1. The Final Judgement
The first nine plagues have spoken powerfully to Pharaoh and his people of the Lord’s decided intent to release his people from Egypt. His purposes for the whole creation will not be held back nor thwarted by the sinful oppression of Pharaoh and his gods.
Pharaoh has been given opportunity to repent, to let the people go. He has refused to take that opportunity. And so, now, the final judgement is going to be unleashed on Egypt; the Lord will kill their first-born, both of people and animals.
There is going to be no turning back; the warnings are ended and judgement is going to be executed on the gods of Egypt (12:12). This tenth plague is the culmination of all the others and the final judgement upon Egypt. It has come upon them because of Pharaoh and his intransigence and arrogance; notice how the Lord has made the people and even the officials sympathetic towards his people, but Pharaoh remains hard and so his people will suffer.
There comes a time when the last warning is heard, when people are called to judgement. The Bible makes that so plain to us in so many ways. Our response to that may not affect others in the way that Pharaoh’s did here but how we respond to the clear warnings of God will impact on us. Have you heard the call to turn to Jesus? Have you responded to that call?
The time is not unlimited; final judgement is a powerful reality that cannot be escaped. You need to listen to God’s voice and turn to Jesus if you have not done so. The warning of God is clear and unambiguous.
2. Delivered & Consecrated Through Blood
There were no distinctions between the people of Egypt – every family was affected and afflicted. But the Lord did make a distinction between the Israelites and the Egyptians (see 11:7).
i) That distinction arose from God’s own choice and in order to further his purposes of grace for the whole world. The distinction did not in any sense arise because of the worthiness of the people of Israel – after all, if they were somehow worthy their firstborn would not have been under threat. The Lord is showing here that his choice of them is not based on merit but on grace; they are equally as worthy of judgement as the Egyptians.
No, the distinction, the separation, is on his terms and for his larger purposes in the world. And we can say the same for ourselves – chosen not for good in us (as M’Cheyne expressed it) but in order to bring eternal glory to the Lord.
ii) The distinction leads to the deliverance of the people of Israel by the mighty hand of God. Their rescue, including the way they are treated by the Egyptian people, is entirely due to the power of God. He is the great redeemer of his people, the one who rescues and saves. All the glory is ever due to him!
iii) This rescue of the Israelites gives them a whole new start – they will be constituted as a people belonging to God from this point; it will be a turning-point in their existence. This month is to be the first month in their year (12:2); old things have passed, all things are becoming new for them.
And so it is for every person rescued from sin by the Lord. A new life; a new sense of belonging; a new start.
iv) The way in which the Lord chooses to save here teaches a very powerful lesson. Very detailed instructions are given to Israel in ch.12 about the Passover meal they are to eat and the way in which their distinctness is to made visible: by applying the blood of the sacrifice to the lintels of their doors. When the Lord saw the blood he would pass over their homes and not kill their firstborn sons.
Rescue from sin is accomplished by the Lord alone and through the shedding of blood, through a sacrifice taking the place of those worthy of death.
As we know, the rich symbolism of this first Passover comes to ultimate fruition in Jesus, the Son of God, whose blood was shed for the remission of our sins. He is our Passover (1 Cor. 5:7) and has been sacrificed for us.
In the most dramatic way, the Lord is showing Israel how their ultimate rescue will be accomplished: by his power, his wisdom, his grace; and by the death of his own Son – Jesus, the firstborn of God.
Let’s go on to ask, ‘What becomes of those who are thus spared?’ In 13:1f the Lord tells Israel that they must consecrate to him all the firstborn, whether of man or animal. They belong to him because he rescued them. Now, all belong to God by virtue of him being the creator but this rescue has put the people in a different relationship to him: their creator has become their redeemer. They are a chosen people, blessed in the covenant love of God.
And that is to be seen and demonstrated in the consecration of the first-born. Those redeemed by the Lord belong to him in a special sense, in a distinct redemption-sense – his own special people, saved because the Lord loved them and because he chose to catch them up into his purposes for his creation.
And that places obligations on them. Those obligations are not spelled-out here but they extend not only to the first-born in Egypt but to all whom the Lord redeems and rescues.
We belong to him and that belonging has the most radical implications for our lives in this world: we have absolute security and we have the most demanding and exhilarating calling – to serve the Lord and to make him known in his world. All that we are and has belongs to him; we owe him our very lives, our every breath, our hope of eternal life.
We are called to live securely in his love and lovingly in his service.
3. Sacred Ritual & Who Takes Part
Reading this section of Exodus, you cannot but be impressed at the amount of detail that is given not just for the first Passover but for the subsequent celebrations of the Passover.
Seeing that, we ought to ask, ‘Why such emphasis on the ritual? Why such stress on the details of the feast?’ Clearly there are all sorts of reasons why that might be the case but the emphasis here seems to be laid on the need to remember and to use the occasion to teach future generations what the Lord has done.
This mighty redemption is to stand as the paradigm for the Lord’s dealing with his people until it is fulfilled in the exodus of Jesus by the way of the cross. The people will need to recall often how the Lord rescued them and all that the event meant to them. They would be strengthened and encouraged in doing so; they would, in a sense, re-enact the Passover by carefully following the details the Lord is giving here and have a tangible sense of their connection to that great event.
And the occasion would also be used as a means of teaching the children of future generations what the Lord had done for his people in this great rescue – see 12:26. And it would be their solemn duty to teach its meaning to their children, encouraging them to remain true to the Lord, encouraging them to exercise true faith in him.
Now, in both those respects, it is surely significant that restrictions are laid down as to who is to be allowed to eat the Passover meal – no foreigner is to eat of it; it is for those who observably belong to the Lord (which, for a male, meant circumcision). It is a meal for the community who know the Lord’s rescue and only those observably part of that community are to share in it.
No foreigner is to eat of it but clearly the children of the people of Israel are to eat of it. I realise that there isn’t a straight-line equation between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper but it strikes me that those restrictions are something that is reflected in the NT with regard to the Lord’s Supper which was celebrated as a meal in which the whole church shared – young and old alike.
But whatever our take on that might be, let’s close by emphasising the great joy of all who know their rescue has been accomplished by Jesus our Passover and also, sadly, the great tragedy for all who refuse to listen to God’s warnings and who face final judgement.