1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
The Book of Exodus is the second book of the Bible and covers the period from the slavery of the Israelites 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 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.
In last week’s reading, Moses’ call from YHWH in the Burning Bush Story was recounted. In the intervening chapters, YHWH directed Moses to return to Egypt to free the Israelites. Moses attempted to offer excuses that YHWH rejected. He got permission from his father-in-law to return to Egypt with his wife, Zipporah, and his son. Enroute, there is a story of Moses’ circumcision (Ex. 4:24-26) that can only be described as bizarre. In Chapter 6, there is another account of Moses’ call by YHWH that contains the Priestly introduction of the name YHWH (6:2). In Egypt, Moses and Aaron entreated Pharaoh nine times to let the Israelites leave and sometimes Pharaoh would agree. But then YHWH (who is portrayed as controlling everything) would harden Pharaoh’s heart, and Pharaoh would renege on his promises. As a result, nine plagues were sent upon Egypt.
Today’s reading comes after Pharaoh’s ninth refusal to free the Israelites and just before the final plague (death of the firstborn). It gives detailed instructions for the first Passover.
The parts of Exodus that were written as late as 450 BCE were written by the Priestly writers. The directions in today’s reading are presented as being given by YHWH to both Moses and Aaron (the first high priest). Like almost all the Priestly writings, it contains specific details as to dates for observances.
The sacrifice of the Passover lamb and putting its blood on the houses of the Israelites were integral to their deliverance from Egypt because it was a sign to YHWH (in some verses, accompanied by the Destroyer,v.23) to “pass over” the marked homes and not kill the firstborn in those homes. The sacrifice of the Passover lambs was not described in Exodus as a means of atonement for sin. It was an integral part of the liberation of the Israelites.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible notes that the priestly instructions concerned “passover – an ancient nomadic herders’ spring festival which Israel reinterpreted as a celebration of liberation.” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary expands this understanding. It notes that P combined the rites of the Passover lamb and of the unleavened bread. “The two rites were originally separate. The first was a rite of herders to propitiate the gods when they moved from the well-watered winter pastures to the arid summer ones. The second was a rite of farmers, a kind of spring cleaning of the previous year’s old leaven. The text connects the lamb sacrifice with the Exodus (vv.11-13). The unleavened bread is made a memorial of the Exodus in the narrative itself (12:34).”
The NOAB continues: “Passover (‘pesah’) despite the traditional understanding of ‘passing over,’ more likely means ‘have compassion on’ or ‘protect’ (‘spare,’ Isa 31.5). Reading ‘protect’ instead of ‘pass over’ before ‘you’ (v.13), ‘door’ (v. 23) and ‘houses’ (v. 27) gives a more authentic sense.” The Jewish Study Bible notes that the word “pesah” means “protection” and “the translation ‘passover’ and hence the English name of the holiday is probably incorrect. The alternative translation ‘protective offering’ is more likely.”
The JSB observes that the requirement that the remaining parts of the sacrifice be burned (v.10) shows “the sacrifice must be used only for its sacred purpose; hence no leftovers may be saved for eating later.” It continues that “in the future their [the Jewish people’s] annual week-long self-deprivation of leavened bread will serve as a reminder that God so overwhelmed the Egyptians that the latter ultimately hastened the departure of the slaves they had earlier refused to free.”
The Fourth Gospel described Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (Jn.1:29,36) – a reference is to the Paschal Lamb. In this Gospel (unlike the Synoptic Gospels in which Jesus was crucified on the second day of Passover), Jesus was crucified and died before at the time the lambs were being slaughtered at the Second Temple in preparation for Passover (Jn.19:31). Like the Paschal Lamb (Ex. 12:46), Jesus’ bones were not broken (Jn.19:36). In the Fourth Gospel, the crucifixion of “the Lamb of God” was presented as the means of deliverance from the power of societal sin.
7 You, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 8 If I say to the wicked, “O wicked ones, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand. 9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life.
10 Now you, mortal, say to the house of Israel, Thus you have said: “Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?” 11 Say to them, As I live, says the LORD GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?
Ezekiel 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 speaks for YHWH.
