Well, I write this morning from Rome, Italy! Here I am fortunate enough, thank you my best friend forever Greg Smith! To contemplate the foundations of Western Civilization, part of which started with the story told here in Exodus 12, the Passover. It is so important in God’s plan of redemption, that he says the Israelites are to make this month the very first month of their very first year of their existence.
God lays out all the details of how this first Passover is to be celebrated, and all the details are very specific and must be followed exactly, even to the point of eating it fully clothed and ready to leave in haste because this is going to be preparation for their exodus. When God goes through Egypt to kill every firstborn, including animals, in this final and most devastating plague, he will pass over the houses of the Israelites who have put the blood of the animals on the door frames of their houses. And this is so important that they are to commemorate this for generations to come.
What to make of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart over and over again just to use this slaughter of innocent Egyptians to prove God’s power? Of course to we moderns we think we can sit in judgment of God’s plans, and our questions assume human beings are innocent, that God cannot call for the end of anyone’s life because we all have a right to life, and not death and judgment. The fact that we live at all is a function of God’s mercy and grace. As Paul says in Acts 25:
25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.
Actually this can be looked at another way that shows the depth of God’s mercy and grace. As Paul tells us elsewhere, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and that there is no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22). To modern secularly minded people this seems gruesome and absurd, which of course assumes that we can set the terms of the debate, that we can determine right and wrong, which of course brings us back to Genesis 3 and the temptation of the Fall, that we will be like God determining good and evil. God reveals to us in this story, and the entire history of redemption, what must be done to be saved, that sin, that rebellion against him, that this desire to usurp his role as our God and King, is death.
When God’s law is broken, which law is a reflection of his being, a penalty must be paid, just as when any human law is broken a penalty must be paid; this is an analogy that makes perfect sense if law-ness, if you will, or standards as such, are an inherent objective part of reality. So the Passover perfectly fits, makes perfect sense, if reality is as we find it; every human regardless of their religious convictions knows there is right and wrong, evil and good, justice and mercy, wrongs must be righted, etc. Pharaoh and his people, and the Israelits, and we as well, found sin must be judged, blood must be shed, for God to “pass over” sin, for him to rescue his people from slavery, for him to bring them into the Promised Land, for him to fulfill his covenant of promise. Which of course all points us to the blessed Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
I guess the Israelites had seen enough from all the previous plagues because it says that they did “just what the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron.” So when “the destroyer,” as it says, went through the land, not one first born of the Israelites was killed. God was faithful to his promise because the Israelites did what he commanded; if they had gone out of their houses or had not sacrificed the animal and put the blood on the door frame, the destroyer would not have passed over their houses, and they too would have lost a first born. As the great hymn says, trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
Finally Pharaoh and all the Egyptians with him tell the Israelites to get out! And with a touch of humor I think, God has the people of Egypt give them all kinds of things on the way out, so they plunder them as well. There were six hundred thousand men, not counting women and children, leaving Egypt. That means well over a million souls! And it was 430 years they lived there from the day Jacob came with his 70. It’s hard to fathom just how long this was when we just read words in the text and boom, four centuries passes. For some context, 430 years ago was 1584! The first English settlement in America didn’t happen until 1607! No matter how long it takes from our limited perspective, God is faithful to his covenant promise.
Finally, God says that anyone, slave or foreigner may celebrate the Passover with the Israelites, but they must be circumcised. From the very beginning, God’s promises were not limited to one people, but to a people of the covenant which anyone could belong to as long as they kept the demands of the covenant. It’s clear in God’s promise to Abraham, and then Paul’s mission to the gentiles that God’s plan of redemption would be for all mankind.