01 – Passover

The time for redemption should be near. The elders of the Children of Israel frequently spoke in hushed tones of a 500-year old promise of redemption from their bondage to the Egyptians – a promise made by God Himself to their Father Abraham. They would be brought out of bondage and brought back to their homeland of Canaan, a land overflowing with milk and honey. Joseph relied so heavily on this promise, he entrusted his bones to them so he could be permanently buried in Canaan instead of Egypt. But as Pharaoh and the Egyptians stepped up their oppression of the children of Israel, the hope for redemption only grew dimmer. Who would the deliverer be? And who could vanquish the Egyptians, the mightiest army in the world? Moses, their last candidate for leading a rebellion, ran off to hide in the Midian desert 40 years earlier; the Lybians and Cushites were formidable – but they were allies of the Egyptians; and the next strongest army was Syria, 400 miles away, with their hands full fending off invaders. No doubt many Israelites believe that if there was hope, it wasn’t to be seen in this century.

In 1446 BC, Moses returned from his 40-year hiatus in the Midian desert. But he didn’t come with a liberating army in tow: he came with something even more astonishing – a word from God promising that deliverance was indeed at hand. His strategy: he and his brother Aaron were to go to Pharaoh and simply tell him that God said to let His people go. It didn’t take a genius to know that this plan was something between absurd and insane. Just because Moses and Pharaoh were educated in the same court years ago was no reason to think that Pharaoh would simply roll out the red carpet and allow Moses to walk off with 600,000 salves and their families. And that’s exactly how Pharaoh saw it:

“Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go.”

Word to the wise: If you ever draw a line in the sand, make sure that God is NOT on the opposite side from you. It’s a surefire way to learn a few lessons good and hard.

Over the next months, Moses unleashed a series of Ten Plagues to let Pharaoh know Who was in charge and Who was calling the shots: it’s all about God, and none dare stand in His way. Just to make sure that Pharaoh and all the Egyptians and all the Hebrews and all their children and all their grandchildren learned that lesson good and proper, God kept hardening Pharaoh’s heart so that he would not let the Hebrews go so that God could step up the intensity of the plagues. (Most people don’t tell the story quite like that, but unfortunately, that’s exactly how the Bible states it. If you don’t want to read Exodus 1-13 to confirm it, just read 10:1-2. These verses distill the entire Moses vs Pharaoh conflict to a nutshell and gives God’s reasons for why He did what He did. For extra credit, read this analysis of Pharaoh’s heart vis-à-vis the Ten Plagues, and you’ll see why Paul distills the conflict using the same language in Romans 9.)

Focus of the Ten Plagues

Although Exodus doesn’t state it explicitly, anyone versed in Egyptology will tell you that each of the Ten Plagues was specifically aimed at the Egyptian religious system. To add icing to the cake, God saved the best plague for last: Egyptian priests taught that the Pharaoh was himself a god and that his firstborn son (the next Pharaoh) was a god as well. To show them who the real God was, He struck Pharaoh’s firstborn (and all Egypt’s firstborn) because they oppressed His firstborn (Exod 4:22). Here’s a brief list of the plagues and the Egyptian gods they were aimed at:

  1. Nile turned to blood: Hapi, god of the Nile; Isis, goddess of the Nile; Khnum, guardian of the Nile
  2. Frogs: Heqet, goddess of birth (usually depicted with the head of a frog)
  3. Gnats: Set, the god of the desert
  4. Flies: Re, the sun god, his symbol may have been the fly
  5. Death of Livestock: Hathor, goddess with cow’s head; Apis, the bull god, also a fertility symbol
  6. Boils: Sekhmet, had power over diseases; Sunu, god of pestilence; Isis, goddess of healing
  7. Hail: Nut, goddess of the sky; Osiris, god of crops and fertility; Set, god of storms
  8. Locusts: Nut, goddess of the sky; Osiris, god of crops and fertility
  9. Darkness: Re, the sun god; Horus, the sun god; Nut, goddess of the sky; Hathor, sky goddess
  10. Death of Firstborn: Min, god of reproduction; Hequet, goddess associated with childbirth; Isis, goddess protecting children; Egyptians believed that Pharaohs (and their first-born sons) were gods.

