In a Nutshell…
Read the passage here.
Last week we looked at the final plague in Egypt, particularly in terms of how the tenth plague can be seen as punctuating the over-arching theme of the plagues – that is, demonstrating God’s supreme authority over all things. As we mentioned, the account of the final plague is significantly longer and more detailed than the other plagues. Today, we’ll look at this event from the perspective of the Israelites. In particular, we want to consider the significance of the Passover.
As we’ve touched on, this whole episode can strike us as a little disconcerting. It’s hard to picture a God who would do this kind of thing – put a plague on a whole group of people, killing the first-born of all of the Egyptians. Especially when you look at it through a 20th century and 21st century lens. We’ve been brought up, for the most part, to believe that Love is God’s primary characteristic. I don’t disagree with that, but it’s probably worth re-thinking that paradigm. Or rather, it’s worth re-thinking why it is that we think in this way.
In particular, we want to re-examine why it is we believe that a loving God, whose desire it is that everyone should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9 – The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.), is also not a God of judgement.
Part of that reason is that we don’t like the idea of “judgement.” It has somehow (understandably) come to be equated with the idea of “judgemental.” We don’t like judgemental people because they are, inherently, hypocritical. Thinking in human terms, through a human lens, everybody who judges is subject to judgement. This is the whole, “let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.”
In particular, in the current cultural climate, there’s a sense in which the most loving thing one can do is to simply let someone be (and, therefore do) whatever they want. This is particularly appealing to us (in these generations) because it allows us to continue to think that we can continue to do whatever we want and at no point in our lives do we actually have to make a decision (for or against God).
But we cannot apply human limitations, human categories, to a perfect God. If we could, that would not be God – at least a God worthy of worship. To look at it through a different, and imperfect, because it’s human, lens we would think it problematic if a parent never disciplined their child. We would think it unfair to the rest of the classroom if a teacher never addressed the unruly student. We would think it incredibly unjust if the police officer let every criminal off with a stern warning.
Part of what we expect of a Holy God is that He stand up for justice – that He do what is right.
Let’s back up a bit and review some of the key elements in the Biblical story so we can get a better, bigger perspective on what’s going on. This is material that we’ve both covered in some depth and reviewed on a number of occasions so I’ll try to be brief.
In Genesis, we’re introduced to a God who brought all of creation into being and that creation was good. Human beings, part of that good creation, were called to steward God’s creation which, at least in part, means maintaining a proper relationship with the creator and the purposes of the creator. Human beings, however, rebelled against God, succumbing to the temptation to choose for ourselves what is right and wrong.
What we see in the early part of Genesis is that things progressively grow worse from Adam through Cain through Lamech, leading ultimately to the verse in Genesis 6:
5 The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.
Remember that this passage serves to introduce the story of Noah, where God’s judgement for sin – the consequences of trying to live apart from God – are realized. And even as we progress through the story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob’s sons – through whom God’s plan of redemption is initiated – we see that sin is pervasive throughout humankind.
The question we have to ask ourselves is, do we take this seriously? Do we take it seriously enough? Do we understand that the fundamental problem with the world is sin? It’s not, at its heart, a problem of politics, economics, or even morality. The problem is that we are trying to live life without God.
And what we see in the story of Noah and what we’re seeing in our passage today, at least in part, is the consequence of that life without God. The truth is (in my opinion) that we all long for justice. It’s normal for us to want to see wrongs righted. We get upset when we hear about a criminal who got off on a technicality. We are angry when we feel like someone (a child molester, a drug kingpin, someone who de-frauded senior citizens out of their retirement savings) gets off easy. “I can’t believe they only got X number of years”, we say. Now of course, we have to be careful that our (human) desire for or impulse towards justice devolves into revenge. But generally it’s pretty normal to want justice to be done. Further, God’s desire for justice – or desire to put things right – is greater than ours. It’s in this context that we have to place the final plague – the judgement on Egypt.
