19 The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. 20 It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. 22 The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 24 At the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 25 He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the LORD is fighting for them against Egypt.”
26 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the LORD tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 29 But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
30 Thus, the LORD saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great work that the LORD did against the Egyptians. So, the people feared the LORD and believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.
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 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 reading, YHWH gave Moses and Aaron specific instructions about the conduct of the Passover ritual and directed the Israelites to put blood on their doors so that YHWH (or the “destroyer” 12:23) would pass over their houses and not kill the firstborn. At midnight, YHWH struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, including the firstborn of Pharaoh. This tenth “plague” convinced Pharaoh and the Egyptians to tell the Israelites to leave. (As part of the departure, the Isrealites asked the Egyptians for silver and gold and were given it! The silver and gold show up in the story of the Golden Calf in Chapter 32.)
Consistent with Numbers 1:46, 600,000 men with children, flocks and herds (women were completely ignored) departed Rameses and began the trip to the Promised Land after 430 years in Egypt (12:40). At Succoth, YHWH gave further instructions for Passover when the Israelites were in their own land and also directed that the firstborn should be set apart for YHWH (13:12).
YHWH led them in a “roundabout way toward the Red Sea” (13:18) to avoid the Philistines. (This is an anachronism. The Philistines did not come into these lands until the 12th Century BCE.) As to the body of water to be crossed, The New Oxford Annotated Bible explains: “The Hebrew name for Red Sea is ‘yam suf’ which can mean both Sea of Reeds and Sea of the End (that is, distant). Some retain the traditional meaning, the Red Sea, while others think a shallow body of water farther north, perhaps in the area of Lake Timsah is meant. It seems more fitting contextually that the climax of the liberating process should involve a miraculous splitting of a great and distant sea rather than a storm in a shallow lake.” The traditional designation “Red Sea” resulted from the translation into Greek in the Septuagint (LXX) in the 4th Century BCE.
YHWH then told Moses to tell the Israelites to turn back and pitch a camp so that the Egyptians would pursue them. YHWH said, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart and he will pursue them so that I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD” (14:4). The approach of the Egyptians with hundreds of chariots made the Israelites fearful. As part of a pattern of complaining during the Exodus, they asked Moses “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us bringing us out of Egypt?” (14:11).
YHWH told Moses to reassure the Israelites that he (YHWH) would defeat the Egyptians and “gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots and his chariot drivers” (14:17).
Today’s reading tells the story of the deliverance of the Israelites from Pharaoh by the parting of the Sea of Reeds/Red Sea. It combines at least two traditions, one in which the sea was turned into dry land (vv.21 and 29) and another in which the mud clogged the wheels of the Egyptians’ chariots (v.25). The two traditions are also shown by the statements that both an angel and a pillar of cloud led them (v.19).
In this portion of the Exodus, the focus was on the power of YHWH versus the power of Pharaoh (whom Egyptians saw as a god). The exercise of YHHW’s power led the Israelites to “fear the LORD and believe in YHWH and his servant Moses” (v. 31).
The story of the deliverance through the sea is found a number of times in Exodus and in Psalms 78:13, 53 and 106:9. The oldest account is the “Song of Moses” and is in poetry form in Chapter 15:1-20. In that reading, Miriam (identified as Aaron’s sister) is described as a prophet because she led the celebration of the deliverance (15:20).
15 Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” 16 So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, 17 ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. 21 So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.
The word “Genesis” means “origin” and the Book of Genesis starts with the two Creation Stories and concludes with the death of Joseph (Jacob’s son) in Egypt. If the stories about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are historical, these events took place in the period from 1900 to 1700 BCE.
The Book of Genesis (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 continues the story of Joseph. In the last reading, Joseph was reconciled with his brothers (Ch. 45). In the intervening chapters, Jacob and his family relocated to Goshen in Egypt (47:27); Jacob blessed Joseph’s sons and favored the younger son, Ephraim (48:20); Jacob gave blessings to each of his sons (Ch.49); and Jacob/Israel died and was buried at Mamre with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, and Leah (Gen.50:1-14).
