Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Second Sunday after Pentecost - May 29, 2016

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.

1 Kings 18:20-21,(22-29),30-39

Verses 1-6: Famine was the inevitable result of drought in the Near East; when famine and drought are prolonged, livestock must be slaughtered both to provide food and to conserve water. [ NJBC] The drought is about to end. The question is: which God withholds and sends the rain: Yahweh or the great Baal, called Baal of the Heavens by his followers. [ NOAB] The great drought was long remembered and is recorded in Tyrian annals, as Meander of Ephesus testified in writing about the reign of Ittobal of Tyre: see Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 8:13,2. [ JBC]

Verse 1: “Elijah”: The name means Yah is God. Yah is the short form of Yahweh. [ NOAB]

Verse 1: “in the third year of the drought”: The drought may have lasted a full three years, perhaps only part of the first year, the whole of the second year, and part of the third year. The year began in October. [ JBC]

Verse 2: “Samaria”: This is the city, the capital of the northern kingdom, not the region, the central hill country of Palestine. Generally, only after the Assyrian conquest of the north was the region called Samaria. [ HBD]

Verse 3: “Obadiah”: The name means servant of Yahweh . [ NOAB]

Verse 4: “a hundred prophets”: The Hebrew expression meaning literally sons of the prophets. They were men of strong faith in Yahweh who lived a common life in loose associations or guilds., so disciples. Jerome called them the monks of the Old Testament. [ JBC]

Verses 7-16: Ahab has been hunting everywhere for Elijah, but now the prophet volunteers to meet the king. [ NOAB]

Comments: Despite being concerned for his own life, Obadiah does tell Ahab: He fears that Ahab will have him killed if Elijah flees again.

Verses 17-18: Elijah is quick to point out that the fault lies with Ahab in not recognizing Yahweh as the supreme God, and in allowing his wife Jezebel to propagate her religion in Israel. [ NOAB]

Verse 17: “you troubler of Israel”: Ahab is not acknowledging Elijah’s (or Yahweh’s) power to cause drought. More likely, Ahab attributes the drought to Baal’s wrath, drawn down on the people by Elijah’s hostility to Baal. [ NJBC]

Verse 18: “the Baals”: They may have been local versions of the great sky god. [ NOAB]

Verse 19: “Mount Carmel”: The Carmel mountain range is 24 km (15 miles) long. It highest point is 550 metres (1800 feet) above sea level. The range ends in a promontory overlooking the Mediterranean. [ JBC]

Verse 19: “Asherah”: One of the consorts of Baal. In the Canaanite religion, she was the fertility goddess. She is also called Astarte. Worship of her is mentioned some forty times in the Old Testament as a temptation for the Israelites. 14:15 says “The Lord will strike Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water; he will root up Israel out of this good land that he gave to their ancestors, and scatter them beyond the Euphrates, because they have made their sacred poles, provoking the Lord to anger”. The sacred pole was her symbol. [ NOAB] [ CAB]

Verse 19: “who eat at Jezebel's table”: The pagan prophets are subsidized from the royal treasury. [ NJBC]

Verse 21: “limping”: or hobbling. The Israelites do in their thinking what the prophets of Baal do physically in v. 26. [ NJBC]

Verse 21: Elijah outmanoeuvres the prophets of Baal by proposing the contest first to the people. By the time he addresses the prophets, the rules are already established.

Verse 26: “ They limped about the altar”: They performed a kind of limping dance, bending first one knee and then the other. This form of ritual is well known from a number of sources. [ NOAB]

Verse 27: One of the sharpest satires on non-Hebraic religion ever penned. [ NOAB] Baal is so contemptible that his silence may be due to day-dreaming, napping, or a need to answer a call of nature. [ NJBC]

Verse 28: “they cut themselves ...”: Ritualistic gashing of oneself was fairly common. Deuteronomy 14:1 forbids the Israelites from doing so. See also Leviticus 19:28; Hosea 7:14; Jeremiah 16:6,; 41:5; 47:5. [ NOAB]

