Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Feb 4 2013 - Matthew 23:13-39 – Love and judgment

Much of Matthew 23 records a series of woes Jesus pronounces upon the Jewish leaders. These are the very opposite of the Beatitudes of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. The woes are a declaration of God's judgment upon a rebellious and disobedient people.

But at the end of this section, Jesus turns from woes to lament: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate" (Matthew 23:37-38). The picture of a bird protecting her chicks by sheltering them under her wings is one used several times in the Old Testament of God’s care for his people. Listen to the lovely words of Psalm 36:5-9:

Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
You, LORD, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

The psalm pictures the unfailing love of God in terms of people finding refuge and provision in God, just as young birds find protection under the wings of their mother.

Jesus uses this picture of himself. He is the Lord come to his people. He has come in love; a love that longs to embrace them, protect them and provide for them; a love that will drive him to give himself for them. But they have rejected him. His declaration of judgment is not an expression of vengeance – like that of a wife who may tear up the designer suits of her cheating husband or throw paint on his Porsche. It is a declaration of deep sadness. Here are a people whom God had called to be a light to the nations. They were to be those who revelled in God's care for them and for all that he had made. They were to be engaged in the priestly task of bringing the world to God; calling the nations to take refuge under the shadow of God's wings. But they have refused: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are" (23:13, 15).

God will establish his kingdom, but it will require a radical act of judgment: "The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit" (21:43).

We have fled to Christ for refuge and we revel in God's unfailing love. But that's not the end of the story; we are now called to be a priestly people; a people through whom the whole world is to be brought under the shadow of God's wings – into the embrace of the crucified one.

Heavenly Father, thank you that you are not an angry God out to get me. Thank you that you have shown us the extent of your love for us through the Lord Jesus. Thank you for the warm and protective embrace of your love and care. You are my refuge and strength, a continual source of help in time of trouble. Your love is wide enough to enclose the whole world. Help me not only to hide in the shadow of your wings but also to draw others into the embrace of your love.

Feb 4 2019 - Genesis 41:56-42:28 – Ten brothers go to Egypt

The famine affected not only Egypt but the whole of the surrounding region, including the land of Canaan. When Jacob learnt that grain was available in Egypt he sent his sons to buy food, keeping only Benjamin back, the remaining son of his beloved Rachel.

Joseph is overseeing the sale of grain at the place to which the brothers are directed – perhaps it is the one place where foreigners are allowed to buy food. His brothers bow down to him, just as had been revealed to Joseph some 20 years previously. Joseph recognises them but, unsurprisingly, they do not recognise this high official of Egypt.

Joseph decides to give his brothers a hard time. Accusing them of being spies, he demands that one of them, Simeon, be kept in custody in Egypt while the other nine return with the food. Simeon will only be released when they come back with their youngest brother – proof that their account of themselves is true.

This harsh treatment causes the brothers to recall the way they had treated their brother Joseph. They had failed to listen to his pleas to be released from the pit where they had thrown him. They had sold him into slavery and now one of them is bound and imprisoned in Egypt. Reuben, who had wanted to rescue Joseph, tells them that they are now being punished for their wrongdoing.

So the nine return with bags full of grain but, unbeknown to them, they return also with their money hidden in their sacks. Outwardly, Joseph may be treating his brothers harshly, but in reality he is full of compassion towards them and wishes to bless them. Nevertheless, at this stage Joseph's brothers do not see the return of their money as an act of kindness but rather as a mistake which will get them into more trouble when they return to Egypt to rescue Simeon. Like Joseph, they believe that all that is happening is being directed by God, but they believe that God is at work to punish rather than to bless them. I am reminded of the hymn by William Cowper:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform …

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

Even when everything seems to be going wrong for us and all of our plans misfire, we can still trust God. He provides his people with the promise, "I know the plans I have for you … plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11). Therefore we can respond with full assurance saying, "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him" (Romans 8:28). We know that, in the end, grace will triumph over judgment.

Holy Father, I recognise the many ways in which I have sinned against you and that I am deserving of your judgment. Thank you that you are a God who is abundant in mercy and love. Thank you that because of Jesus you do not treat me as my sins deserve. You have opened to me the storehouses of your grace and have invited me to come in and feast with you without cost.

Peter Misselbrook