Through Exodus 10 we can read about nine plagues that God used as judgments against Egypt to show Pharaoh and the world who the Lord is that we should listen to him (cf. Exodus 5:2). Amazingly, after nine devastating plagues, Pharaoh has not relented. His heart is hard, which means that he continued to refuse to submit to God’s will. Even in the face of disaster, Pharaoh will not yield to the God of heaven and earth. So now it is time for the final plague and with this plague, the Lord declares that Pharaoh will let the people go and he will drive you away completely. Chapter 11 gives the description of the final plague.
Plague Announced (11:1-10)
The description of this plague was announced in the hearing of the people (11:2).
So Moses said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again. But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.’ And all these your servants shall come down to me and bow down to me, saying, ‘Get out, you and all the people who follow you.’ And after that I will go out.” And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger. (Exodus 11:4–8 ESV)
This is a staggering plague. The death of the firstborn of all the people and cattle in the land of Egypt. But so the people will know that there is a distinction between God’s people and Egypt, none of the people of Israel will be afflicted by this plague. I do not think Moses’ response should be too surprising. Because of the stubbornness of Pharaoh, all of these lives are going to be lost. Because Pharaoh will not submit to God, a catastrophic judgment must fall. Moses is angry at Pharaoh because he has not relented even though he has plainly seen the hand of God in these judgments. This is what we are reminded of in Exodus 11:9-10.
Passover Instituted (12:1-28)
The death of the firstborn plague was to change everything in the life of Israel. The calendar was going to change for Israel now. This month would now be the beginning of the months (12:2). This event marks a new year. On the tenth day, every man will take a lamb for their household. If the household is too small to eat a whole lamb, then another household could join so that the whole lamb was eaten (12-3-4). The lamb must be without blemish and was allowed to be a sheep or a goat (12:5). The lamb was kept until the fourteenth day of the month and then the lambs would be killed at twilight (12:6). Once the lamb was killed, the people were to take some of the blood and put it on the top and the sides of the door frames of the houses in which they eat (12:7). The meat was to be roasted and eaten that night with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (12:8). There were not to be any leftovers and its remains were to be burned by morning (12:10). Finally, they were to eat the lamb with their belts fastened, sandals on their feet, staff in hand, and to eat quickly.
The blood was to be a sign for the people. In the scriptures blood represents life (cf. Genesis 9:4). Now this life has a new dimension in its meaning. The blood represented that God would pass over the house and the plague would not destroy them (12:13). This was not going to be a one time act but to be observed every year through the generations (12:14). The people will eat unleavened bread for seven days. If leaven was eaten during that time that person was to be cut off from Israel. The first day and seventh days were to be holy days where no work was to be done, functioning as a Sabbath where the people rested from worked and worshiped in a holy assembly. The eating of the unleavened bread began at the start of the Passover (the fourteenth day) and continued for one week until the 21st day (12:18). This would be done when they came into the land of Canaan (12:25) and this Passover feast will be taught to your children (12:27).
Plague and Exodus (12:29-42)
Just as the Lord had said, at midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from Pharaoh’s firstborn to the firstborn of the livestock. Also, just as the Lord had said, Pharaoh calls for Moses and Aaron and tells them to leave. The Egyptians were also urgent in sending the people of Israel out of the land, fearing that they were all going to die (12:33). The Lord gave the people of Israel favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, giving them their silver and gold jewelry along with their clothing. Even some of the Egyptians came with them, according to Exodus 12:38. Thus, God brought the people out of Egyptian slavery with a mighty hand.
The Passover Applications
The Passover is perhaps the greatest shadow that God gave to reveal what he was going to do in Christ. We have pointed out many times through our study of Exodus that this book is God’s picture book of redemption, revealing how God is going to save. There are many elements of this Passover feast that were intended to show what we have in Christ today.
1. There is not an exodus without the Passover.
There is an important order that is taught from this sequence in the book of Exodus. The lambs must be slain, the blood is placed on the doorposts, and then the exodus occurs. There is not the exodus from slavery without the lambs slain and the blood spilled. God is teaching us an important principle which is plainly stated in Hebrews 9:22. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV) Blood must be shed for this event to occur. The writer of Hebrews also makes this point earlier in his sermon.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14–15 ESV)
Notice the Passover picture is here where we are described as being subject to lifelong slavery that Jesus destroyed through his death. Romans repeated declares how we have been “set free” (Romans 6:7,18, 22; 8:2,21). There are many places in the New Testament where we see Jesus pictured as the necessary Lamb that was offered which causes us to be set free. In John 1:29 we read John the Baptizer calling Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” The apostle Paul directly calls Jesus our Passover in 1 Corinthians 5:7. The apostle Peter says that Christ is the “lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19). Hebrews 9:14 declares that Jesus offered himself unblemished to God. We cannot be set free from sin without a perfect lamb being slain.
