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    Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company is a free website that provides brief yet probing exegetical commentary for:

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  • Anyone who wants deeper insight into each week’s lectionary passages

These background notes cover every assigned text in the Revised Common Lectionary for each Sunday and major observance throughout the year.

Epiphany 2 | OT 2, Cycle A (Ellingsen)

God makes it happen! These texts focus our attention on the fact that all we do depends on God doing it first and for us (Justification and Sanctification by Grace).

Psalm 40:1-11
This is a composite Psalm, attributed to David, including a thanksgiving (which we consider in vv. 1-11) and a lament (vv. 12-17). Each may originally have been independent and then combined into a liturgy. Because the final editors of the book of Psalms seem to have used references to David as a way to represent the inner life of the Hebrews whom the great king had ruled, and so of all the faithful (see Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 521), it is appropriate to conclude that this Psalm is teaching us that the experiences embodied by these two hymnic strands, lament and thanksgiving, are characteristics of living faithfully. The psalmist begins by describing his experience of God drawing him up from desolation and hearing his cry (vv. 1-2). The psalmist claims to have been vindicated and so now many will put their trust in the Lord (v. 3). Those who trust in the Lord and not turn to the proud will be happy (v. 4).

Yahweh is said to have multiplied his wondrous deeds so that none can compare with him. These deeds are infinite in number (v. 5). He does not require sacrifices (v. 6). This critique of the sacrificial cult is evident in Amos (5:21-24.) The psalmist claims it is evident in the heavenly record of deeds (“the scroll of the book”) that he delights in doing God’s will, for his law is in his heart (vv. 7-8; cf. Jeremiah 31:33). He claims to have told the glad news of deliverance, not hiding God’s saving help (vv. 9-10). Pleas are offered in closing that Yahweh not withhold his mercy, but that his steadfast love keep the faithful safe forever (v. 11).

Application: The song affords an excellent opportunity to explore the depths of despair (Original Sin), God’s saving help (Justification by Grace), and the result that those receiving such help become grateful people, delighting to do God’s will, because by grace the law has been written in their hearts (Sanctification).

Isaiah 49:1-7
This text is the Second Servant Song, written by Deutero-Isaiah (the second oldest of the three distinct literary strands an editor has woven together in order to form the book). While the historical Isaiah lived in the eighth century BC, this strand was not composed until the sixth century BC, soon after the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonian empire. As with all the Servant Songs, there is a dispute among scholars whether the Servant referred to is an individual (the Messiah) or Israel….click here for the full installment

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Epiphany 2, Cycle A (Beck)

There is an interesting tension in these four texts between whether the salvation from sin and death that God provides will be received by the entire world or only by a few select people who are in the world. This tension between universal salvation and particular salvation is present in many biblical texts, and in other Israelite-Jewish, Christian, and Islamic texts as well. In these texts it is clearly stated that the salvation God provides is more than adequate to save the entire world and all of the people in it. Universal salvation would be possible, therefore, if all of the people of the world would be receptive to God and to the grace of God. Nevertheless, not all of the people of the world are receptive to God and to the grace of God. God and the grace of God will be received only by the people who are receptive to God and to the grace of God. Perhaps the world will be saved from sin and death through these people who are receptive to God and to the grace of God. In some texts that expectation is present; in many others it is not.

Psalm 40:1-11
In this psalm, salvation begins with the individual. The psalmist claims that the Lord God has rescued the psalmist from the pit of grave danger and despair. Consequently, the psalmist sings the praises of the Lord in the midst of the great congregation. Many, therefore, will respond and put their trust in the Lord. In spite of a multitude of evils around the psalmist, the Lord has given to the psalmist an ear that is open to the Lord. In this respect, this psalm is similar to the Isaiah 49 text to which we shall now turn.

