Introduction to Romans Chapters 9-11

In our exploration of the book of Romans we come now to a distinct and important section of the book. Over the next three weeks we will deal in detail with Chapters 9-11 which deal with the relationship between the church and the people of Israel, and God’s purpose for both groups.  I can do no better than to quote extensively from Brendan Byrne’s introduction to this section of his commentary:

It is no secret that in recent years the question of the relationship of the Christian church to the Jewish people has moved from the periphery to the centre of theological concern. This is meant that Romans 9 – 11 – the most sustained consideration of Israel and the gospel in the New Testament – has received unprecedented attention. From being something of a “Cinderella” section of the letter, it has become the focus of considerable inquiry and discussion.

These three chapters clearly form a unit within the letter. So distinct is the unity that at times the section has been regarded as more or less detachable from the remainder of the letter – a separate treatise on the fate of Israel. Such a judgement now has given way to the almost universal recognition that chapters 9 – 11 form an integral and necessary element of Paul’s total project in Romans.

In the body of the letter to this point Paul has presented and pursued a truly “inclusive” account of the gospel. The negative presupposition has been that all humankind – Jews and Gentiles – are locked together in a common bind of sin and alienation from God; in this respect, there is “no distinction” (3.22) between Jews and Gentiles. The positive affirmation is that the common bind under sin has been victoriously addressed by God, who through Israel’s Messiah, Jesus, has brought about a much more powerful solidarity in grace, leading to eternal life for all who respond in faith. The outcome has been the establishment of a community, made up of Jews and Gentiles, set in line to inherit the promises God made to Abraham. All the ancient privileges of Israel – election, calling, divine filiation, inheritance, glory – have been mentioned (especially in 8.14-39), without discrimination, in reference to this community inclusive of Gentile believers. 

The extension of Israel’s privileges to Gentile believers and the inclusion of those Gentiles within the eschatological people of God constitutes a problem in its own right. What vastly exacerbates the problem and presses insistently for consideration is the all too notorious fact that, not only have a great many Gentiles come in, but the vast bulk of Israel, by not responding positively to the gospel, appear to have been excluded.

(Brendan Byrne, Romans, pp. 281-282 (1996))

Byrne has succinctly expressed the complex and challenging issue of the relationship between Jews and Christians, not as an excursus that takes three chapters of an otherwise-focussed epistle, but as the goal and the fruit of all Paul’s theological argument developed in chapters 1-8.

In engaging with Romans 9-11 over the coming three weeks we need to acknowledge several elements of the historical context in which we undertake this study.

  1. The first is the long and shameful history of anti-semitism within the Christian church. Byrne’s opening sentence quoted above should not be lost on us: it was published 50 years after the end of the Second World War and the liberation of the death camps of Nazi Germany. That is why the question of the relationship of the Christian church to the Jewish people has moved from the periphery to the centre of theological concern. Anti-semitism has deep roots, and runs centuries back into the Christian past, and is far from eliminated in our own day. It is the colouring background for our study of these chapters.
  2. The second is the historical neglect of these chapters in the preaching, teaching and theological reflection of the average Christian Church. It may now be moving into the centre of theological concern, but it has been largely absent from the teaching of local churches and the thinking and praying of church members. In over fifty years of sermon listening I can remember no sermons at all on Romans 9 or 11, and only very few on Romans 10, usually on vss 8-10, or on vs 14. Many of these sermons have exhorted us to become preachers, or provide preachers, to various categories of ‘heathen’. Such preaching does a great disservice to Paul’s overall teaching in these three chapters.
  1. The overall Biblical perspective is very much Israel-centric: the whole argument of Romans (and of much of the New Testament) is structured around a binary understanding of humanity as Jews/non-Jews (or Gentiles). The current estimates of the global population of Jews ranges from 14.6 – 20 million people out of a global population of 7.8 billion. If we take the mid-point of the estimates of Jewish population, this means the Jews/Gentiles distinction as a demographic measure is approximately 0.2% / 99.8%. Given the diversity of humankind (and the 400 year history of the Baptist commitment to freedom of religion and the liberty of Muslims, Jews and Christians of all varieties of belief to believe and worship as their consciences dictate), thinking in terms of Jews/Gentiles alone can hardly be helpful in the contemporary context. We must ask how Paul’s thinking in Romans 9-11 can inform a wider understanding of God’s purposes for all humankind.
  1. A final element of our context is a more specific instance of point 3 above. Even if we conclude that Paul’s teaching does NOT extended beyond a focussed treatment of the Abrahamic tradition, we must recognise that a third religious movement tracing its roots to Abraham, the ‘father of many nations’, arose in the Middle East five centuries after St Paul. While Paul clearly agonised over the implications of ‘his’ gospel for the future of the Jewish people (Romans 9.1-5), he knew nothing of the world of Islam. With regard to that religious tradition, relations between the Christian Church and the followers of the prophet Muhammad have also been conflicted and warring for many centuries. In the present day, those relations are still marked by occasional violence (both ways!) Paul had no way of relating his argument to the world of Islam, but we do. We have a responsibility to consider where this other ‘wild olive branch’ (Romans 11.17-24), sprung from the root of Abraham, might figure within the purposes of God.

