Psalm 33:12–22; Exodus 12:21–51; Matthew 21:33–46

Originally published 3/5/2016. Revised and updated 3/6/2018

Psalm 33:12–22: This psalm’s third section celebrates the gratitude of Israel for being chosen as the people of God:
Happy the nation whose god is the LORD,
the people He chose as estate for Him. (12)

The point of view shifts to heaven as we read how God surveys all— every person and all human activity on earth:

From the heavens the Lord looked down,
and saw all human creatures.
From His firm throne He surveyed
all who dwell on the earth.” (13, 14)

But God is not just a national abstraction “out there.”  Israel—and we— rejoice because God knows each person as a distinct individual:
He fashions their heart one and all.
He understands all their doings. (15)

That’s an interesting concept: God fashioning our heart.  We are not only created, but our personalities are also shaped by God, and because God “understands all [our] doings” there’s a relationship between God and every person whether we acknowledge it or not.  Even those who reject the very idea of God’s existence are nevertheless understood by God.  How greatly we miss out on this deep and rich relationship when we behave that it is us who are at the center of the universe. God knows us more than we know ourselves. And what happens, what we accomplish is not solely our doing.

God not only observes our outward behavior, his omniscience penetrates our every thought and motivation.
He fashions their heart one and all.
He understands their doings. (15)

Moreover, what we think of as our wisdom and strength actually comes from God:
The king is not rescued through surfeit of might,
the warrior is not saved through surfeit of power. (16)

Should an outside agency come to our rescue it is not that agency that appears to rescue us; rather, it is God alone:
The horse is a lie for rescue,
and in his [the horse’s] surfeit of might he helps none escape.(17)

Our escape comes only through God. Men and governments may appear to be the source of well-being and rescue, but that is an illusion. It is God who provides all.
Look, the Lord’s eye is on those who fear Him,
on those who yearn for His kindness
to save their lives from death
and in famine to keep them alive.” (18, 19)

And what should be our response to God’s strength and benevolence?
We urgently wait for the LORD.
Our help and our shield is He.
For in Him our heart rejoices,
for in His holy name do we trust. (20, 21)

There you have it: we wait; we rejoice (and worship); we trust.  Notice the “urgently.”   We must understand that without God our lives are in deep trouble.  God’s faithfulness is never in question, but our relationship with God is never casual or relaxed.  As the last verse notes, “we have yearned for You,”  And we yearn urgently.

In short, faith in God is the source of life. These verses have been directly fulfilled for us in the person of Jesus Christ, who is indeed our source of life and sustenance in times of trouble.

Exodus 12:21–51: Moses gets the word out regarding the rather specific instruction of how to survive this tenth plague. Particularly crucial is that everyone must (to use the current term of art) shelter in place: “None of you shall go outside the door of your house until morning.” (12:22) Moses also emphasizes how this will become a “a perpetual ordinance for you and your children.” (12:24) [I doubt he actually said these word. Instead, I think they are a clever editorial insertion into the story by the editors writing centuries later. ] Once again we see the emphasis on the importance of progeny and successive generations: “And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this observance?’  you shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the Lord,” (26, 27) The generation enduring the actual Passover will be remembered down through the ages, as indeed it is to our own time.

What is remarkable is that there is no doubt about what God will do among the Israelites” “The Israelites went and did just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron.” (28) They have certainly come to realize it is their God who is the force behind the preceding nine plagues and how they have been spared what the Egyptians have endured on behalf of their stubborn Pharaoh.

What is the Passover for the Hebrews is a plague of agony and death for the Egyptians and no family is spared: “At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon” (29) We get a hint that the Egyptians feared that even worse was to come:  “The Egyptians urged the people to hasten their departure from the land, for they said, “We shall all be dead.” (33) It was clear they believed that the Israelites were the source of their woes—and of course they were right.

Pharaoh summons Moses and Aaron and gives permission for the Israelites to depart and then he says something completely unexpected (for me, anyway): “And bring a blessing on me too!” (32) Has Pharaoh become a God believer now that he has witnessed God’s power? Or is it more a temporary emotional reaction to the trauma he has just endured? 

So, with the gold and all the other possessions, which the authors tell us “they plundered [from] the Egyptians” (36), 600,000 Israelites “and livestock in great numbers, both flocks and herds” (38) set out for Succoth, having lived in Egypt for 430 years. Which when one thinks about it, is a very long time. If the Israelites had departed this year, 2016, Jacob and his clan would have arrived in 1586.

from 2014: Our narrator recaps the numbers.  600,000 men (12:37), which would have meant about 2 million people, which seems like an awfully big number.  And they are leaving Egypt after being there 430 years.  When you consider that the US is only about 240 years old, one gets an appreciation of not only how long they were in Egypt, but that God’s timing (thousand years as a day, etc.) is definitely not our timing.

But perhaps the most striking thing about this story is that the Israelites obeyed God’s instruction to the letter: “All the Israelites did just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron.” (50) I’m pretty sure that had I been an Israelite I would have seen the whole Passover thing as quite strange if not ludicrous. But on the other hand, I had not witnessed the mighty acts of God which preceded that final night.

Matthew 21:33–46: Sitting in the temple courtyard, Jesus is in full parable-telling mode. This one is about the tenants who tend the vineyard while the owner is absent. The owner sends slaves to check things out, which the tenants, feeling that the owner will never find out, promptly beat, stone and kill three slaves in succession. Finally, the master sends his own son, who the tenants also kill. Jesus asks the question: “Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” (40) The answer is altogether obvious.

The vineyard is God’s kingdom, the slaves are the prophets; the son is the Messiah, The wicked tenants are Israel, which is about to dramatically reject the Son of God. As Jesus observes by quoting Psalm 118, that rejection will spell Israel’s doom, as the Messiah becomes the salvation of the Gentiles—the “other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” (41)

While this parable may have been lost on the crowd, it was not lost on the chief priests and Pharisees, who would like to arrest Jesus right then and there, “but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.” (46)

In light of what happened in Israel in AD70, it’s impossible to hear Jesus’ warning, “The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls,” (44) without thinking of the destruction of Jerusalem and the ultimate decimation of Israel.

And it’s equally worth reflecting on the fate of those who consciously reject the Cornerstone even today.

 

 

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