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Chapter 12:10-51

Exodus: Freedom from Bondage  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  56:46
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The significance of OT sacrifices, blood as an interdimensional buffer, who actually killed the firstborn, and getting out of Egypt



[Note from last week regarding why the Passover lamb was kept for 4 days: There’s debate even in Jewish tradition of why the 4 days exactly. Our best guess seems to be that it was to give time to inspect everything and get it ready, make sure the lamb didn’t have any blemishes. That’s certainly the reasoning that became primary over time. When I checked a Jewish translation into English, verse 6 said, “And you shall keep it for inspection until the fourteenth day of this month.” The Hebrew word our versions translate as “keep” can have a nuance of keeping something for inspection. But all that still doesn’t explain why 4 days instead of any other number. I suggested the 4 days could have been to give Egypt time to hear the message that they needed to participate in this Jewish ritual.]

I’ve found that many Christians have a jumbled, unbiblical idea of what the sacrifices in the Tanakh were. There are a lot of sacrifices, and that entire practice is very different from anything we’re used to, so it can be very confusing.

The Tanakh has 5 main sacrifices—burnt, grain, peace, sin, and trespass. Most of them had nothing to do with sin or atonement or getting right with God. The first three (60%, over half of the sacrifices described) were not related to sin at all. They were thanksgiving, free-will offerings, sacrifices made to Yahweh just because you’re thankful for something He did for you. And even the ones related to sin could be substituted with flour if the family was too poor for an animal. So much for our idea that these sacrifices required blood! Blood, atonement, and substitution were all legitimate aspects of the sacrificial system, but they were not the entirety of the system. We tend to see them as the main thing, when really they were just a fraction of what the sacrifices were about.

Indeed, this is the first time in Scripture where God has required a sacrifice in order for someone to live. Up until now, only 2 sacrifices have been commanded by God and none have had a specified penalty if not performed.

In the Garden, God clothed Adam and Eve in some sort of skin, but we’re never actually told He killed an animal, much less a lamb. (The animal part is implied; the lamb assumption is a stretch, in my opinion.) In Genesis 4, Cain and Abel offer a sacrifice, but there is no indication that it was for sin. If anything, it matches the thanksgiving “just-because” offerings from Leviticus. That creates a fascinating dilemma because vegetables were acceptable thanksgiving offerings, so that removes our standard belief for why Cain’s offering was rejected. In Gen 8, Noah sacrifices animals in thanksgiving for surviving the Flood. In Gen 15, God told Abraham to make a sacrifice, but that was in order to establish a covenant. In Gen 22, God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. At the end of Gen 31, Jacob sacrifices in order to form a covenant with Laban. He makes a sacrifice in Gens 35 as well after his fight with the angel. That also seems to be covenant-related. In Gen 46, Jacob makes a thanksgiving sacrifice.

The lamb was a stand-in for the firstborn who was a stand-in for the entire house. God was saying that the abuse of Egypt had gotten so great that He needed to pull a Flood moment where He wiped out all living creatures in the land. He was going on a divine purge and hitting ctl-alt-del on Egypt. Whereas Pharaoh did not give an alternative option to being enslaved and abused, Yahweh offered a way out, much like with the ark in the Flood. The way out was to kill the future leader of the family, to cut off the family at the knees. But that hardly seems like a good option, so He also gave the option of killing an innocent animal in place of the first born and smearing the fresh blood over the entrance of your house. It was meant to be a graphic portrayal of the violence the Egyptians had enacted on the Israelites. The Israelites did it as a reminder of what they had been through and the freedom that was to come.

That being said, you do have to ask the question, why did God have to do this in the first place? It feels like He’s playing by rules, trying to game a system. But if we believe He’s the ultimate God, we’d say He makes the rules. Why not change the rules to kill just Pharaoh’s firstborn or the firstborn of all the people who actively abused Israel or how about just the people who actually did the abusing instead of including innocents in there? Why include Israel in it at all when this whole operation was to free them? We can come up with nice theological answers that check all the boxes and sound good on paper, but at the end of the day, you still have to wrestle with why God chose to do it this way. And that’s ok. Sometimes we need to sit in the dissonance of uncomfortable passages.

