Explore the Bible Series
March 21, 2010
Background Passage: Exodus 11:1-13:16
Lesson Passage: Exodus 12:1-14
This section of the Book of Exodus is very difficult to understand. The narrative proves easy to follow, and, in that sense, the passage raises few problems; however, the history and, more importantly, the theology raise some bewilderment for those who take the Bible as an authoritative text. I list these problems as an effort to deal honestly with the material.
1. The apparent severity of the last plague: As the story of the plagues reaches its climax, the angel of death, sent by Jehovah, killed thousands of people and animals. Exodus says that every household in Egypt experienced the demise of the firstborn (except those protected by the lamb’s blood). I do not know the population of ancient Egypt, but it must have numbered in the millions. Hundreds of thousands may have died in this last plague, if we assume the historical reliability of Exodus. The killing was indiscriminate: young or old, rich or poor, male or female, innocent or guilty (See 11:4-5). Even Egyptian slaves, who suffered a similar oppression as the Hebrews, would die in this slaughter.
Some scholars deal with this problem by discounting the historical nature of these stories; however, Exodus reads like history, not mythos. I have read some mythology, and this narrative does not read like that genre of literature. Furthermore, conservative Old Testament scholars, like Gleason Archer (See Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties), seem unsatisfactory as well. Perhaps it is best to acknowledge the grave difficulties this passage raises about God, and rest in the profound mysteries of providence.
2. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart: Careful reading of Exodus reveals a common theme, the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart against Jehovah. During the first several plagues, Exodus says that Pharaoh hardened his heart, but, as we progress through the story, the imagery changes, and God does the calluses the king’s resolve to oppress Israel. Perhaps we should see this hardening as God’s judicial dealings with a stubborn, ungodly man.
3. The existence of livestock at the time of the tenth plague (See 11:5): The fifth plague killed all the Egyptian live stock, but God told Moses, just before the tenth plague, that all the first born of the cattle would die. Where did the Egyptians get these herds? Perhaps, by this time, the Egyptians had replenished their herds by taking livestock from surrounding areas; or, maybe the cattle were spared in the fifth plague.
I do not raise these questions to foster doubt about the veracity of the Exodus story; rather, I hope to promote honest dialog about the complexities of careful study of the Bible, an honesty that should cultivate humility and understanding for those who have serious questions about the message of the Bible. Having made these points, the passage gives important insight into the character and worship of God.
1. God’s determination to deliver his people: All the forces of the most powerful man in the world stood as a barrier to the release of Israel from their bondage; yet, God’s hand prevailed. Even Pharaoh could not resist the redemptive power of Jehovah.
2. The importance of rites and traditions: This lesson centers much attention on Passover. This rite served at least two purposes: (1) a remembrance of God’s redemptive work; (2) a training tool for the education of the young. Of course, rites and traditions can become perfunctory and mindless, but the remedy for the problem is not abandoning the practice. For instance, the observance of Communion may become mechanical, but the cure for this malady rests in the heart of the worshiper, not in forsaking the Lord’s Table. Israel followed an annual liturgy intended to govern the worship of God’s people, and, perhaps, Christians should consider the value of tradition for modern worship. I fear that contemporary evangelicals often value innovation, amusement, and novelty rather than understanding the importance of biblical patterns of worship.
Personal Note: For the last several weeks Kathy and I have visited a large Baptist church in our area. The church members have treated us kindly, and we enjoy most of the music and the inspiring singing of the choir ( I must say, I am partial to a good pipe organ too). However, we have grown concerned about how little the congregation reads the Bible publically. The pastor reads his sermon text, but otherwise, we have no interaction with the Scriptures. We notice that very few worshipers bring the Bible to the services. Kathy and I need the tradition of conspicuous public reading of the Scriptures. Also, in nearly three months of morning worship, we have never seen this congregation observe Communion. This troubles me greatly. Scripture reading and Communion should have prominent places in the worship of the Lord.
I. The Threat of a Final Plague (11:1-1)
A. God’s instructions to Moses (vv. 1-3): The story of the plagues now reached its crescendo, the final plague of the death angel. At the threshold of this catastrophe, Jehovah promised that Pharaoh would not only let Israel go, but he would drive the people from the land. Moreover, Moses was instructed to tell the Hebrews to collect silver, gold, and jewelry from their Egyptian neighbors, riches that eventually be used to furnish the Tabernacle.
