Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20


1 Then God spoke all these words:
2 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me.
4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
8 Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. 9 For six days you shall labor and do all your work.
12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
13 You shall not murder.
14 You shall not commit adultery.
15 You shall not steal.
16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

18 When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”


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.

In last week’s story, after the Israelites complained, Moses struck 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.

In the intervening chapters, the Israelites were attacked by the Amalekites, described by The New Oxford Annotated Bible as “a widespread semi-nomadic group [which] claimed control of the wilderness in the region of Kadesh, where Meribah is.” The Jewish Study Bible observes that the Amalekites in later Jewish tradition came to symbolize anti-Semites in general. The story introduced Joshua, a young warrior, who defeated the Amalekites and was victorious so long as Moses raised his arms to hold the rod which he had used to defeat Pharaoh (17:11-12). The Israelites continued to battle with the Amalekites over the next centuries until they were exterminated during the reign of Hezekiah (727-688 BCE) (1 Chr 4:41-43).

Moses was visited by his father-in-law, Jethro (also called Hobab by a different source), who brought Moses’ wife and sons back to him (in one tradition, they were sent back to Midian when Moses went to Egypt). Jethro urged Moses to appoint judges to relieve his administrative burdens (18:15-27). The JSB observes that this incident was likely chronologically misplaced in the Torah because later passages in Exodus assume a pre-Jethro judicial system. The JSB goes on to say: “Talmudic sages recognized that the Torah sometimes narrates events out of their chronological sequence for literary or rhetorical purposes (‘there is no earlier or later in the Torah’).” It notes that the incident may have been placed here to juxtapose the Midianites’ friendliness with the enmity of the Amalekites and therefore served as a “guide” for future dealings with these two nations.

In Chapter 19, the Israelites came to Mount Sinai where they remained for a year as recounted from Exodus 19 to Numbers 10:10. The events at Mount Sinai began on the third new moon after leaving Egypt (19:1) “on that very day” – a clear indicator of the Priestly source.

At Sinai, the Israelites entered a number of covenants with YHWH. The first was a conditional covenant with YHWH (“If you obey my [YHWH’s] voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.”)(19:5). The JSB notes that the word for “treasured possession” is segulah, “signifying a king’s private property, as distinct from that used for public purposes.” There was a ceremonial purification in which there was a theophany (appearance of God in thunder, lightning, and earthquake).

Today’s reading is part of Chapters 19 to 24, which The JSB describes as “the defining and seminal moment in Israel’s relationship to God.” It points out that the sequence of events in these chapters is “extraordinarily difficult to follow” because they “were transmitted in multiple versions that differed about the nature of the event and what God communicated to the people.”

In the theophany in today’s reading, YHWH gave the Decalogue – literally, the “ten words” (v.1) – often called the Ten Commandments. The words are presented as coming directly from God.

The structure of the Decalogue was as an exclusive covenant similar to a Lord-Vassal relationship in the Ancient Middle East: YHWH recounted what had been done for the Israelites (v.2) and then directed reciprocal obligations of the Israelites (vv. 3-17). There are no punishments stated for not obeying the words, but the omitted verses (5 and 6) state that the guilt of the parents who reject YHWH will be visited upon their children to the third and fourth generations.

The Commandments are divided into two groups: duties to God (vv. 2,4,7,8) and to other humans (vv.12-17). Because Ancient Israel was a patriarchal society, the Ten Words were addressed to males. Wives “belonged to” men, just as houses, oxen and other items did (v.17).

The words in verse 3 (part of the First Commandment) (“you shall have no other gods before me”) does not deny the existence of other gods but asserts that Israel shall acknowledge no other gods than the God who liberated them. This is generally called “henotheism.”

The NOAB observes that “imageless worship of God [‘not make any idol,’ vv. 4-5] distinguishes Israel’s religion from those of its neighbors whose deities are typically depicted in animal or human form.” It notes that a “jealous god [v.5] will tolerate no rivals for Israel’s devotion (34.14)”

This version of the Decalogue is called the “Priestly Decalogue” because of its emphasis on the Sabbath, particularly in the omitted verses 10 and 11. Other versions of the Decalogue appear in Exodus 34:11-26 (the “Ritual Decalogue”) and in Deuteronomy 5:6-21, and both are different in some respects from the Priestly Decalogue.

In the Deuteronomic version of the 10 Commandments, for example, wives do not “belong” to men (Dt. 5:21), and the rationale for observing the Sabbath is the liberation from Egypt rather than YHWH’s resting on the seventh day of creation (vv.9-11).

Isaiah 5:1-7


1 Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!


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 verses from First Isaiah (c. 730 BCE) used a vineyard as a metaphor for Israel (the northern 10 tribes) and Judea. It began as a love song to the beloved (YHWH) but turned into an indictment by YHWH of Israel and Judea. In speaking for YHWH, the prophet spoke in the third person (vv. 1-2) and expressed how his beloved (YHWH) loved the vineyard and cared for it.

In verses 3 to 6, YHWH was the speaker and expressed disappointed that the carefully cultivated vineyard yielded only “wild grapes” (v.4) unsuitable for wine. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary observes that the Hebrew word be’usim means “not strictly wild grapes but rotten ones (from a root that means ‘to stink’).”

In verses 5 and 6, YHWH said the vineyard would become “a waste.” (The Assyrians conquered Israel in 722 BCE, and the Babylonians conquered Judea in 597 and destroyed the Temple in 586 BCE.) The NOAB observes that “the verdict reflects a type of treaty and covenant curse [citing verses]. The curse on the vineyard will be reversed in 27.2-6.” It also notes that “briars and thorns are a frequently occurring motif in Isaiah connoting infertility of the land, ecological degradation, with a moral dimension [citing verses].”

In Verse 7, the voice is again that of the prophet. This verse contains two word plays in Hebrew: YHWH expected justice (mishpat) but saw bloodshed (mishpah) and expected righteousness (tsedaqah) but heard a cry (tse’aqah).

Philippians 3:4b-14


4b If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.


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.

Today’s reading follows verses (2-4a) in which Paul opposed “Judaisers” (whom he called “dogs” in v.2) – Jesus Followers who claimed that Gentiles needed to be circumcised to be Jesus Followers. This was a major issue in the early Jesus Follower Movement and was a primary topic of a “Council” in Jerusalem described in Acts 15. Paul stated that he was circumcised — “we who are the circumcision” (v.3a).

Regarding the use of the term “dogs,” The Jewish Annotated New Testament notes: “The ancient world was generally unfamiliar with warm interactions of masters with domesticated varieties of dogs (see Isa 56.10-11), a term usually meant as insulting… Vicious or otherwise detestable, most dogs were uninhibitedly unclean in their shameful public scavenging (2 Kings 9.10, 36), so that terming anyone ‘dog’ was derogatory [citing numerous Biblical examples].”

In other epistles, Paul used “flesh” (v.4b) to mean human weakness and the tendency to adopt the values of the world rather than compassionate love. Here, however, he used “flesh” to mean an emphasis on physical rituals. Paul spoke of his own Jewish credentials (v.5-6) but rejected them as “rubbish” (his actual word in Greek is translatable as “dog poop”) because he said he was now in “righteousness” (a right relationship) with God through his faith in the resurrection of Jesus the Christ (v.9-10). The NJBC understands “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (v.8) as “going beyond intellectual knowledge to include in the OT sense experience and deep personal involvement; it also transforms the subject into the likeness of the one known (cf. 2 Cor 3:18).”

The NOAB notes that Paul’s self-description as a “Pharisee” meant he was a “member of the group most concerned with interpretation of the law” and The JANT adds “and more expert in the Law than his opponents.”

Paul’s designation of himself as a “persecutor” (v.6) is found in Acts 9, 1 Corinthians 15, and Galatians 1. The NOAB understands “righteousness under the law, blameless” (v.6) to mean that “Paul did not see himself as guilty or incomplete before [that is, prior to] his encounter with Christ.” The JANT understands Paul’s description of himself as a “Hebrew born of Hebrews” as a reference to his parentage. The NJBC sees the term “Hebrew” to mean a Greek-speaking Jew who also spoke Hebrew or Aramaic.

These verses reflect Paul’s view that “righteousness” did not come through his own efforts by obeying the law (v.9) but from God through faith. “Faith” for Paul was not a matter of intellectual assent to a series of propositions (as it has become for most post-Enlightenment persons). The Greek word pistis that Paul used (usually translated as “faith”) has an active component and is better understood as “faithfulness” – the active living into a life of love. The JANT understands the words “if somehow” in verse 11 as an expression of humility, not doubt.

Matthew 21:33-46


33 Jesus said, “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.


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 is part of the continuing controversies between Jesus and the Temple Authorities during Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem. It follows the reading from last week in which Jesus spoke of the son who obeyed and the one who did not (21:28-32).

This “parable” is also in Mark 12 and Luke 20, and is more like an allegory. A vineyard was a traditional metaphor for Israel. The NOAB points out: “the the vineyard is Jerusalem, the tenants the religious authorities (see v. 45), the slaves the prophets, and the son Jesus himself.” Verse 33 is almost a direct quote from Isaiah 5:2, a reference which would have been known to Jesus’ hearers.

The NOAB also notes that the customary economic arrangement would have been for the tenants to contract with the owner to give him an agreed-upon portion of the crop and that they would be able to keep what is left.

The JANT observes that the killing of the son “outside the vineyard” (v.39) reflects the fact that, according to the Gospel accounts, Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem’s walls.

Verse 42 is a close paraphrase of Psalm 118:22-23, a psalm of thanksgiving that reflected a positive reversal of Judea’s fortunes. The JANT points out that the identification of Jesus with the cornerstone became a “proof text” in the early Jesus Follower Movement (See Acts 4:11).

The NJBC observes that the “wicked tenants” are not killed (v.41) — “he will put those wretches to a miserable death” — but the Kingdom of God is taken away from them (v.43). This is one of the few times Matthew used “Kingdom of God” rather than “Kingdom of Heaven.”

The JANT states that Matthew’s references to Jesus as a “prophet” (vv.11 and 46) would have been supported by Josephus and others who took the position that prophecy continued through the late Second Temple period, that is until 70 CE. According to The JANT, later rabbinic sources claimed that prophesying ended after the Exile (587-539 BCE).