I close this introduction with another quote from Brendan Byrne: –

Romans 9–11, then, is no less part of the “inclusive” presentation of the gospel than what has gone before. In chapters 1–8 Paul has shown that God has acted “inclusively” in Christ to bring Gentiles into the community of salvation. The gospel of a God who always acts “inclusively” will be complete only when Paul has shown that the God who has acted inclusively with respect to Gentiles acts equally inclusively with respect to the Jews – an “inclusive” pattern that ought be reflected in ongoing Christian community life (chapters 12–15).

(Brendan Byrne, Romans, pp. 282 (1996))

Monday, July 27, 2020Psalm 65:8-13; Genesis 30:25-36; Romans 9:1-5

With the reading from Psalm 65 the Lectionary has again given us but a part of the Psalm, stripping away the first 7 verses. What remains is recognisable as an originally independent unit praising the action of Yahweh in giving the rain.

The whole psalm has an identifiable structure of three parts. Vss 1-5 praise the God who saves those whom you choose and bring near to live in your courts (vs 4) – focussing on the temple and the temple community.  Vss 6-8 declare the mystery of the creation of the land and mountains (v 6), the seas and tempests (vs 7) and the heavens in their diurnal rhythms (vs 8).  Vs 8 is appended to the final section by the lectionary for today.

Vss 9-13 are in praise of God’s action in giving the rain. All this flows from the river of God, the mystical source of all water in the heavens (vs 9b). The abundance of God’s gift of rain is felt by the arable farmlands (vs 10) and the wilderness areas (vs 12). Vs 11 expresses the blessing of God in poetic terms of crowning the year with bounty (vs 11a) and the evocative image of your wagon tracks overflow with richness (lit. with fatness) – a sentiment undoubtedly shared by any farmer whose farm equipment has become hopelessly bogged!  The final verse brings together the bounty of the rain in the grazing flocks of the pastoralist (vs 13a) with the waving grain of the farmer’s fields (vs 13b) in a symphony of praise and joy (vs 13c).

Genesis 30.25-36: Jacob and Laban surely have one of the most complex relationships in the old Testament. They seem to spend all their time trying to trick one another. After deceitfully dealing with Jacob in marrying both his daughters to the younger man (Gen 29.15-30), Laban engages in a battle of wits over the management of his flock. Jacob now seeks to move on and separate from Laban (vs 25-26) but Laban replies that the Lord has blessed me because of you (vs 27) and offers to pay wages to Jacob (vs 28). Perhaps realising that his father-in-law is not to be trusted Jacob refuses this offer (vs 31) but proposes that they divide the flock, with Jacob owning all speckled, spotted and black (and their descendants) while Laban has the ‘purebred’ animals all of the same colour (vss 32-33). Laban agrees (vs 34) but immediately removes the animals that should belong to Jacob and entrusts them to the custody of his sons, three days travel from where Jacob is caring for the remainder of Laban’s flock (vss 35-36), thus again seeking to defraud his son-in-law.

