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.
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Today’s reading is the conclusion of the story of how Abraham’s servant – not named in Chapter 24, but thought to be Eliezer of Damascus (Gen. 15:2) – obtained a wife for Isaac by going back to Haran, the land from which Abraham came.
Because of the emphasis on Isaac’s not taking a wife from the Canaanites (v.37) and the references to God as YHWH (“LORD” in the NRSV), the story is attributed to the Deuteronomic writers (650 to 550 BCE).
Abraham’s servant did what everyone looking for a wife does – he went to a well where women draw water. (Jacob and Moses also met their wives this way.) He encountered Rebekah, who was Isaac’s first cousin, once removed. (Her father, Bethuel, was Isaac’s first cousin.) Rebekah answered Eliezer’s questions satisfactorily (v.46) and he brought her to Isaac to be his wife (v.67).
The Book of Zechariah is the longest and most obscure of the “Minor Prophets” (so called because their books are much shorter than the three “Major Prophets” – Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. It has 14 chapters, and Chapters 9 to 14 are referred to as “An Oracle” – the superscription at the beginning of Chapter 9.
Today’s reading is one of the many (sometimes contradictory) descriptions of the anticipated Messiah found in the Hebrew Bible. The image here is a king who brings peace and rides on a donkey rather than on a war-horse. The king’s dominion is not only over Israel, but is from sea to sea, from “the River” (the Euphrates in northern Syria) to the ends of the earth (v.10).
The Hebrew Bible contains many parallelisms, and the description of the king “on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (v.9) is intended to describe one animal. The Gospel of Matthew (unlike Mark and Luke) treats the phrase as describing two animals (Matt.21.5).
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 part of Paul’s extended discussion of the law, sin, the flesh, and the Spirit. As a First Century Jew, Paul saw the Jewish Law as “spiritual” (v.14). But as a Jesus Follower, he recognized that mere obedience to the Law would not lead to wholeness/salvation. Without the Spirit, even outward obedience to the Law could be a manifestation of “the flesh” (our human tendency towards self-centeredness and self-interest) that is grounded in sin (our personal egoism). Paul says it is through the Spirit that we can be rescued from “this body of death” (v.24).