Here, YHWH referred to Ezekiel as Israel’s “sentinel” to warn the people to turn from their wicked ways (v.8). The NOAB observes that “the prophet’s role as sentinel was stressed again to explain how the intention behind Ezekiel’s doom prophecy is not death but life, to call the people to repentance.” The JSB adds “the watchman is not responsible for the fate of the people if he warns them, but he is fully responsible if he does not.”
An emphasis in the Book of Ezekiel was on personal responsibility (“their blood I will require at your hand” v.9), rather than seeing the acts of prior generations as the cause of the current situation. This was a new development in the Theology of Ancient Israel. Ezekiel also presented repentance (turning around) as the way to a restored life and told the people that personal sinfulness is forgivable.
The Hebrew words (ben-adam) translated as “mortal” in verses 7 and 10 are sometimes translated in other contexts as “son of man.”
8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
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 (Acts 18:2). 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.
This integration of the Jesus Follower Movement into Judaism is clearly expressed in The Jewish Annotated New Testament’s analysis of Romans 13:1-7. It says: “The traditional view of Romans 13 is that it exhorts Christ-followers to obey the state. Although the “rulers” (Gk “archontes”) in 13.3 could be imperial authorities, more likely they are synagogue rulers [citing numerous Christian Scripture verses]. Paul’s principal concern is how non-Jews should behave among Jews who did not share, or who resisted, their convictions (as ‘enemies’; see 11.28n.). Gentile readers might well have expressed resistance to synagogue authorities and membership obligations (such as the Temple tax). Hence Paul’s continuing challenge to resentment, most explicit in ch 11, now in the more practical matters of institutional behavior. Gentiles are to live respectfully towards Jews and so to accept their communal leaders’ authority. This includes paying the Temple tax for those claiming full membership in Jewish communities as these Gentile Christ-followers do.”
Continuing this analysis, The JANT says: “It is difficult to understand how Paul would sanction the Roman Empire as instituted by God (v.1) or as ‘God’s servants’ (vv.4, 5 and 6). It notes that the word translated as “servant” is leitourgoi, which “often signifies a more cult-oriented activity” such as performed by Temple priests rather than the Roman tax collectors.
Today’s reading picks up at the end of this discussion and is a continuation of a three-chapter portion of Romans in which Paul urged the Jesus Followers in Rome to engage in good conduct, particularly to each other. Reflecting his Jewish roots, Paul exhorted the Jesus Follower Community in Rome to follow the Commandments, particularly to love one’s neighbors as oneself, a commandment in Lev. 19:18.
Like most early Jesus Followers, Paul believed that Christ would return soon (“salvation is nearer to us now” v.11). Paul used “the flesh” (v.14) as his code word for the values of the world – values that are not consistent with living a life modeled on the life of the Jesus the Christ. The NOAB observes that “Put on the Lord Jesus [v.14] was an early Christian metaphor for baptism (Gal 3.27).”
15 Jesus said, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
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 “Q” material that briefly appears in Luke 17:3b (“If another disciple (in Greek “your brother”) sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive.” The NJBC notes: “Matthew constructed a three-stage trial procedure for disciplining a recalcitrant brother. He provided divine backing for these judicial decisions moving from law to theology.” The NOAB observes that the procedures are similar ones that were used by the Essenes. Deuteronomy 19:15 speaks of the need to have additional witnesses as discussed in verse 16.
The NRSV translators’ notes point out that the phrase “a member of the church” (v.15) in Greek is “your brother” and that other ancient authorities lack the words “against you” in that verse. The NOAB notes that Matthew is the only evangelist to who used the term “ekklēsia” (v.17). The NRSV translates this word as “church” but it can also be properly translated as “assembly” or “congregation.” In that same verse, the Greek word “ethnikos” is translated in the NRSV as “Gentile” but it can also be translated as “pagan.” The NJBC understands the phrase “let them be to you as a Gentile or tax collector” as being excommunicated from the community and adds that it is “a drastic step to be taken only in serious matters where the welfare of the community is at stake. Jesus welcomed tax collectors but only when they showed faith and repented their sins (9:9-13).”
Verse 18 expands to the disciples (or the faith community) the power to bind and loose given to Peter in 16:19.
Both The JANT and The NJBC point out that Jesus’ statement about his presence (or the presence of the Sacred) when two or three are gathered (v.20) has parallels in rabbinic literature and practice.