1 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4 When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
7 Then the LORD said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”
13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ 15 God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.
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.
Today’s reading is the first account of the Call of Moses and is from both the Yahwistic Source and Elohistic Source, melded together. For example, in verse 4, both the name YHWH and Elohim are used, and verses 7 and 8 from the J Source are duplicated by verses 9-10 from the E Source. Consistent with the J Source, God was presented anthropomorphically and had a conversation with Moses. Another account of Moses’ call is in Exodus 6 and comes from the Priestly Source.
Prior to today’s reading, Moses fled from Egypt after killing an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew. (As The New Oxford Annotated Bible points out, notwithstanding his Egyptian upbringing and appearance (see 2:19), Moses identified with his own people.) Two Hebrew men saw the incident and Moses realized he would be found out. Indeed, according to the story, when the Pharoah heard of the event, he sought to kill Moses (2:15).
Moses fled to Midian where he rescued the seven daughters of the high priest at a well (2:16), and there met his wife, Zipporah (2:21). Later, while tending his father-in-law’s flocks, he came to Horeb (called “Sinai” in other parts of Exodus and the Tanakh). The NAOB says that Horeb (or Sinai) was “likely a Midianite sacred place. Its location is unknown but three poems support the notion here that it is southeast of Israel [nearer to Midian] rather than in what we now call the Sinai Peninsula.”
At Horeb, Moses encountered an angel of YHWH in a burning bush, turned away, and heard YHWH’s voice. After being commissioned by YHWH to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses asked, in effect, which of the gods was directing him. He asked God’s name.
In the Bible, a name usually described a person’s qualities and functions. The power to name someone and, to a lesser extent, the power to call someone by name gave the ability to control them. The Jewish Study Bible says: “Not having been raised among his own people, Moses (like Pharaoh in 5.2) is ignorant of their [the Hebrews’] God’s name and fears he [Moses] will lack credibility with them. He is told God’s name, which the people evidently know already, though 6.3 implies otherwise. (Source critics assign 6.3 to the Priestly source while 3.9-15 are said to be from E).”
When Moses asks for God’s name, the elliptical response he received was “YHWH” – a form of the Hebrew word “to be.”
The name Moses received from the burning bush showed that God is not to be controlled. “YHWH” is variously translated as “I AM WHAT I AM” or “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE” (which The JSB understands to mean “My nature will become evident from My actions”) or “I AM BECOMING WHAT I AM BECOMING” or even “I AM HE WHO CAUSES TO BE.” One of the great insights of the Hebrew Bible is that YHWH is a God of Mystery, is active (as verbs are active) and is not a fixed being that can be described by a noun.
This story seems to indicate that the name “YHWH” was being introduced for the first time. But it also appeared in Genesis 4:26 and 13:4 as part of the Yahwistic tradition.
15 O LORD, you know; remember me and visit me, and bring down retribution for me on my persecutors. In your forbearance do not take me away; know that on your account I suffer insult.
16 Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.
17 I did not sit in the company of merrymakers, nor did I rejoice; under the weight of your hand I sat alone, for you had filled me with indignation.
18 Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail.
19 Therefore, thus says the LORD: If you turn back, I will take you back, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall serve as my mouth. It is they who will turn to you, not you who will turn to them.
20 And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, says the LORD.
21 I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.
After the righteous and reforming King Josiah was killed in battle at Megiddo (from which we get the Greek word “Armageddon”) in 609 BCE, the fortunes of Judea took a sharp downward turn. Babylon threatened Judea’s existence, and Judea had a series of hapless kings from 609 until the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BCE. The Babylonians deported many Judean leaders to Babylon in 597 and a larger number in 586 (the Babylonian Exile).
Jeremiah’s prophesy (i.e. speaking for YHWH) began around 609 and continued until 586 BCE when he died in Egypt.
Most Bible scholars agree that the Book of Jeremiah underwent substantial revisions between the time of Jeremiah (627 to 586 BCE) and the First Century. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, there are different versions of the Book of Jeremiah. The ancient Greek Septuagint Translation (the LXX – dating from 300 to 200 BCE) has some chapters that are not in the Hebrew versions.
Sections in the book that are in “poetry style” are generally attributed to the prophet, and parts in “prose style” were added later by writers whose theological outlook was closely aligned with the Deuteronomists. (In fact, Chapter 52 in Jeremiah is virtually word-for-word with 2 Kings 24:18 to 25:30 written by the Deuteronomists after the Exile.)
Jeremiah’s predictions of harsh times for Judea and Jerusalem were rejected by the kings and the “court prophets.” Because he opposed the power structure, he was ridiculed and mistreated.
