|In 33:1-9, Ezekiel is called to be a sentinel (traditionally watchman), a pericope which repeats in part 3:16-21.|
|Yahweh has made Ezekiel a sentinel (v. 7) so that Yahweh warns the people about his own attack with the hope that they will turn from their ways. This self-contradictory characteristic of Yahweh--his reluctance to punish the wicked--is at the center of the faith in both testaments.|
|The prophet is fully responsible: If the prophet fails to give a warning and the wicked die as a result, their blood is on the prophet's hands.|
|On the other hand, if the prophet warns and the wicked do not heed this warning, the prophet is exempt from any consequences. In fact, the prophet will save his life even though the wicked will die.|
|Two more examples are cited in ch. 3. If the righteous turn away and sin, they will die and their former righteous deeds will do them no good. Their blood is Ezekiel's responsibility. If the prophet warns the righteous and they do not sin, the prophet will have saved his life.|
The psalm for the day is Psalm 119:33-40
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost—Exodus 12:1-14 (Semi-continuous reading)
Ralph W. Klein
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, will finally force 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 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 host at 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 the 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 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. Our stay at the table is short term. We are soon on our way back into our daily life where we live out our freedom, for others.
This is the third week in our semi-continuous reading of lessons from Exodus. Passover is a reminder of what the Book of Exodus and our life in Christ is all about: freedom.
Ralph W. Klein is Christ Seminary-Seminex Professor of Old Testament emeritus at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. His website, “The Old Testament and the Ancient Near East” (http://prophetess.lstc.edu/~rklein) provides hundreds of resources for all who want to know, teach, and preach the Old Testament.
|Forgiving or not-forgiving is the theme for the day both in this conclusion to the Joseph story and in the gospel parable about the unforgiving steward, Matt 18:21-35.|
|When Jacob died, the brothers of Joseph feared that he would use the occasion to get even for them selling him into Egypt. Joseph cried when they asked him to forgive, as he had cried when he revealed himself to them in 45:1-3. Note that his brothers fall down before him just as the dreams had predicted in chap. 37.|
|The Joseph story strikes modern readers as a "modern story." God does not intervene with miracles or direct appearances, but at the end of the story the reader is convinced that God has been in control all along. God has transformed the evil intentions of the brothers into good. Their scheme brought Joseph to power, and his administrative abilities saved many people from starvation.|
|Joseph refuses to act as God, thus leaving explicit forgiveness to God himself. He also declines their offer to become slaves to him. Israelites will be slaves to God alone even if Pharaoh would oppress them temporarily in Exod 1:13-14.|
|Joseph also reassures his brothers that he will take care of them, not just in words, but in concrete acts of sustenance.|
The psalm for the day is Psalm 103: [1-7] 8-13.
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost--Exodus 14:19-31 (Semi-continuous reading)
Ralph W. Klein
This fourth semi-continuous selection from the Book of Exodus focuses on what most people mean by the Exodus: the escape from Egypt and the crossing of the Reed Sea. Sermon preparation may not seem like an ideal time to revisit the vagaries of Pentateuchal composition, but it is good to know that there are at least three accounts of that deliverance from Egypt in the Book of Exodus.
The Song of Moses
One account of the victory at the sea is poetic in form in Exodus 15:1-18 (the Song of Moses) where Yahweh attacks the Egyptians like a divine warrior, climaxing in the doxology of v. 18: Yahweh will be king forever and ever. This picture of divine kingship, therefore, is not hierarchical, but shows rather that God’s kingship in the Bible often refers to God’s care for the poor and oppressed, in this case the Israelites.
The Priestly Account
In chapter 14, verses 21-23, 26, and 28-29 come from the priestly writer and depict what most of us naturally imagine when we think of this crossing—waters piled up on the left and right, with the Israelites marching through the sea on dry land, as if it were a liturgical procession. The Egyptians followed in hot pursuit, but when Moses raised his hand over the sea, the sea collapsed and destroyed the whole Egyptian army. This fits well with a priestly theme that in the Exodus Yahweh is manifesting his glory over the Egyptians and exposing Pharaoh and all other tyrants as hollow, burnt out cases (Exod 14:4, 17-18)
The Yahwistic Account
The remainder of our semi-continuous selection comes from the Yahwistic source (verses 19b-20, 24, 25b, 27a, 30-31). Here the pillar of cloud and fire settles down between the Israelites and the Egyptians, preventing any kind of violent confrontation between the two peoples. At daybreak Yahweh threw the Egyptians into a panic and they plunged foolishly into the sea and perished.
It is the climax of this account that offers additional materials for preaching. As a result of this saving action (v. 30), Israel reverenced (or feared) Yahweh and believed in Yahweh and in his servant Moses. This brings to a fitting conclusion a theme that has been explored since the time of the call of Moses in chs. 3-4. As you will recall, Moses came up with every possible excuse not to follow Yahweh’s call (many preachers have travelled this Moses route before they finally answered God’s call). In Exod 4:1 Moses says: They won’t believe this story or that you, Yahweh, even appeared to me. Moses was then given three signs—a staff that turned into a snake and back into a staff; a hand that turned leprous and then was restored; and water from the Nile that will turn into blood when poured out on the ground. When Moses and Aaron showed up back in Egypt, however, the people believed (Exod 4:31)! No doubt many of them fretted about the ultimate outcome during the protracted negotiations with Pharaoh and the ten plagues. But now when they had escaped from Egypt without a scratch we read in Exod 14:31: They believed in Yahweh. Oh, and also in his servant Moses.
