Sunday 3rd September – Psalm 21
1 The king rejoices in your strength, Lord.
How great is his joy in the victories you give!
2 You have granted him his heart’s desire
and have not withheld the request of his lips.[b]
3 You came to greet him with rich blessings
and placed a crown of pure gold on his head.
4 He asked you for life, and you gave it to him—
length of days, for ever and ever.
5 Through the victories you gave, his glory is great;
you have bestowed on him splendor and majesty.
6 Surely you have granted him unending blessings
and made him glad with the joy of your presence.
7 For the king trusts in the Lord;
through the unfailing love of the Most High
he will not be shaken.
8 Your hand will lay hold on all your enemies;
your right hand will seize your foes.
9 When you appear for battle,
you will burn them up as in a blazing furnace.
The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath,
and his fire will consume them.
10 You will destroy their descendants from the earth,
their posterity from mankind.
11 Though they plot evil against you
and devise wicked schemes, they cannot succeed.
12 You will make them turn their backs
when you aim at them with drawn bow.
13 Be exalted in your strength, Lord;
we will sing and praise your might.
This is a royal Psalm about David although it comes as two voices with vs1-7 in David’s voice and vs8-12 as his people telling of his victories over his enemies. We should always remember though that when we read of David we are also seeing Jesus and when we see Jesus we are also seeing ourselves in that typical Biblical 3D view. Perhaps to get an idea of how this works, do you remember seeing those Magic Eye pictures which at first sight seem nothing but shapes and squiggles but when you looked at them for a while you see a hidden picture underneath? Once you relax your eyes and allow your perception to ‘see through’ the picture, the image can suddenly jump out in vivid three dimensions. In a not dissimilar way scripture passages like this have a multiple reference and as we read and listen to what the passages say we may well find the words jumping out at us for our own particular situation.
St Augustine of Hippo who became one of the great Early Fathers of the Church relates the time of his conversion as a young man of about 30, troubled in his heart about his rather dissolute life. He says he was walking in a garden and heard the voices of children over a wall playing some kind of game and hearing the words “Take and Read” over and over again. He couldn’t think of a childrens game with these words but took it as a sign he should go to the Bible and read. He went to do so right away. When he opened and read, the words that struck into his soul were from the Apostle Paul, “Let us walk properly, as in the day; not in revelry and drunkenness, not in licentiousness and lewdness, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Romans 13:13-14). He said he felt that moment the light of full certainty and there began his spiritual journey to faith and obedience. Scripture Union used to encourage a short prayer before every reading of the Bible that developed into a brief chorus, “Open Thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous, wondrous things out of Thy Word”. Not a bad way to start.
READINGS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD
If you don’t have a bible at home you can find the readings on a website such as www.biblegateway.com or an app such as YouVersion
Monday Exodus 10:1-29
Chapter 10 begins with another statement from God that He will harden Pharoah’s heart showing that in disobedience, turning from God, God himself eventually pushes back. The sinner doesn’t always have things his own way but will feel the hand of God on his back, as Psalm 95 v 8 (Also quoted by the writer to the Hebrews) says, “Today if you hear his voice do not harden your heart”. The whole sorry tale of the plagues in Exodus serve to show what sheer disobedience to God results in.
When locusts come, Pharoah in anger tells them to get out because “clearly you are bent on evil”!! (v10). It is astonishing what lengths people will go to to defend themselves. Isaiah says “Woe unto them who call evil good and good evil, that put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Is 5:20). We’ve seen some of this kind of thing in our modern life – to go no further than Russian denials that they invaded Ukraine.
The plague of darkness is the penultimate one and matches well the heart of Pharoah who wanted to live in darkness from the will of God. Pharoah commands Moses to get out and never show his face again which Moses readily agrees to but there will be one final meeting that they will have.
Tuesday Exodus 11:1-12:30
The final plague is the death of the firstborn in Egypt. Moses says, “This is what the LORD says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. 5 Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. 6 There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt” (11:4-6). The death of the firstborn, the pick of the crop one might say, the seed of the future, Pharoah’s future, everything was to have the Angel of Death’s sickle swinging throughout the land. Moses left hot with anger(v8) as we might well imagine. There comes a time when rebellion against God cannot go on forever without judgement and this is to come on Pharoah and his land.
What happens next is of, if not the, foundational events in the Bible. It is the institution of the Passover which has ancient elements in the history of the Hebrews, profound exposition of the death of Jesus and something to be understood by us as modern day Christians particularly as our Communion points through the last supper to this event.
The people were to meet as households and a lamb was to be slaughtered and a meal prepared. Before the meal started a bunch of hyssop was to be dipped in the blood of the lamb which was then smeared on the doorposts and lintels of the houses in which the Hebrews were sheltering. When the Angel of death was sweeping through the land the houses which were marked with the blood were to be passed over, thus the name Passover. God’s judgement was to come but his people were to be protected. The blood of their firstborn was to be spared, the blood of the lamb would be in their place.
Wednesday Exodus 12:31-51
Some things have to be done quickly. If you travel on a plane and are given instructions on what to do in the event of the plane coming down (which we never want to consider) you are told to leave your belongings and get safely out yourself. The same applies to other life-threatening situations – a fire in the house, a boat sinking – or if an ambulance is waiting to rush you to hospital for emergency treatment. There isn’t time to dilly-dally when life is at stake – remember Lot’s wife? The Hebrews couldn’t wait for the yeast to rise and the bread to be baked and so it is that on every Passover day the people remembered that night only eating unleavened bread.