It seems like Yahweh was about to visit Egypt in person. He wasn’t going to judge from heaven. He was actually going to walk through the streets of Egypt for a personal inspection. The pattern we see is that when God’s Spirit presence enters a place that isn’t prepared for the appearance of a divine being, people die. Blood seems to be some sort of buffer substance that can exist in both the physical and spiritual realms. It’s a gateway portal that can make a physical place fit for a divine presence. It’s not that God wanted to kill all the Egyptians. It’s that their abuse had gotten so bad, He had to step in. But if He appeared there, everyone would immediately die. Blood was a way of protecting the house, making it a safe place for the divine presence to be near.

12:10- I could be wrong here, but I see some symbolism in leaving their old life completely behind. Symbols are powerful, and this burning of the remains of a such a significant meal would have likely reminded them that they had nothing to go back to in Egypt. It’s kind of like the phrase “burn the ships,” it’s a reminder that there’s nothing left for you in your past. Focus on the present and future. But if that was the goal, it wasn’t very successful since a little further along in the story, the Jews are going to say that they should just return to Egypt.

12:11- These odd instructions are all ways of saying the Israelites had to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. They were eating a fast food meal on the go.

12:12- This death affected both humans and animals. That really gets you scratching your head a bit because animals can’t sin. They’re innocents. Ancient Near Easterners had a mindset that evil can be so great in a location that the whole thing needs to be nuked and start over. Our concept of a haunted house is sort of a scaled down version of this idea.

Mention of the gods is a reminder that this was something majorly supernatural going on here. It does not mean that each sign was an attack on a single god. Rather, it implies a general attack on the pantheon as a whole.

12:13- Some see a connection to warding off evil spirits with blood on the doors. The destroyer is considered to be that kind of spirit. Remember this for a little bit later.

12:14- Note that this is going to become a feast. We don’t exactly consider the Passover a feast, but a whole lamb for a family—that’s a good deal of food.

12:15- “This punishment (the Hebrew term is karet) will be invoked for a whole series of infractions as the Mosaic law is promulgated. Perhaps the most likely reference is to some form of ostracism, though both medieval and modern commentators have speculated about whether premature death or childlessness might be suggested by the phrase.” -Robert Alter, Translation and Commentary [I tend to think the standard idea of ostracism from the community makes the most sense.]

12:16- Convocation means meeting. It’s significant that when Yahweh declares a holy day, He usually forbids work. We need scheduled times to do nothing.

12:17- Note that the holiday is called both Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. They’re the same day.

Again, God uses the language of an army to describe this group of slaves.

12:22- We’re not exactly sure what hyssop would have been, but it was some kind of herbaceous plant.

That word “strike” is the same word used when Zipporah struck Moses with the foreskin of his son in Exodus 4:25. The author likely chose that word in Exodus 4 as foreshadowing of this event.

12:23- “The language here is mysterious and seems to suggest that there is some kind of death force that is what actually strikes the firstborns during the tenth plague, and Yahweh’s relationship to the death force is whether he will stand in its way or not to protect the house in question. Notably, the word for the destroyer used here in Exodus 12 is the same word used to describe the flood waters in Genesis 6-9: mashkhit. There are numerous words repeated throughout Exodus 1 that link the story to the flood narrative and picture Passover as a flood itself––the cosmic handing over of Egypt to the death forces they themselves had been perpetrating in the world. Because all firstborns were destined for death in the tenth plague, the blood of the Passover lamb symbolically stood in for the firstborn of each house, with Yahweh himself as their protector. Redemption, in this case, means people destined for and enslaved to death were purchased and set free into the realm of life. From this point forward, every generation owes the lives of the firstborns to this first generation. Passover is a meal in which this story continues to be retold, but the redemption of every firstborn of every family throughout Israel’s history is another way of continually acknowledging that Israel owes their lives to the sparing of the firstborns at Passover. Eventually, the Levites take on the firstborn role within all of Israel as people who represent Israel and God to each other, while entirely relying on God’s generosity for their provision.

The firstborn is not redeemed from God, but from death. There is great complexity here because the reason Israel is enslaved to death in Egypt is because God has handed Israel over to the death forces, like he handed all of creation over to the flood. Just like in the flood, Yahweh simultaneously provides an ark of sorts, a way of being rescued from death. It’s no coincidence that Jesus timed his crucifixion to coincide with Passover. The New Testament writers talk about atonement this way––not that followers of Jesus are redeemed or rescued from God, but actually that God rescues us from death.” -The Bible Project

[Note the first and last sentences of that paragraph again.]

