Exodus 12.1-14 – Desert Stories of Moses: The Passover out of Egypt
Last week Moses had encountered his first signs of power. God had appeared to him in a burning bush, turned a shepherds crook into a snake, and transformed his healthy hand into a diseased mess just by hiding it in his cloak. Between the burning bush and today’s story of the Passover many signs and wonders came about to persuade Pharaoh to release the Hebrews from the tyranny of slavery.
At the burning bush Moses expresses five different excuses to move him out of leadership. And, even as Moses joins with his brother Aaron, Moses continues to expresses his confidence in himself. Three times Moses reminds God that he is an inadequate speaker (Exodus 4.10, 6.12, 6.30), but God press Moses to be the leader he is called to become. Moses is sent from the Mt. of God to encounter the King of Egypt. Historically archeology suggests that Moses most likely confronted Rameses II, the Egyptian Pharaoh who built great statutes and buildings across the land of the Delta Nile (Richter, Epic of Eden, 173).
First, Moses approaches Pharaoh with the basic request that God’s people be allowed to worship God in freedom in the desert for three days. This initial request to leave Egypt to worship God in the desert was supported with Aaron and Moses performing signs on God’s behalf.
Instead of covering the earth with a flood to destroy the sinners, God has chosen to get the people’s attention by a different method: plagues. When Moses and Aaron first proposed a three-day journey for a sacrificial feast, Pharaoh lashed back with his famous bricks-without-straw speech. The Hebrew people were the brick makers for the great architecture structures in Egypt. Bricks were made from mud and straw and without straw the bricks would not stay together. So the Hebrew people were required to glean their own straw instead of having it provided for them.
As a result of this increased labor, the Hebrew people turn on their God-given leaders accusing them of making their slavery worse. The Hebrew people were complainers, and the consistently complained down through recorded history. And, here at the greatest event in the Judeo-Christian heritage, the Hebrew people are cynical. Their hardships in Egypt had made them bitter toward God.
The first sign was the shepherd’s rod that turned into a snake, and back again. The Egyptian religious experts did the same, but God’s snake ate Pharaoh’s snake. At the strike of the shepherd’s rod the waters across the whole land of Egypt were turned to blood, and there was no fresh water for a week in the land. The Egyptian religious experts did the same with their secret knowledge. Frogs crawled across the land, and entered every inhabitable space from every marshland and canal to the King’s Palace. The Egyptian religious experts were able to perform the same. By now a mighty stench rose across the land of Egypt. Yet Pharaoh’s heart remained stubborn.
It is here that God began to perform wonders through Aaron and Moses on behalf of God. From the striking of the shepherd’s rod lice came up from the earth and appeared on people and animals. After the Egyptians witnessed the plague of lice, they believed that the Hebrew God was God. Swarms of insects filled the airways. Yet, with this plague of insects did not approach the Hebrews; they were spared the agony of the invasion. The land of Goshen was set apart. A deadly disease destroyed the Egyptian livestock of horses, donkeys, camels, cattle, and flocks but the Hebrew livestock lived. And, still Pharaoh’s heart remained stubborn. Handfuls of ashes turned to soot across the land causing sores and blisters on the people and the animals. Even the religious experts had skin sores. God made himself very plain to Pharaoh that his purpose was to let the officials know that there is no one like God in the whole world.
God warns Pharaoh that a God could have wiped out Egypt from the face of the earth, but God has a plan for Egypt. God warns Pharaoh of the next plague of hail and thunder to give Egypt the opportunity to respond before the event. God shows mercy to the Egyptian people, and some begin to believe in the God of the Hebrews. God intends to make his name renown in the whole world through Egypt.
Egypt had been chosen to save the region from famine through the Hebrew Joseph, and now Egypt has been chosen to suffer because of their abuse of power against the Hebrew people, Joseph’s family. Some of Pharaoh’s officials took God’s word seriously, and provided shelter for their servants and livestock. After the crisis of the hailstorm Pharaoh cried out that he had sinned, and asked Moses to pray for him. Even though Pharaoh pleaded with Moses for mercy, it was only half-hearted. Moses calls him out and declares that Pharaoh and his officials still didn’t take God seriously.
Pharaoh continued to live in disbelief and challenge God by abusing his power with the Hebrew people through forced labor and slavery. So God sent another plague: a plague of locust. The locust destroyed every thing that was left standing in the fields. And God tells Moses that these signs and wonders will be for the sake of your children and the generations to come. Moses asks Pharaoh how long will you refuse to show respect. God has not asked Pharaoh to worship him, but God has asked him to allow his people the freedom to worship him. After the plague of locust, Pharaoh believes he can outwit God. Pharaoh offers to let the men go a short distance away to worship their God, but not with the children. Pharaoh surely feared that once the Hebrews got beyond the boundaries of slavery, there would be no turning them back to Egyptian bondage.
Once the locust had destroyed the last of anything green in Egypt, Pharaoh declares that he has sinned against the Hebrew God and against Moses. He asks for forgiveness, and prayer for himself. Throughout the signs and wonders, Pharaoh remained stubborn hearted. At times he would confess his sin, and request that Moses would pray for him.
If the total destruction of the land were not enough, God takes hold of the sky and turns it into darkness. For three days the whole land of Egypt suffered an intense darkness consuming the space-time continuum. Yet, the Hebrew people did not experience the darkness; they had light where they were. And, the final plague brought an outbreak of death across Egypt. God’s signs and wonders swept across the land, the seas, the air, the insects, the livestock, and humanity itself. The whole of creation experienced the birth pains of suffering and re-creation.
As the finger of God reaches down to take the life of every first-born animal, the stench of death swept across Egypt. But the story doesn’t stop with the death of animals, it continues with the death of every first-born Egyptian child across the entire land. This last plague is a judgment upon all the gods of Egypt.
Some 80 years from this moment in history the cry of baby boys filled the air as the Egyptians were killing Hebrew baby boys by throwing them in the Nile River possible as an ancient worship act to their river gods. And, we can hear the sound of one baby boy Moses being drawn from that river to lead the Hebrew people to find freedom in mind, emotions, spirits, and bodies to worship God alone.
Some 430 years of slavery comes to an end with a solemn worship feast. God passed through the land to judge its gods, and the people who followed them. Out of Egypt God calls his children from bondage through the act of a blood shed from a Passover Lamb. God required of the people detailed obedience. They were to take hyssop branches and dip them into the blood of the lamb and mark their doorposts to symbolize their allegiance to the One True God. The Hebrews were to observe this solemn worship feast for all time so that your children and the children yet to be born can know the mighty acts of God who delivers his people from bondage of abusive power and false religions. Together the Hebrew people gathered with their families in their own homes that were marked with blood from the lamb, and they ate roasted lamb, unleaven bread and bitter herbs. And, they were told to eat it in a hurry as God passed through the land. And, that night Pharaoh let them go.
Weaving through the story of the Exodus is the strong sense that God is with his people in the midst of their struggles. God fights for his people when they cry out to him from experiences of abusive power and corruption from false religions. God gives people choices to follow him, or not. When the Hebrew people finally leave Egypt, a diverse crowd find themselves mixed in with the Hebrews (Exodus 12.38). God provides opportunities for corrupt leaders to repent, yet allows their hearts to remain stubborn and hard. God requires the Hebrews to celebrate a feast of remembrance forever as God himself leads his people into the desert wilderness to worship him in spirit and truth.
For all of history our God has chosen to be identified by this singular event – the God who rescues slaves from their bondage and claims them as his own people. God came to free the people to worship in full-knowledge of who God is – Yahweh, the I AM God. The signs and wonders of the plagues that covered Egypt became the stepping-stones that moved the Hebrews to freedom from abusive political power and false religion. And, Egypt’s response was to wipe the memory of the Hebrew people from all their recorded history. Although no one questions such a Exodus in history, to this day no one has discovered any documentation that the Hebrews were in Egypt expect the Biblical account.
If you and I are to understand our faith heritage, it starts here in these early stories of Hebrew civilization. God reveals himself here for us to grasp his identity as covenant keeper and his character as a Savior. God has a plan that he presents to his people, and covenants with his people to be their God. God has a law that he puts in place, and makes known to those who follow him. God creates a calendar of celebrations for remembering. God establishes a place that must be set apart for his people to worship him. God invites people to follow and obey. God provides clear choices and consequences for our actions. God is out to win our hearts, our attitudes, our minds, our obedience, our trust, and our worship. God guides us through human leaders that he chooses. God provides the signs and wonders to support the freedom events that change lives.
Most of us do not understand freedom such as the Hebrew people experienced that night of their great Exodus. Freedom is a word, which everyone affirms but most people can describe as a tangible experience for themselves. We understand the principle of freedom, but make little effort to implement freedom in our own daily lives.
Today we share the Lord’s Supper. It doesn’t look much like the supper that the Egyptians shared. There’s no roasted lamb, no flat bread, and no bitter herbs here. There’s no blood to mark our doors. We don’t have a shepherd’s staff for our hands to hold, and we are not dressed in the same way as the Hebrews. Yet, we worship the same One True God. And, it is here at the Table that we remember the Passover Feast that Jesus shared with his friends on the night before he entered his three-day descent into darkness to deliver his followers from abusive power and false religion. Indeed, it is here that we can understand the freedom that Christ Jesus offers us as the Passover Lamb. Let us celebrate the Feast together.