July 27, 2003 Exodus 11-12
Several weeks ago a family member was in her apartment when she and her husband heard a terrible screaming next door - the kind that makes you think, “something isn’t right.” After they walked tentatively walked outside, they found out that the father of the household had stabbed himself in the chest with a knife. Women were screaming and running around with blood on their hands - it was a real mess. Imagine how much worse it would sound to hear over one and a half million people crying at one time - screams coming from household to household to household. That’s what happened at the Passover. At midnight at the beginning of Abib - otherwise known as April - at least a million people in Egypt were crying and wailing uncontrollably. Why? Because God had just put to death at least 250,000 men and children - whoever was classified as a “firstborn son” in Egypt. With the warning in place ahead of time, I wouldn’t doubt that some mothers and fathers were possibly holding their sons for the last time - realizing that the same God who brought the frogs, lice, pestilence, and hail would make good on his threat to put the firstborn sons to death. It is impossible to imagine the shock and horror of these people walking in their rooms or holding their children in their arms for the last few moments, knowing what this God of the Israelites was going to do. As Pharaoh also lost his firstborn son, he finally let go. With a devastated land and stockyard, and a people in uproar, Pharaoh finally said, Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. (Ex 12:31-32) The Passover was the final straw that loosened the grip on God’s people.
The Final Straw
I. The judgment
The first question we naturally ask - we have to ask - is “why”? Long before this ever occurred God told Moses why it was going to happen. In Exodus chapter 4 he told Moses to say, ‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.’” (Ex 4:22-23) Israel was like a firstborn son to him - the one that would eventually give a Promised Land to along with the birth the Savior of the world. Therefore, he treated Israel with special care and privileges. But these Egyptians had not only enslaved God’s firstborn, they also whipped them, beat them, and even threw their baby boys into the Nile River. All God asked of the Egyptians was to let His people go and worship Him for three days. Three days. But their high priest and king - the Pharaoh - would not even allow this. Instead he decided to say, “who is the LORD, that I should listen to him?” Then, on top of this blasphemy, he decided to abuse God’s firstborn even more by making them work harder than ever before. And it wasn’t only the Pharaoh who did this - but Pharaoh’s workers who followed through with the command. So God said to Moses, “when the time comes for my people to be set free - I want Pharaoh to know WHY his son is laying there dead in his arms. It’s because you have abused and murdered and held MY son captive for long enough! Now let him go!”
So let’s set the record straight. How could a “loving God” willingly go out and slaughter so many boys? Look at it this way. Fathers, if someone were to take your son captive and start punching him and beating him up, and then question your manhood if you tried to stop him, how would you respond? I would not only have such a person arrested, but if possible I would probably take him in the corner and give him a few elbow drops to boot. The only thing that would be the “final straw” to let the Israelites go would be the death of the firstborn sons. So God did what He had to do.
When it comes down to justice and the law, God doesn’t mess around. When he ran the Israelites as a state - he didn’t only have murderers put to death - but child molesters, adulterers, idolaters, and homosexuals as well. When God deals with sin, He doesn’t treat it lightly. He says in Psalm 5:5, “I hate all who do wrong.” He doesn’t say He just wants you one hour a week, He wants you every minute of every day. He wants perfection. If not, He says in Romans 6:23 that “the wages of sin is death.” If you disobey God’s law at any point, God doesn’t just say that He is going to give you a headache. He is going to make you die. He also says that He has to throw you into hell.
If you don’t like a God who does this - then that isn’t His problem - it’s your problem. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you think of God - but what He thinks of you. For God to truly be a holy God and truly good He must ultimately deal with and destroy evil. That’s what He was doing with Pharaoh and that’s what He’ll do with evil on Judgment Day. There will be a Day when He won’t wait any longer. If you want to shake your fist at God and accuse Him of being unloving, unfair, and unjust for sending people to hell - then God will do the same thing to you on Judgment Day. It doesn’t matter how many privileges you received on earth - whether you were the “firstborn” of your family or not. You will die eternally if you are not on His side. God told Moses on that night, Then you will know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. (Ex 11:7) You are either for Him or against Him. There is no in between.