B. Moses’ promise to the people (vv. 4-10): Apparently God told Moses of the plan to execute the firstborn of Egypt, and Jehovah’s servant relayed the message of destruction to Pharaoh and the house of Israel. Every Egyptian household would feel the sting of death, and fear would so grip the land that no one, not even a dog, would raise a voice against the Hebrews. Pharaoh’s obstinance infuriated Moses, perhaps because the Lord’s servant knew the consequences of the king’s dogged stubbornness, the needless execution of all the firstborn of Egypt.
II. Instructions Concerning the Passover (12:1-32)
A. The selection of a sacrificial lamb (vv. 1-6): On the tenth day of the month of Abib (later referred to as Nisan) the Jews were to mark the Passover with a perpetual commemoration. Each family would choose a year-old, male lamb for sacrifice. Poor or small families could combine their resources so that they might completely consume the sacrifice before consume the lamb in the appointed time limitations.
B. Directions for the rite of Passover (vv. 7-20)
1. “Take some of the blood and put it on the doorposts and the lentil of the houses” (vv. 7 and 11-13): The blood acted as a marker for the death angel to pass over the house.
2. “They shall eat the flesh that night” (vv. 10-11): The people were to roast meat and consume everything before morning. The instructions required that bitter herbs and unleavened bread accompany the roasted lamb. Moses instructed the people to dress as if prepared for a journey: belt fastened, sandals tied, and staff in hand.
3. “This day shall be for you a memorial” (vv. 14-20): Clearly, Moses understood the perpetual nature of this commemoration, a feast to the Lord throughout all generations. For seven days the Hebrews could only eat unleavened bread, and the seventh day of the rite was observed as a Sabbath. Initially, the unleavened bread denoted the haste of Israel’s departure from Egypt, a haste that would not allow for waiting for yeasted bread to rise. In time, the yeast came to represent evil that pervades human nature (See Matthew 16:6-12; I Corinthians 5:6-8; Galatians 5:9). We should note that the Law did not forbid the general use of yeast as a leavening agent.
C. The institution of the first Passover (vv. 21-28): Moses instructed the elders of Israel to lead the Hebrews in prescribed rites. Each family took lambs, as directed, and splattered the blood on the doorposts. After preparing the house, each family had to remain in the house for the duration of the night, and the blood would protect the household from the angel of death. Also, the Lord taught the people that their ancestors should keep this memorial after the Hebrews came to Canaan, and parents were to teach their children about the meaning of the rite. Apparently, Israel did not fully observe Passover while in the wilderness, in part, because they did not have houses to anoint with blood.
D. The tenth plague (vv. 29-32): The text says that the Lord killed the first born of all of Egypt: Pharaoh’s household to the captives in the prison, even the livestock. Every family experienced the horror of death, and, in despair, Pharaoh told Moses and Aaron to leave with the children of Israel.
III. The Exodus 12:33-13:16)
A. Israel’s departure from Egypt (12:33-42): Hurriedly, the Jews prepared to leave the land of their oppressors, and they left having plundered the wealth of Egypt. The former captives journeyed across the northern delta region of the Nile, from Rameses to Succoth. The Old Testament numbers the men of Israel at 600,000, plus women and children, and apparently people from other ethnic backgrounds accompanied the Hebrews (See v. 38). For 430 years the Jews sojourned in Egypt, and the text reveals that the Lord watched over his people the night of their departure.
B. Rehearsal of rules concerning the observance of the Passover (12:43-13:16): This paragraph may reflect a later reflection on the observance of Passover. Moses charged the Jews to keep the Passover as a perpetual ceremony. Only circumcised males (and their families) could participate in the rite. The first several verses of Chapter Thirteen intertwine the rites of Passover with the consecration of the firstborn. The eldest child, man or beast, was consecrated to the Lord as a token that all blessings belong to Jehovah. The firstborn child was consecrated by the sacrifice of a lamb. This sacrifice acted as a remembrance of the Lord’s deliverance from Egypt through the death of the Passover lamb. Also, in this section, the Lord made clear his promise to give Canaan to the Hebrews, a promise made first to the Patriarchs more than four centuries before the Exodus.