Readings for the Second week of Easter

Ps 114: This beautiful, polished little Psalm does not have the responsive, hymnic form found in many Psalms that were designed for public praise in the liturgies of the Jerusalem temple – apart from a call-response pattern appearing in vs 8.  Scholars have discussed (without resolution) the original setting of the psalm suggesting three alternatives 1) the enthronement of Yahweh festival 2) the extended festival of the Passover and 3) the early Gilgal festival associated with the alliance of the 12 tribes in the time of Joshua (thus H-J Kraus – see Joshua 3-5). 

The mention of Judah as ‘God’s sanctuary’ and Israel as ‘his dominion’ (vs 2) has some scholars situating this Psalm within the post-exilic context of the divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel. ‘Dominion’ in this context carries the same sense that Australia and Canada had as ‘Dominions’ when they were seen as subservient to Great Britain as the centre of Empire. Those who locate the Psalm first within the early Gilgal tradition read ‘Israel’ (vs 2) in the incorporative sense of ‘all the twelve tribes’) and read vs 2a and 2b as an identical parallelism. They then see it moving at a later time into the Passover liturgies.

It has a simple but elegant structure: vss. 1-2 tell the story of Exodus and establishment in the promised land with power and brevity.

Vss 3-4 tell of the parting of the Red Sea and the crossing of the Jordan and the skipping of the mountains and the frolicking of the hills.

Vss 5-6 ask why this was so, what it was that seas, rivers, mountains and hills have ‘seen’.

Vss 7-8 call on the earth to make thunderous reply, trembling at the presence of the Lord (vs 7) and then almost reversing the actions of vss 3, 5 (the waters becoming dry land) with the declaration of vs 8 that the Lord makes the rock become a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.

Vs 3 has a simple but very powerful poetic form in which ‘the sea’ ‘sees’ and ‘flees’. ‘Seeing’ and ‘fleeing’ (the latter with an almost military overtone) presents the sea with almost human characteristics – simple, brief but very powerful use of imagery.

Judges 6.36-40   This is a part of the Gideon story (Judges 6.11-8.35). The story of the fleece is Gideon’s final testing of God’s call to lead Israel, a call debated, questioned and resisted multiple times by Gideon from 6.12 on. This is why he begs that the Lord’s anger not burn against him (vs. 39) as he asks for the umpteenth time for confirmation of the commission he has received!

1 Corinthians 15.12-20 follows on from a reading in Easter week in which Paul recites in order the ‘tradition of the appearances’ to the disciples and includes himself in the list of those to whom the risen Lord appeared. He then goes on through the rest of chapter 15 to give the most extensive and considered theological reflection of the nature of resurrection to occur in all of the New Testament. Vss 12-20 argues that the resurrection of Jesus proves that the resurrection of the dead does occur. He argues that the resurrection of Jesus is foundational for our faith and proves that the resurrection of the dead will occur – he argues this in a positive way, and then argues in a negative way that if Christ is not risen, our faith is futile, our preaching dishonest, our hope is in vain, and we are ‘of all people most to be pitied’ (vs 19). In his final verse he points to the pervasive and powerful OT concept of the first-fruits (foundational to notions of both sacrifice and ‘offering’) to claim the risen Christ as ‘the first fruits of those who have died’ (vs 20).

For the Psalm, see Monday.

Jonah 1.1-17 is the beginning of one of the most widely- (if not accurately-) known stories of the Bible. If Gideon (see Monday) struggled with, and sought constant reassurance about his call from God, Jonah has no such doubts: he knew what God wanted, and he knew straight away what God could do with it: But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord (vs 3) as if Tarshish would be far enough away!  When the storm hits the sailors seem more devout than Jonah because they pray to their Gods (vss 5-6). Lots were cast by the crew to determine who is responsible for the calamity (a process perhaps more effective and even more just than tweet-blaming your opposition, as we tend to do in this so-called ‘enlightened’ age) and the lot fell on Jonah (vs 7). Despite the repeated efforts of the crew, they could not beat the storm and reluctantly (and after exculpatory prayer!) did as Jonah suggested and threw him overboard with immediate positive results re the weather, accompanied by suitable sacrifices and vows of conversion. The text ends with the Lord saving Jonah through the medium of ‘a large fish’ which swallowed him and provided hospitality for three days and three nights.

