"Costly Deliverance" Bible Study on Exodus 12:1-14
September 3, 2020, 1:24 PM

Dear Members & Friends:

I invite you to read the following passage from Exodus 12:1-14 (Common English Bible).

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month will be the first month; it will be the first month of the year for you.[a] Tell the whole Israelite community: On the tenth day of this month they must take a lamb for each household, a lamb per house. If a household is too small for a lamb, it should share one with a neighbor nearby. You should divide the lamb in proportion to the number of people who will be eating it. Your lamb should be a flawless year-old male. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You should keep close watch over it until the fourteenth day of this month. At twilight on that day, the whole assembled Israelite community should slaughter their lambs. They should take some of the blood and smear it on the two doorposts and on the beam over the door of the houses in which they are eating. That same night they should eat the meat roasted over the fire. They should eat it along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Don’t eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over fire with its head, legs, and internal organs. 10 Don’t let any of it remain until morning, and burn any of it left over in the morning. 11 This is how you should eat it. You should be dressed, with your sandals on your feet and your walking stick in your hand. You should eat the meal in a hurry. It is the Passover of the Lord. 12 I’ll pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I’ll strike down every oldest child in the land of Egypt, both humans and animals. I’ll impose judgments on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be your sign on the houses where you live. Whenever I see the blood, I’ll pass over[b] you. No plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

14 “This day will be a day of remembering for you. You will observe it as a festival to the Lord. You will observe it in every generation as a regulation for all time.

Professor Ellen Davis, a Hebrew Bible scholar, has said that one of the functions of Israel's Passover narrative is to guard against any sentimentalizing of God's deliverance of God's people.  The slaves whom God has chosen to be a great people will be delivered, but the deliverance that is worked for the slaves is costly.

The bonds of evil and oppression are not so easily broken.

It's difficult to fully understand this Sunday's First Reading without contextualization.  Chapters 11 and 13 in Exodus are necessary background for interpretation of Exodus 12.

The Exodus is history in the perfect tense, remembered for the purpose of recognizing that the history continues in Israel's story today.  Chapters 11-13 move from narration of dramatic past events to contemporary instructions for celebration of an annual ritual observance, from commentary on the ritual to reference back to past events.  Right in the middle of the dramatic actions in Exodus, the narrator pauses and gives instructions for the observance of Passover in Exoudus 12:1-13, followed by instructions for the feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:14-40).  By this movement from past to present and from present to past, Israel passed on its identity from generation to generation (Exodus 12:26) and to those who had immigrated into Israel (Exodus 12:48).

If you've ever been to a Seder, you know that during the Passover meal, children ask their parents questions about the meaning of the meal and its different foods.  Every aspect of the meal has meaning and a relationship to the biblical story of the tenth plague and Israel's deliverance.  Yearly repetition of the ritual indoctrinated people into the ancient story and kept Israel as Israel.  Who is Israel?  Israel is composed of those who eat a meal and tell a story and thereby become and remain in the story of God's deliverance of the slaves.  

And what a story is remembered!  The story of the Passover is one of deliverance, yes, but it is deliverance that is worked through death: the death of all Egypt's firstborn, both animal and human (Exodus 12:29).  How can a good God be said to be involved in this dreadful, violent event?  Why should the innocents die for Israel's deliverance?

These are troubling questions that cannot be explained away with simple answers.  Here are some ways we might think about the Passover.  First, if we remember the call of Moses (Exodus 3) and the subsequent plagues, we would note that although God has used human agents like Moses and Aaron in the previous plagues, God and God alone carries out the slaying of the Egyptian firstborn (Exodus 11:2; 12:23).  This dark, violent act is not in any way an example for humans to emulate.  This final, extreme act of deliverance through death is God's work, not ours.

Still, everytime I think of Passover, I am drawn back to my childhood memories of watching Cecil B. DeMill's The Ten Commandments.  The creepy scene where the angel of death courses with foglike fingers through the Egyptian streets and the curdling cries of the struckdown firstborn still make me cringe.  Is this the God who I have come to love and know in Jesus Christ?

Secondly, this tenth plague occurs only after repeated efforts to negotiate with Pharaoh and the Egyptians in the previous nine plagues (Exodus 7-10).  The tenth plague seems almost an act of desperation by God after having given the Egyptians every opportunity to avoid a tragic confrontation between the Pharaoh and God.  The Pharaoh who did not know Joseph (Exodus 1:8) stubbornly refused the demands of Moses and Aaron to "let my people go."

When leaders and societies doggedly pursue evil and injustice, holding people down and enslaving them, there are consequences, often very tragic consequences.  Pharaoh was the one who began by taking God's firstborn, Israel, then by killing all the Jewish boy babies.  Now God responds by taking Pharaoh's and Egypt's firstborn sons (Exodus 4:22-23).  Yes, there are consequences when human beings in arrogance (personified in the Pharaoh) try to act like God, oppress God's people, and resist God's plans for the world.  Sometimes those consequences must be suffered by future generations.

I wonder what consequences future generations will suffer, if we continue to witness people murdered because of the color of their skin?

Hard question to ask, I know, but one that needs to be raised.


Pastor Greg Rupright


09-05-2020 at 9:30 PM
Pat May
Conclusion surprised me!
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