Psalm 32; Exodus 9; Matthew 20:29–21:11

Psalm 32: This “maskil,” which scholars believe is a kind of song opens in a mood of rejoicing that God has forgiven: “Happy, of sin forgiven,/ absolved of offense.” (1) Forgiveness brings freedom from guilt: “Happy, the man to whom/ the Lord reckons no crime,/ in whose spirit is no deceit.” (2) In short, honest confession before God creates an inner happiness.

The poet contrasts this happiness with the woes—both emotional and physical— of unconfessed sin: “When I was silent [before God], my limbs were worn out.” (3a) The next line—”when I roared all day long” (3b)—suggests that rather than quiet confession before God, the poet filled his days with mindless activities to keep the weight of his sin off his mind.

He goes on to describe this weight of guilt as a relentless pressure: “For day and night/ Your hand was heavy upon me./ My sap [inner strength, I believe] turned to dust.” (4) In short, holding onto the burden of an unconfessed sin becomes a weighty burden, which is an apt description for guilt.

Confession eliminates this heavy burden, “My offense I made known to You/ and my crime I did not cover.” (5) In point of fact, confession  is the simple process that John describes in his eponymous letter: “If we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just will forgive…” (1 John 1:8). And here in the psalm we hear exactly the same transaction, clearly stated by our poet: “I said, ‘I shall confess my sins to the Lord,’/ and You forgave my offending crime.” (6)

Yet despite this simplicity, we are much more likely to hold on to sin than to confess it due, I suppose, to our inner sense of shame. This is why I believe corporate confession before worship is not an optional add-on. We cannot come before God with true hearts of worship without knowing we are forgiven.

Our psalmist, his sin confessed and forgiven, goes on to rejoice in the reality of God’s forgiveness for now he can worship with a clean heart, drawing a contrast between his happiness the sorry state of his enemies who have not recognized and confessed their crimes: “Many are the wicked’s pains,/ but who trusts in the Lord kindness surrounds him.” Rather than pain, there is only rejoicing: Rejoice in the Lord and exult, O you righteous,/ sing gladly, all upright men!”

Exodus 9 Plague is heaped upon plague in the thus far futile effort to change Pharaoh’s mind. Moses declares that all the Egyptian livestock will become diseased and die, carefully listing the species that will be affected: “the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks” (3) and noting that the Israelites’ stock will remain unaffected? As always, “the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he would not let the people go.” (7)

Then, boils on animals and humans alike. There is the almost humorous observation that “The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils afflicted the magicians as well as all the Egyptians.” (11) But the pharaoh seems to have an inexhaustibly hard heart.

Then, Moses provides a one day warning that the weather will turn dreadfully bad. We now see that there are some Egyptians who finally believe that what Moses is saying will actually occur: “Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried their slaves and livestock off to a secure place.” (20) The hail and fire comes to Egypt but “Only in the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were, there was no hail.” (26)

Pharaoh summons Moses and appears to have had a serious change of heart: ““This time I have sinned; the Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Pray to the Lord! Enough of God’s thunder and hail! I will let you go; you need stay no longer.” (27, 28). But once the crisis has passed, “the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he would not let the Israelites go.” (35)

We are all Pharaoh. Like him we are very slow learners when it comes to accepting reality and obeying God. We’re willing to pray for respite at the moment of crisis, even as Pharaoh appears to have finally done. Like him, we may even say the right words aloud. God rescues us, but unlike today’s psalmist who rejoices and worships, we quickly return to our former ways.

Perhaps the most depressing, yet most human aspect of these short-lived foxhole conversions is that just as God has told Moses that the pharaoh’s heart would be hardened. God knows us all too well: that rescue without confession and worship will not change our hearts. Externalities—even major crises—are not what cause us to change our ways. On the redemption of Jesus Christ will do that.

Matthew 20:29–21:11: Jesus encounters the two blind men on the roadside, who interrupt the proceedings with their annoying cries. But their cries, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!” (31) have a new element. What Jesus has sternly ordered his disciples to keep quiet about up to now is now very much out in the open. This healing rabbi wandering the countryside is indeed the promised Messiah.

Another new aspect of this healing story is that Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” (32) He does not just reach over and touch them and they are healed. They must state what it is they desire, and the reply of these two blind me is fraught with significance: “They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” (33)  As indeed the eyes of the disciples and we presume the eyes of the crowd are also opened. They are opened not just to Jesus’ healing power but to the reality that Jesus is indeed who he says he is.

The blind men are healed and they join his followers. Which is exactly the metaphor for us. Before, we were blinded by our sin and self-centeredness, but through Jesus we have come to see what the Kingdom is really all about.

The triumphal entry into Jerusalem follows immediately. As always, Matthew uses Scripture to prove Jesus is who he says he is. This time, Jesus’ sending a couple of disciples to fetch a donkey is a fulfillment Isaiah’s prophecy. [One must assume that Jesus knew this as well.]

Jesus enters Jerusalem to the crowd’s acknowledgement that he is indeed the Son of David. But when others in Jerusalem ask who he is, people in the crowd do not tell them he is the Son of David, but simply that “this is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” (21:11) Clearly, Matthew is reminding us that not everyone is quite ready to proclaim Jesus as Messiah. A first hint of what is to come later in the week. Just like today.

Speak Your Mind