Preaching God’s Good News for Contemporary Bad Situations
In the twenty-first century, many Christians struggle to maintain their faith. If Luther worried about finding a righteous and forgiving God, we worry about finding God at all. What made the Israelites believe in the Book of Exodus? Was it really the three trick signs that Moses was able to pull off? Was it the supernatural power of the Exodus experience itself? Perhaps. But chances are it was the fact that God had heard their groaning and remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites and took notice of them (Exod 2:24-25). A literal translation of Exod 2:25 reveals an even more poignant depiction of Yahweh’s compassion: God looked upon the Israelites, and God knew. God knew what they needed, God knew what they were going through, and then God came up with good news for their bad situation. God knew.
As we struggle to live out the life of faith, we have a God who knows us, knows our problems, knows our failings, knows our needs. As we preach to and for the people of God, we try to describe a God who provides good news for whatever bad situations our people are going through—unemployment, family discord, depression and serious illness, doubt, fear, loneliness—you name it. How does God’s activity in Jesus provide hope and the basis for faith for such people and such situations? Moses underestimated God. They won’t believe me; they won’t believe you. That’s a mistake we dare not make. Exodus presents a well-defined situation of oppression and how Yahweh met that need. Our assignment, should we choose to accept it, is to articulate the means of grace in ways that intersect with the current real plight of our people. Then people will believe in God and will trust the word delivered by us latter day Moseses or Miriams.
Ralph W. Klein is Christ Seminary-Seminex Professor of Old Testament emeritus at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago His website, “The Old Testament and the Ancient Near East” (http://prophetess.lstc.edu/~rklein) provides hundreds of resources for all who want to know, teach, and preach the Old Testament.
|The reading from Jonah, like the parable of the workers in the vineyard, Matt 20:1-16, challenges us to accept "Johnny-come-latelys" who have not been members of St. John's by the gas station for the last twenty years. Do we begrudge God's generosity?|
|Jonah's five word sermon (in Hebrew), "Forty days more, and Nineveh will be destroyed," brought about a mass conversion among the Ninevites--even the animals put on sackcloth! They were willing to wager that God would relent and change his mind.|
|Sure enough, in v. 10, God does just that. Who wants an unchanging God when God can reverse his decision on judgment and condemnation?|
|Jonah mopes over this, stating that this was the reason he fled to Tarshish in the first place. He knew that God was gracious and merciful, and ready to relent from punishing.|
|Jonah is so mad he wants to die, but goes outside the city, sits in a booth, and waits to see what would happen.|
|God made a bush grow up to give Jonah shade, making Jonah happy. The next day God sent a worm to attack the bush and make it wither, making Jonah angry since the sun was hot. For the second time Jonah says he wants to die.|
|God notes that Jonah has concern about a bush about which he had done nothing. God asks, "Should I not be concerned about a big city like Nineveh that has 120,000 people in it--and a lot of cattle"? Clearly the answer to that question is yes, but the author lets it up to the reader to answer it. How, we ask, have we been/are we like Jonah?|
The psalm for the day is Psalm 145:1-8
Exodus 16:2-15 (semi-continuous)
|The pericope opens with the complaint that things were better in Egypt than they were in the wilderness. The people accuse Moses and Aaron--and by implication Yahweh--of intending to kill them. Talk about ingratitude and failing to remember that the "good life" in Egypt was brutal slavery.|
|Neither Yahweh, Moses, or Aaron acts like we might expect--or like we might act. Instead Yahweh promises to rain bread from heaven. But this gift is also a test. They are only to gather enough manna for that day. On the 6th day (Friday) they can gather a double portion to cover Saturday/Sabbath as well.|
|Moses and Aaron tell the Israelites that the gift of meat in the evening and bread in the morning are the sign that it is Yahweh who brought them out of Egypt.|
|The word "glory" is used in vv. 7 and 10. In the Old Testament what God is in himself is called "holy." What we see of God is called his "glory."|
|Verse 8 confirms what we wrote above. The complaint against Moses and Aaron was really a complaint against Yahweh. But Yahweh acts not in anger, but in generosity. Yahweh offers good news for their bad situations.|
|Verses 9-12 repeat what we have already been told. The double gift of meat and bread will show that Yahweh lives up to his reputation. Yahweh heard their complaining, but acts generously nevertheless.|
|Yahweh fulfills his promises in vv. 13-15. Quails came into the camp in the evening, and when the dew lifted in the morning manna was lying on the ground. Manna in Hebrew means What is it?|
|The rest of the chapter gives details of this process and indicates that the Israelites failed the test.|
|No matter how much manna a person gathered, it was just enough, not too little, not too much. Some hoarded manna for the next day and it became wormy. The manna "melted" when the sun came up.|
|On the sixth day the people gathered twice as much manna and baked it for the next day (one is not permitted to light a fire in an oven on the Sabbath). Some of the people fell asleep at the switch and tried to gather manna on the Sabbath, for which Moses reproved them .|
|Moses gave orders to put some manna in a vessel and keep it in the tabernacle as a reminder of how Yahweh had fed Israel in the wilderness. Aaron followed through on this assignment.|
|Manna lasted until Israel came to the Holy Land. See Josh 5:12.|
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
|This chapter was once hailed as the beginning of individualism in the Bible, but it is now recognized that individualism is really not the issue in this chapter. Rather, the prophet asserts that no one can claim that he or she is caught in a web of sinning from which there is no escape. Whether that person comes from a long line of people alienated from God or whether they have just let several decades of their own life slip by without repentance, it is never too late to turn and live.|
|The proverb quoted in v. 2 (see also Jer 31:29-30) is an attempt by the generation that experienced the destruction of Jerusalem to shift the blame on their ancestors. It was not we who sinned, but our parents. In v. 4 comes Yahweh's emphatic answer: each generation is responsible for its own conduct. The person who sins will die. In other words, what you have experienced is punishment for your own behavior.|
|Verses 5-18 follow a family through three generations. Verses 5-9 describe a righteous person who is rewarded for his righteousness. Verses 10-13 talk about person's child who falls away from God. He cannot count on merit earned by the parents; rather, he will die for his own iniquity. Verses 14-18 speak of the next generation that turns back to God and is fully accepted. We are not trapped by the behavior of our parents or grandparents. All this is summarized in vv. 19-20.|
|Verses 21-24 talk about the change that can occur when a wicked person repents or a righteous person falls away. People cannot blame their previous wicked behavior as if it gave no possibility for change, nor can they bank on earlier righteousness. If they fall away they will experience the consequences.|
|Verses 25-32 contain a dispute between Yahweh and the people about who is unfair. The people had claimed that Yahweh was unfair, and God turns the charge around and addresses them. When the righteous fall away they are punished, and when the wicked repent they are saved. Hence Yahweh is fair in his dealings, but the people are not.|
|The chapter concludes with a serious call to repentance and a wonderful statement of God's gracious character: I have no pleasure in the death of anyone. So turn and live!|
The psalm for the day is Psalm 25:1-9.
Exodus 17:1-7 (semi-continuous)
|Lack of bread and meat were the problem in Exodus 16; now the quarrel in the wilderness is about the lack of water. Moses criticizes the people for quarreling with him and for putting Yahweh to the test.|
|The people blamed Moses for this problem, and Moses told God that the people were so angry that they were ready to kill him.|
|Yahweh instructed Moses to take some of the elders and strike the rock at Horeb (Sinai). The staff with which he struck the rock was the same one that had struck the Nile, making its waters unpotable (Exod 7:21-24).|
|Israel had tested Yahweh by saying: Is he among us or not? The place was called Massah (test) and Meribah (quarrel or contention).|
|A similar incident occurs at Num 20:2-13 although there Moses is chastised because he struck the rock. The waters there are also called Meribah.|
|In this song of the vineyard, there is an initial ambiguity about who is speaking in v. 1. Is it a groom, a farmer, or God?|
|The second half of v. 1 and v. 2 talk about the care taken with the vineyard and the owner's disappointment that the only yield was wild or sour grapes.|
|The ambiguity disappears in v. 3 and following where the speaker is clearly Yahweh. God addresses the people of Judah and Jerusalem and asks them what more could he have done. He lavished loving care on his vineyard (them), but all he got in return was wild grapes.|
|Verses 5-6 report the decision to destroy the vineyard, and v. 7 identifies the vineyard with Israel. The last part of v. 7 is a pun in Hebrew. The following translation attempts to retain the pun in English: For measures he looked--lo massacres; for right--but lo riot. The point is that God's lavish care should have led to transformed lives, but instead it led to wickedness and social injustice.|
The psalm for the day is Ps 80:7-15.
