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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 14 - Proper 9 - Year A
Gen. 24:34-38,42-49,58-67; Psalm 45:10-17; Rom. 7:15-25a; Mat. 11:16-19,25-30
Alt – Song of Solomon 2:8-13; Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 145:8-14

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
Ordinary 14 - Proper 9 - Year A

     [NOTE: Throughout the Season after Pentecost the RCL 
     provides a set of alternate lessons which some 
     denominations prefer.  A summary of these readings is 
     also included below.]

GENESIS 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67	    Rather than permit his son to marry a 
Canaanite, Abraham gave his servant a commission to find a wife for Isaac 
from among the tribal community from which Abraham himself had migrated 
from Haran to Canaan.  A religious theme adds meaning to this romantic 
story.  It develops the promise to Abraham that he would father a great 
nation through his son Isaac.  Behind the details of the tribal legend 
lies Israel’s faith in God’s over-ruling providence throughout its 
history.  


PSALM 45:10-17			This conclusion to one of the so-called 
“royal psalms” celebrates a king’s marriage to a foreign princess.  A few 
verses are addressed to the princess (vss. 10-12), but the whole psalm 
effuses about the virtues, wealth and divine authority of Israel’s 
monarch.


SONG OF SOLOMON 2:8-13 		[Alternate]  This lyrical love song, 
like the whole collection in  this book, may have originated as a song 
sung at a marriage ceremony in ancient Israel.  
 
 
ZECHARIAH 9:9-12  		[Alternate]  Christians readily 
recognize this passage as the model for Jesus’ triumphal entry into 
Jerusalem.  Matthew actually quoted part of it in his record of that 
event.  Undoubtedly, it originated as a hopeful prophetic oracle with 
messianic implications based on Israel’s sacred covenant.  However, it 
should not be regarded as a prediction of the actual arrival of Jesus in 
the Jerusalem prior to his crucifixion.

 
PSALM 145:8-14    			[Alternate]  This excerpt from a psalm 
of praise for individual and congregational devotion celebrates the grace, 
love and power of God to save all who put their trust in God.

 
ROMANS 7:15-25a  			Does anyone not feel the depth of moral 
conflict Paul described in this passage? He didn’t put it in modern 
psycho-babble such as we might use; but he made perfectly plain how 
intense the conscious struggle of the will becomes when we face 
temptation, or unconsciously when we just want our own way.  He made 
equally plain the only true resource for freedom from the guilt of our 
failure to resist temptation- the grace of forgiveness through Jesus 
Christ.

MATTHEW 11:16-19, 25-30		Jesus likely uttered these three 
quotations attributed to him at quite different times.  The first saying 
not only describes a children’s imitative game of biblical times, it also 
tells of the frustration of teaching without visible response.  The prayer 
in vss. 25-27 may not be Jesus’ words at all.  They reflect an attitude 
more common in later period when some regarded the Christian community as 
more closely restricted than at first.  


A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS:

GENESIS 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67   Sadly, many details of this ancient love 
story have been omitted from the RCL.  Those wishing to preach on some 
aspect of the story would benefit greatly from study and reflection on the 
whole narrative (24:1-67).  As it stands now in scripture, it is a 
conflation of two traditions, the J and E documents with some by later 
editorial redactions.  The two versions share many common elements 
nonetheless.  

In these selections, we read of the successful mission by Abraham’s 
servant to find a wife for Isaac.  Rather than permit his son to marry a 
Canaanite, Abraham had sent his servant with a marriage proposal to the 
same tribal community in Haran from which Abraham himself had migrated to 
Canaan.  A religious theme adds meaning to this romantic story.  It 
develops the promise to Abraham that he would father a great nation 
through his son Isaac.  Behind the details of the tribal legend lies 
Israel’s faith in God’s over-ruling providence throughout its history.  

The custom of arranged marriage still exists in many tribal cultures of 
the Middle East and Africa.  Included in the arrangement were gifts from 
the parent suitor to the intended bride’s family. (24:52-53)  Such 
practices do not fit well with the romantic customs of the modern West.  
On the other hand, as late as the 1950s examples of the practice could 
still be found in Canadian rural communities.  

A noteworthy discrepancy in the two versions of the story exists in the 
naming of Rachel’s father.  Who exactly was he – Laban or Bethuel? (Cf.  
22:20,23; 24:47,50; 29:5)  Another discrepancy exists in the way the 
family or Rebecca herself accepted the proposal of marriage.  (Cf. 24:50-
51,58) The confusion probably came about in the oral transmission of the 
story, including the various tribal genealogies referred to in different 
traditions.

