Having delivered His own firstborn from bondage, God declares that the every firstborn belongs to Him and sets a process of redemption of the firstborn of His people. As the people leave the land of Egypt that God has desolated with the plagues, He sets about to send His wrath on Pharaoh himself. He causes the people to wander in the wilderness apparently aimlessly so that the Egyptians will follow and catch up at the Red Sea, setting up one of the most famous scenes in all of Scripture where God shows His supremacy over Pharaoh.
“The last shall be first, and the first last,” plays a major role in Jesus ministry. In the parable of the vineyard laborers, Jesus seeks to highlight the magnanimous grace of God. He does so while in the context of the disciples claim that they had left everything. Thus, He warns the disciples not to exalt themselves because God will show them no favoritism.
While most of this chapter records the song of praise that the Israelites sang when God delivered them, they quickly turn from praise to murmuring because they are without water. They demonstrate a lack of faith and trust in God, pointing to a rebellious heart that will manifest itself throughout the journey. The people grumble again, this time because they are without the people whine and complain as they are without food and meat. While their concern is valid, rather than entreating God, they complain. God provides and shows His majesty, but although He told them that there would be no manna on the seventh day, “some of the people went out to gather” (v. 27).
Having shown the grace of God, Jesus explains the means by which that grace is attained, i.e. through His atoning death. But the sons of Zebedee appear to have missed the lesson from verse 16 as they seek an exalted place in the kingdom. Jesus counters this desire for preferment with His own humble and servant attitude, wherein He dies on behalf of others.
The Amalekites come to fight the people and Moses demonstrates the proper response to the trial. Rather than grumbling with God, he prays. As he does so, God grants the people the victory over their enemies. Then we are told that Jethro, Moses father-in-law, bring Moses sons and wife to him. While we are not explicitly told why Moses sent them away, it appears that after the incident of circumcising Moses’ sons (Ex 4:24-26), Moses sent his wife and children back to his father-in-law. He likely does so because he fears the potential risk and hindrance that might be posed by their presence during his confrontations with Pharaoh. As God meets the people at Mount Sinai, He begins the process of making a covenant with the people of Israel. In doing so, He warns them of His awesome holiness and calls them to cleanse themselves and get ready for His coming upon the mountain.
The triumphal entry and cleansing of the temple become paradigmatic for Jesus ministry, as they signal that Jesus was coming to establish the correct worship of God. The tale of the fig tree appears as something of an enigma. Jesus curses this tree as an enacted parable, for although the tree has leaves, it gave the appearance of fruitfulness, but such was lacking, much like the leaders of the temple.
The Ten Commandments reveal the nature and glory of God in a particular manner. The first four deal directly with the people’s relation with God while the final five address their life in the community, especially as it pertains to the relationships and provisions of God in the social structure. Slavery is treated here, as it will be in subsequent chapters, but we must recognize that this slavery is much more akin to indentured servitude than the slavery that has marked America’s history.
As the authorities challenge his authority, Jesus turns the tables and shows that they are a rebellious people. First, He equates them with those who say they will do the work of the father and do not (v. 28-32) and then calling them tenants who rebel against the master of the vineyard, killing his messengers and his son.
As the Lord continues enumerating regulations in chapters 22-23, he gives rules that will guide their social life as markedly different than the people whose land they will conquer. When read against the immorality of the inhabitants of the land, these are to serve as identity markers and safeguards against inviting the wrath of God upon themselves. He also assures them that He will send an angel before them to ensure their victory over the people of the land, but that He “will not drive them out before you in a single year, that the land may not become desolate and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you.” Even in causing the inquest to be prolonged, God demonstrates His providential care.
Jesus seeks to highlight the rebellious nature of the people by comparing them to those invited to a wedding feast but refuse to come. Here the magnanimity and grace of God are on display, and yet they reject it for themselves.
The people affirm their covenant with God and while there is a hopeful tone to this chapter, the previous events of their lack of faith in God does not bode well for their words. We are hopeful, but since there has been no substantive change of heart, which is brought solely through the work of Christ, it appears to be only a matter of time before this affirmation rings hollow. God, knowing this, begins giving them instructions for the building of the tabernacle where He will dwell among them. The Ark of the Covenant epitomizes God’s dwelling as it is to be like a throne upon which God will rule over His people.
The Sadducees become so intent on trapping Jesus that they ask a question about something in which they do not believe, the resurrection. Jesus highlights their misunderstanding of the Scripture and then poses the question of Messianic identity. How can the David’s Lord be a son of David? Such a paradox can occur if He is the preexistent Son of God.
The greatest danger of reading these dealing with the instructions for the tabernacle is that they become over-interpreted. Symbolism abounds, to be sure, as Moses is instructed to build it, “according to all that I am going to show you” (25:9). The pattern upon which the tabernacle is built is that of the dwelling of God in heaven, but we must be careful not to read every detail allegorically as if it were full of spiritual meaning. The boards and the beams that uphold the tabernacle may have a specific number for each side, but rather than trying to read some spiritual meaning into it, we would do well to recognize that sometimes a board is just a board.
Humility comes to the forefront once again as Jesus warns His followers, not to hypocrites like the Pharisees. Here Jesus acknowledges that growth in faith can bring the temptation to grow in pride. Therefore, He tells His followers to humble themselves that God may exalt them.