Exod 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 (semi-continuous)
|This pericope deals with the Ten Commandments. I will follow the Lutheran numbering system.|
|Verse 2 is very important for it recounts the relationship within which the Ten Commandments have meaning. They are rules for insiders. Hence the attempt to post them in schools or court houses is misguided since those "secular" contexts cannot presuppose a faith relationship between people and the God of Israel.|
|The first commandment--as Luther said, anything that you fear, love, and trust more than anything else is your God.|
|Lutherans have understood v. 4, on making images, as a repeat of the first commandment. Other protestants have seen this as a prohibition of images of any kind. Hence Reformed Protestants call this the 2nd commandment, and crucifixes are normally not seen in Reformed churches. Verses 5-6, omitted in the lectionary, presuppose that a patriarch is responsible for the behavior of three or four subsequent generations.|
|The 2nd commandment prohibits the use of religious power to limit the freedom of others.|
|Commandments 3 and 4, Sabbath and parents, are positive and therefore more burdensome. These are things one must do. Luther spiritualized the 3rd commandment, turning it into an admonition to listen to the preaching of the word of God. The fourth commandment was originally addressed to adults, like all the rest, and hence deals with the necessity of caring for the elderly. The pericope omits the reason for keeping the Sabbath--we are to rest as Yahweh did at creation. In Deuteronomy the rationale for the Sabbath relates to Israel's deliverance at the Exodus.|
|The 5th commandment prohibits murder. Various other end of life questions (abortion, euthanasia, "pulling the plug" are not directly governed by this commandment). Neither is capital punishment or war (though I am personally quite opposed to both of them).|
|The 6th commandment prohibits a man from sleeping with the wife of another man--the issue is paternity. This obviously does not exhaust the dimensions of sexual responsibility!|
|The 7th commandment prohibits stealing. If 9-10 also deal with stealing (see below), this commandment may deal with stealing of people or kidnapping.|
|The 8th commandment prohibits lying in court.|
|The 9th-10th commandments, v. 17, prohibit "coveting." But the verb to covet in Hebrew may include not only the desire for someone else's property, but also actions taken to appropriate that property for oneself. If this is true, then the 7th commandment must be understood in a slightly different sense (see above).|
|This pericope is from the apocalyptic section of Isaiah (chaps. 24-27) whose date is highly contested. I favor a date in the 6th century.|
|The first five verses are a song of praise, hailing Yahweh for his destruction of a strong enemy city and being a refuge for the poor and needy. All ruthless nations will eventually be forced to acknowledge Yahweh's greatness.|
|Verses 6-9 describe an eschatological banquet served up by Yahweh. Promissory passages like this have contributed to the imagery now associated with the Eucharist. Those invited to the banquet include all peoples and they are served an abundant helping of the finest foods and the finest wines.|
|Verses 7-8 promise that Yahweh will destroy the shroud of death that is cast over all peoples. While this passage does not mention resurrection explicitly, it implies it (cf. Isa 26:19; Dan 12:1-3). In the Canaanite world, the god of death (Mot) is depicted as a beast who swallows up everyone. Now the swallower will become the swallowee when Yahweh swallows up death forever. The surety of this promise is based on Yahweh's word: "The Lord has spoken."|
|Verse 9 enunciates a beautiful statement of thankful praise: The is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation|
"God Will Swallow Up Death Forever" A Sermon by Ralph W. Klein on Isa 25:1-9
The psalm for the day is Psalm 23
Exodus 32:1-14 (semi-continuous)
|The people of Israel had lost confidence in Moses who had spent too much time on Mt. Sinai. In their desperation, they enlisted Aaron--of all people!--in the project of making other gods.|
|Aaron required them to give up their gold ear rings and he molded the molten gold into a calf. They recited a confession before it, which perhaps should be translated in the singular: This is your God, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Is the issue really the worship of an idol, or is the golden calf a pedestal on which Yahweh, the God of the Exodus, was invisibly enthroned? This speculation is digging into the world behind the text. In the canonical shape of the text, the actions of the people are idolatry.|
|For an interpretation of vv 7-14, read my sermon for which there is a link below.|
God Changes God's Mind. A sermon on Exodus 32:7-14 by Ralph W. Klein at the inauguration of the Ralph W. and Marilyn R. Klein Professorship of Old Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.
|These verses report God's commission to Cyrus, the king of Persia, who defeated Babylon and sent the Jews home from exile.|
|In v. 1 Cyrus is called Yahweh's anointed one or messiah. Second Isaiah's announcement that deliverance would come through this Persian emperor was a bitter pill for his audience to swallow. Verses 9 and 10 declare that the questions raised about the appropriateness of Cyrus are like criticisms directed to a skilled potter telling him or her that they forgot to add handles, or they are like the questions of an about-to-be-born child saying to the mother, "Why are you struggling so hard?"|
|Yahweh has commissioned Cyrus to defeat nations and promises to go before him to prepare his victory route (v. 2).|
|Verse 3 even seems to promise that Cyrus will acknowledge Yahweh and recognize that the God of Israel is the one who calls Cyrus by name. Verses 4-5 speak more realistically of Cyrus not knowing Yahweh. Verse 5 is a classic statement of monotheism: I am Yahweh, and there is no other.|
|Yahweh's empowerment of Cyrus will lead to Yahweh's worldwide recognition as lord of all (v. 6).|
|Verse 7 renounces the dualistic nature of Persian religion. Yahweh forms light and creates darkness, makes weal and creates woe. While monotheism has a difficult time explaining the existence of natural catastrophes if the one God is in control of everything, it also suggests that there is nothing outside of God's purview and that all issues can be laid at Yahweh's feet. And since we are created in the image of God, our responsibilities are also very wide.|
The psalm for the day is Psalm 96:1-9 [10-13]
Exodus 33:12-23 (semi-continuous)
|This is a beautiful prayer of Moses for the people, after their sin with the golden calf. If you can't tell God your problems, whom can you tell?|
|Yahweh promises to go with Moses and will be gracious and show mercy.|
|Moses asks Yahweh to show him his glory. Glory is what we see of God; what God is in himself is called his holiness.|
|Yahweh refuses to let Moses see his face, but he hides him in a cave and shows him only his his back side. Luther often reflected on this passage. What are the back parts of God that we see?--God's mercy, forgiveness, the cross. These are far more important than God's power or omnipotence.|
Lev 19:1-2, 15-18
|This lesson is taken from the Holiness Code, whose date is uncertain but relatively late. 600 BCE?|
|The central theme of this code is articulated in the second verse: You shall be holy for I Yahweh your God am holy. In the New Interpreter's Bible, Walter Kaiser writes: "God's holiness acts both as model and as motivating force in the development and maintenance of a holy character."|
|Verse 15 issues a demand for justice. One should not show partiality based on how wealthy a person is. Justice is to be our only goal. Just as we are to be holy to reflect the holiness of God, so our justice echoes that of God himself. Neither the rights of the rich or poor are to be violated.|
|Verse 16 prohibits slander as part of holiness. The NIV has a clearer translation of v. 16b: Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life.|
|Verse 17 prohibits hate of the neighbor, and it makes culpable anyone who avoids reproving an errant neighbor.|
|Vengeance should not be taken, but above all we are enjoined to love our neighbors as our selves.|
The psalm for the day is Psalm 1.
