Lesson: 1 Kings 19:1-15a
1 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” 3 Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.
4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and lay down again. 7 The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” 8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. 9 At that place he came to a cave and spent the night there.
Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
11 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15 Then the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus.”
The authors of the Book of Kings were also the authors of the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges and Samuel. These books were given their final form around 550 BCE – long after the events they described. The authors used the stories in these books to demonstrate that it was the failures of the Kings of Israel and the Kings of Judea to worship YHWH 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.)
After Solomon’s death in 928 BCE, the nation divided in two. The Northern Kingdom consisted of 10 tribes and was called “Israel.” The Southern Kingdom had two tribes, Judah and Benjamin and was called “Judea.” For the most part, the Deuteronomists portrayed the Kings of the North as unfaithful to YHWH, and Ahab (873-852 BCE) was one of the worst offenders. His wife was the Baal-worshiping foreigner, Jezebel.
The prophet Elijah is the subject of today’s reading. Just prior to these verses, Elijah invoked the power of YHWH to overcome the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel in the Northern part of Israel. He brought fire upon a huge sacrifice, rain to end a drought, and then killed all the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18).
Ahab told Jezebel what Elijah had done (v.1). Jezebel swore to kill Elijah (v.2), so he ran away as far south in Israel as he could – first to Beer-sheba and then to the Wilderness where he hoped to die (v.4). (The theme of a prophet wishing to die out of a sense of isolation and failure was repeated in Jonah 4:3.)
YHWH’s angels provided food to Elijah so he could journey to Horeb and continue his ministry. (For the Deuteronomists, the holy mountain was called “Horeb” rather than Sinai. “Sinai” was the name used by the authors of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.) Elijah’s receiving food in the wilderness was parallel to Hagar’s story in Genesis 21:19.
The Jewish Study Bible points out that a person could cover 20-25 miles a day walking. If Elijah walked for 40 days and 40 nights (v.8), he could have covered between 800 and 1,000 miles. The JSB suggests that 40 is merely a “formulaic number” for a long time.
When Elijah was at Horeb, the voice of YHWH came to him in the silence (vv.12-13) and told him to anoint Hazael as king of Aram (modern Syria). In the verse after today’s reading, Elijah was told to commit treason by anointing Jehu as King of Israel even while Ahab was still alive (v.16).
This is not the first instance of treasonous activity in the Deuteronomists’ accounts. YHWH told Samuel to anoint David as King even when Saul was still alive. (1 Sam.16:13).
Lesson: Isaiah 65:1-9
1 I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that did not call on my name.
2 I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices
3 a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and offering incense on bricks
4 who sit inside tombs, and spend the night in secret places, who eat swine’s flesh, with broth of abominable things in their vessels
5 who say, “Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.” These are a smoke in my nostrils, a fire that burns all day long.
6 See, it is written before me: I will not keep silent, but I will repay; I will indeed repay into their laps
7 their iniquities and their ancestors’ iniquities together, says the LORD; because they offered incense on the mountains and reviled me on the hills, I will measure into their laps full payment for their actions.
8 Thus says the LORD: As the wine is found in the cluster, and they say, “Do not destroy it,
for there is a blessing in it,” so I will do for my servants’ sake, and not destroy them all.
9 I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah inheritors of my mountains; my chosen shall inherit it, and my servants shall settle there.
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 the Judeans who had returned to Jerusalem (which was largely destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE) after the Exile had ended.
Today’s reading is set in the time after the return and follows a lament by the people (Chapter 64) claiming that YHWH seems to be continuing to punish the people.
Today’s reading is YHWH’s response and noted that the people acted as if they were self-sufficient and did not call on YHWH for help (v.1). The middle verses (3-5) are descriptions of pagan practices adopted by some Israelites and verses 6 and 7 set forth their punishments. According to The New Oxford Annotated Bible, “sacrifices in gardens” (v.3) were sacrifices “in open-air sanctuaries and involved the invocation of nature deities, often with overt sexual content.”