Romans 9.1-5 begins the teaching of Paul on the relationship of the people of Israel to the Church of Jesus Christ that fills the next three chapters (see the Introduction above). In this opening section Paul expresses his own anguish over, and concern for, his own people, the Jews. In a very strong statement of his love and concern he states that he would rather be accursed and cut off from Christ if only it would be a blessing and source of comfort for his own people, my kindred according to the flesh (vs 3). However, as we have seen in chapters 7 and 8 our life in the flesh has been radically transformed by the gospel of grace, so Paul’s longing can only be a forlorn hope.

In vss 4 Paul describes his countrymen and women as ‘Israelites’ as the word ‘Jews’ was used by outsiders. Right through 9-11 Paul speaks of ‘Israel’ to describe his own people. He then brings a six-fold list of the great blessing that have been entrusted to Israel. In the Greek it is clearly a couplet, two lines of three terms each:

the adoption [literally ‘the sonship’], the glory, the covenants,

followed by:-

the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises …

These six terms are the essence of Israel, grounded in the sense of ‘divine filiation’, of having been chosen by God as God’s ‘children’. Now, as we have seen in chapter 8, Paul has redefined the ‘children of God’: he uses it 4 times in chapter 8 (vss 14, 16, 19, 21) and again in chapter 9: 8 to distinguish the children of promise as the genuine children of God, rather than the children of the flesh. Similarly, glory has figured twice in chapter 8 (vss 18, 21), both times related to the re-defined children of God. The covenants refers to the Sinai covenant and its various re-enactments.

The second line refers to three elements of Israelite tradition that Paul has already treated and in some ways critiqued, especially the law. The promises probably refer to the promise of the land is given originally to Abraham and repeated to other patriarchs.

All this is then summarised and integrated by the closing statement to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (vs 5).

The end of verse 5 presents a challenge in translation. The …over all …blessed for ever elements can be affixed to either of two other terms in the sentence –  Messiah or God.  The two readings would then be …Messiah, who is God over all, blessed for ever,  or …Messiah. God, who is over all, be blessed for ever. The addition of the Amen. would suggest that it is a doxology and the better translation would be the second one.

The whole sequence of the blessings given to Israel end with the gift of the Messiah, the very gift that most of Israel has failed to recognise. Brendan Byrne brings great clarity to the text in his Commentary and I finish with his words on this section: 

There is great poignancy and irony in this final member [of the blessings given to Israel] since it is precisely Israel’s failure to recognise the Messiah to whom she gave birth that puts in question all the other privileges and gives rise to this entire discussion. By bringing the recitation of the privileges to a climax in this way, Paul sharply focuses the central theological issue: where does Israel’s failure with respect to the gospel leave the validity of God’s original word? The whole effort from here on will be to show that the privileges (especially the divine filiation) are not removed from Israel but that her way to them is roundabout and wholly dependent upon an eschatological exercise of God’s creative power and mercy.   (Byrne, 1996: 286)

Tuesday, July 28, 2020 Psalm 65:8-13; Genesis 30:37-43; Romans 9:6-18

For the Psalm, see Monday.

Genesis 30.37-43: Laban’s attempted trickery and defrauding of Jacob by removing the speckled, spotted and black stock from their shared flocks, is met by Jacob’s magical stratagem of peeling rods of poplar and almond and plane (vs 37) and adding them to the water troughs where the flock drank (and mated) (vs 37). As a good husbandman who had built up Laban’s flocks over the years, he could recognise the strong and the weak. He now sets out to intentionally use the coloured rods to breed speckles and spots (the marks of his ownership under the treaty of vss 32-34) into the stronger and healthier bloodlines of the flock while carefully segregating his own stronger bloodlines from Laban’s flock (vs 40b). By this strategy Jacob grew exceedingly rich… in large flocks, and male and female slaves, and camels and donkeys (vs 43).

