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 is the story of the Near Sacrifice of Isaac, known to Jews as the Akedah (the Binding – based on verse 9). In the Quran, the same story appears, but the son whom Abraham was called to sacrifice was Ishmael, not Isaac.
Isaac’s age is not known. He is old enough to carry the wood (v.6) and discuss what will be sacrificed (v. 7). In some translations, he is called Abraham’s “only” son (vv.2 and 12), but in other translations, the word “only” is omitted and Isaac is referred to as Abraham’s “beloved” son. This recognizes that Abraham had another son, Ishmael, by Hagar (Sarah’s servant).
Abraham is described as having the “fear of God” (v.12). In the Hebrew Scriptures, this is generally understood as active obedience to the will of God (as one best discerns God’s will).
After the righteous King Josiah was killed in battle in 609 BCE, the fortunes of Judea took a sharp downward turn. Babylon threatened Judea’s existence, and Judea had a series of hapless kings from 609 until Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The Babylonians deported some Judean leaders in 597 and a larger number of them in 586 (the beginning of the Babylonian Exile). Jeremiah’s prophesying (i.e. speaking for Yahweh) began around 609 and continued until 586 BCE when he died in Egypt.
Today’s reading is set in the period from 597 to 594 BCE. A false prophet, Hananiah, prophesied that the treasures from the Temple that were taken as spoils by the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, would be returned soon – even though Judah had not repented and Babylon was as strong as ever. In today’s verses and the ones that follow, Jeremiah says he hopes Hananiah’s prophesies would come true, but then denies that Hananiah has a commission from God and asserts that the Babylonians will enslave the Judeans.
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 continues Paul’s discussion of the effects of Baptism (which joins us in the death of Christ Jesus and unites us with him in overcoming death through resurrection). In speaking of “sin” (rather than “sins”), Paul is referring to the human propensity to assert our own ego and power rather than living as “instruments of righteousness” (v.13) i.e. living in right relationships with God and others. When Paul refers negatively to “the law,” he expresses the view that mere obedience to rules will not bring about human wholeness or salvation or righteousness or Eternal Life, terms which Paul uses interchangeably.