Meditations in Exodus: 38. Passover Preparations
Ex 12:12 On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn–both men and animals–and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD.
For a moment we step aside from the confrontations with Pharaoh for the Lord has to instruct His people how they are to get ready for when He will bring the tenth and last plague. They will have a part to play to avoid the destruction that is coming.
So significant will this event be that it is to signify the beginning of the calendar year for the Israelites from now on: “The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.” (v.1,2) The focus of every new year was to be the Passover in the middle of the first month, the reminder of how the Lord redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt and took them and made them a people of His own. That is at the heart of all this. Put it the other way round, the New Year month for Israel is always to start with the Passover because it is the very reason they exist and before anything else happens in a year, they are to remember that.
Then come the instructions about ‘the Passover lamb’: “Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. 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.” (v.3,4) There is very much a community feel about this. They are, as a community, to do this every year and if they are only a small household they are to share with a neighbour.
Then comes an instruction about the lamb: “The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats.” (v.5) John the Baptist identified Jesus as God’s lamb (Jn 1:29,36) and this was picked up by the apostles: “the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Pet 1:19) and in the Revelation vision of heaven, the one before the throne had the same identity: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne.” (Rev 5:6)
When they chose their lamb, each family was to hold on to it so that they would all do the same thing at the same time: “Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight.” (v.6). So far the focus is on the oneness of them as a people, all doing the same thing as prescribed by God, but next comes instructions that will prove very significant: “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,” (v.7) so that, “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.” (v.13) Of course the Lord knew those who were His but this putting blood on the doorposts is an act of faith, and act of obedience. In the same way “coming to Christ” means believing in his work on the Cross for us, his blood being shed for the forgiveness of our sins so that God’s judgment would pass over us and we remain unscathed.
Then come directions for the way the lamb is to be eaten – for it is NOT only to be USED, it is also to be ENJOYED as it is taken into each person. Taking this lamb into you was the human side of the act. Jesus was later to say, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (Jn 6:53) Becoming one with Jesus is as important as relying on his work on the Cross. Note the instructions: “That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire–head, legs and inner parts. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it.” (v.8-10)
The meat was to be well and truly cooked, not in a rush, but as shepherds used to cook their meat. The bitter herbs in years to come would remind them of the bitter years they had served as slaves. Bread made without yeast reflected the haste with which they eventually left Egypt. To this last item was added, “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.” (v.11) They were to eat it all up at the meal in the night and anything left over was to be burnt; this is a one-off meal and their form of dress indicates they are ready to go at a moment’s notice. Try to catch the picture of these Israelites in the middle of the night holding their feast and waiting for God to act.
Finally comes the awful judgment that will come on Egypt: “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn–both men and animals–and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD.” (v.12) The death of every first born is the judgment and in their helplessness to stop it, the so called ‘gods’ of Egypt are judged, found wanting, found powerless, found to be nonentities, figments of superstitious imaginations! Yet for the Israelites, they will be passed over: “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.” (v.13). There it is, this is what will happen, God has decreed it.
These verses very much speak of community and today we are, as Christians, part of the community that the New Testament calls ‘the body of Christ’, the Church. Individual local churches are important in that they give us local expression of this so we can each realise the wonder of it, but the bigger picture is that all Christians are part of the world-wide body of Christ, with no one greater and no one lesser than any other. Rejoice in who you are, a significant member of the body of Christ.