1:8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13 The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 15 and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.
15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. 18 So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” 20 So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”
2:1 Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. 3 When she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. 4 His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.
5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. 6 When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. 7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” 8 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So, the woman took the child and nursed it. 10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”
The Book of Exodus is the second book of the Bible and covers the period from the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt under Pharaoh (around 1250 BCE, if the account is historical), the Exodus itself, and the early months in the Wilderness.
The Book of Exodus (like the Torah as a whole) is an amalgam of religious traditions, some of which are dated to about 950 BCE and some of which were developed as late as 450 BCE. Since the late 19th Century, Biblical scholars have recognized four major “strands” or sources in the Torah, called “J” (Yahwistic), “E” (Elohistic), “D” (Deuteronomic) and “P” (Priestly). These sources are identified (among other ways) by their different theological emphases, names for God, names for the holy mountain, and portrayals of God’s characteristics.
Last week’s reading recounted Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers. In the intervening chapters, Joseph brought Jacob (sometimes called “Israel” in the texts) and his possessions to Egypt and settled him and 11 his brothers in Goshen. When Jacob was about to die at age 147, he made Joseph promise to bury him in Canaan, at Mamre (50:13). Prior to his death, Jacob adopted Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, and gave the greater blessing to Ephraim, the younger son (48:20). This “explains” why the 12 tribes include Ephraim and Manasseh (Levi did not get land) and forms the “basis” for the Tribe of Ephraim to gain ascendency in Northern Israel.
According to Exodus 12:40, the Israelites were in Egypt for 400 years after the death of Joseph. If the stories are historical, this would place the events in the early chapters of Exodus as sometime in the reign of Rameses II (1279-1213 BCE).
Today’s reading begins with a new king “who did not know Joseph” (v.8). The New Oxford Annotated Bible interprets this phrase as meaning that the king did not “acknowledge any obligations to Joseph’s descendants.” The NAOB explains that the king’s concern (vv.9-10) was “the presence of [a large number of] Israelites on Egypt’s frontier was regarded as a security risk.” It continues that Pithom and Rameses are presumably in Goshen but their location is not certain.
The term “Hebrew” according to The NAOB “probably refers to displaced persons rather than to a specific ethnic group.” The word appears about a dozen times in Exodus chapters 1 to 9, but afterwards only once. The phrase “Hebrew midwives” (v.15) can also be translated as “midwives of the Hebrews” in which case the two women could be Egyptians. In verse 22, the Pharaoh turned to all Egyptians to carry out genocide by killing all male children.
Chapter 2 begins the familiar story of the rescue of Moses by Pharaoh’s daughter from the reeds in the Nile River. The same story was told of Sargon of Akkad (2300 BCE) and likely was the model for the Moses story. In Hebrew, the word for “ark” in the Noah story is the same word used for “basket” (v.2:3) in the Moses story. (Just as Noah’s ark rescued humankind, Moses liberated the Israelites from Pharaoh.) Moses’ priestly role was emphasized by stating that both his father and mother were Levites (2:1). Moses’ older sister (vv. 2:4 and 7) will later be identified as Miriam (15:20).
According to The NAOB and The Jewish Study Bible, although the text (2:10) says Moses’ name was related to the fact that he was drawn out of water, “Moses” is derived from an Egyptian word that means “son” or “to beget a child” and is found in names of Egyptian deities such as Thut-mose.
1 Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the LORD. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.
2 Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many.
3 For the LORD will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.
4 Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me, my nation; for a teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples.
5 I will bring near my deliverance swiftly, my salvation has gone out and my arms will rule the peoples; the coastlands wait for me, and for my arm they hope.
6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and those who live on it will die like gnats; but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.
The Book of Isaiah is a composite of writings from three distinct periods in Ancient Israel’s history. The writings were compiled from about 700 BCE to about 300 BCE.
Chapters 1-39 are called “First Isaiah” and are the words of a prophet (one who speaks for YHWH – translated as “LORD” in all capital letters in the NRSV) who called for Jerusalem to repent in the 30 years before Jerusalem came under siege by the Assyrians in 701 BCE. “Second Isaiah” is Chapters 40 to 55. In these chapters, a prophet brought hope to the Judeans during the Exile in Babylon (587 to 539 BCE) by telling them they had suffered enough and would return to Jerusalem. “Third Isaiah” is Chapters 56 to 66 in which a prophet gave encouragement to Judeans who had returned to Jerusalem (which was largely destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE) after the Exile ended.
Today’s reading is from Second Isaiah (sometimes called “Deutero-Isaiah” by scholars) who prophesied to the Exiles. He gave a powerful affirmation that the promises to Abraham regarding the land and descendants (v.2) will be kept by YHWH, and Israel will be a teacher to “the peoples” (v.5). The NAOB observes that ethical teaching was a prominent theme in these chapters of Isaiah. The promise of “salvation” (vv.5 and 6) is the restoration of Jerusalem. This promise will even survive the created order.
The JSB sees these verses as a series of brief statements to explain why the nation’s current state (Exile) is not a cause for hopelessness. For example, Abraham and Sarah (v.2) were small in number (like the Exiles in Babylon) but God multiplied their descendants. Similarly, God is the source of all teaching (Torah) (v.4) and the teaching will be a light to the peoples. The word for “peoples” (goyim) is sometimes translated as “nations” or “pagans” or “Gentiles” depending on the context.
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary observes that apart from Genesis, this is the only mention of Sarah in the Hebrew Bible.
1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Paul’s letter to the Romans was his longest, last, and most complex letter. It was written in the late 50s or early 60s (CE) (about 10 years before the earliest Gospel (Mark) was written) to a Jesus Follower community that Paul did not establish. Among many messages in the letter, Paul sought to encourage respectful and supportive relationships between the Gentile Jesus Followers and the Jewish Jesus Followers in Rome.
The “backstory” is that in 49 CE, Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome, including Jewish Jesus Followers. The next Emperor was Nero who reigned from 54 to 68 CE. Nero reversed his predecessor’s decree and allowed Jews to return to Rome. This return caused tensions within the Jesus Follower Community in which Gentiles had become prominent.
Paul died in 63 or 64 CE. Accordingly, the Temple in Jerusalem (which was destroyed in 70) was in full operation all during Paul’s life. As a Jew who was also a Jesus Follower, Paul saw the Jesus Follower Movement as part of a broader Judaism and continued to have expectations about the fullness of the Coming of the Messiah/the Christ. The term “Christian” had not been invented in his lifetime.
Today’s reading is the beginning of a three-chapter portion of Romans in which Paul urged the Jesus Followers in Rome to right conduct. This portion of Romans was built on the theology expressed by Paul in earlier chapters and emphasized that all members – Jewish and Gentile – of the Jesus Follower Community in Rome were “brothers and sisters” (v.1). The Jewish Annotated New Testament sees it as particularly aimed at “Gentiles [who are] to live faithfully as Christ-followers in the midst of the Jewish communities of Rome. In disclosing how God is working through those Israelites who are bringing the message to the nations as well as those who are not, Paul therefore exhorts the Gentile Christ-followers to change their mind-set and behavior to fulfill their responsibilities in this design.”
The NJBC interprets “as a living sacrifice” (v.1) to mean that “Christians who strive to do what is right give a cultic sense to their lives. Paul implicitly compares them with animals slaughtered in Jewish or pagan cults, but he adds a distinguishing note: their offering of themselves is ‘alive and living’ not accomplished through dead animals.”
All the Jesus Followers should not be “conformed to this world” (v.2), which is another way Paul spoke of being “subject to the flesh” – having earthly self-centered values. As The NOAB points out, this exhortation is also found in Galatians, Philippians and 1 Corinthians. Paul urged the Jewish and Gentile Jesus Followers to be humble (v.3). Using the familiar metaphor of the body for the community, Paul stated that they are one body in Christ (v.5) with many members with separate roles to play (vv.6-8). The JANT notes that “prophecy (v.6) is speaking the word of God to the community.”
13 When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
The Gospel of Matthew highlights Jesus’ origins and identity. Written around 85 CE by an anonymous author, the Gospel began Jesus’ genealogy with Abraham and depicted Jesus as a teacher of the Law like Moses. More than any other Gospel, Matthew quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures (using the Greek Septuagint translation) to illustrate that Jesus was the Messiah.
Because it was written after the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the Gospel reflected the controversies between the Jesus Followers and the Pharisees for control of Judaism going forward. Accordingly, the Gospel contains many harsh sayings about the Pharisees. The Gospel is aimed primarily at the late First Century Jewish Jesus Follower community.
The Gospel relied heavily on the Gospel of Mark and included all but 60 verses from Mark. Like Luke, Matthew also used a “Sayings Source” (called “Q” by scholars) which are stories and sayings found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark and John. There are also a substantial number of stories that are unique to Matthew: the Annunciation of Jesus’ conception was revealed to Joseph in a dream (rather than by an angel to Mary as in Luke); the Visit of the Magi; the Slaughter of the Innocents by Herod; the Flight to Egypt; the Laborers in the Vineyard; and the earthquake on Easter Morning, among others.
The events in today’s reading took place in Caesarea Philippi, a Gentile city about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee which The NOAB describes as “villages in the northernmost area of (formerly) Israelite territory near the modern Israel-Syria border” and therefore outside the Galilee. It was about 25 miles north of Bethsaida, the place where Jesus had healed a blind man in the first part of Chapter 16. (Caeserea Philippi may have been the chosen location for today’s events because it is close to Mount Hermon, the highest mountain in Israel, and Chapter 17 contains a description of the Transfiguration.)
Jesus’ question – Who do people say the Son of Man is? (v.13) – is different from the accounts in Mark and Luke in which Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?” (Mk. 8:27. Lk. 9:18). Matthew used the phrase “Son of Man” more than the other Synoptic Gospels as Jesus’ self-identification. The NAOB notes that “the title is ambiguous and can be understood as ‘human being,’ or as a circumlocution for ‘I’ or as a reference to the apocalyptic figure of Daniel 7.13-14 and a future figure representing a restored Israel.”
The suggested answers that Jesus might be John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah (a rejected prophet) or one of the other prophets (v.14) represented a notion that these persons might have been reincarnated as harbingers of the Messiah, an understanding that relied on Mal. 4:5 (3:24 in the Tanakh).
The term “Messiah” literally means “anointed one.” Kings, priests and some prophets were “anointed” and even Cyrus of Persia was described as “messiah” (Is.45:1) because he defeated the Babylonians and ended the Exile in 539 BCE.
In the First Century, there were multiple understandings of the characteristics and anticipated activities of the Messiah. These included:
David/Warrior/Kingdom Restored/Nations “Gathered” – Jer 23:5-6; Jer 33:15-16; Ezek 34:23-24; Ezek 37:24-28; Zech 2:6-12; Zech 14:2-4
Eschatological Prophet to be sent – Mal 3:1, Mal 4:5 [3:24]
New Moses/Lawgiver – Dt 18:15 (No prophet has been like Moses – Dt 34:10)
Son of Man who is given dominion and kingship – Dan 7:13-14
Virtuous King who brings peace (Is 11:1-8)
Brings good news to the poor, proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor (Is 61:1-7)
Enters Jerusalem on a donkey (Zech 9:9); and comes into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives (Zech 14:4).
Verses 16b to 19 are unique to the Gospel of Matthew.
The NOAB notes that the title “Son of [the living] God” (v.16b) “was a Greek title for a ruler or divine leader, a favorite, in particular, of the first Roman emperor Augustus, who was Herod the Great’s patron. It was also, however, another Hebrew royal title (Ps. 2.7).”
The JANT says of “this rock” (v.18): “Christian traditions disagree whether the ‘rock’ is Peter (leading to claims for the papacy) or his faith. Church, Gk ‘ekklēsia’ (see 18.18). The LXX utilizes ekklēsia’ (“assembly”) for the Heb ‘qahal’ (‘congregation’)…. Matthew is the only canonical gospel to use this term.”
The power to “bind and loose” (v.19) has a parallel power given to all the disciples in 18.18. The JANT understands the power as power to “forbid and permit” in a legal sense. The NJBC says that binding and loosing are “rabbinic technical terms that can refer to binding the devil in exorcism [citations], to the juridical acts of excommunication, and of definitive decision making (a form of teaching through legislation, policy setting).”
The NJBC notes that in the Gospel of Thomas, this key role of binding and loosing was given to James, the leader of the Jewish Jesus Followers in Jerusalem. For Gentile Jesus Followers, it speculates that Paul would have been the preferred candidate. It says that Peter thus represents a compromise that can hold both tendencies in the early church in an uneasy synthesis.
The admonition “not to tell anyone he was the Messiah” (v.20) is described as “the messianic secret” and is found in all the Synoptic Gospels, but not in the Fourth Gospel. It is especially prominent in Mark. Of the messianic secret in Mark, The JANT says: “These commands could be a form of dramatic irony used to increase awe of Jesus (esp. because the audience knows the true meaning of the secret). They may suggest that keeping a low profile is the best policy in a setting where governments distrust charismatic leaders (as seen not only in Jesus’ death by crucifixion but also by the death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod Antipas). The motif may be part of Mark’s Christology: the Gospel insists that Jesus’ messianic identity necessarily includes suffering and that Jesus dies as a ransom (10.45); his role thus cannot be fully understood until after his crucifixion.”