1 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The LORD said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”
The Book of Exodus is the second book of the Bible, and covers the period from the slavery 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 were written 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 that YHWH provided manna and quails to the Israelites after their complaints about not having food. The remaining part of this story came from the Priestly writers and emphasized that the Israelites were directed to collect only so much manna as they needed for the day and if they collected too much it became foul. On the sixth day of the week, however, they were to collect enough manna for two days so that they would not have to work on the Sabbath (16:30). The Jewish Study Bible points out that providing “double the bread” in this story is the source of the Jewish custom of placing two loaves of bread on the table at Sabbath and festival meals.
Today’s reading recounts Moses’ striking a rock at Horeb (another name for the mountain called “Sinai” in other Torah sources) to provide water for the Israelites during the time in the Wilderness. This story also appears in Numbers 20:2-13, but in that version, Moses struck the rock twice (which was understood as his not having enough confidence in YHWH). For this lack of faith, he and Aaron were not permitted to enter the Promised Land with the Israelites.
The JSB points out that “In the Sinai, there are limestone rocks from which small amounts of water drip, and a blow to their soft surface can expose a porous inner layer containing water.”
The “test” by the Israelites (v.2) was their demand for proof that YHWH was among them and controlling events (v.7). The names given to the places (v.7) reflect the Hebrew words for “quarrel” and “test.”
Although Meribah is one of the springs at Kadesh (-Barnea) in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula (the Negev), archeologists cannot determine the location of the Wilderness of Sin or Rephidim, and no archeological evidence of substantial numbers of persons inhabiting the Sinai Peninsula at any time before 1000 BCE has ever been found. As a result, many scholars doubt that these accounts are historical.
Notwithstanding the Bible’s use of hyperbole to emphasize a point, Numbers 1:46 contains a “census” of the Israelites in the Wilderness and says the men older than 20 years numbered more than 603,000. Adding women and children would bring the total number of persons to over 1.2 million. If each person received a half pound of food and a pint of water each day, 300 tons of food and 150,000 gallons of water would have been needed every day for 40 years.
The accounts are a reminder, however, that even if the Bible is not always historically or scientifically true, the stories are “profoundly true.” By expressing in story the various authors’ perceptions of the Sacred, these accounts help us understand our relationships with God and others.
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? 3 As I live, says the LORD God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. 4 Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.
25 Yet you say, “The way of the LORD is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? 26 When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. 27 Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. 28 Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. 29 Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of the LORD is unfair.” O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?
30 Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the LORD God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the LORD God. Turn, then, and live.
Ezekiel (whose name means “God strengthens”) is one of the three “Major” Prophets – so called because of the length of the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a priest who was among the first group of persons deported by the Babylonians when they captured Jerusalem in 597 BCE.
The Book of Ezekiel is in three parts: (1) Chapters 1 to 24 are prophesies of doom against Jerusalem before the destruction of the Temple in 586 BCE; (2) Chapters 25 to 32 are prophesies against foreign nations; and (3) Chapters 33 to 48 are prophesies of hope for the Judeans written during the Babylonian Exile (586-539 BCE).
Like other prophets, Ezekiel “prophesied” by speaking for God. Prophesy in the Hebrew Bible was not about telling the future. A prophet was one who spoke for YHWH.
In today’s reading, YHWH was presented as rejecting the idea that a prior generation’s wrongs are borne by later generations (v.3). This is at variance with other portions of the Hebrew Bible in which the sins of the parents are visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation (Ex. 20:5 and 34:7, Deut. 5:9) or to the next generation (1 Kings 21:29). The NOAB observes: “In the exiles’ current situation, however, it is not appropriate for them to blame their ancestors for their misfortunes as they were doing (Jer 31.29-30). Ezekiel’s audience is far from an innocent generation. Nevertheless, individuals within the community can take responsibility, turn from sin and choose life amidst the coming corporate (communal) punishment.”
For Ezekiel, the fall of Jerusalem and fall of the House of David in 586 BCE was seen as resulting from the actions of the kings who reigned after the death of Josiah in 609 BCE during the years prior to the Exile and the failure of the people to worship YHWH properly.
In the omitted verses (5-24), Ezekiel gave a number of examples of personal responsibility and recounted three stages of individual responsibility – fathers, sons and grandsons.
This emphasis in the Book of Ezekiel on personal moral responsibility (rather than seeing acts of prior generations as the cause of the Exile) was a new development in the theology of Ancient Israel. As a corollary to this, Ezekiel said that because the community in Exile was responsible for its own plight, repentance by that community was the way to a restored life (vv.27-32).
