You Aren’t Wandering – Exodus 13:17-22

In this passage, it’s nice to know that it isn’t simply about Israel. While the obvious is true, there is the less than obvious that this is about that. Our story isn’t simply “our story”, is it? Have you ever noticed that you can tell someone of something that has happened to you, or that you experienced, and it brings hope or encouragement to the person you’re talking to? It isn’t about you in that moment, is it? It’s not like your story is the epitome of freedom. No, in that moment there is now a connection being made. They realize that your story is their story, and they are at some point in that timeline that you were expressing to them. Right now, they are in the place where they’re not sure where the end is, but here you come with the conclusion, telling them things of hope and things of chivalry.

The Bible is like that.

Just when you think you’re only reading about an historical account of Israel’s exodus, suddenly you realize it isn’t simply about them. It’s about all of us, both personally and corporately. We’re wandering through this seemingly God-forsaken dessert, where the mountains erupt out of the ground, to block our view and we can’t tell what’s around that corner. Let me show you a couple pictures:

sinai-peninsula-egyptMountains3Mountains2Mountains1

Can you see from these how there is a certain distance that you can see, but beyond that in all directions is only one of these infuriating mountains? And can you see how they almost just come up out of the ground? When God says that no one can touch the base of the mountain, I assume that there was a certain point where it was obvious, like you see in that second picture.

I think this applies to all of us, doesn’t it? We have a certain amount of foresight, where I can tell by certain circumstances what the outcome will be, but we never know what exactly is around that corner. Sure, I know that I’m supposed to talk to that person about such and such, because that’s what I’m required to do according to Jesus’ words. But I don’t know their reaction, and I don’t know what will happen after I say something. Almost everything about our lives are walking through these wildernesses.

It’s agonizing, I know.

But what doe the text tell us? We have this strange thought that the people Israel were “wandering” through the wilderness, as if they were lost and didn’t know where they were going. The first verse of this passage tells us that God did not let them go by the way of the Philistines, though that was closer. The second verse tells us that God led them around the Red Sea. It ends with telling us that God directed their path as a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. What more do we need to see that God is all and all in this?

I suppose that there are  many different ways of viewing it, but whichever we choose to pick, or if we decide to allow for a plethora of various meanings, I pray that this short post can at least give you some encouragement that you shall indeed reach your Red Sea, and shall cross it. And beyond that, finding freedom from your Egypt, I pray that you can be led like a bride through the wilderness (Jer 2:2) to come unto that Jordan, and cross into your inheritance at the end of the age.

Consecrating Firstborns – Exodus 13:1-16

When we read this whole segment, you’ll notice that it begins and ends with regulations regarding the firstborn. However, sandwiched between this are verses regarding the first fruits. This has significance for a couple reasons. First, after Passover comes First Fruits, which is celebrated three days after the Passover – the day that Israel crossed the Red Sea, and that Jesus would have resurrected. Second, this is the season. It is early spring, when the flowers are blooming, the winter crops are being harvested, the animals are giving birth, and nature itself shows the reality of resurrection.

Therefore, I don’t see the consecration of the firstborn as something altogether separate and distinct from the rituals mentioned regarding first fruits and Unleavened Bread. The consecration mentioned in Exodus 13:2 is later expanded in Numbers 3:12, 8:16, and 18. The firstborn are seen at the Tabernacle performing Levitical duties. Here in verse 2, that which is consecrated is specifically that which was dealt with in the plague. Men were affected, and therefore they must be consecrated. Beasts were affected, and therefore they must be consecrated. God has spared the firstborn of Israel, and therefore the firstborn is considered holy unto the Lord.

Therefore, with verse 3, we have “Remember this day…” Why? It isn’t just the date that is commemorated, as if this event is a single event. This event is eternal. It is a pattern by which we can comprehend the glory of God, and His intentions throughout all generations. It is a prophetic perception, and not merely something that we “believe” that gives this kind of testimony. Passover is seen throughout the whole Scripture, and not just the actual event, but the eternal pattern of pesach.

Passover represents the coming out of darkness and into light, the coming out of “the house of bondage” (a phrase Moses uses frequently in Deuteronomy as well) and into the beautiful freedom of God’s House. Therefore the unleavened bread is more than just a sing of remembrance. It is more than a matter of leaven meaning “sin”. “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees” was a warning regarding their doctrine, and not simply their practices. There is a spirit behind the words, and an attitude that conveys whether they are truth or only factual.

“For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread…” Seven is the number of perfection, and not simply completion. Yes, I know that that the creation was completed in seven days, but it was also made perfect. There were seven nations “greater and stronger than” Israel that they must dispossess from the land. Why? Because there was completion? No, because the Land is perfect, and from it the glory of the LORD is to go forth, but the enemy has desired to take hold of that Land. This is a perfecting of the saints. We hold the feast of Unleavened Bread through the bread of sincerity and truth (1 Cor 5:6-8) – that is, from living, speaking, doing, and having all of our life governed by authenticity in Christ.

Notice the rest of that verse. it isn’t merely that we are forced to eat without leaven, and oh what a burden that is. We celebrate with a feast on the seventh day. It isn’t like God is trying to make us eat the bread of affliction (Deut 16:3), or that we’re required to eat the bread of adversity (Isaiah 30:20), or the bread of tears (Psalm 80:5), but that we’re to have a massive party and celebrate that God is not causing us to live in that any longer. The point isn’t oppression, but freedom.

In regard to explaining to the children, this particular verse is not directed at when the children ask. This is spoken to the parents to simply explain it, whether the child initiates the conversation or not. In the following verse (9), the wearing of tefillin is mentioned. The Jews have translated this verse as wrapping a leather cord around your arm (traditionally, the left arm, but it’s not specified), and a box upon your forehead. In the box are four verses, and this is one of them. Personally, I don’t quibble against the phylacteries (tefillin), but I believe that the command has to make sense in the context.

What is it about unleavened bread that has to do with the arm or forehead? It makes sense that in our mouth the command of God shall be – for we’re eating it in observance. When we’re released from bondage, it is a release from that which constrains. Therefore, the sign is upon our hand/arm because we are no longer held back, and upon our head because it takes the mindset of freedom to recognize freedom. If you hold an animal in captivity from its youth, even when you let it free, it won’t realize that it can move beyond whatever leash it was given in captivity. There must be more than a breaking of chains, but also a mental recognition and ascension unto freedom. And let us not forget the last bit of the verse, that it was “by the strong hand of the LORD” that we were let out.

In our final section (verse 11-16), we deal again with the firstborns. Here we have God again speaking regarding how the firstborn is His, not only now, but also when they inherit the Land. The means by which you can have your firstborn back is through what is called “redemption”. Redemption is not merely being free from sin, or being “saved”, or making it to heaven, or whatever other silly things we typically think. Redemption is deeply rooted in the patriarchal system. When a family member is injured, stolen, or lost, it is up to the patriarch of the family to “redeem” them – to bring them back into the family safely, whatever the cost, and whatever the need.

