The Passover Exodus 11:1-13:16
Scene 1/ The ultimate game of bluff.
We see it a lot in movies.
Will the other side hold their nerve?
Will they pull the trigger first, or will they back down?
The ongoing crisis in Europe started with a game of bluff.
The Russian president Putin wanted to make a point.
So a few years ago he invaded part of Ukraine.
He knows that the Western nations are only bluffing.
He can take all of Crimea and no one is going to stop him.
He called the bluff of Europe and the USA.
And now we see a massive war, increasing risk, untold suffering and another statement where Putin literally says, “I am not bluffing”
We will see and the people of Ukraine and Russia will experience the reality of wether the western powers will back down or stand up.
The Egyptian Pharaoh thought he was playing a game of bluff with God and his messenger Moses when he faced the plagues of Egypt.
In Exodus chapter 7 to 10 we read about an unprecedented series of disasters striking Egypt.
These disasters were of so great that Exodus 9:24 tells us the Egyptians had never experienced anything like them.
We could easily think that these plagues occurred one after another, but Exodus 7:25 & 9:31-32 give us a few hints that these events occurred over a number of months.
Firstly in Exodus 7:20 the water of the Nile was turned into blood so that the fish died and the water stank.
Next in Exodus 8:6 came a plague of frogs; even after their death, the land was strewn with piles of their bodies
Next in Exodus 8:17 came a plague of gnats, sandflies, or mosquitoes.
The exact sense of the word is not clear, but it obviously means some small irritant biting creature.
After that in Exodus 8:24 came swarms of flies.
Then in Exodus 9:3 some sort of cattle plague struck, affecting the domestic animals.
After that in Exodus 9:9 came boils on humans, boils that erupted into painful blisters, apparently irritating rather than fatal.
Hail followed in Exodus 9:18, so severe that nothing like it had been seen before—hail associated with thunder and lightning.
Hail so heavy it could be fatal, Hail which destroyed many of the early season crops of Egypt.
Exodus 10:13 tells us that after that came the locusts in vast numbers.
Then Exodus 10:22 speaks of three days of complete darkness, darkness so great that Egyptian life came to a standstill.
In every case there is a warning to Pharaoh, which is ignored.
As things progress there is a temporary change of heart from Pharaoh he wavers and tries to bargain.
They can go and offer sacrifices to God but on his terms.
At the start the court magicians can, in part, match the plagues; but they soon run out of tricks and begin to plead with Pharaoh to listen to Moses.
But he doesn’t and each plague is worse than the last one.
Increasingly the people of Israel living in the region of Goshen are spared and the common Egyptian people and their officials notice this.
Pharaoh’s own people end up pleading with him to listen to Moses, but he doesn’t.
Pharaoh’s own people begin to listen to the warnings from Moses and take what actions they can to protect themselves.
For instance, when Moses speaks of the coming hail storm he specifically warns people to bring their animals inside, many are glad they did because others lost their entire herds.
These plagues are a demonstration of God’s mighty power over nature, over Pharaoh and also over the gods of Egypt.
The Egyptians worshipped nature and these plagues attacked the very things that Egypt worshipped.
The Nile river is the god Hapi;
Hept the frog is a god of fertility and childbirth;
Ra is the sun god who would have been outraged by the plague of darkness
Hat-hot had the form of a heifer, and Apis that of a bull;
The flying hornet symbolized Egypt; and Pharaoh himself was a god.
Yet all were helpless before the God of Israel.
Scene 2/ God doesn’t bluff, he means what he says!
When he says that he will bring his people out of the land by a demonstration of his power he meant it.
When I was working as a technician some of the equipment I worked on had 240 volt power in it.
I got it wrong one day!
God had ongoing plans for me and the contact of my pliers with the power cable threw the pliers out of my hand.
There are places where such a mistake would have definitely been fatal.
Have you ever stood outside a large electricity substation?
The ones with lots of huge powerlines coming in and going out.
There are signs everywhere; warning high voltage do not touch.
They also have a very pretty picture indicating what will happen to you if you do touch!
