Psalm 33:1-5: Exodus 10; Matthew 21:12-22

Psalm 33:1-5  This psalm is surely a hymn in the sense that we think of hymns, meant to be sung by a congregation.  And there’s musical accompaniment: “Acclaim the Lord with the lyre,/ with the ten-stringed lute hymn to Him.”  The usual themes of praise psalms are present.  God’s righteousness, faithfulness: “For the word of the Lord is upright,/ and all His doings in good faith.”  While the popular image of the Old Testament (OT) God is an angry, justice-seeking old man, this hymn makes it abundantly clear that the OT God “loves the right and the just./ The Lord’s kindness fills the earth.”  Above everything else, God is a God of love expressed as the kindness of a parent to his children.

These verses also contain one of the most familiar lines in all the Psalms, if not the Bible: “Sing to him a new song.”  Of course we can take this in the literal sense: it’s good to create and sing new songs to God, not just the old familiar comfortable ones.

But I think there’s a deeper meaning here:  As God’s creatures we are endowed with the ability to “sing a new song” in all that we do and say.  God does not want us to be stuck in a rut, doing the same old thing over and over.  Instead, as we are created in God’s image, imago deo, so to we can be creators. All of us are endowed with the gift of creativity; to create new things, be they songs, works of art, objects, new ways of doing things, or striking out in new directions.  To be sure, we are not all destined to be artists or song writers, but all of us are capable of seeing and thinking and building relationships in new, fresh ways.  And also, to think and see in new ways.

Exodus 10  God finally directly tells Moses that “I Myself have hardened [Pharaoh’s] heart and the heart of his servants.”  God also gives his reason for hardening Pharaoh’s heart.  I think it is to establish the narrative of the nation of Israel in the most dramatic way possible.  For it is here at Exodus where we move from the Hebrews being the patriarchal tribe of Abraham at the end of Genesis to an actual nation.  God explains to Moses that this is the beginning of an amazing story, “I may set these signs in your midst so that you may tell in the hearing of your son and your son’s son how I toyed with Egypt.” (10:2)  Just as we Americans recall the standoff at Bridge at Concord and the Declaration of Independence as  key narrative events in US history, Israel, even today, traces its beginning as a nation to the plagues in Egypt and of course, the Passover.

Moses warns the Egyptians about the coming swarm of locusts.  Pharaoh’s servants finally lose heart, advising Pharaoh, “How long will this fellow be a snare to us. Send off the men, that they may worship the Lord their God. Do you not yet know that Egypt is lost?” (10:7)  The locusts come and Pharaoh seems to finally cave to pressure, “I have offended the Lord your god.  And now, forgive, pray, my offense.” (10:16).  Sure sounds like he means it, but as usual when the crisis passes, Pharaoh reverts to form.  Just as we usually do when the pressure is removed.

The final confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh  looks like it will yield, but once again God hardens Pharaoh’s heart.  Finally, Pharaoh threatens Moses and tosses him out of his court, ” Watch yourself. Do not again see my face, for on the day you see my face, you shall die.” (10:28).  Moses is just as implacable: “Rightly you have spoken–I will not see your face again.”  Negotiation is over and the stage is set for the terrible last plague.  God is finished “toying” with Egypt.  The event which marks the beginning of Israel’s national history is about to commence.

 Matthew 21:12-22  Jesus, as he has constantly reminded his disciples is coming to establish a Kingdom that turns the world upside down.  Here in the Temple courtyard, he literally turns the status quo ante upside down as he overturns the moneychanger’s tables.  That’s the part we always hear about, but in the eyes of the Temple authorities he was doing something equally or even more upsetting: “The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them.” (21:14).  This was making him way too popular and threatening not only their own positions, but could very well bring the Romans down around their heads, “But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry.” (21:15)   Jesus the inflames the officials’ anger even further by quoting Psalm 8:2, basically identifying himself as the Messiah: “Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies/ you have prepared praise for yourself.” (21:16)

Three acts of treason in the eyes of the authorities: upsetting economic order, threatening good order by healing and mass popularity, proclaiming himself as Messiah.  But the priests had to let him go or they would have had a riot on their hands.  They will have to resort to more devious, secretive means to get this false messiah out of their hair.

The machinery leading to crucifixion cranks into motion. The ultimate demise of the Old Covenant and the introduction of the New Covenant collide right here in the Temple courtyard.

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