When we’re dealing with redemption from the Lord, we’re speaking specifically in flesh and blood manner. If you want to keep your firstborn son to continue your family name, then you must purchase him back from the priests/Levites for an allotted price. Once again, this isn’t to be “Ra ra fury fury”, but rather to in the Hebrew culture, this was an honor. It was a living means by which they could perpetuate the remembrance of what God has done for them, and such demand is a grace that should reveal to us that God is not an elitist. Yes, the Levites and priests are the only ones allowed to be near the tabernacle… except for the firstborns who are consecrated unto God.

I confess that I have not the sufficient insight to understanding why certain things are the redemption of certain animals. Nor do I fully grasp why you must break the neck of the donkey if you don’t redeem it. If any of you have some suggestions, I would be honored to hear them.

The Exodus – Exodus 12:37-51

Here it is, folks. The moment we’ve all been waiting for: freedom. The exodus from Egypt marks the moment when Israel is finally permitted to leave the land of bondage, a moment when they are finally able to find hope and release. We all probably already know the story, that there will come another attack from Egypt before they cross the Red Sea, however, let us take a moment to live in their shoes. Can you imagine what it must have been to take that trek from Ramses to Succoth (probably Tjeku, a day’s journey)?

It’s finally happening. My children aren’t going to have to suffer the same enslavement that I’ve faced.

And could you imagine what it must have been to see a mixed multitude go with you? According to verse 38, there were actually Egyptians that joined themselves with Israel in the exodus. The only mention of this later in the Bible is Leviticus 24, where a half-Egyptian man blasphemes the name of God. Even in this story, the point isn’t to show that he isn’t entirely Hebrew, but to show that he hasn’t truly separated himself from Egypt. There is a long history of people in the Old Testament who join themselves unto Israel, Gentiles being ‘grafted in’ to the commonwealth of Israel. Here is one of those moments.

What was displayed unto the Egyptians was so powerful that some of the Egyptians flat out rejected their own nation, religion, and people in order to follow the one true God. There was such a breaking in of the Kingdom of God that even pagans recognized it, much like the soldier who claimed at Jesus’ death, “Surely he was the son of God!”The powers of darkness have been defeated, and now we find the Kingdom of God being expressed.

It’s interesting to me that in every moment when the Kingdom of God is being established in a drastic way that there is a slaughter of children. Exodus begins with the slaughter of the Hebrew male children. Matthew begins his Gospel with Herod killing the male children of Bethlehem. Revelation 12 speaks of the dragon desiring to devour the male-child, and when the male-child is taken up to heaven, it then results in the dragon being cast down so that “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come…”

It’s also fascinating to me that we have the number 600,000 men are recorded as the number that left Egypt. This could make the number of total Israelites who left upwards at 2 million people! This is not a small herd of slaves, just like the beginning of Exodus proclaimed.

There is a question of integrity with the statement that Israel dwelt in Egypt for 430 years. Abraham was told that his offspring would dwell in a foreign land for 400 years. How do we solve this discrepancy? It’s actually quite simple when you read the text. Genesis 15:13 says, “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them 400 years.” Notice there are three things required in that “400 years”: strangers in the land, serving the foreign peoples, and being afflicted. When Joseph came down into Egypt, he was a servant of Potiphar. However, when the whole of the children of Israel came into Egypt, they were not servants. It wasn’t until a few generations passed, and there arose a Pharaoh who didn’t know of Joseph that they were servants and afflicted.

So, we can assume that the Israelites dwelt in Egypt for 30 years before they were put into slavery. And then, on the very same day that they entered, now only 430 years later, the Israelites were leaving. This night that they left is Pesach – Passover. Therefore, this is one of the required feasts, and therefore all of Israel is to honor it, and if anyone does not honor the Passover, they shall be cut off from the children of Israel. God was so intentional with the dates that He separated this day as a day of redemption.

In the regulations for this holy night, God prescribes several details that are important to note. First, notice that foreigners are not allowed to eat this. For we who claim Christ as our Passover Lamb, how is it that we can embrace that Gentiles are permitted in this holy feasting of the Table of the Lord? Well, notice the next verse, where any man’s servant bought for money and circumcised is permitted to eat. You, as Gentiles in Christ, have been bought for something more precious than money – bought by the very blood of Messiah. We’ve been circumcised of heart, which is the true circumcision of which the flesh only reflected the reality of. Therefore, we’re permitted to eat, but only through Christ Jesus.

Second, notice that it says you shall not carry the flesh outside of your house, nor shall you break one of its bones. John actually takes that statement about not breaking the bones of the Passover Lamb and uses it for Jesus, that the reason the soldiers didn’t break His legs was to fulfill this verse. This verse isn’t a prophecy, though. It’s for this reason we need to be eternally minded. Such an eternal moment as this reverberates outward into all time. The Passover is not something that we should expect as just one moment, but an eternal reality. Therefore, we find Lot offering the two angels unleavened bread, in order to celebrate the Feast (Genesis 19:3).

It was on Passover that Joshua crossed the Jordan with all of Israel. I’ve heard some rabbis claim that Abraham even offered Isaac on Passover, though there is no Scriptural support for this. The point, however, is to show that this day is significant eternally, because God has eternally fixed that the earthly shall reflect the heavenly. There is an interconnection through the eternality of God.

With this, we finish our segment on the Ten Plagues.

Death of the Firstborn – Exodus 12:29-36

In these two verses are many thoughts that stir within me. First, I see that this plague comes at midnight, and think about how the ten virgins are all sleeping, but at midnight the groom comes (we know that five of them don’t make it in, but the point is connecting the two midnights here). Then I also have another end time consideration of how when Babylon falls, in Revelation 18, all the nations mourn for that fall. This is reflected in the prophets as well.

Typically the way that we read this passage is to see the death of the firstborn as the climactic end of Egypt. Finally Israel is set free and permitted leave. I have a different view, however. It isn’t that this isn’t a climax, for it is indeed the final plague upon Egypt. Yet, when we’re reading Exodus, we find that at the Red Sea is another conflict, and one of epic proportion. God is not yet finished, because Pharaoh is not yet finished. When we conclude the 15th chapter, it is finally at that point where Israel is truly free.

It does so happen in this passage, though, that Israel is liberated, and finally outside of the land of Egypt, headed toward that glorious Promised Land. As the LORD had spoken, she despoiled the Egyptians, asking her neighbors for silver and gold and articles of value. In Pharaoh’s response (verse 31), it is the first time that he addresses the people as “Israelites”. Every other time, if he even addresses them, it is “people”, which sounds much lower and lesser than an actual people. In the first verse of Exodus, the oppression was beginning to be explained with this term, and now finally at it’s close it is being used again. They are Israelites, and not merely slaves.

Because of the death of the firstborn, which will later be contrasted in chapter 13 by the blessing of the firstborn, all of Egypt fears for their lives. All the plagues up to this point have damaged property, killed animals, and caused bodily harm, but nothing has been so devastating as to kill in a moment a mass part of the Egyptians. With fear, the Egyptians send Israel out hastily. For this reason, in Deuteronomy 16:3 the unleavened bread is called “the bread of affliction”, which is contrasted later with the bread of heaven (manna) that Israel receives in the wilderness. These contrasts that are made show the vicissitude of the Exodus, just as much as the ecstatic ascent unto Sinai.

There is a melancholy, because they are leaving the land that provided much luxury for them, but at the same time a rejoicing at finally being rid of the slavery and oppression. Within the next few chapters, we’ll find the Israelites complaining and grumbling over and over again. Think of it this way, if you were forcefully uprooted from your home, sent into the heat and intensity of a desert, and not given the proper rations for food and water to make the journey, not knowing where you’re going or how to get out, and all that you have leading you is this Moses fellow who might or might not have been this way before, would you grumble? I would.

But this is Passover. We haven’t yet come to that.

Here we find emphasis being put upon the Israelites following the word of Moses. Why? What is so important about that?

Moses is the prophet, which in this case is more than just a man. He is the mouthpiece of God, and beyond that, he is God unto the people. Later we’re going to see that he has horns (like a crown) and a staff (like a ruler). Moses is the ‘king’ of Israel, which was a title for God alone. Yet, back in Exodus 4, God told Moses that he shall be “Elohim” unto Pharaoh. Here it is as well, that even unto the children of Israel, Moses is likened unto God. To follow the words of Moses is to follow the word of God, for the two have become one. So it is with the apostle and prophet, that when we follow their words, we follow the words of God. It is established by word and deed, for Paul confesses often that he didn’t just speak idle words, but gave demonstrations of power. If you think those demonstrations consisted of miracles and healings, then you have sadly mistaken what Paul is saying. It might well have, but let us not forget that with the anointing, the words themselves are demonstrations and events.

To hear the word of the apostle or prophet is to hear God. That kind of hearing, coupled with faith, will bring about salvation to the uttermost. It strikes life into the heart, and causes the listener to be quickened by the very same Spirit that is enabling the speaker. For Israel to obey the words of Moses is more than a statement of their disposition. This shows their obedience unto God, and the receiving of the same quickening that has come upon Moses at this point. We’ll see later that there is something greater imparted unto Moses, which will then be prayed over the elders and imparted.

Slaughtering Children – Matthew 2:16-18

When I spend time in prayer, it is a time of silence. I sit still before God, and I wait for His words, for His heart. His heart is almost always something that I’m not even considering.  I’ll be thinking upon whatever Scripture I’ve been reading/wrestling, or I’ll be considering a life circumstance, or a theological question, but this is never what God seems to be considering…

He speaks to me about things that seem absolutely out of left field for everything that I would like to hear Him say. One of those times regarded this passage of Scripture. My mind went from Exodus 1, when Pharaoh slaughters the Hebrew children, to this passage, where Herod kills the children of Bethlehem, and unto Revelation 12, when Satan desires to devour the male-child. In that same instant, I hear the words of God, “Why does he always go after the children?”

In God’s eyes, children are not ‘mere’ necessities to perpetuate the human race. They aren’t annoyances that suffocate the patience of adults. Children are the innocent. They are the ultimate representation of the needy. God’s heart for those who are unable to speak for themselves, unable to take care of themselves, unable to fend for and protect themselves, unable to bring justice, etc is so juicing with compassion that if you glimpse it you’ll burst. God loves those who are unbearable and unlovable.

We find it a nuisance to have to take care of the elderly, infants, or the sick. I confess that I say “we”, because I am not altogether different. My grandmother who is wheelchair bound, and often gets hurt because she doesn’t want to use the wheelchair, I haven’t seen in months. The heck of it is that I don’t want to go see her. Of course, it should be said that the reason is more than just that she needs someone else to take care of her. It isn’t that I’m unwilling to help. Instead, it is because of the lifestyle and mentality that she has. It is at enmity with everything that I stand for.

Even so, this is often true of those who are in need. The point remains, though. Children are often spoken of as these ‘beasts’ who throw temper tantrums and drive their parents berserk. Too often I hear parents who speak about how much their children are annoying, or worse. My wife and I have both said, to each other and to parents, “If you don’t like your kids, then why did you have them?”

The point is that in God’s eyes, children are the pristine example of those who are unable to take care of themselves. God’s heart toward the poor, the oppressed, the helpless, and those who have no voice is one of compassion. He cannot tolerate when there is injustice against those who have no ability to defend themselves. I’m not sure there is anything that makes Him more angry…

Can you feel the sadness? When you see someone who is defenseless being persecuted or mistreated, can your heart break for them? These children, not even old enough to understand what is happening, are being slaughtered.

Why does Satan always go after the children?

It is interesting to me that when we think of biblical Egypt, we often think of the place of oppression and slavery. Yet, in the previous passage, the place where Joseph, Mary, and Jesus all found safety and freedom was in Egypt…

Behold Israel under Herod:
The New Egypt.

But how can this be? The City of God, the Holy City, the Place with God’s Name, where all nations shall one day come unto to find God, and to hear God, and to be atoned before God has become a place of every evil spirit and wicked practice.

Oh how the mighty have fallen! He has cast down from heaven to earth the beauty of Israel! She was once the princess of all the nations, the very apple of God’s eye, the very place of all that is perfect and true! But now, behold, now God has made her a public spectacle, and a shame and a curse! Why, O Israel, have you gone so astray? What has the LORD ever done that makes you wayward? Did He not find you as a youth, seeing you mistreated and naked before your adversaries, only to take you in, and cleanse your wounds, and heal them fully? Has He not clothed you with splendor and honor? Why, then, O Israel, do you now seek to reject Him, and to mourn at His coming, and to slay His children in the streets, until the blood runs, and the sound of lamentation and woe is all that is heard?

You are not Israel, though you call yourself Israel! You are not Jerusalem, though you claim that title and name! You are Egypt and Sodom! You are Babylon, playing the harlot with all nations, getting drunk from the blood of the saints, killing until there is none other to kill! Which of the prophets have you not slain, O Jerusalem? And which of the righteous saints have you not murdered, O Israel? You are Cain, and his prime city Enoch, O Israel and Jerusalem.

But let us not forget:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted,
Because they are no more…”

When we turn back to Jeremiah 31, where this statement is made, we find the context to be quite interesting. In fact, with both places, I’ve often asked why it is mentioned that Rachel weeps. Why not Leah? Why Rachel? The previous verses were just expressing how those who survive the sword shall find grace in the wilderness (verse 2), and how God will bring redemption unto Israel, so that there will be no more weeping, but instead rejoicing. It speaks of how the young men and old together will comfort one another, and will dance, and will rejoice rather than sorrow. It speaks of how the souls of the priests will satiate with abundance, and all of God’s people Israel will be satisfied with His goodness.