Today’s reading is from the last chapter of Genesis. The Jewish Study Bible states: “The overall mood of this chapter is marked by reverence for these larger-than-life figures and awareness that the promise that started their ancestor Abraham on his fateful journey (12:1-3) that has now amazingly largely been fulfilled.” It adds that a “discordant note” is “the anxiety of Joseph’s brothers that their earstwhile victim will seek revenge now that he is no longer accountable to his father” (v.15).
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary observes: “Now that Jacob has died, what will Joseph be like? [The brothers’] message to Joseph (vv.16-17) is the first explicit request for forgiveness that is recorded and they slyly invoke their father’s command [to seek forgiveness]. No wonder Joseph wept. Would they ever learn? Their second attempt begins with the sign of abjection (v.18). Joseph does not deny their evildoing, but points to a higher factor, God’s doing.”
The NOAB notes: “Since [the brothers] had just spoken of themselves as God’s slaves/servants (v.17), their description of themselves as Joseph’s slaves/servants (v.18) implicitly equated him [Joseph] with God. Echoing his father’s words to Rachel (“Am I in the place of God? 30:2), Joseph rejected this equation, attributing his dominion over his brothers as resulting from God’s plan for him to provide for them (v.21).”
Joseph told them that even though they intended to do harm to him, God intended their sale of him into slavery “for good, in order to preserve a numerous people” (v. 20). This statement reflected two important theological ideas of the authors of Genesis and Exodus – that God controls everything and God’s purposes are not always readily apparent.
Other portions of the Hebrew Scriptures, such as much of the Deuteronomic History, Ezekiel, and some of the Minor Prophets, emphasize the importance of human “agency” and the idea that the decisions which people make have an effect on outcomes.
1 Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also, those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.
7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” 12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
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. 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.
In today’s reading, Paul urged Gentile Jesus Followers not to look down on (“despise” v.3) Jewish Jesus Followers who follow the Kosher laws (vv. 2-3) and who observe the Lord’s Day (Sabbath) on a different day (v. 5-6). Paul emphasized that Jews and Gentiles both live in honor of the Lord (v.8). Paraphrasing (and expanding) Isaiah 45:23b, Paul urged both groups to honor God and reminded them that they will each be accountable in their own ways (v.12).
The NOAB observes: “Those who eat only vegetables are most likely keeping kosher by avoiding ‘unclean’ meat (v.14) or meat ‘sacrificed to idols’ (Acts 15:29). Paul calls them weak in faith (or “conviction”), not because they adhere to the Torah, but because they are scandalized by Gentile Christians who eat non-kosher food (vv.13,15,20). The NJBC notes: “Once it is seen that such an issue is not related to the essentials of Christian faith, the obligation of mutual charity becomes clear. Each must accept the other as God would.”
The Jewish Annotated New Testament notes that “day” (v.6) “is not specified; it could be the Sabbath or other feast days, but could also reflect disputes regarding correct observance based on differing calendars.”
21 Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times.
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
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 in two parts. The first is “Q” material, and appears in Luke 17:4 (with forgiveness seven times). The idea of “seventy-seven” as representing a large number is found in Genesis 4:24.
The second part of the reading is the “Parable of the Unjust Servant” and is found only in Matthew. The NOAB points out that a Talent was worth more than 15 years wages of a laborer. If (in today’s dollars), a laborer was paid $100 a day or $30,000 in a year, a Talent would be $450,000, and 10,000 Talents would be $4.5 Billion. By comparison, a denari was a day’s wages ($100 in today’s dollars) and the slave who owed 100 denarii would have owed about $10,000.
The NJBC comments that the Parable of the Unjust Servant “is only loosely attached to this teaching [in vv. 21-22]. It is properly a homiletic midrash on the instruction of Matthew in 6:12, 14-15 [The Our Father and verses following], probably composed by the evangelist himself to make part of the Lord’s Prayer vivid to his people.”