During the 2017 Pentecost Season, alternative readings from the Hebrew Bible are offered. Scripture in Context will discuss both readings and the reading from the Christian Scriptures.
The Book of Exodus is the second book of the Bible, and covers the period from the slavery in Egypt under Pharaoh (around 1250 BCE, if the account is historical), the Exodus itself, and the early months in the Wilderness.
Today’s reading is the familiar story of the rescue of Moses by Pharaoh’s daughter from the reeds in the Nile River. The same story was told of Sargon of Akkad (2300 BCE) and likely was the model for the Moses story. In Hebrew, the word for “ark” in the Noah story is the same word used for “basket” (v.2:3) in the Moses story. (Just as Noah’s ark rescued humankind, Moses liberated the Israelites from Pharaoh.) Moses’ priestly role is emphasized by stating that both his father and mother were Levites (v. 2:1). Moses’ sister (v. 2:4 and 7) will later be identified as Miriam (15:20).
The Book of Isaiah is a composite of writings from three distinct periods in Israel’s history. Chapters 1-39 are called “First Isaiah” and were written by “Isaiah of Jerusalem” in the 20 years before Jerusalem was under direct siege by the Assyrians in 701 BCE. “Second Isaiah” is Chapters 40 to 55 and brings hope to the Judeans during the time of the Exile in Babylon (587 to 539 BCE) by telling them they have suffered enough and will return to Jerusalem. “Third Isaiah” is Chapters 56 to 66 and gives encouragement to the Judeans who returned to Jerusalem after the Exile.
Today’s reading is a powerful affirmation that the promise to Abraham (v.2) will be kept by YHWH, and Israel will be a teacher to the peoples (v.5). The word for “peoples” is sometimes translated as “nations” or “pagans” or “Gentiles” depending on the context.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is his longest, last, and theologically most complex letter, written in the late 50s or early 60s (CE) – about ten years before the first Gospel (Mark) was written. One of Paul’s goals was to reduce tensions and eliminate distinctions between the Jewish Jesus Followers in Rome and Gentile Jesus Followers there.
Today’s reading builds on the theology expressed in earlier chapters, and emphasizes that all members of the Jesus Follower Community in Rome are “brothers and sisters” (v.1). They should not be “conformed to this world” (v.2), which is another way Paul speaks of being “subject to the flesh” – having earthly values. Paul urges the Jewish and Gentile Jesus Followers to be humble (v.3). They are one body in Christ (v.5) with many members with separate roles to play (vv.6-8).