And then, after all this is said, we find “a voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping…” Why is there bitter tears? Why this lamentation? Why such sobs that are causing convulsions, and making it impossible to even stand? Notice the next verse in Jeremiah 31: “Thus says the LORD: Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded, says the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy…”

This is altogether a bizarre passage for Matthew to be quoting. It’s like when Matthew quoted Micah 5:2, to remind the readers of a time when the natural branches would be cast off for a season, but shall be grafted back in after “she who is in labor gives birth”. Interjected straight into the heart of the story, Matthew almost seems to change focus altogether in referencing Jeremiah.

Why does this segment end with this quotation? It is my opinion that we must comprehend something a bit more ethereal, which does translate into the physical. Follow me to Genesis 37:9.

“Then [Joseph] dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, ‘Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.’ So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, ‘What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall  your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?'”

Question:
When did that take place? When did it happen?

You cannot tell me that it took place at the time when Jacob and his sons came into Egypt. First of all, Joseph’s brothers bowed down to him before this. Second of all, there is no mention of Jacob/Israel bowing before Joseph. Instead, they embrace and weep upon one another’s neck. Third of all, Rachel had died while giving birth to Benjamin, so this dream seems somewhat absurd to begin with.

Then, when we come to Jeremiah 31:15, why is Rachel mentioned? We can see the context is for Ephraim, so it makes sense that it is Rachel and not Leah. However, I want to ask the question of possibility. Is it possible that Jeremiah was perceiving something beyond in Joseph’s dream? We can go to Revelation 12:1, and find the woman standing upon the sun, clothed with the moon, and having twelve stars upon her head. I believe this to be Israel, connecting it back to Joseph’s dream.

Move to Judges 5:7, “Villagers in Israel would not fight; they held back until I, Deborah, arose, until I arose, a mother in Israel.” Deborah was called “a mother in Israel”, or “the mother of Israel”. What is this? Go to Galatians 4:26, “But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.” Now go to Hebrews 12:22, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…”

Notice this. Deborah is called the mother of Israel. Then, the “Jerusalem that is above” is called our mother. Then, we collect from Hebrews 12:24 that Zion is another name for “the Jerusalem that is above”. Go to Isaiah 49:14, “But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me. Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. Your children hasten back, and those who laid you waste depart from you. Lift up your eyes and look around; all your children gather and come to you. As surely as I live,” declares the Lord, “you will wear them all as ornaments; you will put them on, like a bride.”

Do you see how similar this passage in Isaiah is with Jeremiah 31?

I think that there is a nuance here. There is something beyond just the obvious interpretation. Rachel was to come and bow before Joseph, along with Jacob. But, Jacob never bowed, and Rachel wasn’t alive to bow. So, there waits a future fulfillment of this, even if not with the exact people. Instead, there are ‘types’ (I truly hate that word, but I have no better alternative). Rachel is patterning Zion, just like Deborah was a type of Zion, the mother of us all.

Look at Isaiah 62:4-5, “No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”

God says that the land itself will be married at the marriage supper. This is the end of the age, when the Bride has made herself ready, and the wedding of the Lamb is at hand. We then come to Revelation 21, and the City is described, being called the Bride of the Lamb. But, why is it a City? I thought the Bride was the people…

We find the twelve foundations represent the apostles, which would represent “the Church” (I hesitate to say such a thing). Then, the twelve gates of pearl represent the twelve tribes of Israel. This is not two separate entities, or two separate “peoples of God”. This is one Body, unified by one Spirit, culminating together as one Bride of the Lamb, in one City called “New Jerusalem” and “Zion”.

What am I getting at?

There is a Jerusalem that is distressed at the coming of her King, who is ruled by men like Herod, who will slaughter children in order to destroy the threat of the true King. We find this to be the Babylon of Revelation, that the Antichrist finds his rule and epicenter in Jerusalem (see Revelation 11). Somehow, there is a Jerusalem that is ruled by the principalities and powers, a Jerusalem that looks more like Sodom, Egypt, and Babylon, where the Lord was crucified. But there is another Jerusalem, the eternal City, the heavenly City, the City whose builder and maker is God.  That Jerusalem, which is above, is our true dwelling, and it is the true Jerusalem of God. But that heavenly dwelling is not the fullness, for the earthly Jerusalem is the physical counterpart. Just like the soul has the physical body as its counterpart, so too does the true inheritance of God have the physical land of Canaan, the true Holy City have the physical Jerusalem, the true heavenly Temple have the physical tabernacle and temple, and etc.

Rachel is weeping, even from beyond the grave, because Rachel is not simply a character in the Bible. She is an eternal reality, just like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not dead, but living. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Therefore, Rachel weeps, for her children are no more. They who are defenseless, who are the people of God, who are the eternal people, who are the very representation of the heaven upon the earth are being slaughtered.

Rachel weeps. Can you hear it?

Out of Egypt I Call – Matthew 2:13-15

This passage is one of those passages that we need to be careful with. It is in vitriolic opposition that the Jews mock such a quotation of the prophet Hosea. For many Christians, we don’t know the prophecy being mentioned, and often don’t even know it is from Hosea. When we go back and look at the passage, like I did when I was young in Christ, we’re often baffled by what Matthew is saying. “Out of Egypt I call my son.” In Hosea 11:1, the context is quite obvious and explicit. It means nothing in relation to the messiah, and is explicitly in regard to Israel.

How could there be such a blunder on behalf of Matthew?

There are a couple things that we need to note. I’ve already gone through the first one to mention (see here). Matthew parallels the life of Jesus with the ‘birth’ of Israel. There are multiple aspects of Jesus’ life that reflect Isaac’s birth, Israel being in Egypt, the exodus, crossing the Red Sea, the forty days journey across the desert, the three temptations in the wilderness, coming to Sinai, and then receiving the Law. The whole point is that just as Israel must go through these circumstances, so too does/must Messiah go through them. It’s a pattern, and we need to be mindful of that. Just as Messiah went through these circumstances, so too shall Israel go through them – yes, even Calvary.

The other aspect that we need to notice is that the Old Testament has a pattern of saints who go down to Egypt. Under various circumstances, we find that none other than Abraham, Joseph, and subsequently Jacob, Israel, Moses (told to return to Egypt), throughout Leviticus through Deuteronomy the emphasis is upon how God brought Israel out of Egypt, Balaam prophesies that because Israel has been brought out of Egypt that God shall consume the nations, Solomon was an ally of Egypt, even had his chariots sent from Egypt, the enemies of Solomon flee to Egypt (1 King 11), and even Jeremiah was taken away into Egypt, where tradition says that he eventually went to be with his fathers.

My point is this:
God has established a pattern throughout Scripture regarding Israel and Egypt. We think of Babylon being the big enemy, or even Assyria, or the Philistines. Yet, somehow this enemy, the Egyptians who persecute and oppress God’s people, also have a positive affinity with God’s people. There is a conundrum here that Jesus was taken into Egypt for protection, just like Abraham, just like Joseph found favor in Egypt, just like Jacob and all his sons found favor, and just like Israel was often an ally with Egypt. Why would God desire that it is to Egypt that Joseph and Mary would flee with Jesus? Why not some other land nearby, like Asia Minor (which I know isn’t extremely close, but neither is Egypt), or even into Samaria? Why not stay within the Israel/Palestine region, and just go outside the jurisdiction of Herod? Why flee all the way to Egypt?