Romans 9:6-18 unfolds Paul’s argument defending the principle declared in vs 6a: It is not as though the word of God had failed. This alleged failure is that the promise to Abraham of forming the people of God has failed and Israel has largely rejected the Messiah (Jesus) and gone their own way: doesn’t that constitute a failure of the original promise?

Paul develops his case through three phases:

  1. God’s free mode of forming a People shown in Isaac (vss 6b-9)
  2. God’s free mode of forming a people shown in Jacob and Esau (vss 10-13)

Objection: Can we charge God with unfairness: (vs 14)

  1. God’s freedom shown in Exodus figures (Moses and Pharaoh) (vss 15-18)

Vss 7b-8 make clear that the promise of descendants to Abraham is not realised through ‘the flesh’ (i.e. that all his descendants will be part of the chosen people). Pauls says that Scripture provides an indication of God’s intention to call into being non-ethnically defined ‘descendants of Abraham’.

In discussing the Jacob-Esau dynamic Paul goes even further: God’s free and sovereign power to choose whom he will is reflected in the divine choice of the elder shall serve the younger, a choice made before they had even been born or shown any moral character in the decisions they had made (vss 11-13).

Helpful here is Brendan Byrne’s comment: What this highly dense stage of the argument particularly brings out is the sovereign freedom of God to pursue a creative purpose quite independently of any contribution from the human side. Human behaviour (“works”) in no sense determines the path God chooses to pursue. The language of “works” immediately calls to mind the polemic against “works of the law” in the earlier part of the letter. (Byrne, 1996: 292)

The final statement of this section (about God ‘loving’ Jacob but ‘hating’ Esau) is a quote from Malachi 1.2-3. “[H]ating’ in this context is simply a Semitic way of expressing the choice of one party over another. This quote leads on to the (apparently reasonable) question: Is there injustice on God’s part? (vs 14) 

In rejecting this proposition, Paul quotes Exodus 33.19 which asserts again the sovereign freedom of God to have mercy on whom I have mercy, and … have compassion on whom I have compassion (vs 15). This exercise of mercy and compassion depends solely on God and is independent of any human will or exertion (vs 16). This sovereign freedom of God is then illustrated in the contrasting ways that God blesses and empowers Moses (vs 15) and hardens the heart of Pharaoh (vs 17-18). This hardening of the heart will figure again in chapter 11.7, 25.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020Psalm 65:8-13; Genesis 46:2-47:12; Mark 4:30-34

For the Psalm, see Monday.

In Genesis 46:2 – 47:12 the Lectionary takes us on a great leap forward, from Jacob trying to disentangle his affairs from those of Laban, his father-in-law, to Jacob as an old man of 130 (see 47.9) bringing his extended family into Egypt after Joseph had grown into an adult and risen to prominence in Egypt.

Why this great leap?  Perhaps it is to emphasis the continuity in the story of Israel. Even now, so many years after Jacob’s early years with Laban in Paddan-Aram, both Laban and the place are mentioned in the description of Jacob’s extended family –  vss 15, 18, 25. 

Just as the word of the Lord had warned Jacob to flee from Laban (Gen 31.3), and from Shechem (Gen 35.1), so now God calls him to go to Egypt with a renewed promise to make him a great nation (vs 3). 

The list of offspring is extensive (vss 8-27) and the passage for the day ends with an idyllic scene of Israel and his descendants settled in the land of Egypt, in the best part of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had instructed (vs 47.11) with Joseph providing food for the entire extended family (vs 47.12).

Mark 4 is an extended passage of teaching about the parables of Jesus. Jesus did not invent the parable, and there are several OT parables that have come down to us (such as the parable of the poor man’s lamb told by the prophet Nathan against David in 1 Samuel 12.1-9). However, Jesus used the parable as a key teaching method. In fact, as Mark says here: he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples (vs 34).

Our understanding of parables has grown immensely in recent years. The essence of a parable is that it has a ‘moral’, a surprising and unexpected finish. Such a story would have surprised the listeners on its own terms, and would not have needed commentary or explanation. 