Deuteronomy 34:1-12 (semi-continuous)
|Despite the high importance of Moses, he was not allowed to enter into the Promised Land. Instead he was shown the whole land from Mount Nebo, and Yahweh indicates to him that this gift of the land is the fulfillment of God's promise to Israel's ancestors.|
|Moses died outside the land and was buried secretly by God. Because of this special circumstance dealing with his death, Moses is able to show up, with Elijah, at the Transfiguration of Jesus. Moses is called the servant of Yahweh in v. 5--a very high title indeed.|
|Moses lived to be 120. His sight remained good to the end, and his sexual vigor was undiminished! Israel mourns for him thirty days.|
|Since a person cannot write an account of his or her own death and burial, this was one of the earliest clues that Moses did not write the (whole) Pentateuch.|
|The transition to Joshua's leadership goes smoothly, and the text notes that Moses had certified him as his successor.|
|Deut 18:15-22 had indicated that God would raise up again and again prophets who would be like Moses in passing on God's word to the people. But v 20 indicates that no one has every been as great a prophet as Moses. Early exegetes put these two passages together, and so there developed the idea of a coming, eschatological prophet. See the Dead Sea Scrolls and Jesus in the New Testament.|
|Yahweh knew Moses face to face. Yet we were told in Exodus 33 that no one, presumably including Moses, could see Yahweh's face and live.|
|Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah in the late 8th century. While Isaiah's ministry took place primarily in Jerusalem, Micah came from a small settlement called Moresheth Gath, 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem (1:1).|
|Verses 5-8 are an oracle against the false prophets. These prophets cried "Peace"--that is, everything is o.k., there is no reason to change your ways. They also charged for this service. They announced holy war against anyone who would not pay up. Verses 6-7 describe the punishments that will befall these false prophets. In verse 8, Micah declares his own self-confidence, based on the gift of God's spirit. His assignment: to tell Jacob and Israel their sin.|
|Verses 9-12 are a classic prophetic judgment oracle. Verses 9-11 give the reproach or reasons for the judgment while verse 12 gives the announcement of judgment (threat). All of the accusations in vv 9-11 deal with questions of social justice. Rulers, priests, and prophets sell their services to the highest bidder and rely on Yahweh's presence to deliver them from any consequences.|
|Announcements of judgment typically begin with the word "Therefore." Zion and Jerusalem, God's chosen city, and the temple mountain itself will be destroyed.|
|A century later the elders at the time of Jeremiah cited these verses to show that such a prophet should not be considered a traitor. Rather Hezekiah and the people repented and escaped judgment (Jer 26:16-19).|
The psalm for the day is Psalm 43
Joshua 3:7-17 (semi-continuous)
Joshua 3-4 is a difficult text, perhaps combining previous independent sources and/or reflecting an obscure liturgical celebration of Yahweh’s leading the Israelites into the promised land. To get the full picture, one must include all of chapters 3-4, but that clearly is too long for any one pericope. We will reflect on some of the numerous themes that are referred to in this passage in the hope that they will ignite ideas that will enrich your preaching.
|“This day I will begin to exalt you [Joshua], so that
you shall know that among you is the living God” (Josh 3:10). The verb
“know” has a range of meanings from “comprehend” to “experience” to “recognize.”
