Two weeks ago we spent our time looking at the first nine plagues which the Lord sent on the Egyptians. And so we covered the long section from verse 8 of chapter 7 to the end of chapter 10. We’re going to cover another large section this evening from verse 1 of chapter 11 to verse 16 of chapter 13.
In this section, Moses tells us about a number of things, including the tenth and final plague which led to the exodus of God’s people from Egypt; then there’s the institution of the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread; and finally there’s the consecration of the firstborn males in Israel. And it’s important that we take all of these things together, because they belong together and they speak to us of our redemption from bondage to sin and death and the devil which the Lord God Almighty accomplished for us by his Son Jesus Christ.
There are really four points which I want to make this evening; but before I get to them, let me run through the verses as quickly as I can.
In chapter 11, the Lord announced to Moses that he was going to send the tenth plague on the Egyptians. After that, Pharaoh would let the people go; in fact, not only will he let them go, he’ll drive them out. Do you see that in verse 1? Once he wanted to prevent the Israelites from leaving; but soon — because of what the Lord was going to do to him and to all the Egyptians — soon he’ll compel them to leave. And when they leave, the Israelites are to ask the Egyptians for silver and gold which they will gladly hand over.
And then in verses 4 to 8 Moses describes to Pharaoh what the Lord will do and how he will go throughout Egypt and every firstborn in Egypt will die. But the Israelites will not be harmed. So, while there will be loud wailing among the Egyptians, not even a dog will bark or growl among the Israelites. After that, Pharaoh’s officials will bow down, not to Pharaoh, but to Moses and will ask him to leave. And with that, Moses left Pharaoh. We’re not sure when Moses said all this to Pharaoh, since after the ninth plague the Pharaoh made clear that he never wanted to see Moses again. But it’s possible that Pharaoh changed his mind and allowed Moses to see him once more.
In verses 9 and 10 we’re reminded how the Lord had said he would harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he could multiply the wonders he performed in Egypt. Everything that happened — including the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart — was in the hands of the Lord who was working out his plans perfectly to demonstrate his wrath and his mercy: his wrath towards the Egyptians in that he destroyed them; and his mercy towards the Israelites in that he saved them.
In verses 1 to 11 of chapter 12, the Lord gave Moses instructions for the Passover and how they were to choose a lamb and kill it and put the blood of the lamb on the door-frame of their homes; and then they were to roast the lamb and eat it along with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. And they were to eat it with their cloak tucked into their belt, their sandals on, and their staff in their hand. And the point of eating it like this was because they had to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. After years of captivity, their release was going to come quickly and they needed to be ready for it. So, no elaborate preparation of the lamb was allowed: cook it in the simplest way possible, roasted over an open fire. There’s no time to wait for bread of rise; so prepare it without yeast. Have you clothes ready and your shoes on. If it were today, we’d tell them to have their bags packed and the engine running. They were to be ready to go quickly.
And in verses 12 and 13 the Lord explained again that he would pass through the land and strike down every firstborn — both human and animal — and so bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. But here’s the thing: the Lord would pass over every home where there was blood on the door-frames so that the firstborn in those homes would be safe.
And in verses 14 to 20 the Lord gave instructions to Moses about what became known as the Festival of Unleavened Bread which they were to celebrate every year from that time on. So, every year they were to celebrate the Passover. And then, for the next seven days they were to observe the Festival of Unleavened Bread when they were to eat bread without yeast in it. The importance of this festival is seen in the fact that, according to verse 15, whoever eats bread with yeast in it during this seven day period would be cut off from the Israel. So, whether you ate yeast or not during those days was a serious matter.
And then, in verses 21 to 28 Moses repeats the Lord’s instructions about the Passover to the elders. And we read that the people bowed down and worshipped and did just what the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron.
And very briefly, and very simply, we read in verses 29 and 30 how the Lord did what he said he would do and he struck down every firstborn in Egypt. And so, there was much wailing that night in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead in it.
And so, at long last, Pharaoh relented. In verses 31 to 42 we read how he told Moses and Aaron and the people to go. And they received silver and gold and clothing from the Egyptians. And so, they travelled out of Egypt — a great multitude of people — and travelled as far as Succoth. And Moses tells us that they were in Egypt for 430 years. Well, if you look back to Genesis 15, you’ll see that the Lord announced to Abraham how his people would be strangers in a foreign country and would be enslaved and ill-treated for 400 years. But God would punish the nation they served as slaves and would bring them out with great possessions. Well, what the Lord announced to Abraham has happened: after 430 years, the Lord punished the nations they served as slaves, and he brought his people out with great possessions. The Lord rules over all and our times are in his hands.
In verses 43 to 51 the Lord makes clear that in years to come only those who are circumcised may celebate the Passover. However, Gentiles who joined the Israelites and were circumcised could celebrate the Passover with them. So, there was both a restriction to it and an openness to it.
Finally, in verses 1 to 16 of chapter 13 the Lord gave instructions to Moses about how every firstborn belongs to the Lord and should be consecrated to him. However, while firstborn animals were to be sacrificed to the Lord, firstborn sons were to be redeemed. And when their children ask them about these things, the fathers are to explain how the Lord brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand by killing every firstborn in Egypt.
Having run through the passage, let me make four points.
And the first one is about the night of the Passover. When the Lord went through the land of Egypt that night, and struck down all the firstborn, it was an act of judgment on the Egyptians for their wickedness. Just think of their sins for a moment. Just think of how they treated the Israelites so cruelly for so long and made their life so miserable. Just think of how they murdered the male children who were born to the Israelites. Just think of their unbelief and how they did not worship the one true and living God, but instead bowed down and worshipped idols. The Egyptians were sinners; every day, they offended the Lord by their wickedness and unbelief. And by striking down their firstborn, the Lord was executing his judgment on them.
But, of course, the Israelites were sinners as well. They too did what was wicked. We read how they doubted the things the Lord had told Moses. There’s evidence as well that over the years they had forgotten the Lord and had begun to worship false gods. They were sinners. And their firstborn would have been killed as well when the Lord came to judge the people; they would have been killed as well if it were not for the Passover lamb which was killed in their place. The Lord was very clear about this: in order to be saved, they had to kill the lamb and put its blood on their door-frames; and they had to remain in the house all that night and not go out of doors. The only way to stay safe, and avoid death, was by remaining in their homes with the blood of the lamb on the door-frames.
And sure enough, when the Lord passed through the land, disaster fell on the homes of the Egyptians where there was no blood, but the Israelites were kept safe because they had believed God’s word and they were trusting that the blood of the lamb would keep them safe from God’s wrath.
When we get to the gospels, what do we find? We find John the Baptiser pointing to the Lord Jesus and saying:
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
The Lord Jesus is the true Lamb. And we find that the Lord Jesus was taken away and killed and his blood was shed at the time of the Passover. And we find the Apostle Paul, writing to the church in Corinth and saying to them that Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. And we find Peter saying in 1 Peter that we have been redeemed — or, set free — from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers. And how were we set free? With the precious blood of Christ.
Do you see? The Lord God was revealing the good news of the gospel through the Exodus. In the days of Moses and the Israelites, the people were taught that they would be safe from God’s wrath if they killed a lamb and put its blood on their door-frames. And in the gospel, we’re taught that we are safe from God’s wrath for ever if we trust in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who was killed and whose blood was shed for us and for the forgiveness of all our sins.
In the days of Moses and the Israelites, the people were to remember that night by celebrating the Passover every year. We don’t celebrate the Passover anymore, because instead we have the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. But both the Passover and the Lord’s Supper have the same purpose, because both speak to us of how the Passover Lamb died so that we might not die, but have everlasting life. And all who trust in him, and in his shed blood, are safe for ever.
The unleavened bread
That’s my first point. The second is to do with the unleavened bread. Now, the reason why their bread was unleavened, or was bread without yeast, was that there wasn’t time to wait for yeasted bread to rise. I’ve sometimes seen programmes on TV about making bread. I don’t remember all the details, but I’ve a vague recollection that you have to put the dough in the fridge or in a cool cupboard and leave it overnight to rise. Well, the Israelites didn’t have time for that, because they were going to have to leave quickly. And so, they were instructed to make bread without yeast in it; and to eat that. It might not have tasted very good; and it may have been quite hard; but that’s the best they could have, given the circumstances. And again, the lamb was to be prepared simply and quickly too, being roasted over an open fire. You didn’t have to wait for water to boil; you didn’t have pots and pans to wash. Just put it over the flames and let it cook. Speed was of the essence.
However, the Lord then instituted this week-long Festival of Unleavened Bread which the people were to observe every year. So, they were to remove all the yeast from their homes; and they were to eat this tasteless, hard bread for a week. And they were to do this every year. In fact observant Jews still do this; I remember hearing a programme on the radio about the lengths some Jews will go to remove all the yeast from their homes; and they have to buy special plates and cups to use which were guaranteed to be yeast-free. Well, every time they celebrated this festival, they were to remember the time when they left Egypt in haste.
I’ve said before that through the Exodus the Lord was revealing the good news of the gospel. And so, by instituting this festival, the Lord must be revealing something important to us. But what is it?
Part of the answer is what we read at the beginning of chapter 12 where the Lord instructed Moses that from now on, they were to count this month — the month when the Passover took place — as the first month of their year. So, they were to treat that month as January, if you like. And it was a way of saying that they were beginning a new life. You know, things were starting off new again. Their old way of life in Egypt was over; they were starting a new life. So, a new calendar was needed for a new life.
Whenever we believe in the Lord Jesus, we begin a new life, don’t we? We were dead in our trespasses and sin, but we’ve been raised up with Christ to begin a new life. If anyone is in Christ — united with Christ by faith — new creation! The old has gone; the new has come. We’ve started a new life. So, what’s this new life meant to be like? Well, it’s to be a life without yeast.
What do I mean? Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 5. In verses 6 to 8 the Apostle says:
Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch — as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Here’s Paul and he’s referring to the Lord Jesus as our Passover Lamb who has been sacrificed. And he then refers to keeping the Festival; he means we’re to keep the Festival of Unleavened Bread. What does he mean by that? Does he mean we’re to remove all trace of yeast from our homes, the way observant Jews still do today? Is that what he’s talking about? No, he means we’re to rid our lives of malice and of wickedness. And instead our lives are to be marked by sincerity and truth. That’s what our new life is meant to be like. It’s to be a life without sin.
Through the events of the Exodus, the Lord was revealing to us the good news of the gospel and how believers have begun a new life. But it’s to be a life without yeast, a life without sin. We’re to have nothing more to do with it, but we’re to clear it out of our lives. And just as observant Jews search their homes to find and to remove every trace of sin, so we’re to search our lives and our hearts to find every trace of sin. And when we find it, we’re to confess it and ask for God’s forgiveness. And when we find it, we’re to repent of it and do what we can to remove it from our lives.
The blood of the lamb speaks to us of the blood of the Lord Jesus which was shed for our salvation. And the removal of yeast speaks to us of how we’re to remove sin from our lives. The third point is to do with the consecration of the firstborn.
We’re looking now at chapter 13 which begins with the Lord telling Moses to consecrate to him every firstborn. That means they were to set apart their firstborn as holy to the Lord, or as belonging to the Lord. In the case of clean animals like sheep and goats, this meant the firstborn animals were to be offered to God as a sacrifice. In the case of unclean animals like donkeys, the firstborn were to be redeemed or bought back with a clean animal; or else they were to be killed. And firstborn children were to be redeemed, by offering a suitable sacrifice.
By having to redeem, or buy back, your child, the Israelites were reminded that their firstborn children belonged to the Lord. And they belonged to the Lord because the Lord once saved their firstborn from being condemned along with the Egyptians when he executed his judgment on the land. Since God had saved their firstborn, their firstborn now belonged to him.
