15 Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” 16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. 18 Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” 19 Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.
21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” 22 So Laban gathered together all the people of the place and made a feast. 23 But in the evening, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. 24 (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) 25 When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” 26 Laban said, “This is not done in our country — giving the younger before the firstborn. 27 Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” 28 Jacob did so and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.
The word “Genesis” means “origin” and the Book of Genesis starts with the two Creation Stories and concludes with the death of Joseph (Jacob’s son) in Egypt. If the stories about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are historical, these events took place in the period from 1900 to 1700 BCE.
The Book of Genesis (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.
Today’s story is the concluding part of Jacob’s journey to find a wife in the land from which Abraham came, Haran. Like many other Biblical men, Jacob met his wife Rachel at a well. Rachel was Jacob’s first cousin in that her father, Laban, was Rebekah’s brother. Although Jacob was previously described in 25:27 as “a mild man who stayed in camp” (JPS) or “a quiet man, living in tents” (NRSV), when he saw Rachel he performed a feat of great strength and singlehandedly rolled the stone from the mouth of the well – a task that would have required the efforts of all the other shepherds who were there (v.10).
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary notes that Jacob, the “heelgripper” (25:26), “knows how to seize the opportunity.”
When Jacob saw Rachel, he kissed her (v.11), and agreed to work for Laban for seven years so Rachel would be his wife (v.18). Scholars note that this story contains one of the few accounts of romantic love in the Bible.
Previously, Jacob (with Rebekah’s assistance) had tricked his father Isaac into giving him the blessing that belonged to Esau, his older twin brother (27:5-29). When the time came for Jacob to marry Rachel, in a clearly ironic twist, Laban tricked the trickster Jacob by substituting his older daughter (Leah) for Rachel in Jacob’s tent on his wedding night (v.23). The New Oxford Annotated Bible suggests that this exchange could be made because the bride was brought veiled to the bridegroom (24:65). The NJBC observes that although Leah’s eyes were described as “lovely” (v.17), the Hebrew word is “rak” which can also mean dull and without luster.
Jacob was understandably unhappy about this development but agreed with Laban to “complete Leah’s week” of marriage festivities, and Laban gave Rachel to Jacob as another wife (v.28). Jacob worked for Laban for another seven years (v.30). Leah bore Jacob’s first four sons, including Judah.
Continuing the theme of the “barren matriarch” that began with Sarah and Rebekah, Rachel was unable to conceive until Jacob had already sired a total of ten sons by Leah, Rachel’s maid (Bilhah) and Leah’s maid (Zilpah). After many years, Rachel gave birth to Joseph (who had the famous coat) (30:22-24) and later died in childbirth when Jacob’s last son, Benjamin, was born (35:19).
1 Kings 3:5-12
5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” 6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 7 And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”
10 It pleased the LORD that Solomon had asked this. 11 God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 I now do according to your word. Indeed, I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.”
The authors of the Book of Kings also wrote the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges and Samuel, usually called the “Deuteronomic History,” a didactic history of Ancient Israel from the time in the Wilderness (c. 1250 BCE) to the Babylonian Captivity in 587 BCE.
These books were given their final form around 500 BCE – long after the events they described. The authors used the stories to demonstrate that it was the failures of the Kings of Israel and the Kings of Judea to worship YHWH properly and obey God’s commands that led to the conquest of Northern Israel in 722 BCE by the Assyrians and the conquest of Judea by the Babylonians in 597 BCE. (The conquests were not seen as the result of the Assyrians’ and Babylonians’ greater wealth and more powerful armies.)
Prior to today’s story, Solomon (who was David’s son by Bathsheba, and not the oldest of David’s sons) acceded to the throne upon David’s death in about 965 BCE through the machinations of Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan (1 Kings 1). Solomon was anointed king even before David’s death, and then ruthlessly eliminated those who might have challenged him as king (1 Kings 2).
Immediately before today’s reading, the author reported that Solomon made a marriage alliance with the Pharaoh and took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her to Jerusalem (v.1) — an action which The NAOB describes as “questionable from a moral point of view” (see Deut. 17:16). The marriage, along with having other foreign wives was noted in 11:1 as one of the reasons for YHWH’s anger with Solomon (11:9). The Jewish Study Bible observes: “Since Egyptian sources indicate it is unlikely that the actual daughter of a reigning pharaoh would have been given in marriage to a non-Egyptian, “daughter” may refer to a woman closely related or descended from the royal family.”
In addition, “the people were sacrificing at high places” (v.2) – another violation of Deuteronomic Law – although (according to The JSB) this prohibition did not arise until after Solomon built the First Temple.
The NJBC takes a more generous view. It sees the marriage as “a common political practice of the day” and notes that worship of YHWH at high places was acceptable before Solomon built the First Temple. The NJBC observes that “Solomon loved YHWH, offered incense at high places” and made an extravagant (1,000 burnt offerings) at Gibeon (v.3).
