Bible Study

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Bible Study: Proper 24 (A) – 2023

October 22, 2023

RCL: Exodus 33:12-23; Psalm 99; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22

Exodus 33:12-23

Earlier in this chapter, we learn that God commanded Moses to close up camp at Mount Sinai and led the Israelites to the “land of milk and honey,” but that God would not go with them. Moses is anxious and the Israelites are distressed and mournful. Gathered in the “tent of meeting,” Moses attempts to negotiate and change God’s mind. He needs reassurance that God will be with him and the Israelites during this journey. God answers Moses’ prayer, giving the promise of God’s presence. But Moses persists, boldly drawing closer to God. A promise of God’s special presence remaining with Israel on the way to the promised land is not enough for him. He wants more in his relationship with God. He’s craving closeness and intimacy, wanting to know God in greater and deeper ways. “Show me your glory,” he asks. God agrees, choosing to reveal God’s goodness and pass in front of Moses. Moses could only see God’s back, a unique term often not used for anatomy. Seeing behind God, Moses is able to experience the close presence of God while still being protected.

  • What kinds of spiritual intimacy are you seeking in your life?
  • In the thinking of the ancient Israelites, one’s name represented a person’s character and nature. For God to know someone would mean God knowing that person’s full self. What does it mean that God knows Moses by name? Do you feel known by God?

Psalm 99

Psalm 99 uses profoundly powerful and provocative language as a lens through which the holiness and awesomeness of God may be better understood and praised. It starts with concepts of kingship and power and rule: “Let the people tremble… let the earth shake.” Now, in our modern age, imagery of sovereignty, power structures, and empire can feel uncomfortable. Many of us know of kings and hereditary rulers as tyrants refusing to yield power, or as imperial oppressors holding a tight grip on exploitative systems in society. But in ancient Israel, kings were often considered messianic figures sent by God to deliver the nation from those who sought to oppress them. With a strong king came safety and security, economic prosperity, and cultural flourishing. Psalm 99 couples proclamations of God’s might with equal proclamations of God’s holiness through attributes of justice and righteousness. Power and justice might not immediately go together in our minds, but the Psalmist uses well-understood language to give authority and credibility to God while proclaiming that God contains both.

Psalm 99 also harkens back to communal history recorded in other scriptural texts. It roots its poetic praises in ancestry. From referencing God being enthroned upon cherubim like the cherubim-adorned lid of the ark of the covenant to naming core ancestors and leaders of the ancient Hebrews, the Psalm reminds readers that God has shown up for them in the past and thus will do so again today. “For the Lord our God is the Holy One!”

  • There are so many names people use for the Divine: King, Father, Lord, Creator, Shepherd, and the list goes on. What language do you like to use when referring to and describing the Divine?
  • Why would it be important for the Psalmist to connect to communal history and tradition? How important is tradition in your own faith?

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

“Good job, y’all!” This is essentially how Paul starts his letter to the church of converted pagans in Thessalonica, a major port city and capital of the Roman province of Macedonia. Paul praises the community for their commitment, faith, and actions in the face of persecution. He has no doubt that God is working through them. They’re doing such a good job, in fact, that Paul jokes that the surrounding regions don’t even need him to visit! Their actions as sincere and steadfast followers of Christ have illustrated the power and transformative nature of the Gospel. Through both their individual and collective practices fueled by faith, their community became an exemplar of Christian living.

  • What is the role of community in this passage? What is the role of community in your own faith & practice?
  • Our church and community structures look quite different today – politically, socially, and economically – than those of the Early Church. What can we take from this example of an early Christ-following community?

Matthew 22:15-22

“Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” What a puzzling answer to a puzzling question. At first glance, Jesus seems to be dividing the world into two camps: things that belong to the emperor, and things that belong to God. But I don’t believe that’s what he’s doing. Instead, he’s creatively saying that nothing belongs to the empire. Everything belongs to God, and our ultimate citizenship is not of this world. Coins, and thus money as a whole, are a human-made illusion that means nothing in the Kingdom of God. Jesus is not saying to make peace with oppression. He’s also not advocating for social withdrawal and outright rebellion. Instead, he’s cleverly pointing out that the question raised by the Pharisees and the Heriodians isn’t the important one to be asking. His message isn’t solely focused on the political issues of the time. What Jesus consistently seems to be doing throughout his teachings is recentering cultic and spiritual life back on God.

The day prior, according to Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus flipped the tables of the money changers and drove the salespeople out of the Temple upon arriving in Jerusalem. He dramatically showed his disgust with the way commerce and exploitation had perverted the Temple. So, when Jesus faces questioning the following day, he’s frustrated that the people just aren’t getting it. He’s pushing them, and thus us as readers, to ask themselves, “Why do we perform these ritual practices and follow these traditions? What is it all even for?” His focus is not on the Roman occupation, but rather on a return to the worship of God over money or status or power. Jesus’ teachings are not limited to this transactional world that surrounds us; instead, he seeks to transform us.

  • What do you think this passage means in our modern context ruled by nationalism, capitalism, and empire?
  • What powers or influences might be competing for your attention and focus?

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Christopher Sikkema


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This page is available in: Español