Stories and experiences shape our lives. Think about your own life. Have you had any experiences that you will never forget? What events in the past continue to have ongoing consequences? Perhaps these events include moving to a new location, proposing to your wife, beginning your first day of college, or having your first child. As we continue our journey through Exodus, we find a story that was life changing for the people of Israel: the Passover. In the story of the Passover we see God’s redemptive power, mercy, and justice displayed and His promises kept. In the institution of the Passover celebration (or Festival of Unleavened Bread), we see the need to remember God’s saving power from generation to generation (Exod 13:3).
Earlier we read God’s word to Moses: “Then you will say to Pharaoh: This is what Yahweh says: Israel is My firstborn son. I told you: Let My son go so that he may worship Me, but you refused to let him go. Now I will kill your firstborn son!” (4:22-23). Here we see that God kept His word. By means of the tenth plague, God turned turn evil on its head. Pharaoh had enacted an unrighteous judgment on the Hebrew boys by throwing them in the Nile, now God enacted a righteous judgment on Egypt’s sons. Pharaoh’s judgment came back on his head. In addition, by striking down the “gods” of Egypt, in particular Pharaoh’s son, God72 told Pharaoh that he is not God and neither is his son. There is only one true God! This blow hurt Egypt not only personally through the loss of the son of succession but also theologically as God’s power over their gods was displayed.
We should remember the severity and mercy of God. We are all like Pharaoh. We all deserve this kind of judgment. Some think they will never be judged. They think that they can spend their life as a little Pharaoh, piling up pyramids full of stuff, chasing fame, and refusing to bow down to the true God. Sadly, they will end up much like Pharaoh unless they look to God alone for mercy. Are you turning to the Substitute, Jesus Christ, that you might receive His mercy?
There were great cries in Egypt, since “there wasn’t a house without someone dead” (12:30). Pharaoh then relented and released Israel. Notice the pathetic nature of this cataclysmic reversal. As Pharaoh was humiliated, he was now begging another to bless him (v. 32)!
This great reversal led to great liberation: Israel was freed from slavery. The promises of Genesis 3:15 were secured. And in the midst of what seems like a harsh judgment, we should remember John 3:16: God loved the world by protecting His coming Son, the seed of the woman, so that everyone who would believe in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.
John Newton spent much of his life on ships. He was involved in slave trade and was caught up in numerous sins. God spared Newton’s life a number of times at sea, yet Newton did not recognize the providence of God. Shortly before he was born again, Newton and his crew were delivered from a storm that would have swallowed their ship had they not reached land. As God had been working in his life, Newton began to see God’s providence and deliverance time and time again through the years. He saw the coming of deliverance (Newton, 73-80).
The Israelites, likewise, would see the coming of God’s deliverance. Here the exodus event was taking place. The Lord told the Israelites to be ready, and they were. The time finally came for them to leave Egypt. As the Israelites left the land, they pillaged the Egyptians as God commanded, receiving their gold and silver (v. 35). This was a sign of God’s faithfulness to keep His word. Through Israel’s many 73hardships and struggles, God had remained faithful. Deliverance had arrived, and He had provided for His people. This points us to the greater exodus we have in the gospel. We have a King who vacated a grave and gave gifts to men (Eph 4:7-10). He gives us the spoils of His ultimate victory.
There are three promises in particular that are fulfilled in Israel’s getting out of Egypt. First, we see the fulfillment of Genesis 15:14. God promised that the people would be rich upon leaving the land. This promise was fulfilled, and that only by God’s grace, for He gave them favor in sight of Egyptians.
Second, the promise that they would be a great, multiplying nation had been fulfilled (Gen 12:2). They were no longer the original family of 70 sojourners who had first arrived in Egypt. Instead, there were six hundred thousand men, not including women and children (Exod 12:37). I think of the enormous amount of people who cram into Times Square on New Year’s Eve to celebrate the New Year. As I see these people on television, it seems as if hardly anyone can move. Imagine this massive amount of people fleeing Egypt. What an immense migration!
Third, the nations were being blessed through the seed of Abraham (Gen 12:2). In Exod 12:38 the text says, “An ethnically diverse crowd also went up with them.” This means that many who were not descendants from Abraham or Israel joined the Israelites as they left Egypt (Stuart, Exodus, 303). They saw the signs and believed! Stuart says, “In this regard they were predecessors to Ruth who declared to Naomi, ‘Your people will be my people and your God my God’ (Ruth 1:16)” (ibid.). In Exodus we see the beginning of the fulfillment of this promise that the nations would be blessed through the seed of Abraham. Ultimately, this was fulfilled through the coming of Christ (Gal 3:16). By faith in Christ the nations are made “sons of Abraham” (Gal 3:7-9). As Christians we must share in this passion to see the nations worship the true God, making disciples of all nations (Matt 28:16-20).
Israel was in Egypt 430 years, but God delivered them. Our God keeps His promises. Believe God’s promises. Do not resort to being a practical atheist. Instead, be strengthened by the word of the Lord.
As Israel departed, God provided additional future instructions for Passover observance (Exod 12:43-51). This is likely made necessary because the large number of people leaving Egypt included those Egyptians who had believed in the God of Moses. God said that they were not to break the lamb’s bones (v. 46). This was probably one of74 the texts John has in mind as being fulfilled in the death of Jesus on Passover (John 19:36; cf. Ps 34:20).
Also, He specified that the Passover meal was only for the covenant community. The main emphasis in these verses (vv. 43-51) was circumcision. This act was the sign that one belonged to the community of faith, and it qualified one to participate in the Passover meal. “Outsiders” or “foreigners” were not allowed to eat the meal, not because of their ethnic status or social status but because of faith and practice status. Concerning ethnicity, already noted is the fact that many non-Israelites came out of Egypt with Israel and became part of the covenant community by faith. Concerning social status, the text says that “slaves” could also participate in the meal (v. 44). Everyone was welcome to the table as long as they were circumcised—trusting and worshiping only the living God.
We all have at times set things aside—whether it be money or time or a number of other things—for some greater purpose. In chapter 13 God called for the Israelites to set aside their firstborns to Himself (vv. 1-2, 11-16). This act was connected to the tenth plague and the fact that God had distinguished Israel as His firstborn. The firstborn represented the whole family. By dedicating the firstborn to God, they were saying, “our family belongs to you, Lord.”
Notice that God commanded the Israelites to “redeem” their firstborn sons (not sacrifice them; 13b). This required a payment, and if it was the same offering made for donkeys, it would have been a lamb (v. 13a). Again, the image of salvation by substitution is made clear.
We see an example of the consecration of the firstborn with Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to Jerusalem (Luke 2:22-24). Luke quotes Exodus 13:1. Of course Jesus did not need to be “redeemed” (v. 13), but it was necessary for Him to fulfill all righteousness. Mary and Joseph offered up “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” perhaps because they were too poor to afford a lamb. (They were actually holding the Lamb!) Further, Jesus, the ultimate firstborn (Rom 8:29; Col 1:15; Heb 12:23), consecrated His whole life to serving the Father. (Jesus as “the firstborn” does not mean that Jesus was not eternal, but it speaks of 75His supremacy.) Ryken says, “How proper it was, then, for his earthly parents to give him over to his heavenly Father at the time of his birth” (Exodus, 373). Amazingly, in order to redeem us, God offered up His own firstborn Son (Rom 8:32). Now we no longer belong to ourselves but to God (1 Pet 1:18-19; 1 Cor 6:19-20).
In Exodus 13:3-10 we see a reiteration and expansion of the regulations for the Festival of Unleavened Bread. It was to be observed in detail and then taught to the children. Notice the phrase “for the Lord brought you out of Egypt with a strong hand” (13:9). It was used already in verse 3 and is repeated in verses 14 and 16. This phrase frames this whole section; it provides a picture of God’s mighty salvation. The meal caused them to remember that God delivered them from bondage by His mighty hand.
Food has a natural way of bringing back memories. When my wife and I were in Ukraine for 40 days adopting children, we did not have a lot of access to various restaurants. But we did have a McDonalds, so we ate there a lot. Now every time I smell McDonalds or walk into a McDonalds, I think about our adoption journey. In a similar but more dramatic and important way, the Passover and Festival of Unleavened Bread brought back essential memories of God’s strong hand of salvation.
We are called to remember Christ’s work on our behalf through the Lord’s Supper. This meal signifies our great deliverance. In it, we taste and see Jesus’ work on our behalf. Just as Israel looked back to the Passover, we look back to God’s work on the cross for us and ahead to our glorious future with our King.
In verse 8 God again gives us a model for parenting (cf. vv. 14-16; 12:26-27). Here the child was being told of the great deliverance that God had provided. This is also something we should implement. Children ask all kinds of questions, especially “Why?” Some questions are very silly, but others are quite serious. When they ask you about the Lord’s Supper or other questions regarding salvation, are you ready to answer? This is a great time to share the gospel with your own child. We were slaves, but God rescued us. We deserved the death angel, but God passed over us. Then tell them of the marriage supper in the future (Rev 19). One day we will sit down at a banquet table with our King! Tell them it is “by the strong hand of God” that the captives are free. As parents, we have a holy responsibility of catechizing our kids, pointing them to Jesus.
How can we conclude this amazing section of Exodus? Let us remember that true freedom comes in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). He is the lamb who provides us with total perfection and protection from God’s judgment (1 John 2:2; 3:10). He was the spotless, unblemished lamb, chosen before the foundation of the world (1 Pet 1:19-20). He was the lamb whose bones were not broken (John 19:33-36); the ultimate lamb, crucified during Passover (Matt 26:26-32). This lamb will apply His blood to our account (2 Cor 5:21). Will you recognize this today?
If you are wondering, “How can a sinner come into the presence of a holy God?” Look to the Lamb! Russell Moore says,
We can come into the presence of a holy God through an unblemished substitute. Salvation only comes through this Jesus who lived the life you could not live and died the death you should have died. In a famous sermon, R. G. Lee put it like this:
Praise God we have a substitute: Christ Jesus, our Passover Lamb! If you have come to Him by faith, you can sing the song of the redeemed: