We have seen nine other plagues in our Exodus reading but the last of them, today’s plague on the firstborn is the most severe of all. If we look at the plagues as God vs. the gods of Pharaoh, Yahweh God of the Israelites vs. pharaoh the supposed son of the Egyptian sun god Ra then this scenario is about to get very personal. The one last plague would be the death of the firstborn. The firstborn of every Egyptian family’s sons and the death of the firstborn of all the livestock. It would be one last blow to the proud ruler pharaoh. It would all happen in one night and there would be a cry that went up throughout Egypt that had never been heard before. Then and only then would pharaoh allow the Israelites to leave the country. Freedom from slavery for the Israelites would come at a great cost, but not to them. Just like freedom from slavery to sin for us came at a great cost…to Jesus.
This night of freedom for the Israelites would mark the inauguration of the festival of Passover for God’s people. And it is that meal that Jesus would use hundreds of years later toinaugurate the meal of the Last Supper. The Egyptians had been merely inconvenienced by the first six plagues. Gnats, frogs, flies, boils, and such were a nuisance, but they didn’t do much harm. But then the plagues got serious. Livestock was affected and died. There was giant hail that killed people and animals alike. The three days of thick darkness were only the precursor for the last plague. God warned Moses He would send one more plague, one so terrible that pharaoh would not only let the Israelites leave, but he would command them to go. The Israelites were to go to their Egyptian neighbors and collect their back wages. In Genesis 15:14 God had promised Abraham his descendants would leave Egypt with great possessions and in Exodus 3:21-22 God repeated that promise to Moses. Now the Israelites went door to door asking for the Egyptians gold, silver,and clothing. The Egyptians were happy to give them all they had.
Moses gave his final warning to pharaoh, but he ignored this onelike all the others. Pharaoh had no fear of God in his heart and he didn’t take Moses words seriously. In most cultures the firstborn sons are considered special but in Egypt they were considered sacred. But remember God calls Israel His firstborn. At the very beginning of Moses dealings with pharaoh, Moses warned him that the way he treated God’s firstborn would determine how God treated Egypt’s firstborn. Pharaoh tried to kill the Hebrew male babies and his officers treated the Israelites badly. God was simply paying Pharaoh back with his own currency. God had warned pharaoh many times, but he refused to listen or even acknowledge God’s sovereignty. Pharaoh’s officials figured it out but pharaoh never did.
Passover marked a new beginning for the Israelites and bound them together as a nation. It marked the beginning of their religious year and at Passover the focus was on the lamb. Isaac asked, where is the lamb. This introduced one of the major themes of the Old Testament as God’s people waited for the Messiah. John the Baptist eventually answered Isaac’s question when he pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” John 1:29. The Passover lamb was chosen on the tenth day and watched for four days to make sure it met all the requirements as being as close to perfect as it could be. We know Jesus was perfect. We read in Matthew 3:17, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Remember Jesus was questioned several times before the religious authorities before they handed Him over to be sacrificed. In Him there was no sin. He was the perfect sacrifice.
On the fourteenth day the lamb was slain, and its blood was painted on the door frame of their houses so that the angel of death would Passover their house. But you see, it wasn’t the life of the lamb that saved God’s people. It was the lamb’s death. It was the blood of the lamb that saved God’s people from death. Just like it is the blood of Christ that washes us clean. His blood washes away our sins. We will read in Leviticus 17:11 that there is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of innocent blood. The Israelites used hyssop branches to spread the blood on their door frames. Later hyssop was used to sprinkle blood that sealed the covenant and later still that cleansed the healed lepers. It was also a branch of hyssop that was used to convey a sponge soaked with wine vinegar to Jesus as He hung on the cross. And when He had received the drink, He said It is finished, bowed His head, and gave up His spirit.
The Passover meal consisted of roasted lamb, unleavened bread,and bitter herbs. The lamb was kept whole just as Jesus was. He hung on the cross but none of His bones were broken. The bitter herbs were a reminder of the bitter years of slavery and bondage the Israelites had suffered in Egypt. It is interesting that as the people wandered in the wilderness, they longed for the good old days back in Egypt! The bread was unleavened for two reasons. First, they didn’t have time for the bread to rise because they left in haste. Secondly, yeast is a sign of sin. Sin is hidden and it works silently and secretly. It spreads and pollutes and causes things to become puffed up. Both Jesus and Paul speak of false teaching as yeast. There could be no Passover meat left for the second day. If there was, it had to be burned. This meat was so special it couldn’t be treated like ordinary food. They ate as families, families that made up a nation or congregation. There were specific instructions for observing the Passover meal and it was clear this was a meal eaten to remember…remember what God had done in setting His people free. Just as we eat the Lord’s Supper to remember what God has done for us.
The Israelites marched boldly out of Egypt, in full view of the Egyptians who were mourning their dead. Estimates place the number of Israelites at close to two million people, along with their possessions and livestock. They left quickly and orderly, and the Egyptians were glad to see them go. Scripture tells us that there were many others who left with the Israelites. There may have been some who intermarried, Israelites with the Egyptians and some, full Egyptians who had seen what God could do and wanted to follow Him. Others may have just been curious. This “mixed multitude” represents those in this world who outwardly identify with God and His people but inwardly they are not true children of God. And scholars believe that many of the issues Moses faced in leading God’s people were caused by these in the “mixed multitude”.
Once more we see God keep His promises. His people are leaving Egypt a great nation. They have seen His power and might. They have been fruitful, and they have multiplied. Now they are on their way to the promised land. What could possibly go wrong?
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W