Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Second Sunday of Advent - December 8, 2019

Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures
Author's note:
Sometimes I have material left over when I edit Comments down to fit the available space. This page presents notes that landed on the clipping room floor. Some may be useful to you. While I avoid technical language in the Comments (or explain special terms), Clippings may have unexplained jargon from time to time.

A hypertext Glossary of Terms is integrated with Clippings. Simply click on any highlighted word in the text and a pop-up window will appear with a definition. Bibliographic references are also integrated in the same way.

Isaiah 11:1-10

Some scholars see this passage as linked to 10:33-34 (the preceding verses), where the tree image is also used. If those verses apply to Judah and not Assyria (as some think), we have a contrast between Judah’s present rulers and the ideal future king. [ NJBC]

9:2-7 is similar. Some believe both passages may have originally celebrated the accession of a Judean king, perhaps Hezekiah; but in its present context it describes the coming Messiah as an ideal king. However, a scholar is convinced that our passage never related to Hezekiah.

Verses 1-3: The Messiah will manifest the characteristics of those kings who were great in Israel. [ NOAB]

Verse 2: “The spirit of the Lord”: Leaders who received God’s “spirit” enabling them to achieve the seemingly impossible include Moses (see Numbers 11:17), the judges (see Judges 3:10; 6:34; 11:29), Micah (see Micah 3:8), and David (see 1 Samuel 16:13). [ NJBC]

Verses 2-3: Traditionally, there are seven gifts of the Spirit. In the NRSV, the seventh gift is not obvious because “fear” is repeated; however the Septuagint translation has piety rather than “fear” in v. 3 and when Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, he followed the Septuagint at this point. Thus the seven gifts of the Spirit are the six in v. 2 plus piety. [ NOAB]

Verse 2: “wisdom and understanding”: For Isaiah’s comments on the foolish advisors to whom Hezekiah listened, see 5:21 (“Ah, you who are wise in your own eyes, and shrewd in your own sight!”); 9:5; 29:14. Ahaz, Hezekiah’s father, was also foolishly advised. He committed such abominable practices as sacrificing his own son and worshipping on hill tops (Canaanite practices): see 2 Kings 16:1-4. The author of Kings has a different view of Hezekiah; to him, Hezekiah was completely loyal to Yahweh and centralized sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem: see 2 Kings 18:22. He also banned other practices: the use of sacred poles (asherah) and the reverencing of the bronze serpent associated with Moses.

Verses 3b-5: Wisdom and justice were traditionally associated with the ideal king: see 1 Kings 3 and Psalm 72. [ NOAB]

Verse 5: Ephesians 6:13-17 tells of the virtues symbolized by a soldier’s clothing: “the belt of truth ... the breastplate of righteousness ... As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace ... the shield of faith ... the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”. [ JBC]

Verses 6-9: See also Ezekiel 47:1-12 (water flowing from the Temple). Perfect justice leads to perfect peace. [ NOAB]

Verse 7: A similar idea to the concord amongst animals is found in the old Sumerian paradise myth of Enki and Ninhursag: “The lion does not kill, the wolf does not snatch the lamb”. [ JBC]

Verse 9: “my holy mountain”: 65:25 foretells: “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent – its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord”. In Ezekiel 20:40, God says through the prophet: “For on my holy mountain, the mountain height of Israel, ... there all the house of Israel, all of them, shall serve me in the land; there I will accept them ...”. [ NOAB]

Verses 11-16: Restored and reunited Israel takes vengeance against her oppressors. The terminology and mood indicate that these verses were added after the Exile. Assyria no longer existed when these verses were written; she symbolizes oppressive and enslaving powers. [ NOAB] [ NJBC]

Verses 13-14: There will no longer be enmity between the northern tribes and Judah. All will join in a common effort to defeat their common enemies. [ CAB]

Verse 15: “sea of Egypt”: i.e. the Reed (Red) Sea: see Exodus 14 (the story of the escape from the Egyptians). [ NOAB].