There is something within the mystery of God regarding Egypt, which is intertwined with Israel. When you read the prophets, there is mixed opinion concerning Egypt. Even within the same prophet, you might find one statement of judgment and condemnation toward Egypt, only to find later a blessing. For example, within the same chapter, Isaiah 19, we find statements of judgment upon Egypt that would make you to assume they will be wiped off the map. Yet, the chapter ends with asserting that Israel, Egypt, and Assyria together will have a highway between them, and the three together will be a blessing in the land. It even ends with God saying, “Blessed is Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.”

This makes me uncomfortable.

We, as Christians, often like to think of God as being the one who comes in judgment in the last days, rectifying the oppression, and condemning the wicked. We like to view God as the guy in the sky who damns. We see the Old Testament God as a God of judgment and wrath and anger. Yet, the God of the New Testament is a God of love, of compassion, and of hope. However, here we have in the Old Testament a text regarding judgment and mercy, working hand-in-hand together, in a manner that is offensive to our religiosity.

I got to sit down with a man a couple days ago. While talking, he mentioned that he has been reading the Gospels recently. His words are something that I’ve also often felt. “I don’t think I know Jesus…” You read the words of this guy, and you have immensely practical statements about flesh and blood tangible things. Yet, at the same time, these tremendously practical statements about tangible things are also very spiritually focused. Somehow they are interwoven. You have these statements that need little or no interpretation, and then sandwiched in the middle between these statements are small statements that are elusive in our understanding. He makes statements that are full of love and compassion, and then sometimes in the very next statement speaks such harsh words that  you wonder how this guy can be the epitome of “love”.

Do you know this God? Better yet, do you love this God? The one who can barely be comprehended, this God who often says something that boggles the mind, is that your God? Is that who you rejoice in? Or, are you left reading this and scratching your head?

I don’t think I can sufficiently answer to why God would have Jesus taken to Egypt. That is beyond my understanding, and yet it fits perfectly with all that I know God’s wisdom to be. I love this God. It’s so contrary to everything that I’ve expected, and yet so entirely exactly what I expect and desire for God to be.

Death of the Firstborn Forewarned – Exodus 11

In Exodus 11, God speaks to Moses regarding the death of the firstborn. It catches me interesting that Moses speaks this plague to Pharaoh, and doesn’t even allow Pharaoh to respond this time. He leaves in anger before he even gets to hear what Pharaoh might say. Why the anger, and why does this chapter have the sole purpose of warning Pharaoh, but nothing else? Previously, we’ve experienced that there is warning, and then the plague. But here, we find warning, and then with chapter 12, there is an interlude before the plague. This distinction that God is going to make is much different than the distinction between the Egyptian cattle and the Israelite cattle, or the fields, or the darkness.

This chapter consists of three declarations. The first and last are by God to Moses, and the middle declaration is Moses’ word unto Pharaoh. God’s speaking are no longer to Pharaoh – only indirectly. He now is addressing Moses on behalf of the Israelites. Everything is focused upon Israel being exodused, and upon the Israelites having favor enough to “despoil” the Egyptians. Moses’ words are charged with intensity, as if with every word attempting an offense.

Whereas it would seem logical that the Israelites were to leave Egypt in haste, being cast out from the face of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, it seems like God has another plan. They aren’t to leave as fugitives, but as kings and queens. Pharaoh will do what he has to do, and God will harden his heart to ensure it, but the Egyptians themselves give silver and gold unto the Israelites, almost in a begging attempt to have them leave. It is interesting to note this, because God seems to use this as the paradigm for the end times as well. Over and over again in the prophets, it is declared that when Israel returns to the Land of Israel the final time, after being sifted through the nations according to God’s judgment, they are brought back by kings and queens (Isa 49:22), and riches will be given them from even the most prestigious of the nations (Isa 60:5, 61:6).

Moses speaks unto Pharaoh the total judgment. No one will be exempt, for all have participated in Israel’s suffering. This is an utter devastation to the psyche of the Egyptians. In Exodus 2, the Israelites raised “a loud cry” unto God. Now, it is through Moses that God is saying unto Pharaoh that the Egyptians shall raise “a loud cry”. When the LORD heard the cry of His people, and came to rescue them from their oppression, and remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Egyptian gods do not hear the cry of the Egyptians, and they have no power to rescue them. This is a calculated offense.

The choosing of midnight is significant. It is often associated within Christendom with the return of Christ. Jesus returns at “midnight”, according to the parable of the 10 virgins. Here it is at midnight, while everyone would be at home, that this plague is to commence. Why not in the middle of the day, when people would be dropping in the fields, or the infants would be dying while sucking their mother’s breast? Why wait until midnight, when there is high likelihood that the Egyptians will be asleep? This is an affront to the mindset of the world, that looks for drastic measures in obvious places. God performs this at midnight, when those who do not keep watch will be sleeping. For this reason, we can parallel the words of Jesus with Passover. In Matthew 24, when He is warning His disciples to “keep watch”.

It was Moses who killed the Egyptian for being the “wicked servant” who beat the Israelites. And, it was Moses who stopped the Israelite, questioning why he beat his brother… Then you move to Jesus in Matthew 24 saying the “wicked servant” who beats his fellow servants shall be found not watching and taken by surprise. You have in Exodus the pattern that the Israelites must eat in haste with their sandals on and staff in hand. Then, Jesus speaks of the faithful servants who “keep watch”, and in Matthew 25, you have the wise and foolish virgins. Some of them had extra oil, and others had to ‘go to the merchants’. In this, some were prepared with sandals on and staff in hand, and others were unprepared.

In Moses’ words, we even have the servants of Pharaoh coming and bowing down to Moses. The declaration is made that they shall come down, and actually bow, in order to demand that the Israelites leave. Can you comprehend why this is such an offense? You mean these Israelites, who are but slaves and shamefully mistreated, shall have the Egyptians bow down to them? The people who are the least of all people shall have the greatest super-power bow down before them? There is not a chance. It is only possible when God has revealed His glory, and when the nations themselves, even while they have maintained a disbelief and utter rejection of God up to this point, acknowledge that the God of Israel is the true God, and that no other name under heaven or on earth is truly Lord.

Once again, as with in Moses’ generation, so with the end of the age. Do you comprehend what I’m getting at? It isn’t like Israel is deserving of this. The only reason that they shall have such treatment is because God has chosen them. If we balk against that, then we miss the genius of God. It is the scandal of specificity. To reject Israel as God’s chosen is to reject God Himself, because it refuses Him the privilege to choose whom He shall choose. Who are you, o man of little faith, to tell the potter that He is  not allowed to choose that people, because they have been wayward since their inception? Doesn’t God know that the Church is where it is at, and that we have slaved for Him all these years, but that He hasn’t even given us so much as a goat?! Why the celebration and the grand fattened calf? Why does God cherish them so much more?