Any one of those meanings would fit here. “This” refers to the events of
chapters 3-4, the safe passage of |
|“So now select twelve men from the tribes of |
|It wasn’t any old box that the priests were carrying
to the middle of the |
|“The priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan “ (Josh 3:17). Their priestly service was not at an altar, but in a potentially dangerous stream, and their standing there with the ark was for the sake of their sisters and brothers who passed over. We often get the clearest picture of God, when sisters and brothers in the faith hang in there for us, seeing our welfare as their own highest good. The universal priesthood of all believers not only gives all of us direct access to God, but it provides opportunity for each of us to serve one another.|
|Tell me, what do these stones mean to you?|
|This text promises a new or renewed covenant (testament) between Yahweh and Israel. I say "renewed" because this covenant is only a revised version of the old covenant at Sinai. I also want to avoid the implication that the people of the "new covenant or testament" have a different religion from the people and God of the Old Testament. Note that this covenant is with the whole people--the house of Israel and the house of Judah.|
|The difference between the two covenants is that the people frustrated or broke the older covenant made with them after the Exodus. Under God's new deal such frustration of the covenant will be impossible. The people broke the covenant even though God was their "husband." The Hebrew could also be translated "even though God was their Baal." In the latter understanding, God had given the people every thing and material blessing that they could have imagined, and still the people frustrated the covenant.|
|The "law" inscribed on the hearts does not refer to some kind of natural ethics. Rather, Jeremiah is making the point that obedience or discipleship will be so inherent in this relationship that an inclination to obey God would seem to be engraved right on human hearts. This same inherent understanding of obedience or transformation explains why religious education will become superfluous. Ethical transformation will not be elective.|
|On what basis can God make such a new covenant since the people's breach of the Sinai covenant would put the people under its curse? In a beautiful anthropomorphism Jeremiah promises that God will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more. The only hope is to have a God for forgets!|
The psalm for the day is Psalm 46
|The first part of this passage, vv. 18-20, criticizes Israel's celebration of the Day of Yahweh. Amos feels sorrow for this attitude (note: Alas) rather than judgmental superiority (note the traditional: Woe to you who desire....). The people apparently expected one of Yahweh's great victories for Israel on that day as in the past. But Amos says it will be darkness and not light. A person may think she has escaped a lion on that day will discover that she should only to run into a bear if she escapes the lion.|
|The second part of the passage criticizes those who substitute formal worship practices for the seeking of justice. The prophets have sometimes been labeled anti-sacrificial or anti-liturgical, but that is to miss the point. Rather, Amos and the others are opposed to those who fail to realize that good worship should be followed by good social ministry.|
|Amos states all this hyperbolically, as if he really rejected the whole sacrificial system. His point is that worship cannot replace justice or be a substitute for it. His final, famous plea is that justice should roll down like waters, and righteousness like a stream that keeps flowing, even in the dry summers of Palestine.|
The psalm for the day is Psalm 70
Josh 24:1-3a, 14-25 (semi-continuous)
This Old Testament lesson has been
excerpted from the second farewell speech of Joshua (see Joshua 23 for the first
farewell speech). In vv. 2-13 Joshua rehearses Yahweh’s first-person history
with the ancestors, the Exodus from
The lectionary leaves
out most of the historical recital (probably because of its length), but
preachers need to ponder these verses to understand why Joshua concludes that
the gods of Mesopotamia, the Egyptians, and the Amorites, all thoroughly
defeated, offer no credible alternative to serving Yahweh. While Yahweh tells
what he did for the ancestors way back when, the pronouns “you” and “your”
predominate so that Joshua’s audience is considered the direct recipients of
Yahweh’s kindnesses. We too acknowledge what Yahweh has done in previous
generations or in previous decades of our lives. Land, towns, vineyards, and
oliveyards are not something achieved by
Commentators on this chapter are uncertain whether Joshua’s challenge to serve Yahweh was directed to the generation that had recently entered the land or whether he had in mind a much later generation that was now experiencing the temptations of serving the gods of Mesopotamia and Egypt, where they now lived in exile. That uncertainty need not detail us since we, more than 3,000 years later, also identify with Joshua’s audience, which hears the history of Yahweh’s salvation and faces the challenges and obligations inherent in this history.
In vv. 14-24,
The verb “serve” is evocative in these verses. “Serve” can mean “worship” or it can mean “show loyalty toward,” or, as v. 24 notes, it can also mean “obey.” Like any good preacher, Joshua practices what he preaches: “As for me and my household, we will serve Yahweh” (v. 15).
The threefold response
of the people shows an increasing depth of commitment. The first response in vv.
16-18 acknowledges Yahweh’s history of miraculous deliverance from
The people meet Joshua’s challenge by insisting that they will indeed serve Yahweh (v. 21). Joshua then challenges the people to be witnesses against themselves, to be self-critical, and to confess their sins. Just as they would accuse the violator of any agreement to which they were witnesses, so they must examine themselves to see whether in fact they fear, love, and trust Yahweh above everything else. So must they, so must we.
Is God always first in our lives, or do we not in fact often serve other gods, by sins of omission and commission? None of us needs to be reminded that we daily sin much. The clause in v. 20 that states that God will not forgive transgressions or sins shows that evil deeds have bad consequences and that we should not put God to the test of take God’s forgiveness for granted. Yet the God known to us in Jesus Christ regularly comes to us with words of absolution and forgiveness, seventy times or seventy times seven times. God loves and forgives us with the hope and expectation that such love will lead to renewal in our lives, leading to growth in faith and to faith active in love. We, too, like Joshua’s audience, will be moved and empowered by God’s benefactions in Jesus Christ both to serve and obey.
In v. 27, technically outside the pericope, Joshua sets up a stone, not as a witness against them or a witness to their promises, but a stone that has heard the recital of Yahweh’s acts of goodness. If and when we fail to serve God alone, we are to recall the history of Yahweh with his people since that good news alone makes possible our service.