Today’s reading is in poetry form and is a lament by Jeremiah in which he asked YHWH to vindicate him and bring retribution upon his opponents (v.15). He reported that he internalized and repeated YHWH’s words (“I ate them” v.16) (a similar notion of eating God’s words appears in Ezek. 2:8-3:3 where the prophet said the scroll tasted like honey.) Jeremiah said he was suffering deep pain/an incurable wound (v.18) and that he felt abandoned by YHWH whom he analogized to “a deceitful brook” (v.18b). The New Jerome Biblical Commentary notes that in Palestine in the summer, many brooks dry up and that the image of a “treacherous brook” also appears in Job 6:15-18.
In verses 19-21, YHWH replied to Jeremiah. The NOAB sees verse 19 as saying that YHWH took Jeremiah’s lament “as an abandonment of his prophetic commission” and that the concluding verses evoke “a recommissioning of the prophet” so that he would be delivered and redeemed.
The JSB sees Jeremiah’s recounting of his suffering and anguish to God in his own life as a model of Jerusalem and Judah’s suffering. The JSB sees God’s response as drawing a parallel “in measure-for-measure fashion between Jeremiah and Jerusalem — if Jeremiah/Jerusalem repents, God will take him back.” It understands the phrase “and you shall stand before me” (v.19) as suggesting “that Jeremiah at some point was stripped of his prophetic status, perhaps because he protested too strongly against God, siding with the people….Verse 20…may then be viewed as a recommissioning of Jeremiah as a prophet.”
Because Jeremiah is largely a prophet of doom and gloom, the English word “jeremiad” means a long, mournful complaint or lamentation, a list of woes. Because of Jeremiah’s laments, authorship of the Book of Lamentations was incorrectly attributed to him.
9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
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.
Today’s reading 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. Building on his prior discussions, Paul urged all the Jesus Followers in Rome to love one another (v.10) and live in harmony (v.16). The NJBC notes that Paul used “philadelphia” (mutual love or brotherly love) in verse 10 to distinguish it from the wider obligation of agapē.
In verse 19, Paul paraphrased Deuteronomy 32:35 to say “vengeance” is God’s, but a better translation is “vindication” (or wholeness) because the idea in the paraphrased verse in Deuteronomy was that God would bring about justice (in the sense of making things right) — rather than revenge. The NRSV translator’s notes observe that the words “of God” are not in the original Greek texts in verse 19.
The NOAB understands “heap burning coals on their heads” (v.20) as intended to “make enemies feel ashamed and perhaps remorseful” with a reference to Proverbs 25:21-22, the notes to which say, “In an Egyptian ritual, perhaps known to the biblical sages, submitting to coals on the head demonstrated contrition. The sense here seems to be that undeserved kindness awakens the remorse and hence conversion of the enemies.” The Jewish Annotated New Testament offers: “heap burning coals perhaps indicates the blood rising for one who is shamed by the receipt of kindness from one to whom the recipient has been unkind.”
21 Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
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 Jesus’ first prediction in Matthew of his own suffering and death. (The others are in 17:22-23 and 20:18-19.) In this chapter, Matthew copied Mark and said that he would “undergo great suffering at the hands of the “elders, chief priests and the scribes” (v.21). The NJBC says that the “elders” were lay leaders. It is noteworthy that the Pharisees and the Romans are absent from the list of those imposing the suffering. “On the third day be raised” (v.21) is a reference back to Hosea 6:2 (“After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up that we may live before him.”)
In Chapter 20, Matthew added that Jesus would be handed over to the Gentiles to be crucified (20:19).
The JANT observed that there are instances in Isaiah, Hosea, Zechariah and Daniel prior to the time of redemption. The NOAB sees Peter as representative of the disciples in failing to grasp that Jesus was to be a suffering Messiah.
The NJBC says: “It is unlikely that Jesus would have spoken in such precise terms of his fate (though neither crucifixion nor Gentiles are mentioned). In this sense it is a prophecy after the fact. But Jesus did very likely reflect on his future death at the hands of the authorities and on its meaning in God’s plan of salvation [citing a secondary resource].”
The concept of “Satan” was continuing to evolve in the First Century CE and The NOAB observes that it meant both “adversary” and “tempter” in this context. In the Book of Job, “ha satan” is not a tempter, but in the Gospel accounts of the temptations in the wilderness, the tempter is “the devil” (4:1) and “Satan” (4:10).
The JANT understands “taking up one’s cross” (v.24) as risking suffering and death. The NJBC says: “This is not an allusion to Jesus crucifixion. This horrible death was common in antiquity and the cross was a proverbial term for suffering, agony.”
The JANT notes that verse 25 is a paradox – by holding tightly to something, one risks losing it; letting go preserves it. The NJBC observes that it expresses a “profound psychological truth that happiness eludes those who seek it directly rather than seeking first the will of God, i.e. what is right.”
The Son of Man (v.27) is derived from Daniel 7:13-14 (“As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being [Son of Man] coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.”)
The phrase “will not taste death” (v.28) indicated the continuing understanding in the early Jesus Follower community that the fullness of the messianic era was imminent.