As an example of this, let us look at the parable of the sower. You know it well and it opens this chapter of Mark (4.1-9, followed by the ‘explanation’ in Mk 4.10-20). But the power of the parable is the ‘punchline’ – other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty, sixty and a hundredfold (Mk 4.9). Now this would have astonished the farmers of 1st century Palestine who heard it. We hear much of the green revolution and the impact on grain yields of modern pesticides and fertilisers and agricultural science. I researched the most recent figures for seeding rates and crop yields of wheat in Victoria that I could find and ‘did the math’ (as they say). The most recent average wheat yields for Victorian farmers was ‘32.4 fold’ – which would have hugely outperformed the yields that ancient farmers would have reaped. Yet Jesus predicts yields of “some 30, some 60 and some 100 fold”. This didn’t need explanation! On its own terms it was staggering, miraculous, especially after Jesus had carefully listed all the wastage and losses that such farmers would have known.

So also here, where Jesus posits a dramatic contrast between the tiny seed (vs 31) and the huge ‘bush’ in which the birds of the air can nest (vs 32).

In the later gospel tradition we see Jesus using sayings and sermons, and stories of controversy or disputes with the Jewish authorities. This indicates other forms of teaching or engagement besides parables, but the parable was a key form of discourse for Jesus, and one of which he was to prove a master.

Thursday, July 30, 2020Psalm 17:1-7, 15; Isaiah 14:1-2; Philippians 4:10-15

Psalm 17 is a prayer song that is mainly marked by petitions. Again, the lectionary has removed vss 8-14 which continue the appeal for God’s protection (Guard me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings vs 8) before launching into a description of his enemies’ actions (vss 9-12) and asking God for a gruesome judgement upon them (May their bellies be filled with you have in store for them – with enough left over to take down their children and even their little grand-children – all in vs 14). 

These details the lectionary spares us, focussing instead on the appeal for divine judgement and vindication (vss 1-2), the singers declaration of their own innocence (vss 3-5) and a renewed appeal for God’s hearing, and answer, of the petition, for both the individual singer (vs 6) and for all the faithful (vs 7).

It is difficult for us to appreciate the importance of psalms like this and what was the life-setting of such a prayer song. The singer stood accused of dishonesty, or worse, and came to the temple for sanctuary and for vindication – a divine declaration of the individual’s innocence. This was a legal function of the temple, although we cannot be sure just how the process of ‘trial’ and adjudication was discharged. A period of ‘lying in’ the temple at night (cf. vs 3a) may have been involved. We have other ancient Near Eastern texts describing how such rituals were carried out in surrounding cultures, but the Psalms do not reveal such details, instead focussing on the singer’s trust in, and appeal to, Yahweh rather than describing the mechanics of the process involved. In our world there is a clear distinction between the world of the courts and legal actions to clear one’s name or seek justice, and that of the church or the temple. It is only when we think of people going through anguishing and difficult legal proceedings that we can get a sense of the feelings and thoughts that this psalm is bringing to expression.

The final verse (vs 15) is included in the reading, although there has long been discussion as to how it should be interpreted. What was the ‘awakening’ and beholding your likeness of vs 15b?  For Martin Luther it was a prophecy of humankind’s final resurrection. Calvin saw it as the ‘awakening’ from the psychological nightmare of false accusation and legal threat. More recent scholars have seen in it the awakening on the morning after a night-long ‘having the heart tested by Yahweh’ while sleeping in the Temple (vs 3a).

Isaiah 14.1-2 leaps again into the future. Where yesterday ‘Jacob’ went down into Egypt with all his people and great wealth, only to become enslaved when a Pharaoh arose who knew not Joseph (Ex 1.8), today’s reading prophesies the restoration of Jacob and Israel. Just as they had joined Egypt in time of famine in Gen 46-47, soon aliens will join them and attach themselves to the house of Jacob (vs 1). The reversal of fortune implied in they will take captive those who were their captors suggest a setting after the defeat of the nation at the hands of the Babylonians (in the early 6th century BCE – which the following oracle against the king of Babylon (Isaiah 14.3-23) would seem to confirm).

