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.
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Today’s reading is set at Mount Sinai (“Horeb” in other parts of Exodus and in Deuteronomy) during the time in the Wilderness. In a theophany (appearance of the Divine) in thunder, lightning and smoke (v. 18), YHWH gave the Decalogue – the ten “words” (v.1) – often called the Ten Commandments. The structure of the Decalogue was a covenant: YHWH recounted what had been done for the Israelites (v.2) and then directed reciprocal obligations of the Israelites (v. 3-17). Because Ancient Israel was a patriarchal society, the words were addressed to men, and wives “belonged to” men, just as houses and other items did (v.17).
This version of the Decalogue is called the “Priestly Decalogue.” Other versions of the Decalogue appear in Exodus 34:11-26 (the “Ritual Decalogue”) and in Deuteronomy 5:6-21. In the Deuteronomic version, wives do not “belong” to men (Dt. 5:21), and the rationale for the Sabbath is the liberation from Egypt rather than YHWH’s resting on the seventh day of creation.
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, Isaiah spoke for YHWH and expressed love for the vineyard (Israel – the northern 10 tribes) and its plantings (Judea/Judah). Verse 7 contains a double word play in Hebrew: YHWH expected justice (mishpat) but saw bloodshed (mishpah), expected righteousness (tsedaqah) but heard a cry (tse’aqah). As a result, the vineyard will be destroyed (v. 5-6). The Assyrians conquered Israel in 722 BCE, and the Babylonians conquered Judea in 597 and 587 BCE.
Philippi was a major city in Macedonia (northern Greece) on the Roman road to Byzantium (Istanbul). Most of its inhabitants were Roman citizens. He wrote this letter from prison, but it is not clear if he was in Rome, Caesarea or Ephesus.
Today’s reading follows verses (2-4a) in which Paul opposed “Judaisers” – Jesus Followers who claimed that a person needed to be circumcised to be a Jesus Follower. (This was a major issue in the early Jesus Follower Movement.) In later epistles, Paul used “flesh” to mean human weakness. Here, however, he used it to mean an emphasis on physical rituals. Paul spoke of his own Jewish credentials (v.4-6) but rejected them as “rubbish” (his actual word in Greek is much stronger) because he is now in “righteousness” (a right relationship) with God through his faith in the resurrection of Jesus the Christ (v.9-10).