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 word “Genesis” means “origin” and the Book of Genesis starts with Creation and concludes with the death of Joseph (Jacob’s son) in Egypt. The Book is an amalgam of religious traditions, some of which are dated to about 950 BCE and some as late as 450 BCE.
The verses before today’s reading tell of the conception of Isaac by the 90+ year old Sarah and his birth. (Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian slave, bore Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, 13 years earlier.)
Today’s account is part of an “etiology” – a story of origins – of non-Jewish Semitic peoples who claim their ancestral fatherhood through Ishmael. In the story, God says, “I will make a great nation of him” to Abraham (v. 13) and to Hagar (v.18).
Even though God urges Abraham to acquiesce to Sarah’s demand that he cast out the slave woman and her 15-year old son (v. 10), God hears Hagar’s lament (“Ishmael” means “God hears”) and protects both Hagar and Ishmael.
Muslims, based on the Quran, trace their religious roots to Abraham through Ishmael.
After the righteous King Josiah was killed in battle 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 Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The Babylonians deported some Judeans in 597 and a larger number in 586 (the beginning of the Babylonian Exile). Jeremiah’s prophesy (i.e. speaking for Yahweh) began around 609 and continued until 586 BCE when he died in Egypt.
Today’s reading is one of Jeremiah’s laments in which he claims YHWH exerts such irresistible power over him that he cannot help but proclaim the unpopular message that unless the king and people reform, they will be overcome by Babylon and be in captivity. Notwithstanding his lament, Jeremiah expresses confidence in God’s protection for those who rely on YHWH (v. 13).
Paul’s letter to the Romans is his longest, last and most complex letter. It was written in the late 50s or early 60s (CE) – about ten years before the first Gospel (Mark) was written.
Today’s reading is a discussion by Paul of the effects of Baptism. In Baptism, we are united with Christ Jesus in his death, we will be united with him in resurrection (v. 5), and we should consider ourselves “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v.11). For Paul, “sin” (as contrasted with “sins”) can be understood as our human propensity to put ourselves and our egos in first place rather than (as Jesus did) having the good of others as our primary focus.