By this time, we've read of so many plagues. Put yourselves in the shoes of the Israelites. They are a people trapped in slavery. What do you think is their biggest problem? Is it Moses who made their lives worse in Exodus 5:21? They led bitter lives in their slavery (Exodus 1:13-14). Is it Pharaoh who refuses to let them go? These could all be problems, but they pale in comparison to a larger problem: their sin and God’s righteous judgment of it. Today, we see what God does for his people in his terrible judgment of sin.
(A) The Passover: Having Faith in God’s Salvation from His Judgment (Exo 12:1-13, 21-23)
In the previous chapter, the LORD has just revealed to Moses that there will be one more plague before Pharaoh will let them go. What does God reveal next? In Exo 12:1-2, the LORD is marking time for them as He introduces a calendar for the Israelites. He tells that that this month shall be the first month of the year. He is almost restarting time as they know it, signaling a new beginning and start for them. This is how significant their exodus from Egypt will be. Their lives will start “from now on”.
God gives the people specific instructions for what they are to do:
What's the significance of each set of instructions? In the first set for the 10th day, each household was represented by a particular lamb which they chose. This lamb is their substitute when God comes to judge in this plague. Therefore, this lamb was to be perfect and unblemished. The lamb also selected and kept for a few days first. These year old lambs are also cute but these weren’t supposed to be kept as pets.This lamb was meant to be killed, and to be the substitute for their sins. We see that they are to offer their best to God. It was to be a perfect lamb to be sacrificed. Do we offer our best to God? Do we offer the best of our resources, our time, our energy, our money, our hearts to God? Or, does God get what is leftover from our lives? Do you read your Bible after you’re spent from working or after relaxing so much? Once we are done with what is important to us, God gets what little or none that is left.
The sacrifice is to be made on the 14th day, and imagine the scene in the community. There is a massive killing involved, and this is not a pretty sight. God gave specific instructions and everyone participated in it at the same time. This was done as a community and a nation. Thousands of lambs would have to be killed in one evening and this lamb is dying in the place of each household.
The people were also told to eat the lamb by cooking it in bitter herbs. They had to eat it in the manner of haste and readiness to leave. This affected their attire and even how they ate. The unleavened bread was because they had no time to wait for it to rise. We are told plainly that they ate this meal quickly and this isn’t a comfortable three course dinner. It was rushed, and tense. Remember that they are slaves, and they are just about to get out of Egypt, away from their hard and bitter lives, and God is coming to judge. It is not fun and games. In this, we see that the Israelites are called to be ready to leave their homes, everything that they knew life to be. Are you and I ready to leave when God comes knocking. You must be thinking, but they are slaves, of course they are ready to leave! But are we too comfortable in our lives today that when Christ comes again, we would rather stay? Are you looking forward to leaving this world? This passage calls us to think about our comforts and where we want to go.
There is an important difference between this plague and the previous ones. In the previous plagues (4th plague of flies, 5th plague of livestock, 7th plague of hail), God had put a distinction between his people and the Egyptians where the plagues did not affect the Israelites with them having to do nothing at all. The Israelites did not need to do anything. But this time, God gives instructions to the people of Israel. Why is this so? We have to remember what the purpose of the plagues: that Pharaoh and Egypt may know “that I am the LORD” (c.f. Exo 7:5, 17, 8:10, 22). The plagues were to reveal God. This theme is repeated here in Exo 12:12, where God says that he will execute judgment on all the gods of Egypt, that they may know that I am the LORD. God is showing his supremacy over all the false gods of Egypt, and showing that He alone is God. In fact, in this phrase, we know that God uses his personal name as revealed to Moses in Exodus 3. The personal name of God reveals His uniqueness as only He can claim to be different, set apart from creation, and truly sovereign.
Exo 12:13 and Exo 12:23 helps us to realise that the Israelites are no different from the Egyptians in their sinfulness. They weren’t any better in acknowledging the LORD as their God. They were every bit as sinful and deserving of God’s judgment as the Egyptians and Pharaoh. We know this because of what they did after the Exodus! They were no better in recognising Yahweh for who he is. This made this plague different from the previous one. Thus, they needed a sacrifice, for we know from Hebrews that there is no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood and that the wages of sin is death (Heb 9:22, Rom 6:23). It was either they be judged for their sins, or they needed a substitute in the form of a lamb. Every household had to atone for their own sins. This is why the passage clearly tells us that when the LORD sees the blood, he will pass over them in v.13 and 23.
What was their biggest problem? Was it Pharaoh and their bitter lives? This passage reminds us that their biggest problem is God Himself. Heb 11:28 tells us that it was by faith that Moses kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood. God provides a means of salvation from his terrible judgment for his people, and they had to trust in God’s provision. They had to trust that if they did what was commanded by God, that the plague won’t befall them. Can you imagine how scary that night will be? They had to stake their lives on God and trust in HIs word. Imagine all the doubts running through their minds -- "Was the lamb perfect enough? Was it really a year old? Did I put enough blood?" This was an act of faith through and through. They also needed to believe that God will do what He says He will – that those who do not have the blood will
have their firstborn killed.