II. The remedy
This is tough talk - and it is meant to be. At first glance, this final straw - the death of the firstborn - seems to be only a sentence of death and anger. It was that - but not for everyone. While the Egyptians were dying, crying and mourning, things were completely quiet and peaceful in the Israelites’ camp. Not even a dog was barking. All the people were simply enjoying a good meal of sheep or goat meat and looking forward to their freedom - a trip to the Promised Land. It reminds me of what Psalm 23 says, “you prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”
How did they get to enjoy their night, while the Egyptians were going through so much pain and heartache? God gave Moses instructions on how to avert the same disaster. He said, each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. . . . The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. All the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. (Ex 12:3-9) Whenever the angel of death then went on his execution march at midnight, if he saw the blood on the doorpost, he passed over the house without bringing judgment on the household.
In reality, the only thing that distinguished the Israelites from the Egyptians was the blood of the lamb. It didn’t have anything to do with who the Israelites were. They didn’t have to shed one ounce of their own blood. They didn’t have to nail their doors shut or design a special kind of underwear or hang garlic in their window. They didn’t have to come up with a remedy or an escape plan. They didn’t have to be or do anything. God just said, “put this blood on your doorpost and you will avert disaster.” The Israelites did nothing - the plan, promise, and blood did everything. All the Israelites did was slaughter the lamb, sit there and enjoy a quiet night of food over a fire.
This Passover wonderfully pointed the Israelites and us forward to the way that God would also save us from His wrath into eternity. God used the exact same principle in sending the offspring of the Israelites to save them and us. Instead of having His wrath come down on us, He chose a Lamb to slaughter instead. John clearly connected the Passover to Christ when he saw Jesus and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (Jn 1:29) Paul referred to Christ as our Passover lamb, (who) has been sacrificed. (1 Corinthians 5:7) Peter said, 1 Peter 1:18-19 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. When God’s wrath comes crashing down on the world - it won’t depend on how nicely your house is made up - whether it’s got gold trim or silver shingles. It won’t matter if you are living on Rich Man’s Lane or Sinner’s Circle. All that matters is what is on the door to your heart. Is it nailed shut with excuses and lies? Is it made of a seemingly impressive five panel oak life of feeding the poor and giving to the needy? Or is simply painted with the blood of Christ? That’s all that matters - not how much sweat and blood you’ve put into your house of righteousness - but whether the blood of Christ is on your doorstep.
What can we really say we’ve done? No more than the Israelites. All we have accomplished in doing is slaughtering the Lamb - putting Christ on the cross. What great works we have accomplished! If you were outraged at the death of the Egyptian firstborn sons, where is the outrage at this? Who of us can point the finger at God, when we took His own Son - put Him on the cross and said, “here, slaughter HIM - don’t slaughter ME!” What kind of people are we? Not only did Jesus have to have nails pierce His hands and side, but He also had to endure the very wrath of His own Father on that cross - to go through hell itself! That we would do such a thing to a perfect and holy Man - what kind of people are we? The amazing thing is that Jesus, in His love and His mercy, let us put Him up on that cross. Jesus said, “I’ll make that sacrifice. I’ll be that Lamb!”
My friends, the only thing that distinguishes us from Egypt is that blood on our doorstep - the cross of Christ. When you throw aside your righteousness and believe in Christ as your Savior - it’s been applied. It may have been applied at your baptism. It may have been applied to you through someone telling you about Christ. It’s not just something you wear around your neck - it’s something you trust in and live in. Every time you taste of the Lord’s Supper and hear the Gospel of forgiveness - you are enjoying that meat of salvation - the remedy to eternal hell. Taste it often. Enjoy it. It’s yours by God’s grace and mercy.
III. The result
What was the result of this terrible slaughter of firstborn men and animals? He said that through this Passover I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. (Ex 12:12) You might compare God to an expert builder with great plans for a new expansion. The only way He can build is if He first tears down the old. The old was being torn down. Up to this point the LORD had destroyed every god that the Egyptians had - Isis, Osiris, the gods of the sun, the land, the water - all of them were shown to be inferior to the LORD. By then putting to death the firstborn son of Pharaoh - God was destroying the one person they considered to be their future prophet to the gods. None of their gods - even Pharaoh himself - could fight against the God of the Egyptians. But God was also building something new. Unless they understood that their gods were helpless and false - they would have no respect for the LORD. Unless their gods were destroyed, they would see no need for the one true God. So God’s only remedy to this unbelief was to execute the firstborn and their down their gods. It was harsh, but it was needed to build something new. Even Pharaoh - after these plagues asked Moses to “bless him.” It at least developed a respect of the LORD - something that wasn’t there before.
The result was even better for the Israelites. Pharaoh finally said, Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. (Ex 12:31-32) The people of Egypt also joined him and urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!” (Ex 12:33). This was the final straw that broke the will of Pharaoh and his people. The Egyptians could no longer bear to have the Israelites there. So Pharaoh did as God predicted and DROVE the Israelites out. They had no choice. After a nice meal, the Israelites were now officially free to go to the Promised Land. They were even given tons of silver, gold, and bronze from the very people that once enslaved them. From that day on they were to remember this wonderful deliverance yearly by celebrating the Passover in the Promised Land.
Like the Israelites, you also were born as slaves - slaves to a sinful nature within you, an evil world around you, and the devil himself was your master. Satan wasn’t going to let go without a fight. Your sinful nature was so much a part of you that it wouldn’t go quietly into the night. It had to be put to death. That’s what the crucifixion of Christ accomplished. On the cross of Christ Jesus was able to say - “it is finished. Paid in full. God’s wrath is complete. You have now been put to death. You have now gone through hell. You have now paid the price. Because of my plan, my promise, and my blood, now I will pass over you with my wrath on Judgment Day.” When God put that blood on your doorstep, He set you free from your sinful nature - free from God’s wrath - free from the world.
The Israelites could not stay in Egypt. They would not stay in Egypt. With the Passover complete - you also cannot continue to live in the world. A part of you may want to stay here with your family, home, and job - but the spirit within you knows you cannot. There has to be a distinction. Like the Israelites, God now calls you to tuck your spiritual belts in and be ready to leave this world. Just as the Israelites were to remember their deliverance, God calls on us to daily remind ourselves of where we were, and where we are. I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. (1 Pe 2:11) You are now aliens in this world - set apart - redeemed - on your way out. You have to stick out, because you are different. You are now Christians - filled with the Holy Spirit - in a demon possessed world. It may not be an easy journey. The world won’t give you their silver and gold like the Egyptians gave the Israelites. You may have a long journey ahead of you, but you are now officially free. Free from God’s wrath. Free from the devil. Free from your own evil desires. Because of the Passover of Christ you only have one choice - to go to the Promised Land with the rest of God’s people. And that’s alright with us.
“That’s the last straw!” I don’t know where that term comes from. Maybe a farmer said it as he was feeding his cows. With the last straw being fed, he then maybe realized that the cows would have to go out to pasture from that point on. At any rate - it means that there are no more options - something else is going to have to be done.
The death of the firstborn sons of Egypt was the final straw - the last one in Pharaoh’s heart. It put him over the edge - forcing him to let the Israelites go. It’s ugly to think about - so many people being put to death. But when we look beyond the rotting flesh and heartbroken mothers and fathers to see the purpose and results of this death, God changes our view of it. This final straw set the Israelites free - enabling them to get to the Promised Land and keep the line of the Savior alive. The death of these sons made the Egyptians realize there is but one God. It proved that the LORD keeps His promises. It wonderfully illustrated the way that we are saved - by the blood of our Lamb - Jesus Christ. At first, it was an ugly scene. But just like in looking at the cross, in the end the last straw turned out beautifully. Amen.