From the scriptural point of view, the whole narrative carries forward the 
covenantal promise by Yahweh to Abraham that he would father a great 
nation.  This became the basic motif of the subsequent history of Israel 
and the prophetic concept of Yahweh as Lord of history.  This biblical 
motif can be found in religious and theological circles frequently 
expressed by modern Christian preaching.  Herbert Butterfield, a noted 
British historian and a committed Christian, also adopted it in his 1931 
*The Whig Interpretation of History*.  Writing before and after the World 
Wars of 1914-18 and 1939-45, he critiqued earlier liberal historiography, 
like that of Thomas Macaulay and other 19th century historians.  He claimed 
that they had overemphasized a course of progress away from savagery and 
ignorance towards peace, prosperity, and science.  Yet after the defeat of 
Nazism, Butterfield still believed in a divinely providential view of 
history he found in the Christian scriptures.


PSALM 45:10-17   The theme of marriage plays a prominent part in the two 
readings related to the OT lesson above.  This conclusion to one of the 
so-called “royal psalms” celebrates a king’s marriage to a foreign 
princess.  A few verses are addressed to the princess (vss. 10-12).  
Almost obsequious in its wording, the whole psalm effuses about the 
virtues, wealth and divine authority of Israel’s monarch.  Obviously its 
original author was a court poet assigned to produce a poem of praise to 
the king and his bride.

In the first part of the psalm not included in this reading, the poet 
addresses the monarch himself.  He rules victoriously over Israel’s 
enemies (vss. 4-5).  Vss. 5-9 point to his special role in Israelite 
social and political structure as the representative of Yahweh.  He has 
been anointed by Yahweh and so both commands and enjoys the wealth of the 
nation.  

The conclusion to what is known as one of the so-called “royal psalms” 
celebrates a king’s marriage to a foreign princess.  Vss. 10-12 address 
the princess whom the king is to wed.  She is to leave her father’s house, 
possibly in Tyre (vs. 12), to wed the king bedecked in royal splendour.  
No longer will her own tribal ancestors have a significant role in her 
life.  Rather, her own many sons will bring her glory and so her name will 
be celebrated by future generations of Israelites.

Speculations on the identity of the royal couple has produced many 
suggestions, none of which can be validated.  Some scholars fix their 
proposals precariously on Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel, daughter of the king 
of Tyre.  Others date the psalm, which is of a secular rather than a 
religious nature, from a time when the king’s messianic role had 
prominence.  A Christian era Targum on the psalm interpreted the king and 
his bride as the Messiah and Israel.


SONG OF SOLOMON 2:8-13   [Alternate]  The collection of songs we know as 
The Song of Songs or Canticles have had many varied interpretations.  
Attributed to Solomon, the title can only be seen as a superscription 
linking the songs to Israel’s celebrated poet and lover.  Little agreement 
exists as to its origin, date, structure and unity.  This lyrical love 
song, like the whole collection, may have originated as a song sung at the 
common marriage ceremonies of early Israel.  It has mad similarities in 
ancient Egyptian love lyrics.  Much of its imagery and references to 
nature, human sexuality and terms of endearment can also be found in other 
ancient near Eastern cultures.

Is this collection of poems to be interpreted allegorically, dramatically, 
literally or ritualistically? No one can be sure.  All methods of 
interpretation have had favour over the centuries.  After the destruction 
of the Second Temple in 70 CE, it did not find a welcome place in the 
Jewish canon because of its subject matter.  It only received final 
acceptance because many Jewish rabbinical scholars regarded it as an 
allegory of Yahweh’s love for Israel.  St.  Bernard of Clairvaux, (1090-
1153) founder of the Benedictine Order, preached 86 psalms on texts he 
understood as depicting the love of Christ for the Christian Church.  In 
recent times, more open-minded liberal scholarship has returned it to its 
appropriate place as a celebration of human love and sexuality.

This interpretation fits best in reading the excerpt in this reading.  
Typically, it celebrates the ancient tradition of the reawakening of 
nature and human sexuality in springtime.


ZECHARIAH 9:9-12   [Alternate]  Christians readily recognize this passage 
as the model for Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem in all four 
Gospels.  Matthew and John actually quoted part of it in their separate 
records of that event.  (Matthew 21:5; John 12:15) Undoubtedly, it 
originated as a hopeful prophetic oracle with messianic implications based 
on Israel’s sacred covenant with Yahweh.  However, it should not be 
regarded as a prediction of the actual arrival of Jesus in the Jerusalem 
prior to his crucifixion.

The passage comes from what scholars designate as an anonymous appendix 
mistakenly attached to the earlier chapters 1-8 of Zechariah.  Modern 
scholarship places the prophecies of Zechariah in the early Persian 
period, soon after the return from the Babylonian exile (539 BCE).  
General scholarly consensus places chapters 9-14 much later, but different 
opinions have claimed precedence for an exact date.  One of the stronger 
claims dates it in the time of Alexander and his conquests in the late 4th 
century.  Vs. 13 of this 9th chapter refers distinctly to Greece in the 
English versions.  

The first part of chapter from which this reading has been separated 
refers to many of Israel’s neighbouring city states which are under threat 
of invasion or already captured from an overwhelming military power.  This 
brief passage and subsequent verses defends Jerusalem as having Yahweh’s 
protection.  Ultimately Yahweh will triumph as earlier prophets like Amos, 
Isaiah and Ezekiel prophesied.  The passage also has similarities to the 
so-called “Enthronement” Psalms 43, 93, 96-99.  The king, however, is the 
messianic monarch anointed by Yahweh to whom Israel looked for deliverance 
in such desperate times.
 

PSALM 145:8-14   [Alternate]  This excerpt from a psalm of praise for 
individual and congregational devotion celebrates the grace, love and 
power of God to save all who put their trust in God.  As only part of a 
majesty hymn, it loses some of its power.  

Although composite in nature and includes material drawn from other 
psalms, it represents pure praise.  Like a number of other psalms too, it 
is in the form of an acrostic with each verse beginning with successive 
letters of the Hebrew alphabet.  (Pss. 9-10; 25; 34; 37; 111-112; 119).  
That characteristic became most common in the late postexilic age, perhaps 
even the 3rd or early 2d century BCE.  However, an accident in 
transcription may have dropped the nun verse between vss. 13 and 14.

The hymn opens with an exultant accolade citing the poet’s purpose to 
adore the Yahweh as the ruler of the universe.  He then declares that he 
will meditate on the mighty acts of Yahweh which others will also proclaim 
(vss. 4-7).  Divine compassion heads the list (vss. 8-9).  

The psalmist then summons others to bless the Lord (vss. 10-13).  In a 
final section, he celebrates Yahweh’s justice and kindness.  He then 
concludes his praise with a doxology and summons all to join him once 
again.


ROMANS 7:15-25a   Does anyone not feel the depth of moral conflict Paul 
described in this passage?  He didn’t put it in modern psycho-babble such 
as we might use; but he did make perfectly plain how intense the conscious 
struggle of the will becomes when we face temptation.  Such conflict also 
happens unconsciously when we just want our own way.  He made equally 
plain the only true resource for freedom from the guilt of our failure to 
resist temptation - the grace of forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

A Bible study group of adults were having a lot of good fun discussing how 
to apply their struggling faith to their day to day life in a upper middle 
class community.  Having worked through the meaning from them of Galatians 
5:22-23, they turned to the Letter to the Colossians and then the Letter 
to the Ephesians.  Sin became very real to them.  Grace and salvation, so 
common in the Pauline letters, seemed less real.  “We know what’s right,” 
said one member of the group, “we just can’t do it as we feel we should.”  
At that point the leader suggested turning to this paragraph in Romans.  
It was an “Aha!” moment for every one, the leader included.

We need to demystify Paul’s struggle and put it in terms of our own lives.  
Like the life-long struggle of the alcoholic, we are forever just one step 
away from failure.  We need to walk with Christ in us every day, every 
moment.  Only then can we live with serenity and hope.


MATTHEW 11:16-19, 25-30   Jesus likely uttered these three remembered 
quotations attributed to him at quite different times.  The first saying 
not only describes a children’s imitative game of biblical times, it also 
tells of the frustration of teaching without visible response.  The prayer 
in vss. 25-27 may not be Jesus’ words at all.  They reflect an attitude 
more common in later period when some regarded the Christian community as 
more closely restricted than at first.  They have some similarity to the 
prayer in John 17.  

The final call to find rest in Christ’s service contains echoes of the 
final blessing in the apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus aka Sirach, (50:22-
26).  Written originally in Hebrew written about 200 years BCE and 
translated into Greek by Jesus ben Sirach’s grandson in 132 BCE.  Not 
included in the Hebrew canon, it is known through the Greek translation.  
However, Hebrew fragments were found among the Qumran scrolls and in the 
fortress of Masada which endured the Romans-Jewish War of 69-70 CE.  In 
desperation the fortress held out much longer and fell to the Romans in 73 
CE only after all surviving Jews had committed suicide.  It is entirely 
possible that Jesus knew the work of Sirach with its aphorisms, moral 
maxims, proverbs, psalms of praise, theological and homiletic reflections.  
His own teaching had many of the same characteristics.

Sirach wrote: “And now bless the Lord of all things, the doer of great 
deeds everywhere, who has exalted our days from the womb and acted toward 
us in mercy.  May he grant us cheerful hearts and bring us peace in our 
time, in Israel for ages on ages.  May his mercy be faithfully with us, 
and may he redeem us in our time.”

To quote a 21st century Jewish journalist, Thomas Friedman, “A holy book, 
whether to Bible or the Qur’an, is only holy to the extent that it shapes 
human life and behaviour.” 

A sermon preached in Matthew 11:28-30 actually changed lives on a small 
rural community where two leaders of the congregation were at war over a 
decision with which they disagreed.  When the minister pronounced the 
benediction and left the sanctuary, he wonder why the congregation did not 
follow him to the door where he normally greeted them.  Returning to the 
sanctuary he found the two women embraced each other in tears while the 
rest of the congregation stood around in amazement.

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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