Today’s story is recounted as a dream sequence in which Solomon asked YHWH for wisdom, and YHWH granted him a wise and discerning mind (v.12). The NAOB suggests that the phrase “not knowing how to go out and come in” (v.7) likely implied a lack of military experience. The notion that the people were “so numerous that they cannot not be numbered or counted” is likely a reference back to the census taken by David (2 Sam. 24) that made YHWH angry – perhaps because it was an act of pride on David’s part.
As events unfolded in 1 Kings, Solomon gained great wealth, expanded Israel’s borders, and exhibited wisdom in the famous “cut the baby in half” incident (3:16-28). But as his rule progressed, he governed Israel harshly and married many foreign wives who turned his heart away from YHWH (1 Kings 11).
According to the Deuteronomists, Solomon’s harsh rule contributed greatly to the breakup of the Kingdom in 930 BCE when he died (1 Kings 12 and 13). Eventually, both the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judea) were conquered, respectively, by the Assyrians in 722 BCE and the Babylonians (587 BCE).
26 The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
38 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 39 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
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 concludes Paul’s theologically dense discussion in Chapter 8. The NAOB interprets the earlier portions of this chapter as follows: The inclinations of human “flesh” prevented earlier generations – including those who received the law at Mount Sinai — from fulfilling the “just requirement of the law.” The law is “thus weakened by the flesh” but Christ satisfied “the just requirement” through “his own act of righteousness.” The law’s “just requirement” is the standard of righteous living.
The NAOB continues that when Paul spoke of “the law of the spirit of life and of death” he was not referring to two different laws but rather to God’s law experienced under two opposing dominions — sin and of righteousness.
Paul’s theology included the idea that “all things work together for good for those who love God” (v.28). Even if matters are not going well, God’s purpose nevertheless prevails (v.28). Paul asserted “foreknowledge” on God’s part (v.29) and predestination (v.30). The Jewish Annotated New Testament points out that Paul assumed in verse 30 that justification and glorification have been accomplished.
Verses 31 to 35 are presented as rhetorical questions, and The JANT suggests that verse 34b is also a rhetorical question even though the NRSV does not translate or punctuate it that way.
In verse 36, Paul quoted Psalm 44:22, a psalm in which Israel stated that it was being mistreated and implored God to intervene on its behalf.
The reading concluded with an oft-quoted affirmation that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (vv. 38-39).
31 Jesus put before the crowds another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
51 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
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.
Out of respect for his Jewish Jesus Follower audience, Matthew did not refer to “the Kingdom of God,” but instead to the “kingdom of heaven.”
The parables/comparisons to the kingdom of heaven in today’s readings are all intended to convey the great value of seeking the kingdom of heaven wholeheartedly and the enormous impact that seeking the kingdom will have in the world. The parables, do not, however, make sense on a literal or practical level.
No sane farmer would sow a mustard seed in his field. A mustard bush is like kudzu – it grows wild and takes over everything in its path. Moreover, what person cultivating a field wants birds in his field where they will eat the seeds and the crops? On a non-literal level, however, the parable emphasized the enormous impact a person who is righteous (in right relation with God, others and oneself) can have. The JANT notes that Jesus was using hyperbole to refer to the growth of the kingdom of heaven.
It would be an extraordinary First Century woman who would have “three measures” (v.33) of flour – about 60 pounds. Is she making bread for the entire village? The JANT observes that it is “an account of unexpected exaggeration.” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary points out: “Leaven in Jewish tradition often had the symbolic meaning of evil, the proneness or tendency to sin in an individual, connected with the rituals of Passover as the feast of Unleavened Bread.”
Selling everything one owns (v.44) to buy a field to get a “treasure” also makes no practical sense. What would this person be left with after having the treasure? No home, no other assets to buy food or anything else. What would the person do with the treasure? Similarly, the pearl merchant was said to “sell all that he had” (v. 46). Now what? The JANT points out that in Rabbinic Literature, pearls relate to piety and Torah Study.
The comparison of the kingdom of heaven to the net (v.47) describes an apocalyptic process in which the good will be separated from the bad at the end of the age (v.48). The JANT says, “Fishermen in the Sea of Galilee would have had to separate kosher and non-kosher fish from their nets.”
Some commentators take Jesus’ question “Have you understood all this?” (v.51) as ironic in that the later behaviors of the disciples showed that they did not fully understand the importance of giving one’s full efforts to the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus’ rejoinder (vv.52-53) is interpreted by The JANT as a positive reference to “Matthew’s own scribes (citing references).” The JANT understands “what is old and what is new” as “implying that older Torah teachings are still valid, but Jesus’ new interpretations must be heeded as well. The rabbis [in the Talmud] also utilized ‘old’ and ‘new’ to refer to the teachings of the Torah and the scribal interpretations of those teachings, respectively [citing Talmud sources].”