi) “the disgrace of Egypt” (Josh 5:9). Therefore the first town they occupied in Palestine was called ever after “Gilgal,” interpreted here as a pun on the words “I have rolled away.” This place, much like the stones in and alongside the Jordan, would be a perpetual reminder of the liberating character of our God. Here is the place where our deliverance from the slavery was so real you could almost taste it.
Passover had first been celebrated on the night of the Exodus itself, with blood on the doorposts and the lintel of their houses, as a sign of their faith and their identity, leading Yahweh to pass over without allowing the Destroyer to enter their houses and strike them down. The repeated observance of this Passover festival would again cause children to ask what this observance was all about and give parents a chance to tell The Story one more time (Exod 12:23-27). But there had been no intervening celebrations of Passover until Joshua 5. Conveniently enough, the year in Joshua 5 had advanced to the fourteenth day of the first month, the normal time for Passover.
Life returned to normal in one more way. On the first day after this Passover, they ate the produce of the land. The yeast used in Old Testament times was a type of sourdough and since there had not been opportunity to prepare such a “natural” yeast, they ate unleavened cakes and parched grain. And then the Manna stopped. Ever since Exodus 16, when Yahweh in response to Israel’s complaint had given them Manna and quails to spare, that Manna had seen them through. Manna had taught them not to hoard their food because Manna that was carried over to the next day bred worms and became foul (Exod 16:20). They had also deposited a jar of Manna in their sanctuary so that future generations would recognize that their ancestors had survived in the wilderness only because of Yahweh’s providential hand (Exod 16:32-34). Not that the Israelites had always been happy campers. In Num 11:5-6 they had griped about the monotony of their diet. “We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.” Did they also remember their slaving on government building projects or their perpetually bad breath?
God’s promises had come true. The Manna was always only a stop-gap measure, designed to come to an end after forty years (Exod 16:35). From now on the Israelites would raise wheat and barley and forget what a miracle daily bread is. Would they forget that first meal in the land? Would they forget their joy at the return to normalcy? Would they long for the good old days of Manna?
The relevance of this wonderful story for the Fourth Sunday in Lent is not immediately obvious, but there are possibilities. The Gospel for the day is the parable of the Prodigal Son and his elder jealous brother, who was bent out of shape because the father had killed a fatted calf to welcome the prodigal brother home. This link to the Parable might remind us that our daily supply of food is not to be taken for granted and minimalized as if receiving it meant nothing. Of course the father threw a big banquet over his son whom he thought to be dead but who was now alive. But every other day he kept the elder son alive with plenty of food. Every Sunday God offers up a Eucharistic banquet for a bunch of ever-returning sinners, as if it was the first real meal after a barren week. Is not our deliverance at the table so real that we can taste it?
The Psalm for the day is Psalm 32
|Second Isaiah addressed Israel in exile with a message of hope and joy. This passage compares the return from exile to a new exodus.|
|The titles used for God are both strong and emotion-filled. "Your Redeemer" means that God is the best brother or sister you ever had; "The Holy One of Israel" is paradoxical: God is both transcendent (holy), but he is indissolubly linked to Israel; "the Creator of Israel" puts cosmos power behind God's commitment to Israel.|
|Verses 16-17 begin to describe the exodus from Egypt, but then Yahweh advises us to forget the former things, like the exodus and also perhaps Israel's defeat by the Babylonians, because Yahweh is about to do a brand new thing: pull off a new exodus from Babylon.|
|The late Carroll Stuhlmueller coined the term "creative redemption" in studies of Second Isaiah. In this case God's liberation of Israel is accompanied by revival and renewal in the non human world: superhighways in the wilderness; rivers in the desert; "conversion" of the wild animals to Yahwism.|
|Verses 20-21 refer to election: my chosen people and the people whom I formed. Why does God choose people: so that people might declare God's praise.|
The psalm for the day is Psalm 126.
|This is the third of the four "servant songs" in Second Isaiah (cf. 42:1-9; 49:1-7; 52:13-53:12). The servant, in my opinion, is either Israel as a whole or the prophet as the embodiment of Israel. Sometimes both understandings seem to be presupposed. The sufferings of the servant were used in the New Testament and in the early church to understand the significance of the suffering and death of Jesus.|
|The servant was a good listener to the divine word, and he was empowered by that word to give support and encouragement to the weary among the exiles of Israel. (vv 4-5).|
|The servant is willing and resolute in his suffering--suffering from whipping, from having his beard pulled out hair by hair, and from being spat upon. His confidence stems from his conviction that God will help him and will vindicate him. (vv 6-8a).|
|He challenges his opponents to face up to him: Let us stand up together; let them confront me; who of them will prove the servant guilty (vv 8b-9a). The lectionary omits v 9b, which expresses the servant's confidence that the opponents will perish like a moth-eaten garment. I personally think it is a mistake to omit such imprecations. Rather, let them stand in some tension with "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." There is a place in our worship for the public processing of pain. Note that vv 7 and 9 both begin with an affirmation of God's role as helper. That is the servant's reason for boldness in suffering: if God is for us, who can be against us?|
The psalm for the day is Psalm 31:9-16
The processional psalm for the day is Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Exod 12:1-4 (5-10) 11-14
Passover in the Old Testament is at the heart of the Exodus experience. The Pharaoh who did not know Joseph (Exod 1:8) stubbornly refused the demands of Moses and Aaron to “let my people go.” The tenth and climactic plague, the slaughter of the firstborn, finally forced Pharaoh’s hand. The threatened Egyptian firstborn represent all classes, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on the throne to the firstborn of the female slave, not to mention the firstborn of all the livestock (Exod 11:5).
At midnight the tenth plague struck, involving all the firstborn, including even the firstborn of the prisoners (Exod 12:29). The Pharaoh went into crisis mode and told Moses and Aaron to leave at once and he adds an unusual parting request: Go, worship Yahweh, and bring a blessing on me too (Exod 12:31-32). The narrator does not pause to give all the gory details of the plague, but remembers instead one central purpose of all subsequent Israelite worship—to get a blessing for Pharaoh, heretofore their biggest enemy. So Israel is to pray for its enemies, just as Jesus would later say, “Love your enemies, and do good to those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35).
Right in the midst of these dramatic actions in Exodus, the narrator pauses and gives instructions for the observance of Passover in Exod 12:1-13, followed by instructions for the feast of Unleavened Bread (Exod 12:14-20). Scholars wrestle with the complicated background of these festivals, but one thing is clear in our pericope: Israel’s escape from the tenth plague was no accident. Every spring from now on, in the first month on the fourteenth day of the month, each household is to set aside a kid (either a lamb or a young goat), butcher it, roast it, and eat it—more or less on the fly: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, staff in hand, eaten with haste (Exod 12:11). Who wants to stay in Egypt when freedom is just across the Reed Sea?
But it is the blood of that lamb that makes the difference. It is to be smeared on the two doorposts and the lintel of the doorway (Exod 12:7) as a sign. The blood serves as a sign first of all for the Israelites, but more importantly a sign for Yahweh, who will see the blood and pass over each Israelite house. The rainbow in Gen 9:14-15 is such a double sign too. First, it is a reminder to God of his everlasting covenant with Noah and all his heirs, just in case they might think that God has forgotten them. But of course it is not only God who sees that rainbow; we also see its seven colors and remind ourselves that God never forgets us. There is no threat for Israelites in that tenth plague. The blood of the lamb means life for them.
The Passover according to Exod 12:48-49 was an inclusive festival. While no uncircumcised male could participate, resident aliens were welcome at the feast once they were circumcised. There is one admission ticket for native Israelites and resident aliens alike.
Passover and Lord’s Supper
Passover, of course, remains a central ritual in Judaism to this day, but Christians remember that in the Synoptic Gospels at least it was at a Passover celebration that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. This meal too means liberation for all who partake, freedom from sin, freedom from the world, and freedom from all demonic powers. As the Lord’s Supper, it is open to all the Lord invited, all the baptized, who remember that Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. The blood of the one who hosts this banquet means that God will pass over the sins of all the communicants. As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. The infinite One meets us in these finite elements: bread and wine/grape juice.
At the Old Testament Passover, the narrator said: When your children ask you what you mean by this observance, just tell them that we are remembering the night when Yahweh passed over all the Israelite houses (Exod 12:26-27). That’s when we became God’s liberated people. And so at our Christian Eucharist, Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion, we tell each other, especially our children. just why we celebrate this little banquet so frequently. It is not blood on our doorposts, but the bread and the wine, the body and blood of Jesus that says “You are free!” It’s so real you can taste it.
All the baptized are welcome here—every age, every class, every gender, every sexual orientation, every race, sinners included. In fact, sinners—long-time-member sinners or new-to-the-faith sinners—are invited to be first in line. As we feast at this table, we hunger for those who have hurt us, who speak ill of us, or who even hate us. Can our healing of ourselves at this table lead us to pray that God would bring health to all of our enemies as well?
Our Eucharists catch us on the fly, between Saturday and Monday, or in this week between Passion/Palm Sunday and Easter. Our stay at the table is short term, just as Jesus stayed in the grave short term. We are soon on our way back into our daily life where we live out our freedom, for others.
The psalm for the day is Psalm 116:1, 10-17
|This fourth servant poem played an important role in shaping the significance of the death of Jesus in the New Testament and the early church. That influence was probably mediated through passages like Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-20, which also speak of the suffering and vindication of God's child.|
|In 52:13-15 Yahweh is the speaker, and this paragraph speaks of the final vindication of the servant. The servant--Israel?--shocked the nations by his bad appearance and by his ultimate vindication.|
|The nations or their kings are the speakers in 53:1-6. The servant had such a bad appearance that people could not stand to look at him. In his suffering the servant bore their sicknesses, their iniquities, and their rebellions. In the servant's wounds there was healing for the nations.|
|The death of the servant is problematic in the OT context. Was the servant killed? Was Second Isaiah executed? Or did Israel in exile die a metaphorical death?|
|The servant's life is a sin offering, but this passage also speaks of his coming vindication: "he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days."|
|Through his humiliation the servant makes "the many" righteous. Verse 12 is direct speech of Yahweh. The servant's vindication comes because he poured himself out into death, he carried the sins of many, and he prayed for them.|
|If the servant originally was the prophet and/or Israel, and if Jesus by his faithful dying is the servant, then we are also called and empowered to be servants--bearing our suffering and at the same time maintaining our confidence and trust in God.|
The Psalm for the day is Psalm 22
|One meaning of the resurrection of Jesus is that the first person has escaped the grave and therefore God's new age has started to happen. The conditions expected in the messianic age (Isa 11:6-9) have begun to break in. That is, almost all Jews at the time of Jesus believed in the resurrection. The startling message of the first Christians is God's future has started to happen.|
|God's future includes a new heaven and a new earth and joy for Jerusalem itself. In God's new age a person who dies at 100 will be considered a youth. Hence most people will live much longer! Both resurrection and long earthly life are expected in God's new age.|
|Verse 21 proclaims that people will enjoy the fruits of their labors. Am 5:11 records a frustration oracle: People will build houses but not live in them, plant vineyards but not drink from them.|
|Verse 24 talks about prompt answers to prayer: Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.|
|Verse 25 talks about a return to the conditions of Eden, or as the Germans say, "Endzeit equals Urzeit." What happens in God's eschatological future will be a restoration to the conditions at the beginning of creation. Wolves and lambs feed together; lions become vegetarians.|
|Violence has no place in God's future. How do we as believers and the church live in anticipation of that future?|
The psalm for the day is Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
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