Verse 15: “will wave his hand”: The Assyrians will be smitten as were the Egyptians. [ JBC]

Verse 15: “the River”: i.e. the Euphrates. [ JBC]

Verse 15: “make a way”: From the tradition of Deutero-Isaiah: see 40:3 (quoted below). [ NJBC]

Verse 16: “remnant”: A technical term for those who will eventually be gathered in. [ JBC]

Psalm 72:1-7,18-19

The superscription “Of Solomon” is only found here and in Psalm 127. NJBC suggests that this psalm is very early; even a tenth century date is possible.

Verses 1-4: The king is to be guarantor of justice for the helpless (see also vv. 12-15). The king’s reign is described in messianic language. May the new king be like the expected ideal king. [ NJBC]

Verses 4-5: That a king had a supernatural aura was common in the thought of peoples in the ancient Near East. Even in Israel, the king could be called God’s son (see 2:7) and possibly even “God” (see 45:6). [ NOAB]

Verses 6-7: The king as provider of cosmic order and the fertility of the earth is a motif found in Egyptian royal theology. [ NJBC]

Verse 7: “righteousness”: i.e. Godly conditions.

Verse 7: “peace”: Prosperity. [ NOAB]

Verses 8-10: The king’s ideal universal empire. [ NOAB]

Verse 8: The language of sea and river recalls Canaanite mythology. See also Psalm 24. [ NJBC]

Verse 8: The same words are found in Zechariah 9:10. This verse is like Micah 7:17, Isaiah 49:23, and the Armana tablets. [ JBC]

Verse 8: “from sea to sea”: Probably from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. [ JBC]

Verse 8: “the River”: i.e. the Euphrates. [ NOAB] 1 Kings 4:21 says “Solomon was sovereign over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines, even to the border of Egypt ...”.

Verse 9: “May ... his enemies lick the dust”: Desert dwellers is probably intended. May they be subject to him.

Verse 10: “Tarshish”: It is in the western Mediterranean, possibly in Spain. “Sheba” and “Seba” are in southern Arabia, but perhaps “Seba” is related to modern Saba, the ruling family of Kuwait. [ NOAB]

Verse 10: “the isles”: Crete, Cyprus and the Aegean islands.

Verse 16: NJBC notes that this verse is obscure and very difficult.

Verse 17: “name”: Probably includes the notion of offspring. [ NJBC]

Verse 17: “May all nations be blessed in him”: An echo of the promise to the ancestors: see also Genesis 12:3 (God to Abraham); 22:18; 26:4; 28:14 (God to Jacob at Bethel). This may allude to a covenant of a royal grant, which served as the pattern for God’s covenant with the patriarchs and kings of Judah. [ NJBC]

Verses 18-19: This is a doxology marking the end of Book 2 of the Psalter. It is not part of the psalm. The book of Psalms was divided into five books, in imitation of the Pentateuch, the five books of the Law. Blessing God for ever and “Amen” are also found in 41:13; 89:52; 106:48, the ends of other books. [ NOAB]

Verse 20: An editorial marker indicating the end of a collection of psalms now included in the Psalter. [ NOAB]

Romans 15:4-13

Some manuscripts lack Chapters 15 and 16. [ NOAB]

14:22-23: Their trust in God is how they exercise their free will in accord with their consciences. One should live in a way consistent with one’s trust in God.

14:22: “Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve”: BlkRom offers Blessed is he who does not waver in respect of what his conscience affirms. Once his faith and reason have affirmed a course of action, he does not waver: happy is he that he follows his conscience.

