1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD.” 6 They rose early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to revel.
7 The LORD said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8 they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” 9 The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10 Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”
11 But Moses implored the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
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 down 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 reading is separated by 11 Chapters from last week’s reading in which YHWH gave the Decalogue and the people asked Moses to serve as their covenant mediator by speaking directly with YHWH (Ex. 20:19).
Chapters 21 to 23 contain ordinances that deal with particular cases. This is called the “Covenant Collection.” In the next chapter, Moses and the people ratified the Covenant (24:8), and Moses went up to the top of Mount Sinai (24:18) for forty days and forty nights – a euphemism for a long time. In Chapters 25 to 31, YHWH was said to give instructions to Moses on building and furnishing a Tabernacle, ordaining priests, and priests’ vestments. YHWH emphasized that observance of the sabbath was the sign of the perpetual covenant between HYWH and the Israelites (31:16). Finally, YHWH gave Moses two tablets on which YHWH had written the covenant (31:18).
All these chapters contain the instructions about the way in which YHWH would dwell among the Israelites and be acknowledged as their God. Because the account of the Golden Calf follows soon after these instructions, the authors of Exodus wanted to emphasize that making an idol was a perverted, humanly- devised means of securing God’s presence and was a violation of YHWH’s instructions.
The Golden Calf story has some curious elements. The gold for the idol presumably came from the gold jewelry that was mysteriously given to the Israelites by Egyptians when they were leaving Egypt (12:35-36). Aaron, who was Moses’ brother and the first High Priest, led the idolatry (v.5).
The calf/young bull was a symbol of strength and fertility, key elements in Baal worship that was present in Israel until the Exile (587 BCE), and was also present in other Middle Eastern religions. Ironically, the “festival” (vv. 5-6) was not for the worship of some other “gods,” but was a festival to YHWH (v.6). Making the idol itself, however, was a violation of the commandment that no idols of God could be made (20:4).
Angrily, YHWH told Moses that the Israelites were “your” people (v.7) and that YHWH was going to “consume” them (v.10) and make of Moses a great nation. In urging YHWH to change his mind, Moses appealed both to YHWH’s reputation with other nations and his earlier unconditional promises to the patriarchs (v.12-14). Implicit in this is the notion that somehow God cares about reputation. The JSB points out that “Moses’ invocation of the patriarchs became the precedent for the postbiblical idea of ‘the merit of the ancestors’ in Jewish prayers.”
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary observes that Moses plea is “perhaps the most impressive and poignant description of a servant of God in the Hebrew Scriptures, as he gives up fame and ease for himself to stay with his people, interceding effectively in their behalf.”
The idea that an anthropomorphic YHWH could have a change of mind (v.14) is also found in the story of the decision by God to destroy mankind by the Great Flood (Gen. 6:6), and when Abraham negotiated with YHWH to try to dissuade God from destroying Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18:23-32).
In the verses that follow today’s reading, Moses’ anger with the Israelites was so great that he threw the Covenant tablets and broke them (symbolizing that the covenant had also been broken). He took the calf, burned it with fire, ground it to powder, mixed it with water, and made the Israelites drink it (vv. 15-20).
The Jewish Study Bible discusses the fact that there is an account of golden calves having been erected by Jeroboam I (the first king of Northern Israel after Solomon’s death in 930 BCE) in Bethel and Dan (recounted in 1 Kings 12:25-33). Some scholars believe that the Exodus Golden Calf narrative was a negative recasting of an earlier northern legend about Jeroboam’s calves. By portraying the Golden Calf in Exodus as idolatry, the narrative showed the legitimacy of the Jerusalem Temple and the illegitimacy of the northern sanctuaries at Bethel and Dan.
1 O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful, and sure.
2 For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the palace of aliens is a city no more, it will never be rebuilt.
3 Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you.
4 For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm,
5 the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled.
6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations;
8 he will swallow up death forever. Then the LORD God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.
9 It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
The Book of Isaiah is a composite of writings from three distinct periods in Ancient Israel’s history. The writings were made from about 700 BCE to about 300 BCE, and then assembled into a single book.
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 Israel and Judea to repent in the years before the Assyrians conquered Israel in 722 BCE and 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 part of four chapters (24-27) that are called the “Isaiah Apocalypse” because of the eschatological (end times) themes in them. Although they are included in First Isaiah (Ch. 1-39), most scholars date these four chapters to the Persian Period (539-333 BCE) or the early Hellenistic Period (333-300 BCE).
Today’s reading is in the form of a psalm and contains two distinct themes. Verses 1-5 began with praise for YHWH and then recounted the destruction of an unidentified city (v.2). Some scholars suggest that the city may be Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 612 BCE.
The last four verses depicted God’s victory over evil and sorrow. The JSB says they are “the rejoicing of the faithful remnant and the end of sorrow in the future.” The image used was an eschatological banquet reminiscent of the banquet on Mount Sinai alluded to in Exodus 24:11. Because YHWH will “swallow up death forever” (v.8), it reversed the customary image of death swallowing up everything. These verses are often read at funerals.
1 My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
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.
Euodia and Syntyche were women leaders in the Jesus Follower community in Philippi and were likely heads of house-churches. The Jewish Annotated New Testament surmises that they were “co-evangelists with Paul in the founding of this church.” Paul saw their disagreement as harmful to the community. He urged them “to be of the same mind in the Lord” (v.2) and asked an unidentified “loyal companion” to assist them in resolving their differences (v.3).
The JANT observes: “Since Paul’s letter will be read aloud to the congregation, naming both women could aim at quashing the disagreements of these dissidents.” The NOAB understands the “book of life” (v.3) to be “a book kept by God containing names of those to be saved” – notion found in Psalm 69:28 and Daniel 12:1.
1 Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
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 continues Matthew’s account of the time Jesus was in Jerusalem after the “Cleansing of the Temple” (Matt. 21:12-13) and was contending verbally with the Temple Authorities and the Pharisees during his last week.
Today’s “parable” is regarded by most scholars as an allegory. Scholars see the wedding banquet (v.2) as the Kingdom of Heaven or salvation and reminiscent of the eschatological feast in Isaiah 25:6-9. The first two groups of “slaves” (vv.3 and 4) sent to call persons to the banquet are the prophets sent to Ancient Israel. The NOAB sees the third group of slaves (v.10) as “the Christian mission.” The burning of the city (v. 7) is the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 CE by the Romans (which occurred about 15 years before this Gospel was written). The New Jerome Biblical Commentary emphasizes that “ready” is used in verses 4 and 8, thereby signifying “extreme eschatological urgency.”
Because Matthew’s Gospel was written for a Jewish Jesus Follower community, The JANT understands the gathering of the “good and bad” (v.10) as both Jews and Gentiles. The JANT interprets the “wedding robe” (v.12) as representing righteous deeds, citing Rom. 13:12 (“put on the armor of light”) and Gal. 3:27 (“clothed yourself with Christ”). The NOAB understands verse 13 as portraying an image of hell. The JANT observes that “few are chosen” (v.14) has its antecedent in 2 Esdras 8:1-3.