And here is the revelation of the heart. To carry on like that is to show that you have altogether rejected God. It is not up to you to decide who is truly God’s people, and who is actually just claiming it in name only. That is God’s prerogative, and to refuse Him that prerogative refuses Him as being God. The nations shall bow down to that people, and as Jesus says to the churches in Revelation, it shall be no different to we who have been grafted in. Don’t balk against the roots, for they are the very support by which you stand.

Here it is. We have finally seen the paradigm of God. This is what He effectually works toward for all generations. In Moses’ day, it was a display against Egypt and the principalities that ruled Egypt. In Jesus’ day, it was a display against Herod, the religious leaders, and Rome, and against the principalities that ruled and governed those systems of government and religion. In our own day, and in the future, it is a display unto the whole world, and the usurping powers of darkness that cannot comprehend the wisdom of God. He comes at midnight, because they think that they are the crafty ones, and yet they who walk in darkness shall not comprehend when the Master shall come. But you, oh children of God, are not in darkness, but walk according to the light, so that that Day shall not come like a thief to you. You have been warned, and told to keep watch, just as the Israelites in Exodus 12, and to you it is given the privilege of coming out from all nations to be established as God’s nation, through great miracles, signs, and wonders.

Birth of Jesus – Matthew 1:18-25

Within the context of Matthew’s Gospel, we have information that we don’t find anywhere else. Luke focuses around Mary’s story, and so here I won’t look at putting the pieces together. Others have, but I haven’t really seen much of a simple expounding of what is found here in Matthew for the sake of understanding Matthew. Overall, the passage itself is pretty simple and straight to the point. Mary was impregnated, and Joseph didn’t do it. Like all men, Joseph would expect that she must have cheated on him, but because he was righteous, he didn’t want to disgrace her. Therefore, he decided to divorce her quietly. Instead, an angel tells Joseph that the child was given of the Holy Spirit, and to take it as his own. Joseph does so, and proves in this action that it is true: he was a righteous man.

To get into the more specific parts of the passage, we can begin with verse 18. The word “genesis” is used for Jesus’ birth. While it can mean birth, the more common word to choose would have been “gennasis”. Why would Matthew choose this word instead of that one? The whole point of Matthew’s Gospel revolves around kingdom. He just finished the genealogy, laying out how Jesus is connected to David and Abraham. David represents the messianic King that was promised. Abraham was called out of all nations to be established as God’s nation. In both of these men, there was a “genesis” that took place. There was a beginning of God’s Kingdom through Abraham, and a beginning of God’s theocratic rule through David. It isn’t as though these things were absent before Abraham and David, but that through them it was manifest incarnate.

And here we have the point. Jesus is God incarnate, bringing forth the flesh and blood Kingdom of God with Him, ruling that Kingdom as the son of David. The reason this is “genesis” instead of “gennasis” is because Matthew is perceiving something new transacting here. It is more than a birth. It is more than even the promised messiah, as many Jews would have been hoping and expecting. Matthew deliberately quotes the Old Testament verses that he does, at the times that he does. So, when we read later from Isaiah (Mat 1:23), “Behold, the virgin shall be with child”, we can be assured that it is here for a reason. And, again, in Mat 2:6, when Micah 5:2 is quoted, we can know that this also revolves around the point.

Isaiah 7:14 has a context. When you go back to the passage, you find that the king of Syria and the king of Israel (northern country) came against Judah (southern country) in attack. God speaks to Isaiah, and tells him to prophesy to the king. God begins to say that this plot will be fruitless. God then asks the king what he desires as a sign for evidence that this will take place, but the king says, “I shall not test the LORD”. This is pious, but a false righteousness at best. God then speaks to the king what sign He will give, saying that there will be a child born unto a bethoolah (young woman), and his name shall be Emmanuel.

When you continue the passage, it goes on for another few chapters. In chapter 8, Isaiah has a son, which some have considered that this is the “sign” unto Ahaz. God speaks about how the armies will not invade, only to then talk about how Rezin (king of Syria) will invade, and will “fill the breadth of your land, O Emmanuel”. We then come to chapter 9 when Isaiah beings to prophesy of this kingdom that will be established, and how there will be “a child born to us”, obviously continuing the Emmanuel prophecy, but showing that it couldn’t be Isaiah’s son.

Within this whole passage, when we’re dealing specifically with Isaiah 7:14 as quoted by Matthew, the whole point is that this child is a sign that pertains to end time significance. There is something happening here. Matthew is hinting at the establishment of a kingdom, which is altogether the same as what God established through Abraham and David, and yet at the same time altogether different. The two manifestations through Abraham and David are only reflections – unable to compare with the reality. What Abraham signifies, and all of the glory that we can express through this great call to be a nation that will bless all nations falls flat on its face when the reality comes forth in this male child. All of what David signifies, and the beautiful rule by which David is known, to rule in righteousness, justice, and equity, which all of our hearts pant and yearn for, is anemic in comparison to what Jesus represents.

This is a hard thing. If the first came with glory, then how much more glorious must this be? Does it cause for you to rejoice? Does it bring a tear to your eye?

The significance of Isaiah 7:14, and the significance of Matthew 1:18 stems from Genesis 3:15. The seed of the woman is at enmity with the seed of the serpent, and yet it isn’t said that this “seed” shall crush that “seed”. No, the woman’s seed shall crush the head of the serpent itself. The serpent’s seed shall be destroyed along with the serpent itself. This is altogether important, because it says that Joseph did not daigmatisai Mary. Daigmatisai is used only one other time in the New Testament. We find it in Colossians 2:15, that Jesus made of the principalities and powers a “public spectacle”, or a “public disgrace”, or a “public shame”. What Joseph did not do unto Mary, Jesus does unto “the principalities and powers” – those demonic unseen forces that usurp and rule the peoples, societies, and nations.

I also find it interesting that the word “onar” (dream) occurs five times in these first couple chapters of Matthew, but never again until Matthew 27:19 when Pilate’s wife sends council to her husband to have nothing to do with Jesus. I’m not sure what to do with that, but it seems there is some sort of significance, both in the amount of times Matthew uses the word, who it is that has these dreams (Joseph and Pilate’s wife), and that it occurs nowhere else in the New Testament…

The name Jesus even signifies this. Jesus is the English transliteration of the Latin transliteration of the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew Yehoshua or Yeshua. Confused? Let’s break it down… We read in our English Bibles “Joshua”. The actual name from the Hebrew was “Yehoshua” or “Yoshua/Yeshua” (I’ve heard some claim either of these). When you transliterate, you take the letters and their sounds, and you just use the English letter equivalent. So, they used the yod to begin with, and the Latin equivalent was J. When you go from the Latin into English, the J no longer has the Y sound. In our text, Iesous was the Greek form of Yeshua, which in Latin is Jesus (pronounced Yesus).

Back to the point, the name of Jesus is the name of God. Matthew tells us what Jesus means – Jehovah is salvation – “for He will save His people from their sins.” For this reason, Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14, and tells us that Emmanuel means “God with us”. Do you get it? Matthew is telling us that this man is named Jesus, which means “Jehovah is salvation”, because He (Jesus/Jehovah) shall save us from our sins. Jesus and God/Jehovah are being paralleled here. Matthew is claiming that Jesus is God with us, Yahweh.

It is with this statement, concluding that Joseph woke up and did as the angel told him, that we conclude our first chapter of Matthew. Next we will begin with the scene at Herod’s palace. What is interesting is that when we compare the sweep of Isaiah 7-9 with Micah 5:1-3, we find that Matthew is putting pieces together for us. As I showed, we have Rezin, the King of Syria, being prophesied that he shall not enter Israel. Then, Isaiah talks about he will enter Israel. Did God change His mind? No, there is a separate event at the end of the age, where this “king of Syria” – a pattern of the Antichrist – will come in and devastate Israel. There is a mention of this “child” Emmanuel in chapter 7, and then after his birth in chapter 8 there is prophecy of an invasion. Then, in chapter 9, there is the “child born to us” who has the government of God upon his shoulders. In Micah 5:2-3, we have the messiah born, and then part of Israel being cast off temporarily, until “she who has travailed gives birth”, and then all of Israel’s brothers will come back to knowing God, being a part of Israel again, and being under their messiah and shepherd. Do you see how these are parallel statements being said, but yet hidden within the references of Matthew? It’s interesting to say the least….

 

The Kingdom of Heaven – Matthew Overview

It seems as though the commentaries often are examining the differences between the four Gospels. Often they are taken up with the discussion of whether Mark was the primary source of Matthew and Luke, or whether there was some source “Q” that was the source of all three. It is noted that almost the entirety of the Gospel of Mark shows up in the Gospel of Matthew, with the exception of only the healing of the demoniac (Mk 1:22-28), preaching in the synagogues of Galilee (Mk 1:35-39), the parable of the seed growing secretly (Mk 4:26-29), healing of the deaf man (Mk 7:32-37), healing of a blind man (Mk 8:22-26), the exorcist (Mk 9:38-40), and the widow and her alms (Mk 12:41-44). There is much more distinction between Matthew and Luke, but when we consider the amount that is “out of order” between Matthew and Mark, the same level of inconsistency is found.

Here is my biggest struggle with this:
The Gospel writers were not interested in telling us a story of events in chronological order, nor about telling us everything that Jesus did. The Gospels are not for our understanding of Jesus’ life in a biographical manner. Instead, the Gospels are written to give us a bigger picture. There is something being communicated in the words, both in the order of events, and in the reason for choosing these stories, but not those stories, these parables, but not those parables, and so on. What should be our focus is why the Gospel author is telling us this at that time, and why is it that they leave this or that story out that we know also happens…

There is also importance in the placement of this book. The Hebrew Bible ends with the book of Chronicles, instead of having the prophets at the end. You had the Torah, the prophets, and then the writings. Part of the prophets were the books of Joshua through Kings, and the writings began with the Psalms. The Old Testament in the first century would have ended with the book of Chronicles, which was not divided into “two”. So, the last book of the Old Testament began with a genealogy – the only book of the Old Testament to do so. Likewise, Matthew begins with a genealogy – the only book of the New Testament to do so. Here we find the continuation of the Tanakh. Where the Old Testament seems to end on a rather melancholy tone, admitting that the hope of Messiah has not yet come, here Matthew is expressing that this is not the end of the story.

For our current order of books, we can see the connection of the last chapter of Malachi prophesying of the “Elijah” who is to come, and the Gospel of Matthew recording that John the Baptist did indeed come, and he was indeed the Elijah. Even the description of John the Baptist is a reference back to Elijah (compare Matthew 3:4 and 2 Kings 1:8). Yet, in my own estimation, it would make more sense to put Mark first if this is the reasoning behind the placement of order…

The word “kingdom” shows up in Matthew more than any other book of the Bible (55 times). The closest book after this is tied between Daniel and Luke with 44 times. Out of those 55 times, 32 times we read the phrase “kingdom of heaven”, and 5 times we read “kingdom of God”. It is no stretch of the mind to determine what exactly Matthew is trying to communicate; his whole book is emanating with the Gospel of the Kingdom. Matthew’s Gospel is a Gospel of the Kingdom, and nothing else. No other word juices from the pages like this. No other phrase is as critical.

So, we can ask why the phrase “kingdom of heaven” is used instead of “kingdom of God”…

Unlike the various dispensationalists who claim so, it is my belief that the kingdom of heaven is the same thing as the kingdom of God. You have the exact same statements recurring in Luke, but using the kingdom of God instead of the kingdom of heaven in those statements. The difference is between audience. It is said that Matthew was written to the Jews, which very well could be. In the Jewish world, just like you have today, there was solemnity in regard to writing “God”. Even now we read of “G-d” in many Jewish sources. The change over to “heaven” is simply to be courteous. It is not as though the kingdom of heaven is some other realm, or some other thing than the kingdom of God.

And what exactly is the kingdom of God? What exactly is it that Matthew is attempting to convey? We find the answer within the first verses of his book. He gives us a genealogy of Jesus, which ties Him back to Abraham and David. The Kingdom is not ethereal, or something that has now been made in the sky, but is a very physical and tangible reality. The Kingdom of God is something that is expected within a certain land, and unto a certain people, for Jesus Himself declares, “It is not right to give the children’s bread unto dogs” (Matt 15:26). This statement needs to be weighed in the words Jesus spoke earlier, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs…” (Matt 7:6).

In the context of Matthew 15, we read that this is a Canaanite woman asking for a miracle. Jesus’ response is to declare, as John would put it, “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). Therefore, to believe and emphasize that Matthew is an advocate of some sort of replacement theology, or that the land of Israel is not important, or that the Jews are not important, is to both miss the whole breadth of Matthew’s Gospels, as well as to slander the apostle. The Kingdom is intricately woven together with the land and the specific people that God has chosen in the Old Testament. Any other kind of interpretation of Matthew is a farce.

We have the pinnacle of all of the synoptic Gospels revolving around the Olivet Discourse, as it is called. Matthew 24-25, interestingly, is the fulcrum around which the whole Gospel pivots. We have here the magnanimous statement of Jesus’ glorious return, the establishment of God’s Kingdom upon the earth, they who shall be selected as God’s people to rule with Christ in resurrected splendor, and the rest are cast away into everlasting shame. The statements of “outer darkness” where there shall be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” are not reflections of what the world can expect, but of what they who are to know better – the believers/Israel – can expect. Over and over again, the statements of Jesus are not pointed toward the “unsaved”, or the pagans. They are pointed directly at the religious leaders, and the ones who are considered the righteous and holy people of God.