14:23: But there are others who are weak in their trust in God. In 14:20b-21, Paul has advised those who are strong: “it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble”. A weak person may join in eating and drinking because strong people do, or for his own pleasure, or for a reason other than giving thanks to God and recognizing his lordship. Doing so is slipping back into idolatry – in which the idol is his or her self. In these circumstances, eating is sinful. Even though he might have been influenced by a strong person, the weak Christian is responsible for his action, and condemned for it. [ BlkRom]

15:1: “put up with”: The Greek word can either mean to bear a burden, i.e. to help the weak to come to terms with their consciences, or to endure, i.e. to forebear immature attitudes to God. [ NJBC]

15:2: “building up”: Paul often uses this construction term in the sense of the community. In 1 Corinthians 14:12, he says “since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church”. See also Romans 14:19. So it is likely that he is doing so here too. [ NJBC]

15:3: The quotation is part of Psalm 69:9. [ CAB] This psalm is related either to the self-abasement of the pre-existent Christ (see 2 Corinthians 8:9 and Philippians 2:5-8) or to his passion (see Mark 15:29-32, 36). Paul applies to Christ a verse from a psalm of the personal lament of an upright Israelite who has suffered disgrace as a result of his fidelity. Christ took on himself reproaches addressed to God.

15:4: That the Old Testament has meaning for Christians today is also mentioned in 4:23-24; 1 Corinthians 9:8-10; 10:9-11. [ NJBC] [ CAB]

15:7: “for the glory of God”: See Philippians 1:11; 2:11. In the Qumran literature, see 1QSb (Rule of the Community, Blessings) 4:25 and 1QS (Rule of the Community) 10:9. [ NJBC]

15:7: Comments: “love one another as I have loved you” : In John 13:34, Jesus says “‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another’”. The last sentence is also found in John 15:12. [ NJBC]

15:8: See also 9:1-5. In Matthew 15:24, Jesus says: “‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’”. In John 4:22, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well: “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews”. [ CAB]

15:8: “the circumcised”: In Galatians 2:8-9, Paul speaks of “the Gentiles” on one hand and “the circumcised” on the other. There (and here) he uses “the circumcised” to mean Jewish people. [ NJBC]

15:9-12: In all cases, “Gentiles” is a translation of ethne . [ NJBC]

15:9: The quotation is Psalm 18:49. See also 2 Samuel 22:50 (David’s song of thanksgiving). [ CAB] [ NJBC]

15:10: The quotation is from Deuteronomy 32:43 in the Septuagint translation. [ CAB]

15:11: The quotation is Psalm 117:1. [ CAB]

15:12: The quotation is Isaiah 11:10 in the Septuagint translation. See also Revelation 5:5. [ CAB]

Matthew 3:1-12

The parallels are Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-18; John 1:6-8, 19-28. [ NOAB]

John the Baptist is mentioned outside the Bible in Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 18:5.2. Some of his followers developed his movement to rival Christianity (see Matthew 11:2; Acts 18:25; 19:1-7) yet because of his martyrdom and Jesus’ respect for him, Christians began to regard him as a forerunner of Jesus. [ NJBC] There is still a small community of his followers in Iraq.

Verse 2: “Repent”: See also Exodus 19:3-6 and 24:3-8; Jeremiah 31:31-34 says: “The days are surely coming ... when I will make a new covenant ... It will not be like the [old] covenant ... I will put the law within them and I will write it on their hearts.” [ NOAB] The Greek word translated “repent”, metanoeite, means change one’s mind in a radical way; the corresponding words in Hebrew and Aramaic mean to turn, to reverse completely one’s life direction. [ BlkMt]

Verse 2: “kingdom of heaven”: This is Matthew’s usual way of expressing the equivalent phrase, the kingdom of God, found in other gospels. “Heaven” is a common Jewish circumlocution for “God”. It was (and is) considered impious and even blasphemous in Jewish circles to utter the name of God, so there are several standard circumlocutions, such as “the Holy One”. “Heaven” is one of these. Both “kingdom of heaven” and kingdom of God mean the active, effective rule of God over his people. While God has never lost his sovereignty, sin and waywardness have delayed its realization. John says that God is about to establish his effective rule. [ BlkMt]

Verse 3: The quotation is Isaiah 40:3 in the Septuagint translation. In the NRSV, this verse says: “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God’”. [ NJBC] The Hebrew and Septuagint translation of Isaiah 40:3 both say the paths of our God. In changing the quotation to “his paths”, John makes clear that he means the paths of Jesus. [ BlkMt]