Philippians 4.10-15 is a charming passage in which Paul acknowledges the faithfulness of the Philippian church in supporting him from the earliest days. 

Vss 11-12 have always been precious to me in that they helped me through a life-crisis that was very difficult. As a young married man I was very privileged to spend 4 months living and working in Sri Lanka with the liberation theologian Fr Tissa Balasuriya at the Centre for Society and Religion in Colombo. Fr Tissa was an amazing man and I had many experiences that affected me deeply. When booking my return air flights months beforehand, I had booked two nights in the Mandarin Hotel Singapore where I would stay with Jane and our young daughter. In the ensuite bathroom of the hotel there were ‘his and hers’ hand basins, a bidet, separate shower and bath – more taps than were available to serve an entire shanty-community of 5,000 people in Colombo where I had been working. The cheapest main course in the hotel restaurant cost more than a month’s salary for the activists among whom I had been living and working just 24 hours before.

It was a crisis of guilt and powerlessness that I was about to re-enter the world of the privileged West. I had grown used to eating simply, and living frugally, eating rice with my hand like the people among whom I had lived. Now I again experienced comfort and luxury, and I felt angry and trapped, as if I was betraying those among whom I had lived and served.

What I needed to learn was the lesson Paul speaks of in this passage in vs 12. I had learned how to have little: I needed to learn how to have much. It was a turning point in my life when I determined to try and live in solidarity with the world’s poor through my work and life-choices even though I would always have the privilege of birth and education, and skills and personal connections and citizenship of a wealthy and free nation – albeit one built on deep injustice, racism and expropriation.  

For me, Philippians 4.12 has been an abiding gift.

Friday, July 31, 2020Psalm 17:1-7, 15; Isaiah 41:8-10; Romans 9:19-29

For the Psalm, see Thursday.

Isaiah 41:8-10 This short oracle of reassurance and deliverance comes in the ‘book’ of Second Isaiah. This body of work from the school of Isaiah deals with the great movement of the return from Exile in Babylon.  Again, the link word that ties this oracle in to the cycle of readings is ‘Jacob’. Having read over recent weeks of the travels and travails and blessings of the original Jacob, of the many ‘words of the Lord’ calling him to journey on, we will resonate with the words of vss 8 and 9: Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off. 

We have journeyed with him to Paddan-Aram, and back to the land of Seir, then down into Egypt to meet Joseph his son, and back into Canaan as his descendants carried his bones in the Exodus. And now he takes up the journey again, as the descendants known by his name journey from Babylon back to the Promised Land:

do not fear, for I am with you,
    do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.  (vs 10)

Romans 9:19-29.  Vs 19 revisits the objection of vs 14 in sharper focus: Why does he [God] still find fault? In the preceding argument about God hardening the heart of Pharaoh has Paul so undermined human freedom and responsibility that it is unreasonable for God to find fault with human beings?

Paul’s answer uses a stock Biblical metaphor – that of the potter and the clay (see, for instance, Jeremiah 18.1-11). Some clay is shaped for noble purposes, others for ordinary (vs 21) but it has no right to question how it is used. Paul is asserting that the Creator as Creator has the right to proceed in a way totally unaccountable to human beings.

In vss 22-24 Paul now suggests the heart of his argument, a double “what if…?”  What if in God’s sovereign freedom, God desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction…

The objects of wrath that Paul names here would appear to be the unbelieving members of the house of Israel. Byrne makes the point that “few statements of Paul would be as alien to modern religious sensibilities as this picture of the divine mode of operation”.  He makes the point that this very negative picture needs to be balanced by the final position that Paul arrives at in chapter 11. In placing this statement in the context of the argument he says that “Paul defends the divine right so to act, in order that the negative side of the present situation cannot give grounds for levelling a charge of infidelity against God (vs 6a)”. (Byrne, 1966: 303)

Vs 23 introduces a second what if…? concerning the objects of mercy which refers to the Christian community made up of Gentiles and the Jewish-Christian remnant. It is precisely the inclusive element of this community that displays the riches of his glory. Vss 25-26 make clear that this calling together of a new community is through an exercise of the free divine will, not any worthiness on the part of the members of that new community. This quotation from Hosea (a composite of Hosea 1.10 and 2.23) reverses the order of the texts and, most importantly, alters the word ‘say’ in Hosea to ‘call’ in Romans! Here Paul is exploring the nature of the new inclusive community of Jews and Gentiles that God has called together.

