Bible Tuesday for Advent II, 2016
A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
The verses in Isaiah preceding these describe how God shall punish those who march up against Israel and occupy the land. The final imagery of that section describes how God will take the tops off the cedars of Lebanon, and even fell them. These cedars reach heights of 130 feet typically and have trunks with an average circumference of better than 8 feet. (The average maple is about 30 feet tall and the average oak is about 70 feet). Lebanon, located in Assyria at that time, was a trading partner of Israel off and on throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, with these cedar trees being a very important part of that trade.
So the most powerful trees known to Israel God will fell for them, a sign of God’s mighty hand against the foes of Israel. So then where will God’s might manifest, if not in these monster trees? In the sad ol’, defeated stump of Israel. God promised David that someone from his line would always be king of Israel, yet that line has been broken long before the prophet Isaiah, speaks to Israel. Yet, God’s promise is good and is renewed in the above verses. What kind of king will grow from Israel, from Jesse’s/David’s stump? The above verses describe not only the king, but the land of Israel under his reign. Under this new king, there shall be peace over all the earth. This king will not only rule Israel, but all lands and peoples will fall under his justice, equity, and peace.
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
1 Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king’s son.
2 May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.
5 May he live* while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth.
7 In his days may righteousness flourish
and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
18 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
19 Blessed be his glorious name for ever;
may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen.
There are only two psalms ascribed to Solomon. Some Jewish scholars suggest this psalm was actually written by King David for his son, Solomon, as he ascended to the throne of Israel. The king of Israel was to rule with God’s constant guidance and justice. Note that this prayerful psalm does not mention the king’s power or military might. Rather, the most important aspects of rule are justice, equity, governing in such a way as to bless the peoples and assure their wellbeing.
4For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
‘Therefore I will confess* you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name’;
10and again he says,
‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people’;
‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him’;
12and again Isaiah says,
‘The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.’
13May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
At the time and in the locations from which Paul writes this letter to the church in Rome, there are conflicts between those Christians who were raised Jewish and those who were raised worshiping Roman, Greek, and other gods (aka: Gentiles). The Jewish Christians believe that the Gentile Christians must become Jewish, that is, be circumcised and obey the dietary restrictions, and then become Christian. This made sense to the Jewish Christians because they believed Jesus to be the long awaited messiah about which the above psalm and Isaiah prophecy speak. So, first one should enter the narrow hallway of Jewish life in order to pass into the joy and freedom the Jewish Messiah brings. St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, and the rest of his writings, argues that the freedom that Jesus, the messiah, brings is not limited to those who are Jews, because the Messiah was to come for all nations, as the above psalm states. Therefore, entrance into the joy and peace of the messiah requires only faith in Jesus, the messiah, who is God father/son/holy spirit.
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’*3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.” ’
4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 ‘I baptize you with* water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with* the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
This new church year, we will read primarily from the gospel of Matthew. This gospel was written in approximately 70 AD. Because this gospel is greatly concerned with how Jesus fulfills the prophecies concerning the messiah in the Hebrew Scriptures, it is thought this gospel was written to a primarily Jewish audience.
Right off the bat, the writer of Matthew identifies John the Baptist as “the one about whom the prophet Isaiah spoke.” The writer then goes on to describe John the Baptist as one wearing the clothes of an outcast prophet, like Elijah. This is important to a Jewish audience because Jewish tradition has it that Elijah will reappear to identify the messiah. So, John the Baptist serves as Elijah to the messiah, Jesus. Only the gospel of Luke identifies John the Baptist as a distant cousin of Jesus. In the gospel of Matthew, John is Jesus’ herald.
“Bear fruit worthy of repentance!” – John’s baptism was one of repentance and preparation for the “One who is to come.” To repent means to turn away from the wrong direction to the right direction. The Sadducees and Pharisees were opposing Jewish political parties which imposed many burdens on the faithful, especially the poor. They also misinterpreted the Law of Moses and imposed their misinterpretation onto others. For this reason John calls them a “brood of vipers”. If these religious leaders repent and are baptized by John, John expects them to act differently in their repentance. Since the actions of the Sadducees and Pharisees gain them political and social status, as well as lavish lifestyles at the expense of others, John the Baptist is expecting no change and therefore does not welcome them into the Jordan River.