When we think about our biggest problem, do we think about sin? Do you think about your job or health or family or friends? Maybe you have too many or too few? Sin is not recognizing God for who He is. Are you a sinner today? Not just in your head, but in your heart. Do you pour your energies to this? Are there days in your life where you feel that you don’t need God, where you think that all is going well, life is smooth, and you are enjoying it. As a Christian today, we can sometimes forget our sin for we are too focused on the problems of this life and as long as the issues of this world is sorted, we are good. This part of the passage teaches us that we are no better than the Egyptians and the Israelites. In fact, we did nothing to contribute to our salvation except that God chose us (just as he chose the Israelites), and showed favour upon us by providing a way to save us. We take God up on his promise for salvation by placing our faith in his saving work.
(B) The Feast of Unleavened Bread: Turning Away from Sin (Exo 12:15-20)
But the Passover wasn't the only thing given to the Israelites. The overwhelming focus after the Passover, as the name of the feast would tell us, is eating unleavened bread (c.f. Exo 12:15-20). This was to take place between days 15 and 21. They were to remove leaven from their houses, and to strictly eat unleavened bread. This section from Phil Ryken's commentary on the book of Exodus helps us to understand the significance:
"Unleavened bread was a symbol of discontinuity. Leaven was a bit of dough kept unbaked from the previous day’s baking and added to the next day’s batch of dough so that it would start the fermentation process there also. The instruction to banish leaven from their houses and to take none of it with them from Egypt was a gesture that symbolised leaving behind all Egyptian influences that might work their way through their lives and corrupt them. God wanted to get Egypt out of his people."
The consequence of eating what is leavened is that the person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel. Let us look at how the NT talks about leaven to understand this consequence. In the NT, leaven was symbol for sin and as Paul tells us in 1 Cor 5:8 that it is associated with malice and evil. So then, we see that clearing out the leaven for the Israelites is similar to clearing out the sin in their lives. They are called to keep this feast yearly, to clear the leaven or sin in their lives. Eating leaven then is akin to continuing in sin, and refusing to repent of it. This leads to death as we know it from Romans 6, and being cut off from Israel is the same. It is rejecting God, and being cut off is leaving the presence of God. Is life without God life at all?
To help us understand it, for the ones among us who celebrate Chinese New Year, we have something called spring cleaning. The once a year where people give themselves that extra push to clean up their houses. This is a picture of what the Feast of Unleavened Bread is like. Like spring cleaning it is painful: cleaning out the sin in your life is difficult. Do you stop to think about sin? Do you do clean the sin out in your life? Do you take time to consider how you have rejected and turned away from God? Has it occurred to you what the consequences are to continue in sin? The Israelites were commanded to be serious with their sin for sins hold serious consequences of God’s judgment and death. There is a name we give to turning away from sin, and growing in Christ-likeness: Sanctification. This happened after God provided salvation in the lamb.
(C) Keeping the Feast: Remembering and Worshipping God as your Saviour (Exo 12:14,24-28)
In giving them the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, God graciously provided something to help them understand what He has done. He did not save them only to leave them alone to survive or to figure things out. Remember how at the start of Exo we are told that God wanted to save them to bring them to Him to worship Him. We’ve seen already how this is a God who reveals Himself to people. This is another way that God is revealing to them. God commands the Israelites to keep the feast as a memorial day, they were to celebrate it as a feast forever, and thoughout all their generations. They were to use this feast to remember what God has done for them after that have entered the promised land (Exo 12:24-25). They were to tell their children about what God has done for them on this day (Exo 12:26-27). What kind of a God is this that not just saves, but also gives something for them to remember Him by? This is a God that also knows how prone we are to forgetting.
As a result of this set of instructions, all the Israelites bowed and worshipped (Exo 12:27b). This was their response to all that God has told them he will do for them.
Is the call to remember the Passover a surprise to you? It shouldn’t! How often do we forget what God has done for us? God is so gracious to provide a feast for the Israelites to remember God’s salvation for them out of Egypt. For isn’t it easy that when they have entered the promised land, that they will forget all about God? Isn’t it easy for us to forget all about God in our comforts? But like the Israelites, God has also provided for us ways to remember Him and HIs work for us.
God gave the Israelites a new calendar to mark their identity but we who are in Christ are called a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17).
The Israelites had to sacrifice a perfect lamb but for us, Christ is the Lamb of God who obeyed God’s law perfectly and was killed on the cross (c.f. John1:29, 1 Cor 5:7, Heb 10:10-14, 1 Pet 1:18-19, Rev 5:12).
The Egyptians faced a judgment of their gods in the plagues and we had the judgment of our sin on Christ on the Cross (c.f. 2 Cor 5:21).
The Israelites were told to clean out the leaven and for Christians, sanctification is to mark the life of a Christian (c.f. 1 Cor 5-8).
The people of God observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Christians commemorate the Lord’s Supper (c.f. Luke 22:14-20, 1 Cor 11:23-26).
We began today's study by considering the Israelite's biggest problem. This entire passage spoke about one problem, and that is the Israelites’ rejection of God, their sin and God’s judgment of it. They were not any more special than the Egyptians, and this is the same for us today. We are not any different. If we are being serious with ourselves, we know that we don’t love God as much as we should, we enjoy many other things much more than God himself, we forget what being a Christian means. But this passage shows us a God who provides for his people a salvation from his terrible judgment, he calls us to place our faith in him when he provides Christ, the perfect passover lamb, he calls us to live for him, to turn away from our sins, and he even gives us a feast to remember what he has done for us. The Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread is then a picture of what God will do through Christ for his people, saving them to worship Him. What a gracious God we have, who is both just and merciful to an underserved people.