1 Corinthians 15.19-28 continues Paul’s exploration of resurrection opening with a lovely reprise of the last two verses of yesterday’s reading (a little like a serial TV show where an episode opens with flashbacks to the action of last week!) The notion of the ‘first fruits’ was that the first fruits of the harvest were offered to God in worship and sacrifice and in them were symbolically included all the rest of the harvest – although by sacrificing the first fruits the farmer /worshipper was able to retain and use the rest of the harvest. Here that logic is reversed: just as the first fruits has been resurrected so with the rest of the ‘harvest of death’. Here Paul stresses the order: first Christ, then those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father .. (vs 24). The description of this ‘handing over’ extends from 24b to vs 28 and is a presentation of how Paul sees the final consummation of history. Vs 28 is controversial in that it seems to express an order of submission within the Godhead (which is part of the Arian heresy), but that submission is then immediately transcended in the statement of a final state of affairs ‘so that God may be all in all’.

For the Psalm, see Monday.

Jonah 2.1-10 continues the saga of Jonah in the belly of the ‘great fish’. Note that the psalm of thanksgiving that comprises chapter 2 makes no reference to ‘the fish’ or ‘the belly of the fish’. There is reference to ‘the belly of Sheol’ (vs 2) and reference to being cast into the sea (some accident of ending up in the sea) (vss 3, 5)  but this is balanced by expressions of deep regret at being separated from the Temple in Jerusalem (vss 4, 7) and verses suggesting the threat to life was being buried in land or in Sheol (vs. 2b, 6). So we have a wonderful Psalm that is appropriate for – but not specific to – Jonah’s situation.

Matthew 12.38-42 reports the response of Jesus to the demand for a sign from some of the scribes and Pharisees. (vs 38). Jesus’ reply points to the sign of Jonah which is a type of the coming death and burial of Jesus, with the implied parallel between Jonah emerging from the belly of the great fish, just as Jesus will emerge from the tomb. The key point is that the people of Nineveh repented, just as the queen of the South sought the wisdom of Solomon, and both these groups will rise up at the judgement and condemn this generation, because what is before them is  greater than either Jonah or Solomon and they have not repented. Here Jesus is drawing a comparison of the ability of the peoples of the South (seen in their Queen) and the East (typified by Nineveh) to be able to see the hand of God in Jonah and Solomon, where the scribes and Pharisees cannot see God in one far greater than the Old Testament kings and prophets.

Psalm 116.1-4,12-19:  If you have watched the first edition of our Bible Chef podcast on the BHBC website (which dealt with the importance of ‘peeling’) you will immediately notice that vss 5-11 of this Psalm have been peeled off and left in the trash. Why? Possibly because these verses deal with the nature of the distress that the petitioner has experienced. What remains is much more purely a brief expression of the problem followed by a ‘song of thanksgiving of an individual’ that is offered as testimony within the shared worship of the community. Scholars see this Psalm as a series of fragments of praise and thanksgiving that have been gathered together. Some scholars have tried (probably unsuccessfully) to see Psalms 116 and 117 together as part of a larger whole (Psalm 117 is a very short fragment (2 verses) that is clearly a public responsive piece from a worship liturgy.)

Vss 1-2 express the devotion of the singer to the Lord arising from the Lord having heard the singer’s distress. 

Vs 3 describes the singer’s situation.

Vs 4 reiterates the call of distress that was heard by the Lord (according to vss 1-2).