Fortunately, God’s desire is also for restoration. Because God’s image of justice is not just that people “get what they deserve.” Rather, God’s desire for justice is about restoration – a creation free from sin. The Passover shows us that, in the midst of sin, God will make a way for creation to be redeemed. This is the covenant of Abraham, which leads to the covenant of Moses, which is fulfilled in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.
In other words, and I imagine this is obvious, the Passover is less about the death of the firstborn of the Egyptians, and rather about the rescue and salvation of God’s people.
Now there’s probably a lot worth saying about the sacrificial lamb (or goat) whose blood marks off the Israelites to be saved. For obvious reasons, we should probably talk about how this connects with the New Testament interpretation of Jesus as the Passover lamb. We might also consider the discussion (which we didn’t read about today) of the unleavened bread. In short, we’re skipping a lot of stuff. What I want to consider is this – and in this, we’re entering once again firmly into the realm of my personal reflections – why is this a meal?
We’ve talked in the past about the significance of eating together – of table fellowship. It seems to be a pretty significant motif throughout the Bible. We see that Jesus ate with people – with sinners, tax-collectors, prostitutes. When Jesus encounters Zaccheus, he invites himself to Zaccheus’ house, presumably for a meal. Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 is recorded in all four gospels. Before Jesus goes to the cross, he hosts the disciples in a final meal.
And this is not unique to Jesus. The Jewish calendar marks the works of God through the annual observance of several meals – feasts – of which this, the Passover, is one.
So there’s something significant about meals – about eating together. But what I see (again, this is just me) is something remarkable in the fact that God institutes a meal in the midst of what’s going on.
Moses has not been working in a vacuum. He has been, by the instruction of God, confronting Pharaoh to the witness of all of the Egyptians and all of the Israelites. It would have been impossible to ignore what’s going on. And Moses tells the Israelites, to prepare themselves for God’s final sign, and that after this sign, they would be freed from under the thumb of the Egyptians.
And the Israelites must have been terrified. They must have been terrified at the prospect of what God was going to do – all that death. Yet at the same time, they must have been excited. YHWH, the God of their forefathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was about to move in their midst to redeem them from Egypt.
There must have been so much to do. We have to get all of our things together. We have to gather carts and donkeys. We have to gather food and water. We have to make sure we get the sacrifices right because we don’t want to anger God and be on the wrong side of the judgement. There’s so much to do.
Now again, I don’t know what was going through the Israelite’s minds. This is all speculation on my part. But I imagine that there was a fair amount of excitement and not a little bit of terror at the prospect of that evening.
And in the midst of that terror and excitement, God says, “stop and eat a meal together.” In the midst of darkness and uncertainty, God says, “stop and eat a meal together.” In my opinion – again, this is just mine – it’s a remarkable thing that in the midst of this mighty work of God, this powerful demonstration of God’s holiness and power, He calls the Israelites to do something so ordinary.
It reminds me once again that salvation is entirely in the hands of God. There’s nothing we can do to earn it, there’s nothing we can do to grasp it, it’s entirely the work of God. The blood on the doorposts was not some kind of magic formula by which the Israelites were able to direct the attentions of God. I admit that there’s deep theological significance going on, but at it’s simplest, the blood on the doorposts was little more than, “here I am God. Save me.”
So in the midst of the darkest of nights, there was little the Israelites could do but stop in the midst of their anxiety, trust in the grace and goodness and promises of God, and share a meal together.
So What Now…?
I believe that we need to trust in God – completely, but simply. We live in what appears to be a chaotic world. We often feel like we’re on the brink of disaster. We try (usually, I hope) to follow God and live the way He would have us live. But at the end of the day, we have to remember that there’s nothing we can do to add to what God has done and what God is doing. Salvation is from the Lord.
The first Passover was held to await what God was going to do – the deliverance to come. Every subsequent Passover was held to remember. To never forget that God had delivered Israel, to make them into a people, to demonstrate God’s justice and mercy.
We also are called to remember, continually, what God has done to redeem us, to deliver us, and make us a people in and through Jesus Christ. We are now called to trust, to rest in, and we live out that new life that comes only through the blood of our Lamb.