We find the significance of Jesus’ life and teaching in the Gospel of Matthew revolving in around the notion of Jesus returning and establishing the Kingdom, and the Wedding of God with that Kingdom. We find over and over again that the teachings and parables are not to instruct us how to have a happy time and enjoy life, but how to survive the apocalypse that is soon to come upon the whole earth, and what is required in order to be the people of God in our own generation. The whole crux of Jesus’ condemnation upon the Pharisees is not that “this generation” shall be judged, but the Greek word “genean” (generation) more frequently means a certain people with a disposition. For example, you read of the “wicked and adulterous generation” that craves a sign. In fact, more times in Matthew than not, the word “genea” does not mean a period of time, a generation being 20-40 years. Instead, it is a generic word to lump sum together a whole group of people that all have a certain disposition or tendancy, from the foundation of the world unto the end of the age. Why shall the Pharisees be judged for the righteous blood of Abel when they did not kill Abel? It is because they are the same “generation”, or people with that same wickedness, as Cain.

 

Indeed, while we have assumed the cross and resurrection to be the zenith of all four Gospels, Matthew doesn’t leave this as the last and final word. What is it that is given as the last statement of Matthew?

“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.”

We simply need to ask what this text means. Throughout the Gospel, the teachings of Jesus revolve around the Kingdom of God. We even find in Matthew 24:14 that the Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world. Here, the great commission is not to simply go to the nations and tell them about Jesus so that certain people within those nations might make it heaven. There is a witness unto the nations themselves, for attached to that verse in Matthew 24:14 is what Jesus says in Matthew 25:31, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”

Notice there is nothing stated here about Jesus separating His disciples. What Jesus is talking about is the separation of nations, just as Joel prophesied: “I will also gather all nations, and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; and there I will enter into judgment with them there on account of My people, My heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations; they have also divided up My land.”

That last statement of Matthew 28:20 comes from Deuteronomy 5:32 and 12:32. God being with them stems from texts like Exodus 3:2, Joshua 1:5, Psalm 46:7, and Isaiah 41:10. There is rich significance given to Yahweh telling us that He shall go with us, and that He shall be the one to guide us. The final statement, “unto the end of the age”, is strictly used in Matthew’s Gospel as the climax of the age. It is strictly in conjunction to the judgment of Israel, the apocalyptic finale, and the coming of Jesus.

With this general synopsis, I think we’re ready to begin our trek into one of the most difficult books of the Bible. It is so often misunderstood, even while at the same time being such a book of simplicity. Jesus’ words are not difficult. In fact, they were the saving grace when my wife was fed up with Christianity. She went back to the words of Jesus, and found in them the necessary joy and reality that her soul had longed for, but was starving because everyone quotes Paul – and does so incorrectly at that! With this overview, let us begin to chew upon the very words of our Savior, and the life that He lived. May grace be upon you all, as it was upon those first saints who listened to the apostle’s teaching, and who obeyed that selfsame teaching. Amen.

I Will Make A Ransom – Exodus 8:20-32

Within the fourth plague, it begins again with Moses meeting Pharaoh at the river. This is how the first plague commences. Here God begins something new. Now the children of Israel are being distinguished from the Egyptians. The Hebrew wording here is not “to make a distinction”, at least not in the strict English connotation of those words, but rather, “to make a ransom”. God tells Pharaoh that He shall “make a ransom” of Israel, and within that “ransom” is the distinction and deliverance of Israel from this plague. The obvious connotation from this is that if they’re delivered from the plague, they will also be delivered from Egypt.

It is here that we have a quite interesting dialogue. Pharaoh doesn’t seem to assert his authority over God this time. Outside of the fact that Pharaoh is the one who declares, “I will let them go”, you can’t seem to make out much of any notion that Pharaoh is denouncing God’s power, or yawning at such a thing. Whereas from the miracles performed before the first plague unto the previous plague, every time Pharaoh as been unimpressed and unburdened. Previously, the magicians claimed it was the finger of God to perform the third plague. Pharaoh wasn’t phased.

There is the reasoning back and forth, almost like a bartering. Pharaoh tells Moses to sacrifice in the land of Egypt, but Moses says that this will result in Israel being stoned. Many commentaries express that they don’t know why this would be the case. If we simply look at ancient Egyptian religion, we find that the lamb was a sacred animal. Moses knew that God required the lamb to be slaughtered, just like Abel knew before there was the giving of the Law. In the relationship of faith with God, there is something intuited and communicated to the inner man that allows one to know that it requires the sacrifice of the lamb, and not simply of a chicken, pig, or some other animal. Abraham told Isaac that God would provide the LAMB, and not the goat, bull, or deer.

This was a sacred animal to the Egyptians. Therefore, Moses knew they must leave to sacrifice it. I find it interesting, though, that later God will demand of Israel to sacrifice the Passover lamb in Egypt before they leave. Not only does He require this, but then also demands they put the blood on their doorposts for all of Egypt to see!

What begins as Pharaoh attempting to keep Israel within Egypt turns into him suggesting that they can leave, but not very far… Don’t venture three days out; just stay here in the region. This is not what God has said, and therefore there is no deal. The devil does this with us too. You can be a Christian; there is no problem with that. Just don’t start living in a righteous manner. Keep your drinking, your promiscuity, and other acts of the flesh, and you can call yourself whatever you want. When we refuse this, it turns into not going too far. Sure, live righteously. Tell people that sin is wrong, and don’t mince your words. Just don’t start to tell people that the mindsets that they have are wrong. Don’t start living by a different wisdom. Make sure that you keep your job and live by the conventional wisdom of the age. Go into debt, enslave yourself to your occupation and the bank, fill your life with so much that you have no time for prayer or Scripture reading, and then among all the piles of laundry and household chores, you can remind yourself that you’re doing fine because you’re going to church every Sunday and not doing the despicable things.

I just described to you the majority of conventional Christianity in the West.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, because Pharaoh will harden his heart and not let you go. You have an advocate with the Father, who is not simply the one who cleanses you from sin and your sacrifice of atonement, but is your Moses who stretches forth His rod and declares, “Let my people go!” It is the rod of iron that Jesus holds. To His people, it is the rod of God, the very rod that brings comfort to the sheep. To Satan and his darkened kingdom, it is the rod of God, the very rod that shall smash in pieces all of his kingdom and all of the nations he has deceived.

This plague is significant because of the discourse that we find here. It’s significance is found in the reality of knowing that God is on our side, and as long as we won’t give up, neither will He. He will plague the darkened kingdom, even sending it into darkness, in order to bring you out into deliverance. To exodus Egypt in this kind of “spiritual” sense is to come out of sin, come out of the false mindsets and attitudes of the world, and to come face-to-face with the living God. It is in that wilderness that Israel heard the voice of God and received the marriage covenant. It is there that we hear our hearts being beckoned, and if you won’t harden your hearts today, as you did in the rebellion, you can enter into that rest.