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

Psalm 33:12-22  This psalm’s third verse 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.”  But God is not just a national abstraction “out there.”  Israel rejoices because God knows each person individually. “He fashions their heart one and all. He understands all their doings.”  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 there whether we acknowledge it or not.  Even those who reject the very idea of God’s existence are nevertheless understood by God.  How much we miss of this deep and rich relationship  when we think we humans are at the center of the universe and fail to acknowledge we are God’s greatest creation–and that he knows us more than we know ourselves.

The last verses of this psalm articulate the manifest ways in which this relationship not only expresses it self, but enriches and enlivens our very being.  God not only knows us (“the LORD’s eye is on those who fear Him”) but his kindness provides for our needs as he “saves their lives from death/ and in famine to keep them alive.”

And what is 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.”  There you have it: we wait; we rejoice (and worship); we trust.”  Notice the “urgently.”   We understand that without God our lives are in deep trouble.  God’s faithfulness is never in question, but our relationship with God is not casual or relaxed.  as the last verse notes, “we have yearned for You,”  And we yearn urgently.

Exodus 12:21-51  As God promised, the angel of death passes over Egypt and “the LORD struck down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh sitting on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and every firstborn of the beasts.” (12:28-29).  I always though Cecil B. DeMille did a great job of depicting this deadly visit with an aerial shot of the city and the final plague as a kind of black fog winding through the streets as cries of anguish rise up from every house.

With this final plague the Egyptians rush to literally push the Israelites out of Egypt exclaiming, “We are dead men.” (12:34).  That certainly explains why they so willingly gave up their “ornaments of silver and ornaments of gold and cloaks.” (12:35).  As far as they were concerned, death was the only thing that awaited them at this point.

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.

Most important of all, though, is that the escape from Egypt was God’s plan, not Moses or Pharaoh’s.  They ewere God’s instruments, but not God’s instigators: “It is a night of watch for the LORD, for His taking them out of the land of Egypt, this night is the LORD’s, a watch for all the Israelites through their generations.” (12:42)  As the final verses in this chapter make clear, it is the Passover that defines Israel as a nation, and no uncircumcised male may be part of the community going forward.

Matthew 21:33-46  The parable of the wicked tenants contains no ambiguity; it is perhaps Jesus’ clearest metaphor about his own coming–the rejected cornerstone–and the coming of the Kingdom. Perhaps the most terrifying statement that Jesus makes in all his earthly ministry is, “I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” (21:43)  Not only taken away, but the cornerstone, the rock on which the church is built (and I’m taking the protestant read of “on this rock” of Matthew 18:20 as Jesus referring to himself, not to Peter) “will crush anyone on whom it falls.” (21:44).  And in AD70 the stones of the Temple, the center of Judaism were themselves destroyed, bringing down the curtain on the Old Covenant.

The “chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.”  But they cannot arrest Jesus because the crowds “regarded him as a prophet.” (12:45-46).  This same crowd that in just three days will turn irrevocably against this prophet and demand his death, beginning the process that fulfills the psalmist’s prediction, “The stone that the builders rejected/ has become the cornerstone.”  Without this rejection, there would have been no death and resurrection.  Like Pharaoh, the crowd, the priests and the Pharisees may think they are in command of events, but they are merely being used by God for a greater purpose.

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