Verse 4: “camel’s hair”: See also Zechariah 13:4. In 2 Kings 1:8, Elijah is described as “hairy, ... with a leather belt round his waist”. Christians understood him to fulfill Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1 (“... I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me ...”); 4:5 (“... I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes”). John is the expected Elijah. In Matthew 17:10, the disciples ask “‘Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first’” and in v. 12, Jesus replies “‘Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him’”. [ NJBC] [ BlkMt]

Verse 6: “were baptised”: Exodus 40:12-15 speaks of the purification (by washing) of Aaron and his sons before donning priestly vestments. [ CAB] John’s baptism of Jews was an innovation, though Jews were probably already baptising those converted to Judaism. [ BlkMt]

Verses 7-9: Luke 3:7-9 gives John’s blast in almost identical words; however in Luke Jesus addresses “the crowds” while here he warns Jewish leaders. [ BlkMt]

Verse 7: “Pharisees”: Working especially through the synagogue, they promoted earnest study of, and careful obedience to, Mosaic law and to the oral tradition which interpreted it. [ BlkMt]

Verse 7: “Sadducees”: This was the priestly party. Their leadership centred in the Temple. [ BlkMt]

Verse 7: “vipers”: Ungodly people are called “vipers” in Isaiah 30:6; 59:5; Matthew 12:34; 23:33. Revelation 12:9 speaks of “The great dragon ... that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan”. Vipers flee in haste from fire as it rushes across the scrubby growth of the wilderness. [ BlkMt]

Verse 7: “the wrath to come”: In 1 Thessalonians 1:10, Paul speaks of Jesus as the one “who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.”. [ NOAB]

Verses 8-10: John the Baptist demands right living based on a sincere search for God’s will. See also 7:15-20 and Galatians 5:22-23.

Verse 9: “‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’”: See also John 8:33, 39; Romans 2:28-29.

Verse 9: “God is able ...”: God does not show ethnic partiality. In Deuteronomy 1:17, Moses tells the judges of Israel, as God has instructed him: “‘You must not be partial in judging: ... for the judgment is God’s’”. Deuteronomy 16:19 also counsels impartiality. See also Acts 10:34 (Peter’s speech when Cornelius is baptised); Romans 2:11; Galatians 2:6; Colossians 3:25. [ NJBC]

Verses 10-12: In Luke 12:49-50, Jesus says “‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled’” and then goes on to mention baptism. Peter tells of end-time happenings at Pentecost: see Acts 2:17-21. Acts 19:1-7 tells of the baptism of followers of John the Baptiser. Acts 18:24-26 tells of Priscilla and Aquila explaining the good news to Apollos, who “knew only the baptism of John”. [ NOAB]

Verse 10: “Even now the ax ...”: The urgency of the situation is also mentioned in Isaiah 10:34 (“He will hack down the thickets of the forest with an ax, and Lebanon with its majestic trees will fall”) and Jeremiah 46:22. In both verses, the image of an ax felling trees is used. [ NJBC]

Verse 10: “every tree ... that does not bear good fruit ... fire”: In 4:17, Jesus repeats what John preaches in v. 2. Jewish leaders who do not repent and yield prompt obedience to God will be struck with a sharp, irrevocable judgement. Jesus is equally stern. [ BlkMt] Jesus also presents fire as a symbol of judgement in 7:19 (“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”) and 13:40-42 (“Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age”). See also Hebrews 6:7-8.

Verse 11: “carry his sandals”: The other synoptic gospels have “untie the thong of his sandals”. A later tradition was that a disciple should do for his teacher anything a slave would do, except take off his sandals. [ NJBC]

Verse 12: “unquenchable fire”: See also Isaiah 48:10 (“I have tested you in the furnace of adversity”); 66:24 (“... the people who have rebelled against me; ... their fire shall not be quenched”); Jeremiah 7:20 (“My anger and my wrath shall be poured out ... it will burn and not be quenched”). [ NJBC]

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