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

Psalm 33:12–22: The psalm’s point of view as we read how God surveys all every person and all human activity on earth from his heavenly throne:
“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)

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.” (16) 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, 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.

Those who fear God are especially under the shade of God’s protection: “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 keep them alive.” (18, 19) 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.

The reality that we are protected by God is our ultimate source of joy and anticipation:
“We urgently wait for the Lord.
Our help and our shield is He.
For in Him our heart rejoices,
For in His holy name we trust.” (20,21)

Can we ask for greater comfort in times of testing and trial than what we already have in looking to God and his Son?

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.” (22) Moses also emphasizes how this will become a “a perpetual ordinance for you and your children.” (24) 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.

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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