The tenth plague was to be the straw that broke the Pharaoh’s back. Pharaoh would demand the Israelites leave immediately. God, however, would use the event to set up one of the most important feasts on the Hebrew calendar: the Feast of Passover. This feast included explicit instructions to the Hebrews on how they were to be saved from the Angel of Death that made his way through the land of Egypt, killing the firstborn of every home. This feast/sacrifice was explicitly connected to their need to have their sins covered before a Holy God. What the Israelites probably didn’t know was that these detailed instructions predicted and mirrored exactly how Jesus Christ, their future Messiah, would be the ultimate Lamb of God, and how He would personally die not just to cover their sins, but to remove them permanently):

Passover Christ
On the 10th day of the first month, they were to set aside a spotless lamb and observe it for 4 days to confirm it had no blemishes or defects On the 10th day of the first month, (the final week before His crucifixion), Jesus spent days in the temple being grilled/examined by His detractors. His responses proved His holiness (Matt 21 – 22; Luke 11:53; Luke 11:54; John 8:46; 18:38.)
On the 14th day, the lamb was to be killed, its blood drained. No bones were to be broken On the 14th day, Christ was killed. When stabbed by the Roman guard, water and blood came gushing out proving medically that He was dead, not faint. Unlike the other thieves on the crosses near Him, none of His bones were broken.
The lamb was to be roasted and consumed in its entirety (anything not eaten was to be burned and buried). Participants were to eat while fully clothed for travel, ready to go at a moment’s notice. Followers of Christ must “eat” His flesh and “drink” His blood completely and continually if we are to have life in Him (John 6:53)
The blood of the lamb was applied to the doorposts of the home. Any home not covered by the blood of the lamb would see their firstborn son killed when the Angel of Death visited that night. If we believe in Jesus Christ, we are, in effect, applying the blood of His sacrifice on the “doorposts” of our hearts. This is the only way we escape eternal destruction in hell.
Yeast, often a symbol of sin, was to be completely removed from the home, and unleavened bread was to be eaten for the next seven days. A holy God cannot tolerate sin. Sin must be removed (covered by the blood of the Lamb) otherwise God must execute judgment.

That night, the Lord struck all Egypt, killing the firstborn in every home that did not have the protection of the blood of the Lamb.  Pharaoh’s firstborn died in this plague. (By the way, since Pharaoh himself didn’t die, we can then conclude that Pharaoh himself wasn’t the firstborn. If Amenhotep II was indeed the Pharaoh of the Exodus, we know from Egyptian history that his older brother, the firstborn, was on the Syrian border fighting a protracted war.) With the death of his son, Pharaoh gave up his fight against the One True God (temporarily), and ordered all Israelites out of his country.

Modern celebrations of Passover

From that year on forward, the Israelites were to remember the Passover by celebrating it each year. Called the Seder, the celebration is the highlight of the Jewish feasts, and has taken on slightly different forms throughout the centuries. Many of the elements of the Seder have direct correlation to Christ (Read Isaiah 53):

  • Three pieces of matzoth bread, a special kind of unleavened bread, are kept on a special plate. The three represent the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The matzoth bread are baked in such a way that they have stripes and pierced with holes (see Isaiah 53 for the symbolism).
  • The second of the three pieces is broken and hidden away until later in the ceremony, symbolizing Jesus’ body being broken and then resurrected later. Everyone takes a piece of this matzoth and eats it, a clear reminder of communion with Christ (Luke 22:19, 1 Cor 11:23-24)
  • During the meal, the door is opened (or an extra place setting is reserved) in case the Messiah should come.

There are more references to Christ in the Seder Passover as it is celebrated today. Zola Levitt’s website has more information.