Leaven in the Bible is often typified as sin and in our communion service before we partake of the bread and wine symbolic of the death of Christ for us we are asked to prepare ourselves by confessing our sin and repenting from all that the Holy Spirit convicts us of. Escape doesn’t happen by clinging on to what belongs to the failed past.
We note also that although the escape was for the people of God, others joined with them, sheltering in their houses, but the same law that the people were under would have to apply to them thus the circumcision, the covenant sign God made with his people.
The Bible’s word is always to flee from behaviour that pollutes the spirit; Paul counsels Timothy to “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace” elsewhere, after a list of all sorts of things, he says, “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness”. (1 Timothy 6). Temptation always comes sidling up like the serpent in Genesis; there is not time to hang about, run!
Thursday Exodus 13:1-16
Following the teaching of what the Hebrews were to do about the Passover comes an instruction about all the firstborn of the Hebrew escapees. The final plague meant that the angel of death went through the land resulting in the firstborn of the Egyptians dying but the sparing of the firstborn of the Hebrews as they sheltered in the houses marked by the blood of the Passover lamb. They had been saved by the sacrifice of the lamb but this salvation was to be marked by an ongoing sacrifice every time a firstborn came into life in the community, they were to be consecrated in a special sign that they belonged to God. He had paid for them and they belonged to him.
We understand this in a minor way where someone is saved from drowning by someone else. The rescued person doesn’t ‘belong’ to the other person but they would often say that they ‘owed’ their life to them and would see, in whatever way they could, to show respect and gratitude to them. Christian parents in our tradition bring their children to be presented for baptism (a kind of water death) in recognition that they belong to God through the baptism of Christ (in his death and resurrection) and receive them back in trust to bring them up as God’s.
The redeeming of the firstborn was to be a lasting ordinance, a regular reminder of how they were no longer in prison and slaves to the cruelty of their keepers but were now in the open and with a new Keeper, the Mighty God or Heaven and Earth.
Friday Exodus 13:17-22
Well, what next? The Hebrews left Egypt after a night to remember when the Angel of death swept through killing all the first-born of Egypt. They left speedily but not without treasures because the Egyptians gave them whatever they wanted as God had promised (11:2). They left as a large company as they were on their way to the land promised them but they would have to pass through other country first. There was a quick way, through the Philistine cGod is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[d] beyond what you can bearountry (modern day Gaza) but the Philistines were a powerful militaristic group with a reputation like the Prussians in the 19th Century and so God leads them a different way. He knew they had enough trouble and fierce battle was not what they needed – God knows our weaknesses “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” Jesus said in Matthew 26:41 and also as Paul said to the Corinthian Church, “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above what you are able to bear” (1 Cor 10:13)
They also left with the bones of Joseph who had told his brothers that they would eventually return to the land promised them and to remember to take his bones with them. That was over 400 years previously but the promise was kept. Joseph was eventually buried in Shechem, the place his father Jacob had bought from Hamor.
The book of Genesis which begins with the marvellous words, “In the beginning God…” ends with the sad words “…a coffin in Egypt” about Joseph’s burial, the book of Exodus is the beginning of God’s resurrection of his people from the place of death to the future promised land. It symbolises our own hopelessness facing death from birth to eternal life through faith in Christ who redeems us by his death. Christian cemeteries are full of crosses above graves signifying that their Redeemer lived and they too would follow in due course. Handel’s Messiah beautifully sets the words of Job in the Bible with the Aria “I know that my Redeemer liveth”.
I know that my redeemer liveth
And that he shall stand
At the latter day, upon the earth
I know that my redeemer liveth
And that he shall
At the latter day, upon the earth
Upon the earth
I know that my redeemer liveth
And he shall stand
at the latter day, upon the earth
Upon the earth
And though worms destroy this body
Yet in my flesh shall I see God
Yet in my flesh shall I see God
Saturday Exodus 14:1-31
Is God’s way the best way? If that was a question without context we might easily answer, yes, but what if, from our own perspective things do not seem to be right? That’s what the Israelites felt when they were led South Eastwards into what they gradually felt was a cul-de-sac where they would be trapped. Pharoah certainly felt that and his anger grew at what he felt was his foolishness cat letting the people go and he gathers his troops and chariots together to recapture his erstwhile slaves.
How did the people feel? They rounded on Moses saying it would have been better for them to serve the Egyptians than die in the desert (v12). God’s man got the blame. Moses said “Stand still” but God told Moses, “Move on”, and commanded him to raise his staff over the waters and they would part for the people to walk through in safety and as we know Pharoah and his men charge after them but God commands the waters to return and they are all drowned.
This episode speaks of the triumph of the people and the destruction of the enemy happening in the same water or rather through the same water. It is a baptism out of which the people emerge but the enemy doesn’t, the same thing that saves the people kills the enemy. When Christian believers face death we do not face it fearfully for we have a promised future which others lack. Paul reminded the Thessalonians “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him ”(1 Thess 4:13,14).
I have never failed to be moved by Bunyan’s description of the death of Mr Valiant-for-Truth in Pilgrims Progress:- “When the day that he must go hence was come, many accompanied him to the river-side, into which as he went, he said, “Death, where is thy sting?” And as he went down deeper, he said, “Grave, where is thy victory?” So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.”