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 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 was set one month after the Crossing of the Sea of Reeds. It combines two traditions – finding manna and the arrival of quail (meat). The manna story is Priestly as shown by the prohibition on collecting manna on the Sabbath (v. 5). Manna (which literally means “what is it?”) is the carbohydrate-rich excretion of two scale insects that feed on twigs of tamarisk trees. It can be purchased, even today, in the Arab Quarter of Jerusalem.
One of the overarching themes of the Book of Exodus is acknowledging that YHWH is Israel’s God, and Moses and Aaron emphasize this to the Israelites (v. 6-7).
The Book of Jonah is one of the shortest in the Bible, and is included with the 12 Minor Prophets. Even though Jonah is never described in the Book as a “prophet,” he is a “prophet” who speaks (in his own way) for YHWH by urging the Assyrians to repent.
The story was written after the Exile (after 539 BCE), but was set in the period of Assyrian power and threats against Israel and Judea (850 to 609 BCE). Sending Jonah to convert Nineveh (the capital of Assyria) would be unthinkable, and Jonah knew this was a “Mission Impossible.” When told by God to go to Nineveh, Jonah got on a ship for Tarshish (Spain) – about as far from Assyria as possible.
Just before today’s reading, Jonah warned the Assyrians of impending destruction. Because they repented, God decided not to punish them. Today’s reading recounts Jonah’s anger with God’s mercy. He was so angry that he preferred to die (4.3, 4.8).
Jonah, like the Book of Ruth and portions of Isaiah, emphasized the inclusivity of God’s love and mercy for all, not just the people of Israel and Judea. This tension between inclusivity and exclusivity continued into the First Century, and is still with us today.
Philippi was a major city in Macedonia on the Roman road to Byzantium (Istanbul). Most of its inhabitants were Roman citizens. Paul had deep affection for the Jesus Followers in Philippi, and thanked them for gifts sent to him in prison (4:18). Paul wrote this letter from prison, but it is not clear if he was in Rome, Caesarea or Ephesus.
Today’s reading reflects Paul’s tension between living in the flesh and seeing dying as “gain” for living in Christ (v. 21). His exhortation to “live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (v.27) is subversive for Roman citizens in the sense that it presents Jesus the Christ as LORD rather than Caesar. This may lead to suffering but will be salvation for the Philippians (vv. 28-29).