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.
Today’s reading recounts Moses’ striking a rock at Horeb (another name for the mountain called “Sinai” in other Torah sources) to provide water for the Israelites during the time in the Wilderness. This story also appears in Numbers 20:2-13, but there Moses struck the rock twice (not having enough confidence in YHWH). For this reason, he and Aaron were not permitted to enter the Promised Land with the Israelites.
Archeologists cannot determine the location of the Wilderness of Sin or Rephidim, and many doubt that these accounts are historical. No evidence of substantial numbers of persons in the Sinai Peninsula has ever been found. Numbers 1:46 says the men older than 20 years numbered more than 603,000. Adding women and children would bring the total to over 1.2 million persons. If each received a half pound of food and a pint of water each day, 300 tons of food and 150,000 gallons of water would have been needed every day for 40 years.
The accounts are a reminder that even if the Bible is not always historically or scientifically true, the stories are “profoundly true” and help us understand our relationships with God and others.
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Ezekiel is one of the three “Major” Prophets – because of the length of the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a priest who was among the first group of persons deported by the Babylonians when they captured Jerusalem in 597 BCE.
In today’s reading, YHWH is presented as rejecting the idea that a prior generation’s wrongs will be borne by later generations (v.3). A major emphasis in the Book of Ezekiel is on personal responsibility rather than seeing acts of prior generations as the cause of the current situation. This was a new development in the Theology of Ancient Israel. Ezekiel presents repentance as the way to a restored life (vv.27-32).
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).
The last part of 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 (as rulers) to be the “Lord.”
By contrast, 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/Messiah, he is also called “Lord” and at the name of Jesus, (rather than at Caesar’s name) every knee should bend.