In this passage, the Destroyer is not called an angel, but he shows up at least one other time, and there he is given that description:

“And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand. And the angel of the Lord was by the threshingplace of Araunah the Jebusite.” -2 Samuel 24:16

Because of similar language, many scholars believe the Angel of the Lord is the same being as the Destroyer.

“And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.” -2 Kings 19:35

Remember though that many Christians believe the Angel of the Lord was a preincarnate form for Jesus. That would mean He was also the Destroyer of Exodus 12 and 2 Samuel 24. While this position is possible, I do not hold to it. I tend to see the Angel of the Lord more in terms of how Michael Heiser presents him in Unseen Realm and other works.

More importantly, we have to address the dual portrayal of Yahweh as the one who strikes and the one who stands in the way of the attack.

Several psalms (105, 135, and 136) all describe Yahweh as the active agent in the signs against Egypt. But then Psalm 78 says “evil angels” did the dirty work of the 10 signs (not just the 10th). “Evil” in Hebrew doesn’t have to mean morally bad. It just means generically bad. They weren’t necessarily fallen angels. They were angels bringing harm to Egypt.

“He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, Wrath, and indignation, and trouble, By sending evil angels among them. He made a way to his anger; He spared not their soul from death, But gave their life over to the pestilence; And smote all the firstborn in Egypt; The chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham.” - Psalm 78:49–51

“The verb used in Exodus 12 to describe the ritual… The noun is pesach (Passover). The verb is pasach. That is not the normative word for the act of passing over something, or passing by. That’s a different verb. It’s avar. [Jeffrey H. Tigay, a prominent Jewish Bible scholar] says a little something about this, as well, that I think is worth citing. On his note on the Passover sacrifice, he writes: …or [you could translate this] ‘protective sacrifice. . . .’

So this is where we get ‘pass over’ language—from the Latin Vulgate, which was fifth century AD. And the early church, this is the time of the early church after the church becomes legal in the Roman empire… This language in this passage just became institutionalized: ‘pass over.’ So Tigay is saying, “We kind of miss something by that language, which comes from the Vulgate.

However, the Hebrew verb does not mean ‘pass over.’ Most of the ancient translations [MH: older than the Vulgate—those translations, like Syriac, Septuagint, etc.] and commentaries render the verb as ‘(the Lord) spared,’ ‘had compassion,’ or ‘protected,’ and the name of the sacrifice as ‘protective sacrifice,’ referring to the protection of Israel during the final plague. This rendering is supported by the way the verb is used in Isaiah 31:5.

Let me just read that to you: ‘Like birds hovering, so the LORD of hosts will protect Jerusalem; he will protect and deliver it; he will spare and rescue it.’

The language of protection there (the second one, ‘He will protect and deliver it,’)… We get this sense of clear protection. ‘He will spare and rescue it.’ So you have two verbs for protect, and then you have ‘spare’ (that’s pesach) and then ‘rescue’ is another verb for deliver or rescue (specifically that one is malat), and the earlier two references are nagon. So you have four verbs there. Three of them are very clearly about protection and rescuing, and then you have pasach right in the middle of that. And Isaiah 31 translates it ‘spare.’ ‘He will spare Jerusalem and rescue it.’

So I think Tigay’s observation is really important here. We get this language from the Latin Vulgate—this ‘pass over.’ And it’s not like it’s terrible, but it’s a bit misleading because we are led to miss the protective element.” -Michael Heiser, Naked Bible Podcast