The JSB notes that verse 32 “repent therefore and live” plays a significant part in the high holy day liturgy, a period of retrospection and personal repentance.
1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
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.
12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Philippi was a major city in Macedonia on the Roman road to Byzantium (Istanbul). Most of its inhabitants were Roman citizens, including veterans of Roman armies. Paul had deep affection for the Jesus Followers in Philippi and thanked them for gifts sent to him in prison (4:18). Paul wrote this letter from prison, but it is not clear if he was in Rome, Caesarea, or Ephesus. If the letter was written from Rome, it would have been written around 62 CE. Other scholars note that Paul was also imprisoned earlier in Ephesus and made trips to Philippi from Ephesus. Some scholars see the letter as a conflation of a number of letters Paul wrote to this community.
The NOAB points out that the immediate occasion of Paul’s writing was the return to Philippi of Epaphroditus (2:25-30), described in verse 25 as “my brother and co-worker and fellow soldier, your messenger and minister to my need,” who had been sent by the Philippian community with gifts for Paul.
As the early (c. 55-60 CE) Jesus Follower community tried to determine what it meant to be Jesus Followers in terms of beliefs and practices, it is not surprising that disagreements arose. At the time of Paul’s writing to the Philippians, none of the Gospels had been written (“Mark” was written around 70 CE) and it took many years for “orthodox” positions and practices to develop.
The first part of today’s reading (vv. 1-4) contains a common theme in Paul’s letters — a call for unity. He asked the Philippians to “be of the same mind, having the same love, and being in full accord.”
The last part of today’s reading is the best-known part of this Epistle and is derived from a hymn that was already in use in Jesus Follower communities, perhaps in a Baptism liturgy. It emphasized the divinity of the Christ (“in the form [essence] of God” v.6), the self-emptying love of Jesus (“kenosis” v.7), Jesus’ servant ministry (“form [essence] of a slave” v.7), and that (like all human beings – “in human form [essence]”) Jesus was subject to death, even a degrading death on a cross (v.8).
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary points out that the Greek word morphē (translated as “form”) (v.6) is that which “denotes the mode of being or appearance from which the essential character or status of something can be known.”
The statement that Jesus took the form of a slave/servant and emptied himself (poured himself out) for others were themes taken from Isaiah 53, the Suffering Servant Song. For this, the servant has been highly exalted (resurrected) (v.9).
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 [YHWH] every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.”
This Hymn affirms the Jesus as The Christ was both divine and human. Instead of exploiting his being “in the form of God” (v.6), — that is sharing the essence and nature of God — Jesus of Nazareth as a human being had the form of (the essence or nature of) a human/slave/servant (v.7) and emptied himself (poured himself out) for others. Paul continued that Jesus as the Christ has been highly exalted (resurrected) by God (v.9).
The Letter to the Philippians contains some of Paul’s strongest assertions that 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.
Paul asserted that at the name of Jesus (rather than at Caesar’s name) every knee should bend. The Hymn’s statements are not only religious, but they are also political (v.11). The Roman Caesars claimed to be “in the form of God” and (as rulers) to be the “Lord.”
The Jewish Annotated New Testament contains an extended discussion of the “Christ-Hymn” (vv.6-11). It notes that it is “the earliest extant material underpinning later Christology and is the New Testament’s most explicit exposition of the nature of Christ’s incarnation.” The Hymn portrays the pre-existing Christ as emptying himself by incarnation and taking the form of a slave/servant and living a life in which he poured himself out for others. Because of these humbling actions, God exalted the Christ by giving him a “name” in the Biblical sense of that which truly expresses character, power and status. The JANT continues that if one in the form of God could humbly abdicate the dignity of his original station in obedience to the divine will and not exploit his connectedness to God, surely the Philippians could follow his conduct in humility and obedience.
23 When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
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.
Today’s reading was set during the last week Jesus spent in Jerusalem that ended with his crucifixion . It comes the day after Jesus drove the money changers out of the Temple. The NOAB understands the question “who gave you this authority?” (v.23) as implying that the Temple Authorities saw Jesus as no more than a rabble rouser, given the fact that he was not a Jewish priest of the Tribe of Levi. It is noteworthy that Jesus responded to their inquiry “in rabbinic fashion” by asking a question in return.
The JANT understands the Parable of the Two Sons as follows: the first son represents those who repent, but the second son (a liar and hypocrite) represents those who preach but do not practice.
The NOAB says the parable “addresses the subject of why those who are lax in observing the Mosaic Law receive the Kingdom of God” and condemns Jesus’ opponents for unbelief” in John the Baptist’s message of repentance and righteousness.
The NJBC equates “changing one’s mind” (vv. 29 and 32) as repenting.