The last two verses of today’s reading are YHWH’s promise that he would raise up those who were the righteous remnant and true servants of YHWH.
Epistle: Galatians 3:23-29
23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
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 deals 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 law to become Jesus Followers? If not, what was the role of Torah for both Jewish and Gentile Jesus Followers?
These issues are also described in Chapter 15 of Acts of the Apostles and in Paul’s letter to the Romans (written in the early 60’s).
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 many ways, the letter was a defense of Paul’s Gentile mission as whole.
In today’s reading, Paul spoke of the Jewish Law as “guarding and imprisoning” us until the Christ came so that “we might be justified by faith” (vv. 23-24). The Introduction to Galatians in The New Oxford Annotated Bible points out that verse 24 has been understood to imply that Judaism and the Torah are “redundant, and perhaps even an obstacle to God’s plan for human salvation.” The NOAB noted, however, that Paul did not draw this conclusion, and expressly rebutted it in Romans 9-11 by acknowledging the continuing force of the Torah and the need for Jewish Jesus Followers to continue to observe it.
Understanding many of the terms used by Paul is often challenging for modern readers. As a devout Jew, Paul recognized the value of the Law, but his conversion caused him to see that “justification” (or righteousness) was no longer a matter of obeying specific laws, but of living a life of faithfulness. “Justified” is to be understood as “being in right relationships with God, others, the world and oneself.” (A page of type in which the right and left margins are straight is described as “justified.”)
The term “faith” as used by Paul also needs to be understood in context. “Faith” is a translation of the Greek word “pistis” – a word that conveys an active quality. The word is perhaps better understood as “faith-ing” or “active faithfulness.” For Paul, “faith” was not a matter of intellectually assenting to a series of doctrines (as many Christians today think of “Faith”).
Instead, “faith” is living a life of loving faithfulness as Jesus of Nazareth lived his life and trusting – as he did — that death will not have the final victory. For Paul, the Resurrection allowed him (and allows us) to encounter the Risen Christ.
Faithfulness to the Christ and a life of loving others also enables us to recognize our essential unity in which there is no Jew or Greek (Gentile), slave or free, male or female (v.28), for we are all one in the Christ.
In footnotes, the NOAB and The Jewish Annotated New Testament state that a “disciplinarian” (paidagōgos) in verses 24 and 25 was a household slave who escorted the master’s son outside the house school to keep him out of trouble and who sometimes punished the boy for his behavior. The Greek word is also translated as “trainer” or “guardian.”
Gospel: Luke 8:26-39
26 Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me” – 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
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 also found in Mark and Matthew, although Matthew set the story as occurring in Gadara, which is a more likely location because Gerasa was 15 miles inland. Both Gadara and Gerasa were in the area known as the Decapolis, the area east of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River (modern Jordan).
The Decapolis was primarily non-Jewish. Everything about the man possessed by demons (in Matthew, there were two men) was unclean: living in tombs and not wearing clothes (v.27). Unlike the disciples who were confused by Jesus’ identity (v.25), the Demoniac called him “Son of the Most High God” (v.28).
In the First Century, having knowledge of the name of a supernatural power gave the knower an advantage in dealing with the person or power. The Demoniac’s response “Legion” (v.30) represented a division of the Roman Army consisting of 5,000 soldiers, so the name showed the power of the demons who possessed the man and was also a not-so-subtle “dig” at the Roman occupiers.
The demons begged to be sent into the herd of swine (Mark said there were about 2,000) and they rushed into a lake (a “sea” in Mark and Matthew) and drowned. Swine were unclean for Jews, but not for Gentiles.
Having lost a sizeable herd of swine would have been a significant economic loss for the residents of the area, and it is not surprising that they asked Jesus to leave (v.37) before he adversely affected their economic situation further.
The request by the cured man to become a follower (v.38) and Jesus’ direction to him to declare what God had done for him in his home. Instead, the man declared what Jesus had done for him (v.39).