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 follows the story of the Golden Calf. After Moses broke the tablets of the 10 Words, he berated Aaron, who in turn blamed the people. (32:21-24). Moses then directed the Levites to kill 3,000 Israelites for worshiping an idol (32:27-28). YHWH told Moses to lead the people to the Promised Land (33:1).
In today’s reading, Moses sought reassurance that YHWH would accompany the Israelites (v.12) and told YHWH that the Israelites would be different from other peoples (v.16). Because YHWH knew Moses “by name” (v.17), YHWH agreed to accompany them and reconfirmed his name in terms that were as elliptical as the name given in the Burning Bush story – “I will be what I will be.” (3:14). Here, the name was revealed as “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (v.19). All these names emphasize that God is a mystery that can never be fully understood or contained.
Isaiah 45: 1-7
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.
In today’s reading, Isaiah spoke for YHWH and said that Cyrus was “YHWH’s anointed” to free the Judeans from the Babylonian Exile (587-539 BCE). In other words, Cyrus was described as a Messiah commissioned by YHWH to conquer Babylon. The Persian King, Cyrus II (558-530 BCE), defeated the Babylonians in 539 BCE and decreed the return of the Judeans to Jerusalem in the next year (Ezra 1:1-4). The Persians ruled over Israel and Judea until 333 BCE when Alexander the Great defeated them. Cyrus was the only non-Israelite called “anointed” in the Hebrew Bible. Others who were anointed were kings, priests and some prophets.
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians was Paul’s first letter and was written around 50 CE. Thessaloniki is a seaport and was the capital of Macedonia. Both Macedonia and Achaia (Greece) were Roman provinces. In speaking of a “church” (v.1), Paul used the term for a citizen assembly. Paul’s reference to faith, love and hope (v.3) is a familiar combination that he used in many other letters. The letter encouraged the community to be steadfast in the face of persecution.