2. Judgment belongs on all. The blood is the only reason God passes by and withholds judgment.
The way this reads in the book of Exodus is interesting. God does not merely say that he will pass over the people of Israel and strike down only the Egyptians (11:7). Exodus 12:13 indicates that God will see the blood and thus pass over the houses of Israel because of the blood. This is another picture that God explicitly teaches in the New Testament. We deserve the wrath of God and judgment is withheld because of the sacrifice of Jesus. Romans 3:21-26 perhaps gives us the clearest picture of our atonement in Christ.
But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21–26 NRSV)
Let us not misread what the text is saying. Too often God is pictured as standing as wrathful against us and the sacrifice of Jesus turns away his wrath. Paul rather says that God has been showing divine forbearance and passover over the sins previously committed. The basis by which he could pass over the sins in the past as well as in the present is through the redemption that is found in Christ “whom God put forward as the sacrifice of atonement by his blood.” This is a picture of God’s love toward us who did not want us to receive the judgment we deserve. Therefore God put forward the appropriate sacrifice we needed so that he does not need to judge us. This is the picture of the Passover and the picture of the new covenant relationship we have with God.
3. The Lord’s Supper is the culmination of the Passover.
The significance of Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper on the night of the Passover should not be lost on us. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all note that it was the first day of the Unleavened Bread feast which was the set up for the Passover.
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. (Luke 22:7 ESV)
The scriptures want you to know that the Lord’s Supper was instituted at the time of the Passover. Further, what we see Jesus doing on this final day of his life is also mirroring the Passover. This is when the Passover Lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus is going to die as the Passover Lamb on the Passover. This is further pictured with regards to Barabbas. John 18:39 tells us that it was the custom to release one of the criminals on the Passover. The true criminal, Barabbas, is set free and the perfect Lamb of God, Jesus, is slain, all reenacting the Passover. We recently studied 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul gives the teaching regarding the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Please recall what those two elements of the Lord’s Supper represent. The bread represents the body of Jesus. This is the sacrifice of Jesus, remembering the lamb that was slain for us. The cup represents the blood of the covenant. Remember that without blood there is no forgiveness and a new covenant cannot be established without the shedding of blood. We are remembering the freedom we have, the exodus we have experienced from sin, because we have this new covenant given to us, because the Lamb was slain. The Lord’s Supper is the culmination of the Passover.
4. Being set free from slavery means we belong to God.
Exodus 13:1-2 shows that we belong to God. Because the people of Israel had been set free and had not suffered the plague of the death of the firstborn, the firstborn belong to God. The New Testament also keys on this teaching for us as Christians.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19–20 ESV)
The apostle Peter argues that we must purify our souls by obedience to the truth because we were ransomed with the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:17-23). We must see that we are dead because of our sins and because we have now been set free by his blood, then we belong to him. He bought us.
5. This salvation was a shared experience.
Each individual did not eat a Passover meal to themselves. The household gathered to eat and if there was going to be too much lamb for the household to eat, then another household was to join with them to eat the meal. The Passover was considered a community event that all the people of Israel did together. Their salvation was a shared experience, something they had in common. We see the New Testament also speak of our salvation in terms of something that we have in common together.
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4–7 ESV)
Think about how often the scriptures speak of us in a corporate sense, like in the above passage. God saved us. God did not just save me. He saved us. It is terrible that we have eliminated this community concept in regards to our salvation. The Lord’s Supper reflects the corporate nature of our salvation as we remember Jesus each week together. When we do not join together then we show that we do not understand the salvation experience.
Yet this corporate act was to be taken very personally. When the father explained to his son about the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover, notice what was to be said:
You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ (Exodus 13:8 ESV)
Notice how the son was to take this event personally. Not just what God has done for us. But it is what he has done for me. We must take the sacrifice of Jesus personally to ourselves every day. Carry the cross with you each day. Reflect on your freedom in Christ each day. Jesus did this for you. Jesus gave himself for you. Jesus gave himself for us. This must change how we live our lives and how we live with one another as a community in Christ.