Numbers is the fourth book of the Torah (Hebrew meaning “teaching” or “Law”)/the Pentateuch (Greek meaning “Five Books”). It describes the time of the Israelites in the Wilderness before entering the Promised Land. If the time in the Wilderness is historical (no archeological evidence has ever been found to support it), this would have been around 1250 BCE.
Most of the book of Numbers was written by the “Priestly Source” during the Babylonian Exile (587-539 BCE) and the 100 years after the Exile. Today’s reading is a Blessing from Yahweh (“LORD” in all capital letters in the NRSV) before they go into the Wilderness. This Blessing was likely delivered at public gatherings at the sanctuary in Jerusalem. Two silver plaques dated to the 7th and 6th Centuries BCE were found outside Jerusalem and contain versions of this Blessing – attesting to its traditional usage.
Galatia was a large Roman province in what is now western Turkey. This letter was likely written by Paul in the late 40’s or early 50’s (CE), and deals in part with controversies between Jewish Jesus Followers and Gentile Jesus Followers regarding the continuing importance of Torah (Law) and whether Gentile Jesus Followers had to be circumcised and follow the Kosher dietary laws.
In today’s reading, Paul emphasizes that Jesus of Nazareth was a human and a Jew (“born of a woman under the law”) to “redeem those under the law” (the Jews). The Greek word translated as “redeem” means to buy back, as in redeeming something at a pawn shop. All persons, because of the Spirit of the Son, are children of God who can call God “Abba” (Aramaic for father) and are heirs of the Kingdom.
Philippi was a major city in Macedonia on the Roman road to Byzantium (Istanbul) and most of its inhabitants were Roman citizens. Paul has a deep affection for the Jesus Followers in Philippi, and thanks them for gifts sent to him in prison (4:18).
Today’s reading is derived from a hymn that was already in use in Jesus Follower communities, perhaps in a Baptism liturgy. Its statements are not only religious, they are also political. The Roman Caesars claimed to be “in the form of God” and “Lord.” Instead of exploiting his connectedness to God, Jesus took the form of a slave/servant and emptied himself (poured himself out) for others. For this, he has been highly exalted (resurrected). As the Christ, he is also called “Lord” and at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend.