First Mennonite Church
July 6, 2014
The Great Deliverance (Exodus Series I)
Exodus 12:29-42 (NIV)
29 At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. 30 Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.
31 During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. 32 Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.”
33 The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!” 34 So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing. 35 The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. 36 The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.
37 The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Sukkoth. There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. 38 Many other people went up with them, and also large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds. 39 With the dough the Israelites had brought from Egypt, they baked loaves of unleavened bread. The dough was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves.
40 Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years. 41 At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the Lord’s divisions left Egypt. 42 Because the Lord kept vigil that night to bring them out of Egypt, on this night all the Israelites are to keep vigil to honor the Lord for the generations to come.
The Pharaoh “who did not know Joseph,” according to Exodus 1, verse 8, became the symbol of a government of sheer exploitation, enslavement, and oppression. Pharaoh was lord, not only of the Egyptians, but over everyone who lived in his territory. This god-like figure—and in fact Pharaoh was believed to be the representation of the Sun God, imposed himself over an alien tribe which had come and settled earlier to survive a seven-year famine. The descendants of Jacob had multiplied and become strong. Suddenly they were reckoned a threat to the locals. Pharaoh and his people feared that Israel would turn against them by taking the side of the enemy if war should erupt. Therefore Pharaoh systematically forced the Israelites to work in all kinds of construction and field work. The Israelites became useful tools, yet their presence was profoundly resented. This already sounds like the political reality today regarding immigrants. Let me just leave it there.
Pharaoh designed an oppressive system to deal with the Israelites. Therefore in the Bible, the new Pharaoh who did not know Joseph became the ultimate example of absolute oppressive power and Israel became the symbol of all hopelessly oppressed peoples. In this portrait between Pharaoh and Israel, the hardened oppressor seemed never changing and the oppressed seemed forever bound to slavery. But we read in Exodus 2, verses 23b-25: The Israelites groaned under their slavery and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God and God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites and God took notice of them.
God remembered his covenant made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Yahweh was concerned for Israel.
Each of the Ten Plagues that followed had the purpose to pressuring Egypt to “let Israel go” and to make the Egyptian to “know that there is none like Yahweh on all the earth” (7:17; 8:22; 9:14; 10:2).
At the beginning of the first plagues, Pharaoh only became more oppressive and hardened in his heart toward Yahweh’s call to let Israel go free. The plagues took the form of a cosmic battle in which the Lord of the universe showed Pharaoh that even if he was the son of the sun god, the sun was a created element in Yahweh’s creation. In the ninth plague dense darkness covered the land and the Egyptians could not see their very hands for three days, while Israel enjoyed regular daylight. But every time Moses pleaded on behalf of Israel, Pharaoh only squashed Israel deeper under the mud of slavery. In the last and final plague, Egypt was delivered the most painful blow. That is where our passage picks up.
God delivered Israelites from the Egyptian slavery. Their deliverance and exit from Egypt became the central point in Israel’s identity as God’s chosen people. The Day of Passover in which Israel anticipated its deliverance became the beginning of their new year. The Exodus marked a new era in the life of Israel. The Exodus event marked the turning point in God’s fulfillment in giving the Promised Land.
There are certain parallels in the Exodus event with what Jesus Christ did. A very significant piece of information we are given which led to the whole Exodus event is that God took notice of children of Abraham. Their cry and groaning reached His very presence and He took notice of their plight and remembered the covenant He had made with Abraham. The apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 4:4-7:
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,
To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
Therefore you are no more a slave, but a child; and if a child of God, then an heir of God through Christ.
The fullness of time came when God intervened to bring deliverance through Christ. And God also visited his people at the time when Israel cried under slavery.
Our passage begins with the story of the 10th plague. In chapter 11, verses 5 to 11, Moses warned the Egyptian officials of what would happen if by the tenth plague Israel has not been released. Under the cover of darkness, at midnight, something happened. The text does not tell us how and nobody gives witness as to how it happened. The firstborn in the entire land of Egypt died. And there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead (Exodus 12:30). This last act of judgment upon Pharaoh and his people turned the tables around. The oppressor was then crying and the oppressed looked forward to its liberation. The whole Egyptian empire was filled with the reality of death, and mourning filled the land.
Let me just say here in parentheses people usually say that it is hard to understand others until we experience what they have experienced. And that is true. Parents who do not have special-needs children can find it difficult to understand all the challenges those families that do have special-needs children have. On another issue, despite all the talk there is against the issue of gun control based on rights or otherwise, we Christians must be cautious about how we engage the issue. We need to be mindful that in many cases those who forcefully advocate for more regulations are those parents who have lost their children to gun violence. They know firsthand the pain and loss there is with gun violence.
When the tenth plague came and all the firstborn in Egypt suffered death as Yahweh’s judgment, Pharaoh came to experience the pain and loss the Israelites had suffered for a long time. It did not matter it was midnight: Pharaoh summoned Moses and begged him and the people of Israel to leave. Pharaoh feared he and all his people would die. Pharaoh urged Moses to arise, go, and worship Yahweh, as he has been requesting all along. Pharaoh begged Moses to leave and also to be blessed by him. And the Israelites began its exodus journey toward the land Yahweh had promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Israel’s liberation from the bondage in Egypt marked their beginning as the people of the Covenant. It marked their identity as God’s chosen people. The exodus gives witness to Yahweh’s intervention between the powerful and absolutely powerless. These are the people who Paul would describe as “having nothing yet possessing everything” (2Cor. 6:10).
The Exodus event was the shadow of what Jesus would do for us on the cross. Just as there was no way possible for Israel to break away from the Egyptian yoke of slavery, there is no way humankind could break away from the yolk of sin. Redemption is what God offers to those who are helpless.
The Exodus event and the work of Jesus have some parallel images but also some dramatic differences. First, we those who have been redeemed did not cry out for help as Israel did. Our redemption was all God’s initiative and love for the world. In fact, as the apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2, 4 and 5, But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
The second difference is that it was not the oppressor’s firstborn who died to bring us freedom. Our liberation was costlier. It took God’s firstborn to die for us. The apostle Paul calls Jesus the “firstborn from among the dead” (Colossians 1:18). This is also one of the titles John of Patmos gives the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. [The one] who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood (Revelations 1:5).
The high price paid for our redemption is the reason for Paul’s call to the church in Romans 6. There he wrote: But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life inChrist Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:22-23).
Jesus is not only our Moses, He is also the Passover Lamb sacrificed for us. His blood sprinkled on our heart is what has spared us from death. Let us take advantage of his deliverance to serve our new Master. Amen