Isaiah 49:1-7
In this second of the four major segments of “Servant of the Lord” poetry within the Isaiah traditions, there is within the canonical text of 49:3 what most likely is a relatively late scribal addition of the word “Israel” that provides an identification of the “Servant of the Lord” undoubtedly in accord with the principal Jewish interpretation of the identity of the “Servant” from the time of the beginning of the Greek period (333-250 BCE), but which confuses the sense of Isaiah 49:1-7 and removes the identity of the “Servant” from the rich arena of theological inquiry and reflection. Perhaps it would have been preferable to have left the identity of the Servant open, as befits truly excellent art and poetry, than to provide an identity, particularly one that, although popular among the Jews, causes “Israel” to bring back “the scattered people of Israel” and to “restore to greatness the people of Israel who have survived.” The earlier, more excellent sense of the text was that the Servant — probably a poetic expression of the best qualities of the historical Isaiah, of his prophetic followers, of a composite of the ideal prophet, together with the best of the Israelite kings and other leaders — was chosen by the Lord not only to bring back and restore to greatness the scattered people of Israel, but also to be a beacon light for all nations so that potentially all of the world may be saved.

For us as Christians, there is certainly a close connection between the Servant of the Lord as depicted here in Isaiah 49:1-7 and Jesus as Jesus is depicted in the Newer Testament. The claim that the Servant was appointed even before the Servant was born has helped to provide support for the concept that was developed among early followers of Jesus that Jesus was the pre-existent Child/Logos of God….click here for the full installment

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  • NEW 2016-17 Cycle A Resources
    Chris Keating
    Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

    Isaiah 49:1-7

    There’s a steady refrain to Isaiah’s Servant Songs in chapters 40-55 that may sound familiar. The servant’s calling to ministry is framed around a central task: it’s time to make Israel great again.
         The servant is called both to the ministry of raising up the displaced tribes of Jacob and fulfilling Abraham’s calling to be a blessing to the nations. To do otherwise would obscure the projection of the light into the world. God is calling this fragmented and hurting community to fulfill the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12 so that salvation “may reach to the end of the earth.”
         Epiphany is the season of light -- yet our tendency is to manage the light so that it shines largely on our own turf. We grow weary of saving others. We yearn for security. We tell ourselves that taking care of our own takes precedence over helping others.
         That sort of inward-focused protectionism has come of age recently.
         Protectionist fears can generate gale force winds that make it hard to see the sweeping beams of God’s promises. Isaiah pulls the camera back, however, summoning the servant of God to see a broader vocation. God’s servant is called to a ministry that includes interests at home and abroad. To borrow from the environmental movement’s long-held axiom, Israel is called to think globally, and to act locally.
         For missional-minded Christians, it could also be an Epiphany alert to pray globally, while also serving locally....more
    Positive Identification

    A while ago, I received an invitation to my high school reunion. Now I'm not going to tell you which one, but I've been out of high school for a while. At any rate, getting that invitation took me back to those days in Madison, Indiana, and caused me to think about some of the people who were in my class. I began wondering where they are, and what they're doing. I know about three of them: one is mayor of Madison, and another is the editor and owner of the newspaper, and one teaches classes to those who want to become nurses.
         I guess that all doesn't really matter, but because of that reunion announcement, I caught myself remembering certain moments or events that happened during high school and thinking back to what we were like then -- the people we were, or at least who we thought we were. What I realized is just how much our past shapes...more
    Wayne Brouwer
    The only way to defeat pride is to make it irrelevant. Once, when conductor Arturo Toscanini was preparing an orchestra and chorus for a performance, he was forced to work with a rather temperamental soprano soloist. His every suggestion was turned aside by her haughty opinions. At one point she loudly proclaimed: “I am the star of this performance!”...more
    Peter Andrew Smith
    Show Me Jesus
    John 1:29-42

    “I want to believe, Pastor,” Jay said. “Can you show me Jesus?”
         “Come with me.” Pastor Lyle led Jay through the door to the church hall where people were setting up tables and chairs.
         “This is a meal we host for anyone who needs it.” Pastor Lyle motioned to a woman pushing a cart loaded with silverware and glasses. “Jean, this is Jay. He’ll be helping out this morning.”...more
    Janice Scott
    Friends for Christ
    The Churches' Advertising Network nearly always comes under fire. The picture of Christ which adorned advertising hoardings around country a year or two ago at Easter, was that of Che Guevara overlaid with an image of Jesus from a classical painting. It produced a black on red poster...more
    Mary Kay Eichelman
    What's My Name?
    Object: Name tags
    How many of you know my name?  But do you know all my names?  I'm also known as Aunt ________.  or Uncle _______ and cousin ________.  Some people call  me by a nick name ______. So I have several names. Some of you might have more than one name.  (Ask the children their nicknames.)...more

Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen