Exodus 12:1-28

Exodus 12:1-28

1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. 4 And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, 6 and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. 7 “Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. 10 And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. 14 “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. 15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. 16 On the first day you shall hold a holy assembly, and on the seventh day a holy assembly. No work shall be done on those days. But what everyone needs to eat, that alone may be prepared by you. 17 And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as a statute forever. 18 In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. 19 For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses. If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land. 20 You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwelling places you shall eat unleavened bread.” 21 Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. 23 For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. 24 You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. 25 And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. 26 And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped. 28 Then the people of Israel went and did so; as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.

 

C.S. Lewis once asked his readers to imagine with him a woman who has been lowered into a deep pit.  The woman is expecting a child.  She gives birth to the child in the pit, and the child grows without ever having seen the outside world.  In the pit is paper and a pile of pencils.  As the child grows, the mother tries her best to draw pictures of the outside world so that her child can have some sense of what life outside of the pit looks like.  However, her drawings are very basic:  stick figures, simple trees, puffy clouds, a circle for the sun, etc.  These images are all the child knows of the world.

A decade goes by and finally the lady and her son are released.  They are raised, blinking, into the midday sun.  As their eyes adjust, the child sees around him real trees, real grass, real people, real birds, and a real sun.  Confused, the child looks up to his mother and asks, “Mommy, where are the lines?”

It is a fascinating little story that communicates a compelling truth:  human beings oftentimes have to learn profound truths in piecemeal and elementary fashions.  This is usually done through pictures and images.  If you think about it, we all spend a good bit of time drawing simple lines on paper for our children, preparing them for the raw truth to come.  We know that their minds and hearts must be prepared first.

So it is with God and us:  to prepare the world for Jesus, God first drew images, sometimes simple, sometimes complex, oftentimes startling, and always preparatory.  Here on the threshold of the Exodus, the Lord does precisely this with Israel, drawing images for them.  These images were codified in sacred religious observances, primarily in the observance of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  He did this to prepare them for the Exodus, but more so to prepare them and the generations to come for Christ Himself.

Let us consider the establishment in the life of Israel of these preparatory and heart-preparing images.

I. Passover: Sacrifice, Judgment, Salvation, and the Proto-Evangelium (v.1-13, 21-28)

Our text has three sections, the first and last dealing with Passover and the middle with the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  Consider, first, Passover.

1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you.

The Passover marks the beginning of a new era for Israel.  G. Henton Davies writes, “12.2 marks ‘this month,’ i.e. the month of the Passover…our March-April, the beginning of the year.[1]”  The great Baptist educator and exegete, B.H. Carroll, explained it like this:

In chapter 13 it says, “This day you go forth in the month of Abib,” and in other passages it is called the month of Nisan.  The two names correspond.  The time of the year was in the spring, when the firstfruits of the harvest were gathered.  This month now becomes an era.  In 12:2, it is said, “This month shall be the beginning of months unto you; it shall be the first month of the year to you.”  That means the ecclesiastical year.  They had a civil year, which commenced in the fall, but their ecclesiastical year commenced with that Passover…The time was then spring, Abib or Nisan, answering to our March or April, the lamb selected on the tenth day, to be slain on the fourteenth, at the going down of the sun.[2]

Carroll’s distinction between Israel’s civil year and ecclesiastical year is helpful.  “This month now becomes an era.”  Indeed.  It is intriguing to note that the truly great, epochal moments in salvation history tend to redefine time itself.  I am thinking of Passover, the birth of Christ, and the advent of the Lord’s Day at the Resurrection.  The Passover marks the deliverance of God’s people from bondage in Egypt.  That is, the Passover marks the survival of God’s people, the people through whom Christ Jesus would, in time, come.

The birth of Christ, likewise, changed time.  We now operate on a calendar that hinges on the startling events of Christmas.  Jesus split time itself into B.C. and A.D.  Even modern attempts to circumvent the Christological division of the Western calendar by using B.C.E. and C.E. still cannot change the fundamental division of human history into two facets:  time before the birth of Christ and time after.

And, of course, every Sunday we acknowledge another great shift in the way we see time.  The Christian shift from the Sabbath to the Lord’s Day, Sunday, is a direct result of the high water mark of salvation history:  the resurrection of Jesus.  We gather on Sunday’s because Christ rose on a Sunday.  We are here, now, today, because He came forth on this day.  Every Sunday, then, is Easter.  Every Sunday is resurrection day!

The Passover altered the way the Jews viewed time.  It was the beginning of their ecclesiastical year.  Even here, it was preparing them for even greater things to come.

3 Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. 4 And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, 6 and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. 7 “Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts.

The preparation of the Passover lamb was critical.  It was to be an unblemished lamb, thoroughly roasted, with none of the blood consumed.  A.H. McNeile observes that the blood of the animal was not to be consumed because the blood was “regarded as the seat of the vital principle or the soul (nephesh), it was too sacred and mysterious to be used as human food; it must be offered to God before the flesh could be eaten.”  He then passed on three reasons why the meat had to be roasted and not boiled.

  • “to bring the flesh into contact with a foreign substance such as water, might be considered a defilement”
  • “it would be difficult to boil a whole lamb in any ordinary utensil, without cutting it into parts, or breaking its bones (cv. v.46)”
  • “it was prohibited, in the case of animals offered by fire, to eat the intestinal fat (xxix 13,22, Lev. iii. 3-5, iv. 8 ff., vii. 22-25; see RS2 379 f.); so in the present case the inwards are to be roasted, in order that the intestinal fat may drip down and be burnt in the fire.  The flesh is evidently to be roasted on a spit and not in an oven.”[3]

The purity of the lamb was critical, as we shall see.

10 And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.

These are startling and unsettling words, to be sure.  They are repeated by Moses to the elders, beginning in verse 21.

21 Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. 23 For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you.

I began this sermon with a story about a mother in a pit trying to communicate the reality of the world outside through simple lines on a page.  I made the point that God, like that mother, prepared Israel and the world for the eventual coming of Christ through ceremonies and rituals that communicated the truths of Christ in simple, preparatory, rudimentary forms.

That is what is happening here.  We simply cannot read of the blood on the doorposts without realizing, on this side of the cross, what God was doing.  He was even now beginning to draw their minds and hearts toward certain images and concepts:  judgment, wrath, blood, blood covering, protection for those covered by the blood, etc.  Here is the gospel in signs and images and symbols.  Here is Christ writ in primal and basic ways.  Here, in the institution of the Passover, God is sowing seeds in the minds and hearts of His people.  They are seeds that He will confirm time and again through the tabernacle, then through Temple worship.  And all of these were leading and pointing to Jesus.

They needed the lines before they could see the reality.  That is why the Lord tells His people to use the Passover as a tool for teaching the generations to come the great truths inherent in this act.

24 You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. 25 And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. 26 And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped. 28 Then the people of Israel went and did so; as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.

Do you see what is happening?  The Lord has established in the Passover a means for current obedience as well as for future transference of the faith.  This is why the symbols we have been given are so very important, and why the too-frequent abandonment of these symbols by modern Christians is a great tragedy.  One of the beautiful things that happens when, for instance, we share the Lord’s Supper, is that our children observe what we are doing and ask, “Mommy, Daddy, why did you eat that bread and drink that juice?”  Likewise, with baptism, “Mommy, Daddy, why did the preacher put that man under the water and then bring him back up again?”

What beautiful teaching moments the sacred symbols of our faith present!  Israel was being introduced to the great themes that would prepare them to understand Jesus.  Imagine:  year after year after year, the people of God would kill a lamb and prepare it for the Passover feast.  Year after year after year, they turned to this act of remembrance, celebrating the power of God and recalling the deliverance of Israel from Egypt.  Then one day, after so many years of practicing the symbols, a strange man stands in the Jordan River and points to an even stranger young man.  He points to Him and shouts to the stunned onlookers:  ““Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

The observance of Passover was preparing Israel for that moment!  As such, it is the preface to the gospel, explaining in shadows what would soon happen in the broad light of day.

II. Unleavened Bread:  Purity, Haste, and Deliverance (v.14-20)

In the middle of our text we find another observance established by the Lord for His people, the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

14 “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. 15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. 16 On the first day you shall hold a holy assembly, and on the seventh day a holy assembly. No work shall be done on those days. But what everyone needs to eat, that alone may be prepared by you. 17 And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as a statute forever. 18 In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. 19 For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses. If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land. 20 You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwelling places you shall eat unleavened bread.”

The Lord commands that His people eat unleavened bread for seven days, beginning at the conclusion of Passover.  Leaven is yeast, causing bread to rise and ferment.  Notably, it also causes bread to decay.  It is therefore significant that the Lord so stridently stresses the need for unleavened bread.  That is, it is significant that the Lord wants His people to remember their deliverance from bondage through the consumption of bread lacking decaying elements.

He is asking them for purity:  a pure remembrance symbolizing a pure people.  Because of this, leaven came to be a kind of bad word among the Jews, a word referring to godlessness and decay.  Thus, in Matthew 16:6, Jesus tells His disciples, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”  By “leaven” He meant their false and dangerous teachings (16:12).

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul exhorted the Corinthians believers to bring discipline against a member of the church who is living a scandalous, open lifestyle of sin.  Furthermore, he scolded the church for their arrogant acceptance of this man’s lifestyle.  This is what he says to that congregation:

6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Paul is repeating to the church what God said to Israel:  “Cleanse out the old leaven.”  For Israel in the Exodus, this meant literally removing all leaven from their houses in preparation for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, but the intent had less to do with what kind of bread they were eating than with what kind of people God wanted them to be.  The intent was the symbolic affirmation of purity that was to give way to an actualized purity.

In the body of Christ, the challenge of unleavened bread is a personal one.  Yes, to be sure, there are times when it is corporate, as in 1 Corinthians 5.  There are tragically times when the body of Christ must remove harmful leaven.  I hasten to add that this does not mean the church is devoid of sinners.  We are all sinners.  But the church must respond to flagrant sin, to embraced leaven, that threatens the very identity of the followers of Jesus.

Personally, though, the challenge to be unleavened is a daily challenge, a moment-by-moment challenge.  Every day, every moment, I must ask myself whether or not there is leaven in my life.  I must daily ask the Lord to search my heart, to hold a candle up to the dark corners of my heart, making evident any agents of decay that threaten my relationship with Jesus.  That is what we must all daily do.

Brothers, sisters, I ask you:  is there leaven in your life of which you need to be rid?  Is there anything hindering you on this journey toward glory?

Fasten your belts.  Grab your walking sticks.  Make sure you are covered by the blood of the Lamb.  Reject the world’s leaven.  And let us follow our King.

 



[1] G. Henton Davies, Exodus. Torch Bible Commentaries (London: SCM Press LTD, 1973), p.109.

[2] B.H. Carroll, “Exodus, Leviticus.”  Genesis to Ruth. An Interpretation of the English Bible. Ed., J.B. Cranfill (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1948), p.70-71.

[3] A.H. McNeile, The Book of Exodus. (3rd Ed.) Westminster Commentaries (London: Methuen & Co., LTD., 1931), p.70, n.9.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *