Psalm 30:1–5; Exodus 1:1–2:10; Matthew 18:15–35

Originally posted 2/24/2016—revised and updated 2/23/2018

Psalm 30:1–5: This psalm’s superscription is quite specific: “Psalm, song for the dedication of the house, for David.” (1) First, no surprise as it announces itself as a psalm. Second, it suggests it is used at the dedication of the temple [although the temple wasn’t around in David’s time], so perhaps it was written for the dedication of an altar or something that preceded the temple. Third, it’s “for David,” i.e., not written by David, as I suspect very few psalms were.

Speaking in David’s voice the psalmist opens on a note of pure joy and thanksgiving for God’s rescue:
I shall exalt You, Lord, for You drew me up,
and You gave no joy to my enemies. (2)

Alter informs us that the phrase “drew me up” is exactly drawing water up from a well. In short, David has been rescued from the pit of death because his enemies did not succeed in their conspiracy to kill him.

Our poet also acknowledges a supplication to God which was answered:
Lord, my God,
I cried and You healed me. (3)

These are words that resonate strongly for me since I believe that God rescued me from an inevitable death from advanced cancer. I have been truly healed. The psalmist reiterates the idea of  a rescue from certain death:
Lord, You brought me up from Sheol,
gave me life from those gone down to the Pit. (4)

David was rescued in what seems to be just minutes before his death. The idea of going “down to the Pit,” reminds one of the Apostle Creed’s affirmation that after he died on the cross, Jesus descended into hell, or what in the OT is called Sheol or the Pit. This psalm reflects that same descent and ascent.

For this rescue there can be only one response: worship, which is nicely summarized in verse 5:
Hymn to the Lord, O his faithful,
acclaim his holy name.

This is one of those moments when we realize that “worship” and “thanksgiving” are essentially synonyms. While there are many elements to liturgical worship including confession and the word, there’s no question that a high point is the “Great Thanksgiving” just before the words of institution. Would that we sung it more often than just saying it in unison.

Exodus 1:1–2:10: This second book of the Pentateuch, Exodus, begins by naming the 11 brothers and Joseph, in what started out as a large family (of 70!) has become in succeeding generations “fruitful and prolific” and “they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.” (7)

The pharaonic dynasty has changed in the intervening years and “a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” (8). He looks out over his empire and is exceedingly nervous about holding his grip on power. The Israeli “guests” have multiplied to the point where the Pharaoh declares, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we.” (9) His major concern is political as he tells his aides, “let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” (10). So they enslave them, and the “Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor.” (13, 14a). To make sure we get the point about the Egyptians becoming the oppressors, our authors repeat themselves: “They [the Egyptians] were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.” (14b) Given that this book was probably written during the Babylonian captivity, this story of Egyptian oppression would certainly have had resonance among the Jews of that time, even though that had not been enslaved by the Chaldeans.

Even as slaves the Jews continue to multiply. Pharaoh decides things have gotten out of hand the Israelite fecundity must be stopped brutally in its tracks. He orders all the Egyptian midwives to kill any Israelite boy minutes after his birth. “But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live.” (17)

When Pharaoh challenges them on this, they reply rather cleverly that “the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” (19). Our authors tell us, “because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.” (22). Realizing the midwife tactic won’t work, the Pharaoh issues an even harsher command: “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.” (22)

The scene shifts from the palace to the house of Levi and his wife, identified only as “a Levite woman.” [What is it with omitting the names of courageous women? Such is patriarchy, I guess.] We all know the story: the mother can no longer hide the child and builds a little ark and places it in the reedy part of the Nile. The boy’s sister watches; the Egyptian princess spots it, rescues the child and via the sister, winds up giving the child to its actual mother, who nurses and raises the child. “When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son.” (2:10a) And what I had not realized before, it is the Pharaoh’s daughter who “named him Moses,“because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” (2:10b)  [Does this mean that the name ‘Moses’ is actually Egyptian in origin?]

In Sunday School we started right out with the story of the infant Moses set adrift in the wicker basket, conveniently omitting over the Pharaoh’s genocidal intentions.  This story, of course, is a conscious allusion to the Noah story, and Alter points out that the word used for wicker “ark” is the same as the ark of the Noah story.  I don’t think it would be a stretch to note that this is also a form of baptism; that it is in water the next great act in this story of God and his chosen people begins.  Water, which also marks major turning points in Moses’ own life, from the crossing of the Red Sea to Moses’ striking the rock, to looking at, but not crossing, the Jordan River at the end of his life.

And in the Pharaoh’s decree we see a foreshadowing of Matthew’s account of Herod demanding boy children to be killed after he hears about the nascent Messiah just born in Bethlehem. Matthew’s point being that just as Moses was rescued from certain death to save his people, so too Jesus is our rescuing Messiah.

I’m struck by the parallels to the never-ending immigration debate here today, including even the reality that Hispanic birth rates are higher than Caucasians, as we whites will eventually become a minority.  Clearly, many feel threatened by moving form majority to minority status.  I’m sure a similar rationale was used in the 19th century Antebellum south against freeing the slaves, lest they proliferate uncontrollably and overrun the white landowners.  As usual, human nature, especially when it feels threatened, has changed not a whit in thousands of years.

Matthew 18:15–35: I’ve always been puzzled by this passage about the process of dealing with someone “who sins” in the church. This whole passage seems oddly out of context, feeling much more like an insertion by Matthew, especially in light of the fact that the church of Jesus Christ did not exist while Jesus was on earth. And I suspect Jesus was not talking about temple politics here. Nevertheless, the process of meeting one-on-one to resolve an issue and if that doesn’t work then bringing a “two or three witnesses” is a pretty effective technique if handled in the name of Jesus and not as to often happens as a means of vindictiveness.

Whether or not Jesus actually said these things is really not the issue here, since this is a passage provides a useful lesson in church polity. Moreover, this section concludes with the all-important reality that “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (20)

Even more important is that conflicts among Christians provides a good opportunity for Jesus to make the all-important point about our obligation to forgive: “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (22)

Jesus drives the point of forgiveness home with his memorable parable of the unforgiving servant. The slave grovels and is forgiven an enormous debt by his master. But he turns around and demands a comparatively trivial amount from a fellow slave. Other slaves complain to the master, who  demands, You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ ” (32, 33) The unforgiving slave meets a bad end. The parable’s lesson is terribly clear here. Through Jesus Christ, God has forgiven us our enormous sins and we are to pay that forgiveness forward by forgiving those who sin against us.

Of course this behavior of forgiveness is enormously puzzling to those outside the church, as witness the forgiveness of the youth who killed nine people gathered for a Bible study in a church in Charleston SC. While the world beyond the church may find this behavior odd and even wrong-headed, there’s no question what our obligation as Christians is—just as it was obvious to those church members in Charleston.But it’s worth noting what Jesus left unsaid: bad acts have bad consequences. Forgiveness  is one thing. Nevertheless, the sinner must be prepared to pay the price for his wrongdoing.

 

Speak Your Mind

*