The Psalm for the day is Ps 34:1-10, 22
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
|Zephaniah too speaks of a day that will bring punishment and not rescue. Verse 8 mentions the punishment of officials and v. 9 foretells punishment for all who leap over the threshold. This may refer to a superstitious belief that household deities resided in the threshold and the way to avoid disturbing them was to jump over the threshold. Is this the source of the custom in our society of grooms carrying their brides over the threshold?|
|Verse 12 describes a detailed search for sinners and especially for those who have become indifferent. They believe that Yahweh will do neither good nor harm. Verse 13 announces a frustration oracle: people will build houses but not live in them; plant vineyards and not drink the resultant wine.|
|Verses 14-16 give a vivid description of the coming day of Yahweh and point out that it will appear in the very near future. This day will be the day of Yahweh's war against Israel. This is a stern note against all who think that their status as God's people will grant them a pass on the day of judgment.|
|Sins bring inevitable judgment and riches will not be able to get around the dread day. A full and terrible day is coming (vv 17-18).|
|This passage in itself is nothing but gloom and doom. A gospel from Zephaniah can be found in chapter 3. Yahweh has taken away the judgments against you (v 15); do not fear, O Zion (v 16); and I will make you renowned among all the peoples when I restore your fortunes (v 20).|
The Psalm for the day is Psalm 90:1-8 [9-11] 12
Judges 4:1-7 (semi-continuous)
Deborah is among the most prestigious female leaders in the Old Testament and her exemplary leadership may provide encouragement to lay and ordained female leaders in the church today. It is unclear whether Deborah was the wife of a man named Lappidoth, of whom nothing is known, or if the etymology of the Hebrew words behind “wife of Lappidoth,” actually describes her personality—she was a fiery woman! She is also called a prophetess, just like Miriam (Exod 15:20), Huldah (2 Kgs 22:14//2 Chr 34:22), and the wife of Isaiah (Isa 8:3). The office of prophet in the Old Testament was by no means restricted to men. Prophets in the Old Testament bring oracles of Yahweh to individuals or groups, as Deborah does vv. 6-7. Holy Wars in the Old Testament were not fought until Yahweh authorized them in various ways and in this story by divine oracles that came through a woman. Deborah also held the office of judge. That office had two aspects, and Deborah fits the criteria for both. First, people came to her to solve legal disputes although we are not told whether her ability to solve legal squabbles called primarily on her judicial wisdom, or whether, since she was a prophet, she also could seek a direct decision by Yahweh to deal with difficult cases. Secondly, “judges” in this book are military heroes through whom Yahweh delivered his people, just like Ehud, Gideon, and Samson. Deborah is the only judge who is evaluated positively in an unequivocal way—per contra Gideon, who became a source of idolatry (Judg 8:27) and Samson, who was a notorious womanizer. Deborah was also serving as a judicial officer before she was called to serve in a military capacity whereas other judges arise out of “nowhere” to lead the people to victory.
There are two accounts of Deborah’s battle, in chapter 4 and in chapter 5. The latter is written in archaic poetry that is probably one of the oldest documents in the Old Testament. There are several differences between the accounts and they were clearly written by two different people. Did Jael drive a tent peg through the skull of Sisera (Judg 4:21) or did she hit him with the old “one-two,” first with a tent peg and then with a workman’s mallet (Judg 5:26)? According to Judg 5:1 Deborah and Barak sang the song that makes up this chapter, although most scholars would agree with the implications of Judg 5:12 that Deborah alone was the singer. In the poem Deborah is identified as a “mother” in Israel (5:7). The exact significance of this title is unknown (see Gen 45:8; Judg 17:10; 1 Sam 10:12), but an analogous title “father” is also used of male prophets (2 Kgs 2:12; 6:21; 13:14), and the disciples of prophets were often called their sons.
The story in chapter 4 follows an outline that is characteristic of many of the stories of the judges. Israel sinned or did evil and consequently Yahweh sold them into the hands of a foreign king, in this case Jabin, king of Hazor (see chapter 11). When Israel cried to Yahweh, either in desperation, in a spirit of repentance, or both, Yahweh sent deliverance; here such deliverance is promised in a divine oracle (vv. 6-7) and the details of this divine deliverance are given in both chapters 4 and 5. In the midst of the battle Deborah receives another divine oracle that tells Barak when to engage Sisera in an attack (Judg 4:14). One very interesting detail in v. 9, unfortunately not included in the lectionary, comes through Deborah’s enigmatic statement to her general Barak that the battle would not lead to his glory since Yahweh would sell the Canaanite general Sisera into the hand of a woman. At this stage of the story one would assume that woman would be Deborah, but it turns out to be Jael (Judg 4:17-22; 5:24-27). Jael becomes a second role model of a strong and courageous woman. In any case God’s initiative uses a variety of human helpers. God promises to give Sisera into the hand of Barak, but Barak’s request for Deborah to accompany him seems to lead to a change in God’s plans. The book of Judges offers a wide range of female experiences, some negative and some positive. On the positive side is the strong faith displayed by Samson’s nameless mother in ch. 13.
Two incidental details help us to see that this battle was not of epic proportions. Jabin had only 900 chariots—not thousands of them—but they were made of iron. It is now thought that the Philistines brought the technology of smelting iron to Palestine. Secondly, only the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali were involved in the battle. Chapter 5 has a somewhat different account of which tribes participated (vv. 14-18), but even there the tribe of Judah is notably absent.
After the deliverance in the wars in Judges, the heroic judge normally goes back to his or her previous occupation and the land is given rest for twenty, forty or even eighty years (Judg 5:31; cf. 3:30). And then the cycle starts all over again! This repeated willingness of Yahweh to respond to the cries of his sinful people exemplifies God’s gracious character, but we should note that in the Books of Kings, the repeated sins of the people finally lead to the destruction of the Northern and Southern kingdoms. God’s grace is not to be taken for granted.
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
|This passage portrays God as the ideal shepherd-king, who will rescue his scattered sheep from exile. A "day of clouds and thick darkness" is typical vocabulary associated with the Day of Yahweh. God will gather his scattered sheep/people and settle them again on the land. The first ten verses are words of judgment against corrupt shepherds or earthly kings.|
|Verse 16 portrays God as attending to the weak and marginal--the lost, the strayed, the injured, and the weak. God will enter into judgment against those who are oppressive--the fat and the strong. The food God offers is justice.|
|A common theme in Ezekiel is that not everyone who experiences the new exodus will also experience the new entrance into the land. See Ezek 20:34-38. Here Yahweh makes a distinction between the fat (oppressive) sheep and the weak (marginalized) sheep. Verse 21 turns from an objective description of bad shepherds to a direct denunciation of them--You!|
|Verse 23 enunciates a messianic hope. Does God here promise a new David or a restoration of the original David? In talking of this David, Ezekiel describes him as "prince" or "king in quotation marks." Ezekiel cannot imagine an Israel without a Davidic king, but he puts great limits on his powers in chaps 40-48.|
|Verse 24 grounds this promise in the word of Yahweh: I, Yahweh, have spoken.|
The “kingship” of Christ is problematic for some of us today because of its male and hierarchical overtones. This festival first emerged, as I understand it, as an attempt to counter the outlandish claims of some European dictators in the twentieth century. The real ruler of this age is Christ! The choice of Ezekiel 34 as the Old Testament reading is quite helpful in any case because while the shepherd metaphor, like the term king, is also royal, its overtones are much more nurturing and caring.
first ten verses of Ezekiel 34 are a sustained indictment against the
In the Old Testament lesson, God counters this word of judgment with the promise of being a good shepherd for the people, one who promises to bring the people back from exile, feed them, and make them lie down in good grazing land (cf. Ps 23:2). This divine shepherd will seek the lost, round up the strayed, bind up the injured, and strengthen the weak. Provision of food is essential to this divine reign (vv. 13-14). This good shepherd provides a remedy for any ailment or distress of his sheep-people. Jesus both reaffirms and expands this picture when he asserts “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). John 10 is heavily dependent on the imagery proposed in Ezekiel 34.
But this coming good and all-providing shepherd will also practice justice (v. 16) and make a distinction between the prosperous sheep-people and those whom they exploit (vv. 20-21). The corrupt leaders have had many followers and imitators. This theme of grace mixed with judgment also permeates vv. 17-19 which are left out in the lectionary. The attention in those verses shifts from the corrupt shepherd-kinds to the equally corrupt or fat sheep-citizens, whose lack of faith is shown by the way they treat their fellow citizens. In many ways these verses form a parallel to Matt 25:31-46, the Gospel for Christ the King, where the Son of Man distinguishes between the goats and the sheep on the basis of their deeds of social compassion toward the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. God promises the people salvation, but God also promises to judge between those who oppress and those who are oppressed (v. 22). In a similar way God promises Israel a new Exodus in chapter 20, but then after the Exodus God will lead the people into the wilderness where he sorts out the rebels and those who transgress against God (v. 28) before taking the rest of the people home to the land.
the final two verses of this pericope God the shepherd promises to set up a
human shepherd, “my servant David,” over them. This messianic promise
institutes a reformed kingship that will replace the evil shepherds mentioned
in vv. 1-10. Scholars debate whether Ezekiel predicted only a better king or
whether he might even have expected a return of David himself. The words “I,
Yahweh, will be their God” is often followed in the Old Testament by words like
“they shall be my people, and the technical term for this is the covenant
formula. This is one of the simplest and yet most profound ways of depicting
the divine human relationship at its best. Ezekiel changes this formula by
replacing its second part with “my servant David shall be prince among them.” Significantly
Ezekiel does not call the new human ruler a king, but uses instead an old term
here translated as prince (cf. 37:25 and 44:1-3). In a sense this new ruler
will be “king” in quotation marks. The
prince in a reformed
The pericope ends with the reassuring words “I, Yahweh, have spoken.” That is, everything said in this chapter is a promise, and God’s promise is the only reason for us to believe in God, and it is a sufficient reason indeed.
The psalm for the day is Psalm 95:1-7a.
See also sermon study on the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Preaching Helps 2 (1975):65-66
Deut 11:18-21, 26-28
|Deut 5:1-11:30 contains homiletical reflections on the basic issues of the Horeb or Sinai covenant. This is followed by the laws of Deuteronomy in 11:31-26:15 and by covenantal ratification rites and sanctions in 26:16-28:68.|
|Verses 18-21 admonish the reader to make the laws of Deuteronomy an integral part of one's being. Some Jews to this day affix verses of scripture in small boxes on their foreheads or arms or place them in a mezuzah on their doorpost. The laws revealed in Deuteronomy are also be taught to the next generation and are to be part of daily conversations. Faithful following of these instructions will have positive results--long life in the land.|
|Verses 26-28 spell out retribution theology: blessings if one obeys and curses if one disobeys (These are spelled out in chap. 28). Turning away from God is defined as following "other gods." The term "other gods" is found primarily in Deuteronomy and deuteronomistic passages in the Old Testament.|
|The importance of obedience to God's will is echoed in the gospel (Matt 7:21-29). The person who acts on the words of Jesus is like a person who built a house on a rock while the person who does not act on these words is like the foolish person who built on sand.|