Comments

Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost - November 4, 2012



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.

Ruth 1:1-18

Ascertaining the period during which this book was written would help determine the reason for its composition:

  • If written before the Exile, the book may be intended to establish David’s ancestry, to affirm the practice of levirate marriage, or to commend the virtues of the book’s protagonists to ancient Israel. (David is descended from Ruth and Boaz).
  • If written after the Exile, the author may wish to show that a non-Israelite can become a faithful worshipper of Yahweh – thus countering the view of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah that intermarriage is wrong. [NOAB]

CAB considers Ruth to be post-exilic. He notes linguistic influence of the exile in Babylon (in the 400s and 500s BC) in traces of Aramaic forms of speech (a language then spoken by northern Semitic peoples in Syria and parts of Mesopotamia). Further, he notes that 4:7 refers to a legal restriction of a type documented only in the post-exilic code included in Deuteronomy 25:9 about Israelite intermarriage.

Ruth affirms that God cares for people of all nations, and not just of Israel. [NOAB]

Verse 1: “famine”: Famines due to drought were common in Palestine: see, for example, 1 Kings 17-18 and 2 Kings 8. Famines as the cause of migrations are mentioned in Genesis 12:10 (Abraham and Sarah go to Egypt); 26:1 (Isaac to Philistia); 42-46 (Joseph's brothers go to Egypt).

Verse 1: “Bethlehem”: The word means house of bread. This Bethlehem is the one “in Judah”, not the one in Zebulun mentioned in Joshua 19:15. Bethlehem in Judah was the home of David’s family. The historical link is mentioned in 1 Samuel 16:4 (Samuel); 17:12-15 (David/Jesse); 20:6-8 (David to Jonathan); the prophetic link is found in Micah 5:2. [CAB]

Verse 1: “went to live”: As an alien.

Verse 1: “Moab”: The Israelites believed that the Moabites were related to them through Lot (Genesis 19:37), nephew of Abraham. [NOAB] The Moabites refused to give the Israelites aid during the Exodus. Conflicting territorial claims gave rise to enmity between the two peoples: see Deuteronomy 23:3-4. [NOAB] The land in dispute was that east of the northern part of the east shore of the Dead Sea. At the time of the story of Ruth, relations were peaceful.

Verse 2: In the Old Testament, people’s names often tell us something about them. “Elimelech” means My God is king; “Naomi” delight or pleasurable; “Mahlon” may mean sickness; “Chilion” means wasting. [CAB]

Verse 2: “Ephrathites”: Genesis 48:7 speaks of “... Ephrath ... (that is, Bethlehem)”. This verse and Genesis 35:16 tell of Rachel’s death in childbirth near the town. In genealogies, 1 Chronicles 2:51 says that Ephrath was an ancestor of Bethlehem and 1 Chronicles 4:4 that Ephrath was Bethlehem’s father. [JBC]

Verse 4: “took Moabite wives”: Intermarriage was not scandalous at the time. The patriarchs and Moses also married foreigners: see Genesis 41:45 (Joseph) and Exodus 2:21 (Moses). David and Solomon included foreigners in their harems: see 2 Samuel 3:3 and 1 Kings 11:1-8. Only later after pagan infiltration had weakened the nation’s moral fibre were strict laws promulgated against intermarriage: see Deuteronomy 7:3-4; Exodus 34:15-16; Ezra 9-10; Nehemiah 10:30; 13:23-27. [JBC]

Verse 5: “sons”: The Hebrew word literally means lads, so Mahlon and Chilion were in their youth, and presumably childless. [CAB] For the symbol of the powerless widow in Israel’s patriarchal culture, see, for example, Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 24:19-21; Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 7:6; 22:3; Zechariah 7:10.

Verse 8: “your mother’s house”: For the house/tent as that of the wife, see Genesis 31:33; Judges 4:17; Song of Solomon 3:4; 8:2. [NJBC]

Verse 9: “kissed”: In blessing. This is the first of many blessings in Ruth. See also 2:4, 12, 20; 3:10; 4:11-12, 14.

Verse 11: Note that Orpah and Ruth are now called “daughters”, an indication of the affection she has for them. [NJBC]

Verse 13: “bitter”: This foreshadows v. 20, where Naomi changes her name to Mara, meaning bitter. [NJBC]

Verse 15: “her gods”: The Moabites worshipped Chemosh, a fertility god with martial overtones: see Numbers 21:29; Judges 11:24; 1 Kings 11:7, 33. [JBC]

Verse 16: Ruth seeks a new identity.

Verse 17: For an example of the binding nature of a vow in this period of history, see Judges 11:35.

Verses 19-21: Death before old age was probably viewed as a judgement for sin; the reproach extended to the surviving spouse.

Verses 19-20: “‘Is this Naomi?’”: Perhaps the women’s question is prompted by her appearance – years have passed since her departure to Moab – or by her changed bearing. Is this really the one whose name signifies pleasant? Naomi responds by recognizing her changed situation by changing her name to “Mara”, meaning bitter. “Naomi” is no longer an appropriate name. [NJBC]

Verses 20-21: “the Almighty”: The Hebrew, El-Shaddai, appears in ancient Near Eastern texts and inscriptions as a god of the mountains. He had already been identified with the God of Israel in the time of the patriarchs: see Genesis 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; 48:3. Job and Psalms, as well as the prophets, also used this term: see Job 5:17; 6:4; Psalms 68:14; 91:1; Isaiah 13:6; Joel 1:15; Ezekiel 1:24. [CAB]

Psalm 146

The last five psalms in the Psalter are hallelujah (Praise the LORD) psalms. [NOAB] It is fitting that the Psalter end with psalms praising God. On linguistic grounds, several scholars consider this psalm to be post-exilic. [NJBC]

Verses 1-2: A personal expression of praise. See also 104:1, 33; 145:1-3. [NOAB]

Verses 3-4: The inadequacy of humans. In 144:3-4, the psalmist wonders: “O LORD, what are human beings that you regard them, or mortals that you think of them? They are like a breath; their days are like a passing shadow”. [NOAB]

Verses 3-6: The wisdom character of these verses, contrasting human mortality and God as creator, is also found in 90:2-3: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You turn us back to dust, and say, ‘Turn back, you mortals’”. Wisdom language is also found in vv. 8-9. [NJBC]

Verses 4-8: Yahweh gives help to those who need it. [NOAB]

Verses 5-6: See 121:2-3 for the same sequence of describing God as the source of help, creator of heaven and earth and everlastingly faithful. [NJBC]

Verse 7: In 82:2-5, the absence of justice is responsible for shaking the foundations of the earth. [NJBC]

Verse 7: “gives food ... sets the prisoners free”: Echoes of the Exodus. See also Isaiah 61:1. [NJBC]

Verse 8: “opens the eyes of the blind”: See Isaiah 42:7; 61:1. A scholar says that this phrase is an idiom for freeing captives. [NJBC]

Verses 8-9: “the Lord loves the righteous ... but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin”: The same wisdom thought as in 1:6. [NJBC]

Verse 9: “strangers ... orphan ... widow”: For the obligation of all people not to abuse the defenceless, see also Exodus 22:21-22 and Deuteronomy 10:18. For royal responsibility to protect the alien, the fatherless and the widow, see Jeremiah 22:1-4. [NJBC]

Verse 10: The concluding expression of praise, addressed to the community. [NOAB]

Verse 10: “The Lord will reign forever”: See also Exodus 15:18 (Moses’ or Miriam’s song after the crossing of the Reed, or Red, Sea). [NJBC]

Hebrews 9:11-14

Verses 1-10: The specifications for the furnishing of the tabernacle are found in Exodus 25:10-40. [NOAB]

Verses 2-3: Strangely, Hebrews speaks of two tents while Exodus speaks of one tent divided into two parts. [NJBC]

Verse 2: “tent”: The forerunner of the Temple was the tent of meeting: see Exodus 25-26 and Numbers 9:15-23. [CAB]

Verse 2: “the bread of the Presence”: The law regarding it is given in Leviticus 24:5-9. [NOAB]

