In chapter 10, we pick back up with the plagues. The eighth plague is locusts. Again, Pharaoh promises to let the Hebrews go. He tries to bargain with Moses about who will go, hoping that some Hebrews will be left behind to remain as slaves. We’re even told that Pharaoh acts “hastily” (v. 16), repenting hastily of the sin of not letting the people go. God sent the locusts away, then God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.
Why does God do that? Why does God harden a man’s heart? What we see here is not an unjust God but a God who punishes sin by letting sin have its day. Think back to the promise to Abraham made by God that his descendants will be sent to Egypt because “the iniquities of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16). God is not required to forgive sin, but he is required to do something about it, based on his own good and just nature. Later, God will tell Moses that “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19). So as a punishment to the Amorites, God would let them revel in their sin until he would decide to act justly and decisively. He would send the Hebrews back to Canaan from Egypt, after about 400 years. He would actually show mercy to the Amorites by not destroying them immediately.
In the first few plagues, it was not God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart but Pharaoh himself. In the last few plagues, the text is clear that it was now God who was hardening Pharaoh’s heart. We see another progression similar to the sin of the Amorites. God would permit Pharaoh’s sin to continue as a judgment on it. Like how God eventually sent the Hebrews back to remove the Amorites, God would harden Pharaoh’s heart as an act of judgment.
For the ninth plague, darkness, the same pattern continues. Moses approaches Pharaoh, Pharaoh temporarily relents, he changes his mind, and the plague begins. So God sends Moses back to Pharaoh to warn of a final plague: the death of the firstborn son. God hardens his heart again, this time with a promise: “Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 11:9). In the midst of Pharaoh’s hard-heartedness, the God over Pharaoh would demonstrate his power and man’s foolishness.
God then institutes the Passover. It was meant to be a meal that could be prepared speedily so the people could leave as soon as the command was given. It would also serve throughout future generations to remind them of the power of God. The people would kill a lamb, take hyssop branches (a kind of mint) and spread the blood of the lamb over the doorposts of their homes. If the blood was on the doorposts, the angel of death would passover that home.
It does not take a leap to see how the passover foreshadows the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. In Psalm 51, David asks God to “purge [him] with hyssop, and [he] shall be clean” (v. 7). Scripture continually refers to him as the lamb who takes away the sin of the world. At the Last Supper, Christ and his disciples celebrated the final passover meal. Because of his blood shed for us, as a substitutionary sacrifice, our own lives are spared. As God did not spare the firstborn of the Egyptians, he would not spare his own Son. Scripture is replete with the theme of substitutionary atonement.
The exodus finally begins. Along with the Passover, God then institutes the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Passover lasts for a day, but Unleavened Bread lasts the following seven days. During that week, no leaven is eaten at all, and all leaven is removed from the house. Removing the leaven is a sign of removing our sin. In the Passover, God does not deal with our sin as we deserve. He passes over in mercy. The Feast of Unleavened Bread reminds us of the impossibility of dealing with our own sin. It’s not as simple as removing a bottle of yeast from your cupboard. To practice the feast properly, you must clean every nook and cranny of your home to ensure every ounce of yeast is dealt with.
God led the people himself out of slavery through a pillar of cloud and fire. Those two images are always an image of God’s presence. We’ll send more time with that when we read through the description of the tabernacle.
As the people are about to cross the Red Sea, Pharaoh again regrets his decision. He sends over 600 chariots to slaughter the Hebrews. The people respond by saying that Moses led them out of Egypt just to die. In a wonderful scene, when Moses prays to God about the complaints of the people, God asks Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward” (14:15). When God has given you instructions, the only faithful response is to follow them. Moses raises his staff, the Red Sea parts, and the people make it across safely. The Egyptians, not so much. In an interesting note, chapter 14 ends with “Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.” There’s nothing wrong with a healthy fear of what God can do.
Moses leads the people in worship with what’s been traditionally called “Moses’ Song.” Worship, no matter the outcome, is always an appropriate response to God’s work. And yet, the people continue to grumble. There is only bitter water available, so they complain. God has Moses throw a log into the water to make it sweet. God is so merciful that when he has already saved every single Hebrew from slavery after four centuries that when they complain about the water situation he takes of that, too.
God also supplies their food needs. He miraculously supplies quail and bread. The only stipulation is that they must gather for six days and not seven. On the sixth day, they will be able to gather enough for two full days. Some disobey and go out to gather food on the seventh day. Of course, they found no food, as God had said. God supplied such food for forty years. They continue to grumble, however, and God has Moses strike the rock so it will pour out water. God will perform the same miracle later in Numbers 20. That time, God will tell Moses simply to speak to the rock, but Moses will strike it twice. His disobedience will become the reason he cannot enter the promised land with the people.
A quick skirmish takes place between the people and Amalekites. When Moses holds his hand, the Israelites prevail. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, sees how weary Moses is and gives him some advice. He tells Moses to divide his labor between himself and the elders of the people. Judging between people will become easier that way.
In chapter 19, the people finally arrive at Sinai. Here is where God will make the covenant with the Israelites. God moves salvation forward through covenants. Adam failed the covenant of works, so God moved his plan of redemption forward through the covenant of grace. It has many components, such as the Noahic, Abrahamic, Sinaiatic, and Davidic covenants. It culminates in the new covenant, the one made in Christ’s blood, instituted at the Lord’s Supper. Redemption was planned within the Godhead in eternity past, but it is worked out in time and space through covenants.