Whenever someone is converted to faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit consecrates that person to the Lord. He sets the believer apart to belong to God. Once we were like everyone else, belonging to this present evil age which is destined to perish; once we were like everyone else, under the wrath and curse of God for our sins. But the Lord was merciful to us; and he sent his Son to save us from the coming judgment; and he sent his Spirit to enable us to repent and to believe the good news so that we might receive his salvation. And the Holy Spirit consecrates us to the Lord; he sets us apart to the Lord; we now belong to him.
And that means two things: Since we belong to him, we’re under his care and protection. He has become our God; and we are his people; and he has committed himself to us, to keep us, and to guard us, and to lead us to our heavenly home. We’re under his care and protection.
But it also means that since we belong to him, we’re not to live for ourselves. We’re not to live selfishly. We’re not to do as we please. We’re to live our lives for him, since we’ve been set apart from judgment to belong to him. Do you remember what Paul said to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 6? He said:
You are not your own. You were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.
Honour God with your body, because you belong to him.
The blood of the lamb speaks to us of the blood of the Lord Jesus which was shed for our salvation. And the removal of yeast speaks to us of how we’re to remove sin from our lives. The consecration of the firstborn speaks to us of how we have been set apart from judgment to belong to the Lord. The fourth and final point is to draw to your attention the fact that the Lord brought a multitude of people out of Egypt. Look at verse 37 of chapter 12:
There were about six hundred thousand men, besides women and children.
God has promised to make Abraham’s descendants like the stars in the sky and like the sand on the seashore, too many to count. Well, see now how he has caused them to increase, despite all the suffering they experienced in Egypt. They had become a great nation, just as God had promised.
But what’s even more striking is what we read in verse 38:
Many other people went up with them….
Many other people. In other words, besides all the Israelites, other people went with them. So, presumably some of the Egyptians and others living in Egypt at that time had seen what the Lord had done; and they had come to believe that the God of Moses and Aaron and the God of the Israelites, he’s the true God. And so, they decided that they too would leave Egypt and join with the Israelites and serve the Lord.
And so, in verses 43 to 51, where we’re given the Passover restrictions which stated that only those who have been circumcised may celebrate the Passover, we’re also taught that aliens living among them — in other words, foreigners, Gentiles — who have been circumcised may join with them to celebrate the Passover. Those other people who went out of Egypt with them were able to be circumcised; and were therefore able to become a member of God’s people; and they could therefore celebrate the Passover with the rest of God’s people which speaks of God’s salvation.
And so, even as we read these things, and read of the others who went out of Egypt, we’re reminded of how God’s grace extends throughout the world and his salvation is for all who believe. And so, if we were to turn forward in our Bibles, we’d see how the Old Testament prophets speak of the nations, coming to worship the Lord. And in the gospels, we read how Christ told his Apostles to go and make disciples of all nations. And in the book of Acts, we read how they went into all the world, proclaiming salvation in the name of Christ. And whoever believed — no matter whether they were Jew or Gentile — whoever believed, received the forgiveness of sins and the hope of everlasting life. And in the book of Revelation, we read of a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne, and in front of the Lamb. And they cried out in a loud voice:
Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.
The mixed multitude which came out of Egypt was only the beginning. It was only the beginning of what God was going to do, because not only did he bring out of Egypt all the Israelites and the others who went with them in order to lead them to the Promised Land of Canaan, but he was going to do all things necessary to bring out of this present evil age a vast number of men and women and boys and girls, a number so great that no one can count it. He was going to bring them out and bring them into the Promised Land of Eternal Life where they will worship him for ever and for ever.
And he was going to do it by his Son, the true Passover Lamb, who has been sacrificed for us. And since he has been sacrificed for us, let us get rid of all malice and wickedness, let us dedicate our lives to obeying him, and let us look forward with faith to the time when all of God’s people from around the world will join together around the throne in heaven to worship the God who sits on the throne and the Lamb who was slain for us.