The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7 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 lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; 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 live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
Today’s story comes from Exodus Chapter 12, which is a quite of jump from last week’s story from Chapter 3. I hope you have a chance to read these chapters in-between. And just in case, I’ll provide a super quick summary for you right now, using the resources provided by biblesummary.info.
In Chapter 3, Moses saw a burning bush. God told him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses asked God his name and God said, “I am who I am.”
In Chapter 4, the LORD gave Moses signs so that the people would listen. Moses was afraid, so that LORD sent his brother Aaron to speak for him.
In Chapter 5, Moses and Aaron told Pharaoh to let the Israelites go into the desert to worship. Pharaoh refused and increased their workload instead.
In Chapter 6, the LORD told Moses that he would lead the Israelites out of Egypt to the promised land.Aaron and Moses were from the tribe of Levi.
In Chapter 7. Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh. Aaron’s staff became a snake, then the LORD turned the Nile to blood, but Pharaoh wouldn’t listen. (And this is the beginning of the Ten Plagues of Egypt.)
In Chapter 8, the LORD sent a plague of frogs on Egypt. Pharaoh begged for relief but then hardened his heart. The LORD sent gnats and the flies.
In Chapter 9, the LORD sent a plague on the livestock of Egypt, then boils and then hail. Pharaoh begged for relief but then his heart was hardened.
In Chapter 10, the LORD sent a plague of locusts. Pharaoh begged for relief but then his heart was hardened. The LORD sent darkness for three days.
In Chapter 11, the LORD said that he would send one more plague, and then Pharaoh would let the Israelites go: all the firstborn Egyptians would die.
So, today’s chapter is situated right in-between the warning of the 10th and the final plague and the happening of that 10th plague, the striking down of all the firstborn in the land of Egypt. The struggle between Moses and Pharaoh is almost reaching its climax, the clash between Moses’ “Let my people go” and Pharaoh’s always-hardened heart.
The struggle between Moses and Pharaoh is not just an extension of the confrontation between God and Pharaoh, but also an allegory of the conflict the Israelites experience at the crossroads between the powers that offer life and release and the powers that captivate and oppress. As modern readers, we easily assume that it should be a no-brainer for these enslaved people to choose God over Pharaoh, choose life over captivity, and choose release over oppression. But that is not necessarily the case. The Israelites had been away from home for more than four centuries, with spirits broken for so many years under slavery, and with eyes that had not yet seen a glimpse of hope in their lifetime or in the lifetime of their parents and grandparents.For these oppressed Israelites, the concept of liberation is beyond their comprehension, beyond their lexicon, and beyond their imagination. Thus, we see an example of their incapability to choose life in Chapter 6:2-9.
God also spoke to Moses and said to him: “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name ‘The Lord’ I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they resided as aliens. I have also heard the groaning of the Israelites whom the Egyptians are holding as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. Say therefore to the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’”
Moses told this to the Israelites; but they would not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.
God promises this new life with an optimistic future, yet the concept of a new life is incomprehensible for the Israelites “because they were that beaten down in spirit by the harsh slave condition” (MSG).
Perhaps the ten plagues serve not only as means to challenge Pharaoh’s hardened heart but also to challenge the Israelites’ imagination, that this God who promises this unfathomable liberation is also the God who enact these unthinkable disasters. These plagues were not only God’s signs and wonders that pressured Pharaoh, but that also allowed these Israelites to finally open their ears and listen to the message of promises.
And as we read later in the same chapter, Pharaoh finally allows the Israelites to go after the final plague that kills his own son—giving them a green light to leave Egypt to worship God.
Now, today’s story contains the description of a Jewish festive tradition called Passover, which commemorates the liberation from Egyptian slavery. This passage comes from a later period when the festival was well-established, and not actually happening in-between the announcement and execution of the final plague.
We read about the description of Passover to see how the descendants of these freed Israelites remembered their history. The instruction to take a lamb for each family is to remember that the Lord passed over every household (v. 3), the instruction to slaughter a lamb at twilight (an hour of transition between day and night, a time of ending and beginning)and the instruction to put its blood on the top and two sides of a house doorway (also a place of transition of entry and exit) are to remember that the transition they made from slavery to freedom and from death to new life (vv. 6-7).
The instruction to eat the lamb roasted over the fire is to remember the fire of God’s presence in the burning bush. The instruction to eat with bitter herbs is to remember the bitterness of bereavement and suffering of slavery. The instruction to eat with unleavened bread without yeast is to remember the urgency and readiness for freedom (v. 8).
The instruction to eat everything without leftovers is to remember the mindset for their great escape (v. 10). The instruction to eat hurriedly with loins girded, sandals on feet, and staff in hand is to remember that they were prepared and ready to run; to remember their readiness to participate in the liberation God offered (v. 11).
All these instructions are for the purpose of remembering. That’s why God says that “throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance” (v. 12). Because otherwise, they would surely forget. Because humans are forgetful creatures in general.
By celebrating Passover, its liturgy allows Jewish worshipers to celebrate by participating through remembrance. This information also provides Christians some important background to understand the Lord’s Supper—to remember how we have also been delivered through the body and blood of Christ.
If we forget the grand story of God’s saving grace,including the story we are reading right now in Exodus, we also forget what it means to have hope from God. And if we forget what it means to have hope, we forget what hope is—it vanishes from our comprehension, our lexicon, and our imagination. And when a glimpse of God’s hope is presented before our very eyes, we would not recognize it since w don not know what it looks and sounds like.
If we forget the grand story of God’s saving grace, we also forget what it means to be God’s people running towards new life.Having new life does not always mean that we are living out the new life. Our Christian faith is never about settling down and hunkering down, but always being somewhat restless, always ready for an urgent departure, always ready to run away from the slavery of sin and run towards freedom, the very freedom found in God that is outside the norms and requirements of the contemporary empire, or in other words, always ready to follow Christ to wherever he leads us.
If we forget the grand story of God’s saving grace, we also forget how God is always with us, even in the midst of these unthinkable disasters of various kinds, even in the midst of continued trials and tribulations. God is with us, wanting us to also notice God’s presence, to be with God in faith and to trust in God’s saving deeds. If we forget God with us,we also forget the powers that offer life and release also made available for us.
This is why we worship repeatedly. This is why we celebrate repeatedly. This is why we gather repeatedly. Starting from the very heart, in our homes—especially during this time of the coronavirus pandemic—as Passover is centered on a meal within each household and as the Lord’s Supper is celebrated on a table. In order to remember. We continue to worship,celebrate, and gather at homes. Otherwise, we would forget, especially as our spirits get beaten down by the trials and tribulations of our time.
So, let us continue to remember—continue to remember the stories of God’s saving grace, drawing precious memories of God-with-us from our own stories or the stories of our families and friends, or even from the stories of our ancestors of faith, so great a cloud of witnesses. So that we may not forget who we are, whose we are, and the kind of race we are called to run.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross,disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)