They aren’t bluffing!
And just in case someone thinks they are, because some idiot must have, they now put an electric fence around the substation as well.
Now I think most of us here have at least some experience with electric fences on rural properties!
Pharaoh was a bit like the idiot that climbs through the electric fence in order to call the bluff of the electricity substation sign saying high voltage “do not touch”
The Passover event is incredibly significant; it isn’t just a final, worse than the rest sort of plague.
This is divine judgement and at the same time divine salvation.
The whole event is highly symbolic.
The bread, the bitter herbs, the sacrificial animal, even the timing of the sacrifice all has meaning.
The bread baked without yeast indicates the haste with which they left Egypt; there wasn’t time for bread to rise.
But it also indicates that they were to be pure, uncorrupted just as a small amount of yeast cause a whole loaf of bread to rise, so any amount of corruption affects the whole nation.
The bitter herbs are a reminder of the bitterness of their slavery in Egypt.
The animal a young male lamb or goat without blemish spoke of the dedication of all first born males to God.
The sacrifice conducted in the evening at dusk to symbolise the coming judgement of Egypt.
The branches of Hyssop used to mark the door posts and lintel with the blood.
This wasn’t just a marker, a sign to the angel of death to “Passover” this house.
It was also a symbolic act of dedication, through this sacrifice this house has been dedicated to the Lord.
Scene 3/ The Passover raises incredible questions for us about God’s judgement.
Many atheists will point to the death of the firstborn in Egypt and say that God is a cruel despot for condemning the innocent.
But their argument is based upon an individualist view of the world; a claim that if God is good then each person is deserving of good.
This isn’t the case; God does not condemn the innocent because no one is innocent.
Except for those believers alive when Christ returns all humans will face death, it is only a question of when.
We need to understand that when it comes to a distinct group of people, what we might call a nation, God’s view is one of corporate responsibility for crimes against humanity.
Let’s not put God in a position which we ourselves won’t accept.
We hold organisations corporately responsible.
Individual politicians get voted out of office, because we hold their party corporately responsible for letting us down.
We hold nations corporately responsible, think of Japan at the end of World War 2.
Were the people of Hiroshima or Nagasaki personally responsible; yet they suffered the judgement that stopped the war?
When a nation piles up oppression upon genocide as Egypt did to the people of Israel then there is grounds for corporate judgement.
Or when a nation degenerates to the point where human sacrifice is commonly practiced as part of the national religion.
Such as the people of Canaan mentioned in Genesis 15:16 who were to be destroyed by Israel when they took over the land after leaving Egypt
In each case where a distinct national group of people benefits from the oppression & genocide of others, then there is eventual judgement.
I think of Egypt & Assyria in ancient times.
The near annihilation of Nazi Germany and imperial Japan in World War 2.
It seems to me that God is patient, often for 100s of years, but at some point there is judgement for corporate sin.
Scene 4/ The Passover was the way God chose to save His people and is a picture of Christ’s sacrifice for sinners; it demonstrates divine judgement, corporate responsibility, God’s grace and our response.
In Matthew 26:2 we read that Jesus associates his crucifixion with Passover.
when he said, “As you know, Passover begins in two days, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.””
In Matthew 26:26-29 Jesus associates his body & blood with the forgiveness of sins; he claims to be a sacrifice of forgiveness.
And in 1 Corinthians 5:7 the Apostle Paul makes it clear that for the early Church, Christ was the new Passover sacrifice, once for all.
He links the sacrifice of Christ with the sacrifice of the Passover and the entire crucifixion and resurrection with the Passover that Israel experienced in Egypt.
In the Passover we see divine judgement.
In the time of Moses the judgement fell on the nation of Egypt for the individual stubbornness of Pharaoh, but also for the corporate sins of slavery and genocide against Israel.
In the time of Christ the judgement fell on Christ, for our sin individually and corporately for the sin of all humanity.
In the time of Moses God’s grace was poured out on the people of Israel as he freed them from captivity.
In the time of Christ God’s grace is poured out on us as we are freed from sin.