God gives the people the 10 commandments. Different traditions divide them differently. There are Catholic, Lutheran, and Protestants divisions of the commandments. Those differences mostly have to do with how to read the first commandment. The 10 commandments almost serve as a preamble to the whole law. Keeping the first 10 will nearly ensure you keep the remaining laws. The laws cover everything from altars to slaves to public good.
By the end of chapter 23, God is promising a successful venture into the promised land. In Exodus 23:20, God says that he is sending an angel ahead of the people and that his name “is in him” (v. 21). Later, in 1 Corinthians 10:9, Paul says that the people put Christ to the test and were destroyed in the wilderness. That is precisely the threat given here, that if anyone does not obey the voice of this angel, they will be not be pardoned.
We would call this an instance of the pre-incarnate Christ. Paul also says that the rock Moses struck was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). Christ is the very word of God, so we must obey his voice. This angel (messenger) is told that he will not pardon the sins of the people, which would only make sense if it were possible for him to do so. And if only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7), then this angel must be divine.
The majority of this section of Matthew has to do with the interactions that Jesus has with various religious leaders. Even when he curses the fig tree in 21:18-22, he is saying that the leadership of the chief priests is hypocritical and fading away, as is all of the old covenant. Jesus is first questioned by some Pharisees about who is permitted to divorce his wife and why. Jesus does not simply give an easy answer, but he does what is called biblical theology. He sees the pattern laid out in creation as a man and woman in a lifelong covenant of leadership and submission. Their question is more “gotcha” than genuine.
The rich young ruler (likely a leader in the local synagogue) is told that he must give up all he has to inherit treasure in heaven. Is this not works-righteousness? No, for a couple of reasons. First, the young man insists that his keeping the law is sufficient to inherit eternal life. Since Adam and Eve failed to do that, neither can we. Second, Jesus tells the man to actually do what the law requires, which is to love God and neighbor, or as Micah 6:8 says, “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” This he has not done, so Jesus tells him that to fulfill the spirit of the law he must do so. Rather than actually obey the law as he claims to have done, he has been a performance artist. The young man hoards his possessions.
The Pharisees and Sadducees continue to attempt to trap Jesus. They question where his authority comes from, whether or not he permits the people to pay Roman taxes, the truth of the resurrection, and which commandment is greatest. In response, Jesus turns the tables and asks them how the LORD could be David’s son. Spoiler alert: it’s Jesus.
Jesus also teaches more parables. Remember, the parables are teachings with a lesson about the kingdom of God and what it is like. In the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, we learn that the kingdom is not about fairness but about the sheer mercy of God. The parable of the two sons teaches that obedience, not social standing, is key to pleasing our heavenly Father. The parable of the tenants shows that God has been calling people into his kingdom since the prophets, yet they have all been rejected. While God’s own people reject his messengers, the Gentiles will hear and believe. The parable of the wedding feast shows that our own best will never permit us entrance into the kingdom. God himself must clothe us in his own righteousness to be granted entrance.
In a kind-of-parable, some children are brought to Jesus so he might pray for them. Instead of stopping them, Jesus welcomes them in, saying that “to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus is likely repeating the same idea from Matthew 18:1-6. There he explains that the attribute he’s concerned with is humility. The greatness of a child is found in his willingness to look to someone greater than himself for help.
The mother of James and John asks Jesus to permit her sons to sit at his sides in the kingdom. He tells them that authority is in his Father; it is now his own. But still, his disciples must not be concerned with ruling like the world rules. Disciples of Christ must achieve greatness through servanthood. Christ is our greatest example.
Jesus also heals two blind men. The crowd tries to stop the men from getting to Jesus, but he welcomes them. Jesus took pity on the men and healed them. This is a good example of persistence. After being told to be quiet by the crowd, the blind men shouted louder. Our heavenly Father hears us, which is a good reason to be persistent. Otherwise, it wouldn’t matter how much he said or how often we said it.
For the third time, Jesus tells his disciples that he will be delivered to the priests, who will then deliver him to the Gentiles. He will die, but will be raised on the third day. By this point in the narrative, they are nearing Jerusalem.
As he enters the city, he is riding a donkey as prophesied by Zechariah (9:9). The crowds welcome him with coats and palm branches. The entire scene is intended to be a scene of peace and victory. The crowd sees Jesus as the one to return their city to themselves, taking it out of the hands of the Romans. In doing so, he would usher in the kingdom of God on earth. But their confusion is that the real enemy is not Romans or any Gentiles but sin and death. Jesus is coming as a conquering king, but he must first die for the sins of his people. His first act as the victorious king is to remove the sinful components from the temple. The Son of God is restoring right worship of the heavenly Father.
Psalm 21: The Lord’s strength is made clear in salvation.
Psalm 22: The death of God’s anointed will lead to many turning to the Lord. (Quoted by Jesus on the cross.)
Psalm 23: As shepherd, the Lord does what is good for his sheep.
Psalm 24: The Lord is a glorious king.
Psalm 25: The Lord teaches us righteousness.