2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your complaining against the LORD. For what are we, that you complain against us?” 8 And Moses said, “When the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the LORD has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the LORD.”
9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.’“ 10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. 11 The LORD spoke to Moses and said, 12 “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’“
13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.
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.
Today’s reading was set one month after the Crossing of the Sea of Reeds. As in numerous other places in the stories set in the time in the Wilderness, the Israelites complained to Moses and Aaron about their food, water, and other matters, in a manner that (for the reader) is mildly humorous. Although the Israelites say to them “you brought us out” (v.4b), The Jewish Study Bible observes that it is God, not Moses and Aaron, who took them out of Egypt, and their complaints are really against God.
This reading combines two traditional stories that use (and greatly expand) two foods found in the Sinai at various times – manna and quail. An expanded story about food – particularly quail — is in Chapter 11 of the Book of Numbers.
The manna story is Priestly (dated to about 550-450 BCE) as shown by the prohibition on collecting manna on the Sabbath (v. 5). Manna (which is an Arabic word that means “what is it?”) is the carbohydrate-rich excretion of two scale insects that feed on twigs of tamarisk trees. It can be purchased, even today, in the Arab Quarter of Jerusalem. The JSB notes that manna is still found in parts of the Sinai in June and July. Bedouins use it as a sweetener. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary points out that manna contains glucose and fructose but no protein and cannot be harvested in quantity.
Regarding the quail, The JSB notes: “Quail migrating, often in great numbers, between Africa and Europe in the spring and fall often drop exhausted in the Sinai and are caught by hunters…. The quail were not a supernatural phenomenon, but their timely appearance at God’s promise was an act of divine providence.”
One of the overarching themes of the Book of Exodus is acknowledging that YHWH is Israel’s God, and Moses and Aaron emphasized this to the Israelites (vv. 6-7). As The New Oxford Annotated Bible points out: “In the Priestly view expressed here, the divine glory is an envelope of light (associated with the pillar of cloud and fire [citing verses] which veils God’s being. Though human beings cannot see the deity, they can perceive the glory that signifies God’s presence.”
3:10 When God saw what the people of Nineveh did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
4:1 But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. 3 And now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 And the LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” 5 Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.
6 The LORD God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 10 Then the LORD said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
The Book of Jonah is one of the shortest in the Bible and is included in the Bible with the 12 Minor Prophets. Even though Jonah is never described in the Book as a “prophet,” he is a “reluctant prophet” who speaks for YHWH (translated as “LORD” in the NRSV) by urging the Assyrians to repent (3:4). Ironically, although Jonah initially rejected YHWH’s call, he was — according to the story – the most successful prophet ever. Unlike the other books in the Prophetic Corpus, the Book of Jonah is a narrative; it contains no divine announcements (oracles), and Jonah is the only prophet who openly rebels against God.
The Book of Jonah was written during the “Persian Period” (539 BCE to 333 BCE). The story, however, was necessarily set hundreds of years earlier in the period of Assyrian power – a time of Assyrian conquests and threats against Israel and Judea (850 to 650 BCE).
Sending Jonah to convert Nineveh (the Assyrian capital, and modern-day Mosul) at the height of Assyria’s power would be seen by everyone as a “Mission Impossible” task. When told by God to go to Nineveh, Jonah effectively refused and he got on a ship for Tarshish (the end of the earth for a Mediterranean person, namely, Spain) – about as far from Assyria as he could possibly go.
Notwithstanding his attempts to avoid his mission to Nineveh, the story recounted that Jonah was thrown overboard by the sailors because his disobedience of God’s directive caused a great storm. He was thrown overboard by the sailors to quiet the storm, and was then swallowed by a fish, spit out by the fish on the shore and went to Nineveh. Nineveh is described as so large it took three days to walk across it (3:3). Such a city would be over 100 miles wide and long (walk at 3 MPH x 12 hours per day x 3 days = 108 miles.) Modern excavations show the city was large – about 3 miles wide and that it had a wall about eight miles around it.
Once in Nineveh, Joshua warned the Assyrians of impending destruction if they did not repent. To Jonah’s amazement and chagrin, the Assyrians and their king repented. God’s mind was changed by this repentance, and God decided not to punish them. Jonah wanted a God who would engage in retributive justice and punish the Assyrians, rather than a God whose “judgment” is one of divine grace.
Today’s reading recounts Jonah’s anger with God for being merciful to the Assyrians. Echoing YHWH’s “self-description” in Exodus 34:6 that God is merciful and abounding in steadfast love, Jonah told YHWH that he fled to Tarshish precisely because he knew God would be willing to relent from punishing the Assyrians (4:2). Jonah wanted Nineveh to be punished and was so angry about God’s relenting that he preferred to die (4:3, 4:8) rather than see the “enemy” repent and receive God’s mercy.
The Jonah story is not history. Nineveh never repented in the 8th Century BCE. The Assyrian Empire destroyed the Northern 10 tribes (Israel) in 722 BCE. Assyria put Judea under siege for many years around 700 BCE. By the time of the writing of this story, Nineveh had long since been destroyed by the Babylonians in 612 BCE.
The NOAB points out that the intentionally humorous notion of animals in the sackcloth (3:8) makes a serious point: mercy is not restricted to God’s human creations.
The JSB observes: “The particular plant described here (v.6) belongs to the realm of the fantastic that is provided only by God, just as was the ‘great fish’ in whose belly a man can be accommodated. This plant suddenly grows to provide shade over Jonah’s head and just as suddenly it withers.”
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary notes that the author of the book of Jonah likely intended a parallel with Elijah ‘s request for death in 1 Kings 19:4. “The contrast between the two situations is not lacking in irony: Elijah asks for death because his preaching has failed to effect conversion, while Jonah makes the same request because his preaching has been an overwhelming success.”
Among its other messages, the Book of Jonah emphasized the inclusivity of God’s love and mercy for all, not just the people of Israel and Judea. Similarly, the Book of Ruth (in which a Moabite woman – the Moabites were a hated enemy of Judea — became the great grandmother of King David) and portions of the Book of Isaiah conveyed the message that God’s mercy and love are inclusive and not limited only to Jews.
Other books of the Bible, however, such as Ezra and Nehemiah (written around 450 BCE), required the Jewish people be exclusive. Some of the Jews who remained in Jerusalem during the Exile had intermarried. After the Exile, they were required by Ezra to send away their foreign wives and the children they had by them (Ezra 10:3).
The tension (and disagreement within Judaism) between inclusivity and exclusivity continued into the First Century of the Common Era. In opposition to the exclusivist Sadducees, Jesus of Nazareth was clearly presented in the Gospels as an inclusivist.
Both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke recount Jesus’ referring to the “sign of Jonah” but they do so in very different ways and with different meanings. In Matt. 12:39-41, Jesus says, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here.”
Luke 11:29b-30, on the other hand, has Jesus say: “This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation.”
21 To me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23 I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25 Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26 so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.
27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28 and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29 For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well — 30 since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
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) 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 a Jesus Follower 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 reflects Paul’s personal tension between living in the flesh and seeing dying as “gain” for living in Christ (v. 21). As The NJBC points out, the ultimate goal for Paul is Resurrection, but Paul envisions “being with Christ” (v.23) in some state prior to the general resurrection.
In his epistles, Paul used the phrase “living in the flesh” in two different ways – to denote a life that is governed by the values of the world and, in other contexts, to simply be alive as a human being. Here, he used it in the latter sense and noted that the Philippian community would benefit from his staying alive (v.24).
The Jewish Annotated New Testament understands the phrase “boasting in Christ Jesus” (v.26) as meaning that the Philippians will “speak exultantly of another, as of the Lord’s attributes and deeds.”
Paul’s exhortation to “live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (v.27) was a subversive statement for Roman citizens in that it presented Jesus the Christ as Lord rather than Caesar as Lord. Paul recognized that having Jesus as Lord might lead to suffering but that it would bring salvation (wholeness) for the Philippians (vv. 28-29).
1 Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
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 unique to Matthew, and presents an understanding of God much like the presentation of God in the story of Jonah and Luke’s Parable of the Prodigal Son. As The NOAB points out, it “is a deliberate challenge to conventional views of just reward.”
In many Biblical stories, Israel is presented as God’s vineyard.
The NOAB notes that a denarius (the usual daily wage) (v.9) was sufficient to provide one day’s food for a family. Under Jewish Law (Lev. 19:13 and Deut. 24:15), laborers were to be paid before sundown on the same day they had worked.