Psalm 34:1–7; Exodus 13:1–14:18; Matthew 22:1–14

Originally published 3/7/2016. Revised and updated 3/7/2018

Psalm 34:1–7: This psalm dedicated to David makes a clear connection to the story in I Samuel 21 of David acting the madman before the Philistine king (who, Alter informs us, was Achish, not Abimelech) in order to rescue his men from captivity: “For David, when he altered his good sense before Abimelech, who banished him, and he went away.” (1) [Proof, BTW, that the Bible is not error-free.]

The psalmist describes the immense relief that David must have felt when he and his men are able to escape the clutches of his captor:
Let me bless the Lord at all times
always His praise in my mouth. (2)

This is the opposite of a psalm of supplication, as the psalmist reminds us that God is worthy of praise no matter what the circumstances:
In the Lord do I glory.
Let the lowly hear and rejoice. (3).

Not only do others rejoice at David’s good news, but he invites all with him to join in joyful worship:
Extol the Lord with me,
let us exalt His name one and all. (4)

Once again we see that worship happens in community; it is not an individual act.

God’s generous rescue is the reason for rejoicing. There is no absent or non-listening God here. God not only heard but he acted:
I sought the Lord and He answered me,
and from all that I dreaded He saved me. (5).

David expands his praise as he remembers that God rescued not only him, but his companions as well, who now rejoice along with him:
They looked to Him and they beamed,
and their faces were no longer dark. (6)

This verse marvelously describes God’s transformative power when our prayers are answered—and that our only response can be joyful worship.

Our psalmist fairly bursts with assurance that “When the lowly [man] calls, God listens/ and from all straits rescues him.” (7). In fact, no matter how desperate our circumstances, we are surrounded by God’s ministering angels:
The Lord’s messenger encamps
round those who fear Him and sets them free. (8)

My prayer is for that kind of assurance in a listening God when it seems I have been abandoned—just as David surely felt abandoned by God when he was in captivity. This psalm reminds us that God is never far away and that he is indeed listening and protecting us—even when we think he’s nowhere to be found.

Exodus 13:1–14:18: Now that they have been rescued, God asks for all the firstborn to be dedicated to him: “Consecrate to me all the firstborn.” (2) Once again Moses reminds the people—and us—of the supreme importance of the feast of Passover. [One has the feeling these instruction keep getting repeated to make sure that the Jews reading this story in Babylon captivity truly get the message.] Here, we receive the famous instructions that “Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen in your possession,” (13:7).

Once again highlighting the importance of ancestry, there is the instruction that Passover be handed down through successive generations: “You shall tell your child on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’” (13:8), which of course it has been to the present time. This generational aspect is amplified by the instructions to consecrate the firstborn male to God also as a remembrance of rescue: “When in the future your child asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall answer, ‘By strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.” (13:14)

The authors then provide the rationale for why the Israelites did not simply walk straight back to Canaan. What God [and the writers] know is what Moses and the Israelites did not appreciate: Canaan had been taken over by other tribes during Israel’s 430 year absence, and as we will read in the book of Joshua, would be understandably reluctant to give it up easily: “God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” (13:17).  Here is also where we learn of the pillars of cloud and fire that will serve as their GPS guide.

It has not taken long for the Egyptians to come to their senses and decide they want their slaves (and doubtless their gold and treasure) back. Now that the crisis has passed (so to speak), “the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?”” (14:5) And they set off in hot pursuit. Once again, the authors are careful to note that “the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly.” (14:8)

The advancing Egyptians are visible to the Israelites and they (rather understandably, IMO) cry out in fear. But then, as is always the case, now convinced they are about to die in the wilderness at Pharaoh’s hand, they look for someone to blame. Moses is the obvious culprit and they express their dissatisfaction and fear in one of the most sarcastic verses in the Bible: “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt?” (14:11)

Moses pleads for them not to be afraid, but to trust God—and to shut up: “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” (14:14)

Moses stands at the precipice both literally and figuratively as God instructs him to once again put his staff into action: “lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground.” (14:16)

We see so much human nature on display here. When things get tough, we cower in fear and look for someone to blame. All God wants us to do is to trust him. Alas, most of us (at least me, anyway) are pretty much like the Israelites: we’d rather tremble in fear on our own, feeling abandoned by God, rather than trusting in him.

Matthew 22:1–14: For Matthew, Jesus’ main occupation during that last week in Jerusalem is telling parables. This is the famous one where the invited guests demur attending the wedding feast, making all the usual excuses. The angry king retaliates and “sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.” (7). It’s probably obvious to at least the religious leaders that Jesus is once again referring to Israel, which is in the process not only of rejecting him, but shortly will be killing him.

Of course with the benefit of hindsight, Jesus’ parable comes literally true when Titus destroyed the temple and all of Jerusalem in AD70.

The wedding guests who do attend are obviously the Gentiles, “both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.” (10). But once invited to the wedding, the host issues a severe warning: we must wear the wedding garments. The one who failed to do this is “speechless” and is thrown out into the outer darkness: “Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” (22:13 Jesus is making it terribly clear that if one wishes to be in the Kingdom, one must do so under God’s terms and be obedient to its rules and realities.

To me, this is a clear sign that there is no such thing as “casual Christianity,” where we can pick and choose our doctrines and respond to Jesus’ call any way we like. We are in the Kingdom by invitation, but it is alway under Jesus’ terms. He makes this clear in John where he says ‘I am the way, the truth, the life.‘ (John 14:6) As much as we’d rather define our own Christianity—accepting the easy and rejecting the hard— it is not we who make up the rules. It is Jesus; only Jesus.

This is why I believe that religions such as the Mormons, who have added their own theology and sacred books, or prosperity Gospel preachers who have distorted Jesus’ words, are like the man without the wedding garment. What Jesus said still stands; we cannot add to it or take away from it—and do so at our own risk.

 

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