Verse 29: “the time of the offering of the oblation”: See also 2 Kings 16:15. Acts 3:1 tells us: “One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o'clock in the afternoon”. [ NOAB]

Verses 30-32a: After Moses wrote down the words of the Law on Mount Sinai, Exodus 24:4-8 tells us that he “built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel”. Moses pours the blood of oxen over the altar; here Elijah pours water over it. [ NJBC] In Genesis 35:10; God gives to Jacob the name Israel. [ NOAB]

Verse 36: “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel”: This is reminiscent of Exodus 32:13. There, after the Golden Calf incident, Moses asks God to “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel”. There too the people return to worshipping Yahweh. Perhaps Elijah is the new Moses. [ NJBC]

Verse 38: Some wish to rationalize “the fire of the Lord” by calling it lightning preceding the rain, but it must be borne in mind that the ancient writer intended to describe a miracle. [ NOAB] He wrote long before it was known that water on parched land, particularly a highland, increases the probability of a lightning strike.

Verse 40: The slaughter of “the five hundred prophets of Baal” is sometimes interpreted as a vast human sacrifice to Yahweh. The people of the time and the (slightly later) writer saw the struggle between Baal and Yahweh as one of life and death. [ NOAB]

Note the steps in the conversion of the people:

  • In v. 21, Elijah comes “near” to the people, and asks them to choose between Baal and Yahweh (or to cease being Baalists – note “your god” in v. 24).
  • In v. 24, the people agree to the contest.
  • In v. 35, the people accept Elijah’s invitation to come “closer to him”.
  • In vv. 34-35, the people help him prepare the altar.
  • In v. 39, the people accept Yahweh as God. [ NJBC]

Psalm 96

Note the similarity to Isaiah 40:10 (“See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him”); 44:23 (“Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel”) and 49:13 (“Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones”). 1 Chronicles 16:23-33, in the context of David’s bringing the Ark to the Temple, is very similar. [ JBC]

The missionary character of this psalm is unusual.

This is a hymn of praise to the Lord, calling on all peoples to join in acknowledging his sovereignty, to bring offerings to the Temple courts, confident that his rule will be just. All creation is invited to unite in praise of the God who is already ruling the world with righteousness. [ CAB]

Verse 1: “new song”: This commemorates new evidence of God’s rule – divine supremacy is to be acknowledged in liturgical worship. A “new song” is also mentioned in Revelation 14:3. [ NJBC]

Verse 2: “tell of his salvation from day to day”: Continually, day by day, tell of his saving deeds of old. [ JBC]

Verse 5: “idols”: Literally zeroes, a favourite term of Isaiah, also found in 2:8 and 10:10. The ineffectiveness of other gods compared with Yahweh’s power. [ JBC]

Verse 6: Personification of divine attributes in the entourage of the deity is also found in Mesopotamian hymns. [ JBC]

Verse 6: “sanctuary”: probably the Temple. [ JBC]

Verses 7-12: A summons to all nature and to the physical universe to join in God’s praise. [ NOAB]

Verses 7-9: Taken from 29:1-2, but where Psalm 29 refers to gods, this psalm speaks of families of peoples. [ NJBC]

Verse 8: “come into his courts”: Probably the Temple courts. In the ancient Near East, subject kings were obliged to present themselves before the suzerain on a regular basis. [ NJBC]

Verse 9: “in holy splendour”: i.e. in ceremonial garments. [ NOAB]

Verse 10: “The Lord is king!”: The cry of the enthronement psalms, now proclaimed to the world. See also 93:1 and 97:1. [ NJBC]

Verse 12: A theophany (see 50:3) or cultic rite when the Ark is carried in procession (see 2 Samuel 6:5, 9) and enters the Temple (see 24:7, 9). Such a cultic event would dramatize the ancient myth of divine warrior entering his palace and beginning his world reign after defeating the powers of chaos. 50:3 says “Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him”. [ NJBC]

Verse 13: See also 98:4-9. [ NOAB]

Galatians 1:1-12

Comments generally follows the interpretation in BlkGal.

1:1-5: The salutation emphasizes both Paul’s divinely given authority as an “apostle” and, in his message, the atoning death of “Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins”: see Mark 10:45 and 1 Timothy 2:5-6. [ NOAB]

1:1: “apostle”: The Greek word apostolos developed a specific Christian nuance under the contemporary Jewish institution of the seliah , one sent: a commissioned agent with full powers to carry out a definite (legal, prophetic or missionary) charge. [ NJBC]

1:1: “sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities”: BlkGal offers not from human beings nor through a human being. Paul was commissioned as a missionary by the church at Antioch: see Acts 13:1-3. The critique of Paul’s apostleship was on two grounds:

  • that his apostleship originated with the leaders of the church at Antioch, and/or
  • it was mediated through an individual – presumably Peter (see v. 18), or possibly Barnabas.

1:2: “Galatia”: The name derives from Gallic tribes (the Gauls, or Celts) who migrated to Asia Minor and settled in the heartland in the 200s BC. Galatia can refer to:

  • the territory occupied by descendants of these ethnically Gallic tribes and
  • the Roman province established in 25 BC, and its inhabitants.

The ethnic area was to the north; however the Roman province extended southwards, almost to the Mediterranean. Paul, on his first missionary journey, established churches in the southern part, at (Pisidian) Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. [ BlkGal] NOAB says that the area around Ancyra (modern Ankara), in the ethnic area, is meant.

1:3: “Grace ... peace”: See also Romans 1:7 and 2 Thessalonians 1:2 [ NOAB]

1:4: “who gave himself for our sins”: Jesus says in Mark 10:45 “... the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many”. See also 1 Timothy 2:6. [ NOAB] The letter’s dominant chord is sounded: salvation through Christ according to the Father’s plan or will. [ NJBC]

1:4: “the present evil age”: Judaism commonly made the distinction between the present age and the age to come. John says in Revelation 21:1 “I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more”. See also 2 Peter 3:11-13. [ CAB] Paul echoes this distinction and sees the present age as dominated by Satan. In 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul writes: “... the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ ...”. Christ’s giving of himself has brought about the meeting of the two ages and freed human beings from this “age”. See 1 Corinthians 10:11. [ NJBC]

1:6-7: Instead of his customary thanksgiving, Paul voices his surprise and shock at Galatian fickleness.

1:6: “so quickly”: Either in the sense of so soon after your conversion (and my evangelisation) or so easily.

1:6: “the one who called you”: It was Paul’s preaching that called the Galatians to faith: see 4:13-14 [ CAB] To NOAB, it is God, through Christ: see v. 15. The Father’s plan is executed through the benevolence of Christ. [ NJBC]

1:6: “a different gospel”: i.e. different from the gospel that Paul proclaimed: see also 3:3 and 4:12-20. [ CAB] Since the gospel is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16), emanating from Christ, who is not divided (1 Corinthians 1:13), there can only be one gospel. This Paul has already proclaimed to them. [ NJBC]

1:8,9: “accursed”: The Greek word is anathema, with the sense of being cut off from God forever. In Romans 9:3, Paul writes: “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh”. [ CAB] In Romans 9:3, Paul says “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people [Jews], my kindred according to the flesh”. See also 1 Corinthians 12:3. [ NOAB]

1:8: “an angel from heaven”: In 3:19-20, Paul refers to the Jewish belief that Mosaic law was enacted by angels. Even if one of them were to appear again with a modified gospel, he is not to be heard – in fact, Paul curses such a being. [ NJBC]

1:10: “... please people ...”: These words indicate that Paul has been accused of being a people-pleaser, most likely because he has not mandated circumcision for his Gentile converts ( 6:24-25). [ CAB] Paul denies an opponent’s charge that he conciliates people to win converts. In 1 Thessalonians 2:4, he writes: “... we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts”. [ NOAB]

