We closed last week in the midst of a story. Moses had warned Pharaoh that there would be one more plague and that it would bring devastation upon Egypt. After that, Pharaoh would let the Israelites go. Pharaoh was clearly warned what would happen, that the firstborn of every household and from every flock would die. There was no reason for Pharaoh to doubt Moses’ word as everything that had been said prior to this had come true.
Pharaoh didn’t listen however. This is what a hard hearted person does however. These people choose to ignore what is plainly in front of them and they reject the truth. Although not all unbelievers are as hard hearted as Pharaoh, every person who rejects the Lord makes a conscious decision to do so and they do it despite clear evidence that should cause them to believe. Romans 1:18-20 tells us that no one is without excuse:
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Pharaoh had less excuse than anyone and he still didn’t listen. Because of that, he will pay with his firstborn son and the lives of the firstborn all over Egypt.
Exodus 13 addresses the Israelites and gives them instructions on what is going to happen. Although this day would be the worst in the history of Egypt, it would be a day of celebration that the Jews celebrate to this very day, thousands of years later.
1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, 2 “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. 3 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb[a] for his family, one for each household. 4 If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. 5 The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. 6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. 8 That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. 9 Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.
The Passover Feast would become the most important festival in Israel because it looked toward the death of Christ. God made it clear what was expected of the Israelites during this time and often throughout their history the Israelites did not follow the rules.
In Malachi the Israelites are reprimanded because they were bringing worthless sacrifices. They sacrificed crippled and diseased animals that had no value to them. In Jesus’ day the priests had made a mockery of the system because they had to approve of each lamb that was sacrificed. Often they would reject the lamb that a family had brought from afar and force them to purchase a lamb from the temple at exorbitant prices.
The unblemished lamb is a picture of the sinless Jesus. Sacrificing anything else is the equivalent of saying that Jesus didn’t have to be perfect or that God accepts sin. Aside from the general taking advantage of people, the priests of Jesus’ day turned the sacrifice into an issue of money and made salvation available for purchase, but worst of all, only through them.
12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
Here God makes it clear what we have been learning over the last few weeks. The plagues are a judgment on the gods of Egypt. They are being shown to be worthless.
Before, the Israelites have been spared the worst of the plagues of Egypt. God has made a distinction between His people and the Egyptians. This time something different is done however. The Israelites are required to do something in order to be protected from the plague.
The Israelites have heard the message and they must do something in response in order to be saved from this plague. I believe that this is clearly how God works today as well. Salvation is available for all people. God doesn’t play favorites, the rules are the same for everyone. The thing is, people must respond to accept what is offered. If the Israelites didn’t put the blood on the doorposts of their house when the angel of death passed by, they wouldn’t be saved by virtue of being an Israelite. They would only be saved by the blood and their decision to use that blood.
I absolutely believe that the United States is in a privileged position where we are blessed by God and spared some terrible things. But being an American doesn’t mean that you’re a Christian. You can be blessed by God without being a Christian. You are only a Christian if you make the conscious choice to be one.
Now, there is a question that isn’t answered here in scripture. Did all of the Israelites respond and put the blood on their doorposts? I have to believe that if they all responded that it would only be by the miraculous work of God causing them to respond favorably. If left to their own choices, I’m sure that of the hundreds of thousands of Israelites, that some would have responded favorably despite all that they had previously witnessed.
There is some possible archaeological evidence to suggest that there were many graves hurriedly dug in the region of Goshen around this time in history. If this is true, it would suggest that some Israelites did not respond and fell victim to the tenth plague just like the Egyptians. They then hurriedly buried their firstborn as they fled from Egypt with the rest of the Israelites. Do I know for certain that this is the case? There’s no way to know but it wouldn’t surprise me.
Verses 14-28 give further instructions for not just the Passover feast but for week surrounding it. The Israelites were to make bread without yeast, known as unleavened bread. There are two major significant reasons for this, one practical, the other theological. For practical reasons, yeast takes time to rise before you bake it. This is a remembrance that the Israelites left Egypt in a hurry and didn’t have time to wait for yeast to rise. When God acts, He does so according to His timetable which may be years or at a moment’s notice.
The theological issue with yeast is that it is a picture of sin. The modern equivalent to this is an apple. You’re probably familiar with the phrase “one bad apple.” The entire phrase is that one bad apple spoils the whole bunch. If a rotting apple is next to apples that are fine, then the rot will spread to the apples that are fine more quickly than if the apples are left on their own. Yeast works similarly. It spreads quickly. If there is even a small bit of yeast, it will quickly grow and spread over everything. This is the way that sin works as well. If we clean up our life but leave just a bit of sin left, that sin is going to grow and spread and soon we’ll be consumed in sin again.
29 At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. 30 Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.
Things come to pass just as they had been foretold. The firstborn die all over Egypt and every household in Egypt is left in mourning. Now, you might question why the Egyptians weren’t given a chance for salvation by also putting blood on their doorposts. The Egyptians have had numerous opportunities for repentance and they haven’t accepted them. Now it is too late. Before the Egyptians had learned enough to protect themselves from the plagues and to beg Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. But it wasn’t because of a love for God or even a real fear of God, it was simply a matter of self preservation. God isn’t a fool and He isn’t going to offer to spare the Egyptians from the plague when their hearts don’t really believe in Him. God is just in His judgment because He has offered more than enough time for repentance.
31 During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD as you have requested. 32 Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.”
33 The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!” 34 So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing. 35 The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. 36 The LORD had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.
37 The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Sukkoth. There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. 38 Many other people went up with them, and also large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds. 39 With the dough the Israelites had brought from Egypt, they baked loaves of unleavened bread. The dough was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves.
40 Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt[b] was 430 years. 41 At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the LORD’s divisions left Egypt. 42 Because the LORD kept vigil that night to bring them out of Egypt, on this night all the Israelites are to keep vigil to honor the LORD for the generations to come.
And just like that it was over. After Pharaoh had fought with Moses, rejected God’s power, lied about letting the Israelites go, and hardening his heart time after time, Pharaoh will not even wait until daylight to rid the land of the Israelites! Pharaoh calls Moses in the middle of the night and the people head out.
The Egyptians are so pleased to be rid of the Israelites and God makes them favorably disposed to them that they heap gold and silver upon them as they leave. The Egyptians are plundered without a sword ever being lifted. As they leave Egypt, the Israelites are given their wages after decades of slavery. They are rich and the Egyptians are the ones who are in agony and mourning.
The Israelites were given Passover as a symbol looking forward to the death of Christ. Jesus celebrated Passover on the night before He died on the cross. What started as Passover in this passage we celebrate today as the Lord’s Supper or communion. Jesus celebrated Passover one last time looking forward to His death. Today we celebrate the Lord’s Supper looking back upon Jesus’ death.
Ordinarily I begin communion by reading Paul’s warning about celebrating it with the proper attitude but today I want to read a different passage from 1 Corinthians. It may feel weird to be celebrating so much death. Passover was the celebration of the death of tens of thousands of people. Communion is the celebration of Jesus’ death.
Why would we celebrate death? Because it is a transformation. It was the end for the Egyptians who died that day but it wasn’t the end for Jesus. And because it wasn’t the end for Jesus, it won’t be the end for every person who accepts His sacrifice. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44
42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
We don’t celebrate death, we celebrate victory over death. In the same way, the Israelites remembered that they were freed from the Egyptians but they didn’t celebrate death at the Passover. Instead, they celebrated that they had been spared from death as the angel of death passed over them. As we celebrate communion this morning, let’s celebrate victory over death.