Verse 3: Exodus 26:31-33 prescribes the curtain separating “the holy place from the most holy”. [NOAB]

Verse 3: “second curtain”: This is the second one because there was also one at the entrance: see Exodus 26:36. [NJBC]

Verse 4: “the golden altar of incense”: In Hebrews, it is said to be in the “Holy of Holies”; however, in Exodus 30:6 it is in the “Holy Place”. NJBC believes that the author made a mistake here, misinterpreting the Exodus text. Similarly, the Old Testament does not say that the “golden urn” and “Aaron’s rod” were in the ark: see Deuteronomy 10:5.

Verse 4: “the ark of the covenant”: The specifications for this chest containing the tablets of the Law are given in Exodus 25:10-22. [NOAB]

Verse 4: “a golden urn holding the manna”: Moses tells of Yahweh’s command that manna be preserved, and specifies how it shall be kept, in Exodus 16:32-24. [NOAB]

Verse 4: “Aaron’s rod that budded”: Numbers 17:1-10 tells of the budding of Aaron’s rod, a sign that his tribe, Levi, has special status. [NOAB]

Verse 5: “mercy seat”: It was so called because the blood of the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement were sprinkled on it. The word is also translated as place of expiation (of sins). [NJBC]

Verse 6: “the priests go continually into the first tent”: i.e. to take care of the lamps on the lampstand (see Exodus 30:7), to burn incense on the incense altar morning and evening (see Exodus 30:7), and to replace every week the loaves on the table of showbread (see Leviticus 24:5-8). [NJBC]

Verse 7: For the law concerning the Day of Atonement, see Leviticus 16:1-34, especially v. 14: “He [the high priest] shall take some of the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat he shall sprinkle the blood with his finger seven times”. [CAB]

Verse 7: “blood”: It was seen as the element in which life resided. Insofar as it is life, the blood is the peculiarly divine element in the human person, so sprinkling it on the mercy seat was an effective symbol of the purification of sin and of re-establishment of union between God and the offerer. [NJBC]

Verse 8: “the way into the sanctuary has not yet been disclosed”: NJBC offers revealed. The goal of worship was access to God. That only the high priest could enter that part of the tabernacle (the earthly counterpart of God’s heavenly abode), showed that Old Testament worship did not attain that goal.

Verse 9: “the present time”: This is not merely a chronological indication. The Greek also means present age, in contrast to the age to come. Even now the age to come is present, in an anticipatory way, and Christians have experienced its powers: see 6:4-5. [NJBC]

Verse 10: “deal only with food and drink and various baptisms”: NJBC offers only [to cleanse] in respect of food and drink and various kinds of ritual washings. He says that the author limits the efficacy of Old Testament sacrifices to a cleansing from defilements caused by the violation of ritual laws, i.e. the dietary prescriptions of Leviticus 11 and Numbers 6:1-4 and ritual washings: see Leviticus 14:8 and Numbers 19:11-21. This low estimate of their efficacy would hardly have been accepted by any Hebrew. [NJBC]

Verse 10: “the time comes to set things right”: i.e. the period of the new covenant, inaugurated by the death of Christ. [NOAB]

Verses 11-12: The author seems to be stretching the metaphor of Christ as high priest beyond understandable limits. A scholar devotes several pages to interpreting these ways without reaching a definitive interpretation.

Verse 11: “high priest of the good things that have come”: Perhaps a reference to Christ’s saving act of sacrificing himself on the cross, or an oblique reference to the Gospel (good news), but many manuscripts have good things to come. [NJBC]

Verse 11: “the greater and perfect tent”: This may be a reference to John 2:19-21: “But he was speaking of the temple of his body.” On the other hand, the “tent” may be the heavenly regions, the heavenly counterpart of the outer tabernacle, through which Jesus passed (4:14) into the highest heaven (“heaven itself”), the abode of God (9:24). [NJBC]

Verse 12: “not with the blood of goats and calves”: The high priest gained access to the Holy of Holies because he bore the blood of the sacrificial animals; Jesus’ life offered in sacrifice gives him access to the heavenly sanctuary. Jesus’ entrance into the sanctuary is part of his sacrifice begun on earth and completed in heaven. [NJBC]