1:10: “a servant of Christ”: His conversion has freed him from the “yoke of slavery” (see 5:1), which was Mosaic law, with its emphasis on human achievement. He has become a slave of Christ, prompt to obey him: see Romans 6:16-20. There may also be a further nuance. In Philippians 1:1 and Romans 1:1, Paul calls himself a slave (NRSV: “servant(s)”), possibly like great Old Testament figures who served Yahweh faithfully (e.g. Moses in the Septuagint translation of 2 Kings 18:12). If he were courting human favour, he would not be true to such a calling. [ NJBC]

1:11: Despite his severity, Paul addresses the Galatians as “brothers and sisters”. A message merely “of human origin” would be no “gospel of Christ” (v. 7) or “revelation” (v. 12). [ NOAB]

1:11: “the gospel that was proclaimed by me”: The essence of this gospel is that salvation is possible for all human beings alike through faith in Christ. [ NJBC]

1:11-12: In 1 Corinthians 1:17, Paul says that he was sent by Christ. [ CAB]

1:12-2:14: The Judaizers apparently had accused Paul of having derived his message not from Christ, because he had never witnessed the ministry of Jesus, but from other preachers, and having watered it down for Gentiles by eliminating the obligation of Jewish practices. He replies by citing his historic commission and by explaining his relation with the mother church in Jerusalem. [ NJBC]

1:12: “through a revelation of Jesus Christ”: The “of” can mean either his vision revealed Christ (see v. 16) or that Christ (not human beings) revealed the gospel. The revelation near Damascus told Paul about Christ and his meaning for humanity. It gave him the essential character of the gospel, not necessarily its form (details). For the facts about Jesus’ life, Paul depended on an early tradition emanating from the Jerusalem church. [ NJBC]

Luke 7:1-10

This story appears to be another version of the story found in Matthew 8:5-13. There is a story in John 4:4-54 (John’s second sign) which tells of the restoration to health of a slave of a “royal official”, whom NOAB sees as a Gentile military officer. There, Jesus is in Cana, some 18 miles (20 kilometres) from Capernaum. There too, Jesus heals the slave without visiting him.

That Jesus heals remotely, by word alone, would be especially appealing the the early Church. This is particularly apparent in Luke. JBC surmises that the story in Matthew and that in Luke were originally two stories, that in oral transmission they merged to a degree. The stories as we have them agree in dialog, but not in the details of the action.

This passage is unusual in that it shows that it shows the friendly relations between Jewish elders and Jesus. Here is a Roman who respects both Jews in general and Jesus in particular. [ BlkLk]

Verse 2: “whom he valued highly”: The Greek word is entimos . He is very dear to the centurion. Luke is always conscious of human relations. [ JBC]

Verse 3: “Jewish elders”, i.e. leaders in the Jewish community. [ NOAB]

Verse 5: Acts 10 tells the story of Cornelius, also a centurion, who “was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God” [ NOAB] In Cornelius, God showed to Peter that he is impartial to race. In 3:14, soldiers respond positively to the message delivered by John the Baptizer. [ NJBC]

Verse 5: “synagogue”: This is one of two references in the New Testament to a synagogue as a building rather than as a meeting. The other is in Acts 18:7 (Paul in Corinth). [ CAB]

Verse 6:Comments: don’t enter my house because, being Gentile, entering it would make you ritually unclean: In John 18:28, those who take Jesus to Pilate’s headquarters avoid ritual defilement by remaining outside. In Acts 10:14, Peter insists that he has never broken ritual food laws. [ JBC]

Verse 7: “servant”: BlkLk says that the Greek word, pais, can mean either servant or child. He says that boy is used in the Middle East in modern times. (In verses 2 and 10, the Greek word is doulos, slave or servant .) Perhaps pais in v. 7 shows endearment.

Verse 9: Though Luke lacks the climactic utterance of Matthew 8:13 (“‘Go; let it be done for you according to your faith’”), his intent is the same: the faith of the Gentile is acceptable to Jesus. [ NOAB]

Verse 9: “such faith”: The centurion is worthy not because he has done good deeds for Israel but because he believes that God in Jesus conquers death. His unexpected faith is contrasted with that of those who were expected to believe but did not. [ NJBC]

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