Vss 27-29 explore the phenomenon of the unbelieving part of Israel – the major part of the community of ‘the children of God’ that have not come into the new inclusive community of Jesus. Paul does this through two texts from Isaiah (10.22-23 and 1.9) which refer to the drastic reduction of the people of Israel associated with the Assyrian invasion of 701 BCE. 

There are 2 interesting footnotes to vss 28-29.  A variant reading for vs 28 has for he will finish his work and cut it short in righteousness, because the Lord will make the sentence shortened on the earth which suggests this text has been accommodated to some other early Christian eschatological schema. The variant given in the main body of the text is considered highly reliable and is to be preferred.

The footnote to vs 29 indicates the Greek word translated survivors is literally seed. If this community represents a ‘remnant’ in Biblical terms, it is also ‘a seed’ in terms of future hope for Israel.

While this passage appears to pronounce a harsh judgement upon Israel, Byrne cautions us about leaping to a final conclusion: “A great ambiguity has been opened up concerning “Israel”, which will only be resolved when the essentially provisional view that has been provided here is completed in accordance with Paul’s fully inclusive ultimate vision in chapter 11.”  (Byrne, 1996: 305)

Saturday, August 1, 2020Psalm 17:1-7, 15; Genesis 31:1-21; Matthew 7:7-11

For the Psalm, see Thursday.

Genesis 31:1-2. Today we take a great leap backwards. The Lectionary is playing with our sense of time as we connect with ‘Jacob’ in the Old Testament. For the last two days we were with ‘Jacob’ (the people of Israel) being called by God from Babylon back into the promised land in the late 6th century BC. The day before that we were with ‘Jacob’ as a 130 year old man in Egypt, centuries before Moses. Today we are back with the young Jacob in Paddam-Aram, successfully breeding coloured sheep and goats through the miraculous use of striped and spotted branches in the drinking water.

Laban’s sons are waking up that something suspicious is going on (vs 1) and Jacob sees that he is falling from favour with Laban (vs 2). The Lord then speaks to him and suggests (as so often in the Jacob stories!) that it is time to move on (vs 3).  Jacob discusses their situation with his wives, Laban’s daughters Rachel and Leah (after prudently calling them away from the settlement into the fields – vs 4). He outlines recent developments and concludes that the Lord had been blessing him at Laban’s expense (vs 9).

Now it is a dream rather than the mottled rods in the water that explains how Jacobs speckled and stripey flocks have come about. In the dream the Lord re-affirms that he is the God of Bethel who had previously appeared to Jacob (vss 10-13).

The two women agree that their father has also been using them, and stealing their inheritance (vss 14-16).  They all agree to leave.  While Laban is absent shearing, Rachel steals his household gods (vs 19). Without warning or farewell (vs 20), Jacob takes his wives and all that they own (and some things that Laban owns!) and (literally) heads for the hills: So he fled with all that he had; starting out he crossed the Euphrates, and set his face towards the hill country of Gilead (vs 21).

Matthew 7.7-11 is a saying of Jesus that comes from the tradition shared between Luke and Matthew. After Mark 4 earlier this week has stated that Jesus did not teach anything apart from parables, here we have a saying. Part of it might be considered a parable (vss 9-10) where Jesus uses the examples of parents caring for their children and not giving stones for bread, or snakes for fish. How much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (vs 11).

It comes toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount. Vs 11 suggests that the subject of the teaching is about prayer, but this is more comprehensively developed in the Lukan parallel (Lk 11.9-13) where it is linked to other material in a more sustained and focussed body of teaching about prayer (Luke 11.1-8, 14-26).

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