Verse 12: “obtaining eternal redemption”: The Greek word translated as “redemption” must be understood in the light of its usage in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. In Daniel 4:34, it expresses the notion of deliverance. It is frequently used with reference to deliverance from Egypt (see Exodus 6:6 and Deuteronomy 7:8), from captivity in Babylon (see Isaiah 41:14; 44:22, 24), and from sin (see Psalm 130:7-8). In none of these cases is there a notion of ransom. [NJBC]

Verse 13: “the ashes of a heifer”: The ashes were mixed with water and used to cleanse those who had become “defiled” by contact with corpses, human bones, or graves. See Leviticus 16:6, 16; Numbers 19:9, 14-21. [NJBC] [NOAB]

Verse 14: “eternal Spirit”: 7:16 speaks of Christ having become a priest “through the power of an indestructible life”. So it is likely that this is what is meant by “eternal Spirit” here. Christ’s priesthood differs from that of the Old Testament priesthood in that it will never end; his sacrifice is once and for all future time. [NJBC]

Verse 14: “without blemish”: This recalls the Old Testament requirement that a sacrificial animal be physically unblemished: see Exodus 29:1. Here the phrase is used in a moral sense, as it is in 1 Peter 1:19. [NJBC]

Verse 14: “to worship the living God!”: This is primarily sharing in Jesus’ sacrificial worship, through which Christians have access to God: see also 4:16; 7:25; 10:19-22. That the way Christians live is a cultic action, is also in view. Paul shares this view: in Romans 12:1, he writes: “I appeal to you ... brothers and sisters ... to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship”. [NJBC]

Mark 12:28-34

The parallels are Matthew 22:34-40 and Luke 10:25-28.

The setting is probably the outer court of the Temple: 11:27 says: “Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him”.

Early Christians understood this passage as permission to disregard the commandments pertaining to ritual.

First paragraph of Comments: The references are (1) 11:27-33 and (2) 12:13-17. Jesus has handled the questions as follows:

1. He has avoided a charge of blasphemy by posing a counter-question, which silenced his opponents: what was the origin of John the Baptist’s authority?

2. Jesus has answered: give to the emperor what is his, and to God what is God’s.

Verses 29-31: The quotations are from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (the introduction to the Ten Commandments and the first commandment) and Leviticus 19:18. [CAB] Jesus’ quotation of the Pentateuch underlines his orthodoxy as a Jewish teacher and illustrates his fondness for going to the root of things.

Verse 29: The three texts which pious Jews recited daily were Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41.

Verses 30-31: This summary of the Law need not have been original with Jesus. Note that in Luke 10:25-28 it is a lawyer who utters it. Rabbi Akiba (martyred about 135 AD) said that Leviticus 19:18 (“you shall love your neighbour as yourself”) was a great principle of the Law. The golden rule (“do to others as you would have them do to you”, Matthew 7:12) is another summary of the Law attributed to Jesus. [BlkMk]

Verse 30: The quotation is similar to the Septuagint translation of Deuteronomy 6:5 but differs from it: there mind appears rather than “heart”, “with all your mind” is missing, and the word translated “strength” is different. So Jesus’ words may be from a tradition of what he actually said, rather than being a quotation from the then-current translation of the Old Testament. [BlkMk]

Verse 31: Hillel, the great Jewish teacher of Jesus’ time, gave a famous answer to the question put to Jesus: “What you hate for yourself, do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole law; the rest is commentary. Go and learn.” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a) To him, this summarized the law and gives the 613 precepts a coherent principle.

Verse 33: The scribe’s statement merely echoes Hosea 6:6 and 1 Samuel 15:22; [NOAB] it is not necessarily a condemnation of the sacrificial system. See also Micah 6:6-8 and Matthew 9:13.

Verse 33: Loving God and one’s neighbour is done everywhere while “burnt offerings and sacrifices” were only made in the Temple in Jerusalem. [NOAB]

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