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 slavery in Egypt under Pharaoh (around 1250 BCE, if the account is historical), the Exodus itself, and the early months in the Wilderness.
Although separated by 11 Chapters, today’s reading picks up where last week’s reading left off – with the people asking Moses to serve as their covenant mediator by speaking directly with YHWH (Ex. 20:19). Chapters 21 to 23 contain ordinances called the “Covenant Collection.” Moses and the people then ratified the Covenant (24:8), and Moses went up to the top of Mount Sinai (24:18). In Chapters 25 to 31, YHWH gave instruction to Moses on building and furnishing a Tabernacle, ordaining priests and priests’ vestments. Finally, YHWH gave Moses two tablets on which YHWH had written the covenant (31:18).
The familiar story of the Golden Calf has some noteworthy details. Gold earrings (v.3) were given (mysteriously) to the Israelites by Egyptians when leaving Egypt (12.36). Aaron, who was Moses’ brother and the first High Priest, led the idolatry (v.5)! The calf is a symbol of strength and fertility, key elements in Baal worship that was present in Israel until the Exile (587 BCE). YHWH told Moses the Israelites were “your” people (v.7). In urging YHWH to change his mind, Moses appealed to YHWH’s reputation and his earlier promises (v. 12-14). After Moses broke the tablets, he ground the golden calf into powder and made the people drink it (v.19-20).
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.
Today’s reading is part of what is often called the “Isaiah Apocalypse” (Chapters 24-27) because of the eschatological (end times) themes in them. This reading is in the form of a psalm and depicts an eschatological banquet reminiscent of the banquet on Mount Sinai alluded to in Exodus 24:11. Because Lord God will “swallow up death forever” (v.8), the image of death swallowing up everything is reversed. These verses are often read at Christian funerals.
Philippi was a major city in Macedonia (northern Greece) on the Roman road to Byzantium (Istanbul). Paul had deep affection for the Jesus Followers in Philippi (v.1). He wrote this letter from prison, but it is not clear if he was in Rome, Caesarea or Ephesus.
Euodia and Syntyche were women leaders in the Jesus Follower community in Philippi and were likely heads of house-churches. Paul saw their disagreement as harmful to the community and urged them “to be of the same mind in the Lord” (v.2). As the early (c. 60 CE) Jesus Follower community tried to determine what it meant to be a Jesus Follower, it is not surprising that disagreements arose. These kinds of disagreements continue to today.