“If you recall from earlier episodes, when a pharaoh was dying or dead, it was a very serious thing. The succession had to be orderly and according to plan, according to Maat—according to the will of the Egyptian gods—so that the balance of creation (the heavens and the earth, all of that) would be maintained and things would go on as usual. You would prevent the eruption of chaos in the land. Well, that’s pretty much trashed in the final plague, because the God of Israel steps in and says, “We’ll show you who has power over the cosmic balance—the control of heaven and earth here, the life cycles. We’ll show you who has control over order and chaos, right here.” He takes away the succession. The firstborn dies. This would be the son who was supposed to inherit the throne. The gods had set this up. They instituted pharaoh as the incarnation of Horus (the son of Re) to maintain divinely ordered Maat. The plan was supposed to be unending, transitioning from one pharaoh to the next through his firstborn son. So this amounts to a supernatural assault on Pharaoh’s firstborn and a supernatural assault on the whole concept of Maat—Pharaoh as the one who maintains order, who acquiesces to the gods, who through ritual keeps his commitment to the gods and they will keep their commitment to Maat as well. This symbiotic thing is supposed to go on and on. No bumps in the road. This is a huge bump in the road. It upends the whole idea. All of this cosmic order and cosmic balance is not in the control of Pharaoh and his magicians and the gods. This power is located really firmly in the hand of something else (someone else) and that is the God of the Hebrews. And basically, the Egyptians are at his mercy. And Pharaoh wants closure. He wants Moses and Aaron to bless him as he lets the people go because he knows he has no control over this situation. He’s done. He’s a broken man. He’s a broken deity. And so are the rest of his gods, because they can’t intervene either. There’s no ambiguity left in this picture. So he wants to know, ‘Once I let these people go, things will return to normal. The God of the Hebrews has been appeased and we’re done with all of this.’ So it’s another assault on Egyptian religion.” -Michael Heiser, Naked Bible Podcast

12:29- Observe that this is said to have happened at midnight. Each day of creation was “evening and morning.” Creation began at night; the de-creation of Egypt ends at night.

Refer back to week 1 for Egyptian mythologies about a night of the slaying of the firstborn from before the time of the Exodus.

12:30- This is trauma on a national scale.

12:31- This is Pharoah’s final concession. He is completely broken and likely speaking in a state of shock. He’s literally bargaining with God to get back to a state of order.

12:32- In his first encounter with Moses, Pharaoh wasn’t even willing to acknowledge the existence of Yahweh. Now he begs for His favor.

12:33- “The literal meaning of the verb is ‘was strong.’ This same verb, azaq, was repeatedly used for the ‘toughening’ of Pharaoh’s heart, and the redeployment here in a different context, with a different grammatical object, is a virtually ironic echo.” -Robert Alter, Translation and Commentary

“Coupled with the wrenching grief over the death of the firstborn is a note of panic: “the disasters are becoming more and more intolerable, and after the loss of our sons, the next thing that will happen is that we shall all be killed.”” -Robert Alter, Translation and Commentary

12:34- “The cloaks were not included in the preceding instructions about this event. The mention here is evidently triggered by the report of the cloaks in which the kneading pans were wrapped, as an explanation of where the Hebrews got them. Perhaps it is assumed that as a matter of course abject slaves would possess no more than simple work-tunics, and not the cloaks they would need for a journey. (In Egyptian paintings slaves are often depicted wearing only a short skirt and naked from the waist up.).” -Robert Alter, Translation and Commentary

12:36- This is not stuff that was “as they required.” It’s whatever they demanded. The Israelites were straight up looting while the families were too in shock to do anything about it.

12:37- This is not the normal word for men. Rather it is a word for mighty men, soldiers. The total number of people who left Egypt at this point was likely much larger. Estimates generally range from 2-5 million.

12:38- “Umberto Cassuto plausibly suggests that the Hebrew ‘erev rav has no component that means ‘multitude’ (King James Version, ‘mixed multitude’) but rather that the last syllable is not an independent word but a duplication of the ultimate syllable of the main word—thus, ‘erevrav—which is a Hebrew formation for pejoratives. (The English ‘riffraff’ comes close.) . . . [Literally] very heavy livestock. ‘Heavy’ is a word that shuttles back and forth through the themes of the story, from Pharaoh’s heavy/hard heart to the sundry heavy plagues to the heaviness of the Israelite possessions.” -Robert Alter, Translation and Commentary

Notice how Israel is already fulfilling the promise to Abraham of bringing all nations to Yahweh.

12:40- The exact duration of Israel’s time in Egypt is quite the debate. While this verse says it was 430 years, other passages suggest 400. And the genealogies often add up to less than half that period. Many Jewish scholars have explained the discrepancy by saying the 430 years included the lives of the patriarchs since they were still wandering in a land that was not their own at that point.

SUGGESTED RESOURCE: Michael Heiser, What were the Sacrifices REALLY About?

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