22 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
23 Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,
24 The LORD bless you and keep you;
25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
27 So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.
Numbers is the fourth book of the Torah (Hebrew meaning “teaching” or “Law”). The Torah is also called the Pentateuch (Greek meaning “Five Books”).
Numbers takes its name from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that was completed in the period from 300 to 200 BCE in Alexandria. Its name is derived from the fact that the first four chapters of the Book contain (extraordinarily inflated) census numbers.
Numbers begins as the Israelites were preparing to leave Sinai to proceed into the Wilderness before entering the Promised Land. If the time in the Wilderness is historical (no convincing archeological evidence has been found to support it), this would have been around 1250 BCE.
Most of the book of Numbers was written by the “Priestly Source” during the Babylonian Exile (587-539 BCE) and the 100 years after the Exile, but there are parts of the Book that scholars date to “J” (950 BCE) and “E” (850 BCE). The Jewish Study Bible notes that there are three major units in the Book (1) the final encampment at Sinai and the preparation to resume the wilderness trek: (Ch. 1-10), (2) the generation-long march in the desert from Sinai to Moab (Ch. 10-22); and (3) the encampment in Moab before entering Canaan (Ch. 22-36).
Today’s reading is the conclusion of the chapter that specified the vows one must take to be a “nazirite” – one who is consecrated (or separated) — a type of lay priest. The vows were to abstain from fermented drinks, cutting one’s hair, and coming in contact with the dead. In the scriptures, there are only three persons who can be clearly identified as nazirites for life: Samson (who did not abide by his vows), Samuel, and John the Baptizer.
This reading is a priestly blessing from YHWH (“LORD” in all capital letters in the NRSV) on the Israelites before they went into the Wilderness.
In Post-Exilic times, this Blessing was delivered at public gatherings at the sanctuary in Jerusalem. Two silver amulets dated to the 7th and 6th Centuries BCE were found outside Jerusalem that contain versions of this Blessing.
The JSB says this blessing has been preserved to modernity in Jewish liturgy as part of the “Amidah” (the central prayer in Jewish worship) and a part of the blessing recited by parents for their children on Friday nights.
4 When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.
Galatia was a large Roman province in what is now western Turkey. This letter was likely written by Paul in the late 40’s or early 50’s (CE) and dealt in part with controversies between Jewish Jesus Followers and Gentile Jesus Followers regarding the continuing importance of Torah (Law) to Jesus Followers. In particular, did Gentiles have to be circumcised and follow the Kosher dietary laws to become Jesus Followers? If not, what was the role of Torah for both Jewish and Gentile Jesus Followers?
These issues are also discussed in Paul’s letter to the Romans (written in the early 60’s) and in Chapter 15 of Acts of the Apostles.
Galatians is a “transitional” letter in that – when compared to Paul’s last letter (Romans) — it shows an evolution in his views on the relationship between the Torah and the Gentile Jesus Followers.
In his description of his confrontation with Peter in Antioch (2:11-15), Paul said that observing Jewish law was an unnecessary burden for Gentiles, particularly when Jewish Jesus Followers were not observant (v.14). He then went on to argue that observance of the Jewish Law by Gentiles was inconsistent with acceptance of the gospel (vv.15-21).
In today’s reading, Paul emphasized that Jesus of Nazareth was a human and a Jew (“born of a woman under the law”) (v.4). Paul did not assert a “divine paternity” to Jesus. Jesus’s mission was to “redeem those under the law” (the Jews) (v.5). The Greek word translated as “redeem” means to buy back, as in redeeming something at a pawn shop.
All persons, because of the Spirit of the Son, are children of God who can call God “Abba” (Aramaic for father) and are heirs of the Kingdom (v.7).
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippi was a major city in Macedonia on the Roman road to Byzantium (Istanbul), and most of its inhabitants were Roman citizens. Paul wrote this letter from prison. For this reason, some think the letter was written from Rome around 62 CE. Other scholars note that Paul was also imprisoned earlier in Ephesus and made trips to Philippi from Ephesus. Paul had a deep affection for the believers in Philippi and thanked them for gifts sent to him in prison (4:18).
Today’s reading is the best-known part of this Epistle is derived from a hymn that was already in use in Jesus Follower communities, perhaps in a Baptism liturgy. It emphasized the divinity of Jesus the Christ (v.6), the self-emptying love of Jesus (v.7), his servant ministry (v.7), and that (like all human beings) he was subject to death, even a degrading death on a cross (v.8).
The Jewish Annotated New Testament observes that God’s exaltation of Jesus in giving him a “name” (v.9) that is above all names is to be understood in the “biblical sense of that which truly expresses character, power, and status.”
The phrases “every knee should bend” (v.10) and “every tongue confess” (v.11) were echoes of Isaiah 45:23 in which the prophet (speaking for YHWH) asserted YHWH had power to free the Judeans from Babylon and “to me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.”
The Letter to the Philippians contains some of Paul’s strongest assertions about Jesus the Christ is “Lord” and therefore equivalent to YHWH. The NRSV translates the Greek word Kyrios in the Christian Scriptures (which were written in Greek) as “Lord” with a capital “L.” When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek in the Septuagint in the period from 300 to 200 BCE, the name for God, YHWH, was also translated as “Kyrios.” The NRSV translates the letters “YHWH” from the Hebrew Scriptures (which were written in Hebrew) as “LORD” with all capital letters.
The statements in today’s reading are not only religious; they are also political. The Roman Caesars claimed to be “in the form of God” and “Lord.”
Jesus took the form of a slave/servant and emptied himself (poured himself out) for others. This is a theme taken from Isaiah 53, the suffering servant song. For this, he has been highly exalted (resurrected) (v.9). As the Christ, he is also called “Lord” and at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend (v.10).
The JANT says that Paul challenged the Philippians by saying that if one “in the form of God” (v.6) could humbly abdicate the dignity of his original statuus and not exploit his connectedness to God, should not the Philippians do likewise?
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
The Gospel According to Luke is generally regarded as having been written around 85 CE. Its author also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Both books were written in elegant and deliberatively crafted Greek and presented Jesus of Nazareth as the universal savior of humanity. Both emphasized the Holy Spirit as the “driving force” for events.
The Gospel followed the same general chronology of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as the Gospel of Mark, and more than 40% of Luke’s Gospel was based on Mark. The other portions of Luke include (a) sayings shared with the Gospel According to Matthew but not found in Mark and (b) stories that are unique to Luke such as the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Presentation in the Temple, the Prodigal Son, and the Good Samaritan.
Today’s reading is part of an extended Birth Narrative that is unique to Luke. Chapter 2 begins with a census that has no historical support outside this gospel. (There was a census in 6 CE, but not during Herod’s reign which ended in 4 BCE.)
In 2:8, angels appeared to shepherds and announced the birth of “a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (v.11). Although some commentators describe shepherds as lowly and as outcasts, The Jewish Annotated New Testament points out that both Moses and David were shepherds.
According to Luke 1:32, the angel told Mary that her child would be called “the Son of the Most High, and the Lord will give him the throne of his ancestor David.” The shepherds told those whom they found in the manger (Mary and Joseph) what they (the shepherds) had been told about the child (v.17).
The last verse of today’s reading noted that Jesus was circumcised – thereby affirming his Jewishness. Luke’s Gospel stressed Jesus, Mary’s, and Joseph’s fidelity to the Mosaic Law, including the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Jesuas at the Temple 40 days after his birth (2:22-38) and the fact that the family went to the Temple “every year” (2.41) for Passover.