The motif of ‘lifting up the cup of salvation’ (vs 13) is difficult to place with accuracy within the cult of the temple. There were libation offerings to be offered (see, for example, Ex 29.40ff and Num 28.7). There were also descriptions of the opposite to ‘the cup of salvation’, namely ‘the cup of wrath’, but this was usually used as a metaphor rather than any form of ritual or cultic participation (see Is 51.17, Lam 4.21, 32, 33). In the NT we have mention of the ‘cup of blessing’ (1 Cor 10.16) with reference to the Lord’s Supper. We cannot be certain as to what ‘the cup of salvation’ in Ps 116 referred.

Vss 14 express the singer’s determination to ‘perform their vows’: the Lord has delivered them they will offer praise and fulfil the vows that they have made. 

Vss 15-16 contain expressions of trust in the Lord – the Lord is not unconcerned or ignorant of the death of the Lord’s people, and I am your servant, the child of one of your servants.

Vss 17-19 elaborate the performance of vows expressed in vs 14: offering a thanksgiving sacrifice (vs 17a), calling on the name of the Lord (vs 17b), paying vows publicly (vs 18) in the temple in Jerusalem (vs 19a,b) ending with an acclamation of praise (vs 19c).

For the Psalm, see Thursday.

Isaiah 26.1-4: Within the book of Isaiah is material from different periods and by various authors gathered together in the ‘tradition’ of Isaiah. Isaiah prophesied about Judah and Jerusalem in the time of Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (See Isaiah 1.1). Isaiah 26.1-4 is an oracle of redemption of Judah and ‘the strong city’ would refer to Jerusalem. Vs 2 reflects the traditions of pilgrimage and ‘opening the gates’ associated with the times of festival, and especially Passover. This may account for this passage being included at this time of Easter/Passover.

1 Peter 1.13-16: Whenever we see a ‘therefore’ in the Bible, it means that the words we read after the ‘therefore’ are grounded in the words before the ‘therefore’. Vss 10-12 of 1 Peter make an interesting argument about the role of the prophets in predicting Christ’s suffering and glorification who were actually serving ‘not themselves but you’  in regard to the things that have been ‘announced to you through those who have brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven – things into which even angels long to look’ (vs 12).  Wow: that’s some authority – the prophets of old, the Holy Spirit, sent from heaven, things into which even angels long to look. You will notice that ‘those who brought you good news’ (i.e. the writer!) hardly matter at all. It’s all the prophets, the Holy Spirit, heaven and the interest of the angels!  Therefore here’s what you have to do…

An important subtext in Peter’s description of the work of the prophets is their predicting Jesus’ suffering and glorification. In a letter addressed to a community that is suffering, to know that suffering is predicted, and associated with glorification, is of great encouragement. Peter then calls them to action, discipline, hope in the grace that Jesus will bring when he is revealed (note the future sense), obedience and holiness.

For the Psalm, see Thursday.

In both the Isaiah reading and the Lukan reading, the underlying metaphor is that of the feast.

Isaiah 25.6-9 describes the end-time feast that the Lord will provide ‘for all peoples’ (vs 6). The feast will be accompanied by the end of death (vs 7) and the wiping away the tears from all faces (vs 8 – cf. Rev 7.15-17). Vs 9 expresses the future expressions of vindication of those who wait faithfully and patiently for God’s salvation.

In Luke 14.12-14, Jesus takes the end-time expectation of a great feast and teaches how to make it a part of present policy. The unfolding feast takes place over most of Luke 14: 

14.1-6:  Jesus accepts an invitation to a meal at the house of a Pharisee on the Sabbath and heals a man on the way.

14.7-11: Jesus at table tells a parable about looking for the lower place at the table.

14.12-14: (our passage today) Jesus tells the Pharisee to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind and he will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

14.15-24: Jesus tells the parable of the great dinner and those who declined their invitations, so the host sent out into the streets and lanes to bring the masses into the feast.

14.25-33: Jesus teaches about the cost of discipleship.

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